I once ministered to an elderly man, a member of my church, who was dying from various health issues. During one of our visits he asked me a question that no one had ever asked me. His question was, “If a man gets saved under the ministry of a preacher, and that preacher later on gets accused of doing something really bad, what does that say about the supposed salvation experience the man experienced under the preacher’s ministry?”
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the dying man had himself in mind, and a short while later he filled in the specifics of the case. Years earlier he had heard a certain preacher preach a powerful message, after which he had accepted the preacher’s invitation to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. In the years that had followed, though, that preacher had been disgraced out of the ministry by a scandalous accusation. Regardless of whether or not the accusation was the truth — and neither I nor the church member knew that answer — it had caused the church member to always have a sliver of a doubt about the salvation experience.
The whole thing was news to me because the dying man had been one of the most faithful members I’d had during my time as pastor of that church. I certainly had no reason to doubt his salvation. But I could see that the question was weighing on his mind as he lay at death’s door, and so I did my best to assure him that he had placed his belief in Jesus, not the preacher. Jesus was the one who had saved him, and Jesus can’t fail. The preacher was merely the vessel through which the gospel had been given, and that message was untainted no matter what sin the preacher may or may not have committed later on in life. I think the church member already knew that answer, but he wanted to get a second opinion before he went out to meet his Maker. How I wish that everyone was as concerned about their relationship with Jesus as they come to the end of life.
As I think about the characters of the Bible, I can name many who did great things for the Lord only to fail somehow in the days that followed:
- Noah saved the human race by building an ark, but then he got drunk sometime after the flood was over (Genesis 9:18-21). Did that bout of drunkenness invalidate his building of the ark?
- Abraham left his hometown of Ur and allowed God to lead him to Canaan, but then he went down to Egypt and, once there, lied about his relationship to his wife Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20). Did that trip and that lie invalidate the obedience and faith he had shown in making the journey to Canaan?
- Moses faithfully led the Israelites for over forty years, but then he struck the rock in anger and in so doing disqualified himself from leading them into Canaan (Numbers 20:6-12). Did that one act invalidate everything he had done in the previous forty years of dedicated service?
- David served God as a shepherd boy, wrote Psalms, slew the giant Goliath, patiently waited on God to remove Saul as king, united the 12 tribes of Israel into one kingdom, captured Jerusalem and made it Israel’s capital, brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and ushered in a golden age for Israel, but then he had an one-night stand with Bathsheba, got her pregnant, had her husband Uriah killed, and married her (2 Samuel 11:1-27). Did his sins of adultery and murder invalidate all the good he had done leading up to them?
- Solomon succeeded David upon Israel’s throne, received great wisdom from God, built the Jewish temple, and led Israel into its greatest economic and political era, but then he allowed his hundreds of foreign wives and concubines to seduce him into their worship of false gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). Did his idolatry invalidate everything he had done before it?
- Peter was the leader of Christ’s chosen 12 apostles and was sent forth by Christ with the other 11 to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the gospel, but following Christ’s arrest he thrice denied knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). Did those denials invalidate all of Peter’s previous ministry?
- Thomas was one of the chosen 12, and he too was sent forth by Christ to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the gospel, but following Christ’s death he openly doubted Christ’s resurrection (John 20:24-29). Did that refusal to believe that Jesus had resurrected invalidate all of Thomas’ previous ministry?
As you can see, there is plenty of Bible proof for the answer I gave that dying church member. As a matter of fact, I wish he had given me a little notice about his question so that I could have provided him with a more thorough answer that day. In the end, though, he seemed at peace with not only my answer but also the decision for Jesus he had made under the ministry of that preacher. The church member died not long afterward, and I had no hesitation whatsoever about using my funeral sermon to assure his family that he was in heaven with his Savior. For that matter, that preacher is dead now as well, and if he truly did know Christ as his Savior, regardless of any sin he ever committed, he’s in heaven too. Remember, Jesus forgives the believer of all sins, even scandalous ones.