Matt asks a super question:
I know that most if not all Free Grace theologians hold that unfaithful believers may be disciplined by God with an early death. Obviously, there’s Scriptural evidence for this, such as Ananias and Saphira. However, someone new to Free Grace may ask, can faithful believers die before their time? What about martyrs? Would the early death of a faithful believer be used by God to draw his or her church and family closer to Him?
Thank you, and keep up the good work.
We know that the Lord Jesus died before age 40, well before the 70 to 80 years that Moses spoke of in Ps 90:10. The Apostle James, the brother of the Apostle John, was martyred in AD 44 when he was around 40 (Acts 12:2) by Herod. The apostles Peter and Paul both died in Rome, circa AD 66, when they were likely in their early 60s. Jim Elliot, age 29, and four other young missionaries were killed in South America by the very Indians they hoped to reach. Lois Evans, wife of Dr. Tony Evans, died from cancer at the age of 70 in 2020.
We all know cases of believers who died young and yet were faithfully serving the Lord at the time of their deaths.
Matt’s unstated question is why God allows this.
He gives one possible answer: God uses the death of faithful believers to draw their church and their family and friends closer to Him.
Of course, not everyone responds to the death of a friend or loved one by drawing closer to the Lord. Some get angry with God and some even backslide.
I would say that the reason God allows the premature deaths of some faithful believers is because those deaths glorify Him.
It could be that God taking some faithful believers home early is a mercy. Maybe terrible times were ahead for them in the city or country in which they lived. The peaceful death of Jeroboam’s son by an illness was likely a mercy on God’s part (1 Kings 14), giving him a glorious burial and sparing him an ignoble death when all the sons of Jeroboam were killed by Baasha (1 Kings 15:29). Or it could be that the Lord knew that this faithful believer might fall away if given more time on earth. I don’t know if God does that often. But He tried to do something like that with King Hezekiah. When Isaiah told him he was about to die and to set his house in order, Hezekiah begged for more years and God gave him 15 additional years (2 Kings 20). But Hezekiah then wrongly showed representatives from Babylon all of the treasures and strength of Judah. Hezekiah would have avoided that if he had just departed when the Lord told him he was to die. Plus, during those 15 extra years, Hezekiah had a son whom he named Manasseh. That son ended up being a terrible king. He would never have been king if Hezekiah had died when God originally intended.
As Matt pointed out, God sometimes takes the lives of rebellious believers prematurely. Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) and Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5) come to mind. So do the believers who dishonored the Lord’s Supper in Corinth (1 Cor 11:30). But that does not mean that all believers who die young were rebellious. Many believers who die young were faithful. God has His reasons for taking home faithful believers before they reach old age.