Will imperfect Christians be rejected by Christ at the end of time? Consider the following thoughts expressed recently by a dedicated mission leader overseas:
“Every Christian who desires to get into the Kingdom of God should continually do the will of God…Many run their Christian race without the cross. Cross-carrying is non-negotiable in Christianity, and anyone who refuses to adhere strictly to this will inevitably face rejection from Christ on the last day.”
The Christian leader who expressed this heartfelt sentiment serves in a nation where followers of Christ are severely persecuted and even martyred for their faith.
This dedicated servant of the Lord works tirelessly to meet the physical and spiritual needs of unreached people.
I will use this mission leader's statement as a springboard in considering whether imperfect Christians will face rejection by Christ on the last day.
Are there any perfect Christians who “continually do the will of God?" Can a person be saved and justified before God, while also being an unbeliever on the road to Hell? And can you "run the Christian race” if you are not born again?
The biblical answer is, “No."
It is impossible for an unbeliever to run the Christian race. You can only run this race if you are saved, born again, justified, redeemed, and forgiven (Hebrews 12:1,2). And not a single believer is perfectly obedient (Romans 7:15-20).
Thankfully, the Bible teaches that every believer is clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith and guaranteed eternal life in Heaven (Romans 3:21-26).
Jesus does indeed call His followers to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And there is no question that some Christians give up far more than others to reach lost souls for Christ.
But if imperfect Christians were in fact rejected on the last day, how close to perfection would you have to live in order to escape Hell and make it into Heaven? There will of course be plenty of false prophets who will be told by the Lord on Judgment Day, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23).
Jesus will not tell these false teachers: “I once knew you,” but rather, “I never knew you.” These imposters were never saved, redeemed, forgiven, born again, and justified through faith in Christ. Human efforts are unable to wash away even one sin.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross accomplished what man is unable to achieve (1 Peter 3:18). The blood of Jesus covers all our sins, (1 John 1:7) which are completely washed away on the front-end of a believer's relationship with God (1 Cor. 6:11).
The Apostle Paul’s letters do not contain a single verse stating that imperfect believers will be rejected by Christ on the last day. At the same time, Paul made it clear that not everyone who wears a religious label is born again, justified, and redeemed.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-9).
In other words, those who live for sin rather than for Christ are not justified. Unrepentant individuals are not born again and tend to even be ashamed of Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
What about Christian missionaries and other believers who suffer much persecution, and even death, for the Gospel? Will they be rewarded for what they endured? The biblical answer is, “Yes.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven” (Matthew 5:11,12).
What exactly these rewards will be is decided by God. You might want to check out my 2013 CP op-ed titled, “The Biblical Distinction Between ‘Gift’ and ‘Reward’.”
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me ... For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done” (Matthew 16:24,27).
Was Jesus teaching that salvation can be earned by our efforts? Not at all. The Messiah was simply stating that Christians who suffer persecution and even death for the sake of the Gospel will be rewarded in Heaven. Just as the Bible distinguishes justification from sanctification, Scripture also distinguishes “the gift of eternal life” (Romans 6:23) from the "rewards” (1 Cor. 3:10-15) that will be received by those who have humbly served the Lord without seeking glory for themselves.
Many dedicated missionaries have given up virtually everything to follow Jesus, and their work will be richly rewarded in Heaven. But this does not mean that imperfect believers will be rejected Christ at the end of time. If that was the case, then no Christian would be welcomed into Heaven. And we know that millions of believers are already in Paradise, with many more arriving every day.
The narrow road to Heaven is revealed in Scripture (Matthew 7:13,14). Believe the good news, (John 3:16) and then take up your cross and follow Christ as someone who has been “given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in Heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Thankfully, no one who is born again will face rejection from Christ at the end of time, in spite of their imperfect obedience. And if you are not yet justified, you can come to Christ today and be saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8,9).
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.