Just lately I felt concerned about those who are grieved because they do not know whether their loved ones will be saved or not. Even looking closely at other people, we sometimes perceive no outward sign of faith in Jesus Christ. BUT that does not mean that they won’t be saved!
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:21-27 ESV)
One might argue here that Lazarus must have been a believer since he would have a close relationship with Jesus just like his sisters. Belief in Jesus Christ is the biblical ticket to eternal life for “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (Jn 3:36 ESV) Believing in Christ and obedience to His leading go hand in hand since faith without works is dead (cf. Js 2:17,26). That may not be misunderstood as it has often been the case in churches that Christians begin to do good works in order to prove (God and others) that they indeed have faith. Dear brothers and sisters, this is one of the big deceptions! Just now I am not sure how I got on this side-track regarding faith and works, but once again, I dare to re-post for the third time a part of Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans 8 where he expounds on the importance and implications of true faith received by God. Luther said,
“Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.
Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgements about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, no matter what you try to do or fabricate.
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary, “Vorrede auf die Epistel St. Paul an die Römer”)
It seems to me that before we can judge whether others have true faith or not, we could also look at ourselves, wondering whether there might be missing something, still. Of course, we should not KEEP looking at our miserable old nature which never produces anything which is good in God’s sight. Instead, we should try to refocus on the One who alone can give us and everyone else (!) THIS faith without which we remain stuck in this world’s pulls and the up and down of our circumstances.
So, here we are again, looking at our loved ones and friends, wondering where they stand in matters of faith. Or even worse, they already died and we do not know the answer as to their eternal destiny. Brothers and sisters, there is only one human being who can answer this question by giving us faith into our hearts, a hope that cannot be shaken by anyone any longer. I have had this issue on my mind and heart for years now, bound up with the desire to offer comfort to those who have been tormented by their doubts for a long time.
Just yesterday I could enjoy a wonderful quiet time with God in the afternoon. It was partly sunny and quite warm. I was swimming all alone (what a blessing!) in an outdoor pool on my back, watching the clouds, the birds, and one or two airplanes that were flying way above me. I felt I had to ask God, again and again, about this issue regarding the destiny of those who seemingly died without what we have learned to call Christian faith. It was clear to me that I would never touch on a such a sensitive topic unless God gave me a revelation which was biblically watertight, too. Well, God’s words are not always that clear right at the outset. Although I am sure that He spoke to me yesterday, even two times. As I had asked Him repeatedly for a revelation, I heard Jesus say, “I AM the Resurrection.” I knew it was Him, but it made me wonder what He meant…
Before going to bed I began to write this post until I reached that point where I mentioned the big deception. I felt I had to stop there and spent some time praying in the bathroom. Again and again, I asked God to reveal more to me if He wanted me to write about these things. Standing in front of the mirror, looking at my own face, I suddenly heard Him say, “You need to see it from the other side.” Ha! That was plausible to me immediately, but… how can we see this whole topic of resurrection from God’s perspective, from a ‘life-after-death-perspective’, or from a mere eternal-life-perspective? I have no answer to these things yet and thus I am sitting here in front of the computer, waiting on God…
What I got just now was that from God’s sight, it is not important whether our bodies are still alive or not since Paul told us, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:10-11 ESV) God sees our bodies as dead, whether we are physically alive on this earth or if we already died, even regardless of faith in Him. We know that Jesus told the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:24 ESV) Is what we call spirit confined to a physical realm where everything can be perceived with our natural senses? Quite the contrary, the spiritual realm can only be perceived with spiritual senses. Faith is the gift of God that transcends the physical realm and connects us through God in Christ with what we can NOT see with our natural senses.
Just now God reminded me of a testimony by Nicky Gumbel, an Anglican priest in London who shared the following story on TV. His father was a German Jew who did not convert to Christianity as his wife and son did. According to Nicky Gumbel, he died a believing Jew. After his death, Nicky was grieved a lot. He could not get rid of this question as to whether his dad might have been saved or not. One day as he was sitting in his office, his wife Pippa came in and pointed a Scripture out to him which God had shown her. It was this one.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32 ESV)
At first, Nicky Gumbel felt relieved, yet he still doubted. Shortly afterwards he and his wife attended a weekend seminar which was quite surprising for him. Unexpectedly, the Bible studies dealt with the verse, ““And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32 ESV) Once again, although this occurrence pierced him to the heart, doubts kept bothering him soon. As Nicky was walking through London later, he could not have been more surprised as he was, reading an eye-catching ‘advertisement’ on a bus that was just passing him by. In big letters, you could read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”
Nicky had to admit that it would be a big struggle for him to really trust God here. Seeking help, he visited a friend and shared his experiences with him. His friend only said, “Could it be that God wanted to tell you something?”
Brothers and sisters, it seems to me that our faith can also waver because of the wrong things we have been taught, wrong expositions of the Bible in particular. Sometimes those who know the most about the Bible have the greatest difficulties to really trust in God. The reason might be that our modern, left-brained and predominantly intellectual society, including Christian tradition, has unlearnt how to trust in God’s small and subtle voice. God is not interested in sending people to hell although that will happen one day when people at the Final Judgment openly reject the One who bore their sins. But we can only reject someone of whom we have already heard, right? Apostle Peter provided an indication as he said,
“For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (1 Pt 4:6 ESV)
If God allows, I might expound on this last verse I just added and some others in the days ahead.