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Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?

My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?

What a tragedy when someone passes away who doesn’t believe in Jesus. “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). How do you give comfort to the family in that circumstance?

Be careful not to say too much

It may be saying too much to say that your friend is in hell. You don’t know his heart. Even though the book of Proverbs says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (27:19), the Bible also says that all we can do is see the outward appearance. Only God can look at what is in the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Yet in your desire to give comfort, it is easy to give the impression that the loved one is in heaven by saying something like, “He’s with the Lord.” It is a well-intentioned statement, but good intentions can lead to false hope. When we say too much about a professing unbeliever, we can unintentionally undermine the teachings of Scripture and encourage others to seek comfort outside of Jesus.

Be careful of making baptism into a magic charm

What about if he was baptized as an infant? Baptism is a powerful means of grace, able to create and strengthen faith. Paul says in Titus 3:5, “[God our Savior] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible is clear! Baptism saves by connecting us to Jesus and everything he’s done for us through faith. However, we need to be careful not to make Baptism into a magic charm. Sadly, the faith worked in Baptism can be lost.

Jesus says in Matthew 28:19,20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son of and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The Great Commission is to “make disciples.” Jesus uses two governing participles to explain how we do that: “baptizing” and “teaching.” These go hand in hand. God works the miracle of faith in the hearts of infants in baptism, but it is important to continue to feed that faith through the Word. Can you imagine parents feeding their child once and then concluding that the child no longer needs any more nourishment? Faith, if not nourished, can be lost.

Focus on what you know

So when talking to surviving loved ones, focus on the comfort of the gospel. “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Sometimes, God uses the death of loved one as a wake-up call to call people back to himself if they have been straying. Use this as an opportunity to invite the family to reconnect with God’s Word and his people. This also is a chance to highlight God’s great love for the family by pointing to the promises Jesus gives to his people. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Help the family find rest in their forgiveness through Jesus as well as confidence at death because of Jesus’ resurrection.

At that time, it may not be possible to hold a long conversation about the comfort we know in Jesus. You may only have time to say something like “I hope you will find comfort in Jesus. Peace be with you.” But that may give you an opportunity to explain more later.

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Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 09
Issue: September 2022

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This entry is part 11 of 62 in the series question-answer

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