By Leonard Lauriault
Both criminals crucified with Jesus had joined the crowd in jeering him (Mark 15: 25-32; Luke 23: 32-43).
Eventually, the one widely known as “the thief on the cross” apparently realized his predicament and the true nature of the Messianic kingdom and asked the Messiah, Jesus, to remember him.
The other one continued hurling insults, but later wanted Jesus to, “Save yourself and us!” He wanted to be saved from his impending physical death on Jesus’ coattails (when Jesus saved himself), evidently without any commitment on his own part.
While the Bible never says the two criminals were Jewish, they likely were. Circumcision was required by God as the sign of the covenant between him and Abraham’s Jewish descendants (Genesis 17: 9-14).
But God also wanted his people to be circumcised in their hearts so he could have a personal relationship with each one of them (Deuteronomy 10: 12-16).
Neither the outward fleshly circumcision nor the inward circumcision of the heart was sufficient by itself to satisfy the terms of the covenant (Romans 2: 28, 29).
Still, many Jewish claimed God’s promises to Abraham based on their kinship to Abraham rather than their own personal relationship with God (John 8: 31-47). The repentant criminal became circumcised in his heart on the cross and God kept his promise to him (2 Chronicles 7: 11-22).
The Jewish covenant was abolished by Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, bringing about a new testament that fulfilled God’s original intentions (Matthew 26: 26-29; Ephesians 1: 3-14; 2: 11-20; John 19: 30).
People of all nations are still to be circumcised in heart under God’s new covenant. But the outward sign, which is still necessary, was changed with the law and is inseparable from circumcision of the heart, making us Abraham’s descendants and heirs to all the promises God made to him and his descendants (Colossians 2: 8-15; Galatians 3: 26-29).
Many today want to be saved on the coattails of the repentant thief on the cross. Whether they realize that or not, they’re obligated to obey perfectly all the terms of the old covenant he died under, including the animal sacrifices (Galatians 5: 1-4; 4: 9; Acts 15: 5-11; 10: 1-48; Hebrews 10: 1-12; 5: 7-9).
Others, like the unrepentant thief, want to be saved on the coattails of God’s love, without any commitment on their own. They expect him to go ahead save them too.
We’re justified – redeemed – purified from sin – receive the righteousness that comes from God – saved – when we act on what we believe by doing what God tells us to do under the new covenant (1 Peter 1: 22, 23; Romans 3: 20-26; James 2: 17-24).
While this requires commitment – action – on our part, Jesus actually does the purifying as we’re washed with water according to the word (Ephesians 5: 25-27; John 14: 15; 13: 6-10; Acts 22: 16; 1 Corinthians 16: 22).
Having become obedient to the word, the blood of Jesus continues to cleanse us as we repent and seek forgiveness (1 John 1: 5-9). He’ll also remember us when he returns (Matthew 7: 21-23; John 14: 1-3).
These promises are for Jewish and non-Jewish alike, for all times and places since shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 2: 38, 39).
Don’t try to be saved on anyone’s coattails. What was good enough to save the repentant thief on the cross and all Jewish prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection isn’t good enough for us because the change in the covenant also brought about a change in the law of how to please God (Hebrews 11: 6).
Each one of us must develop our own personal relationship with our Father God rather than merely accepting the ol’ time religion of our forebears, trying to be saved on their coattails.
We must allow the word to become implanted, doing what we do because we know that’s what God says, rather than merely what our parents or preacher told us, even if what they teach does agree with God (James 1: 22-25; Acts 17: 11).
Work out your own salvation on God’s terms, diligently seeking him through his word (Philippians 2: 12, 13; 3: 15, 16).
Read the scriptures cited here to see that what’s been written is the truth. Study related passages, too, particularly in the New Testament, to make sure that what you’re told agrees with the rest of the Bible.
Then, if you haven’t already, let Jesus circumcise your heart as you’re baptized by faith to become Abraham’s heir.
Leonard Lauriault is a member of the church of Christ.