ABOUT THE THIEF ON THE CROSS?
When Jesus said to one of the criminals who was crucified with Him, "today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), it is generally accepted that the man was saved. However, some preachers teach that his salvation was by faith only and is an example of how people are saved today. They tell us that since the thief was saved by faith only and without being baptized, then people today can be saved by faith only and without being baptized. This is not true for the following reasons:
1. While Jesus was living on this earth He forgave people of their sins without requiring all the conditions of salvation that are taught under the New Covenant. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:1-5). Read this account closely. The ones who had faith were those who brought the paralytic to Jesus. It does not say that the paralytic had faith. Can one conclude from this, that if the paralytic had his sins forgiven without having faith, then men today can have their sins forgiven without having faith? Of course not (see Mark 16:16; Hebrews 11:6). Faith is required for an individual to be saved under the New Covenant of Christ. Yet, Jesus forgave the paralytic without requiring him to have faith. The same is true of baptism in the case of the thief. To take the view that one can be saved without baptism today because the thief was saved without baptism, would also necessarily mean that one must take the view that one can have his sins forgiven today without faith because the paralytic had his sins forgiven without faith. Neither is true under the New Covenant. The New Covenant teaches both the necessity of faith and baptism (Mark 16:16).
2. The thief lived and died under the Old Covenant. Today, we live under the New Covenant. The New Covenant was not "in force" until Jesus died (Hebrews 9:15-17). Therefore, the thief was never under Christ's New Covenant command to be baptized. However, after Christ's death, burial and resurrection from the dead He commanded all believers to be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Baptism into the name of Christ came only with the death of Christ and the institution of the New Covenant. The thief never came under the authority of the great commission. He was never commanded to be baptized with the baptism that Christ bound under the New Covenant.
3. It cannot be proven that the thief had not been baptized. John had certainly taught people to be baptized before the thief died on the cross (Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:5-6; Luke 7:30). We do not know whether the thief had heard John preach baptism or not. We do not know if the thief had been baptized with the baptism that John taught. The only time we read about the thief is when he is on his cross so we don't know what his background was. To say that he was saved without being baptized is to say more than the Bible tells us.
The thief is not an example for how people are saved today, just as the paralytic is not an example. The Bible teaches us that we live under the New Covenant (Testament) of Jesus Christ today. Therefore, we must do that which the New Covenant requires. (Note: Please read "What Must I Do To Be Saved?"; See also The Place of Baptism In God's Plan of Salvation, God's Chain of Salvation, and Examples of Conversion)