The Thieves on the Cross

We live with an “earn it” mentality. Examples are everywhere, as quotes from various writers and influencers illustrate:

Today you have 100% of your life left. Go out and earn it.

Remember, you don’t deserve anything in life – you have to earn it!

Don’t wait around and pout because you feel you’re not getting what you deserve. Get it! Work hard and earn it!

It’s also gone political. “White privilege” gives some benefits they haven’t earned; it’s not deserved, consequently, it’s evil.

FICO keeps tabs on your credit habits to score you on how timely you pay your bills and how much debt you have. You can get that American Express Platinum, but you have to earn it.

China even has a Social Credit Score system, which ranks people as follows:

AAA/ AA (1050 points): An exemplary citizen, you enjoy a 3% benefit on current loan rates and even receive free health checks.

A+/ A/ A- (960–1029 points): Receive priority in school enrollment, social assistance, and preferential care in employment.

B (850–959): Oh, oh, penalty, you’re locked into B for two years and will receive periodic government visits for ‘re-education.’

C (600–849): Now, you’re locked into C for three years before even regaining your B status. You’re also on a government list: no welfare, no awards or honors, and no political office. Also, do expect many more government visits.

D (0–599): An awful person, you are now on the blacklist. You lose honorific titles such as your doctorate or master’s degree. No government funding can ever be provided to you. You might lose your job, and state officials will visit you all the time now.

Tripple A. It must feel good…and you earned it.

It’s pounded into us – earning is good, not earning is bad. Recognize you don’t deserve it, but at least you can earn it.
Earning Salvation

It’s no wonder, then, that we carry this same attitude into our spiritual lives. We need to earn our way into heaven and earn God’s approval to stay saved.

Now, almost every religion has its own strategies as to how you can accomplish this, and I’ve detailed some in an earlier post. But, suffice it to say, a typical formula is to perform good deeds, avoid evil deeds and participate in the sacraments and other requirements of your chosen religion. You can do it! Get out and earn it. How satisfying is that going to be?

There is only one religion where you can’t earn your way into heaven – Biblical Christianity. So, what does the Bible say about acquiring salvation?

First of all, the Bible clearly states we don’t deserve salvation. Romans 3:23 declares that “all have sinned…” and Romans 6:23 explains that “…the wages of sin is death…” So the Bible reveals that everyone is a sinner. Wages are what we merit as sinners; therefore, we deserve eternal damnation.

But wait, I thought God loved us? Clearly, John 3:16 teaches that “God so loved that world, that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Additionally, 2 Peter 3:9 shows that “The Lord …is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” Wait again; now we’re back to those two familiar words – faith and repentance. Work and earning? Not there; but faith and repentance are.

To take an example from the Bible, how about the two thieves on the cross? It’s in Luke 23:33-43 and here’s my abridged version: “And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left…and one of the criminals hanging there was blaspheming Him, saying ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered and, rebuking him, said, ‘Do you not even fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your Kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”

In this true story, there is no time for the thief to perform any good deeds or join a church, let alone participate in church sacraments – he can earn nothing. No, the thief demonstrated repentance “we indeed are suffering justly,” and he exhibited faith “remember me when You come in your Kingdom.” He deserves eternal death, but through faith and repentance, Christ gave him a gift; salvation.

Remember Romans 6:23 before, in which I mentioned that “…the wages of sin is death…?” The next part of that verse continues, “…but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here’s truth: of all the things earned in this world, salvation is not one of them. It’s God’s gracious gift through faith and repentance in which Christ, having paid the penalty for your sins on the cross at Calvary, imputes His righteousness to you.

You don’t deserve it. You’ll never earn it. It’s only available as a gift.

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