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The grace of God is misunderstood by many. Some think God grants His grace to those who do great works in His name. Others think that if they police their own thoughts well enough, they’ll receive that grace. Still more think that a life marked by charity will earn it.

But the tale of the thief on the cross tells a far different truth.

Actor Stephen Baldwin has debuted “Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night With the Thief on the Cross,” a filmed stage production of Pastor Colin S. Smith’s novel. The production shares the fictionalized, yet Bible-based narrative of the thief who was crucified beside Jesus Christ, as the thief tells it from heaven 2,000 years later.

This is a story reveals the true nature of God’s grace—it is a thing that can never be earned or bought. There is nothing we can do with our lives that makes us worthy of it. And yet rather than being a source of despair, this should be a source of comfort, for while we cannot take grace, it is freely offered to anyone who accepts Christ as their Savior.

For more details, we caught up with Baldwin and asked him a few questions about his role in “A Night With the Thief on the Cross.”

What led you to get involved with this production?

“Well, initially, pastor Colin Smith, who had written the book, 'Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross,' contacted me about recording an audio book, and then that led to a conversation about the idea of doing it as a one-man stage play, which I did and performed two Easters ago.

It started as a sermon that became a book, that became an audio book, that became a theatrical play, which is the filmed theatrical play. That’s kind of how it started, and it’s just one of these things where now the audio book has been produced into a storytelling radio broadcast that, this year, will go out to reach tens of millions of people all over the world through the radio. While, simultaneously, we put into distribution this filmed version of the theatrical play.

So yeah—it all just kind of started from a smaller idea and now, as we know, sometimes God has another plan.”

What do you feel like is important to this story?

“I’m going to answer that question by sharing with you the answer to another question.

People say to me, ‘What have you personally gotten out of it the most?’ What I’ve benefited most from it is my growth as a Christian through the teachings of this pastor Colin Smith—this guy who originally got the heavenly download, so to speak, for this idea, which was his book called “Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross”.

And it’s this fictional narrative from the point of view of the thief, now that he’s already in heaven. Now we hear him recounting what happened on that day. Which, as an actor and an artist and a performer, that’s kind of a brilliant perspective. For so many Christians and so many believers who have heard the idea of the thief of the cross and the story—they’ve never really heard it from this narrative.

One of the great phrases Pastor Colin uses about this idea is, ‘On this day I had breakfast with the devil, and supper with the Savior.’ And what I think is the most compelling aspect of the idea of the thief on the cross is this: he wasn’t a Christian, knew nothing about Christianity or what it was to be a Christian. This guy was the furthest thing from salvation, and yet here he is dying next to the Savior.

I think, in this world today, in the minds and ideas and thoughts of so many people who think to themselves, ‘Well, I’m probably not good enough to make it into heaven,’ well certainly, the thief that was hanging next to Jesus probably wasn’t good enough either, but he’s going to go to heaven as well. The idea of the grace of all this is something that we are now very excited to be expressing in this opportunity in a new and different way.

The wonderful part of it is that we get to be a part of an opportunity right now that’s communicating that idea of grace—it’s not about what you do, how many nice things you do, how much charity you do—so many people in faith, particularly in Christianity, believe all that stuff. So when you kind of put a magnifying glass up to the thief on the cross and say ‘Yeah, but what about him? If that’s true, then how did he make it?’ that’s the fun that we’re having in this really beautifully told version of the story.”

How was it taking on so many personas in one production?

“You know, as a performer, when you have the right material—as an actor, when the script is there and you have the right lines, it actually isn’t as difficult as you think so long as you can memorize those lines.