What if a person dies without having been baptised in water and/or without receiving the Holy Spirit?

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 21 – Assurance of salvation

What happens if a person has truly started out on “the Way”, having truly repented and believed, and then dies before realising the need for water baptism or before receiving the Holy Spirit? My firm belief is that they would go to Heaven.  That person would have died while they were “on the Way”. 

The point is that that person did not yet know, and perhaps had no opportunity to learn, the truth about being baptised in water and/or receiving the Holy Spirit.  I once explained the gospel in hospital to a dying man aged 93.  I had never met him before.  His name was Stanley.  He died ten minutes after I left him.  I believe Stanley was saved that day even though he was never baptised in water or baptised in the Holy Spirit.  The point is that he had no opportunity to do either of those things.  But Stanley had set out on the Way, even though his journey was only for ten minutes.  That man never had a chance to do anything more than that.

The difference is that you do have the chance to be baptised in water and to seek to receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Also the excuse of ignorance about water baptism or baptism in the Holy Spirit or His gifts is not open to you.  I do not know what the fate is of a person who ignores or disobeys biblical commands which they do know about.  My own feeling is that I would not want to presume on God’s mercy by disregarding His known commands.  So, again, it comes back to this – it is an obedience issue. And it is one that I would not want to take any chances on.

As the excellent Bible teacher, David Pawson says, “Why would you want to approach Christianity by asking “What’s the minimum I have to do to be saved?” ” Why would you seek to do only the minimum?  Why not ask instead “What does God require of me?”  Then, whatever it is, why not do all of it willingly?

Conclusion – making sense of the need to balance the assurance and warning passages

Let us seek to draw the threads together and to make sense of this topic which so many people find confusing.  If you read the books written on assurance of salvation and the warnings of the need to persevere, you will see that many authors seem to be unable to hold these concepts in balance.  They generally go either to the ‘North Pole’ or to the ‘South Pole’.  They either adopt and emphasise one, or the other, but rarely both.  Yet both are in the Bible.  We cannot get away from that fact.

So how can we summarise it all?  I would say this – we can be sure of God’s faithfulness, but can He be sure of ours?  We can have assurance that our salvation will never be lost due to any failure or betrayal on God’s part.  God will never let us down.  But that assurance, which is real, needs to be held in balance alongside an understanding of the fact that people frequently betray or abandon Him.  In doing so, they could throw their own salvation away.

Therefore we have every reason to have confidence in Him.  We can look forward with assurance to spending eternity with Him.  We can and should rejoice at that, and should not be tormented by doubt or anxiety.  But, at the same time, we have every reason to think soberly and realistically about our sinful nature and our tendency to be selfish, carnal and rebellious.

That’s the way we are. Those tendencies are in us, and if they are not dealt with by the process of sanctification, they will eventually be our undoing.  We can bring about our own downfall and be lost eternally if we allow ourselves to drift, and to keep drifting, in the direction that our fleshly, carnal nature wishes to go. Our sinful nature will never lead us in the right direction. It will never bring us closer to Jesus or make us desire to follow Him. Our flesh will always want the opposite of what Jesus wants.

Unless we are determined to die to self, crucify our flesh nature, and live for Jesus Christ, and unless we fear God and realise that He will judge us, then we are likely to drift away. That is not just a possibility, but a likelihood.  If so, then we would be throwing our own salvation away. We would be walking away from the One who died for us and who paid the penalty for us, and throwing all of that back in His face. 

We may never do it dramatically or decisively. It probably would not all happen in one day, though I suppose it could. It generally happens over time by the slow process of neglect. It is like tooth decay.  There is no single day when the decay happens.  Even so, a day is eventually reached where the tooth is so decayed it is beyond treatment and has to be removed.

So if, you know that you are a real Christian then be assured that God has justified you.  Have confidence in Him to finish the job. But, do not have any confidence in yourself.  Do not presume. Do not take God for granted.  Do not neglect or despise Him.  Do not stop walking along the Way. Keep going. Keep on learning, studying and growing. Keep on and on putting your old self, your sinful nature, to death. Deny your flesh.  Refuse to give it what it craves for.  Refuse to be mastered or controlled by it.  Choose instead to submit yourself to Jesus Christ and to resist the Devil.

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