“Are You Saying My Family Member Is In Hell?”

It’s not uncommon to be discussing the bible with someone who is learning God’s requirements for salvation for the first time, and as they think about its implications for their lives, they also think about its implications for a deceased family member. They remember how he/she was a good person, religious, their own flesh and blood, yet never did what they are now learning one must do to be saved. This can cause a person to ask very defensively and accusatively, “Are you saying my family member is in hell?” The following are some tips on how to unruffle the feathers and keep the spiritual discussion Christ-centered:

1. Remind them unashamedly that no one knows who is in heaven or hell. All we know is what the bible teaches for those who are still living. This is both a blessing and a responsibility. It’s a blessing because it means I don’t have to place myself in a seat of judgment that I am unqualified to sit in, something I am thankful for. But it is a responsibility in that no sensitivity I may have about the potential eternal state of a loved one will ever relieve me from my personal obligations toward God today. Encourage your friend to resist the urge to become so distracted by something they can’t control that they inevitably ignore God’s word.

2. Remind them that they are not alone. There is not a Christian alive who doesn’t wrestle w/the salvation implications of a deceased loved one. Just ask an ex-Muslim who has turned to the Lord. But while you’re on the subject of death, remind them that Jesus died too. He died for me, it was my sins that put Him on that cross, yet through His resurrection He offers me salvation. So, with whom should my ultimate loyalty lie? Matt 10:37-38 – “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” It’s no coincidence that Jesus mentions the cross immediately after the warning about loving family more than Him. To many, loving Jesus more than family is a cross too heavy to bear. The saying is true that “blood is thicker than water”, but no blood should be thicker than that which connects us to Jesus Christ. And if we simply cannot follow Jesus wherever He leads us because of what that decision “might” say about a deceased family member, who is my real god? As wonderful a person as this loved one was, they did not die for my sins.

3. Ask the question, “Which loved ones can I influence now, those that are dead, or those that are living?” Heb 9:27 – “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”. Whether we like it or not, we cannot do anything about those family members who have already died. But that is not case with those family members who are alive. If I am now learning for the first time where I have been wrong spiritually, it seems logical that after I work out my own salvation (Phil 2:12) I would want to try to help those loved ones who are still living. It’s not an issue of which loved ones are more important, it’s an issue of opportunity. Humbly challenge your friend to redirect their focus – “I realize you’re concerned I am condemning your deceased loved one (though I’m not). But would your inaction not be condemning your loved ones who are still alive?”

4. Remind them of the story in Luke 16:19-31 about the rich man who died and found himself in Hades. When he realized he was experiencing an agony that could not be quenched, all the rich man then cared about was sending someone to warn his five brothers not to come to that place (vs. 27-28). Hypothetically speaking, if my loved one is in hell, what would they want me to do now? Would they want me to follow their same path and end up in torment with them, or would they want me to submit to God’s truth now? The answer is simple when emotion is removed from the equation. So while it’s true that our loyalty must be toward Jesus above a family member, we’re never honoring a loved one’s wishes if they are (hypothetically speaking) in hell. They would want us to avoid that place at all cost.