By Steve Wallace
Many of us have probably been to a funeral where an unsaved person was “preached into heaven.” By this we usually mean that, at the service for the deceased, a denominational “Pastor” or “Reverend” spoke of how the person had somehow come into a saved state shortly before death or spoke of them as if they were now in heaven. There are several lessons that the living can learn from such events.
1. One must act one’s own behalf to get to heaven. The preacher or teacher’s work is to exhort others to “save them-selves” or “repent” (Acts 2:40; 8:22). Christians should be good examples and “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). However, the lost person also has something to do. If he has never come to Christ, he must hear the gospel, believe it, repent of his sins, confess Christ as the Son of God and be baptized for the remission of sins (Mark 16:15-16; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:38). If an individual has once become a Christian and then later fallen away, such a one must repent and pray to God (Acts 8:22; 2 Cor. 7:10). If such people do not act in obedience to Christ’s word it is meaningless to “preach them into heaven” after they die. (It is equally meaningless to try to “fellowship an erring brother into heaven”!) The lost and erring must come out of their sinful state.
2. “Care giving” at the expense of preaching the gospel. In my opinion, one of the main reasons behind the practice of preaching the unsaved dead into heaven is obvious: It is to comfort the grieving loved ones of the deceased. Such sermons are designed to show sympathy and care to those who remain behind. While God’s people are told to “weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15), the practice under discussion is obviously an extreme we must avoid. Many a gospel preacher has used the opportunity of preaching someone’s funeral to teach the truth to those who might otherwise not hear it. While not neglecting the comfort and consolation found in the word of God (2 Cor. 1:3-6), the preacher must balance his preaching to meet the spiritual needs of his listeners (2 Tim. 4:2). The main aim of a sermon should always be to bring people closer to the Lord. If we change the focus of our preaching to that of “care giving” or making people feel good, we will have to come up with another message (Gal. 1:9), just like the denominational preachers do when they “preach the lost into heaven.” It is this writer’s conviction that the current trend of preaching lessons which lean heavily on human psychology or books on counseling for their support is a manifestation of this problem (2 Tim. 4:4).
3. Feigned love. The Christian is to love without dissimulation or falseness (Rom. 12:9; 2 Cor. 6:6). An obvious question arises with regards to the one who would claim to be a Christian and then try to preach a lost person into heaven: Is this really showing love for lost souls? Who benefits from his message? Neither the living or the dead. But he seems so loving as he stands there putting forth his message! Though most such preachers may be unaware of it, they are not showing true love to anyone in “preaching the lost into heaven.” Using opportunities given us for “speaking the truth in love” will help us avoid such false displays of affection (Eph. 4:15).
Helping others get to heaven involves instructing them in the ways of righteousness and encouraging them in that way (e.g., Acts 2:38-40). If we are truly concerned about the needs of our audiences we will base our message to them on what the Bible says about their state and needs, and encourage them to apply God’s word to their lives.
Guardian of Truth XL: 7 p. 19
April 4, 1996