Can the Unbelieving be Saved?

Not everyone relates to the word “saved.” But Jesus said, and our own eyes tell us, that there are people who are on paths of self-destruction, whose choices are toxic to themselves and others. Not just violent or abusive types, but “decent” thpeople who, if you strip away the veneer, are infected with selfishness.

I know, because I was one of those people. One night, a woman stopped me as I swayed drunkenly from a friend’s apartment, and asked, “Do you know where you’re going?” I pointed to my car. “No,” she said. “I mean eternally.” Not long after that, I began reading the words of Jesus, words that spoke to my nascent longings for God.

But what if I’d died that night? Would I have gone to hell? Or is it possible that God, knowing who I would become, would have made a place for me? Can a person who is not officially “saved” still be redeemed?

In C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, a character named Emeth has wrongly served the false god Tash. But when he meets Aslan (who allegorically represents Christ), he suddenly realizes this is who he’d meant to serve all along, this who his heart belongs to. Knowing what’s in Emeth’s heart, Aslan  accepts him.

I believe God accepts those whose hearts are His, even when their information or understanding is amiss.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a universalist; I don’t believe in a heaven made of unrepentant souls. Neither do I believe in cheap grace* (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). But I do believe that God can tell when a heart is “done,” and that He sometimes allows what looks to us like an incomplete journey to be cut short. Why? Perhaps as an act of mercy, in recognition that, although that person’s heart is ready, their experiential baggage or biochemistry would cause them and others unnecessary suffering. In other words, I believe God  is interested in redeeming all who are redeemable, even when they are not “officially” there yet.

In the fall of 1980, I was on break from a recording session, when a musician friend asked us to pray for someone he’d spoken with. He’d just flown back into the country and had sat next to an iconic rock star. My friend began telling the famously agnostic rocker about Jesus. To his surprise, the star admitted he’d been reading the Bible lately and had found himself strangely drawn to Jesus. “Yes, I think he may actually be who thenhvrun5he says he is!” the rocker said excitedly. So my friend prayed for him, encouraging him, “Don’t stop now!” The rocker promised he wouldn’t, and they departed with a hug.

Less than two months later, John Lennon was dead. Did God look into his heart and say, “Time to come home, John”?

I suspect He did.

*Note: Anyone who would use this idea as an excuse to continue in their former ways (cheap grace) proves by their very actions that their heart is not His.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith, Story Power and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Can the Unbelieving be Saved?

  1. It’s impossible to know these things without Biblical support, but we can certainly hope and pray. A number of folks like you have drawn conclusions based on patterns they’ve seen.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. At one point in my journey, I felt compelled to try and “save” people by “leading them to Jesus” but I never felt completely right about it in my heart. Then the amazing Creator, God of all we can see, all we can’t see, all that is, all that was, all that is to come, showed me that the death of Christ was for all times, all people. No magic formulas. All are “saved” in the sense that we can each choose, every single day of our lives, to live life filled with forgiveness, grace, and love–because that is available through God who is the definition of love. The “Saving” is daily, and the ultimate “Saving” is up to the One utterly Alpha/Omega timeless Being who will never give up on us. Who will never give up on Creation, or creatures from here, there, everywhere the heart or eye or soul can imagine..and beyond. Vengence is Mine, sayeth the Lord. Saving is too.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Amen, Mitch! I sometimes say God is not a God of bureaucracy and red tape. Those are human inventions, or perhaps satan’s.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. What a loving heart we can see in this post regarding the salvation of the redeemable. God bless you, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. oneta hayes says:

    I guess this is what predestination is. There is a scripture in Hebrews that would support this. However, there is much more evidence to support that the will of man has to choose who he will obey. Your friend has no evidence to show that John Lennon did not become a believer; based on your evidence it seems that he was. I think your friend was being encouraged by the fact that Lennon said he bought a Bible and was considering Jesus. You must be born again does not sound like predestination to me. Glad you have thrown this issue out for comment. My. I would hate to think I was in the un-redeemables! Or, are we at everybody is redeemed with or without their free will?

    Liked by 3 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      I’m one of those middling types who some jokingly call Cal-minian. I think the theological truth of this issue is a classical antinomy, some blend of both predestination and freewill that we can’t quite wrap our small human brains around.

      Liked by 4 people

      • oneta hayes says:

        That Hebrews scripture (I guess I could google :D) is hard for me except that I think it is predetermined by God that everybody choose to accept the sacrifice of his son as a penalty for their sins. It is still up to the person to make the choice – God has already made the way. It is really so hard for us to accept that anyone we know is choosing hell over heaven – even to the rankest nay-sayer if he/she is a celebrity. We really do try to rationalize that hell was not really their final destination. As you said paraphrased, “That’s above my pay grade.” Oh, no, that was President Obama wasn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Paula says:

        Perhaps the “Cal” part means God chooses us. The “minian” part means we must choose Him back. Perhaps.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. VocareMentor says:

    One of my favorite books, The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis deals with the subject. I don’t completely know how God reaches His final judgment for each individual. Still, Lewis’ book comforts me with how he presents the idea that God goes the extra mile to provide each of us the opportunity to have an eternal relationship with Him.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” I don’t know, Mitch and when Jesus returns and all is revealed to us, I don’t think any theologian or their followers will be proved right but instead, we’ll all understand how little we are able to comprehend the mind of God. lol However, I too hold out the possibility for ‘all’ and see that as much a part of God’s plan as ‘free will’ and ‘election’.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. A good post to percolate on and a very good scripture! Thank you, Mitch!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. aresonantone says:

    That begs a very difficult question in the end and one I personally contend with.

    Would God bring a person back to him that INTENDS to change, or is an act of mercy, with actions that God knows they will be doing if they continue to live left on the table undone?

    We now enter the realm of intention versus actualization. Intention is one of the most evil, disappointing words in the English language to my ear. It makes a claim that you will do something but have not. I always like to use this example about intentions.

    “Why am I fat? I intended to eat that salad instead of those entire cakes.”

    But the hips don’t care about the fun the tongue has and your pancreas will still explode.

    In a similar fashion I take this as a queue to how God works, but not quite the same. I’m sure that a lot of people made it to heaven “with warm feet” as another friend of mine used to say. I certain that they made a sincere conversion and if God had not chosen to end their suffering on Earth, they would have slid back and been lost to Him forever. He knew their hearts or he knew there was nothing left here for them that He wanted them to do.

    So why did I say this is a personal question for me? Because I was lost too for years after being raised in the Church. During that time, if God had let me die… and we must remember that by divine providence, it would have been His choice on that, not mine, for everything that happens to us is either done by Him or allowed by Him, I would have been damned. I was so hostile to God, I doubt he would have been a spiritual ‘rapist’ and forced Himself upon me, but instead given me what I desired at that time and that was existence apart from him.

    But even after I became saved again, could I fall away? Yes. But maybe it would be in God’s purpose that before that happens as He knows it, I still will do His work in spite of myself. Or perhaps I will have a lot more “jewels to add to my crown” before I come to him so I can receive to me the gifts and rewards for my faith on Earth. I don’t know. Being finite and temporal, I never will know till I am with Him face to face.

    But in His grace, He preserved me, was slow with me and now, with my push to write for Him, He may have much more to go with me. Or I could have a massive aneurysm and drop dead at any second now because the book He wanted written is done and that’s the last of it.

    But God is who He says He is. Eternally good, righteous in all things, full of grace and sovereign in all things, knowing our lives from end to end. No one comes to Him save in His time, and all will gain what they deserve. Even if it is salvation with warm feet, instead of what was intended by us or others.

    So much to think about.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. smzang says:

    How powerfully you show the truth!
    I must share a coincidence(?). I was speaking
    long distance to a friend just moments ago
    and we were discussing this very issue. To
    come here and find it presented so succinctly
    is no small miracle. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. BelleUnruh says:

    I’m very happy to hear this about John Lennon. I once read in a book about Cary Grant; that he was reading a Christian daily study book the last year or so before he died. Errol Flynn was reading the Bible before he died. It is wonderful how God waits and waits for us. Calling us over and over.

    I read once that people have to be “safe to save” so they don’t start another rebellion in heaven as Lucifer did. Well, God knows who those people are and we don’t. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  12. cat9984 says:

    In the Episcopal Church we have a prayer that includes “…we pray for those whose faith is known to God alone.” I suspect some of the people you reference are in the groups you refer to.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. alsavignano says:

    If God saves by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), then God can also, by grace, preserve one’s earthly life until the day of salvation. Since our natural inclination is to reject God (Rom. 1:18-3:20), there can be no such thing as a person who would have believed the Gospel next week if only he had lived.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      I’m not sure I’m understanding you, Al. Are you saying that God never allows anyone to die “who would have believed the Gospel” if they’d lived longer? You speak of Him preserving people’s lives until “the day of salvation,” by which I take it you mean a formal acceptance of the Gospel.

      I think more in relational terms: If I’m God and you, seeing me clearly for the first time on the other side of this life, love me for who I am, I’m not going to turn you away. Conversely, if you believed in the Gospel all your life, but primarily as a means of “fire insurance,” you’re probably going to loathe Me when you meet me because I’m at odds with what you’ve actually lived for. Whatever hell is, it’s certain that those who go there send themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • alsavignano says:

        Mitch, thanks for kind attention. I am honored. What I’m saying is simply that no one would believe the Gospel simply by living longer or by acquiring more information. Charles Spurgeon once said that he thought he had sought God for four years before he found Him, but after he studied the Bible, Spurgeon realized that God had drawn him to Christ. Spurgeon said this in a sermon entitled “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility.” There is an audio version (obviously it is someone reading Spurgeon’s words) which can be heard without charge at I recommend listening to the entire sermon, but the point I mention is around the 13-minute mark. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mitchteemley says:

        Ah, thank you for the clarification, Al. We’re certainly in agreement on the point that it is God who first seeks us and not the other way around. When I finally came to the point of loving Him back, it was with the sense that He was who I’d wanted all along, the One for whom I was made. I’ll check out the Spurgeon sermon. Great preacher.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Julia Soriano says:

    Mitch, because I am a “dyed in the wool” universalist, I NEVER try to save anyone. Especially my kind and generous family — most of whom would be offended. I wonder about eternity for those who are really good people, but have no intention of accepting Jesus.. I can accept death being the end for them, decomposing into dust, etc.. But I just can’t imagine an eternity of hell. If I had any belief that they were headed towards hell, I guess I’d try to persuade. But I really don’t believe that and I really don’t want to have those conversations with them and have them brand me a fanatic and end their relationships with me. The non-Jesus camp in my life includes my closest sister, my mother, my son and several friends. What do you think? I’ve been asking myself about this question for a long time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Big questions indeed, Julia! I’m not a universalist, nor do I believe in the doctrine of soul annihilation. I do believe in telling others about Jesus (although only He can save them), not as an obligation, but as a outpouring of my heart. When Jesus said, “You are my witnesses,” I don’t think He was forcing us to do this; I think He was saying something more like, “I know you’re chomping at the bit to tell people about me, so, go, and don’t stop till you’ve told the whole world!”


  15. godoratheism says:

    Mitch, be careful when you weave “what if” scenarios. They often leave more questions than answers. May God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I suppose, although perhaps best left unsaid, that every man, every woman needs saving from themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Roos Ruse says:

    Great work with a wonderful take away, Mitch. I too and careful about church-ese. Typically saved makes me think, “Lord, save me from myself!”

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: From Tin to Skin | Mitch Teemley

  19. So Mitch I am a recovering Catholic who was tortured by a fearful church that told me I was no good since birth. I eventually converted to being Jewish after years of alcoholism and drug addiction. I sober 16 years now. I don’t believe that God punishes us. I live with God consciousness daily 24/7. And recently I also started to attend an Episcopal Church on Sunday. The Reverend is a loving gay man who has a large and diverse congregation of beautiful people and families. He is a rebel too for including Muslims in the community to pray in his congregation together a few years ago. He was threatened with hate mail for that but he continues to love all. Isn’t that what God and Jesus wanted of us?

    Liked by 1 person

  20. montanapreacher says:

    My answer to that question would have to be a resounding yes. If a person dies before calling upon the name of the Lord, they will indeed go to Hell. That is scriptural based – it has nothing to do with my thoughts on the matter. I know you said you tend to avoid using the word saved, but that too is a Bible word. Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If they haven’t called upon His name, they’re lost.


    • mitchteemley says:

      “Saved” is, indeed, a Bible word and a good one. But I typically avoid it when speaking with nonbelievers because they often have an inaccurate and negative sense of what it means. I avoid “Christianese” when speaking with nonbelievers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • montanapreacher says:

        I understand what you are saying. I have heard lost people be confused by the term as well, but after a slight explanation, they seem to get it pretty quickly.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Will Marler says:

    Very thought provoking post and I enjoyed reading it. I turned back to sinful living for a number of years and tried to avoid the thought of my destination if I died. I think the question more suitable for the believer or the non believer is what happens if we live. We were “saved” more for our destiny than for our destination. Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Lee Poskey says:

    Hi Mitch, and good mornin my friend.
    I don’t know if you ever read my testimony, but I agree, the sinner’s prayer isn’t what brought me life in Christ.
    I’d said the sinner’s prayer many times in my desire for salvation.
    It was when I believed in the finished work of Christ that I was set free of spiritual death & guilt.
    I’m not against the sinner’s prayer, I’m just saying that believing is what results in eternal life, (with or without that prayer).

    Your buddy,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lee Poskey says:

      I’m sorry, I forgot to comment on the hell issue. ..if a person hasn’t believed on Christ before they die, then for sure, hell is their destination. Every person has the option to believe or not believe on Christ, and I don’t believe that God predetermines people’s destiny like Calvinism believes.

      As to little children, and people who have had severe mental handicaps all their lives prior to death. I’m confident that God’s grace has them covered. Because the offer of salvation necessitates a response of cognitive faith. And one must be capable of doing that.

      So that’s my two cents.

      Your friend,

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Who knows what happens between the “time”
    one dies and the “time” one enters eternity. Time is
    relative. A split second can be the difference between
    heaven and hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: Did John Lennon Become a Believer? | Navigating by Faith

  25. Pingback: Can the Unbelieving be Saved? — Mitch Teemley – THE BIG BUCK HUNTER 2018

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