Will a Christian Turned Atheist go to Hell?


 I posted a response to an atheist’s question about a Christian who had become an Atheist. I made the claim that, "if someone believes in Jesus for eternal life, nothing can ever take their eternal life away. Not even if they become an atheist."

Here is that article in case you'd like to look over it. Can a Christian Become An Atheist And Still Be Saved?

So, this elicited a response from a number of my atheist friends. Their tone was one of annoyance, I think.  That seemed strange to me, considering that I was delivering what I thought was positive news. In response to that article, an atheist man posted this.

"Thankfully there are plenty of contradictory bible verses for the ones who don't want to buy into that."

A few minutes later he posted
"John 15:6."
Let's look at John 15:6 and consider what it says.

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned."

Wow, I'm so busted... just kidding. Before we jump into this subject take a look at this video we recenly produced.



So first of all, these verses show up in the book of John. John tells us why he wrote his gospel in John 20:31 when he said,

"but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." 

So John clearly tells us that his gospel is written for the purpose of allowing people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we will gain eternal life.

This is important because John hammers this idea through his gospel. He uses the word believe about 100 times in his book. It's important to know what the word "believe" means.

GREEK : Pisteuó / ENGLISH : Belief = affirm, have confidence, persuaded, convinced.

So John is trying to convince us that Jesus is the Christ/Son of God. If anyone believes that, then they have eternal life.

So that's his main purpose. However, he has a second purpose that shows up throughout the book much less frequently.

His second purpose is that believers would Abide in Christ. What is abide in Christ? We don't have to guess, he tells us clearly in John 15.

John 15:10 says,

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love"

So he makes it easy for us. Keep Jesus' commandments and we will abide in him. Nowhere in the book of John, nor in the bible does it teach that we gain the gift of eternal life by keeping commandments. It's not the policy. That's not how it works.

John says over and over, that belief in Jesus is the one condition for gaining eternal life.

Believe in Jesus = Have Eternal Life.
Abide/Follow Commandments = Earn various rewards and benefits.

What's more, John tells us what the benefits are for abiding in Christ in this same chapter.

He who abides in Christ will

bear much fruit. (Jn 15:5)
have answered prayers (Jn 15:7)
glorify God (Jn 15:8)
become disciples (Jn 15:8)
have the joy of Jesus (Jn 15:11)
become Jesus' friend (Jn 15:14)
know the plans of God (Jn 15:15)
be hated by the world (Jn 15:18)
be persecuted by the world (Jn 15:20)

So the above list is what will happen when a believer abides in Christ. So if you are a believer and you follow Jesus' commandments, then the above list can be yours.

This is HUGE! You need to notice what's not on the list above. There is no mention of eternal life. Did you catch that? This chapter is a side note to John's purpose for the book of John. Let's review.

Primary Purpose Of The Book Of John: That his readers believe in Jesus as the Christ, the son of God in order to gain eternal life.

Secondary Purpose Of The Book Of John: That, once they've believed they abide in Christ. (follow his commandments) and therefore earn various rewards and benefits.

I was raised in the church. Somewhere along the way, I got confused about these two ideas. I mistakenly assumed that all believers would automatically abide in Christ. I didn't understand that there was a distinction between believers and disciples. I thought they were basically the same thing.

Because of this confusion, the bible was very illogical. It seemed one second The bible was saying that I gained eternal life by faith alone in Christ. The next second it was saying I was expected to do good works.

It was my mistake to assume that my eternal life would be lost if I didn't do good works. So now that we have made that distinction let's go back to the verse offered by my atheist friend. John 15:6:

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned."

My atheist friend implied that this verse is teaching that God would cast believers into hell if they don't abide in Christ.

I’d like you to notice that is not what it says. Read it again. See if you can find the word hell in the verse. You can’t. It’s not there.

You might say, “but fire represents hell.”

Says who? There are many places in the bible that talk about fire as a metaphor for something other than hell. In fact, fire is often used to illustrate a refining process.

If the "fire" in this verse is talking about hell, then what does the "throw away" and "dries up" mean? There are basically three distinct actions that the metaphorical gardener takes in this verse. If the fire represents hell, there also needs to be an explanation for what the other two actions represent. That's how metaphors work.

Secondly, it doesn't make sense in the context of the book of John to think "fire" means Hell here. It doesn't even make sense in the context of Chapter 15. He says over and over that those who believe in Jesus have free eternal life. He claims repeatedly that they don't gain eternal life for their actions, or ability to follow Godly living. Then suddenly he supposedly changes his mind and says that if you don't follow Jesus' instructions, you'll go to hell. It just doesn't make any sense.

There is a much more elegant explanation... but if you're an atheist you're probably not going to like it. Especially if you're an atheist who was raised as a Christian. Are you sitting down?

John 15.6 is talking about how God will discipline his children in this life if they don't obey Christ. That’s right. God disciplines believers during their mortal lives.

Let's break the verse down into its parts.

"If anyone does not abide in Me,"

So we've established that Abide = Obey Christ. So this verse is talking about believers (Christians) who decide to disobey Christ even though they have eternal life. So a Christian who later becomes an atheist falls into this category.

The verse then explains what will happen to these wayward immortals.

"he is thrown away as a branch and dries up;"

Two things happen here. First, the branch that does not produce any fruit will be cut and tossed away. Don't confuse this with losing salvation. There's no reason to think that he is telling us we will lose our eternal life. That idea doesn't fit with the context. Instead what it means is, he will remove the benefits that come with abiding in Christ.

Remember the list of abiding benefits from before? So if one doesn't abide in Christ then, we can assume that they:

won't bear fruit. (Jn 15:5)
prayers won't be answered (Jn 15:7)
won't glorify God (Jn 15:8)
won't become disciples (Jn 15:8)
won't have the joy of Jesus (Jn 15:11)
won't become Jesus' friend (Jn 15:14)
won't know the plans of God (Jn 15:15)
won't be hated by the world (Jn 15:18)
won't be persecuted by the world (Jn 15:20)

Eternal life still doesn't appear in this list. The logical conclusion is that, for those who don't abide, their eternal life is not in jeopardy, only the benefits of abiding.

But wait there's more. He further explains that the branch,

"dries up;"

Ephesians chapter 2 tells us that we are given eternal life as a free gift, not by good works. It then tells us that we were created to do good works. It's not our good works that save us, but we are created to do them. It's the mission and purpose of every Christian to do the good works that Jesus lays out for them.

John uses the analogy of fruit. If we do the good works that we were created to do, then we grow. We bloom when we fulfill the life Christ has planned for us. However, we wither when we disobey. We begin to dry up if we don't work. We die on the vine if we don't follow the words of Christ.

So if that lifestyle of disobedience continues the consequences get worse. Jesus explains it this way,

"and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned."

The gardener, or his workers, gather the dried branches and throw them into a fire. They are not fulfilling their purpose, which was to produce fruit. In the same way, a disobedient Christian is not fulfilling his purpose, which is to do good works.

At this point, it'd be easy to imagine that the gardener is just burning the branches to get rid of them. This is why many people mistakenly think that Jesus is using this "fire" as an analogy for hell. I'd like to offer you another perspective.

In the ancient world, fire was useful. Open fires heated homes, offered light, and served as cooking flames. The gardener is efficient. He doesn't want to waste resources on branches that don't produce fruit, so he repurposes them. He uses them for firewood.

What does it mean?

This verse is teaching us that once you are a child of God, you are subject to God's disciple in this life if you disobey him. If you gained your spiritual immortality by believing in Jesus for eternal life, then your life mission is to do the good works that Jesus has for you. If you prove over and over that you will resist that mission, God will begin to discipline you. We are not talking about eternal punishment here, but a discipline that happens in this life. We will call this correction "temporal discipline."

This verse implies that God's temporal discipline will start out mild, in hopes that you will return to the joy and comfort of abiding in Christ. If you continue to be disobedient the temporal discipline will grow increasingly more severe.

So what is the fire? It's temporal discipline that ends in physical death. If a Christian strays for long enough, God will begin to discipline them more severely, and it's possible that God will eventually end their physical life prematurely.

There’s a Greek verb that means “to be burned up.” or “completely consumed by fire.” Jesus didn’t use that word here. Instead he used a word that means, “burned.” Even in this it seems that God is being merciful. Even when the temporal discipline is really heating up, there is hope that the person will turn from their sin and live the life of good works they were meant to. God disciplines Christians who become atheists, in hopes that they will return to the truth.

So, God may end the physical life of a Christian who has strayed from him.

We have examples of this in the New Testament. Think of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5) God took their lives on the spot for their sin. They suffered the full force of God’s temporal discipline. They were believers and therefore had eternal life, but God saw fit to end their mortal lives.

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is dealing with a case of incest, where a man was sleeping with his mother… yikes. So Paul says, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved.” This man would suffer the full discipline and consequence of his sin. However, it’s clear that he was a believer and therefore had eternal life.

1 Corinthians 3 talks about how all Christians are building a metaphorical house with their works. On the day they stand before Christ it will be like a fire sweeps through that house. Hopefully, the Christian has built that house with good works such as gold, silver, and precious stones. If he’s built the house with worthless works like wood, hay, and straw then the house is in trouble. Paul then says this,

“If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

So here is another example of flames being used, not as a metaphor for hell, but a refining process. It’s talking about believers who have eternal life but did not good works.

God disciplines those he loves. If a Christian becomes an atheist, then the scripture teaches that there is at least some measure of temporal discipline that God will inflict. It may not be a premature death, but it’s possible.

Abiding in Christ is not the same thing as believing in Christ.

To my atheist friends who once believed in Jesus for eternal life. Please consider this. I know this is a hard idea, and will probably make some angry. I love you and share it with a heavy heart.

Also, this might be good to look at.







Comments

  1. There are no Christians, Buddhists or Atheists to God, only those who listen to His voice, learn from Him daily, repent from lower thoughts and actions and each day are ready to restart his live.

    Some may have this attitude having been raised indu, Jew or in Taoism and God knows and considered then His sons. On other hand as we get to know "the way, the truth and the life" we understand Who is the only God, through whom there may be hope to our live.

    If we stop learning, stopreevaluate each day my procedure, comparing with the standard He shown and reached.. I'm slowly getting hard, and difficult to Jesus mold Me to became what I should became.

    You know the saying, "the wolf you feed more, will be the wolf who will win the fight", if I stop feeding daily with the word from God, any thing but God will be ruling my mind and actions. Doesn't matter if I continue to go to church regularly or if I declare my self atheist, of I loose Jesus from sight, there's no hope for me.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You've mixed up salvation and discipleship. You are confused in thinking that salvation and discipleship are the same thing.

      Salvation is a one time event.
      Discipleship is a long term process.

      If you don't continue in the process that doesn't mean that the one time event never happened.
      I think you would benefit from my Bible study series on this subject.
      It's called,
      Salvation and Discipleship: Is There A Difference?
      Simplybelief.com/grow
      I hope you take a look. It will help clear up your confusion.

      Delete
  2. I have only one problem with this article: as a born again believer, you can decide "not to abide", but you can't stop believing, I don't think that's hinted anywhere. I can live in disobedience, but not disbelieve what I once believed, especially if the Bible implies I had to become convinced of it for really believing it. So I can understand "carnal Christians", but not atheists.

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    1. Thomas believed in Jesus as the Christ, and therefore received eternal life at that point. (John 2:11, 6:66-69, 6:47)

      However, he stopped believing that He was the Christ when Jesus died. (John 20)

      Thomas never lost his eternal life, since you can't lose a gift that is given for eternity. However, he lost his conviction that it was true.

      Salvation is like birth (John 3:3). The reason that Jesus used that analogy is because it's a one time event that you can never go back on.

      However, discipleship is an on going process that you choose on a daily basis.

      I've done a Bible study video series on this subject called,
      Salvation and Discipleship: Is there are difference.
      You can go through it, simplybelief.com/grow
      I think you'd enjoy it.

      Delete
  3. I understand where you are coming from, and God definitely has the power and the ability to save ALL people, even those who don't believe. However I feel like it is against Gods Character. Since if God forced you to be with him against your will, that wouldn't be love. Even if you once believe but want to live your life without God, wont God give you exactly what you desire? A life without him. AKA Hell

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    1. If you've believed then these verses apply to you.

      and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:28)

      He said, "no one." Are you included in "no one." Yep.

      the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.. (John 6:36-37)

      Are you included in what is not lost? Yep.


      Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

      Can you break the God's seal? Nope. It's sealed by God not man.

      Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

      You've passed from death to life. Can you commit spiritual suicide? nope. It's not in the ability of man to kill that which is spiritually alive.

      Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. (John 3:3)

      Can you become unborn once you're born. Nope. It's a one time event. (continued in the next comment)

      Delete
    2. (continued from previous comment)
      If you claim that you can lose salvation by becoming atheist, then you can't also believe in eternal security. Since, you don't really know if you'll become an atheist before you die. You might. So you can't be sure if you're saved (with the logic that you presented.) None the less Josh said:

      I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (John 5:13)

      If your logic is right then John shouldn't say that you can 'know.' If someone can lose eternal life, then John is wrong.

      As far as free will goes, who knows. I wouldn't die defending free will, but I'd die (I hope I would be so bold) defending the promises of Jesus. I'm not sure that Jesus promises us free will once we're saved anyway. Think about this.

      In talking to believers Jesus said,

      Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent. (Rev 3:19)

      Like a husband that loves his kids, he disciplines those who try to wander. They have the freedom to wander in their lifestyle but God is definitely involved in motivating them to stop straying.

      In fact, it's not just those who wander he disciples. Notice what Hebrews says,

      "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastises everyone He receives as a son.” (Hebrews 12:6)

      He chastises EVERYONE he receives as a son. So I'm not sure about the free will thing in terms of believers. Oh and think about this one,

      But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

      It says we're his possession. It makes more sense to me that he disciplines and chastises us because we're his property.

      Paul says he and we are

      slaves and servants of Christ (Eph 6:6, 1 Peter 2:16, Col 3:24 etc.)

      That doesn't sound much like free will.

      In fact, I would say if I had my free will, that would frightening. I'm a slave of Christ, and I want him to discipline me.

      Christian-turned-Atheists are run away slaves, but that doesn't change the fact they they are his possession, whom he disciples. So, I wouldn't defend free will for the believer. There seems to be a lot more support for the idea that believers are God's slaves.

      The bottom line for me is this. I don't care nearly as much about systematic theology as I do about the simple promises of Jesus. Jesus promised eternal life for all those who believe. He promised that we get that eternal life now, not later.

      Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)

      Notice that the person who believes HAS eternal life NOW. So how long does eternal life last? If it doesn't last an eternity, Jesus lied. You get it the moment you believe, and it lasts forever. That's a promise of Jesus, and I believe it.

      Do you?

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