My daughter woke up crying at 6:30AM. After my wife got her back to sleep I laid in bed for another few minutes but I couldn’t sleep. I had something running through my head. It was this question, “can a Christian become an atheist and still be saved.” I felt like this would be a really good topic to write about today. So I came out to my writing office and checked to see what questions had been submitted over night.
This question came in anonymously this morning.
“If I once believed wholeheartedly, full commentment, baptized, truely believed and now don’t. Am I still saved?”
How serendipitous… Ok. So. The answer is YES, and I’m going to tell you why. First, we need to understand what happens when someone believes in Jesus. As a quick primer before you read on, here’s a video we produced on the subject. You can watch it before you read this article, or skip it.
Now let’s jump in. What happens the moment you first believe? At the moment you believe in Jesus something happens. It’s described a few different ways in the New Testament. Each of these are talking about the same event.
The Moment you believed you:
Receive eternal life. (John 3:36, 5:24, 3:16, )
Crossed From Death To life. (John 5:24)
Received a promise that you will not come into judgment (John 5:24)
Were Born Again. (John 3:3)
Were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
Indwelled by the Holy Spirit who will never leave. (John 14:16)
Became a child of God. (John 1:12)
Were placed in God’s Hand and will never be snatched out. (John 10:28-29)
Received a promise to be resurrected on ‘the last day.’ (John 6:54, 11:24)
Let’s imagine that you are named the beneficiary of your rich millionaire uncle’s will. You didn’t even have to sign anything. It’s your name on the will, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Regardless of how you live, the policy stands. You can pretend as if there is no will, but that doesn’t change the circumstance. It’s free, so it doesn’t depend on you. When your uncle dies a few years later the money is automatically transferred to your account. Regardless of how you act the money is yours. Now let’s look at the eternal life policy that Jesus put in place.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”
You received something as a free gift when you believed. This gift has a name. Eternal, or everlasting life. That’s Life that lasts forever. So if you believed in Jesus at some point in the past you got it for free.
What If you stop believing? Does that eternal life get taken away?
It couldn’t be called eternal life if it were taken away. It would have to be called temporary life. We already had temporary life. We got that when we were physically born. If it is eternal life, then it must last forever by definition. We got it the moment we believed, and it lasts into eternity. That’s the terms of the policy.
“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.”
“no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”
Imagine I decided that I wanted to end it all. Maybe the stock market crashed, and I lost everything. I would have lots of options as far as suicide goes. I could do one of a hundred things to end my life… There is one thing that I can’t do, though. I can’t go back in time and stop my own birth. (I told you I am a sci-fi writer.) My birth into this world was an iron clad transaction. No matter what I do, I can’t undo the day that I was born. Even if I was a time-traveler, I couldn’t undo my birth. It creates a time-space paradox that I would need a multiverse cosmology to explain, and I’m just not going to go there. So no one can ever undo their birth.
Jesus uses this analogy for that very reason. He knew that it would simply illustrate how unchangeable the circumstances are, once someone becomes a believer. In the same way that I can’t undo my physical birth, I can’t undo my spiritual birth.
I could grow up to be a saint or a tyrant, but I can’t undo my birth.
“to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—”
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Paul was talking to a group of believers, who were capable of committing sin. We all are capable of sin, so this could be directed at us. First he says, “don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
Basically he’s saying, “when you sin, it pains God.” he then goes on to say, “you were sealed for the day of redemption.” He’s pointing out that when people who are eternally saved commit sin it gives God grief.
Even though it’s possible to sin, the believer is still sealed for the day of redemption. Their case is closed. The judge has already made the ruling. There’s nothing to do to change that.
However, it is possible to disappoint God. Sin disappoints God, especially when those who he’s given immortality to, do it. To deny God’s existence is a sin, and it grieves God.
As kids, my brothers and I couldn’t wait until daddy got home from work. He was so strong. We would meet him at the door with a tackle. We loved to wrestle. He would get down on the living room floor as all three of us tried our best to defeat his impossible power. One of my famous lines before attacking was, “Daddy, I’m ganna squeeze your hand too hard.”
I remember, once, trying to force his hand open. He had done the trick where he pulled the coin from behind my ear. He then did the one where you try to guess which hand the coin was in. He would let us guess, but then not open his fist. We would have to try to wrestle the coin from his grasp manually… Impossible. Nothing we could do could pull that coin from his grip.
Jesus said this in the book of John,
Jesus is very clear here. NOTHING will snatch us out of his hand. Nor will anything snatch us from the hand of God. We can no more remove ourselves from his hand, then that coin could leap from my father’s.
You know that the devil would love to see us removed from the hand of God. You know that Satan would do whatever he could to have us removed. However, Jesus promises that not even Lucifer can pull us out of his hand. If the Devil can’t do it, how could I remove myself.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul puts it this way,
“If any man’s work… remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
It’s possible to believe in Jesus but then live in an unGodly way. Although our sin does not result in a loss of eternal life, it does result in, dissatisfaction in this life, and a loss of treasure in heaven (Matt 6). So there are definitely consequences for being an atheist. It’s just that the consequences is not the loss of eternal life.
Jesus said it this way,
“store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,”
Jesus was talking to people who already had believed, and therefore possessed eternal life. He was teaching that those who live in a Godly way, and obey his word would have treasure in Heaven. Those believers who did not obey Christ, would enter Heaven but have a lack of treasure there.
So a believer who becomes an Atheist is going to be in The Kingdom of Heaven, but will suffer a lack of rewards once they get there.
Jesus said this as well,
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is talking to a crowd that includes believers. (Notice the second half) Even though they are believers he says, “whoever is ashamed of me and my words.” This shows us that even believers can be “ashamed of Christ.”
What happens to believers who are ashamed of Jesus and his word? They will be publicly shamed. Jesus says, “The Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
This is possibly the worst consequence a believer can suffer. Jesus will arrive, and be ashamed of those who have been ashamed of him.
I would say that Atheism by definition is, “being ashamed of Jesus.” So for believers who have become atheists, Jesus will be ashamed of them. That hurts.
Here’s a related post, that would be a good next read. It covers some of the same info, but has some other really great things in it.