A dear soul wrote in and shared of the sad event of her adult son’s recently passing and she asked me if I thought he was in heaven. She explained that he died of an accidental overdose and described him as having a strong belief in God, as loving Jesus, carrying a Bible and a book of psalms. From how she described him it seems likely that he didn’t just carry those books, but also read and studied them and yet was still struggling with sin. Here is my reply, which has been edited and slightly expanded for this article:
Dear (name withheld to protect her privacy),
Thank you for writing. I am so very sorry to hear of the loss of your son (name withheld).
From what you wrote I am convinced that your son is in heaven (paradise). From what you wrote it seems clear that he had real faith as demonstrated by his life as your described. And the Bible says that it is by grace through faith that we are saved. It is the gift of God not of works lest any man should boast. See Ephesians 2:8-9 for the formal wording.
We all have struggles to overcome and the presence of struggles does not in any way mean that someone with faith is unsaved. It seems clear that your son believed in Jesus from his heart, which is the only requirement of salvation.
Legalists who misinterpret the Bible and scare Christians with their false manipulative teachings think that sin can cause a Christian to lose his or her salvation (and/or think that the presence of sin means that they were never saved to begin with). This is absolutely not true. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation and there is nothing we can do to keep it. Salvation is a total gift from God that we cannot earn and that we do not deserve. If we truly believe from our hearts (that we are all sinners and we cannot save ourselves, that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for our sins and obtained eternal life for us through His death on the cross and resurrection), then we are saved. Christ saves us and maintains our salvation. Jesus said that no one can snatch a Christian out of His hands and that means that no true Christian can even snatch him or herself out of Christ's hands, regardless if they committed even the most grievous sin, such as murder.
Your son is far from a murderer, but even if he did commit a murder right before he died (which of course he did not), he would still have gone to heaven, even if he didn’t have time to tell God he was sorry. From what you said it seems that your son was very much trying to overcome his issues in context with his beliefs and that is just further outward confirmation of his (likely having) saving faith. We are all a work in progress. The Bible shows that we mature and go from milk to meat. Your son seems to simply have been cut short in the maturing process. If he had more time I believe he would have shed many if not all the things that held him captive.
Repentance is a change of mind (towards God) and is often (but not necessarily always) marked by an immediate repentance of sin (a change of desired or intended direction regarding sin), but even for those who do repent of their sins at the time of salvation (which of course is the best course), not every action always lines up with this admirable desire and change of overall direction regarding sin. Our actual direction may not always coincide with our desired or intended direction. The great Apostle Paul was a Christian and even he struggled doing things that he didn’t want to do and struggled with not doing things that he wanted to do. See Romans 7:14-20. Was Paul struggling with sin? We may never know, but regardless this sounds like the kind of duality or dichotomy that your son was suffering and going through.
When anyone starts out as a Christian, with rare exception, it can take years to get free of various struggles. Sometimes we don’t even know until we study the Bible that some odd things that we are doing are actually sinful and against God’s will. (Our conscience does warn us regarding the transgression of strong moral principles, a morality that is written on every heart – e.g. everyone inherently knows that stealing is wrong even without reading the Bible. But there are lesser sins that we would not be aware of without knowing what the Bible teaches on the subject.) If we fail to change a behavior during this time of maturing (or at any time), and if we are a Christian, then we are still saved and going to heaven regardless. Legalists wrongfully disagree. (Regardless of what they may claim, in one form or another legalists believe in salvation by works. The truth is salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.)
I really hope this helps settle the question of your son’s likely eternal destination (I say likely because no man can pass judgment on these things. God alone is the final judge of whether or not someone has saving faith in Christ). I hope this helps bring you deep and lasting comfort. Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have.
May God richly bless you,
Can any sin keep us from heaven? No, not unless it’s the one unpardonable sin, which is not believing in Jesus!