Greetings Dr. Luginbill,
I have routinely stopped by your website to read new emails and study the content you provide, and I wanted to send a quick thank you before I delved into the questions I have. So, thank you! Now, to the heart of the matter.
My spouse and I were raised in Christian homes and we have proclaimed Jesus as our Lord for probably as long as we can dutifully remember. This has always been something I am truly thankful for, and I can only praise God that we had the upbringings we did. As we both grow in our relationship with God we continue to search for answers to the questions we have, and finding your site has been particularly helpful in this area. Many of these questions arose from our desire to test what we heard in church and to study the Word for ourselves, so as not to be complacent in our continuing revelation of Jesus Christ. This journey had been quite positive, until my spouse encountered a thought which led to questions and frustrations regarding the nature of our existence, Hell, and the character of God.
I'm sure you have been exposed to many questions regarding Hell, and whether it is fair for unbelievers to go to Hell, or whether Hell is truly an eternal place of torment, but my spouse's question went somewhere beyond this, to the beginning of it all I suppose. She began to wonder why she would want to serve/believe in a God who would choose to create a race of beings (humans in this particular case) knowing that the vast majority would live in eternal torment? This is at the core of her struggle, and it is hard to see her grapple with this, especially since I can not provide an answer beyond trusting in God's infinite wisdom and love. My spouse asks this question out of immense empathy and sadness for those who will suffer this fate. She has confessed that she would rather she was never created, that none of us were created, so that none would suffer. This core issue has created conflict in her view of life and in our lives together, I believe.
I do not know why God would be willing to do this, and I do not know how this can be reconciled with His character. If it was done to glorify Jesus, it would seem we are expendable to God. If it was done for any reason that is not beneficial to us in our existence, it would seem that God was uninterested in the suffering that many would endure. Why create us? We would be better off to have not been created then to live in eternal torment. If the numbers of those who will fail to choose God and live for eternity in torment dwarf the number of those who will live with God, how is that a victory? All of these responses are seemingly inconsistent with the narrative of our Bible. I am often wary to propose these questions to anyone because I see how much potential it has to erode one's belief in God, but I am hoping that your unique perspective may provide insight we have not considered. Thank you for reading all of this, and I look forward to your response.
Good to make your acquaintance and thank you for your encouraging words.
The answer to your question is love. God is love. He created us because of His love for us. Of course, He cannot make us love Him back. What He can do, what He did do, is to sacrifice beyond our understanding so that we might have eternal life with Him and His Son our Lord. Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, for the sins of every unbeliever. I think it is a very under-appreciated thing in present-day Christendom just what it cost the Father in sacrificing His dear Son our Lord, and just what it cost Jesus to wash away our sins. He was judged, paid the eternal penalty, for every single wrong thing we have ever done. We are not capable as mere humans, we are not fit as sinful people, to expiate a single one of our sins, not even if we spent eternity in the lake of fire. But Jesus took all that pain for us. It is mind-boggling to contemplate, and impossible to truly understand this side of heaven the magnitude of His sacrifice. It is bigger the universe and deeper than eternity it is the rock upon which the entire creation, the entire plan of God, and our entire future is built. So great is God's love for us. So great is God's love for all. In His righteousness He could not allow sinful people into heaven, but He removed that barrier by the blood of His Son. Now, the only thing that stands in the way of eternal life is every individual person's free-will. Sadly, most people are not willing to have heaven on God's terms: accepting Jesus' sacrifice in place of their own works and their own will. Satan wants to be in eternity, just on his own terms. Likewise most human beings prefer hell to a heaven where God reigns. This in incomprehensible to believers, but a very important truth. Unbelievers would not be happy in heaven because they do not accept the authority of the One who rules there and never will.
About one thing you write I do agree, namely, that the only way for there to be no hell is for there to be no heaven. That is to say, there is no way for there to be an eternal paradise for believers if there are no unbelievers. Mankind is a perfect whole, like the spectrum of light. Take away any part, and you don't have light any more. God's creation of mankind as who we are, creatures with the very image of God free will necessitated the genuine opportunity to use it to decide whether or not we were willing to be subjects of the only God or preferred to be gods unto ourselves instead. Sadly, most prefer the latter and would never be happy with the former. Because of the nature of human life, this choice we make is un-coerced, genuine, informed, and fair. Nor would unbelievers choose differently if given a million other life-times to try again not unless they were forced to do so, against their will. God could easily force unbelievers to submit to Him in acknowledging Jesus Christ while still alive, but not and have them retain a true free-will choice. God could easily have made us like dogs and cats, genuine spiritual creatures but without the image of God and the ability to choose our eternal future. What God could not do was make us with free will and still make the good without the bad. How do we know that? Because 1) God is perfect, therefore this creation, the process of history, and His plan in bringing all things to a precise conclusion have to be absolutely perfect as well; 2) given the horrific suffering of Christ, beyond anything imaginable, we can be absolutely sure that if there were any way for the cross to be avoided God would have avoided it. It could not be avoided. That is why Christ prayed for our benefit "let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matt.26:39 NASB).
So it is true that the only way to avoid the existence of the lake of fire is for creation never to have taken place. God could certainly have decided not initiate creation. He was under no obligation to bring it to pass. Indeed, since the sacrifice of His Son would be necessary if He did so, we cannot really imagine what He it cost Him to create us and all we see in the first place. But we do know that He did it out of love. The fact that so many are so ungrateful does not change the fact that He is worthy of our eternal and entire gratitude for all that He has done for us. If as parents we were told ahead of time that we would have twelve eleven children who would bring us nothing but pain but one who would bring us great joy, would we sacrifice that one in order to avoid the sorrow of the eleven? Not if love directs our steps.
The sentiment to sacrifice personal well-being for the sake of those who will suffer is certainly a noble one (cf. Rom.9:3), but there are three things I would ask you to keep in mind. First, God is love and is righteous, therefore everything He does He does out of perfect love and in a perfectly fair way even if we sometimes have a hard time appreciating those truths. Secondly, Jesus has already suffered for all those people who are self-condemned. He suffered more than they will suffer in an eternity in hell so that they might not have to suffer what they will suffer at all. More than that, they knew the basic truths about all this, yet, as Romans 1:21 says, "even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (NASB). So all of their future suffering is totally self-chosen and self-induced and totally unnecessary since Christ has already paid the entire price for them so that they would not have to be condemned. But they were unwilling to accept what He did for them because they did not want to sully their free-will by responding to God in accepting Jesus Christ. So beyond any doubt their condemnation is thoroughly deserved (as will be shown in detail at the last judgment; see the link). And, thirdly, for God to have failed to create those of us who are willing to love Him back out of a desire not to have those unwilling to do so suffer for their choice would have been, in my estimation, unloving and unfair, condemning to oblivion the righteous with the unrighteous and the thankful with the ungrateful.
We could not create ourselves. He created us and I for one am so grateful He did. And more than that, we were born in sin and had no way to save ourselves, but the Father judged the Son in our place that we might not be cast into the lake of fire! That is love! Praise Him for His grace and mercy! The amazing thing to me is that so many do not want any part of that gracious deliverance. That is their right as "gods", human beings who possess the image of God (Jn.10:34-36). But there are consequences for what we decide with our precious free will as we see every day in every way, and there is no more important decision than our willingness to accept the good news that Christ died in our place. If we throw that good news back in God's face, disdaining what Jesus did for us in paying for all of sins, well, then I have a hard time feeling sorry for those who do so, even though the lake of fire is a terrifying prospect. I certainly would not want God to take back my creation so that these individuals might not have to experience the end they have chosen. Perhaps if I thought they were just "making a mistake" or "might change their minds under different circumstances" I would feel differently. But it will be shown on that day (see the link above) that everyone "knew what they were choosing", and also that they would not choose differently no matter how "do-overs" they had. God made us who we chose to be, and we choose to be who God made us (please see the link: BB 4B: Soteriology).
If it is any consolation, we have it from scripture that none of these things will trouble us on the other side:
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed
Revelation 21:4 NIV
In Jesus Christ the One who died that all might have eternal life through faith in His holy Name,
Thank you for your reply. I wanted to take a few days before responding, to make sure I had absorbed as much as possible. I think some of the main points you made could be very helpful. Some ideas I have been throwing around and trying to prove/disprove are listed below. You'll probably see that the focus is closely related to my previous question but I was wondering if you had thoughts on these, or perhaps links that addressed them:
-Human Beings have been created from an eternal perspective, that is, once we are created we can not become uncreated or nonexistent. We are eternal, in either life or death.
-The choice of heaven or hell is a misrepresentation of the true choice: God, or not-God. His son, or not-His son. We are alive to experience the opportunity to choose out of free will whether we want to love and serve God, or not.
-The consequence of choosing God is eternal life, while the consequence of choosing not-God is the opposite: eternal death.
-The place/experience of hell and the lake of fire is a creation of God that exhibits the qualities of a not-God existence.
-A choice of not-God is a choice to have nothing to do with God, and God honors that choice. The only existence/place that is truly empty of God is hell/lake of fire. It is the summation of everything God is not. It is the only place where a being can truly have nothing to do with God.
-Hell/Lake of Fire is terrible because it contains not even the slightest hint of the goodness of God.
-Heaven/New Heaven/New Earth is the fullness of God. It is wonderful to a degree we can not fathom. The amazing beauty of earth, our good experiences, everything that is good and perfect in our life here, is but a taste of what is to come.
-Some will choose God, most will not, because of the devil's deception and because of our sinful nature.
-Though it is heart wrenching, those who do not choose God will make that choice clearly and with commitment. They will want nothing to do with Him.
-Because God can not destroy them, for He has created them with the capacity for eternal existence, He gives them the full-ness of their choice. Fulfilling free will, even though it is a terrible existence.
-God can not fully reveal Himself or the concept of Hell/Lake of Fire and leave our ability for free will unaffected. If any of us experienced either of these things, our choice would not be much of a choice at all. Whether we truly want to be with God or not to be with God would be unknown. Thus we must choose based on faith.
Many of these ideas I have gathered from reading your site, as well as studying on my own and conversing with a few close friends. I would like to be able to put together a verse bank (so to speak) that would allow me to quickly locate all the biblical sources for these conclusions one day. I don't know if appealing to my wife with Bible verses and logic will help at this point but I hope that if she is open to them, they will make a difference. I know that prayer will be my best resource through this, but it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed when the person I am closest with begins to fall a way from their belief in God. Anyways, thanks again for all your hard work!
Good to hear back from you and I certainly will say a prayer for the success of your efforts. As to your points:
1) Human Beings have been created from an eternal perspective, that is, once we are created we can not become uncreated or nonexistent. We are eternal, in either life or death.
2) The choice of heaven or hell is a misrepresentation of the true choice: God, or not-God. His son, or not-His son. We are alive to experience the opportunity to choose out of free will whether we want to love and serve God, or not.
3) The consequence of choosing God is eternal life, while the consequence of choosing not-God is the opposite: eternal death.
Yes, contingent upon point 4.
4) The place/experience of hell and the lake of fire is a creation of God that exhibits the qualities of a not-God existence.
That's a good way to put it. Separation from Him would be for believers the worst thing, since He is the One we love beyond anyone or anything else. Unbelievers want heaven; they just want it without God. They are not unhappy to be separated from Him, I would guess, since that is what they have chosen and very clearly so. But all blessing in this world and in the next comes directly from God, so that an existence without God will necessarily be one without blessing.
5) A choice of not-God is a choice to have nothing to do with God, and God honors that choice. The only existence/place that is truly empty of God is hell/lake of fire. It is the summation of everything God is not. It is the only place where a being can truly have nothing to do with God.
6) Hell/Lake of Fire is terrible because it contains not even the slightest hint of the goodness of God.
7) Heaven/New Heaven/New Earth is the fullness of God. It is wonderful to a degree we can not fathom. The amazing beauty of earth, our good experiences, everything that is good and perfect in our life here, is but a taste of what is to come.
8) Some will choose God, most will not, because of the devil's deception and because of our sinful nature.
These two reasons are part of the mechanics. But no two sin natures are the same on the one hand, and no two people experience precisely the same level or type of satanic opposition on the other. Adam and Eve both fell without having a sin nature, and while Eve was deceived, Adam was not (1Tim.2:14). Therefore the issue of choice is rooted deeper than circumstance and environment. It is rooted in the absolute "who we are". The amazing thing to me is that unbelievers know the basics: death, sinfulness, and God's coming judgment, yet are unwilling to bend their will to His even though He has paid the entire price for them to be saved.
9) Though it is heart wrenching, those who do not choose God will make that choice clearly and with commitment. They will want nothing to do with Him.
That is correct, and it is correct even in those cases where the individual in question is "a nice person". It's all about what is really going on in the heart in respect to a person's attitudes towards the Almighty and His Substitute for our sins, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
10) Because God can not destroy them, for He has created them with the capacity for eternal existence, He gives them the full-ness of their choice. Fulfilling free will, even though it is a terrible existence.
I agree with the substance (nicely done), but I would be careful with the terminology. Scripture calls the lake of fire "the second death" and if memory serves never describes hell as an "existence". I suppose that is what it is in terms of the way we think about these things and express them in contemporary English, but for a variety of reasons I would shy away from that word. People have imagined hell in very many ways as in "I'd rather rule in hell than serve in heaven", but it is unclear that this eternity in hell will have any of the features of life as we know it (such as some sort or hierarchy or anything at all resembling earthly life).
11) God can not fully reveal Himself or the concept of Hell/Lake of Fire and leave our ability for free will unaffected. If any of us experienced either of these things, our choice would not be much of a choice at all. Whether we truly want to be with God or not to be with God would be unknown. Thus we must choose based on faith.
This is also very good. Three small points, again about the vocabulary: 1) God certainly could fully reveal Himself, but not without compromising the principle of free will since no human being can see Him and live or if allowed to live do so and retain the ability to make a fair choice against Him (having seen Him in His true glory); 2) the concept of hell is available for consideration, at least to all unbelievers who look into scripture or expose themselves to teaching on the subject. Also, knowing they will die, knowing they are sinful, and knowing that they will stand before a perfect God as their Judge unless they make peace with Him ahead of time through the blood of His Son unbelievers have at least an inkling of the unpleasant eternity awaiting them absent their response to God. This is different, of course, from actually experiencing the lake of fire, and I dare say that after being cast therein there is no one who would not do or say anything to get out. But if let out, every unbeliever would revert. Satan was perfect and had full knowledge of God's justice before his rebellion yet rebelled anyway. For a while, God allowed him to have his way (most probably for eons upon eons). And the devil would have kept on having his way until God brought an end to it with His judgment on the original universe (i.e., the Genesis Gap; see the link). If unbelievers were allowed out of the lake of fire, they would have their way on the new earth in a similar fashion until God put an end to that as well. Blessedly, all these questions will by then have been "asked and answered" by the Lord, and these truths will have been demonstrated through the process of history (with everyone's true choices and intents of the heart laid bare on the day of the last judgment); 3) God would know what everyone would have chosen under any theoretical regime. The great advantage of the way He is working things out is that, through the process of history as He has ordained it, the true heart-choice of every moral creature is being demonstrated in an indisputable way and at the judgment all this will be made crystal clear in each and every case.
I will pray for your success.
In Jesus Christ who is the truth.
I'm catching up with a brother from church some time next week. And I would like him to be aware of the dangerous doctrine of OSAS. Which of your articles can I refer him to that best explains that? He keeps on using the argument that "God preserves us, thus preserves our faith no matter what, (it's like his saying we have no responsibility) and anything else is a works salvation."
He believes that being saved is a past thing & nothing we do can negate that. I tried to explain to him, that we must work to preserve our faith. Salvation is free, we can never do anything to earn it, but we need that faith to grasp it and hold onto it or else it doesn't belong to us. This is done by:
1. hearing the word,
2. believing, and
3. putting it into practice 1+2+3=FAITH, Hence by faith we do 1,2,&3.
Thus, faith must be preserved to the end, in order for it to be a saving faith.
Have I worded this correct? If not, can you help me explain it including some verses.
Love In The Living Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ
Always good to hear from you. Your point "it's like his saying we have no responsibility" is right on the point. Your friend's contention that "being saved is a past thing" certainly does not link up with scripture, e.g.:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1st Corinthians 1:18 NIV
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2nd Corinthians 2:15 NIV
Obviously, if we are still in the process of "being saved" then the issue is still to some degree one of process. We are secure, but only if we maintain faith firm until the end.
It is through this gospel that you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you otherwise you believed in vain.
1st Corinthians 15:2
You were once alienated from God your very thoughts were hostile towards Him and your deeds were evil. Yet God has now made peace with you through the death of Christ in His physical body so that you may stand before Him as holy, without blemish and free from accusation [this you will do] if you remain solidly grounded and firmly fixed in the faith, and un-moved from your hope in the gospel . . .
Christ [was faithful] as a Son over His house whose house we are, if indeed we hold fast to the hope [in which we] boast firm until the end.
For we have all become partners of Christ, if we hold fast to our original conviction firmly to the end.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Hebrews 10:39 KJV
Believers are saved. Unbelievers are not. Faith in Christ is not a "once and for all" monolithic thing. It starts small, like a grain of mustard seed, and should grow big to the point of dominating our lives, sustaining us through trials and tribulations, and bearing fruit for the Lord. But like any small plant, if faith is not nourished, it may be stunted, dry up, and can even die.
Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
Luke 8:6 NIV
And those [whose seed of faith fell] on the rock do receive the Word with joy when they hear it. However these [types] have no root [to their faith]. They believe for a while, but in time of testing they apostatize (aphistantai).
This is why scripture addresses the issue in the way it does, encouraging us to persevere in faith because so much is at stake:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
Philippians 2:12 NIV
As to the links, here are the best places to look at Ichthys (these will guide you to many other links as well):
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security I
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security III
I think you have framed the issue admirably. Faith is a muscle and must be used in order to grow; without use it will atrophy. We grow our faith by believing the truth of the Word of God, by applying it to our lives, especially in the testing that comes every Christian's way, and by giving ourselves to the Lord in the issue of doing the ministries He has called us to do in order that others may believe in Him, learn His Word, live their lives in a close walk with Him, and have their own ministries as well. If we are fighting this "good fight of faith" we will indeed keep faith "firm to the end" and earn a good reward in the process, one which glorifies our dear Lord forevermore.
In Jesus the Object of our faith, the very Word of God,
Hello Dr. Luginbill,
Thank you for your encouraging words and prayers; they're always giving me that much needed strength I need in these times of very hard trials.
Today I felt the need to tell a homeless man about the wonderful message of the Gospel as he was asking for change. Everything seemed to go fine until a large, burly man approached us and interrupted the conversation. He was basically arguing against me and saying that Jesus isn't God, but the "Son" of God. No matter what I said, he said, "I don't want to hear it youngster, you're wrong." His attitude was basically him having all the answers and I'm just a fool in need of true wisdom. I continued to preach the Gospel to the homeless man while the burly man (most likely a tool of Satan) kept interrupting and saying that Jesus was the "Son" of God and not God. I told both of them that "Son of" means having the same nature, and even the Jews who crucified Jesus knew that. I made an analogy that if my Dad is Human and I'm his Son, does that no longer mean that I am NOT human? I told him that I am human just like my Dad and we both have a human nature because we're human. We're human and God is God. Jesus is the Son of God, therefore He is also God. He kept ignoring me and calling me a liar and a deceiver. I thought, how can anyone not understand such simple common sense? The burly man eventually left as I kept up in the conversation. I continued to tell about Jesus to the homeless man and he eventually agreed. My question is why do so many people deny that Jesus is God based solely on the fact that He is referred to as the "Son" of God? Even the Bible says in Philippians that Jesus has the same nature as God. There are even professing Christians at my work who even go to Christian churches that deny Jesus' Deity and say that He is not God, but the "Son" of God. Wow! I tell them, If I'm the son of a human, does that no longer make me human? and they simply ignore me. I can't seem to understand this. Is there something biblical that I'm missing or fail to understand? Thanks!
You are a Christian warrior, that is for sure! Your steadfastness in the face of all manner of opposition from the evil one is a great encouragement to me and will be to others to (whenever I post this). You are not only correct in all of your doctrinal representations, but your argument for Jesus' deity in turning this person's lies upside down is both biblical and irresistible. Good for you!
As to the "why" part, it's not a matter of knowledge or rhetoric or proof or anything else other than free will. People have to make choices in this life that is why we are here. And most people choose against God and what God wills most of the time. Most people in the history of the world have been absolutely unwilling to bend their precious free will to the slightest degree so as to accept a Substitute for their sins. Most people would rather go to hell than to do what God tells them to do in even this so easy matter (for us) of accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, putting their faith in Him and what He has done for them.
Whenever people deny Jesus' divinity or deny His humanity or deny His work in dying for the sins of the world, for that matter they are really denying the gospel. They are rejecting God the Father's gracious offer of salvation given entirely by grace to be received through faith. They are refusing to believe. And it makes no difference whether they refuse to believe the whole gospel or merely some critical part of it. They are throwing God's sacrifice of His one and only dear Son our Lord Jesus right back into His face. They are only couching their rejection in careful language when they say Jesus is not God or was not really human or did not actually pay the penalty for sins. None of this is any different really from saying that God Himself does not exist. Because everyone knows He does exist (just as the Spirit makes the truth of every part of the gospel perspicuously clear whenever it is given), to say that He doesn't exist is merely a way of putting the truth to death.
Of course the only place where truth can be put to death is in a person's own heart and only temporarily at that (everything will come out in the end at the last judgment). When people deny the truth of the gospel in whole or in part what they are really saying is that they are not going to relinquish the slightest measure of control over their lives to God, even in this very simple way of accepting Jesus as their Savior, accepting Him for who He truly is, the God-man, and for what He has truly done, dying for the sins of the entire world. And they are rejecting this truth even though the consequences are so enormous and so final. It is astounding, but it is true. People go to hell of their own free will and do so because of their unwillingness to accept God's offer of salvation because it "violates" their free will.
In all this unbelievers are behaving exactly like the devil and his minions. Both groups know the truth, both groups know the consequences, but both groups want a universe without God telling them what to do even though His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In the case of human beings, all that is required to live with Him forever is to accept the gospel by placing one's faith in Jesus Christ. This makes much more sense than it may seem to at first glance. God can only accept those in eternity who want to be with Him, and accepting Jesus is the way we respond to Him and indicate that this is precisely what we want and that we are willing to do what He tells us to do to achieve eternal life (easy as it is for us, not for God who sacrificed His one and only Son to make it possible).
So only those who want to be with God and enjoy Him are going to be in eternity with Him. Those who would prefer a universe without God will be in a place without God, just as they wished. Life and history, therefore, are the perfect processes for separating the sheep from the goats and allowing everyone's true inner person and true heart's desire to come out: we choose to be who we are just as God made us whom we chose to be. Praise be to Him for His ineffable sacrifice in Jesus Christ our Lord!
There is much more about all this at the link: BB 4B: Soteriology
Keep up the good witness for Jesus Christ!
Hope you and all those around you are doing well. Do you agree that unconditional predestination makes God "the author of sin"? "God forbid!" Predetermination of the destiny of individuals is based on God's foreknowledge of the way in which they freely reject Christ or accept him. Is this what "Predestination" means?
Love In Christ
Always good to hear from you.
In answer to your question, it would depend upon how all of these terms are defined. Obviously, God is not the author of sin. Sin is always a choice, and we are always responsible for it as with all other free will choices. But Jesus did die spiritually for every human sin. So God certainly knew about every sin ahead of time just as, being God, He could not help but know about every single thing that would happen in the universe He was about to create before He created it. He would only be the "author" of our choices if we had no choice. As it is, creature free will, the image of God, makes all moral creatures responsible for every choice they make. The fact that God gave us free will and knew ahead of time how we would use it does not make Him responsible for those choices. Otherwise He would be entirely responsible for our going to heaven (in which case faith would be irrelevant) or for our going to hell (in which case rejection of Christ would be irrelevant). As it is, free will is the most powerful force in the universe outside of God and that is precisely how He designed the creation and this self-selecting process known as "history". With our choices we determine where we will spend our eternal future and, in the case of believers, much about the texture of that eternal life (i.e., the degree and the extent to which we will be rewarded for our work for Him here on earth or not). So if God were the author of sin it would have to mean that there was no free will and no gift of the image of God. Since we know very well from scripture that we do have the image and since we are very aware from our common human experience that we are indeed making these and all our other choices from own free will, the proposition is impossible.
There is predestination, biblically expressed and rightly understood, namely, the Lord's codifying ahead of time of all the genuine free will choices we would make. His decree makes all of history immutable, but that does not mean that He did not know what we would choose ahead of time and so factor all of our choices perfectly into His Plan as He absolutely did. This seems impossible to human logic but is actually a critical facet of the entire creation. God could not fail to know everything ahead of time, and nothing could happen in creation without His decree. Predestination in its correct biblical form, therefore, does not remove free will; rather, it is the enabler and codifier of it. Without predestination, there could have been no history at all.
You will find much more about all this at the following link:
The Plan of God for the Salvation of Individual Believers (in BB 4B)
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord,
I would like your view on this question; "Are some Christians Predestined to be saved by God no matter what?" I say absolutely NO. However, OSAS believer's use Romans 8:29-30; to suggest Christians are Predestined by God, taking away the responsibility of the believer. I've tried to explain his Predestination is based upon his foreknowledge of our free will response; to either except Christ or reject Christ. Am I correct?
Always good to hear from you.
Your point about foreknowledge is right on the mark. This is a bit of a "trick question", theologically speaking at least for those of us who understand the true issues here. As I often say on this topic, "God made you who you chose to be and you chose to be who God made you". Predestination is the divine codification of our free will into the plan of God. Predestination takes into account everything people actually did choose. God is able to do this because He is God and foreknows everything we would choose, given life and free will. The Plan of God is unalterable: that is predestination. God made provisions ahead of time for every moral creature to make his/her own free will choices in this life: based on foreknowledge. Viewed from the perspective of the latter, God knows what will happen; viewed from the perspective of the former, everything is certain to happen. The bottom line is that believers are predestined to heaven and unbelievers are predestined to hell: because believers actually did choose for Jesus Christ and unbelievers actually did choose not to believe in Christ. If a person asks, "isn't this God deciding for me?", my answer is, "not at all" He merely knew of your choice ahead of time and honored it by entering it into His plan. If a person asks, "what if I change my mind?", well, God already knows whether or not you are going to change your mind (foreknowledge) and whether or not you did change your mind, and has entered that into His plan (predestination), if you actually ended up doing so.
The real problem with the question "Are some Christians Predestined to be saved by God no matter what?" is that it makes some incorrect assumptions. The "no matter what" part assumes that God does not know that someone who is a Christian now will end up apostatizing later but He does know, and He knew before He created the world in the first place, and He has entered into His plan what the person in question actually did or did not do on the issue of maintaining faith in and faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
The astounding thing to many people is that predestination and free will can coexist perfectly in the Plan of God. Rightly understood, however, there could be no free will without predestination, because no mere creature could possess the image of God except in the environment of His creation and the working out of His perfect plan. God is enabling us to live and to choose: we do the living and the choosing, all the decisions come from us, but we are only able to do so because He has already melded our lives and our choices perfectly into an all-inclusive and perfect plan which takes account of every single development no matter how small anything else would be confusion and would not be of God.
The choice of whether or not to spend eternity with Him, and the continuum of choices we make that demonstrate our determination to do so (or not), are certainly among the most important we make. Predestination, rightly understood, is a most blessed doctrine, but like all truth it can be distorted, and I can imagine few things more spiritually dangerous than for a Christian to assume that he or she will be saved "no matter what" because of a fatal perversion of this doctrine into the elimination of free will after salvation.
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Hope all is well! I was linked to this article titled, "The myth of Free Will" and would like your thoughts. It's as if everything he states is true and biblical, but something is missing. I ask you because you make it quite clear that the basic premise of our lives is 'the' choice we make concerning Jesus Christ and yet this article claims that even that choice is something we could never make.
If we were good to begin with, 'in the garden' and the eating of the apple awakened in us a knowledge that also included evil, wouldn't that allow us to consider good still, also? Although we are slaves to the flesh and our basic instinct is to abide by it, if we were completely hedged by evil, how could we be told in the Bible to do anything that would ask us such things as to protect our faith, to 'run the race' or to 'be on guard'? We are asked to do much and if it were completely out of our hands then the Bible would seem to be moot in many places...we would be robots.
Was there some sort of new 'legislation' wired within the heart of all humans when Christ was sacrificed that changed us so that we could make this decision or is this article complete bollocks? It seems more consistent to believe what you have taught, that all humans are born with a small seed of knowledge of God's existence within us (a part from the 'good' of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?), maybe when He 'breathed' life into each of us, that like you have said, we either water and allow to grow, 'responding', 'seeking' Him, or we ignore it and allow it to sit on the shelf collecting dust until, inevitably, it gets thrown out to the dumpster for all eternity. (hardened heart and complete apostasy).
I know you have many articles on this topic and I've read them, but I would love if you could take the scriptures he uses and elaborate from your point of view of what the Bible means us to understand.
Very good to hear from you. I get that we are not free to control our circumstance as we would like to do, but that is not will, that is reality. Satan wanted to be God, but that was not in his power to achieve (even though he has been trying for millennia to bring it to pass) but that is still what he wants and that desire rules his life and has determined his eternal future.
We are all here to choose. The fact that we can only actually be certain of achieving the important choices God puts before us (i.e., to be saved or not, and, for believers, to follow Jesus in pursuit of eternal rewards or not) is entirely the point. All other choices merely show what we really desire and demonstrate that we do have the power of choice. The power to effect what we may choose or lack thereof is entirely incidental.
The same thing holds true for his category of "ethical freedom", a very confused and befuddled treatment I must say. Philosophers have exercised themselves over this issue through the ages but it is really quite simple. We can only do good in the power of the Spirit; we can only understand the truth through the ministry of the Spirit. For those who do wish to accept Christ and for those who do wish to follow Christ, the Spirit has always been the One empowering all of our good choices; and for those who do want to hear and understand and believe the truth, that has always required the ministry of the Spirit. Simply put, what is impossible for man is not impossible for God. Doing good and perceiving truth would be impossible by honest earthly canons; both are possible in fact through the supernatural help of God the Holy Spirit.
Finally, as to "spiritual freedom", I don't see any basis for distinguishing it from the above. It seems to me to be one and the same except that this author restricts it to the issue of becoming a believer. When he says "there can be no question that receiving Jesus Christ is an act of the human will", my question is "then what is the gripe?". This person seems to fall into the category of those who in wishing to emphasize God's grace de-emphasize free will out of existence (usually citing predestination and failing to understand that God predestinates us in full foreknowledge of our actual choices). This is otherwise fairly typical of those who wish to see the whole process of salvation of some and not others as "mysterious", whereas nothing could be more straightforward: unbelievers go to hell because they are absolutely unwilling to enter heaven on God's terms.
I honestly don't see any verses here which are quoted or applied in anything like a sensible or persuasive way to support this series of very confused arguments, nothing, that is, that invites serious comment or refutation, but I am happy to answer any further questions about any specific verses. Your understanding of these matters as expressed in your text is right on the money in my view. I think you understand these things just fine. And I think it is most understandable if you are having a hard time understanding this individual and his posting so am I.
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Your explanation of spiritual death was very helpful, particularly emphasising the separation from God, which is what sin is for us and which explains why our Lord needed to become a human, as without it this separation would not be possible.
My question would be about how this payment took place, what did it involve? We know that our Lord was separated from the Father and now, having been separated, what were the specifics of this payment? Was it pain being inflicted? It is spiritual death, but it lasted 3 hours, so there was a continuity to this process and to this payment and I would like to know what it was and how it 'felt' (obviously, being aware that we cannot understand it to the full)? Since death is conventionally perceived to be a 'one-off' occurrence.
Peter tells us that our Lord literally bore the sins of the world "in His body" (1Pet.2:24), and that matches the graphic representations of the Law where the one confessing would place his hands on the sacrifice to symbolically transfer the sins. The bloody death of the sacrificial victim and the burning up of the body in the fire also, I think, tell us much about the suffering Jesus had to endure to purge away our sins. Since sins are recorded and enumerated, it would seem that He paid the price for each and every individual sin in an individual way. That payment would seem to have to be the infliction of the due penalty and we can only imagine the pain and agony of bearing the least significant sin the holiest believer ever committed. That is why the spiritual death of Christ is by far the most important, the greatest, the largest, the most significant thing in history (see the link). Indeed, it is "bigger" than history, than the universe, than all creation to an infinite degree. We can know this intellectually now, and with growth in the truth we can come to some dim understanding of how important our Savior's work on the cross really was; but this side of eternity we are unlikely ever to be able to properly appreciate what He had to do for us that we might be saved and what the Father had to do to Him in our place. This is the love of God.
You wrote: He knew, then He decreed, meaning that He first took into consideration what He knew ahead of time all of us would do, then decreed history in its entirety. And we should never lose sight of the fact that foreknowing, He did not have to decree, but that in decreeing, He obligated Himself to give up His One and only Son to die for our sins, sins that would never have occurred without the decree, but which were inevitable given a process of history wherein genuinely free moral agents were involved.
Could you please clarify what you mean by 'foreknowing, He did not have to decree, but that in decreeing, He obligated Himself to give up His One and only Son to die for our sins, since that would never have occurred without the decree'?
What do you mean by 'foreknowing, He did not have to decree'? How is it possible that God could foreknow something and not decree that? I need to say that I still struggle to comprehend the concept of decreeing.
In my understanding of this principle, foreknowledge is God's complete and total prior understanding of everything that would happen in total detail before the fact if He decided to unleash creation (as of course He did). But He still had to decree it. He is the Master of creation and of everything in it. Until He decides, there is no creation. God certainly could have created a universe wherein there was no sin or possibility of it but not and still give any of His creatures genuine free will and the image of God. Therefore while "knowing ahead of time what would happen if" is perhaps not important in making a perfect clock, for example, in initiating a creation wherein many creatures have the very image of God and decide for themselves by taking action on those free will decisions was a different matter entirely, and not only because of the complexity of a process of history which would have to precede the eternal "solid-state" clockwork that was the end goal (allowing each to choose for or against Him being a part of that eventual eternity). The primary consideration was the cost, namely, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which would be necessary were God to decree such a creation: the Son would have to pay for the privilege of our choice, and pay a price beyond our present comprehension at that. Please see the link: "foreknowledge and the divine decrees".
In 2 Tim 1:9 what is meant by the grace being given 'in eternity past'?
[God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not through our works, but through His own [sovereign] choice [of us] and [His] grace [towards us], [that grace] which was given to us in Christ Jesus in eternity past.
God planned everything before creation began to include all the grace we would be given in the gift of Jesus Christ; i.e., He did this in "eternity past". This is a term I use [though I did not coin it] to distinguish between God's pre-creation activities and "eternity", which usually means "heaven" now or in the future when Christians hear the word, but which I qualify in this way to make it clear that this is eternity before the creation of the world (i.e., as in Jn.1:1ff.). NIV uses "before the beginning of time"; literally from the Greek it is "before times eternal" (note the plural).
You wrote: "In my view, sin, any sin, comes with a penalty: death. And the death in question is not oblivion or the termination of physical life on earth but painful, fiery retribution separated from the presence of God."
I would like to understand why is the punishment for sin not oblivion and non-existence?
I'm not sure there is a specific scripture for this, but as I see it: a) oblivion would not be a punishment but a complete relief from punishment. The only place oblivion as an eternal future might cause distress is here and now in this life in anticipation of it before it is experienced. Since it would entail not only no suffering then but also an end to all the pain and suffering of life, one could see how this "doctrine", if true, might actually be comforting. The Epicureans taught exactly that, namely, that death was the end and that therefore human beings should be comforted in regard to death precisely because there would be no "divine retribution" (Lucretius treats this subject extensively in De Rerum Natura). The truth is that unbelievers do indeed have every reason to fear death regardless of their philosophical perspective because they will be judged and punished for rejecting God's solution to condemnation through faith in Jesus Christ; and: b) What God creates is created in terms of spirits which are meant to be eternal. This creation is perfect by definition because perfect God is the One who created it. Therefore the perfect number of spirits has been created and that perfect number will be maintained forever but with only the elect entering into eternal life.
Regarding Paul's following words: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN? (that is, to bring Christ down), or WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Based on what you said about the relative ease of salvation, I assume that Paul means that this ease means we don't have to 'ascend into heaven' or 'descend into the abyss'?
Yes, precisely. Those things would be hard to do (in fact impossible). Salvation is not impossible and not hard (for us). It only requires choosing for God in Jesus Christ. That requires subordinating our will to what God prescribes something the vast majority of humanity is nevertheless unwilling to do, however easy it may be.
I'm also still working out the meaning of Colossians 1:19-20. Could 'things in heaven' be understood as pre-Christ believers, who could not be saved until His sacrifice?
On Colossians 1:19-20, everyone is saved the same way: through faith in Jesus Christ. The distinction between the Old and New Testaments is mainly that believers of that prior era had to have faith that God would provide a Substitute, whereas now we know just who that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true God and genuine human being in one unique Person now and forever and just what the sacrifice entailed: being judged in Calvary's darkness for the sins of the entire world. However, it is true that Old Testament believers were saved "on credit", so to speak, in God's "forbearance" for "the sins committed beforehand" which "he had left unpunished" as it says at Romans 3:25 (paraphrasing NIV).
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Ephesians 1:9-10 NIV
I believe that this passage is an essential parallel of Colossians 1:19-20, stating also the oneness that all things have in Jesus Christ, on earth and in heaven, summing up thereby the salvation of all elect human beings and the inclusion with them of all elect angels into the ultimate family of God.
Could you please clarify 2 Corinthians 1:19-20:
For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the One who was proclaimed among you through us, through myself and Silvanus (i.e., Silas) and Timothy, did not become "yes and no", but He became "yes!". (20) For as many promises of God as there are, are "yes!" in Him (i.e., Jesus Christ). And through Him the "amen!" [is said] to God for [His] glory through us.
What does Paul mean by 'did not become "yes and no"'?
This is an emphatic way of declaring that salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ are not negative in any way, and that nothing important is lost by becoming a believer in Jesus but rather everything important is gained. There is no regret for those who are saved for in Jesus Christ all of God's promises are fulfilled in Him, and, in eternity, we will never need to or actually hear the word "no!" ever again.
Could you please clarify Isaiah 8:13-15 (NASB)
13 "It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear,
And He shall be your dread.
14 "Then He shall become a sanctuary;
But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over,
And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 "Many will stumble over them,
Then they will fall and be broken;
They will even be snared and caught."
Could you briefly 'walk me' through this passage? In particular, the part 'And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.15 "Many will stumble over them' is hard for me to understand.
Our Lord (and I assume these words refer to Him) can help us gain salvation and without Him there is no salvation, but I cannot understand how can one 'stumble' over Him? Through Him our ultimate 'gain' take place, and we are at 'loss' never through Him, hence I'm unsure about these words.
I take this along the lines of Paul and Peter in their quotations of this passage:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
Romans 9:30-33 NIV
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for.
1st Peter 2:7-8 NIV
Jesus is the Rock of stumbling and offense for Jewish unbelievers who are not willing to accept His Messiahship. This passage, Isaiah 8, is a further warning of the need not to resist God and His Messiah but to accept the Rock who is the foundation of the entire plan of God. They need to have faith and not resist the truth out of a preference to offer their own works to God instead (i.e., keeping the Law).
2 Timothy 2:25-26: in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil . . .
Again I'm trying to establish the balance between God's intervention and our free will - what does Paul mean by 'God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth'? Is it again about us making the choice and God granting whatever is needed?
On 2nd Timothy 2:25-26, Paul only says that this repentance is his hope. This qualification recognizes that no matter what we may do, these individuals retain their own free will and have to make their own decisions. Nevertheless, our action is still important. Paul is confident that God has "mixed things" just right, and commends our intervention as good and appropriate without guaranteeing that it will be effective in the way we wish it to be because of the principle of free will (theirs as well as ours).
You wrote: Since the menorah connects the coming Messiah with the original tree of life, it is likely that we are meant to see this symbolism of light and life shining through in the title "Branch" as well.
As soon as I can, I plan to read the studies you included in the footnote for this statement, but could you just very briefly explain how the menorah connects the coming Messiah with the original tree of life?
This all covered at the link: The Tabernacle and its Symbolism. The interior of the tabernacle is symbolic of paradise, and the symbolism of the menorah is that of the tree of life. The menorah/tree of life gives off the light which illuminates paradise and we know that Jesus is the Light of the World. The seven lamps speak of His perfection and its up-raised stature and golden composition speak of Him in resurrection and glorification returning to illuminate the world. The tree of life sustained life through eating. We are saved through eating the "body and the blood" of Jesus Christ, not literally, but with eating being a symbol of faith (i.e., taking something tangible and good to ourselves and into ourselves by choice), and with the body and blood (or bread and wine in the rite of communion) representing the Person of Christ and His work on the cross in dying for sin respectively. Just as Adam and Eve expressed their faith and faithfulness to God by eating the fruit of the literal tree of life, so we have eternal life as a result of our faith in the true Tree of Life, the Light of the World, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 4:15: For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
What does Paul mean by 'For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers'?
NIV has "Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers . . .", and that is the true sense. Paul is their "father" in the sense of being the human agent of their spiritual rebirth: he gave them the gospel with the result that they were saved. Compare Philemon 1: (NIV): "you owe me your very self" (i.e., for the same reason).
Ephesians 4:8: "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN."What does Paul mean by 'HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES'?
In one of the answers you wrote it refers to: 'taking all departed believers into heaven with Him when He ascended to the third heaven', but could you explain why specifically this wording is used - 'HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES'?
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV
Before Jesus' liberation of us (cf. Jn.8:32ff.; Gal.5:1ff.), we were condemned to death. As a result, before the actual cross even those who had trusted in God were not allowed into the third heaven. They were still "captive" in the sense of waiting for Christ's atonement of "the sins committed beforehand unpunished" (Rom.3:25). So Jesus' leading of these believers to heaven really is a liberation in every way (see the link).
Regarding Hebrews 9:7-8 you wrote: As to "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing" (Heb.9:7-8), the repetition of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, the sacrifice for all sins which represents Christ's work on the cross, is a clear proof that the entrance into heaven itself was not yet opened up and so that the rituals of the Day of Atonement were symbolic only: until the real sacrifice by the real Substitute took place, there was no way into heaven (and that accounts for the holding of all Old Testament saints in the subterranean paradise until after Christ's ascension).
So I understand you take the repetition as a proof that the entrance into heaven was not yet open. Would you agree with what Barnes proposes in his notes on the Bible as proofs that entrance into heaven was not open:
(1) it was a mere "symbol," and not the "reality" - showing that the true way was not yet fully understood.
(2) it was entered but once a year - showing that there was not access at all times.
(3) it was entered only by the High Priest - showing that there was not free end full access to all the people.
(4) it was accessible only by Jews - showing that the way in which all men might be saved was not then fully revealed.
I don't have any argument with these points, but I wouldn't teach it this way because it misses the main point of what Paul is saying/demonstrating, namely, it is the fact that the ritual has to be repeated that proves this is merely a symbol and a ritual: if it were anything else, it would only have to be done once. Christ died for sin, "once for all", proving that His sacrifice was the real thing, not ever needing to be repeated again. This is another blow struck by Paul against the participation of his listeners in these repeating rituals which ignore the power of the cross of Christ.
Thank you once again, you have an excellent way of explaining things. I feel blessed
I have someone that can help me with these challenging questions.
I was doing some browsing around on YouTube, looking up Predestination and came across a mini film called "Calvinism Predestination The Bible Truth, by ICHTHUS, is that your mini film?
No, that's not me (I spell it Ichthys, by the way). I've never gotten around to video (or audio). I do have a good friend who is on the verge of launching some Khan Academy style videos. When and if, I'll be posting a link to the site.
Always happy to help, my friend!
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
God bless you and your swinging away....I guess you know DTS didn't like my age for a doctoral program, and I'm not very good and ducking and weaving either but that is what I'm left with. If Christ loved me, I can duck and love, too.
It seems to me that the Calvinist types just can't wrap their spirit around the legit doctrine of the election or chosen few; and their made-up doctrines of "irresistible grace" and "limited atonement". Then they say we agree to disagree on the nonessential doctrines like the events in Genesis [I suppose they mean Gen.1.1-2 gap fact] and the Lord's Return [which I think you and I don't see eye to eye on, but whatever], but how can they look someone in the eye with the Gospel and tell them Christ died for their sins when they don't believe He died for the "whole world", i.e. 1Jn2.2. That kind of makes God a little two-faced doesn't it or self-contradictory? If I said that to one of them in love, would they take it as a swing?
That's an excellent point about the gospel for those who can't possibly qualify in TULIP-think!
Yes, you had shared with me before about DTS. Age discrimination is a reality. I know it's disappointing, but God always knows best. When I was just finishing up my Ph.D. I actually applied for the job at Saddleback (you know, the one Rick Warren "got" instead). They wrote me that they "had not been called to choose me as their pastor". I guess not! But Given what they find to be wonderful, I am sure I would have been swinging and swung on early on and been out the door in time for Rick to have ended up there on a recall anyway.
This ministry is beyond anything I could have imagined and I am incredibly grateful to the Lord for it.
Yours in Jesus,
Dear Dr. Luginbill,
Just a few lines to say hello, hoping and wishing that all is well with you! I always have you present when a question comes to mind. Here I go:
[Details omitted regarding the questionable death-bed confession of a close family member with whom correspondent had a tortured relationship]
Thank you once again, and may the Lord bless your ways and every thing you undertake!
Good to hear from you. I hope your plans for ministry preparation are going well and that God is blessing your course of action:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.
1st Timothy 3:1 NIV
I am sorry to hear that this relationship continues to be drag on your peace of mind. God has called us to peace, after all (1Cor.7:15). I hope that as time passes you will be able to put this matter to rest, especially as it is settled now (except to the extent that it can continue to upset you). Whenever I am wrestling with anything of the sort, I always ask myself "what is the right thing to do?" Because by committing oneself to the objectively correct course we can then relax and leave things to the Lord, letting the "chips fall where they may" in complete confidence that He will work everything out for the good.
In this case, since there is nothing more to be done (good or ill), all the more reason to look forward, not backward. Once a person has departed from this life, their eternal status is locked in. No amount of prayer can release an unbeliever from hell, and no amount of cursing can eject a believer from heaven. As to the nature of death-bed (or any other sort) of conversions, only God knows for certain what was in a person's heart. Salvation is not dependent upon being nice, and condemnation is not dependent on being bad. All those who have God's righteousness which is only acquired by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ are saved; all those who are depending on their own righteousness and reject Jesus Christ either directly in this life or indirectly by refusing to accept God's Substitute for their sins are condemned. In both cases, it is a matter of choice, and Christ is the issue, not the person in question. For "all sin and fall short of God's glory" (Rom.3:23). Therefore did Christ die for all that all might be saved through faith in His Person and work on the cross. All who accept Him as their Savior are saved; all who reject Him or refuse to accept Him are condemned.
It is not uncommon to hear the complaint that really nice people ought to be saved even though they are not believers, and that really bad people ought to be condemned even though they are believers. But that position fundamentally misunderstands the total depravity of the human race in the first instance and the principle of pure grace in the second. The essential question of life is one of allegiance: do we stand with God or not? If we choose to do so, He has provided a means for us to be saved, irrespective of our prior life, be it "good" or "bad". If we choose not to do so, then our life in toto makes no difference whatsoever apart from that crucial decision to reject Jesus or a lifetime of decisions not to accept Him.
In most cases, those who are saved or profess to be will demonstrate by their actions in their life thereafter whether or not the conversion was genuine and whether or not they are determined to persevere and not fall away again. For those saved just before the end, we have no such indications and can only speculate based upon what may have been observed in that short episode of conversion. These things only are clear: God wants everyone to be saved, but only those who are willing to accept the gift of Jesus Christ and do so are saved. God knows which is which. He has a book, the book of life (see the link), wherein are written the names of every single human being ever granted physical life by being blessed with a human spirit at birth. Everyone whose name is in the book on the last day will resurrected unto a resurrection of life; only those whose names have been blotted out will be condemned, and at the last judgment the book will be checked to ensure that no one, however bad they may have been, or in spite of how good they have been, will be condemned wrongly or accidentally. And it is only by rejecting Christ, or by leaving this life without accepting Christ, that one's name is blotted out. Clearly, this measure is taken for our confidence here and now as well, but we should know, of course, that God doesn't make mistakes.
It is also the case that every single person who is condemned would have been so under the best of all possible circumstances. That is to say, unbelievers are unbelievers because that is who they are deep in their hearts by their own choice. It is not a matter of "good and bad", but of choosing self or God. Unbelievers are unwilling to subordinate their will to God's Will (Satan's original sin), even though God has given them the simplest means of doing so in the choice for Jesus Christ so as to be saved. It will be demonstrated at the last judgment not only that no unbeliever was accidentally condemned and that even the "nicest" and "most innocent" among them was stubbornly resistant in their heart of hearts to submitting to God by bending their will to His. Please see the links:
The Last Judgment
The Plan of God
Were there any point in praying for this individual, I would be happy to do so. But there is not. If the conversion was genuine, if the person really did believe in Jesus Christ, then said person is in heaven. If was only an act, even a loving one meant to please you, then the person is not. Since we cannot know for sure, the best course is to put the matter in Jesus' hands and move on (much easier said than done, I understand). One thing is for sure, however, on the other side, when we are in heaven with the Lord, we will not shed any tears about what has happened to our loved ones, even if lost, or be at all concerned about the fate of our enemies, even if saved and that will be true even if as sometimes is the case they fall into both categories at the same time (whether lost of saved). That being the case, and since we cannot do anything whatsoever to affect things any further, Paul's advice is the best:
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
Thank you for your encouragement and good words!
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,