Once again, let your mind settle on the scene of the crucifixion of the Son of God, Jesus. A thief without worthiness, without hope in the world–as he received the just punishment for his own sins– received from Jesus unending life while his mortal body hung at the very precipice of eternal death. It happened quickly. It had too–there wasn’t much time. Suddenly, in the briefest of moments, the thief on the cross next to Jesus had attained to what many search for their whole lives with painful striving, favor with Almighty God. What could have had so salient an effect?
What exactly occurred on that hill? It was just the words of Jesus, nothing more. Nothing else occured in reality except that the thief cried out to Jesus, and Jesus answered back in the affirmative. The thief called upon the Lord and the Lord answered. Thus, we find that Paul’s maxim worked out in the thief’s life with exactness: “[f]or whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).
What exactly conferred the favor, then? The calling on the name of the Lord Jesus is what caused the grace of God to be conferred to the thief. The thief, having come to faith in Jesus–that He was the Son of God Who alone could forgive sins–did not have the ability to get down from the cross and be baptized! Yet he went in. Many have taught that baptism in and of itself is able to give grace to the one who receives it. The water baptism, to some, is the key to the kingdom, giving favor ex opere operato. The thief poses a peculiar problem for those who hold this doctrine. As an ordinance of Jesus, we do teach that everyone who comes to faith in Jesus should be baptized if he or she is able; however, the baptism of water does not confer grace to the recipient.
The simplest Gospel ever preached is this: Jesus and Him crucified. The thief knew nothing else and what he did is exactly recorded for us. He was not baptized. I’m writing this in the hope that you will determine to know nothing else in yourself except Jesus and Him crucified, even as Paul determined for himself (1 Cor 2:2). Remember what the bible records about the devil: he said to Eve, “[y]e shall not surely die.” It was a lie. Today, fearing the effect of the Gospel of Jesus the Savior of the world, the devil is telling everyone who will listen, “ye shall not surely live.” Don’t listen to those who would hide the keys; for they do not go in themselves, and they would hinder you.