Is it possible for a believer in Christ to end up in hell? It might come as a surprise to many a church goer that’s been ‘assured’ of his salvation: There WILL be believers in hell!
The gospel is not ambiguous. We’re all sinners and by default are headed to perish in hell . But God graciously made an intervention by sending His Son to die in our stead (as a penalty for our sins). There are a litany of verses that confirm that anyone that believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life! (Romans 3:23/John 3:16 / Acts 16:31)
So, the question remains. Who are these hell-bound believers?
‘Believe’ and ‘faith’ are common words in our vocabulary. We assume we know what they mean. And, therein lies the problem. Not everyone who believes is a believer. Not every faith is a saving faith.
There will be many believers who’ll be surprised to discover their faith was plastic (not real) & they’re the ones that Christ refers to in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say unto Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name cast out demons and in Your name performed many miracles? And I will declare to them “I never knew you, depart from me…”
Given our propensity to sin, we often wonder if we’d lose our salvation? If those that prophesy, cast out demons, perform miracles could end up in hell then what must we do to ensure that we don’t wind up with that sorry bunch
Real Faith Vs Counterfeit
James in chapter 2 of his epistle tackles that very question : what kind of believers will NOT make it to heaven? He helps his readers ascertain if their belief is real or counterfeit. In verse 24 & 14 he says Faith without works, is like a body without life. It cannot save.
Many of our churches are filled with christians/believers with faith that cannot save; people who are on the highway to hell, believing it’s a stairway to heaven. The gospel that’s proclaimed today, and what they believe has the appearance of the real McCoy but it’s a heavily diluted version bereft of saving power. Prominence is given to praise & worship, miracles, prophecies, casting out demons (though there is nothing wrong with them), while gospel (sin, repentance & salvation), if addressed at all, gets an honorable mention.
Is My Faith Dead Or Alive? How does a doctor determine if a person has passed away and not passed out? By conducting series of tests to read brainwaves, record heartbeat & respiration, he removes all guess work. He “knows for sure” when he says he believes a person is dead. His belief has legs.
James, likewise, wants us to be SURE about our faith!
What is Faith?
The faith we are about to test is our faith in God ( NOT to be confused with faith in faith itself, or the faith we have in ourselves and even the amount / quantity of it), the belief that God is all powerful, and that he is all-good.
One of the powerful atheistic arguments that stumps many believers, is the problem of evil: If God is all good and all powerful then why does evil exist? A powerful God, they say, should/would throw some pixie dust & remove all evil. And the fact that evil remains unabated is used as proof that God is neither good nor powerful (and that indicates He is no better than we are, and therefore not God)
However vehemently we may deny that we are not atheists, if we harbor even an inkling of a doubt concerning God’s goodness or his omnipotence, then our faith is no better than that of an atheist : Useless!
James is not advocating BLIND faith, but that our belief is based on fundamental facts every believer knows / ought to know.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures” – James 1:17-18
1 God is a GIVER, not a taker. He gives & keeps on giving. His gifts are perfect & lack nothing. We don’t have to grovel for oxygen or water or sunshine and a thousand other things that are needed. He continues to bless freely.
2 God is the Father of lights. He’s the creator – he created the sun, moon,stars and the expanse. The earth is just a speck in his creation. Is he capable (powerful enough) of creating a perfect world in a flash? You bet!
3 God is better than the lights he created. There is no variation, no flickering, and no shadow caused by His turning. He is not good today and crabby tomorrow. He does not turn away from you for a season, because he has other things to be taken care of and more importantly nothing eclipses his love towards you.
4 Out of His grace and His own will, He ‘birthed us’ (given us the new birth) by the word of Truth. We all went astray. We were dying in our sin. God took the initiative (we did not have to beg God to send His Son to save us). He saved us by his Word.
5 We are the first fruits of His creation. We are His prized possession, we are the apple of his eye, the best of all creation.
For my faith to be deep-rooted and unshakeable, We need to remind ourselves constantly* of the above facts that prove that God is all powerful & capable (Creator) and all good (giving benevolent Savior).
* Constantly: The Jews were required to LOVE God with all their heart and soul and might – And God asked them to tach God’s commandments diligently to their children, talk of them when we sit, walk, lie down or rise up. Bind them as a sign on our hand, keep them as frontals on your fore head. Write on the door posts of your house and on gate. Ephesians 6 says our Faith is the shield that quenches the fiery darts of Satan. For our faith to have no chinks, a constant reminder of the above mentioned facts is critical.
Will you (or Wont you) be in Heaven?
It doesn’t take rocket scientist to figure out the faith (in God) that’s useless is the faith that doubts God’s intent or capability. Some say they NEVER doubt God while others admit they doubt God at times, but snap back into believing. But we all say our faith is real! James provides a couple of tests to ascertain whether or not our faith will take us to heaven.
Test #1: The Rich Man, Poor Man Test
V1-4 As a believer in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, we must not show favoritism. Suppose a gold-ringed, finely clothed rich man and a poor man in filthy old clothes comes into your assembly. If you show special attention to the rich man and give a good seat, and say to the poor man “you stand there” or “sit on the floor by my feet” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
We’ve heard sermons preached on this text with the takeaway ‘As believers we must NOT show favoritism’. James’ overarching point is this : when you show favoritism you fail the faith-test.
1 We believe in the GLORIOUS Lord Jesus Christ – and therefore we must not show favoritism. Lord Jesus Christ deserves the glory, we are all equal at the foot of the cross. Whether male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old we are all sinners, and He alone deserves glory, power and praise. When we take our eyes off the glorious Lord, then we glorify mortals (rich ones, perhaps).
2 The reason why we honor the rich man — is because of his gold rings and fine clothes. And we think (even though we don’t admit it) he’ll come in handy on a rainy day and so we honor him. You know what’s wrong with that? Our faith is now no longer in our Lord, but on the rich man. We have failed the test.
3 The poor man in the assembly, according to James, is rich in faith & will inherit the kingdom that God has promised. By dishonoring the poor man, by asking him to stand or sit at our footstool, you dishonor God’s child. And should God be pleased with that? (Would a king take it lightly when you dishonor his ambassador?)
Test#2 : “Put-Money-Where-Your-Mouth-Is” Test
We’ve heard this statement “Don’t just tell me you love me, show me that you do” – Faith, likewise, is demonstrated, not said. By our actions (or lack thereof) we prove it.
James gives an every day example so that we understand that it is always easier said than done. When you see a brother with no food or warm clothes, and you say: “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”. Your words as compassionate they may be, are useless if they are not accompanied by action. So is your faith in God.
Objection A: What if someone may object saying I have the gift of compassion and someone else may have the gift of giving? I comfort people with my words, while the someone else has the gift to give food/clothes. James says it is not an “either/or”case, but it is “both/and”. Without action you cannot SHOW compassion, words are mere platitudes. It is the same with our faith in God. A believer has words AND deeds; faith AND works.
Objection B: Another might say I believe in ONE true God, the creator of heaven & earth, and doesn’t the Bible say that’s enough?? James does not buy that either. You are still “saying” and not demonstrating your faith. In fact, demons not only believe in one true God, they shudder! (they go a step further than a mere talker who has nothing to show)
After establishing “Saying” is not enough. James gives a couple of examples to show faith-in-action.
Exhibit A : ABRAHAM
God asks Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son that he loves — and sacrifice him on an altar. Abraham gets up (no drama, no tears, no good bye’s), saddles up his donkey, takes two servants and Issac and goes over to Mount Moriah, and you know how the story went.
James point is not to show how GREAT Abraham was. He is letting us to see what real faith looks like. And we all need to have the same kind.
Abraham’s faith in God was rock solid. He did not doubt God’s goodness or capability.
Abraham & Sarah have their first son, when they were 100 & 90 years respectively. Abraham was as good as dead, and Sarah way beyond her child bearing years. This was a miracle. And Abraham has first hand experience that God is capable of doing the impossible!
He also knew God to be a giver of good and perfect gifts. God blessed Abraham abundantly. Gave him a son. Gave him a promise that his descendants will be like the stars in the sky and sand on the seashore.
When God asked him to sacrifice his only beloved son, Abraham didn’t hesitate to obey and honor God. Hebrews 11 says he reasoned (used his mind / didn’t believe blindly) that God was ABLE to raise the dead, bring Isaac back to life again.
Abraham didn’t just say he has faith, but by his actions proved its existence. That’s the only way to demonstrate.
Exhibit B: RAHAB
James, brings another unlikely example: Rahab. She is the polar opposite to Abraham. A woman, not respectable, not a Jew, relatively unknown, and yet she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Abraham as far as faith is concerned.
Joshua 2 contains her story. She tells the spies who came to Jericho “I know the LORD has given you this land… we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea when you came out of Egypt and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings… for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below”
Rehab’s faith is not blind, but rooted in reason. She believed in the Lord who is capable of parting the Red Sea, defeating two mighty kings… He is not a man made god, but the Creator God who is in heaven above and earth below. She proved her belief by her actions. While Abraham put his son’s neck on the line, Rahab put her own neck on the block, when she hid the spies in her house. She honored God’s people and there by honored God. She feared the Creator and not her earthly king.
Faith is an action word. It is impossible to show faith without action.
Say you put a 2 year old on a table and ask her to jump into your arms. And the child throws herself into your arms. That’s faith acting out. The child knows you are good and will not walk away when she is midair. What if the child says she believes you are a good person and willingly won’t let her fall- and yet she will not jump. What good is that belief?
Not everyone that says unto me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven”