let us supposed we have 2 people: billy and franklin
(i just pulled those names out of thin air )
i’ll give away the ending of this story first:
franklin goes to heaven, and billy goes to hell.
now, let us also suppose that billy and franklin are twin brothers: born within minutes of one another.
both are raised by the same christian parents, and go to the same bible-teaching congregation, where spiritual growth is encouraged, and the spirit’s work is evident by the fruit the congregation produces: caring for the poor in their neighborhood and other charitable acts.
both boys are looked up to all through high school and college, and marry christian women, who love them very much.
both young men turned out to church leaders — gifted by god in leading others to the lord, and in teaching them the deeper meanings of life in the kingdom.
when they are 43 years old, however, billy’s wife was raped, murdered, and left to die — by a supposed “preacher”, who was caught, arrested, and set to go to court.
well, billy did not take this well. (would you? would i?)
billy took it out on the preacher.
he was so angry that he murdered the man even before he’d had a chance to go to trial.
billy, still angry, but in shock at his own brutality, turned himself into the authorities, and went to prison for 30 years.
(the manner in which billy inflicted his revenge upon the man was based upon the man’s treatment of billy’s wife. the jury, though they understood where such anger came from, had no choice but to convict, and the minimum sentence was 30 years, no parole.)
while in prison, billy himself was mistreated — sometimes very badly, and he grew more and more angry at god for his lot in life until he lashed out at god, and disavowed his very existence.
he finished almost his entire sentence angry at god, and in trouble with the prison authorities, addicted to drugs and eventually murdering 3 of his cellmates over the years.
three years before he was to have originally gotten out of prison, billy was murdered in his cell while he slept, and went to hell.
his brother, franklin, died in a car accident that very minute — and went to heaven.
— the end —
looking back on their lives, we can see clearly that during their teens and twenties, both would have been sure they were going to heaven, and the way they conducted their lives seemed to point that way.
both claimed christ as lord, and had fruit, apparently.
some would say that if billy had died that night with his wife he would have gone to heaven.
but from the perspective of eternity, where hindsight truly is 20/20, we can see that it was never to be so:
who can deny that from the beginning of time, god knew the sad story of billy’s life?
who can deny that god knew he would end up angry, disavowing his existence, a murderer who died by the very violence he bred?
was god “fooled” by billy during his 20’s ?
when billy fell away, was god caught by surprise?
did god think, “oh, wow! billy don’t do it! ooooh, no! — now you’re not going to heaven after all! someone erase his name from the book of life!”
the idea is absurd.
no, it is clear: there was always a 100% chance, since god knew what would happen, that billy was going to hell.
so then: was he ever “saved” ?
was he ever a “christian” ?
so many times i’ve heard people talk about, “if you died right now, do you know where you’d go?”
well, in his 20s billy would have said “yes, i’d go to heaven”
would he be right?
would he be wrong?
can he not know?
if he could be wrong, can you?
i think the bible is vague on this for the same reason jesus didn’t give “rules for living”:
human beings have a way of taking rules and twisting them to their own sinful desires and weak psychological needs.
we always are looking for the easy “what can i get away with?”
when what god desires from us is, “what more can i give? how much more can i love?”
the verses josiah posted are a wonderful example: the bible seems to teach both, and yet not both — at the same time.
and still, somehow, millions of us find wisdom in christ’s words, and in the letters his followers wrote in the decades after his resurrection.
this is because they are deeper than “rules”.