I'd like to show you something you probably already know, but may not have considered before quite the way I'm going to present it. Let's begin with some basics, followed by the point I'd like to make.
The Fate of the Non Believer
First of all, let's consider the eternal destination of a non believer. Let's say he is an atheist. Or perhaps he calls himself a Christian, and even attends a church, but he doesn't know Jesus Christ personally as his Lord and Savior. He has never been born again, and is not a child of God. He could be any one of these types of people, but regardless of which one he is, my point is that his fate would still be the same. His eternal destination when he dies would ultimately be in hell, which is a terrible place. If you don't agree with that, then you should read the Bible. The bottom line is that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), which is eternal separation from God. A few of my articles that will help you understand this are Where will you go when you die?, From Religion to Relationship, and You Must Be Born Again.
The Destiny of the Believer
Next, let's consider where the believer goes when he dies. Take for example, Paul the apostle. We know he's up in glory now with the Lord. Or take John Wesley and D.L. Moody, who also made it to heaven. A Korean pastor died and saw that these two famous preachers now have two of The Four Tallest Homes in Heaven. There is no human being who deserves heaven, but because Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins on the cross, those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Scripture says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (Joh 3:16, NIV). The bottom line is that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23). It's only through faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross that we can have eternal life. We must be born again and have a personal relationship with Him. For more on this topic, please see my articles, Christ Alone and By Grace Alone.
The Fate of the Apostate Man
Lastly, let's consider the eternal destination of the apostate man who falls away from Christ. Let's say we have a person who has come to know Christ and been born again. He's accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and he begins to follow the Lord. Perhaps he follows the Lord for a day, or a month, or a year, or ten years. During that time he prays, reads the Bible, and attends church. Perhaps he even leads others to Christ. But at some point, for whatever reason, he falls away from the Lord and dies in that state. Perhaps he backslides and goes back into the world into a life of sin. Or perhaps he simply becomes a worldly Christian. Or perhaps he falls into temptation and commits sexual immorality with a woman and then dies immediately afterward in a car accident before he has a chance to repent.
Where would he go when he dies? Our natural inclination would be to assume that he would go to heaven and receive a lesser reward than he otherwise would have received. We assume the Lord would give him credit for trying and that he would at least make it to heaven, even if he ended up in the outer environs far from the throne. We might assume that God would not damn his soul completely, since he at least came to know Christ and began to walk with the Lord. At his funeral we might eulogize him right into the pearly gates of heaven, and overlook the sin in his life that he never repented of.
However, the Scriptures teach us something quite different. The Bible says he will not only go to hell, but we would be wrong to assume that he would receive a lighter sentence because he was a Christian. According to the Bible, he will receive a worse punishment than if he had never given his life to Christ in the first place. The Lord taught that he will be beaten with many blows, because he knew what his Master required and didn't do it.
Jesus said, “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Lk 12:47-48, NIV).
Likewise, Peter the apostle wrote: "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." (2 Pe 2:20-21, NIV).
According to Peter, the man in our story would be worse than if he had never given his life to Jesus. In fact, he would have been better off if he had never known the way of truth than to have known it and then turn his back on the sacred command. That's a frightening prospect, but it is exactly what the Scripture teaches. No wonder Jesus said to fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28b).
Don't look back! Remember Lot's wife. It's not worth it! The apostle warned us, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left...But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved." (Heb 10:26,39, NIV). If you don't believe it is possible for a born again believer to shrink back and be destroyed, then you should probably read my articles called The Apostasy Parables, Drifting Away, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, and The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness.
Scripture is very clear about this. That's why Jesus warned us to count the cost before deciding to follow Him. It will cost your life. He said: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’" (Lk 14:28-30, NIV).
It's true that the one who backslides away from Jesus will be ridiculed in this life. Take it from someone who knows firsthand. I backslid after I had been saved for about three months and continued to do so for nearly six months until I repented and returned to Jesus. During that time, I was ridiculed by one of my unbelieving roommates in the Army barracks. I was living in deep sin and he was mocking me that I was supposed to be a good Christian. It was humiliating. But worse than that would be to die in that state and be mocked and beaten by the demons all throughout eternity. They do that to those who were once true Christians and ended up in hell.
Perhaps they say with an sinister laugh, "Ha, ha, haaa! You were supposed to be a Christian. You had the Bible and you knew better. You have no excuse for being here. You deserve it. Don't you know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. You fool!" Then they beat that person severely and probably laugh saying things like, "Ha, ha, ha, ha! Now you will be here with me forever and I will get to keep tormenting you like this. You're all mine! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
This is why Jesus cautioned us to first count the cost before we decide to follow Him, because once you start to follow Him, then it's too late to count the cost and decide you can't continue on the straight and narrow way.
Once you give your life to Jesus, you cannot turn back. The only way to go is forward toward Jesus and toward heaven. Of course, you have the freedom to choose to turn back after you start following Jesus, but it would be a terrible decision for all the reasons I have stated. Christians who turn back receive a far worse punishment in hell than those who didn't know any better. So once we begin to follow the Lord, we need to understand this and realize that no matter how difficult the journey may become, we must continue to go forward with Jesus and never quit. Jesus said, "The one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mt 24:13, NIV)
No More Satisfaction
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Christian who turns back to a life of sin can no longer find the same satisfaction from it that he once had before knowing Christ. Now his conscience will bother him and he will always know he is not right with God. That's probably why backslidden Christians make some of the worst sinners, because they keep trying to drown out the pangs of their conscience. They keep trying to get the same level of satisfaction they once knew, but they can't unless they drive away the Holy Spirit, which is a dreadful thing to do. So not only is it worse for such a person in hell than for a non believer, but it is worse in this life, too.
Putting it All Together
Hopefully this has served as a warning for you and perhaps a wake up call for those who have already fallen away. It's easy to see how the non believer ends up in hell and how the believer goes to heaven. But I trust this message has proven to you that it is far worse in hell for the believer who shrinks back to destruction. Don't let that happen to you.
If you have fallen away from the Lord, then repent today, because you don't know if you will have another day. This could be your last chance. It's not by accident that you are reading this article. Repent while you are still on earth and while mercy is still available. Jesus loves you and wants you back.
For those who are faithfully following the Lord: Never give up! Never give in! Never give over to the enemy! Keep following Jesus. Endure to the very end. As that song says, "I have decided to follow Jesus. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back. No turning back."
Attribution notice: Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, copyright Zondervan, used by permission.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like The Apostasy Parables, The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Remember Lot's Wife, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, Eternal Security, Holding Fast the Faithful Word, Holy Living in a Perverted World, Separation from the World, Don't Look Back (poem), The Straight and Narrow Path, and Ask for the Ancient Paths. I highly recommend reading, Only the Holy -- Three Shocking Testimonies, Conditions of the New Covenant, and Holy Fire Baptism. You may find the Main Directory for this blog at Home, and also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.