The thief on the cross. The one who in the final minutes of his life defended Jesus. He admitted his guilt and Jesus’ innocence. He acknowledged the divinity of Christ— he was the first convert to Christianity. The first person to say, “I want to be a part of your kingdom” (Luke 23:42.)
He never had to go through the ups and downs, loopty-loops, confusion, trials, backsliding, and church-hopping of Christian life. He never argued over theology, which translation of the Bible is best, or whether Christians should smoke cigarettes or serve in the military. He got to go straight into glory. He got to bypass the doing of, and the being of, Christian life.
I wrote in my journal several months ago, “What is it to be a Christian; what is this Christian life?” The thief on the cross never had to ask that question. The Apostle Paul writes in the Book of Romans about the hope of glory and the “eager hope” with which we look forward to “join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” Paul writes about how it is the work of the Spirit to help us in weakness so that we can be sanctified, justified, and glorified in the salvation we have because of Christ’s sacrifice. Because we indeed justly were receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man, Jesus, had done nothing wrong, as the one thief said to other (Luke 23:41.)
The Christian life is no longer about living according to our due reward, but rather by faith. Our hope is totally in the work of the Spirit, for the purposes of the Spirit, toward a spiritual reward. The Christian life is never about what is seen and measurable but rather what is unseen and unmeasurable. We see this hold totally true in the extremely short Christian life of the thief on the cross. He had no time to do good works, resist bad habits, contribute wise teaching, or pray beautiful prayers. He was saved and then glorified. Instantaneously! He totally got to skip the sanctification, transformation, justification phases that most of us experience.
Yet, I believe that Jesus sees all of us the way he sees the thief on the cross. I believe he sees all of us as today being with him in paradise. I believe he sees us in the Spirit, the spirit of faith, which sees things as they are when completed not as they are in process. I believe that to Jesus our moment of salvation is our moment of glorification. His mercy makes that possible, his grace makes it the operating truth.
God’s not waiting on us so He can make something reality. He is ushering us into His reality. And we are called, in this Christian life, to act according to that reality. We have to view ourselves in faith, which means viewing ourselves as complete, as co-heirs with Christ, as kings and priests, as sons of God— cause that is what glorification is, right? And we have to view each other the same way.
We cannot accept accusatory speech that contradicts what God sees of us in faith. We cannot level accusation against our brothers and sisters in Christ either. It’s very easy to become negative about other people’s faith. You know, if my husband were a better Christian, it’d be easier for me to be a better Christian. Kinda like how, if my daughter were a better kid, it’d be easier for me to be a better mom. If other people could get going a bit more in their walks with God, and give me a few less attitudes and inconveniences to trip over, I would assuredly be a better person. If the people around me would just be better, I could look a lot better.
And because other people make my personal process of transformation more difficult, I find it perfectly acceptable to condemn their level of adherence to God’s sanctification, their probability of being justified if they keep on acting like this. I feel I can comment on them, or rate them, judge them, or actually kind of hate them, because obviously they are not trying as hard as me cause if they were my sanctimonious little life would be a whole lot easier!
Yet, that attitude is completely antithetical to faith. If Jesus could say to the thief on the cross, you are glorified today simply because I say so; then He also says to us, it is today simply because I say so. That is that. There is no in between whilst which we get to fiddle around with condemnation— of ourselves or of others.
Our love for each other cannot come from what we see, but rather from what we don’t see, which is the glorification to come that God sees as already being, because of Jesus and through the Spirit.