Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at .firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can God forgive some one who kills people or rapes our children, a person who sins their whole life, and then accepts the Lord before their death bed?
Allowing last-second conversions to open the door to Heaven for rapists and murderers doesn’t seem fair. However, the Kingdom of God is not based on fairness. The Kingdom is based on grace and mercy. Grace is when God gives people what they don’t deserve. Mercy is when God doesn’t give people what they do deserve. Grace and mercy are able to operate because of Christ’s work on the cross to forgive everyone’s sin, not just the sins of the “good people.”
Grace to rapists and murderers means that they are given Heaven when they don’t deserve it. Mercy to them means that they don’t get Hell when they do deserve it. When murderers and rapists receive Christ on their death beds and are given grace and mercy, instead of judgment and Hell, we see just how powerful is Christ’s death on the cross and how long are the arms of grace and mercy!
By the way, from God’s perspective of perfection, even the people who don’t murder and rape are no more deserving of Heaven than those who do! Paul declared in Romans 3:22-24 “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” He went on to declare in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The real question, then, is not so much, “How can God let into Heaven rapists and murderers who surrender to Christ on their death beds?” The real question is “How can God allow any sinner into His perfect Heaven?” Even one of our sins would defile the place! Jesus’ mercy and grace are so powerful that they cover every sin with forgiveness. As we enter into Heaven, Jesus places on us white robes of purity which allow us to live in Heaven—all sins forgiven—without defiling and ruining the place!
By the way, few of us would doubt that the Apostle Paul one of the greatest Christians ever and is certainly now in Heaven. But, consider the fact that he was a killer and murderer, too. Paul revealed in Acts 22:4 “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” Again, he revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” Jesus extended His grace and mercy to Paul—even after he killed men, (and apparently) women and children as well.
Paul brought this whole issue into focus by declaring in 1 Timothy 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
Well, Anonymous, I hope my answer gives you some insight into the tremendous, far-reaching and forgiving power of God’s grace and mercy.
PS. While the ground at the foot of the cross is level, Hell has multiple levels. Peter identifies the lowest level as “tartarus” (2 Peter 2:4).This is the "hottest" level and is reserved for the demons who rebelled with Satan and were cast out of Heaven. Adolf Hitler is in a hotter level than a “nice” person who dies having their sin unforgiven.
PPS. Did you know that God never created Hell for sinners to go there? It was created for the fallen angels (demons) (Matthew 25:41). Unfortunately, after Adam and Eve ushered sin into the world, Isaiah tells us that God had to enlarge Hell for all the sinners who were choosing to go there.
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.