Often, when a person first comes to Christ, in that initial moment of salvation there can be a sense of relief, release, and joy. The fact that we are freely forgiven by God through his grace can be a wonderful experience. But, later as we begin to grow in our faith and realize what it is we have, our thoughts turn toward those we love who have not had an experience with Christ. Out of love we want them to come to the same truth that has been revealed to us. We also think of those who have died before us, who were without Jesus, lost forever because of their rejection of him. Grief can settle in, wishing things were different. When we think of those alive, still with us, we desperately want them to know what we now know. But they resist the Holy Spirit and it seems to us like they will never come to Christ.
Is it our fault? How can we ensure that the Gospel reaches them? Am I guilty if they never come to faith in Christ? Am I responsible for their salvation?
Allow me to speak to this issue from the scripture, then I’d like to give you three points of application that might help you in your struggle with loved ones who don’t know Jesus.
The Bible speaks to this issue by way of example. Consider the heart of Moses, whom after leading Israel out of Egypt was faced with God, who said he would destroy Israel for their sin. Moses deeply loved his people and offered to take their place in punishment. He offered to be the atonement for their sin. Atonement is a blood sacrifice. Moses asked God to “Blot me out from your book which you have written!” (Exodus 32:32)
King David provides another example of a father grieving for his dead sons who had rejected the Lord and given themselves over to acts of rape and murder. “And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (II Samuel 18:33)
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this kind of grief. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen” (Romans 9:2-3).
Jesus himself was familiar with this kind of grief. The Bible describes him as “A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus grieved over the Jewish nation that did not recognize him as their savior. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
In all four of these examples we witness the love of the saved and the savior, for those around them. In one case, nothing could be done to relieve the pain except for time to ease it (David). In the others we see a desire to sacrifice oneself (Moses and Paul) for the sake of the people they loved. And it was Jesus who actually did sacrifice himself for his people, and for all of us. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Let me say that if you identify with these men, if you grieve in your heart for the lost loved ones in your life, then you should know that God is pleased with your attitude. Our loving witness and expressions of love through prayer represent the kind of life that God wants us to live. That love is the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. In fact, without that love our expressions have little power. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3). God understands and shares your grief. And when you express this kind of love for others you are experiencing God expressing his own heart through you.
So, what do we do when a loved one doesn’t feel the same desire to know God personally? First, I think it’s important to understand that though you feel grief over their lost state, that God’s grief is greater than yours. Therefore, his understanding and sympathy for you is also great. The Lord told the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) God sympathizes with us in our suffering and temptation. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Let that understanding bring you some measure of comfort. As long as you are expressing in some fashion your love for others with an attitude of humility, God is pleased.
There are times when you must continue to openly express your faith in Christ and what he has done for you. Then there are times to be silent and to let your life of obedience speak as well. Peter used this principle regarding the relationship of a saved spouse to an unsaved spouse. “Even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (I Peter 3:1). Though Peter was specifically speaking about saved wives and unsaved husbands, the same principle applies in all of our relationships, as Paul demonstrates, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).
If you do these things you will do well. But, grief may still be present. How do you deal with the grief? Here are three points of application:
Use it. Let your grief over a loved one’s lost state motivate you to live with integrity and to speak about Jesus when you have opportunity. In this way, grief is good in that it motivates godly living and a heart of love and sacrifice for others. God is pleased with this (I Peter 3:1-4).
Don’t abuse it. Don’t live your life as if your loved one’s salvation is solely dependent upon you. There are other people in their lives who may also have a witness. Maintain your witness, but don’t take the false burden that their salvation or damnation is solely your responsibility (I Kings 19:14, 18).
Don’t lose it. Keep a heart of humility about your salvation. You could easily be the unsaved one if not for God’s grace extended to you. If we are arrogant about our salvation we will only drive our loved ones away from Christ rather than toward him (Luke 18:9-14; Romans 12:18).
Take heart. God sees and understands. Perhaps your loved ones will know Christ in the future? You never know how your life may impact them. Be faithful. Trust in God, the work of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No matter what happens, the life you live before God matters and he will remember your love and sacrifice no matter what the outcome may be.