I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The man’s facial expressions needed no words. It was both anger and sadness. I came up to this man not long after a friend of mine was sharing the gospel with him at a bus station. As a walked close enough to hear, I heard him say, “Look, I’ve been to so many funerals of friends who were wicked men and at each I’ve heard it said that they are in a ‘better place’. So your gospel message is meaningless to me.”
I stood there and watched this man tell my friend that he could just walk away. He had no interest in anything we had to say to him. I stood there for a moment, processing what I had just seen and heard and said to myself, “You know, he’s right!” This man had a point. If everyone goes to a better place when they die, there really is no need for a gospel. You might as well live like the devil and enjoy every fleeting pleasure. That is apparently the message nearly every church this man has been in has proclaimed at a funeral.
Take a moment and think back of the funerals you’ve attended. Do you recall a similar message at each one? Typically, no matter how wicked and unbelieving the person, the preacher will inevitably find something positive to say and will then tell those present that he is in a better place. You see, the church has basically been speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On a Sunday morning, they may proclaim the exclusivity of Christ and a gospel of repentance and faith, and at a funeral they will proclaim universalism — that everyone goes to a better place.
That universalist teaching pumped out at funerals trickles down in a deadly way. There are many who believe that all who die become angels looking down on their loved ones. To them, that is the “better place”. To others, they become stars in heaven. You’ve likely heard similar sentiments at a funeral. Hear it enough and many begin believing it to be truth.
Funerals are some of the best occasions to proclaim the gospel. Let’s face it, everyone sitting there staring at a casket has one thing on their mind: death and sadness. What they need is truth, not some mushy universalism that sounds like something Jiminy Cricket would sing. Pastors and church leaders are called to be faithful to the gospel and to their King — and that includes faithfulness even in the darkest of times where we tend to want to soothe troubled hearts at the expense of truth. Universalism at funerals demonstrates a weakness, a fear of man and a desire to invent a lie in order to make someone feel better. However, the gospel is the only truth that can soothe the soul. It is the only hope we have.
I had the privilege of preaching at my aunt’s funeral several years ago. My aunt was a strong Christian. She attended church whenever the doors were open. She was also vocal in her faith and didn’t waiver from the truth of the gospel. As I was preparing my sermon, I got to thinking about how many people attending her funeral would assume that she was in heaven because she was a good person. So, I made it a point to emphasize that my aunt was forgiven and in heaven not because she was good, but because her Savior is. She was forgiven because of everything Jesus did. Her good works and her love for Jesus were a result of her salvation, not the cause of it. Salvation results in a changed life and new affections. As Paul Washer so eloquently puts it, “The things you once loved, you now hate and the things you once hated, you now love.”
The word gospel in the Greek literally means “good news”. It is good news because God has done everything for us in Christ by His grace. Christians rest in His finished work through faith alone. If our works contributed anything at all to our salvation it would no longer be good news, it would be bad news because God requires absolute perfection in thought, word and deed. Only Christ’s righteousness can meet that requirement. Faith alone in Christ alone gives us that imputed righteousness of Christ as well as complete forgiveness since the penalty for sin has been dealt with finally and fully at the cross.
Everyone does not automatically end up in a better place at their death. Jesus is clear that there are two roads — a broad road that leads to destruction and a narrow one that leads to eternal life. (Matthew 7:13–14) Destruction does not sound like a better place to me. In fact, what awaits those traveling the broad road is the unmitigated wrath of God for all eternity. The Bible calls that place hell. The narrow road leads to everlasting life, forgiveness and unhindered fellowship with Jesus forever. It is only those who have complete and singular trust and faith in Jesus Christ who will be in a better place. There is only one way to be saved and that way is through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6)
There is also no such thing as a second chance after death. This is another made up doctrine to try and soothe anxious minds. The Bible is clear that it is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
While it is still called today you can know that you have eternal life. You can know with absolute surety that your sins are forgiven and that when you die you will truly be in a better place. You must cry out to God and ask him to grant you true repentance and faith. You must fall into the arms of Jesus Christ and trust Him and Him alone for your salvation. You must echo the words of the great hymn writer, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” (Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages) Only those who believe in Christ and Him alone will receive the forgiveness and righteousness we need — the very righteousness of God. Only those united to Christ by faith will be in a better place at the moment of their death.
Universalism has no place in the Christian church as it is an affront to the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is that gospel message that needs to be faithfully proclaimed from churches, its leaders and all Christians in a dark world that desperately needs to hear unwavering truth. It is the message the young man at the bus station should have heard at every funeral he attended.
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