Question: What happens to people who die while sinning?

Do we jump in and out of grace (saving faith) when we sin?  What if I die when I’m sinning?  What if Jesus returns while I’m sinning? 

All three questions have this in common, they have to do with the activity of the individual.  “Do I jump in and out of grace?”  “What happens if I die while sinning?”  “What if I am sinning when Jesus returns for Judgment?” 

Christians know this, but it always bears repeating – our forgiveness and eternal life have nothing to do what we’ve done or haven’t done in life, but has everything to do with what Jesus has done for us.  Paul writes, “It is by grace that I am saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works so that no man shall boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). 

The great comfort that we Christians have, pertaining to what we might be doing, thinking or saying, at the moment of death or when Christ returns, are these words from Paul in Romans 5:1,2.  Paul states, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith in this grace in which we now stand” (vs. 1-2).  Look especially at those words in 5:2, “In which we now stand.”  These words directly contradict any thought by the Christian that somehow our sins that we commit against God cause us to jump in and out of God’s grace each day.  No, Paul says, “Grace in which we now stand.” 

Life can get ugly; our life can get messy; sin and sinful desires are what we all battle, even the strongest of Christians; sometimes we triumph over temptation with Christ’s help; sometimes we don’t; and I don’t want to undermine the seriousness of "when we don’ts" by giving the impression that sin is not something serious in the life of God’s people because it is. 

But sin has been defeated by Jesus when he came to this world as God’s ambassador on our behalf.  You see, what the Bible and the gospel teaches us is that Jesus became sin on our behalf, not by committing sin, but by representing sin, our sin, before his heavenly Father.  That’s the reason why he was punished in such a horrifying manner – death through crucifixion.  Isaiah the prophet tells us, “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10).  Jesus was crushed by his Father in heaven for our sin, so that God would never have to crush us, but through faith in Jesus Christ – forgive us!  Forgive us whether we sin unknowingly, or knowingly; forgive us whether we are at our best in life when he returns for Judgment or whether we are at our worst. 

Simply put, one either dies with saving faith, and is justified and acquitted of all his sins or he dies without saving faith and suffers eternal damnation.  

Some of the examples that accompanied the question this week were:

“What if someone had too much to drink, got behind a wheel, and died in a car accident” 

“What if someone, God forbid, took their own life through suicide” 

“What if I’m in the middle of an argument with my wife when Jesus returns”

Every question and scenario is really answered in the same way – was faith still in the heart of that individual when they died?  If it was, then yes, heaven has already been bought and paid for by their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  A person’s bad decision at the moment of death is not the criteria by which our God judges on Judgement Day.  God’s criteria for judgment is based on what he did for us through his Son, Jesus Christ and whether the person believed or didn’t believe.  That’s why Paul says this about the Christian, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  We don’t step outside of God’s grace with each sin.

When God sent Jesus into the life of that person who had a lapse of judgment at the moment of his death, don’t forget whom God the Father condemned for that man’s lapse of judgment – not the man, but his own Son.  For Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17,18). 

Two victims of suicide; one a believer; one an unbeliever; one died in unbelief and went to hell for everlasting damnation – but it wasn’t his suicide that sentenced him to hell; it was his unbelief; one victim of suicide had faith in Jesus but for reasons unknown to us, he murdered himself sinning against the 5th commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not murder.”  I believe, according to the Bible he goes to heaven, because Christ fulfilled the 5th commandment for him and died for his sin nailing it to the cross.  And he believe that message, even though, in a complete lapse of judgment he ended his life.  Unbelief damns, not suicide and even though suicide can be a symptom of unbelief, it’s NOT always symptomatic of unbelief and we will reserve that judgment for God.    

Rest in this grace that the Bible now says you stand in (Romans 5:2)!  Christians are not walking on a tight rope to the Kingdom of heaven, but they are walking on a the sure, and certain hope of faith, faith that was created in our hearts through holy baptism, and faith that is continually nurtured in us, by God’s Word and his blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Great questions!  Keep them coming.  I pray God’s Word has helped.