"But What About Mom and Dad?"
No greater love did God ever show for mankind than in the giving of His son (John 3.16). Love is the motivating factor behind why one must obey the gospel: out of love for the Father and His son Jesus (John 14.15, 23). We do so much on account of love. It is love that compels us to share the gospel message with others. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1.16), and often our love for our parents, spouses, siblings, and children compels us to share this saving message with them first of all. We love them, and out of love “we cannot but speak” (Acts 4.20) of that which will save their souls.
Our choice to die with Christ in baptism can positively affect their salvation, by influencing them to come to the LORD and obey the gospel. But what about my family members that have already passed on from this life? All of us have parents, spouses, siblings, and children who are no longer with us, and often their decisions regarding spiritual matters strongly influence our own. How does my decision to obey the gospel affect their final judgment? Do their spiritual decisions impact my choices now? These are difficult, emotionally-charged questions, and we must turn to the word of God for clear answers to these perplexing issues.
1. When we stand before God, we will be judged as individuals.
The faith or faithlessness of our parents or other family members will not be under consideration when “someday you’ll stand at the bar on high; someday your record you’ll see”. We will be judged for our deeds alone: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5.10, cf. Romans 14.12). This agrees with God’s words to Israel in Ezekiel 18, where He states that He does not judge children for the sins of their parents, nor parents for the sins of their children. Simply put, “The soul that sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18.20a).
If our parents obeyed the Gospel according to the scriptures (which requires belief, repentance, confession, and baptism into Christ) and lived their lives in faithfulness towards God, then God is faithful and gracious to grant them the “crown of life” (Rev. 2.10). If we refuse the Gospel’s call, the faith of our parents will not affect our own judgment. If we hear and obey the Gospel as they did, their faith benefits us only in the form of a positive example to imitate.
On the other hand, if our parents did not obey the Gospel or became unfaithful to the LORD, then we should not doubt God’s faithfulness to judge according to His word. Our decision to obey the Gospel or not has absolutely no effect on the Lord’s decision regarding our parents. Just as Ezekiel says: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Eze. 18.20b).
2. The LORD must come before all: even the choices of my parents.
If we choose anything before God, then what we have chosen becomes our idol. If we learn that our parent’s decisions conflict with the teaching of scripture and we conclude their decisions were right, what other conclusion is there than we have idolized our parents??? Will we be judged based on the decisions of our parents? Will the record of their lives be opened on the Day of Judgment and used to judge our lives? No, there is but one standard that will be used at Judgment: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12.48).
Faithfully seeking God and His Christ requires that we be willing to give up everything in the process, including (if necessary) our families and our lives: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.37-38). To refuse to believe and act on the truth of the scriptures on account of the decisions of our family members places their judgment above God’s command. In essence, their choices become a false gospel to us: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1.6-7). What should we choose: the testimony of our parents or the gospel of Christ?
3. All who obey the Gospel do so in some measure of opposition to their families’ beliefs.
It is incredibly rare to find someone who has obeyed the Gospel who does not have a sibling, parent, or other close relative who denies the truth. Coming to the truth implies leaving falsehood, and somewhere in our families there are those who did not believe and obey before they passed. Can we allow their refusal to hear and obey to be the obstacle that keeps us from God?
In a Truth Magazine article entitled “Condemning One’s Parents” (Sept. 25th, 1975), Irwin Himmel made an excellent observation concerning those who refuse to obey the Gospel on account of their parent’s decision to not do so:
"Let us change the situation a little and apply the same line of reasoning. I preach to a Jew that he must believe in Jesus as the Christ in order to be saved. Jesus said, ‘For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’ (John 8:24). I point out, ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3:36). My Jewish hearer responds, "But I cannot accept what you preach about believing in Jesus, for it would condemn my mother and father who did not believe."
Suppose I preach to a man from a backward African or Asian country that one must believe in God. After all, the Bible says, ‘But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him’ (Heb. 11:6). This man replies, ‘I cannot accept what you preach about believing in God, for my doing so would condemn my parents who knew nothing of the God you preach.’
In each of these three parallel cases, the rejection of Bible truth is on the same ground: Condemnation of one's parents. If the rejection in the first case has any validity, so do the other two.”
4. If your parents are condemned, they want nothing more than for you to obey the Gospel.
As we all know, death is not the end. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9.27). Jesus told a parable about the final destinations of two men in Luke 14.19-31: the rich man and Lazarus.
We remember that the rich man ate well, while poor Lazarus begged for crumbs and had his sores licked by the dogs. They both die, and Lazarus is carried to the “bosom of Abraham” (v.22), while the rich man is sent to “Hades, being in torment”. (v.23). The first point is clear: the wicked rich man is punished, while poor righteous Lazarus is comforted. However, the story isn’t over. After the rich man’s request for relief is denied by Abraham, he makes a different sort of request:
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’”
The rich man in torment begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, to warn them of his plight. Even though he couldn’t change his situation, he wanted nothing more than to change the situations of his family members!!!
We as Christians neither commend nor condemn anyone who has passed. These decisions are solely reserved for our Creator who judges faithfully according to His word. However, if our parents or other loved ones are condemned and are facing an eternity of torment as the Rich Man was, they want nothing more than for us to AVOID their mistakes. Their pleas would mirror his: “warn them”. If the voices of the condemned were able but for a moment to breach the walls between our reality and theirs, with what urgency and intensity would they beg you to heed the words of Jesus! Their cries would be unyielding, and saddest of all some of the voices would be recognizable. Friends, loved ones, and family members would call out from the eternal darkness and beg us to turn towards the Light. Will we hear their cries?
We stand in judgment over no one, that role belongs to God alone. We suffer when anyone turns from the LORD, but that agony is multiplied in the case of our family members. We hate that many we love die having never repented and turned back to God. But as much as it hurts, we do not deny God’s word. The same word that promises salvation and peace to the faithful assures judgment to those who deny it. God asked Israel long ago “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Eze. 18.31). They had a choice in whether they lived with Him or died apart from Him, and we have that same choice today. Will you choose to die without obeying the gospel? -Kyle Sanders