Almost in unison, heads were nodding in agreement as affirming smiles gently broke over the congregation. And why shouldn’t they? He was preaching to the choir. But drop that same message upon informed detractors and you may have a whole new ball game. To reach beyond our choir, we need to start on unfamiliar turf while seeking common ground. This requires us to begin within a different perspective while adhering to commonly held truth.
Here is one suggestion on how we might respond to the common objection that the criminal on the cross reveals we do not need to be baptized.
What About the Thief on the Cross?
“You are right that the thief was not baptized to be saved. I think we can both agree that there are many people who lived before Jesus’ death and resurrection who will be saved, but who were never baptized. Take for instance, Abraham” (see Luke 16:22).
“Have you ever considered Luke’s purpose for including this story about the wonderful grace given to the criminal on the cross? To understand Luke’s message, let’s take a quick look at another story of salvation, the paralytic. As the paralytic’s friends lowered him down through the roof, Jesus looked at their faith and forgave the paralyzed man! (read Luke 5:20-26) Isn’t that surprising! The point of this story is Jesus is good news because he has the authority to forgive sins. We might also notice that salvation was given as a gift of grace, the paralyzed man had not earned it. What also stands out about this story of the paralyzed man is that this is not a model of how I can expect Jesus to forgive me. Jesus does not look at your faith and then turn around to forgive me. Luke’s reason to include the stories of the paralyzed man and the thief is not to teach us how to rely upon Jesus to be saved, but to unequivocally announce that Jesus really is good news for our lives.”
“Let me make another suggestion as to why the criminal on the cross fails to provide a valid reason to deny baptism is necessary today. We can both agree the gospel announces our need to trust in Jesus, who died and rose again, so that we can be saved. We can also agree that the call to trust in the risen Lord for salvation began to be preached after Jesus rose from the dead. Accordingly, what has been called Christian baptism did not even start to be practiced until after Jesus had died and was risen to life, because it is a baptism into his death (Romans 6:3,4). The first time this baptism was practiced was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-47). Because of these things, it was impossible for the thief or Abraham to have been baptized in Jesus’ name. Neither they nor the example of the paralytic proves that now that the gospel has come God will accept us without baptism.”
“The gospel message tells us to rely upon the risen Lord by being baptized (Acts 2:36-38). God then forgives us on account of Jesus’ death and takes us to belong to him as spiritual babes” (Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:11-13).
I hope these thoughts may bless you in speaking the truth in love to those beyond the choir.