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The Pug Nosed Thief

Many years ago, I was approached at work by a friend and co-worker, a former Catholic Priest, who asked if he could study with me.   Of course, I never turn down an opportunity to study with anyone.   This man had completed their seminary training; worked for seven years as a priest and then left, disillusioned by the work.   He told me that wanted a ‘deep theological study’ of the Bible in order to understand something.   I asked him what that was and he told me he knew there had to be something to Christianity, but what disillusioned him was this.   Members would come in for confession every week and confess the same sins over and over.  He told me that Christianity did not have any effect on their lives; they just kept committing the same sins.

My friend was right in respect to people who keep confessing the sins repeatedly, but made no effort to stop their behavior.   Scripturally, the names for this are repentance and faithfulness.   The word repentance or repent simply means a change of direction in your life, and it appears those who were coming in weekly had not done this.  It seemed to me they wanted God’s forgiveness but did not want to adhere to the teachings that tell us change our behavior, which is being faithful to that which you have committed.   This also tells me they knew their behavior was wrong; otherwise why seek forgiveness on a regular basis.  

The thing that bothered me the most about what he said is the ‘deep theological study’ in order to understand this.   I ask him why he wanted a ‘deep theological study’ and he really could not give me an answer.   It seemed he did not really know; he was searching for answers.   I told him that sometimes the answers are not complex and perhaps God did not want to make this complex at all.   I shared with him the following passage and told him that somewhere walking the streets of Paradise for the last 2,000 years was a pug nose thief who knew more about the promise of Jesus Christ than 10,000 PhD’s in theology.  

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ ? Save Yourself and us!" 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" 43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."   Luke 23:39-43

Now, let me say, I do not know if this man on the cross next to Jesus had a pug nose or not, it isn’t important.   What is important is the heart of the man.   Although at the end of his life, he understood who Jesus was and responded to him.   One could argue that it was the terrifying moment the criminal was under that caused his conversion, but that is purely conjecture, although I have heard that more than once.   Jesus knew his heart and look again at Jesus’ reply.  

The point is, even though late in life this criminal knew and understood something many have tried with the greatest of eloquence and years of preparation to understand.   Simply put, he knew and understood who Jesus was, what he was all about.   No my friends, Jesus does not require you to have a college degree to understand him, or to understand him on some deep theological level, what you need is a belief and trust in him.  

I am often reminded by comments about this person or that person, how they have gone to college; have lots of training and a degree.   You know, if Jesus and the Apostles came back today, I would speculate that none of them could get a job in the church today.   The religious leaders in Jesus time mocked the Apostles, calling them uneducated men. (Acts 4:13)   There is an old saying that sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees in the way.  

Most of the letters to the churches talk about Christian behavior for church members.   In Galatians 5: 22-25 there is a passage called the fruit of the spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Verses 22 and 23 describe several areas of behavior that each and every Christian needs to possess.   If you possess these, many other behaviors that are not so good go away.   Look carefully at verse 24, it says if you belong to Christ, you have crucified, you have died to the desires and passions of the flesh.   There is the answer my friend was looking for in his quest.   Too many people want to try and live on both sides of the fence.   They want heaven, they want to be with God, but their behavior simply does not conform to their desires.   What I really see is them thinking they can use God’s forgiveness as a way of leading a double life, sin and then obtain forgiveness, sin again and then obtain forgiveness again and the cycle continues.   Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.   Look at verse 25, it say if you are going to live by the Spirit, putting off the flesh, then you have to walk by the Spirit.   If you don’t, then you are just talking the talk and not walking the walk. 

You see my friends, you do not need a ‘deep theological study’ to under Christ.   Christ did not make it complicated at all.   Jesus taught that you need to Hear the Word of God, Believe it, Repent of you past ways, Confess that Jesus is the Son of God, Be Immersed (Baptized) for the Forgiveness of Sins and lead the Christian life, faithful unto death.   That wasn’t so hard to understand, was it?   No, the problem doesn’t not lie with understanding what to do, the problem lies with actually doing it.   I will close with a passage from James 1:21-25:

21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

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