- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 16 focuses on Luke 23:33-46.
During my college and even seminary in the 1970s, I was taught what were known as “The Four Spiritual Laws.” It wasn’t until later years that something about them began to trouble me.
For one thing, it presented itself as propositional faith. Each of the four “laws” was proposed, and the respondent was asked to affirm them, one by one. At the end, the participant was asked to pray “the sinner’s prayer,” even though praying out loud often was quite uncomfortable for them.
In case the participant didn’t know how to pray, the presenter would verbalize the prayer, pausing occasionally to allow the participant to repeat the prayer verbatim.
With rarest exception, the presenter pronounced the participant a Christian and leave, never again to disciple the participant. I “led” many people to Christ using that method. And I still carry great guilt that I never said one word to the participant about the fact that true faith means following Jesus, not simply repeating someone else’s words.
Thief on the cross
One of the most fascinating examples of salvation in the Gospels is the thief on the cross who asked Jesus, quite simply, not to forget him. There are no words of repentance. There is no baptism. All the man received was Jesus’ promise that he would not forget the dying thief. That day, the thief would join Jesus in “paradise,” or heaven as it’s become known.
We are the ones who complicate the experience of salvation. All Jesus asks of us is that we trust him. No lengthy propositions require our approval. No “sinner’s prayer” is required. What the thief could not know was that Jesus was even, in that very moment, making his salvation possible. The thief’s prayer was simply that of acknowledging who Jesus was and Jesus’ power to redeem his soul eternally The other thief could only mock Jesus and Jesus’ power.
Jesus died for all
Jesus knew the pain of the non-repentant thief, as Jesus was experiencing the very same pain and humiliation. Jesus does not condemn the mocker. The crowd also mocked Jesus. None of that changed the fact that Jesus was dying for them, too.
There is much in this Scripture. None of it is more fascinating than the fact that the mocking didn’t change Jesus’ purpose of salvation for all. Nor did it change the fact that Jesus died for every single person in the crowd and on the other crosses.
It is a simple but profound tenet of the Christian faith that Jesus salvation is for all people for all time for all sin ( John 2:2). It is also a salvation Jesus intends us to experience one person at a time.
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Jesus’ salvation is not propositional. It’s personal, no matter what words we use to ask Jesus for what Jesus already has provided.
Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.