Recently, a discussion came up among friends whether it is right to claim a deceased mutual friend is in heaven with Christ or not. Actually, I tried to bring up the discussion and my friends became upset or outraged with me. Our mutual friend recently passed away and maybe I brought the subject up too soon but I had no choice as I believed God’s justice was being defamed. For the sake of this story, we will call this friend Robert.
Robert received Christ in a church meeting when he was young. Several of my friends were there and some say they saw a radiance to his countenance, so they know he was saved. But it was not long before he was caught up in his old ways of stealing, alcohol abuse, sex and drugs. He lived his life this way, while every once in a while would come to church to re-dedicate his life to the Lord. As time wore on, he found himself in and out of jail; soon he was fifty and soon he was dead. One friend claimed he re-dedicated his life to Christ a couple weeks before he died, so they know he was saved. The fact of the matter is he died with his stash of drugs and the evidence is very slim he ever walked with the Lord – that he ever picked up his cross and followed Christ.
When the news came Robert was dead, most of our mutual friends posted their grief on social media along with their confidence he was now with Christ and the trials and hardships of his life are over. I hope this is true and it is possible he reconciled with God before he died. However, the evidence points in the other direction. While I would like to allow my friends the comfort of this delusion, I thought it was no minor sin to mock God. Thus I spoke up and thus my friends proceeded to scold me; one called me names, one ignored me altogether and several dismissed my arguments; ending our conversations about Robert.
One friend wrote: “Anyone who knows the effects of drugs on the brain, knows that when you start taking them, it damages the ability of the brain to develop properly. Robert lost his ability to reason properly when he started using drugs but I know he was saved. I was there when he asked Jesus to be his Savior. Yes, he rebelled. Haven’t we all? There were times this rebellion was against God, but mostly he was running from himself. He always loved Jesus and had a soft spot for Him. He just wasn’t able to walk the line. He literally wasn’t capable of it from all the damage done to his brain from alcohol and drugs. But God never lets go of His own. He knows our hearts. Look how many times the Israelites wandered away from God and He always forgive them and drew them back to Himself, like the Good Shepherd He is. Why do you think God compares us to sheep? Because we ALL wander and have to be drawn back. And being callous, insensitive, and judgmental, are just as bad as Robert taking drugs. SIN IS SIN. But fortunately we serve a patient, loving, forgiving God. He is not waiting to strike us down. But you sure like to think He is. I have total peace and confidence that he is with Jesus. So shut your mouth for once and keep your callousness to yourself.”
Regarding his struggles with drugs, one friend wrote, “I have had many talks with Robert, too, and he said he never lost faith, he just struggles with it but grows a bit closer to Him each time God gives him a ‘time out.'”
Several members mentioned though Robert spent his life in sin and rebellion, he had a tender heart – he would give you the shirt off his back. Some blamed people in the church for his rebellion. It also occurred to some since he was raised in faith, they can’t help but believe that at the last he cried out to God – thus they know he was saved. Some brought up verses confirming those who believe are saved. One took this even further saying, “Salvation is God’s gift, His to give, based upon His work not ours, so judgment comes only to those who despise God’s work and establish their own code. We all are of faith and God honors the faith he has put within each of us (Eph 2:8,9) – to provide us a future and a hope (Jer 29:11).”
Most of my friends accused me of judging and told me only the one without sin should cast the first stone. One member wrote, “Man looks at the outward appearance while God looks at the heart. God knew all of Robert’s battles with the enemy and I believe Robert viewed surrendering to repentance as a form of weakness. Robert always liked viewing himself as the tough one, fight his own battles. He didn’t realize that his kind of battles were all spiritual and only Jesus can fight those for us. I know God always wins in the end. I feel in my heart that the last word from his mouth was ‘Jesus’ and Robert will be there to greet us all into Heaven with his BIG smile as if to say, ‘bet you all never expected me to beat you here.’ I don’t know about you but I’m gonna stomp on his foot after I hug him.”
As if to try to wrap this all up, one member wrote, “If we make our best effort to LOVE the unlovely, to LOVE the undeserving, then the memories we can cling to will always be wonderful, because LOVE covers a multitude of sins. The greater the sin, the greater God’s love and mercy will be to cover those sins. Robert was a sinner but guess what, we all are. Jesus loves us all, forgives us all and wants us in eternity with him when our time is done here.”
It seemed to me my friends were not trying to be true to Scripture; they were trying to salve their emotions.
One evening several of us were together for dinner. I began the conversation with, “Isn’t it interesting the modern Evangelical church tries to make salvation as easy as possible, while Jesus continually talked about how hard it is to be saved?” Every member present agreed with me and the conversation went along enforcing the Biblical theory it is hard to be saved. I determined not to talk about Robert, but by the time the conversation came to a close, he was there and it was agreed, among the rest, though he had lived his life in rebellion to God, God loved him and he was saved. One member ended the conversation with the words of Peter, “God is not willing that any should perish.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned us, “Judge not that you be not judged.” [Mat 7:1] This is probably one of the most over-used verses in the Bible – often used to silence people from condemning sinful and evil actions. But Christ was talking about judging another man’s relationship to God and/or condemning another for the sake of elevating ourself.
It is not hard to understand the sin of condemning a person whom God has chosen to save. We cannot judge someone not to be saved just because they do not meet our criteria of what a saved person looks like. But have we ever examined the opposite side of this coin? When we judge someone to be saved, when they might not be, we elevate a man whom God may have condemned, thus mocking God. In other words, when we say we know someone without a track record of following Christ is in heaven for the sake of bringing comfort to the hurting – even ourselves, we mock God who is judge of the living and the dead. Though our judging may have been with benevolent intent, the fruit is evil.
Mocking God is no small matter. I am wondering: When our Christian walk revolves around ourselves – God loves us; He has a wonderful plan for our lives and on and on – are we mocking God? When we say our faith is not a religion, it is a relationship; it is about including God in our life – are we mocking God? When we continually work for our own kingdom, although Jesus told us to pray for God’s kingdom and Isaiah told us to give God no rest on this matter (Isa 62) – are we mocking God? Are we following Christ, or is He tagging along? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned many professing Christians will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mat 7). This gives me pause to often examine my walk with Christ.
Several friends mentioned they were there when Robert received Christ. One mentioned there was a radiance about him. This is wonderful – you were there for the event but how do we know from outside indications what goes on between God and man in the heart? If, after this event, we witness a life bearing fruit for Christ, we can be assured the person is truly saved. But if the next forty years are a life of rebellion – theiving, sex, alcohol abuse and drugs, we have no assurance the person is walking with the Lord, let alone saved.
The classic model of a person saved in American Evangelicalism is reduced to an event: saying the sinner’s prayer. It is generally accepted there is a repentance of sin and a change in the person’s walk. But we treat these as optional because once the sinner’s prayer is said, that person is saved and cannot lose their salvation – mark the date down on your Gospel tract. But what say the Scriptures? There is no sinner’s prayer.
In multiple passages we are told to believe and be saved. But what is believing since James tells us the demons believe and tremble (Jam 2:19) – and they are not saved? I think we can find a clue in Matthew chapter thirteen, in the parable of the Sower and the Seed given by Jesus. There are several places the seed landed and no fruit developed. However, there were two soils where the seed produced fruit: the good soil where the seed takes root – and these are the ones who are truly saved; and the stoney soil – they looked like they were saved at the beginning but they had no root and they withered. In today’s terminology, they said the sinner’s prayer but their fruit was short-lived. In this parable, believing is not an event – it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ taking root in one’s life.
The Apostle Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12). Now, he is not recommending a salvation by works because in the very next verse he tells us it is God working through us. What he is talking about is our tendency to sin – no, our determination to sin, as he talks about in the Book of Romans and especially chapter seven. We must be faithful in following Christ, knowing our God is holy and righteous and we are worthless sinners. This is a life, not an event. Many people view Romans 10:9-10 – believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth – as an event. If you read this in context you will understand Paul is comparing a righteousness by following the law against a righteousness that comes from faith and he is talking about our lives, not an event.
Christ told us, in John chapter fifteen, He is the vine and we are the branches – “we” being all the professing Christians. In verse six, He warns if we are not faithful in our walk we will wither and be tossed in the fire – the fires of Hell. Is Christ saying we can lose our salvation? Certainly not, however, not all professing Christians are saved. The Apostle John told us, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been they would have remained. But they left; making it clear they are not of us.” [1Jo 2:19] In other words, it is not the sinner’s prayer that saves; it is only those who remain to the end who were saved in the first place. Salvation is not found in an event.
What about the re-dedications? Even if his walk was not faithful – and even rebellious – don’t his multiple re-dedications at least indicate he “had a soft spot for Jesus,” as one of the friends put it? I talked to Robert on at least a couple occasions, if not several, about this matter. He told me he wanted to make sure he had fire insurance. He had been raised on this and was firmly convinced of the matter. I, too, was raised on this and would try to get people to say the sinner’s prayer – if only to make sure they had fire insurance. But I had grown out of this theology decades ago and I warned him against this as there is no fire insurance according to the Scriptures.
Robert was not to be convinced – he wanted his life of rebellion but he wanted assurance there were no eternal consequences. The Bible tells us obedience is better than sacrifice – or re-dedication, if you will – but rebellion is a great sin (1Sa 15:22-23). Peter tells us Christ died for us so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness, or obedience (2Pe 2:24). Scripture is clear, salvation is not found in an event nor is it found in a series of events. It is found only in a life of obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
During our exchange of emails, some of our mutual friends resorted to blame. Several blamed his addiction to drugs and one blamed people from the church. The Apostle Paul makes clear in Romans chapter one God has revealed Himself to all men – so that no man is without excuse. To blame other professing Christians for Robert’s falling away is without Scriptural support. We blame to escape responsibility or to remove responsibility from where it belongs. But the Scripture is clear – no man is without excuse.
Can someone be so lost to drugs so that when they get saved they are powerless to follow Christ? Christ commanded us to daily take up our cross and follow Him and those unwilling to do so are not worthy of Him (Mat 10:38; 16:24). Every Christian has their cross to bear, some crosses are heavier than others. Drugs are a cruel master but the professing Christian must choose to continue to follow the old master or follow Christ. No matter how severe the addiction, every use of drugs boils down to a choice – nobody is forced to do it. Paul tells us in Romans chapter six, we are slaves to the one we choose to obey. Remember the parable of the Sower and the Seed: some seed falls on the rocky soil, it blossoms but there is no root, so it withers and dies. The only reason Robert was powerless to obey Christ was he had no root. We cannot blame drugs nor can we blame other professing Christians who let him down.
Is the arm of the Lord too short to save (Isa 59:1)? Are drugs too much for Christ to overcome? I remember when God called me – I was in the gutter, a hopeless drunk. He called me to follow Him and I left the drunken life behind. Isaiah tells us our sins have separated us from God and hidden His face (Isa 59:2). Christ told people immersed in sinful lives to go and sin no more (Joh 8:11). We hear of some of the painful withdrawals of addicts who appear to have chosen Christ only to return to their lives of debauchery. Is this God’s fault – is He powerless? Or is the real problem the professing Christian prefers his old master? There are those who find victory in their struggles when they determine to follow Christ.
If one were to summarize the first chapter of the Book of James, it would be this: In your trials, do not sin. One member of our group claimed Robert never lost faith during these trials – trials being his bondage to drugs, sex and alcohol abuse. The Bible talks about keeping faith during trials, but clinging to a life of sin is not a trial – it is rebellion, just as Paul described it in Romans chapter one. Every admonishment in Scripture to persevere in the faith warns us to follow Christ – not the world. The Apostle John wrote if we say we have fellowship with – or faith in – Christ but continue in our sin, we are lying (1Jo 1:6). We cannot follow Christ and follow darkness.
In Romans chapter six, Paul asks two questions: 1) Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?; and 2) Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? The answer to both is “by no means” (or “God forbid”) – we have died to sin and are slaves to whom we choose to obey. If we choose to obey righteousness, our lives will lead to holiness – not to debauchery. For the wages of sin is death…
Is God a God of mercy? The Bible tells us over and over this is true. However, we know from Scripture salvation is not universal. So to whom is this mercy directed? “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” [Isa 66:2]
Several members commented Robert “had a tender heart – he would give you the shirt off his back.” They are confusing this with a contrite spirit. The Bible differentiates between the humble and those living a life of sin (Psa 18:27; 147:6; Pro 3:33-35; Jam 4:6; 1Pe 5:5). The famous verse, 2Chronicles 7:14, tells us the humble will turn away from sin. If we continue in sin, we are neither contrite nor humble and there is no mercy for us (Heb 10).
So, what is faith? The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Then he continues his description of faith by listing the acts of obedience of well-known predecessors in the faith. In the second chapter of James, there is a comparison of three examples of faith: the faith of Abraham, the father of Israel; the faith of Rahab, the prostitute; and the faith of demons. Because of his faith, Abraham acted in obedience to God’s commands, including leaving the comfort of his home to live in tents and laying his son on the altar as a sacrifice to God. Not many of us can fully understand living a life with nothing but God – to have no permanent residence and the willingness to give a long-hoped-for son back to God. God was faithful and honored Abraham’s obedience not only by restoring his son but by bringing the Salvation of mankind through his seed.
Now, Rahab was a prostitute. She heard of the power of Israel’s God and believed Jericho was destined to destruction. Some might call this “faith.” But this knowledge or fear was not faith and she was not the only one who was afraid. However, she was the only one who believed in the God of Israel as the only true God and she acted on this belief. She hid the spies and lied to the authorities – at the risk of her life. God blessed her faith which was proven by her actions. Not only was her family rescued from destruction but God placed her in the line of David and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Her faith was not produced by works, or a sinless life, but her faith produced works that led to life.
According to modern Christian thought, Rahab could have exercised her faith by turning the spies in to the authorities. Romans 13:1 tells us to be subject to our governing authorities. Most professing Christians I talk to interpret the first seven verses of Romans thirteen through the lense of the first clause of the first verse. Forgotten, or ignored, are Paul’s admonishments that governments are instituted to do good, bless those who do good and restrain evil. This misinterpretation of this passage has given many a professing Christians shelter from having to stand against the evil in their day – they place man as the highest authority. But Peter and John stood firm, stating “we must obey God rather than man” (Act 4:19; 5:29). Because God instituted all government, He is the highest authority. Therefore, we must stand firm for God’s truth even when governments promote evil.
Abraham and Rahab had a saving faith – as did the list of those mentioned in Hebrews eleven. Their faith was a saving faith because they were not afraid to act on their faith – to live out obedience to the glory of God. The third faith James demonstrates (actually the first in order) is the faith of demons. Demons believe because they know – they have seen God. Yet they cannot be saved, so their faith is not a saving faith. When we say we have faith yet fail to live in obedience, not only does John say we are liars but we demonstrate the faith of demons and we cannot be saved. The Apostle James wrote “I will show you my faith by my works … faith without works is dead.” [Jam 2:14-26] Doers of the Word and not hearers only (Jam 1:22).
The easy-believism faith says, “Come. Say the sinner’s prayer and you will be saved. Nothing is required because salvation is not of works. Once you are saved, you can never lose your salvation because God loves you. No matter how far you fall, God loves you and no one slips out of His hands.” I thought it was very ironic one of the friends wrote in defense of Robert, “So judgment comes only to those who despise God’s work and establish their own code.” Not only was Robert’s rebellion a despising of God’s work, it was a living out of his own code. However, I think a more important point is that we mock God – or despise His work – and establish our own code when we relegate salvation to an event – a sinner’s prayer – and ignore or deny salvation is lived out in a life of obedience to God. Salvation is found only by abiding in Christ – this is the fruit of faith in Christ.
Sure, we all know the verse that says salvation is by grace and not of works, lest any man boast in himself (Eph 2:8-9). But we ignore the very next verse which clearly says our salvation, or faith, produces works that God prepared in advance for us – “that we should walk in them.”
The Bible makes clear those who preach easy-believism are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many a professing Christian are on their way to hell because they are living for their own kingdom and not for the kingdom of heaven. They believe they can live any way they please because they are not saved by works. They believe once they say the sinner’s prayer they have their fire insurance locked in. Taking up their cross daily consists of being stuck in traffic, suffering through a job they despise or not getting paid enough for the work they do. Lost to them is the ideal of abiding in Christ, denying themselves and standing up for God’s truth in the midst of an evil generation.
Consider these words of Jesus: “Enter by the narrow gate for the wide gate is easy and leads to destruction and those who enter are many. But the narrow gate is hard and few will find it but it leads to life.” [Mat 7:13-14] I was taught the narrow gate was following Christ and the wide gate was following the world. The more I read this passage the more I am convinced Christ is speaking of the faith. The wide gate is not the world because the world is content to wander ignoring the path to God. The wide gate is the way of the majority of professing Christians – they enter the easy way; the way to destruction. Those who enter the narrow gate are those who are willing to follow Christ. It is hard but it leads to life. If we are willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Christ, Paul assures us Christ will bring this work to completion (Php 1:6). Our salvation does not consist of an event or a prayer – it is a life lived for Christ.
Going back to the conversation with friends at the dinner table, one member summed up Robert’s salvation with “God is not willing any should perish.” Great verse but one of the most basic rules for interpreting Scripture is to look at it within the context of the passage around it. When looking at the context of this clause we see Peter is talking to the elect – make your calling and election sure (1:10). In the first verse of chapter three, Peter references his first epistle to these same people and in that epistle he addresses them as the elect at the very start. Then we look at Chapter two, it is a list of people, throughout all time that God is not willing to save and has destined to destruction. In chapter three, Peter says the ungodly will be damned (3:7). So, at this point we know there are exceptions to “God is not willing any should perish.” Then, in the ninth verse, where Peter says “God is not willing any should perish,” he prefaces it with, “He is longsuffering toward us” – the elect – then he continues, “not willing that any should perish.” So, if we take this verse in context, Peter is talking to and about the elect when he says “God is not willing any should perish.” He is not talking about those in rebellion to Him – regardless whether they said the sinner’s prayer or whether they claimed to be saved.
After we have examined a verse within the context of the passage, we should compare it according to what the rest of Scripture has to say about. The beginning of the conversation began with a comparison of modern Christianity claiming it easy to become saved versus Jesus Christ claiming it hard to become saved. If we think God is not willing any person should perish, this is the same God who rejected an entire generation of Israelites, leaving them to die in the desert. This is the same God who told Jeremiah on four different occasions not to pray for his generation of Israelites. In Matthew chapter thirteen, Jesus explains he speaks in parables lest the people hearing understand and believe. When Jesus explained to the disciples it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, they had a hard time understanding (Mat 19:16-30). Because just like many modern professing Christians, they believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus explained we must deny ourselves and in John chapter fifteen He explains we must abide in Him to produce fruit; otherwise we perish – by fire. In John 2:23-25, many claimed to believe but Christ had no confidence in them because He knows the heart of man – in other words, they were not saved. In John chapter 6, Jesus makes His testimony hard and people are stumbling over what He is saying and He tells them they cannot come to Him unless the Father draws them. In John chapter eight, Jesus told believers they will stumble over the truth unless they abide in Christ and even then, they stumbled over what He said. And I won’t get into Romans chapter nine where Paul claims some are created for destruction. So, unlike modern easy-believism which boils salvation down to a recitation of the sinner’s prayer, Jesus tells us the truth is hidden from those not chosen; we can only come to faith in Christ if the Father draws us; and if we do not produce fruit, we will perish. So, we see from Scripture God qualifies those He is not willing should perish.
Nothing in this story was said to demean or condemn my friend, Robert. My heart grieves that he might be going to hell. That I have analyzed this scenario at all is to convince us to examine our lives because I firmly believe we have mocked God by claiming Robert to be in heaven. Now, it just might be he cried out to God at the end, but we don’t know this to be true and the evidence is against it when we examine what the Scriptures declare to be a life that is saved. If we err, we must err on the side of honoring God – to avoid mocking Him if there is any doubt.
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to get across. I am not claiming we must be perfect to be saved and I am no super Christian, myself. I sin daily; I negligently mock God and take His ways and His Word frivolously; I know my heart is full of evil and I bear little fruit. I plead with God daily not to abandon me to my sin. All I can do is confess my sin and ask God to lead me and help me follow. This is my cross: rejecting my sin nature’s constant determination to sin. My concern and the only reason I write this is to exhort myself and anyone who reads this to look at our lives and look at our walk with Christ so the seed within us will take root and we be diligent to bring Him honor – bearing fruit. If we are in grief, let us bear this trial without sinning knowing God will confirm us to the end (1Co 1:8).