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Q. Is there a second chance for unbelievers to become saved after they die? Why would God give us only one chance to become believers? What about those who claim a near death experience and return to life still not believing Jesus is Lord?
Died in Unbelief
Thanks for your questions. This is a very painful subject for most of us. There are very few Christians in existence whose entire families are believers. Most have one or more relatives who died never having accepted Jesus as Lord.
Sadly, those unbelievers often think Christian family members are just trying to win an argument or be right. But, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, most Christians desperately want to be reunited with their family members after death. It's that simple. That's all.
Shades of Grey
Furthermore, we live in a culture that has difficulty accepting shades of grey. We want definitive answers with no unanswered questions. We can't tolerate doubt or areas of life that seemingly have no meaning. Even Christians are guilty of this - we often think in black-and-white terms and quickly cut off those who challenge our assumptions.
Post Mortem Chances?
Having said that there are several passages in the New Testament that indicate we have no opportunity for salvation or repentance after death. I hope that's not true. But, we can't deny what the Bible teaches us.
For example, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said…"Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things - but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us" (Luke 16:26, ESV).
The Great Chasm
We don't know what this "fixed great chasm" is. Some speculate it is a physical barrier between those in heaven and those in hell - something like a huge cliff between them. Others think perhaps the chasm is another dimension through which believers and unbelievers can not cross or pass through. This is one of those grey areas not completely explained for us.
Jesus does explain that unbelievers will be able to see believers in the kingdom. "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out" (Luke 13:28).
Can you imagine the horror of seeing friends and relatives celebrating in heaven while you are stuck in a horrid place and can't get out? Now, truly that is hell!
One Life - Then Judgment
Another passage that gives insight to our state after being presented with the truth is Hebrews 10:26-27:
"For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."
Also, Hebrews 9:27 clearly states…"it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment."
We are Born by His Will
When we argue about God's unfair judgment of all men and protest the existence of hell or heaven we are making several assumptions. First, none of us were born with a right to life. We are here because God determined for us to be born. We do not have the power to will ourselves into existence - only God can do that. Does that make sense to you?
…"He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation…" (Acts 17:26, NASB).
We All Need Outside Revelation
Another assumption we make is that we can figure out everything on our own. We think we are so smart. We think we can create standards for all men and determine what is right or wrong. We think we can all behave right if we just have the correct information and environment.
Unfair Justice System
But, look around you. Is it true? We have an unfair justice system that lets guilty men out of jail and sentences innocent people to be incarcerated. This is because of our own failings.
We can't control our own mouths let alone our thoughts. We say hateful things to each other. We pollute the streams, lakes and oceans. We maim and kill. We can't get along. We start wars and engage in genocide.
Smart or Retarded?
Maybe we aren't so smart after all. What do you think? Indeed, scientists tell us that we only use 10% of our brains. What is the other 90% for? Is it possible even our mental processes are flawed? Is it possible that even the most intelligent among us are still inferior beings? Are we actually retarded? How would we know?
Just read your local newspaper. In it we learn that we really do need outside intervention and help. We die from accidents and illness. We need insight to understand why we do the things we do. In other words, we are creatures that need "revelation" about the state of ourselves and our painful world.
This could be a reason why God gave us the holy prophets and the Scriptures. What do you think?
God doesn't "Owe" us Happiness
Another assumption we make is that we think we are owed a life of happiness. But, this is not necessarily our right, either.
Instead, we were all born with a genetic flaw passed down through Adam. This flaw is our sin nature which causes much grief, sickness, evil and death. We make cars that crash, planes that collide, weapons that kill, and foods that cause cancers.
We see our failures everywhere around us - in the plant and animal kingdom, throughout a hostile universe, and in our own bodies. Until God transforms our bodies and the universe this is the state we have inherited. I doubt we can fully understand the extent that sin has marred our universe in its present state.
Are all Near-Death Experiences the Truth?
In fact, even in death we may still face our own flaws and a sin nature. Paul warns us that "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
So how do we know that a near death experience offers us the truth? Perhaps it is a lie from the first creature who told us, "You surely shall not die!" (Genesis 3:4).
God doesn't "Owe" us Heaven
We assume that all men deserve to enter heaven, too. Where did we get this idea? Look around you and tell me where you can find one person who lives a totally sinless life?
Have we ever lied? Wished we had success like someone else? Wished we owned their house or their car or had their career? (That is called "coveting"). Been angry with our spouse or our kids? Lost our temper and called someone an "idiot?" (Jesus says people who are angry like this are guilty of "murder" - see Matthew 5:22).
The fact that all men are guilty of one or another of the above failings does not make it right. This is not the ideal. That is why God tells us
"THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE"
(See Romans 3:12, Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3). By the way, the Bible's capital letters mean this passage is from the Greek Septuagint.
In fact, for us to compare ourselves with each other and to conclude that "we aren't so bad" is to play a dangerous game. Comparisons do not make for adequate standards. Only God knows what truly makes for a righteous, good, sinless person.
So rather than presume upon a holy God for our "right" to heaven and a happy life, perhaps we should face reality and recognize our own failings and inadequate standards. We are all sinful. We are all dying and we will all die. Therefore, we all need a Savior, too. This is why God declared:
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Romans 5:8-9).
We are All Losers
I know this is shocking. But, we need to quit assuming that all men are good creatures who deserve good things and eternal lives in a glorious universe.
Maybe…just maybe…reality dictates that we are all "losers" who desperately need a Savior and a new environment in a new heaven and earth offered to us by believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Maybe we all have a desperate need to "get real."
It's a thought…
Grudem, Wayne. 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Lewis, C.S. 1996 ed. The problem of pain. N.Y.: Touchstone.
Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody.
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