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  • Writer's pictureTrace Pirtle

Sin and Repentance on the Cross

Updated: Jan 17

What can we learn from Luke 23:39-43 about sin and repentance on the cross? As you know, two thieves were crucified along with Jesus. One thief was unrepentant; the other acknowledged his sin and believed in Jesus. Which thief are we?

In the post "Be Fervent in Spirit," I mentioned how the Holy Spirit had to send me to remedial Bible study because I couldn't, or wouldn't, get the message. Sometimes, we read without recall, retention, or understanding. But, thanks to our patient Heavenly Father, if we keep reading, we will understand.

But today's study was different. It was as if I was there. I could see what was happening on those three crosses at Calvary. Like in a motion picture, the Holy Spirit allowed me to try on the two roles of "thief." I could substitute any sin of mine, past, present, or future, and I would still hang on that cross like those crucified.

The question isn't about guilt or innocence; like the thieves, I am guilty. The question is, do I acknowledge the sin and repent or not? Are we on the same page?

If you don't have your Bible handy, here are the verses we are discussing.

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.'" Luke 23:39-43

These verses can teach us a lot about sin and repentance. I'm sure the Holy Spirit has revealed many of them to you. Here are a few lessons I learned.

Sin and Repentance on the Cross: Last Chance!

Wherever we are on our life journey, there is a destination, an end. Unless we die by suicide, only God knows when, where, and how we exit.

But imagine being crucified as a criminal on a cross. You know you aren't going to hop down, pick yourself up, dust off, and whistle as you carry on with life. No. You know your exit will come very soon.

I learned from this "last chance" opportunity that Jesus is merciful. He teaches us that it's never too late as long as we are still alive. If we acknowledge that we are sinners, repent, and entrust our eternity to Jesus, He will welcome us into paradise.

In fact, if we look at the other two accounts of this story, both Mark 15:32 and Matthew 27:44 say that both thieves "heaped insults on Him." So why didn't they mention the repentant thief in their accounts? Could this be God's way of telling us it's never too late, even after insulting Jesus? Perhaps, but what if the "Good Thief" had died just before he awakened to his sin and repented?

I wonder...How would our lives be different if we lived every moment as if hanging on a cross, crucified with Jesus? That with every heartbeat and every breath, we said, "Jesus, remember me and receive me into Your kingdom."

Sorry, that was a little heavy, but sin weighs us down. The only way to escape gravity and death is by faith in Jesus. He alone is worthy.

Sin and Repentance: What is Your Crime?

I also wondered about the crime of sin. Sin is a crime against God, so to speak. We know that we can't keep His Law, so we are criminals for every Law we break. That's a bummer. Apostle Paul confirmed this by saying, "There is no one righteous, not even one." Romans 3:10

I found myself comparing the two thieves' punishments against contemporary societal norms. For example, when was the last time someone was executed for theft? Unless perhaps a bank robber killed someone in the process of stealing money.

But typically, we don't think of theft rising to the level of capital punishment, do we? So why did God use this crime as an example?

While God tells us that not all sin is created equal (exp. Proverbs 6: 16-19), some are worse than others. But regardless of our crime(s), Jesus has paid the price. Therefore, all we are expected to do is have faith, acknowledge our sins, and turn away from them. It always seems too easy, but Jesus tells us, "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:30

Sin and Repentance: No Other Option

Many progressive Christians today think there is a third option, that it's not as straightforward as "repent and live" or "mock and die." They seem to believe that Jesus can be mocked and blatantly misrepresented, leading many astray, and they will be forgiven. Their justification? God's love is unconditional.

This is faulty thinking and does not align with Luke's account in the Bible. The mocking, unrepentant thief is not given the same assurance of his place in heaven just because Jesus loves him unconditionally. Clearly, God places conditions on those who enter paradise. God's love is perfect, but not necesairly "unconditional" as humanistic psychology presents it.

Concluding Thoughts

If we read Luke 23:39-43, we will see ourselves as one of two thieves crucified with Jesus. Our offense may be different, but we have "all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ." Romans 3:23-24

In the next post, we will ask the questions, "Do You Know Jesus?" and "Does Jesus Know You?"

Until then, I pray that God has your name written in the palm of His hand. And every time He glances at your name, He smiles and says, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."

Keep looking up! Our redemption is near!

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About Me

Image of Dr. Trace Pirtle sitting on park bench identified as Jesus.

Greetings, I'm Trace!
I'm a retired counselor education professor who spent 35 years in the "helping professions." I'm a U.S. Air Force veteran who served as a Missile Launch Officer with I.C.B.M's during the Cold War (1980's). Today, I'm an "all-in" believer working full-time for our Lord Jesus Christ. I've included my personal testimony if you are interested. 
May God bless you beyond your wildest dreams!

In His Service,

Trace Pirtle

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