‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’ – Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB)
Fidel Castro is dead.
Depending on who you talk to, news of the Cuban dictator’s demise is either being celebrated or lamented.
The atrocities committed by Fidel Castro during his lifetime are well-documented; but if Castro is in hell – as many surmise – it may surprise you to know that it is not his atrocities that put him there.
Whatever evil this notorious despot was responsible for during the 90 years he spent in this mortal coil, it was the expected fruit of an unrepentant and unregenerate heart (Romans 2:4-5). In other words, the crimes Fidel Castro exacted against the Cuban people were the evidence of a life that was not born-again (John 3:3; Matthew 3:8).
I say this because of 1 John 3:9:
“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His [God’s] seed abides in him; and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born of God (Cf. John 1:12-13).”
Contrary to popular belief, even among many Christians, it is not a person’s sinful deeds that condemns his or her soul to hell, but unbelief in the One who came into this world to rescue us from the penalty of our sins, namely, Jesus Christ.
It is a doctrine that is clearly established in John 3:18:
“He who believes in Him [Jesus] is not judged; he who does not believe [in Jesus] has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Just as our good deeds are not salvific in themselves, likewise, our evil deeds are not in and of themselves condemning.
Though how we live our lives definitely matters to God (1 Peter 4:1-6), what ultimately condemns a person to hell is not how “bad” they were during their life on earth, but their unbelief in Jesus Christ, the result of which is separation from God in eternity.
We see this in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 where the apostle Paul, speaking of the second coming of Jesus, writes that upon Christ’s return He will be:
“…dealing out retribution to those who do not know God [unbelief] and to those who do not obey [deeds] the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
This incredibly sobering text in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians provides us with a clear and concise biblical theology of hell.
In short, hell is a state of perpetual and conscious hopelessness.
It is a place where unimaginable anguish is eternally and tangibly experienced, such as that which is depicted in Luke 16:24 and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, wherein the rich man bemoans:
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”
The apostle Paul underscores this truth in Romans 10:9:
“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
To further Paul’s point, consider the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus who were condemned to death because of the evil deeds they committed (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32, 39-43).
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” – Romans 14:12
Had the unrepentant thief made the same confession from his heart, then, despite his sinful deeds he, too, would have been assured of the same glorious promise of spending eternity in heaven with Jesus.
It is a reality that would have been just as true for a murderer like Fidel Castro on the day of his death, as it was to the thief on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
I was complelled to write this blog post because the death of well-known individuals like Fidel Castro serve as a reminder that there are countless millions of people – Christians and non-Christians alike – who are living under the misconception that their works, for better or worse, play a role in God’s sovereign act of salvation.
This is not what the Bible teaches.
God’s Word is unambiguous that His elect are saved by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
It is only belief in Jesus that saves us.
It is only unbelief in Jesus that condemns us.
“Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” – Charles Spurgeon
Despite his many sins, had Fidel Castro only believed on Jesus Christ he would be in heaven today (Romans 6:23).
For the same gospel of grace that applies to “whoever believes” would also have applied to him (John 3:16).
Humbly in Christ,
What Is the Gospel? – Dr. R.C. Sproul (Ligonier Ministries)
The Final Divide: Eternal Life or Eternal Wrath – John Piper (Desiring God)
What Faith Must Believe – Ligonier Ministries
How Salvation Brings Freedom – Jen Wilkin (The Gospel Coalition)
The Five Solas – Reformed Forum
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