I didn’t tell my friend about Jesus. Will God forgive me?

This past week, I received a question from someone with a heavy heart. During the years of his life, he has, at times, walked with God and at other times walked away from God. During a period of his life when he was preoccupied with other things, he had a friend who was suffering and on a self-destructive path. Being engrossed in life, he didn’t do all that he could do to help his friend out, and he eventually passed. What is gnawing on this man’s soul is the fact that his friend passed away and - as far as he can tell - he never knew the forgiveness of Jesus. He feels very guilty about not being more intentional with his friend and wonders where he is. His question on the end of all this is, “Will God forgive me?”

This is very much an “in house” question. Part of me thought that it was best not to answer such a question publicly, as it may seem offensive to those who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus, but at the same time I want to be candid about these things. With my friends who are not followers of Jesus, I try to be as forthright as possible even with difficult topics. My intention is to answer this with a glass door so that those who may feel as though they are outsiders can see what happens on the inside.

First, I want to grieve with you. There is pain in your question that is very real, and I think that it is a pain to which I can relate. Indeed, I hope that it is a pain to which all followers of Jesus can relate. When I look at my life, I have regrets, and I do not just mean regrets during busy or bad seasons of life. I have regrets during my best of days, knowing that I could always be more intentional, more focused, more loving, etc. At the end of the day, that is a guilt that we cannot live under.

Second, we must remember the gospel: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses… For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do (Ephesians 2:1-10).”

Forgiveness is not rooted in whether or not you missed an opportunity to love your friend well. Forgiveness is freely given to people who have missed every good opportunity that has ever been placed before them. Jesus did the work. Jesus measured up. Any forgiveness we receive is a gift, not on the basis of doing anything.

Third, “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is sufficient for all of our muck and all of our mire past, present and future. He is not surprised by our failures. He is not shocked by our shortcomings. He does not roll his eyes when we don’t even seem to notice the opportunities that he drops in our laps. Condemnation is not eliminated, and when we feel it creeping back into our lives, we need to remind it where to go. That debt has been paid.

Fourth, we should grow from such things. Will God forgive you if you are in Christ Jesus? Absolutely. Should you be crushed by the guilt? No. Should you grow from it? Yes, and this is the task before you. “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live - not as unwise people but as wise - making the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).” We should remember that we are here for a purpose and for a task. We are called to make Jesus famous in our lives and in our world, to seek the glory of God and the good of the community around us. Learn from this, fixing your eyes on Jesus’ grace and mercy. As you do this very thing, you will find freedom from condemnation and zeal for the future.