Can a person die and have a second chance for salvation? If somebody dies and they either never had the chance or were unwilling in their lifetime to accept God’s love and forgiveness, could after they die God still accept them into the kingdom of heaven?
There is no one who desires a relationship with God who will ever be turned away. But that does not mean that the Bible in any way teaches postmortem evangelism or salvation. It does not. It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
Here is the situation. In this life we have the light of creation, we have the light of conscious, in other words the knowledge of God written upon the tablet of our consciousness, and if we respond to the light we have been given, then we will receive the light of Christ. Paul makes that clear in Romans 1-3.
The problem is as Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).* It is not that men do not have enough light; instead, it is they love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. It is not the absence of knowledge that damns us, it is the despising of knowledge that damns.
Those that do not have a relationship with God in eternity are those who do not want a relationship with God in time. That those who live a life apart from Christ now are not going to want to be dragged into His presence in eternity. In other words, this is what they want now, and God ratifies their choices. There is no gospel of the second chance in the Scripture at all, and again there’s a reason for it—the reason that I just explained. Those that live apart from Christ here will wish to do that in eternity as well. They’re hearts are hardened against the Savior and His message.
God does not impose Himself on them in eternity; rather, what He does is continue to sustain them in existence, albeit apart from His loving goodness and grace.
The biblical idea is always that God makes salvation available to all. He woos us all through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to respond to that wooing, or we can reject the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Those who respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit have everlasting life, those who reject it have precisely what they want. That is why I’m fond of quoting C.S. Lewis at this point, wherein he makes it clear that:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce [New York: Harper Collins, 1946], 75).
If you do not want a relationship with God in time, God will not force Himself on you in eternity. Think about it this way: If God did force people to enter into heaven against their will, heaven would not be heaven, heaven would be hell. The righteous would inherit a counterfeit heaven, and the unrighteous would be incarcerated in heaven against their will, which would be a torment worse than hell.
Now there is one other thing I would add this to the equation: The biblical text in Acts 17, where Paul is at the Areopagus, and he sees a monument to an unknown God, and he begins to preach. In that sermon, he makes this incredible statement. He says,
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
In saying that, Paul is making abundantly clear that God puts all of us in unique circumstances so that we can respond to His goodness and to His grace. There will be none in eternity that says, “You know God if only…” No, people get what they want. If they want a relationship with God, God did all that could be done to facilitate that. He suffered more than any man. He suffered more than the cumulative sufferings of all human kind so that we can be reconciled to Him for time and for eternity.
The one God revealed in three persons who are eternally distinct has given us every opportunity to know to love and to receive Him or to reject Him.
It is very clear in Scripture that this our opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior of our life (Matt. 4:17; 10:5; Mark 1:14; Rom. 13:11-12; Eph. 5:12-14). This is the opportunity to say Jesus is Lord not Caesar or the world is Lord. If we don’t take that opportunity in this life, we are not going to want to take that opportunity in the life to come either. What we want now is indicative of what we want for all eternity.
For further related study, please see the following:
Is Jesus the Only Savior? The Answer to Religious Pluralism (Ronald H. Nash)
Is Belief in Jesus Necessary? The Answer to Religious Inclusivism (Ronald H. Nash)
Is There Salvation After Death? The Answer to Postmortem Evangelism (Ronald H. Nash)
Universalism Isn’t for Everyone(Doug Geivett)
What about Hell? The Doctrine of Hell (Douglas Groothuis)
The Dark Side of Eternity: Hell as Eternal Conscious Punishment (Robert A. Peterson)
C.S. Lewis on Hell (Louis Markos)
What Happens to a Person who has Never Heard of Jesus? (Hank Hanegraaff)
How were People who lived Before the Time of Christ Saved? (Hank Hanegraaff)
Why Should I Believe in Hell? (Hank Hanegraaff)
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here (Hank Hanegraaff)
* All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), unless noted.