After the recent post I did about salvation, I got a very touching letter from a fellow missionary who wrote and asked what my thoughts were about some of her kids who were brought up as Christians but are now vocally anti-God. Here’s part of what she wrote:
I will never doubt my salvation… but I have questions about some of our kids. Some of them turned away from their beliefs about 10 years ago. One of our sons keeps “preaching” that God does not exist. He’s very intellectual and each time faith or God is mentioned in our home, he’s totally “off” in his comments. I wonder sometimes if he ever was really saved. It’s my understanding that Faith is a free gift of God BUT IT HAS TO BE RECEIVED, NO? He does not force it on us. Our son said a few times that he does not need a God that saves and has no need of salvation. You can imagine that we pray for him a lot. Our kids prayed the salvation prayer when they were young and then they followed in our footsteps. But a few abandoned their faith as teenagers. What do you think? Thanks for taking time to answer.
This is a huge, deeply sensitive, somewhat complicated question that hits closer to home than I care to say in a public post like this. I said in another post that I felt there’s a Scriptural foundation to believe that King Saul was saved. He was a failure in life but I think he was saved. But another major character from the same time period was a horse of a different color.
King David’s son Absalom was undoubtedly brought up in a Godly home by at least a Godly father, we know that much. But Absalom as an adult led a nearly successful rebellion against his father that was as powerful as anything David ever faced. There’s nothing in Scripture to indicate in any way that Absalom had any fear of God or anything other than an evil, unregenerate heart. I would guess that Absalom didn’t go to heaven. But he was raised by his father David, who obviously loved him very much.
In the picture at the top of this article I posted the words to a famous song from The Doors, one of the top rock groups of the late 1960’s. Jim Morrison sings, “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. Send my credentials to the house of detention. I’ve got some friends down there.” It’s a barely cryptic prayer to renounce any place he may have in heaven and that he be enrolled in Hell, where he has friends, he says.
What would God do with someone like that? I don’t think there are very many like that. But there are some. A few may even come from Godly families. Perhaps the most famous Satanist of the last 100 years is Aleister Crowley. And yet Crowley grew up in a family who were Plymouth Brethren in England, one of the most “on fire” and dedicated avant-garde groups of their day, comparable to the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s. Crowley has become the most recognized face of Satanism. And yet he was exposed to a tremendous amount of faith and truth from the Scriptures when he was young.
Absalom, Jim Morrison, Aleister Crowley. It seems, very sadly, that at least in some cases there are those who never really received and embraced the light, love and truth they were surrounded with when they were young.
I believe ones like this are not a large group. I believe a larger group are just “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who’ve gone away from the Father’s house but sooner or later come back or will come back. I know several like that of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s God’s gentleness, love and goodness that at length wins these ones back.
At other times, like with what happened to me, it takes the virtually literal flames of hell, the presence of Satan and the imminent judgement of God to shock and frighten some people to turn from their foolishness and rebellion. You can read about my experience with that here.
“The goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). “Turn, oh you backslidden children, for I am married unto you, says the Lord. And I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion”. (Jeremiah 3:14) “God has ways that His banished be not expelled from Him”. (II Samuel 14:14) “Whether shall I go from Your Spirit, or whether shall I flee from Your presence? …If I make my bed in hell, behold You are there” (Psalms 139:7 & 8).
But some will say, “Mark, they say they don’t believe in Jesus anymore!” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they are His, He goes out to find the sheep that was lost. (Luke 15:6) It even says in one place, “If we believe not, yet He remains faithful;, He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:12). “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (I Peter 1:5). “He that has begun a good work in you shall perform it to the end” (Philippians 1:6) . He is “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) .
I know some children of missionaries who departed from the faith for a while, really got down to business with God, came back and are now going strong for the Lord on distant mission fields. I know people in their thirties who are all out for the Lord on difficult fields while their former missionary parents have let their lamps burn so dim in their home countries that you’d hardly know they’re still Christians.
There are just so many different varieties of experiences in all this. Some do come back. Sometimes at the end of their lives. Some are going to go on to heaven with very little reward at all. But they’ll be there. One of the most amazing things I ever read was by a woman from over 100 years ago, Rebecca Springer. It was originally titled “Intra Muros” and you can find it on Amazon under the title “Within Heaven’s Gates”. She had a prolonged experience in heaven while she was very sick. In one experience there, she saw a mother reunited with her son in heaven. But, during their life on earth, the son had killed his mother. Yet he was in heaven.
It gets to be where some of this is just beyond our understanding at this time. I believe there are ones like Absalom who were brought up by Godly parents but it seems likely he went to hell because of his rejection of all the truth, righteousness and faith he was shown. Others are going to be there in heaven in “everlasting shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Others are “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who eventually come back. Others, many others, “follow afar off” (Luke 22:54). They retain some faith they were brought up with but keep their light “under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15) for much of their lives. And some do show their light and retain their faith but not at all in the manner of the discipleship they were brought up with.
It’s a very heartbreaking subject for the parents of these people. I know some moms who are so mistreated and verbally insulted to this day by their adult children who were brought up on the mission field with their humble Christian parents. It is a major cross these parents bear to endure the insults, taunts and humiliation their children pour out on them, even 20 years after their children left their faith and chose “the course of this world“. (Ephesians 2:2)
What can we say? What can we do? We can keep the faith; hold on to our crowns and pray for our loved ones who’ve turned away from their faith. It’s really not easy. It’s not a happy, pleasant subject. We don’t really know how this will turn out for each of our children. We do know that we serve a mighty, tremendously loving, tremendously able God who cares more about our kids that we do and is able to rescue all who will be rescued and in some cases even those who seem to not want to be rescued.
But we can’t be utterly sure that simply because they were born into a Christian home, that they themselves will be Christians and saved. God has no grandchildren.
“Every one of us must give an account of himself unto God”. (Romans 14:12)