“What is the Reformed Baptist view regarding those who commit suicide?” This question was posted on Facebook. The answers vary between “never saved to begin with,” to “Jesus’ blood covers it.” This is one of those questions that is likely to evoke an emotional response from people, so sensitivity coupled with biblical thinking is of primary importance.
I write this post as a person whose best friend took his own life several years ago, (click the link to read my tribute to him), a friend who was a professing believer in Christ, a friend who I do hold out hope that I will see one day in Heaven.
Theology of Sin & Salvation
To answer the question, “What is the Reformed Baptist view of suicide,” I’d begin by saying we need to investigate the nature of suicide. Ultimately the “view” is the same as the view of every other sin we may commit: it’s covered by God’s grace — for believers. And it would certainly be a sin punishable by an eternity in hell for those who do not know Christ.
Suicide is a violation of the 6th Commandment. Exodus 20:13 states “You shall not murder.” Before the 10 Commandments were revealed, God made it clear that killing a human being a crime punishable by death, (even for a beast who does it) (Gen 9:5-6). But God, in His grace, never called murder the unforgivable sin. That is to say, the death and resurrection of Jesus is sufficient for even those who have murdered someone (even themselves).
And we are not sinless perfectionists. We believe Christians do sin, even after becoming born again of God’s Spirit. So, yes, even a Christian can commit murder.
Theology of Repentance & Sanctification
The problem encountered when dealing with this question is not so much that we do not believe it is possible for a Christian to sin, even by murder. But the problem is that those successful at suicide never exhibit repentance (as would be the case of anyone who died while in sin). A Christian may be capable of all sorts of heinous acts. But what we believe happens after justification by faith is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
What this means is that the regenerate child of God is progressively conformed into the image of his savior, Jesus Christ, while he walks the foreign sod of this world, awaiting his eternal destiny. So what we expect to see is this: a true believer in Christ will have periods of life where he or she sins, followed by confrontation by God’s word, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, outward manifestations of repentance, both in word and deed, and progressive growth in holiness. All this occurs as the result of justification by faith, and the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of Christ in the believer. When we do not see repentance and growth as responses to the Word and godly rebuke or correction, we are concerned for a man’s soul, that is, that he may not be regenerate at all.
Therefore, if any Christian dies in the middle of the commission of any sin at all, they will always leave this world without being able to show any outward repentance to the brethren. There will be no time when they can become convicted by the Word and exhibit their faith through repentance from that sin. Because of this, we may doubt whether someone’s faith was authentic. Thus, it seems rational, in fact, to conclude that a murderer will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven (Rev 21:8;1 Cor 6:9).
But the fact of the matter is, we do not know if that person, had they survived, would have repented. So although suicide (rightly) casts doubt on a person’s profession of faith, that sin shouldn’t be the primary deciding point about their salvation — as with any other sin they committed. But murder is certainly heinous, so it is not as easy as saying we cannot take the suicide into account when considering these things — it is important.
Finally, I don’t think we are helping Christians who suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts when we proclaim “Absolutely, Christians can commit suicide.” We would not want to tempt people to test God. I’d prefer to counsel any Christian that suicide is never a good answer. And, if a believing friend was considering suicide, I’d counsel them that I cannot offer him or her assurance of salvation in that state.
Theology of the Flesh and Glorification
I believe that it is possible that a believer could be in a situation that is so dire, due to the corruption of the flesh, that they may end up committing suicide. We live on the side of glory where we have the indwelling Holy Spirit but are still in a constant battle with our corruptible flesh. We have physical problems that, indeed, affect our emotions, moods, and mind. There is no Christian this side of Heaven who should not be on guard against the flesh, including thoughts of suicide.
One of the things that makes death so desirable is (Philippians 1:21-22) to be with Christ. Secondary to that, but important as well is the freedom we will experience from these corrupt bodies (Romans 8:20-21)! What joy that will be! But isn’t desire for that freedom, in a sense, a desire for our own death to come? Have compassion, dear Christian, on your brother or sister in this life who experiences so much distress they do not believe they can handle it in their weakness! Would that you were in their position, maybe your faith wouldn’t be so mighty as you think.
In conclusion, we live in a world that actually encourages suicide. It’s tempting, for believers and non-believers alike. We have a Savior whose blood is sufficient to cover the act, as well. And we have an understanding that suicide is never recommended, but it also isn’t an immediately disqualifying factor in your hope for your loved one who committed such an atrocity.
Michael, thanks for this. I write as someone who made a halfhearted suicide attempt at age 19 (1994).
I certainly concur that we never want to propose suicide as a holy option, and it saddens me that our culture is in such a state that these discussions are prevalent and necessary.
My father died of cancer 26 months ago, and at the end, while he didn’t consider suicide, I did have to tell him- he is not a Christian- that unless came to Christ in repentance, what was waiting for him was even worse than the horrible torment he was experiencing as a man who’d lost nearly half his body weight, dying of cancer. It was a brutal thing to have to tell my father, but I loved him enough that I could not let it go.
It was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, to tearfully plead with my father, while he was in that state, thirty-three hours from death, as it turned out, telling him that his future, outside of Christ, was going to be even worse.
To even my sensibility, this sounds so callous, so offensive and ruthless, but it’s true according to the Scripture.
May God forgive me for my timidity at times in evangelism. Ironically, according to conventional wisdom, it’s my very involvement in reformed theology that has driven my evangelism. I just cannot stand the thought of someone going to hell, of suffering that eternal punishment when they don’t need to.
Forgive the somewhat rambling comment that reads more like a journal entry. I’ve been more assertively evangelistic over the last two years plus, starting just before my dad died. Then my mother died not too long ago, and I have another family member who fights depression on a daily basis and feels hopeless…all this is on my mind nearly all the time, it seems. I want people to know that Jesus offers eternal life in in the “not yet”, but also in the “already”. We can have real hope, significance, and joy!
How grateful I am for Jesus. Where else would we go? He has the words of eternal life.
Allen, Your comment was like honey to my taste. I have always appreciated you and your comments, brother. And you are welcome to do a pseudo-journal anytime you like.
You brought to mind a memory of mine, several years ago I was on the phone with someone I knew and he was very depressed and I was giving him the gospel. I was a pretty new Christian at the time, and I didn’t know all the rules that people have provided for how we ought interact with people. He mentioned to me that he was thinking about suicide and my reaction was to tell him that he would immediately enter a state far worse than what he is in now. That probably violates any number of man-made rules that people have made about dealing with that type of situation. It sure is nice to just trust the sovereign God in it all.
Absolutely. And thanks, Michael.
I came to reformed theology in 2007, while my wife was pregnant with our oldest son. When I told her about the changes that God was making in me, she was somewhat horrified. The idea that God could have pre-determined that our unborn son would not be a believer upset her greatly.
Thankfully, she’s come along with me to a place where we both say, “Who better to determine who is elected who is not than the Lord? It’s all in His hands.”