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.
If you accept Jesus into your heart at an early age and then never really do anything in your life that involves Him, and then you die, do you still go to Heaven?
Dear Name Withheld,
“Spiritual abortion” is the term I use to describe people who accept Jesus into their hearts at an early age and then never really do anything that indicates being “born again.” Based on the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 13:1-9 and Matthew 13:18-23 (and in the corresponding passages in Mark and Luke), they will not be in Heaven. Their profession of faith in Christ makes little, if any, difference in their lives. Spiritual breathing barely begins before it is quickly snuffed out.
The Parable of the Sower describes a farmer (Jesus) who is sowing seed on four very different types of soils. This is a helpful parable to read when thinking about salvation.
Some seed fell on a hard pathway and some birds ate it up before it penetrated the ground. Some seed fell on a thin skin of topsoil overlaying a shelf of solid rock. The seed sprang up quickly, but the hot sun soon scorched and withered the new plants because they had small, shallow roots. Some other seed fell among thorn bushes which choked the life out of the sprouts. However, some of the seed fell on good soil and produced a prodigious crop of thirty to one hundred times what was sown (Matthew 13:1-9).
The pathway soil represents the hearer who is not interested at all in the things of Christ. Since birds are sometimes a symbol of evil in the Bible, Jesus may well be referring to satanic deception which keeps these people from hearing the Gospel at all (2 Corinthians 4:4). Nevertheless, whatever, they reject the Gospel completely (Matthew 13:18-19).
The rocky soil represents shallow “believers” who wilt when the going gets tough. A religious experience is no guarantee that personal salvation with Christ has occurred. Surface change is not the same as transformation of the heart. Feelings may change without transforming the soul. There is no repentance, no remorse over sin, no contrition, no brokenness, no recognition of the need for a Savior. When the going gets tough, this person’s relationship with Christ is proved inadequate or nonexistent (Matthew 13:20-21).
The thorn-infested soil represents hearers who are distracted by too many other things. When the Sower was sowing the ground looked clean enough—but it was full of grab grass. The result was that the good seed and the dormant weeds grew together; but the weeds were so strong that they throttled the life out of the seed, and it died, while the weeds flourished (Matthew 13:22). The weeds are any distractive things which take precedence over the things of Christ.
The good soil represents fruit-producing Christians. The seed on the good soil took deep root and produced flourishing plants that yielded a prodigious amount of fruit (Matthew 13:23).
Jesus said, "By their fruit you shall know them." The point of the Parable of the Sower is that true believers produce fruit. I believe that of the four groups, only one is Christian and “on the way to Heaven”. It is not hard to deduce that the hard, pathway soil is not Christian. Those here never received the Word into their lives in any way. On the other hand, it is not difficult to deduce that the last group, the good soil, is composed of true Christians. They received the Word, flourished and produced much fruit.
The difficulty comes in deciphering what Jesus was teaching regarding the middle two groups. Are they Christians are not? The key here is not their initial profession of faith in Christ; the key is the lack of fruit. The Book of Hebrews is careful to declare that the real test of real Christians is not how they start but how they finish (Hebrews 6:4-6)!
Three types of fruit are mentioned in the Bible. The manifestation of these fruits is perhaps the best indicator of lives changed and transformed by the indwelling Christ (and on the way to Heaven).
First is the “Fruit of the Spirit” described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As we mature spiritually these characteristics are manifested more and more.
Next is what Paul calls the “Fruit of Good Behavior” described in Philippians 1:11 “… filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Those spiritually reborn experience life changes which make them more sensitive to sin and the things that keep us from the righteousness of Christ. As a result, they begin to reflect more and more of the righteous life of Christ in their own lives.
Finally is the “Fruit of New Converts” as mentioned by Paul in Romans 1:13 “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” As we mature in Christ, we find that fulfilling the command of Christ to evangelize the Lost (Matthew 28:19-20) becomes a driving force in our lives.
James addressed this issue in James 2:14-18 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
According to James, true faith in Christ will always be manifest by the works (fruit) that occur as a result of faith in Christ. No works means no faith.
I am sure many questions entered your mind as you read my answer. Let me share a few caveats. I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that once a person is saved they are always saved. Since salvation is based on Christ’s work and not on ours, God does not take it away because of our poor behaviors at some future point. Interpreting Jesus’ parable of the soils says to me that the middle two soils were never “saved” in the first place. It is not how we start but how we finish that really matters. True Believers remain faithful to the end.
What about people who receive Christ on their death beds and never have time to produce any works? True faith saves whether we have time to produce fruit or not.
What about people who live for Christ and then turn away from Christ? My opinion is that true Believers will not turn away and the fact that they do reveals that they never were True Believers in the first place.
What about backsliding? My advice is, “Don’t do it.” If you do, you and God will have to work that out together.
Well, Name Withheld, I hope this answer is helpful to you. May God bless you in your Christian growth to produce much fruit! Ask me another question soon.
Dr. Roger Barrier 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.