Here is a question from the “Ask a question” section asked by Anonymous:
Can you please explain the issue in 2 tim 1:16-18
“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.”
The apostle seems he is NOT SURE of the salavation of a TRUE believer (regardless of his fruits proving he is a real one)!!! And he is praying so that he will find mercy as though the real believer didn’t find mercy yet. Aren’t these verses a foundation for praying for the departed loved ones?
Thank you, Anonymous, for this interesting question.
Let’s clarify some important points here:
1. It is a biblical truth that no human can judge whether someone is saved or not. All the judgment is the work of God, and no human can know the hearts so as to know who is saved and who is not.
2. The biblical truth of assurance of Salvation does not mean that I can know who among other people is saved, but it means that I know for sure that I have eternal life because Christ died for me and rose again and He lives forever to intercede for me, as He also has given me the Holy Spirit of promise. I can also say with certainty that all who truly received the Grace of God are surely saved, and yet I don’t surely know who really did that.
3. You are not sure that Onesiphorus was a “TRUE believer”, as you call him. Paul is witnessing for his good works, but this doesn’t mean that he knows for sure that he is a true believer. Onesiphorus may later prove to be a false one by loving the world, just as Demas did. Let’s read about Demas:
a. Demas is a fellow-worker of Paul, and he is working in the field of the Lord! So anyone would say his fruits show that he is a true believer:
“Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workmen.” (Philemon 24)
b. Sadly, Demas later proved to be a lover of the world:
“Use diligence to come to me quickly;for Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age, and is gone to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.Luke alone is with me. Take Mark, and bring [him] with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:9-11)
And you know that “If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15)
4. The fruits of a person do not prove that he is a true believer. Good works are the natural and non-optional result of true Salvation by living faith, but this doesn’t mean that all those who do good works, even in the Name of Jesus, are really saved. As I said above, we can’t know the hearts. The Lord said in Matthew 7:22-23 that many will say that they did amazing good works in His Name, but He will say that He never knew them, as they worked lawlessness. Here, let me quickly clarify that many people misunderstand the Lord when He says that we will know false prophets by their fruits. It is worthy to be noted that He didn’t say that we will know who is saved by their good works; He said we will know who is a false prophet by his fruits. The fruits here are not only the works that this false prophet does, but also his teachings. False prophets teach lies that disagree with the Word of God, and thus lead to lawless life. Many today say that they are saved by faith in Christ, and yet their fruits are lawlessness, as they teach things against the Law or they teach legalism. These people may help the poor, appear with true Christians, preach the Gospel everywhere in the world, on TV, on satellite, and yet they practice lawlessness, as the Lord says.
So, in brief for point 4, good works must surely result from a true Salvation, but not all good works are the result of Salvation. Even an unsaved person may do good works, but these good works neither save him nor prove that he is saved.
5. All true believers have received mercy from the Lord, as they are all justified by His Grace, without any merit in themselves. But Justification is not all what we have in Christ; Justification is not all what Salvation is, although all is in what we receive when justified. Each day, every believer receives mercy from the Lord, as he continues in the battle against sin and receives from the Lord victory after victory; and this is what the Bible calls Sanctification. The summit of all this will be the glorification, when we see the Lord face to face. When we receive that glorification, it will also be a mercy from the Lord, as we don’t deserve it, and we only receive it as a gift from the Lord by His mercy. If before the Throne of the Lord any believer will be declared as righteous, that is because of God’s mercy and Grace in Christ Jesus, and not because of anything good in that believer.
Therefore, the Apostle is praying here that Onesiphorus will finally prove to be a true disciple of the Lord, and will receive the mercy of glorification before His Throne. This is indeed the truth of the perseverance of the saints. All true believers will persevere until the end. And, taken in the context, the Apostle is also praying that Onesiphorus will receive from the Lord all the reward for what he did to him (to Paul) on that day.
6. It is not on our understanding of one short passage of the Bible that we build a whole doctrine like the one about praying for the dead. As the Bible clearly says everywhere that TODAY is the time of Salvation and that there is no hope for Salvation after death as there is no faith after death but there is sight, so we will not contradict the Bible because of a partial understanding of a certain passage. If I misunderstand a certain passage, this doesn’t mean that God suddenly changes His mind and decides to open the option of praying for the dead. Once someone is dead, he goes to stand before the Lord in the same nature in which he died: he is either in the Lord and thus saved, or not in the Lord but in the flesh, and thus he can never please God and deserves eternal Hell. The Word of God is clear that in the same nature in which you are dead you will be forever: “whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)
So let us always persevere in the faith, abounding in good works, knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord, and not in ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ