‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!’ – Ezekiel 33:11 (NASB)
Fidel Castro is dead.
Depending on who you talk to, news of the Cuban dictator’s demise is either being celebrated or lamented.
The atrocities committed by Fidel Castro during his lifetime are well-documented; but if Castro is in hell – as many people believe – it might surprise you to know that it is not his atrocities that put him there.
Whatever evil this notorious despot was responsible for during the 90 years he spent in this mortal coil, it was merely the fruit of an unregenerate and unrepentant heart (Romans 2:4-5).
In other words, the crimes Fidel Castro exacted against the Cuban people were the evidence of a life that was not born-again (John 3:3; Matthew 3:8).
I say this because of 1 John 3:9:
“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His [God’s] seed abides in him; and he cannot [practice] sin, because he is born of God (Cf. John 1:12-13).”
Contrary to popular belief, even among many Christians, it is not a person’s evil deeds that condemns his or her soul to hell, but unbelief in Jesus Christ.
It is a doctrine that is clearly established in John 3:18:
“He who believes in Him [Jesus] is not judged; he who does not believe [in Jesus] has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Just as our good deeds are not salvific in themselves, likewise, our evil deeds are not in and of themselves condemning.
Though how we live our lives definitely matters to God (1 Peter 4:1-6), what ultimately condemns a person to hell is not how “bad” they were during their life on earth, but their unbelief in Jesus Christ, the result of which is separation from God in eternity.
We see this in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 where the apostle Paul, speaking eschatologically of the second coming of Jesus, writes:
“…dealing out retribution to those who do not know God[unbelief] and to those who do not obey [deeds] the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
This incredibly sobering text in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians provides us with a clear and concise biblical theology of hell.
In short, hell is a state of perpetual and conscious hopelessness.
It is a place where unimaginable anguish is eternally and tangibly experienced, such as that which is depicted in Luke 16:24 and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, wherein the rich man bemoans:
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”
Though it is true that our good and bad deeds do have a bearing on our eternal rewards (Romans 2:6-8; Revelation 22:12), those deeds are in no way effectual with regard to our salvation.
The apostle Paul underscores this truth in Romans 10:9:
“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
To further Paul’s point, consider the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus who were condemned to death because of the evil deeds they committed (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32, 39-43).
That one thief went to heaven and the other did not is only because the one thief confessed belief in Christ whereas the other did not (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13).
“So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” – Romans 14:12
Had the unrepentant thief made the same confession from his heart, then, despite his sinful deeds he, too, would have been assured of the same glorious promise of spending eternity in heaven with Jesus.
It is a reality that would have been just as true for a murderer like Fidel Castro on the day of his death, as it was to the thief on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
I was complelled to write this blog post because the death of well-known individuals like Fidel Castro serve as a reminder that there are countless millions of people – Christians and non-Christians alike – who are living under the misconception that their works, for better or worse, play a role in God’s sovereign act of salvation.
This is not what the Bible teaches.
God’s Word is unambiguous that His elect are saved by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
It is only belief in Jesus that saves us.
It is only unbelief in Jesus that condemns us.
“Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” – Charles Spurgeon
Despite his many sins, had Fidel Castro only believed on Jesus Christ he would be in heaven today (Romans 6:23).
For the same gospel of grace that applies to “whoever believes” would also have applied to him (John 3:16).
Photo credit: Marcelo Montecino (Creative Commons) – Some rights reserved
Darrell B. Harrison is a Reformed Baptist, theologian, U.S. Army veteran, and blogger. He blogs at JustThinking.me.
The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.