Here is a very practical question from a reader named Brian:
I have a cousin who was raised in a Christian home. He attended a Christian high school, and when he graduated from university, he was planning on going to conservative seminary. However, during the summer before seminary, his younger brother and cousin both denied the existence of God. His cousin started reading Bart Ehrman, and now he too denies the existence of God.
He (my cousin) claims that he really used to believe, but now he does not.
Do you think he was never converted? How can we say he is still saved or has eternal life while he denies the very existence of God?
Before you read my answer, I want you to decide whether you think Brian’s cousin, whom we will call Bart, has been born again. If you want to write something out, please list three reasons why you think he may not be born again and three reasons why you think he may be born again. Then state your overall conclusion and why.
I’ll follow those same guidelines.
Three reasons why Brian’s cousin might not be born again:
- Though he professes to have believed in God and presumably in the Lord Jesus Christ, Bart never indicates that he ever believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life. Yet that is what a person must believe in Him for if he is to be born again (John 3:16; 6:35; 11:26; 1 Tim 1:16).
- Bart does not mention any Scripture that He once believed that might help us determine whether he ever believed in the promise of everlasting life for the believer.
- Brian gives no indication that he or any of his family members ever knew Bart to have expressed belief in the security of the believer.
Three reasons why Brian’s cousin might be born again:
- Bart might well have come to faith while growing up in a Christian home or while attending a Christian high school.
- If Bart ever came to faith in Christ for everlasting life, then he retains that life since everlasting life cannot be lost (John 3:16; 6:35; 11:26). Once a person is saved, he always will be saved.
- The fact that Bart is now an agnostic or atheist does not prove he never believed in Jesus for everlasting life. He might have. We are not born again by eternal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, we are born again once and for all if we ever believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is eternally faithful to His promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him for it.
- I do not have enough information to say whether Brian’s cousin is born again or not.
- The way we know that someone is born again is if he believes—or has ever believed—the promise of everlasting life by faith in Christ, apart from works. When we lack that information, we cannot be sure whether a person is born again or not.
- In light of Bart having grown up in a Christian home and having gone to a Christian high school and having planned to go to a conservative seminary after university, it is quite possible that he is a believer who has fallen away from the faith. But it is impossible to put a percentage on the likelihood due to the lack of information.
Finally, I have a suggestion for Brian and others who are concerned about the eternal destiny of loved ones. I suggest Brian discuss the promise of everlasting life with his cousin. He might say something like this, “I know you no longer believe in God’s existence. But I wonder, was there was ever a time when you believed that you had everlasting life that could not be lost?”
I taught at Multnomah University (formerly School of the Bible) for one year. During that year, the school newspaper ran an article about a young Multnomah graduate who became an atheist while in graduate school. In an interview with the paper, the graduate indicated that he once believed that Jesus was his Savior. But he stopped believing that. I think the interviewer did exactly the right thing. He questioned the now atheist about what he formerly believed.
In such a discussion, it may be appropriate to discuss a verse like John 11:26. The loved one may be surprised to learn that you believe that if he ever believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life, then he is still born again today, even though he has fallen away. Most who have fallen away think that conservative Christians are convinced that they were never saved in the first place—or that they lost their salvation. When they learn that their conservative loved one has not determined that they are definitely unregenerate, and in fact they wonder if they might be a born again person who has fallen away, it may well help to draw them back to Christ (if they are born again) or to faith in Christ (if they have not yet been born again).