Final Thoughts on Death and the Christian
|By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2004|
|Dr. Lutzer talks about suicide, assurance of salvation, peace, and what it means to be “perfect as God is perfect”. If you aren’t sure you’re a Christian, he also explains how you can be sure you are saved.|
Final Thoughts on Death and the Christian
Well, today we discuss that difficult, difficult topic of suicide. I’ll never forget how surprised I was when I learned that a missionary came back from the mission field and committed suicide. She was depressed. Things were not working out her life. Her family, apparently, did not know the extent to which she was going through these times of assault spiritually. And she died.
What happens to her? I’m sure that your experience is the same as mine. We all have knownChristians–and I am talking, now, about Christians who have committed suicide. What do we say?
You know, as a pastor, of course, people say things like this to me. They say, “Yes, but they did die a failure. They died with sin on their conscience.” And I say, “Well, think of all the Christians who die with sin on their consciences unconfessed.”
You can be killed in a car crash and you have committed some sin that you have not confessed. The good news is this: that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, we receive the righteousness of God and that righteousness is credited to us and takes us all the way to heaven. So I believe that Christians who commit suicide will be there. They’ll arrive.
Now, having said that, you know, at the Moody Church we frequently receive phone calls from people who are depressed and they’ll say something like this: “Now, Pastor, can you assure me that if I commit suicide I’ll go to heaven because I am just going through this agony. I’m all depressed. My husband has left me, etc., etc.,” and then they always add, “The world would be a lot better off without me.”
Well, let me just say two things to them, very strongly. First, you do not need to take that fatal, disastrous step. There are still some options. The Bible is very clear that the temptations that are given to us are common to men and God will find a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). You can go for help. You can talk to somebody. There is a way for you to continue on. That’s number one.
Number two, it’s not really up to us to give any “assurance,” and I’ll tell you why. Because you never know; some of those people that are calling do not know Christ as Savior even though they think that they do. So it’s not our job to play the role of God and say, “Yes, you may do this and all will turn out well.”
You know, this is a wonderful time, I think, to talk about Shakespeare. You’ll remember Hamlet. Hamlet was contemplating suicide and this is what he said. He said, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Now, if you remember that soliloquy, here was his dilemma. Life was too miserable to go on living but on the other hand, death was very fearful. Does not that soliloquy say, “Yet in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” He’s saying, “Life is miserable, I don’t want to go on living. But death could be worse.”
I need to contrast that with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21. Do you remember what hesaid there? He said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He said, “I would like to die nowbut God has kept me alive for your good.” That’s a rough translation of what he was saying. Buthe said, “For me to live is Christ.” If I go on living, I live with Christ and I can make it. And if I die,I’m even better off. Notice the difference. Hamlet said, “Live or die, I lose.” Paul said, “Live or die, I win.” What a difference Christ makes.
Assurance of Salvation
The question is still this: “Is it possible to have assurance of salvation, and upon what basis does that assurance rest?” I want you to know that you aren’t a Christian just because you went forward in a crusade and prayed a prayer. You may be a Christian because of that, but not necessarily. It’s possible, you know, for you to not be a Christian even though you are church goer—and let me add this—and even though you love Jesus. I’ve met people who love Jesus who are unconverted.
Let me say that it’s possible also for you to confess your sins and still not be saved, still not be a Christian. Martin Luther confessed his sins by the hour and did not understand justification by faith and was not converted.
People think, “Well, you know, I go to church and confess my sins.” Well, my dear friend, you can’t remember them all, and you’ve committed a lot more than you even know about. That’s not the way that we know that we have eternal life. Salvation rests on this: that we transfer all of our trust from ourselves, from our good deeds, from our rituals. It’s not found in baptism. It’s not found in the Mass. We transfer all of our trust to Jesus Christ alone who, when He died on the cross, made a payment that God accepted and therefore our trust and our confidence is in Him. It’s a deliberate, conscious transfer of trust.
Now listen carefully. If you believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, His death was sufficient for you to stand in the presence of a holy God, you not only will be saved but you will know it because now you see your confidence has been transferred from yourself to Christ.
One day I was trying to help a woman who taught Bible studies and the whole bit. I mean, she was clearly a Christian. She had faith in Christ and she had the fruit of the Spirit which was further evidence that she was. But she went through these terrible doubts, these times of questioning. And out where we were talking there was a lake and I said, “You know, there is this story about a lake that was frozen, and a man was going to cross it and he decided that he would cross it on all fours because then he would be distributing his weight, you see, rather than just walking across it. And so he was crawling across the lake when suddenly in the distance, coming towards him, was a team of horses. “Well,” the man said to himself, “this is foolish. Why am I crawling when I can get up and I can run. Obviously, the ice is strong enough to hold me.”
And I said to that lady, “The ice beneath me is the same ice that is beneath you. It is Christ and His perfect sacrifice.”
And she quickly said on her own, “And the only difference is, you’re skating around and enjoying the Christian life and enjoying assurance, and I’m crawling on all fours.”
And I said, “Yes. That’s right. What you need to do is to stand up and walk and know that the Jesus who came to this earth to save sinners is qualified to save them. And can His shoulders bear you? Is He able to take it? The governments of the world shall be upon His shoulders. He is a powerful Savior for big sins and big sinners. And so your confidence has to be in someone qualified to save and only Jesus Christ meets that criteria.”
Walking Through the Valley of Death with Peace
As a pastor I’ve noticed that only very few people face death with a great sense of peace and tranquility. Almost everyone fights it–and I’m talking about Christians. There is something within us that fears that vast unknown, isn’t there? I mean, there is this curtain and on the other side of the curtain we continue our existence but there is that veil, still there is that mystery. What is it going to be like? What will it be like to see Jesus? What will it be like to see others?
What we need to do in those moments of fear is recognize a couple of things. First of all, fear is very natural and it is normal. Death is still our enemy. Now it is our enemy; if you look at it from a different point of view, it really is our friend. But the label on the bottle is still “enemy.” It is still fearful. But if we look at it from the standpoint of the other side of the veil, we know there that it is the means by which God brings us into His presence. It fact, it is so important to understand this that during the days of Adam and Eve, you remember when they sinned, they were cast out of the Garden and God put a flaming sword there to keep the way of the tree of life. God did not want them to eat of the tree of life in their sinful state or they’d have lived forever as sinners. That would have been a terrible existence. You know, we, of course, want to live forever the way we are and that’s not good. Eventually we become tired and we want to go home and we want to be in heaven. So let’s remember that death is God’s way to bring us into His presence.
So, number one, accept the fear as part of the human existence. We all fear it. Secondly, though, cleave to the promises of Christ. John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.”
I want to tell you the story of a man I led to Christ. Now, here’s a man lying in a hospital who has only weeks to live, and he was known and accepted within the framework of a Christian family. I had known him for years, and I went to visit him. And there he was, lying on the bed. I said to him, “You know, you have to accept Christ as Savior,” and I’ll never forget his words as long as I live! He looked at me and said, “I know I do but I don’t know how.” Wow.
So I said, “I want you to transfer your trust to Christ.” And he prayed a prayer to make that transfer. And then I prayed that God would grant him the gift of assurance immediately. After that, his friends came and what he wanted them to do was to read the Bible to him. And he gave great evidence in the days before he died that the burden of sin had been lifted and he knew that his life was now in the hands of God and that he was on his way to heaven.
So, cleave to the promises. Cleave to the promises, and as a result of that, God will see you all the way through.
Finally, remember, God gives dying grace when we need it. It isn’t there before we need it; it is there when we really need it. And He walks with us not just on the other side of the grave, but on this side all the way through.
Does “Being Saved” equal “Being Perfect”?
One day I received a telephone call from a woman who was in a retirement center and she was crying on the telephone. She said, “Pastor Lutzer, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was 19 years old but now I’ve been listening to a pastor on the radio and he tells me that I’m not saved.” She goes on crying, and I said to her, “Well, what did he say to convince you that you were not a genuine Christian?”
And she said, “Well, him seemed to imply that unless you were pretty well perfect, it shows that you never were saved. And oh, my Lord knows how often I have failed Him.”
So I said to her, “Can you please tell me what it is that you are trusting?”
And she said, “Well, I’m trusting the blood of Christ.” And she said, “Is there anything else?” And then she said so sweetly—so sweetly that I wrote it down in fact—she said, “I cannot apply steel wool to my heart and cleanse myself, I have to trust the blood of Christ.”
I said to her, “Lady, I’m going to tell you something. The blood of Christ is enough. The blood of Christ is enough.” When Jesus died on a cross, He made a payment that God accepted, and if we accept Him, we are accepted in Him. His righteousness is credited to us and it cleanses us from all sins. All sins.
One day a man wrote to me from a penitentiary because he heard one of our radio programs and said, “I raped four women. I’ve accepted Christ as Savior but can God really forgive me?” The answer, of course, is, “Yes.” Think of two trails. One is a very messy trail. Another is a very well kept trail. When two feet of snow come, they blanket both trails and both of them look equal–all covered by the same snowstorm.
I urge you today, no matter how far you have fallen, I urge you, no matter what your background, no matter what crimes even you have committed, come to a Savior who is actually able to save you. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). The blood of Christ is enough for you and the righteousness of Christ comes and blots out all of our sins and we know that we belong to God forever and ever.
How Can You Transfer Your Trust to Jesus Right Now?
Then when the time comes when we must die, we die within God’s providential care. Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword, death? No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us, for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor death, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” One minute after you die, you’ll be in the presence of Christ and you’ll be there forever.
I want to lead you in a prayer. I want you to be led in a prayer that admits your sinfulness and transfers your trust to Christ who can prepare us for death. And what you can do right where you are is to simply bow your head and to say words that I want you to repeat after me. It’s not the words that save you. It’s your heart. But if the words express the attitude of your heart, you’ll be received by Christ. Would you join me as we pray?
Oh, God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I cannot save myself. Thank you that Jesus died for sinners. And right now, I transfer all of my trust to Him. As best as I know how, I come and I believe that He is the Son of God, and I believe that He is able to cleanse me and accept me, and I trust Him for that. Thank you that He was raised from the dead to prove that He has won the victory over death. Thank you that He has the keys of death and of Hades. I look to Him now as my own Savior, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
If you have prayed that prayer and God sees your heart, He will have received you, accepted you, on Christ’s behalf so that you can spend eternity, eternity with Him. God bless you.