This question addresses some important issues about the Christian Way of Life.
As we pointed out in our previous Q&A, “Does God Give His Holy Spirit to People Who Have Not Been Baptized?”, since the establishment of the New Testament Church, a person needs to be properly baptized to receive the Holy Spirit, and he will not enter the Kingdom of God at the time of his resurrection if he did not have God’s Holy Spirit within him at the time of his death. Normally, he must spiritually grow after the receipt of the Holy Spirit, until he has qualified for the entrance of the Kingdom of God. (To clarify, when the Bible or we speak of a Christian in the masculine gender, the feminine gender is ALWAYS included, unless the context demands a different understanding in a given case.)
We state the following in our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?”, under “The ‘Born-Again’ Process”:
“Using the process of human conception, gestation and birth as an analogy, we can gain a clearer understanding of the concept of being born again into SPIRIT. In this physical life, one is not born immediately at the time of conception. There is a time interval between conception and birth. A human baby must be conceived. A human baby must grow in the womb (the period of gestation). A human baby gains life of its own through birth.
“The same principles apply to our spiritual birth. Although we will be born again at the time of our resurrection or our change to immortality, something else must happen first so that we CAN become born again. The Bible describes this prior event as spiritual conception or ‘begettal.’ Simply put, before we can be born again, we must be begotten again—a spiritual begettal. This spiritual begettal takes place at the time of our baptism, after repentance, and after coming to an understanding of, and belief in, Christ’s sacrifice and the gospel of the Kingdom of God. At the time of baptism we then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of hands, as a down payment—a guarantee—(Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:5) of our ultimate new birth at our resurrection to spirit.
“In applying the analogy of human birth to spiritual birth, the receipt of God’s Spirit at conversion is a type of spiritual begettal. With the receipt of God’s Spirit, we acquire God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), but there is still another step in the process. Just as an embryo must grow and develop, we must also grow spiritually and develop the fruit of the Spirit—the actual character of God. God considers those who have received His Spirit as being His children (2 Corinthians 6:17–18). Finally, Spirit-begotten children become SEPARATE SPIRIT BEINGS upon being born again—at their resurrection and change to immortality.
“Romans 8:11 tells us that ‘…if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you.’ 1 Corinthians 6:14 adds, ‘And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.’ In other words, God will resurrect us by His Spirit, which is a spirit of power (Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:7).
“To come to the point of being ‘born again’ is a process. It starts with the moment we receive God’s Holy Spirit, in the same way that a human being begins to live in his mother’s womb at the time of conception. God baptizes us through His Holy Spirit into the Church, which is called ‘the mother of us all’ (Galatians 4:26–27, 31). A human baby grows in his mother’s womb until he is ready to be born. Likewise, we are to grow in our Christian lives in the womb of the Church, increasing in the ‘grace and knowledge of Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18; compare Ephesians 4:11–13), until we can become born again—Spirit beings.
“A father begets a child, while the mother delivers it. After the father has initiated the process, there is an intervening time of about nine months before birth, or parturition, occurs. During this intervening time, the mother nourishes and protects the unborn child in her womb for the entire gestation period. The same is true for our spiritual begettal, growth and birth. During the spiritual ‘gestation’ period, after our conversion, it is the duty and responsibility of the Church, of which Christ is the Head (Ephesians 5:23), to nourish and protect the begotten children of God. These spiritually begotten children of God, the Father, need nourishment from good spiritual food supplied by God, and they need to absorb the food so they can grow spiritually, striving to become perfect in this life. In this way, they can become born again children at the time of Christ’s return…”
So we see that normally, a newly-baptized person must spiritually grow before he can enter the Kingdom of God. Some have claimed that this is not always the case as the thief on the cross who came to conversion a few hours before his death, was promised by Christ that he would enter “Paradise” or the Kingdom of God on the day of his death… and he was not even baptized. However, in addition to the fact that this incident occurred PRIOR TO the establishment of the New Testament Church, this is not what Christ promised the thief.
We read in Luke 23:39–43, in the translation of the New King James Bible: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
We addressed this question in our free booklet, “Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery”, under “Did the Thief Go To Paradise on the Day of His Death?”.
After discussing Christ’s statement in detail, we offered the following conclusion:
“… both the throne of God and the tree of life are in the Paradise of God. Revelation 22:1–3 teaches us that the throne of God and the tree of life will be in the New Jerusalem, when it descends to [the new] earth. This means, then, that the Paradise of God will be here on [the new] earth.”
This means, Christ promised the thief that he would be in Paradise when the heavenly Jerusalem descends to the new earth—which will occur long AFTER the first resurrection. Christ did not say he would be in Paradise on same day of his death. Rather, to continue with quoting from our above-mentioned booklet:
“Jesus Christ was telling the thief on the cross that he would be with Christ in Paradise, AFTER it had been established on [the new] earth.
“In the original Greek, there are no commas… This means, rather than stating, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise,’ this passage could also be translated as, ‘Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.’ The Companion Bible states in its appendix, in paragraph 173, that the interpretation of this verse depends exclusively on the punctuation, which is totally dependent on human authority. They explain that until the 9th century, Greek manuscripts had no punctuation at all, and even after that time, they only had a dot separating words from each other. The Broadman Bible Commentary admits: ‘It is possible to place the comma after today…’
“Christ did not promise the thief that he would be in Paradise the day he died. But since He saw his repentant attitude, He did promise him on that very day that he would be in Paradise—here on [the new] earth, in the future.”
On the other hand, God looks at the heart of a person, and when He determines that a newly-converted person is qualified to enter the Kingdom of God, He may let him die soon after his baptism. We find that Samson will be in the Kingdom of God (compare Hebrews 11:32, 39-40), even though we understand that he only came to true repentance and conversion shortly before his death, when his hair grew again in the dungeon (Of course, in Old Testament times, God gave the Holy Spirit to some without any requirement of prior baptism. This changed with the establishment of the New Testament Church.)
In any event, converted Christians do not die because of time and chance. When a converted Christian dies, God decided to let him die, because He had determined that he had qualified to enter the Kingdom of God. In other words, when a person dies and the Holy Spirit dwells in him at the time of his death, then that person WILL be in the first resurrection and in the Kingdom of God. God would NOT let a converted Christian die if he was not ready for the Kingdom at the time of his death.
Some quote Ecclesiastes 9:11 for the idea that true Christians may die BECAUSE of time and chance.
We stated the following in our free booklet, “Human Suffering, Why… and How Much Longer”: under “True Christians Not Subject to Time and Chance”:
“Note what Solomon said: ‘Time and chance happen to THEM all.’ He did NOT say—‘to all men,’ or ‘to all of us.’ In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon was mainly addressing and writing about people in this world—people who only live and work for material possessions (Ecclesiastes 5:13–17), or people who do not understand God’s plan (Ecclesiastes 8:17). When he addressed true Christians, however, he referred to them as ‘you’ (compare Ecclesiastes 9:10: ‘Whatever YOUR hand finds to do, do it with YOUR might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where YOU are going.’)…
“Christ made the same distinction, in Luke 13:1–5: ‘There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but UNLESS YOU repent, YOU will ALL LIKEWISE perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but UNLESS YOU repent, YOU will all LIKEWISE perish.”’
“Christ’s teaching is unmistakable: If we don’t repent, we might very well die as those did, on whom the tower of Siloam fell; that is, through an accident, apart from, or being cut off from God, by time and chance. If we repent, however, according to Christ, we will NOT likewise perish or die in that way. Rather, even if we were to die in an ‘accident,’ God would have specifically—not just ‘generally’—DECIDED not to intervene and to LET US die. God is always in control over our lives. Nothing happens to us, which God is not aware of and which God does not ‘approve of’ (compare Job 1:21–22; 2:10).
“True Christians are NOT in the ‘hand’ of time and chance. Rather, Solomon tells US: ‘… the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God’ (Ecclesiastes 9:1). David understood, too, that he was in God’s hands. He wrote, in Psalm 31:15: ‘My times are in Your hand.’ He knew that he was always, constantly, and completely under God’s observation, His protection, and in His loving care (compare, Psalm 4:7–8; 9:9–10; 17:8; 23:1–6; 33:18–19; 34:7, 15, 19–20, etc. etc.), as are all true Christians today. God promises that nothing will happen to us that is too difficult for us to bear (compare 1 Corinthians 10:13). This means, then, that God must be watching us every second to guarantee the fulfillment of His promise…
“The very idea that a true Christian could die… because of time and chance, limits God and weakens our faith. It is a patently unbiblical concept. When a Christian dies, it is because GOD has DECIDED that it was time for His son or daughter to die…
“Isaiah 57:1–2 states: ‘The righteous perishes, And no man takes it to heart; Merciful men are taken away, While no one considers That the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; They shall rest in their beds, Each one walking in his uprightness.’ Psalm 116:15 teaches: ‘Precious in the SIGHT OF the LORD Is the death of His saints.’ (Compare, too, Psalm 72:14). So, God’s people just don’t die without the knowledge of God. Rather, they die in God’s SIGHT!…
“Did Paul teach that we are hopeless and helpless victims of time and chance? Quite the opposite is true: ‘For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, WE ARE THE LORD’S’ [Romans 14:8]…
“What exactly is Solomon saying in Ecclesiastes 9:10–11?
“Simply this: In Ecclesiastes 9:10 he encourages us to do with our might what we ought to do. In other words, to be very careful how we live our lives as Christians. Give all glory to God, he says, and don’t lean on your own understanding or strength. Because, he says in verse 11, when you fail, you’ll be right back in the world, which you once belonged to, and in the world, you WILL be subject to time and chance. Your own human abilities won’t necessarily help you in the world. Understand that without God’s help, we are pretty much lost, having become victims of time and chance. Solomon says, you may even die in a terrible accident or because of a terrible sickness.
“But, as long as we are in God’s loving hands, we are not victims of time and chance. And when we die, it is NOT because of time and chance. Rather, when a Christian dies, it is because GOD has decided that it was time for him or her to die, as he or she has qualified for God’s Kingdom (Numbers 23:10; Isaiah 57:1–2; Romans 14:8; Revelation 14:13).”
In conclusion, the Christian Way of Life requires spiritual growth. God will decide when a converted person is ready to enter the Kingdom of God. In doing so, He also looks at the heart, the attitude, the motives and the desires of the person. God will not let a true Christian die before his time and before he is ready. If the Holy Spirit dwells in a person at the time of his death, he WILL be in the first resurrection and in God’s Kingdom.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link