Have I done too much bad to ever be accepted by God?
It is a question that many of us faced in our life before Jesus, particularly if we came to Jesus as an adult. Am I too far gone for Jesus? Have I done too many bad things? Am I good enough for the free gift of salvation?
I made it into my 30’s before becoming a Christian. Though I looked ok from the outside, my heart was desperately wicked. People thought I was a really nice person, but I knew myself better than they did, and I was not so certain. Looking back over my life, I remembered many of the sins that I had done. I measured and categorized them: some were big and some little, and I wondered whether I had gone too far to make it back to the good side.
Could I ever do enough to undo all the darkness I had already done in life? Could I ever be acceptable to God?
I found my answer to all these questions while looking at the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and the thief who comes to faith as Jesus is dying. I am so thankful for the thief on the cross. You know, the guy who was crucified next to Jesus and whose conversation with Jesus was preserved by God in the Bible. I read his story and for the first time understood that I was looking at things all wrong – thankfully. It was never about us getting cleaned up and then going to Jesus for acceptance. It was never about me being good enough. It is simply about how great Jesus is.
It is about Jesus taking us as we are: dirty, messy and sinful and through His greatness making us clean. He is the Savior, the one who saves us, after all, and not the other way around. We can do nothing to save ourselves.
We don’t know much about the guy we call the thief on the cross. He enters and exits the Bible scene in a couple of verses, but boy does he make an impression. He starts off being identified by his sin – he is the “thief” on the cross. No name, no physical description, no hometown, not even “son of” like they were called back in the day, he is just a run of the mill thief; a criminal like many others.
Based upon the Roman justice system, it is likely that he is more than just a thief. The Romans generally did not execute people just for theft. Crucifixion was reserved for major criminal; for example, murderers and those who rebelled against Rome. Though we don’t know the details, the man’s crimes were surely significant.
This man was also guilty. There is no doubt about that. In the Gospel of Luke, the man admits that he deserves the punishment he is receiving. He is guilty of something that deserves Roman execution, and he knows it.
How is he doing with his life plan at this point? If his life is being weighed on one of those ancient scales with the good things on one side and the bad things on the other, which side would be heavier? The bad side is clearly overwhelming the good at this moment by a lot. Not so great, right?
He has a few hours left to live and the grand total of his accomplishments noted in the Bible are that he is a criminal, he deserves death and he is about to be executed next to Jesus. If we are judging his life based upon the good outweighing the bad, he is in big trouble.
Serious question for you, are you doing any worse that the thief on the cross right now?
He was a robber, rebel, blasphemer, mocker, and likely a murderer? He is in really bad shape under any objective standard. If it were not bad enough for the thief, his interaction with Jesus doesn’t start off swimmingly. The Book of Matthew says two men who were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on each side. Both men start off their time of execution by mocking Jesus and hurling insults at Him. In the face of their own guilt, they initially embrace their spiteful hearts and demean Jesus. Yikes!
This is obviously bad, but do we understand just how terrible and warped it is?
Jesus is in the midst of the greatest act of redemption in all of history. He is dying as an innocent sacrifice for all mankind, including the thief. Jesus is God and the Creator of the very mouths they are using to hurl insults. He is entitled as the King of Kings to be worshiped and served by all creation, and they should be praising Him and thanking Him for what He is doing. Instead, they mock and revile an innocent man as He is dying.
The warped natures of the men are also revealed as they take aim at Jesus with their mockery. In crucifixion, the victim was attached to the cross in such a way that it took great effort and inflicted excruciating pain to speak at all. The person was required to hold themselves up by their nailed through wrists and feet in order to get enough air to speak. The two men, guilty as charged based upon their own actions, are inflicting significant pain upon themselves in order to waste their breath insulting Jesus as He dies for them. They are physically hurting themselves greatly in order to get out their wickedness. The total blackness of their hearts is shocking.
So let’s again look at the thief’s life work. He has spent his life as a criminal. He is guilty of a great crime. He is deserving of death, and yet hours away from death while nailed to a cross, he is spending his time and effort directly insulting God to His face while God carries out His awesome act of redemption. Talk about hitting rock bottom! He just needed to be kicking a puppy while doing it, and he would be the biggest heel in all of history…and he can do nothing physically to change his standing either.
The thief is helpless to do anything himself to even his accounts, to tip the scales back in favor of his good column even if it worked that way.
He is immobilized, nailed to a cross and unable to do any of things many people think will save their souls: feed the poor, clothe the homeless, do good works, be kind, or preach the Gospel. His hands are attached to the crossbeam of the cross, he can’t even put his hands together to pray. He cannot do anything to undo the bad things he has done according to human judging. He cannot add to any good things he has done. He is stuck with all of the things in the bad column of his life and there is nothing he can do, no good work, nothing, to try and outweigh the bad with good. If he were called to account for himself before God, his destination would be very clear. Things seem helpless. But God has made a plan for man’s salvation through Jesus.
If good works cannot save him, what can? He changes his destination with a simple change of heart…
It does not state specifically when it occurs, but at some point, the thief sees Jesus differently. The thief does the only thing that he can at that moment to save himself, the only thing that we need to do – he turns to Jesus and no longer sees an object of derision, he sees the Lord. He believes:
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ,[j] save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord,[k]remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23
The thief spends a lifetime as a criminal and then starts his interaction with Jesus by mocking His pain, and yet he is not condemned as a result – in a moment everything changes. His view of God changes, and therefore he goes from being on a direct flight to condemnation to seeing Jesus in paradise that very day. Not because of how good he is, the thief is most assuredly a bad dude, but because of how great Jesus truly is. The Savior is simply monumentally bigger than anyone’s sins. As long as he had breath in his body, there was an opportunity to change his eternal standing before God with no strings attached. Just believe on the Lord Jesus
The thief cannot do one thing to advance the Kingdom of God as we think of it and does nothing that man would think is substantial before dying a horrible, embarrassing death. Yet the Lord welcomes him into His Kingdom. Isn’t it awesome!
If you cannot relate to the thief for some reason, how about Saul of Tarsus aka Paul the Apostle. Paul spends his life before Jesus tearing apart the church, imprisoning Christian men, women and children, killing them and causing them to blaspheme before Jesus. Not satisfied with doing this in Jerusalem alone, Paul is on his way to Damascus to attack the church there, when he meets Jesus on the Road and begins life as a new creation of Christ. He goes from enemy of God to chosen vessel of Jesus in a moment! His change was radical…in one moment Paul is on the way to continue his life of great sin, and in a split second, he is changed because the Savior is way, way bigger than the sins.
Redeeming us from a life of sins does not challenge our mighty God. But we must repent and believe. Do not harden your hearts. Do not hold onto your sin. Do not allow your pride to keep you from eternal life…
If you recall, there were two thieves on crosses next to Jesus: one who repented and believed and one who didn’t. The repentant one found salvation and eternal life, but the other hardened his heart and chose eternal judgment. Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ the Lord! “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,”(Hebrews 3:7-8) Jesus was not challenged by Paul’s grievous sins. As long as Paul had the ability to agree that Jesus is Lord, the opportunity to change everything in his life was there for the taking despite his crimes.
You may be in the process of being drawn to Jesus like I was those years ago and feel a yearning to join into this thing we call church but think that you cannot do so due to your past. They won’t accept me, do you know what I have done! You may think that you have done too much – crime, drinking, sex, drugs, blaspheming, worshiping false gods – to ever get clean and come to Jesus.
Your sins, though many, can be forgiven. If Jesus accepts the thief and murderous, blaspheming Paul immediately when they repent and turn to Him, what do you think Jesus will do with you? No one is ever too far gone for Jesus. He is too great a Savior for that!
The Bible is very clear that the Savior is bigger than your sin. He forgives repentant murderers and thieves, drunkards and even those who spent time openly mocking Him. It is what a perfect Savior does. All we need to do is turn to Him: repent and believe. If we do, despite our choices before that moment, He will make a way for us to be with Him in Paradise. He did this for the thief on the cross, and He will do it for you if you choose Him.
This article has been focused on those who think they’re too bad, too sinful for Jesus. But maybe you’re a different kind of person altogether. Maybe you think you’re a good person, or maybe others say that about you, like they did about me. What does the Bible say about that? Well, it says that just one sin keeps us out of heaven. Just one. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10 And everyone sins at least in this life, because the Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 So if you think you are a good person whose good outweighs your bad, think again carefully on God’s requirements for entrance into His eternal Kingdom of Heaven. You are ineligible for His Kingdom if you’ve sinned once. Anyone who says nice people can get to heaven with out Jesus are teaching a false gospel. There is one way…accepting Jesus’s work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, repenting and believing in Him with your heart. Trust Him for your forgiveness and not yourself!! “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” Galatians 2:21
Trust Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and not your own efforts. You, whether you’re a good person or not so good person, cannot save yourself. Jesus is the only one who can.
We are not promised tomorrow. Turn to Him today; there is no reason to wait. Do you think you’re too bad for Christ? That’s not true! Do you think you’re too good for Christ? That’s not true either! For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1,2). “Today, if only you would hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts”(Psalm 95:7-8) Be the one who chooses the Savior. He bought our redemption at a price….when you repent and believe on Him, a transaction takes place…The righteousness of Christ is placed upon you, because He paid for your sins on the cross. It’s a free gift of salvation. You are no longer guilty for your sins, because Christ died that your sins would be forgiven. That’s not all. God promises His Holy Spirit to those who believe who will empower you to live life for Christ, who will teach you and give you a new heart. God will make you a new creation.