I recently attended the funeral of a relative whom I did not know very well. Some who knew the man well lacked assurance as to his eternal well-being, and sorrowed over the uncertainty. The uncertainty was due to the inconsistent Christian walk and testimony of the deceased loved one. However difficult a person’s passing may be for family and friends, it would only be my desire with God’s help to speak comfort to their burdened hearts by bringing some scriptural clarity to what it means to have “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13), or to “die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).
The Bible does not direct us to look at the failures of Christians who die, or we might never have the assurance that a soul is merely “absent from the body” but “present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). It is possible that even the godliest believer commits a sin of the flesh or spirit immediately prior to death, and if that disqualifies one from dying in the Lord, how can we have assurance for anyone in their passing?
Repentance from every sin committed, even the very last one, is sometimes put forth as a prerequisite for entrance into God’s presence upon death. However, repentance is a change of mind and heart toward God and His claims upon a person, and does not really refer to an exhaustive confession of individual sins committed throughout one’s life. How worrisome would it be to the soul if a believer lived in fear that some sin of the flesh or spirit was not discerned or properly confessed? This is not at all the will of the Father for His own dear children. When John tells us in I John 1:7 that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all (every) sin”, it is in light of the truth that He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), and those who are “in the light” are in the good of this abstract and objective guarantee. The confession of our individual sins in I John 1:9 is in view of the practical cleansing a believer needs on a daily basis for fellowship with Christ and enjoyment of Him.¹
Hebrews 11 is often called the “faith chapter”, and we are given a long list of names in that chapter who “died in faith”. How many imperfections might we find in each of these who are commended by God for their faith? Was not Abraham justified by faith before his failure in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael? Was not David assured that the Lord would not impute sin to him,² though he sinned and acted foolishly numerous times? Was not Samson guilty of a sad departure from God, as well as a suicidal death? (Judges 16:30) Yet he also had faith, and it saved him in spite of all his failures, because God claimed him as His own. Jephthah was harsh and hasty, Isaac was apparently given to an inordinate appetite for good food that dimmed his spiritual eyesight, but what they did for God, they did by faith, and all is recorded for us to learn from. Their failures are all hidden in the New Testament, with but one exception.³
God’s dividing line in the matter of one’s eternal destiny is not whether or not every sin committed was properly confessed, or whether or not a man exhibits faith to his family and friends in the last days of his life. He divides the human race on the basis of whether or not one is born again by grace, and consequently has faith in the testimony of God with regard to His Son. The Lord Jesus put it plainly for the comfort of the believer’s soul: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). The Lord did not intend for this great truth to be weakened by our conditions.
For the possession of new life (the new creation – II Corinthians 5:17) is in the final analysis the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. All who have ever had new life from God throughout history are enjoying Him now, awaiting the resurrection. New life in Christ does not guarantee sinless perfection, but neither is that new life (the new nature) affected by the believer’s failures in the flesh, when he or she stoops to heed the desires of the flesh for a time, incurring the Father’s chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-11). This teaching is shown to be true by the warning and assurance wrapped up together in one verse in Ephesians 4: “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”.
If the departed soul had eternal life and sealing by the Spirit, any fleshly act in his life no doubt grieved that Spirit. But a sin could never negate the impartation of that life, nor undo the Spirit’s seal, which is unto the day of the redemption of our bodies, at the resurrection of the just. When a loved one dies who confessed Christ as Savior and Lord, our loving Father would desire to afford us the comfort of looking in hindsight for the evidences of that new life, which is the fruit of the Spirit of God, even if much of that Christian’s work may be burned up when “the day” declares it.* For if he was a true believer, “he himself shall be saved”, but so as through the fire.
¹ John 13:7-11; Ephesians 5:26
² Romans 4:8
³ Romans 11:2
* Galatians 5:22-23; I Corinthians 3:12-15