“Does once saved always saved apply even though he became an atheist?”

photo © 2008 Andrew E. Larsen , Flickr | found via Wylio.com

I stand at the graveside of a young student. Fifteen years old. Dead in an instant. Skateboarding on a foggy night and a car that never even saw a faint shadow, until it was too late.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel. I’ve met this kid only one time and he attended youth group functions only a couple other times. So my brain and my heart try to meet in the awkward unknowing of my emotions.

It’s sunny today, not a cloud in sight. The temperature is rising every minute it seems. Pockets of people merge into a large crowd.

Now the first song begins. Amazing Grace finally comes into focus as the mass of people pick up on the song choice. This, in spite of the poor sound quality of the amplification system.

As the song ends a young pastor comes up to the front podium. My eyes begin to squint as the small bit of shade shifts with the pattern of the sun. Not only will the sermon deal with a difficult subject but I’m now physically uncomfortable. No chair, hot clothes, and a sun that chose to shine brighter than it has all winter long.

The pastor begins with warm words to the family about their young son. He recalls the accident that led to their son’s instant death. His demeanor reeks of sorrowful joy. A dichotomous perspective typical to many evangelical funerals.

Now the pastor begins down a rabbit trail that catches my attention. This is a moment I’ve waited for ever since I caught wind of a rumor that this fifteen year old boy had recently professed himself an atheist. How does a pastor handle the questions generated from this reality?

Some folks wonder if this student is in hell. Others wonder if there’s any chance that God let him into heaven. I think about how I’d appeal to the wideness of God’s grace and defer the judgment to God. We have no place guessing what the Divine will do… at least in definite “yes” or “no” statements.

“We know that this student accepted Christ at a VBS at a young age. This prayer saved him from hell and we can have absolute confidence that he is in heaven. His salvation is forever.”

My ears can’t believe what they just heard. Instead of appealing to mystery (which would have left room for holding the student’s atheism in tension with God’s perfect judgment), he outright appealed to a “once saved always saved theology!” How can he do this with biblical and pastoral integrity?

I know that he is probably a good guy and has good intentions, but what he just said will leave more questions than answers. I like when we live with questions when they come from a helpful premise, but this “absolute confidence” approach will create pastoral difficulties.


It is now three days after the funeral. I pull up to the student’s close friend’s house to pick up a group of boys. I offered to take them out to pizza to have some fun in the midst of all the pain.

Driving to the restaurant we engage in small talk about quirky teachers, funny movies, and Xbox 360 games. I don’t know when the right time will be to bring up the death of their close buddy, but I know questions are coming.

After ordering two pizzas we sit down at the table closest to the video games. We play until the simmering pies of goodness arrive at our table. Over slices, I bring up the issue looming in the back of our minds.

They express to me how weird it is that their buddy is dead. Awkwardness arises in their tone when asked about the funeral service. Explicitly, one of them says: “Kurt, he wasn’t a Christian anymore. He told me that he was an atheist just two weeks ago.” This same student goes on to describe how the preacher came across as a liar to everyone who knew their friend. He was not a Christian.

In the back of my mind I reflect on the pastoral dilemma that “once saved always saved” theology creates. How will I move the conversation in a healthy direction from here? Hell is bound to come up. Do I tell them that you can be a Christian even if you deny it? I certainly don’t believe that.


“Does once saved always saved apply even though he became an atheist?”

What do you think? Does this theology create interesting pastoral scenarios? How would you discuss this issue with the friends of the victim? Other thoughts? And yes, I experimented with writing in a narrative format… just to push myself 🙂

FOR MY VIEW ON THIS ISSUE SEE: Can You Lose Your Salvation? Mark Driscoll and Greg Boyd in Dialogue

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  • Derek

    The doctrine of once saved always saved, rightly understood in the Calvinist traditional sense, teaches that of someone turns away from the faith than it merely proves that their conversion is not genuine. There are some baptists circles where once saved always saved means that once some confesses Christ they will go to heaven no matter what ( a la Charles Stanley), but that’s not the tradition doctrine rightly understood. Since I’m not an E.T. Guy myself, (but I am a grace guy) I’d leave it to a mystery the fate of the boy.

    •  I resonate with you on this @2cf139d20ad5cd15252a779c6dd0b1cd:disqus , thanks!

    • Bill

       I am NOT a Bible scholar and am in the shallow end of the Theology pool. BUT I seem to recall Peter saying 3 times he had no idea who Jesus was. Where is Peter right now?

      • Derek

        Just like “saying” a sinners prayer is not a magic formula to “get in”, in the same way “saying” a denial of Christ is not a magic formula to “get out”. I think that’s about the only thing Peters example adds to the conversation. But it does not really prove one way or another whether or not someone can abandon the faith they once clung too.

    • Kevin

      The parable of the sower comes to mind.

  • David Todd

    Great article, great questions Kurt. The pastor was probably just trying to bring comfort, it’s the pastoral thing to do, to try to make some sense of the tragedy and to bring some hope into the midst of hopelessness, I understand that.

    What I do know and it’s true if unsatisfactory is that the young student is in the loving care of Jesus. I have no issue saying that, he’s in Jesus’ care and Jesus is loving and just and compassionate. 

    That’s the most I can say and that’s alright, that’s sufficient in it’s mystery and hope. It’s no more our place to judge if he’s in heaven than it is to judge of he’s in hell. I don’t know that. I do know that Jesus is loving and compassionate and that his love is demonstrable and reliable.

    Praise the Lord.

    • We just don’t know, learn form this example that human life is very fragile, and that in this it leads our hearts to seek that which is eternal, Jesus the Christ.

      In Him is life, eternal life.

  • Scott Gay

    In a plea for the mysterious ways of God who has promised that where sin abounds grace much more abounds, please read “A Theology of Inclusivism” by Neal Punt.

  • David R. Henson

    You can easily make the argument from Scripture that Christ died for all sin, not just the sin of those call themselves Christians. You can make the argument that on Holy Saturday, Christ emptied “Hell” now and forever. That if Hell (gehenna — a smoldering trash dump) exists then it *must* be empty or Christ’s death and resurrection is held impotent by the whims of a teenager’s angst at the faith of his childhood.

    Really, my guess is that these kids are worried about their friend. Maybe discuss what it means to actually be a follower of Jesus/God? Does it mean believing in something or being some way. Maybe discuss that we are all children of God and that mercy endures forever.

    In the Episcopal tradition, when we baptize someone, we say that they are marked as Christ’s own forever. In effect, that the sacrament of baptism cannot be undone.

    Or you could just go whole-hog and say that hell isn’t real, unless we’re talking about the hell we’ve made of this world.

  • Anonymous

    Poor pastoral move, even if he did believe it. Few do in this way as far as I know – most who say that mean that are of the Reformed tradition and are more likely to say that he wasn’t a Christian in the first place. But even if so, very bad pastoral move to say it at a funeral. The pastor can’t try to be the answer man (or woman) at a funeral. The pastor needs to make it clear that it is ok to question. I imagine a lot of people were still questioning but now felt like they weren’t allowed since they were “given the answer” already.

  • I tend to agree with Derek. At least that was how I was raised. Perhaps he was a believer, at least in word, when brought to faith at VBS. However, the roots never took hold. That would be the theological input. As far as practicality is concerned, bad move on the part of the young pastor. He spoke for God when he had no reason to. 

    You should defend him though, to the students (in my opinion). He may be a young pastor, but he’s still a pastor just the same. Don’t whitewash it, but explain it from your perspective. It’s a little counter-intelligence, if you will, so that the pastor’s integrity isn’t completely destroyed. Once you’ve handled that a little, then you can move it in a healthy manner to confirming their salvation, finding out why the dead boy left the faith, etc. Just my thoughts.

  • Dave

    Regarding “once saved always saved,” inference from Scripture shouldn’t supersede its clear statements. Hebrews talks about the impossibility of those who had tasted of the Heavenly gift and walked away to be restored. Esau was condemned for selling his birthright, unable to regain it even through repentance. That is terrifying! 
    This is something I’ve wrestled with over the past few years – especially since I heard that a songwriter whose walk I used to look to for encouragement has turned from the faith. There are few things that hurt me more than someone denying their once (seemingly) established faith. Especially one whom I trusted. I was brought up in the “osas” tradition, and from my recollection Derek is spot on. But how can a lie bring comfort, or lead to the truth? Comfort at the expense of truth is a terrible and dangerous deception. The New Testament as a whole presents the road to salvation as a thin and narrow one – one which even Peter and Paul seemed to fear they might not attain if they didn’t continue on the difficult path.But I digress. Kurt, I’m with you in this. It is shocking to read what that preacher (probably a great guy) said. It may make doctrinal sense in some circles, but it doesn’t line up with Scripture, does it?

  • Justin Heap

    Two things are always at play in this conversation, though, right? 

    Number One, was he ever “born from above”, rescued, adopted into the family, etc.–all thoroughly Biblical options of speaking of this Salvation…

    And B, if yes to the above: then we can easily liken it to our own children. My son, no matter what he ever declares (I hate you, I don’t believe in you, etc.) and no matter what he ever does (Acts out of hate, dehumanizing others, etc.) will forever be My Son–no legal papers, no amount of disbelief, no amount of blood transfusion will ever be able to make that not so. It just is.

    Now, to be fair – I very much agree with this idea that we can so easily presume to know the “status” (for lack of a better term) of a certain individual IN EITHER DIRECTION. So, although I believe in the aforementioned security of salvation/kingdom citizenship/sonship, I would NOT have chosen to make such a statement in a broad setting as you’ve described.
    Great post, Kurt, and as always, you raise some extremely valid and wonderful questions with immediately tangible application as we continue to ‘work out our faith’, too.

  • Charlie

    This is one of those theological things I think about more often than I should. And honestly, I’m not sure where I stand on it sometimes. Once we decide to put on Christ, we enter into an adoption that isn’t fully realized or complete until judgment. Once we become consciously aware of our sinful nature, we are held accountable for our actions. If we choose life as God would have us, we experience it more fully now, and completely once we’re united with him. I struggle with someone knowing that they are rebellious, choosing to become a child of his, then rebelling once again. I’m with you, Kurt, and even with Derek. I will agree that it was probably an ill advised move on the pastor’s part.I’ve always been told that at a funeral, it’s our job to both say goodbye to the deceased and reaffirm our faith in Jesus. I’m not sure it’s ever our place to decide the fat of someone. I won’t attempt to speak for God in this sense, I’ll let him speak for the boy’s final resting place. But I just have to wonder…because I don’t know that it’s directly addressed in the bible. 

    I love the fact that it opened up a conversation with students for you, Kurt. If nothing else, it makes them take a very hard look at this particular conflict. 

  • Christine

    The question confuses me. It seems to imply “even though he became an atheist” is a possible exception to the rule, as though “once saved always saved” applies in other scenarios… you know what I mean? Like, how could “once saved always saved” ever be true? Is atheism the worst denial of Christ? Is it worse than, say, stagnation of the faith, apathy, laziness, having the false gods of money or power or status replace Christ as our saviour? Saying you’re an atheist is obviously a pretty conscious denial, but certainly there are many who would never call themselves an atheist and their faith is what we call “nominal.”

    Who is “always saved”? I don’t believe God judges us based on what our Religion status is on the day we die. I don’t want to be the homesitter, found asleep when the owner comes home, but I believe God is a just God, and he weighs our entire lives (not works based) on judgement day. I’d like to think my salvation is up to God to determine, but I can have confidence that every day I choose him, he has already chosen me. 

  • Saved from what? From the Powers and Principalities? From God’s wrath? From a life of hate and apathy? From a disembodied Hell? 

    Is the point of salvation that we don’t go to hell when we die? Does Jesus sell fire insurance based on our response to the question “Does God exist?” ? I think that would be a really silly God. At the least, he would be a narcissist. Is atheism a special category that God just doesn’t have grace for? Is honesty about the way we approach God not forgivable? What if, 2 weeks before he died, he confessed that he sleeps around. Would there be this same debate? On the one hand, I feel like this question is reductionist and, on the other hand, I don’t even know what it means. I don’t know what it means to ask if someone is saved post-mortem. I only know what it means to be saved now–to live a life transformed by the Spirit in which I love others. The better question is: Do we believe that God will redeem all of creation and reconcile all things to himself by the blood of the cross? If our answer is no, then I guess we can feel free to make judgements about the souls of people who died unrepentant of things we consider sinful. On the other hand,  if the answer is yes, then are we really going to let his answer to the question “Does God exist?” affect the way we see God’s redeeming love at work in his life and the lives of the people around him. 

    • Charlie

      Greg, I think it goes deeper than “Does God exist?” I think it has more to do with our response AFTER we answer that question. If the answer is yes, and we live like it, we’ll see the fruits. If the answer is no, and we live like it, we’ll see those fruits as well. On your confession note, I’d ask if he was being repentant or not. If he’s just proclaiming that he’s sleeping around, and not remorseful, is he forgiven? (not judging, just asking) I think you hit the nail on the head with a life transformed. 

  • I’m new to this blog, but not to the concepts discussed. It’s an absolute tragedy what happened to this young man, no doubt. And I have no idea what his ultimate fate was. But I do know how I wrestle with my own faith and where I’ve been at different times on the spectrum of faith.

    There have been times when I’ve felt so close to God, that it was almost tangible, then there have been other “dark nights of the soul” where I’ve been far more atheistic than I would like to admit. 

    I don’t know how much credence I’d give a 15 year old young man in his declaration of atheism. All I knew at 15 was that I didn’t know anything but thought I knew it all. I’m much more inclined to think that perhaps statements of atheism were products of spiritual frustration than bona fide atheism.

    Maybe he was authentically an atheist. Or, maybe he was rebelling against his church. It could have been that he was just confused and bewildered by the onslaught of anti-christian rhetoric so prevalent in contemporary American society.

    I’m definitely in agreement with those who reserve a decision on what the ultimate fate of that young man was as mystery, we just can’t know until we’re on the other side. But after reading the post, I don’t know how much “faith” I have a teenager’s declaration of atheism.

    But, after all, this is all just my opinion 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I think as youth pastors – we have to remember that when teens step out to proclaim that they are “Atheist”, it’s really more of a reaction. To what? Unresolved anger? Desire for a sense of identity? Poor examples of authority? The institutional/authoritarian guise of a semi-malfunctioning Christianity? 

    Even as I unpack those things in my mind, I’m asking, what kind of God would send a teen skateboarder to Hell because they were struggling? We can’t proclaim that He is with us throughout our struggles, failures, and doubt, and then deny it  when it’s convenient. 

    Christ paid our sin debt. It is written, for you, for me, and for the student whose life was tragically cut short in a time of personal struggle.

    Amazing post, Kurt.

  • Tolthouse

    Once you become a son of your earthly parents can you change that? Can you change that status by anything you do no matter how evil? Can a person remove “incorruptible seed”? Is the seed or the spirit of God in us able to corrupt? Does God decide to give us his Holy Spirit and then remove it based on our beliefs or our actions? Does he impart this seed that allows us sonship and then remove it one day and then give it back the next? What does one do to lose this sonship? Do I believe in once saved always saved doctrine? I never considered thinking in those terms. I know that my heavenly father would not do less than my earthly father. 

  • Jes

    Not going to go on about theologies here, I am not that knowledgable.  What I do know is kids, and teens. 

    That pastor was in a really tight situation and though he was trying to say the right thing to be comforting, I agree that it probably wasn’t the best way to handle it.  What a trying position for a young pastor.

    On the topic, I don’t know, but perhaps God has grace in handling the wild emotional state of adolescence.  Any teen can be a wildly different person depending on the day/time.  It is a time of trial and error in development.  I think God is bigger than that.  Maybe thats where the mystery comes in.

    Frankly, that can apply to anyone.   Is our eternal judgement based on our state of being in the moment of death, or is it bigger than that?

    • Charlie

      Jes, I would pose an even deeper question: did this person choose life or choose rebellion? I’m not sure it has to do with our state of being or status, but more with how we chose to live and who we chose to live for. I would wonder if he was seeking the life that is offered through Christ, or the “life” the world has to offer.

      I’m not trying to call judgment on this boy, just following up on what you said.

  • Kevin Klingmeyer

    This is a topic that has hit close to home with myself recently—I’ve been dealing with the suicide of my brother (who was 25). When we were younger, we both had Christian-like ideas and morals in our heads. When we got older, I went Evangelical and he went atheist, and then agnostic. That changed in him. however. We talked God often up until the end of his life. He was going through AA and got to the step of believing in a higher power (whatever that means). His friend was telling me how odd it was for my brother to actually talk about religious stuff (God and Christianity). But he hid all of that from me, and later killed himself.

    The questions that have been going through my mind are this:
    —Did he profess something and did not tell me?
    —Did he grow up quickly and fall over, or was there seed firmly planted?
    —Since I can’t know during this lifetime, how will this impact my life of ministry?
    —Did he kill himself thinking that, since he now knew God, he could escape the constant pain in this world (I know I thought that when I was suicidal 8 years ago)?
    —Should I put significance in the fact that his birthday fell on Easter this year?

    There are other questions, but one thing is clear: no Christian in their sound mind would commit (spiritual or physical) suicide. Suicide is not a “Christian” act. Apostasy is not a “Christian” act. Should I discount any hope of Life for my brother due to this end alone?

    I think that last question applies best here. Which life was a phase in this child’s life: Atheism or Christianity? If, during my brother’s wake (which was done by a Baptist), the pastor just said something like that Youth Pastor said, I would have been furious. I do know that much. It would have made me think my life was rather pointless after giving my life to Christ. This would not be because it was so simple, but because it makes it sound like an event, rather than a life, is what Jesus came to die for.

    The theology is one thing (it can be argued both for my brother and this 15 year old that their in Heaven and Hell until the cows get raptured), but the funeral and wake are for the exhortation of those left behind. The focus should be on how they should lead their lives with this loss. I think declaring the eternal sentence of the fallen (and leaving it at that) falls short.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Kevin,

      You ask some profound questions.  I don’t have answers but I would like to give you some more things to ponder.

      The way God makes us have fingers, toes, and other parts of our body is through programmed cell death called apoptosis.  If we extend the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being the body of Christ and as members we are like cells in the body, then for the body to properly develop it’s functioning some cells/members are going to need to die. It may be that any cell/member death should be an act of God.  But the natural world seems to suggest that if God ordained apoptosis as the means by which he creates our physical bodies and calls our selves a very good creation, then a cell/member of the body of Christ acting for the good of the whole may possibly be called to practice apoptosis.

      If we believe in non-violence as a critical part of the Kingdom of God, then what do we as a community do with those who persist to threaten the community’s well being?  Matthew 18 has been used to support the practice of shunning.  When we shun others we communicate shame.  Shame when it has been internalized is self-destructive. Shame leads to suicide in one way or another, either directly and immediately or more slowly through self-destructive behaviors like addictions.  Shame is the emotional trigger of apoptosis.

      The pain that leads to suicide is shame.  Is the shame appropriate or is it a lie? If we are caught up in our sin, we will not hear the love of God directly. How others mirror the love of God to us either affirms or discounts the shame we feel. Knowing this, it gives us great responsibility to reflect the truth of God’s love towards others. Even so, we have our own responsibility to fight the lie or accept the truth. If we can’t hear from God and others don’t tell us, how will we know which is the lie and which is the truth?

       I agree with you that a person in their sound mind would not commit suicide.  How does God hold us accountable for the things we do when we are not in our sound mind?

      Jesus told a parable of guy who hired people to work in his fields.  Some started at dawn, others noon, and still others late in the day. Yet the master paid them all the same.  The reward of eternal life is given regardless of how long we’ve worked for the master, only that we have obeyed him.  Do we know what Jesus asked of your brother or this young skateboarder? Only vaguely and in principle. 

      1 Corinthians says that love always hopes.  For you to love your brother would be to always hope the best for him, even when he’s dead.

  • I’m so glad I’m an atheist, and don’t have to worry about whether or not my loved ones who have passed are suffering in hell. 
    Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

    • Nsalisbury

      if someone doesnt believe in automobiles will they be safe walking blindly across the freeway in rush hour? its true you dont ‘have’ to worry. but you really should

  • Interesting article but its one that seems, to me, strangely framed. It seems very transactional, black and white, yes or no. But is that how relationships really work? Surely relationships work in a different way. Say I’m angry with someone and flounce off does that determine everything for ever? Or does God always act in a transactional way? Surely, this is just our limited way of seeing thins and wanting to have everything clear and sorted?

  • That must be such a difficult situation to find yourself in. I’m not sure that I have any answers for you. If God is love and God is God and God desires all of us to be with Him for ever don’t you think that if He can find a way He will? I suppose I think that God isn’t a transactional God but a God that overflows with more love than we can ever imagine and I don’t see Him setting a test for people.

    • Charlie

      Will, I believe it’s true that God WANTS all people to be with him forever. But he cannot force us to do so. Him “finding a way” after death could sometimes be defined as him forcing us to choose him. I think the bible is clear that indeed there will be a judgment and separation of the sheep and goats, the wide and narrow gates. We know that God isn’t a transactional god, but there is an enactment of faith that happens on our part, we have to choose to accept his gift. 

  • I think the narrative style worked really well for you, especially with such a deep and serious topic.  My take on the once saved, always saved thing is that it is hard for me to believe someone who has actually accepted to and submitted to Christ could “unaccept that”. But perhaps not impossible.

    But I also think a person’s salvation is ultimately between them and God and there is so much we don’t know about each other’s inner faith life.

    • Sarah, not only is possible to “unaccept that” it happens all the time.  More and more people are starting to realize that are no god(s).  The number of atheists in this country is growing fast!  🙂

      • Charlie

        Walter, I have also seen the stats that say that Atheism is increasing and I respect the decisions of those who have made them, though the decisions sadden me.  Still, growth in numbers of adherants is not certification of truth or validity of concept.  I was not content with simply accepting cultural Christianity some years ago and started my own research, to find that there is a sound historical basis for the Christian faith, enough to warrant the final ‘leap of faith’.  Historical basis is not the same as scientific proof, of course.  but there is sufficient historicity to my faith.  As to the growth of Atheism, I am sad to say I think a lot of that has been exacerbated by the choices made by elements of the Church in America and around the world.

  • I loved the narrative styled writing – very inspirational and thought evoking. This age old battle with Calvinism v. Arminianism is a brutal one. The conversations are endless and oftentime go in circles. I believe full-heartedly more than anything that countless aspects of God’s character and mind are mysterious. I mean, for who can know the thoughts of God? Right? Right.

    In short, you’re very wise to skate the issue yet address the important tenants of the discussion. No one will ever be able to fully agree, and that as you said is where grace steps in and we must place the matter at the Lord’s feet. Truly the only healing for those young boys is to press into God and lean not on their own understanding. It is so much easier to let the weight of a disastrous tragedy settle on God’s shoulders and know we don’t have to figure it out, as badly as we may wish.

    Obviously you know all this, so I am just joining alongside your plight and saying, AMEN BROTHER.

    •  @cf63caa467c602af82a042c0672074c8:disqus … thanks so much for this grace filled comment 🙂

  • Very challenging. Wish more people would appeal to mystery in this department.

  • Anonymous

    I really appreciate all the thoughtful comments made here and would like to add a few of my own.

    Just as an up front confession, I don’t believe in the theology of “once saved, always saved” and like you would  have preferred to have left the boy’s fate as a mystery.  I think that there is a way to salvage the youth pastor’s credibility and reinsert mystery back into the boy’s story. 

    I would like to affirm God’s eternal loving kindness and his omnipotent transformative power to turn all circumstances for good. I would like to remind people that even though Jesus often spoke of hell, he also told stories of hope for those who didn’t measure up in their theology like the parable of the father with two sons.

     The father told both sons to work in the field.  The one son agreed and didn’t go.  The other son rebelled and went.  Jesus counted the obedience as more important than the verbal affirmation.  This young skateboarder did not stop loving his parents or friends just because he didn’t believe in God.  There were probably lots of other ways this young man obeyed God even if what he said denied him.  Was he perfectly obedient in spite of his disbelief? No. But the apostle Paul tells us in Romans that we will all be refined by fire and that only those who have built with the gold of love and the silver of forgiveness will have anything to show on the other side.

    One of the things this young man was doing right was telling the truth.  Jesus says that we should know the truth and the truth will set us free.  This young man was not willing to be wishy washy and have a luke-warm Christianity.  By announcing his unbelief he was being just like doubting Thomas, who declared that he would not believe unless he could touch Jesus’s wounds.  When this young man died on his skateboard he was set free to know the Truth. God invited him to meet his maker, to put his fingers in Jesus’ wounds .  We don’t know if, like Thomas, he changed his mind and said, “My Lord, my God” or not.  But we do know that one day everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord.

  • Brad Thomas

    Only God knows the heart.  Only God decides.  I leave it to Him. . .What a relief!

  • Brad Thomas

    By the way Kurt, the scene painted at your narrative’s beginning for some reason reminded of Albert Camus’ The Stranger when he goes to the funeral of his mother who has passed. . .he was an Atheist. . .supposedly.  Have you read it. . .interesting read.  Thoughtful and thought-provoking.  Albert Camus wrote things like “Every day is judgement day” (paraphrase). 

    •  @fd48a634c9ea7e997320d97a15cb1ccb:disqus … never read that. sounds interesting.

  • Marcus Curnow

    Nice narrative… Keep pushing yourself, much appreciated!

    •  @41feb8ccc98fef1b8b91948c858ee258:disqus … thanks so much for the encouragement 🙂

  • Speaking as an atheist – I came to atheism from Christianity.  I was baptized at 14, and deconverted around the age of 33.

    And yet, when I tell some class of Christians that I used to be Christian too, I am constantly told, “You were never a Christian or else you would still be a Christian now.”

    This sort of dismissive pronouncement is irritating, and wrong.  It puts the Christian in the position of deciding who is, and who is not a Christian.  It is insulting to an atheist.

    Mr. Willems is correct – how can a pastor proclaim salvation (or damnation) with any sort of integrity?  How can a Christian pass judgement on another?

    Even if you forget that judgement is the prerogative of your God,  how are you – a mere human – able to know the will of a supposedly omnipotent being?And if you leave behind religious arguments, who are you to tell me who I am?  Who are you to dismiss who I have been?  This is condescending arrogance of the worst sort.

    What is worse is that such an attitude is encouraged by the bible.  “Every knee will bend”, and “You believe in God, but you deny him because you love to sin” are positions supported by biblical text.   

    So responsibility for the smug superiority that I receive is passed off onto a book – personal responsibility is shirked.

    •  @Calladus:disqus … although i clearly come from a position of faith in Jesus, I respect what you have said here. thanks for commenting and please do again.

    • mariakirby


      I’d like to address your question “who are you to tell me who I am?”  To some degree you are right that we know our own talents and faults best and we are defined by those characteristics.  But I’d like to push back a bit that we are totally self defined.  We are also defined by our community.  An example of this would be of a person who killed people.  He might be characterized as a murderer, a gangster, a terrorist, a revolutionary, a war hero, or some kind or rescuer. He might feel justified for killing people or not.  And the guilt he feels (or not) might not synchronize with how the community feels about him.  So then the question is who is he? Is he how he defines himself or how the community defines him or possibly some other third way?  Is it really arrogance on the part of the community to define the identity of a man who kills others?  Or is such definitions part of creating a community identity? Or defining justice?

  • Personally, I cannot believe that God has such an anger management problem that he will send a 15 year old boy to hell just because he is still in the “formative” years of his life when he is trying to discover who he is and what he believes, (and will quite possibly change his mind on numerous occasions). 

    • Charlie

      (please note that I am NOT condemning the boy in question, I am merely trying to continue the conversation. I don’t come from a place of divisiveness.)

      I think it’s interesting that you essentially say, “God shouldn’t hold this young man accountable because he was in his formative years.” Yet, as a faith community, we allow them to make such decisions to either follow or rebel against God. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “anger management problem.” I think you might get God’s justice and holiness a little blurry to classify it that way. 

      The boy made a choice not to follow Jesus again. His ultimate fate lies with the Father, it’s not my place to say where he ends up. But I still have to wonder, because plenty of people who know who God is, have no relationship with him, and continue to sin and rebel against him have made a pretty clear choice to be an enemy of God. 

      And again, I’m not deciding or judging this case. I’m just curious to hear your thoughts. 

      • Charlie2

        Interesting… we have two different Charlie’s responding with, I need to say, differing opinions.  I’m the one who responded to Walter’s post about increasing atheism and who responded below ending with an appreciation for Mr. Orr’s contribution.  I’ll be Charlie2. 
        Charlie, you wrote, “The boy made a choice not to follow Jesus again. His ultimate fate lies with the Father, it’s not my place to say where he ends up”.  While I agree with both statements individually, especially the second, I would like to point out that we have examples in the OT and NT of people who gave up on God but God did not give up on them.  Ultimately, they were restored.  In cultural Christianity I think we tend to see death of the body as the final curtain call, fix things verbally then or its too late.  I prefer to think that we will all stand before God eventually, individually, and it is that loving and just God who knows our hearts and our struggles better than anyone here on earth.  God will make the judgement, not us, but God has given us plenty of reason for hope beyond our limited understanding. 

        • Charlie2

          Hmm, the system did not post me as Charlie2. Well, I’ll put it in my text.

        • Charlie

          But my question is, is that view of restoration consistent with Jesus’ teachings? Jesus makes it clear that there’s a separation at judgment between those who chose to obey his commandments and those that don’t. Jesus says, “The one who loses his life for me will find it, but the one who loves his life will lose it.” and “If you remain in me, I will remain in you.” That is a continual process, not a “once and done.” And Paul writes that he finished the race, meaning he never stopped pursuing God, and that he achieved the goal of giving his entire life to serving and giving God the glory. 

          I guess my line of thought on the reconciliation issue is, if God tells us that we are to continually trust, continually remain, continually run, continually love, and continually serve, what happens when we stop? What happens when we decided consciously to disregard and disobey the Father? I would love to think that this young boy was doing such, but according to the story above, he wasn’t. He gave up. He renounced God and put his trust in this world. (AGAIN, not passing judgment, I’m just making observations and asking questions.)

          • I thought I posted this yesterday but don’t see it today…Charlie, I think you’re making a huge assumption not necessarily supported by the limited facts in evidence when you say this kid “renounced God.” I know that’s what self-declaring as an atheist appears to be, but we need carefully to consider the possibility that what he rejected was not actually God at all, but rather the caricature of God he was taught. I firmly believe many who overtly deny Christ are really epudiating Christians, often with very good reason. Such profession of atheism ought to prompt a whole lot of introspection on the part of those who were the face of faith to those who have left.

            In the meantime we should trust the Father to lovingly see past this young man’s facade to his heart, and perhaps to the wounds he had sustained that led him to the place he was in.

          • Charlie

            So Dan, if I understand your argument correctly, you believe that since this boy wasn’t taught the right view of God, then he wasn’t truly converted in the first place? 

            It also sounds to me like you put a whole lot of stock in the way this young man was taught the gospel, and that it’s not his fault, but the people around him for not truly showing him who God really is. That’s blaming a teacher because a child failed in the classroom. 

            And who knows? Maybe they didn’t model faith the way they should have. Or maybe the seed didn’t fully take in his heart. I don’t know. But to me, your above statements would assume that it’s not his fault, but the people around him. 

            And again, I think we’re all rightly stating that it’s not our place to pass judgment on the boy. But in the above article, it says that he pronounced himself to be an atheist. That’s the doctrine of belief that there is no God, or disbelief in the existence of supreme beings. If that doesn’t “renounce God,” then what did the boy say, that “God is just playing hide-and-go-seek right now and I can’t find him, so I’ll assume he doesn’t exist”? I’m not meaning to be crass here, but if you have a different definition of atheism, I’d be open to hear it.

            And seriously, thank you for continuing this conversation. I’m trying to figure it out as well, and I’m happy to have other perspectives and questions to wrestle with. 

          • Charlie, I have no idea whether this young man was “truly converted” or not, and wit respect, neither do you. What I am saying is that an awful lot of preaching and “evangelism” is so far from a faithful representation of the character of Jesus or of the Father, that one can be in the position of rejecting (or for the matter, believing) something entirely other than the person of Jesus Christ. I am therefore reluctant to take a teenager’s profession of “atheism” at face value. Part of why my heart goes out to this kid is that I, too, repudiate a great deal of what passes for Christianity. By Gos’s grace i’ve been able to distinguish my rejection of much “Christian” baggage while still holding onto God.For otherswho have not managed to split that issue, I lean heavily on trusting a God who’s vastly more merciful than many who glibly spout his name.

          • Charlie

            Believe me, I’m not passing judgment on this young man either. I’m just asking questions and thinking out loud.

            I certainly won’t disagree with you that much preaching and teaching today is unhealthy and leaves a ghastly ripple effect in the lives of so many Christians. But who’s fault is that? The teen still had the Word right in front of him, couldn’t he have read it for himself? Again, if we are giving teens the accountability of professing faith in Christ, isn’t it their time to own their faith and search for themselves? You can’t totally blame those who are teaching him. At some point, there’s a responsibility for one’s own faith. The community around him is vitally important for teaching and guiding, but they can’t do it for the guy. 

            Just some more thoughts. 

  • New to your blog as well.

    I ask the same question about my grandmother who committed suicide but loved the Lord with all her heart. 

    Did she go to hell?

    Only God knows the soul and heart of His children and where they will inevitably lay to rest. 

    • Lisa

      Julie, I grew up with a wonderful Father, who never judged anyone. I asked him this question about suicide.  He said to me..that he believed people who committ suicide are not in the ‘right’ frame of mind. That the PAIN to make that decision must be horrendous. One thing he did say, was before someone does this act, did they seek God to her/his fullest? We will never know that answer. ONLY GOD knows. Thank you for sharing, you may have given someone, something to think about….  God Bless You!

  • Duhsciple

    My questions:

    Saved from what to what?

    Trust in whom, God’s action/love or our response?

    Who loves the 15 year old the most? Parents? Friends? The pastor? God revealed in Jesus?

    Should I despair over my atheist loved ones?

  • Tara

    Hi.  My comment is not actually about theology.  It is about this post itself.  It seems clear that you love the group of young men from youth group, so I don’t want to pick at things unnecessarily.  And yet…

    I found this post to be in very poor taste.  How would you feel if you knew that the dead boys’ parents were going to read this post?  Two things struck me as being very callous given the circumstance.  First, the line, “This is the moment I’ve waited for ever since I caught wind of a rumor that this fifteen year old boy had recently professed himself an atheist.”  Perhaps you don’t know how that sounds.  But if any part of my son’s funeral was the “moment you had been waiting for,” and that moment was about how a pastor would deal with my son’s atheism, I would be incredibly angry.  My child’s funeral is not an occasion for you to wait to hear how someone else thinks about it theologically.  If you had been waiting because you were in great pain or anguish, and were looking for an answer that might help you deal with your feelings, that would be one thing.  But this read as theological voyeurism.  

    Second, your chipper, “And yes, I experimented with a narrative format…:)” was also hard to read.  It’s not that I think the format was in and of itself in poor taste.  But it read like you were happily trying out a new, and potentially fabulous new format with one family’s very painful story.  Our stories are too important for that. 

    • mariakirby

      I think people’s stories should be told as stories, not as some theological treatis. I’m glad to see that Kurt is moving out of academia and into a more relational mode of talking about truths.

      •  Thanks for your kind words @mariakirby:disqus … that is consistent with what everyone else has said to me today after reading this post. I told a story, kept the family anonymous, and did so from my own perspective. I appreciate your support.

        • Tara

          Kurt, Just to clarify a bit.  I also like stories being told as stories – it honors the people who lived them.  My concern was with the two comments specifically, not with the story format.

  • Monk_209

    Interesting, Kurt. Although I’m not a proponent of “once saved, always saved”, one of my fundamentalist mentors, a very popular radio/TV personality, told me if I’d accepted certain ways of thinking, once I was in seminary, then I hadn’t been saved to begin with. What a cop out!!!!

  • Kurt – I believe that ultimately God wants us to reconcile to Him.  How He does that, when He does that is entirely in His control.  I do not believe, within my personal faith, that a young man who was still seeking and searching could have offended God so greatly as to be condemned to Hell.  I believe that, just like the criminal on the cross, we all get a chance, a moment in time, to give our ‘final answer’ to our Lord.  And just like that prisoner, it is between us and our Lord.  The pastor confused the issue, no doubt.  

  • Lucas Munasque

    I’m new to the blog, but this thought interests me. It’s strange to think and, as a young person called into the ministry, I’ve always pondered how funerals go. What is to be said of the one who passes in regards to their spiritual standing? Do we naturally try to sugar coat the deceased’s life to make it seem like they go to heaven just to bring comfort to the grieving family? And, in so doing, do we cover up a truth and do more harm than good?

    As for the story, I have no idea about the eternal state of the young man. I suppose that is between God and him…

  • Rickjanzen5

    Lots of posts here… didn’t get time to read them all though I got to a number of them.  All of them thoughtful.  It seems to me that heaven’s gates are thrown wide open with Christ’s supreme obedient sacrifice.  I think perhaps the pastor was right for the wrong reasons.  It’s not that once saved always saved is true.  It’s that all are saved and perhaps only those who self-exclude once having tasted heaven’s goodness will be ‘outside’.  It is my contention that most having tasted heaven’s reality will choose to abide..even with those they formerly despised, hated and did not forgive.  Read “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis.  I think this metaphorical story in some ways gets closer to the facts than much of what we have inherited about heaven and hell and a fearsome judgement day.

  • Lisa

    Wow. We certainly can not JUDGE, for that is not our entitlement! We do not know this young man’s heart. What happened two weeks ago to him, to profess, he did not believe in God? Were they words coming from a hurt young man?  I have seen SO many Christians who are hypocrites, we are certainly not perfect, that is why I am thankful for Grace. So again, what did this young man see or hear for him to profess there is no God..AND while he was skateboarding that night, what was he thinking? Was he seeking the truth, questioning his faith, talking to his Heavenly Father? Those are questions we will never know. Saying that, I do not believe once saved always saved, for way too many reasons to dicuss here. But I do not believe in wondering who goes to Heaven or Hell, we pray for peace for family members who wonder, and one day we WILL know the answer.

  • Elaine

    Really thought provoking article.

    I often wonder about timing and whether God, who knows all time, would take this into account. Using my own life as an example, I spent 5 years away from the faith but am now am closer to God than I’ve ever been. During my backslidden years I never actually denied Christ but had I died in this time I dont know where I would have gone. I know though that God was working in my life to bring me back to the committed place I am today.

    I wonder at what point a person ‘denies’ Christ and goes too far and whether God takes into account their potential to change back should they not die yet?

  • SW

    If he was an atheist then he didn’t’ believe. Yet not-believing is not the same as rejecting Christ, because at some point in his life he did believe, and did accept.  God does not condemn anyone to Hell. People condemn themselves, and what God offers is a way out, which some people simply do not want to take.If you flip it on its head and see God as not condemning anyone to Hell, but rather not abusively forcing salvation upon those who do not want to spend eternity in His company, then the answer to the question of where this boy has gone is probably a little more obvious. 

  • Charlie

    A good and important topic, Kurt, thank you.  I, for one, do not believe in ‘once saved, always saved’.  But I likewise also do not believe that God sits in heaven capriciously watching and waiting to damn people for making mistakes, particularly ones that are emotional responses to situations beyond their ability to endure.  I do think one can give up one’s salvation but not in a confused, an emotional or an immature state of mind.  I think one can calmly and with a cool head turn one’s back on God and leave God’s kingdom in favor of whatever else is chosen, riches, power, lust, whatever.  But I think it has to be a firm and conscious decision, not just giving in to temptation.  God alone is the judge, of course, on where the line is drawn.
    And… I too enjoyed Mr. Orr’s response.

  • Jordan Bradford

    This sermon by Greg Boyd has some insights into this issue: http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/lets-not-make-a-deal

  • toethumbs

    I recently lost someone close to me who was not saved, but there was starting to be this glimmer of hope that maybe she was starting to open up to it, which made the whole situation just maddening. I grieved with a group of brothers and sisters who had been reaching out to her for a long time, and although it went unsaid, the feeling was understood between us. I found that I could grieve better when I grieved honestly. Everybody wants to talk positively about the person’s life after they pass, and the preacher is in an especially difficult position of feeling like they have to lie about their salvation even when it’s not Biblical. It’s expected, and I think it’s fine. It’s the minister’s way of expressing that he cares about these hurting, grieving people. Love trumps the truth sometimes, and it doesn’t mean you have to believe the lie that they were saved.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    I think I would be merciful to someone who has questions, including this kid.  If I’m created in God’s image and I can show mercy, isn’t His mercy way bigger than mine?  The older I get and the longer I’m in relationship with God, the less I trust people who have all the answers and don’t like messy questions…like the pastor here.

  • Beto Verlí

    To simply “argue” that he was saved because of a confession he made is also wrong. The confession in our times does not have the same meaning as when it was said by Christ and the apostles (to confess under persecution). Today is mostly a emotional response to a preaching.

    To follow Christ is to repent from your rebellion way of life against God (change of mind, metanoia, a decision), believe and be united to Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit, all this putting your live under the lordship of Christ, the new Lord (kyrios) of your live.

    For the matter of “once saved, always saved”. In the end, it’s the same result. For Calvinists: if you’re saved, you will endure, if not, you’re were never saved. For Armenians: if you endure, you will be saved, if not, you might loose your salvation.

    In the end, the same group will b saved, and the other won’t!

  • I think the biggest problem of “once saved always saved” is that it creates a mindset of low activity. If we just have to say a prayer once, then we can do whatever we want the rest of our lives and we’re good. But if salvation requires dedication and a lifetime commitment to helping others and loving God and others, then there’s no point in this phrase. Because if we do everything we can for God and others at all times, then we really are “always saved.”

  • I think the ways we respond often have more to do with us and less to do with the realities other people face. We are more concerned with comfort than anything- and it shows up in weird places, at weird times.

    We live as those all mysteries were solved, all ambiguities washed in clarity, groanings had ceased, “everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”

    I’m not sure that helps anyone, much less teenagers learning to cope with the difficulties of life and faith.

  • Lisa

    Kurt you sure raised a GREAT point for discussion. I made two comments, and I commend people for the beliefs they have. They sure may not be mine…however I prefer a ‘real’ person to a ‘chameleon’, if you know what I mean. I am also new to your blog-through my son-in-law. Keep up the work God has layed on your heart. Your gift of conversation and knowledge of the word is much appreciated. Thank you..From one who follows your blog, from The City of Roses…!

  • Barant5

    The boy was saved if he ever believed according to scripture.
     Has anyone considered scripture that tells us we can bee chastened
     even untodeath if we are disobedient or deny the faith?

    Have you considered this boy did exactly that, and he is now in heaven?
     He is in heaven if he ever was born again and became a child of god
     no matter what he does or says later in life.

    We are not saved or neither do we get unsaved by our words and
     deeds. However we can be chastened, even unto an early death.

  • Mandy

    I really don’t see how atheism is a sin. So a kid realizes that there isn’t enough evidence for God–God hasn’t met his burden of proof. The kid can’t force himself to believe something that just doesn’t make sense to him. Wouldn’t an all-knowing God know if the kid was faking it? And isn’t lying a sin? It’s just ridiculous to me, this idea that you can force yourself to believe something. The fact that you can try to do good in this world and minimize suffering, but if you don’t “believe the right things” Christians think you’re going to hell is just insane to me. Instead of worrying about an unknowable afterlife, why not celebrate this young man’s life and do something positive to keep his memory alive, and while doing so, appreciate his intellectual honesty of admitting that the whole “god claim” didn’t make sense to him. It’s not some horrible thing. This life is the only one we are sure to get. Make the most of it.

  • Mandy

    Whoever screened my initial comment is a coward. How typical of religious people to fear dissent. If something is really true, it should stand up to scrutiny. Just saying.

  • Erin

    Very interesting. I have no idea where this boy ended up, he could have repented before death. I do not believe there will be anyone in heaven who does not love God. I have a problem with the teaching of once saved always saved as it contradicts other parts of scripture. There are people who teach you can accept Christ and live however you want and it’s okay. That’s not what Jesus taught. He told people to pick up their cross and follow Him. He also said those who do not keep His commandments do not belong to Him. So, if we are truly saved, we will want to do God’s will. If we do not, then we are not a child. Granted we will struggle, have some doubts, and sin, but the goal of salvation is also sanctification (being changed into the likeness of God). The devil believes in God yet he chooses to rebel against Him. Even believing in God is not enough. Salvation is a transformation of the heart. God’s desires become our desires.

    Here’s some scripture to back up what I am saying. For example. Jesus said.

    Matthew 7:21-23

    New King James Version (NKJV)

    21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many
    will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your
    name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your
    name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

    Matthew 25:31-46

    New International Version (NIV)

    The Sheep and the Goats

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the
    least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I
    was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you
    did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a
    stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    We are not saved by our works. Our salvation leads us to do the will of God. If we are opposed to His will and continually rebel against Him, God doesn’t walk away from us, we are walking away from Him. He does not force anyone to love Him or do what He says. I think we can deny salvation by living a life in complete rebellion to God.

  • Great article. Great discussion. Great comments. I only add this–what the heck does the label “atheist” mean to a 15 year old boy? So many possibilities. I wonder if the confines of language cause us to stumble in understanding one’s heart and soul. I’m certain that we all have different visions of who “God” is. Maybe. Maybe not. I hope this boy is with Christ. If he is not, I’m sure there isn’t much hope for me. I’m not sure I wanna go to heaven if grace can’t rescue this lost young man. God is too good.

    Psalm 103:12
    New International Version (©1984)
    …as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

  • The first problem is the whole concept of “once saved, always saved” as espoused by many evangelicals. It has its base roots in the Reformed doctrine of Perseverance, but has greatly wandered away in its base premise. “Once saved, always saved” was a mantra I heard from a very young age growing up in a well meaning, country, Southern Baptist context and was a great way to soothe away the worries and cares of parents of wayward children. “He asked Jesus into his heart at age 9, so he’s safe.” A profession of faith, not a life lived faithfully in obedience and submission to Christ, is what they deemed as a viable proof for their child’s salvation.

    It is, indeed, true that “all that the Father gives to [Jesus] will come to [Him], and those who come to [Him] [He] will never cast out” (John 6:37), that “[Jesus] give[s] them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [His] hand” (John 10:28), that “He who began the good work in you will see it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:16), and that “those whom He called, He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:30), but such a continuation of salvation can only be the case if one truly is given by the Father to Jesus and do come to Him, has been given eternal life, has a the good work of salvation begun in them, and has been effectually called and are justified by a true and lively faith. Perseverance is a biblical doctrine, but only those who were really and truly saved will persevere. Thus the main question in this situation must be, “How can we know that someone is really and truly saved?”

    Can we appeal to a bare profession of faith as proof for our status of being right before God? I do not think that doing so is being true to the biblical teaching regarding assurance of salvation. Indeed, John seems to indicate that continuation in obedience, in fellowship, and in submission to the apostles’ teaching are marks of true conversion: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Departure from the Christian life, then, seems to be an indication that one never truly was saved. Paul likewise addresses this in summoning the Philippian church to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). He does not charge them appeal to their profession of faith that they made in the past but to measure how they are living, to ask of themselves, “Has my life been changed by the Gospel? Am I walking in obedience to Christ? Is my faith dead or is it a living faith characterized by good works?” He gives them this charge, to test their salvation on these lines because “it is God who works in [them] both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:13). Salvation is not a just a mental assent sealed with words spoken but a work of God bringing about faith in Christ displayed in a transformed life guided by the Spirit.

    Pastorally speaking, I do not think it was a good move on the pastor’s part to bring comfort to the family that their child is now in heaven, but his words reflect his theology on the matter. His desire to bring comfort is right; his theology is in error. I was once told by one of my professors, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years, that when preaching a funeral sermon, it is best not to speak of that which we do not know nor, if the deceased was not a Christian, to point their unbelief out to those there. The best one can do is preach the Gospel. Show the fragile nature of humanity, that we are dust, and that all will meet death, the due penalty of our sin. Then, show them Christ in His glory, the one who through His person and work can bring reconciliation between sinners and the just God through faith.

    Concerning your situation and the conversations that are bound to arise, masking the truth to bring balm to their wounded hearts is more detrimental that good. The truth may be offensive, but it is the truth. Care has to be taken. One cannot go flippantly into these situations, but preparing for those situations now through prayer, reading the Word concerning things touching these matters (Hell, assurance, perseverance, saving faith, etc.), and seeking wise council from well grounded brothers is the proper preparation for such conversations.

    It is my hope that the Lord will give you understanding of His Word so that you will speak boldly and wisely when/if such things arise in your conversations.

  • Anon

    Who knows? Maybe he was wrestling with the issue somewhat in the back of his mind all those years, and begins to experience degrees of enlightening grace, all the while putting up a front to seem cool to his buddies. But yet in the back of his mind, deep in his heart…. It could be that God took him out of this world not as damnation for eternal apostasy; but for prevention, which may have been an eventual fact, had he continued on the same path. No one can rightly say they know the mind of God.