Could someone who was abusing drugs and died of an overdose be in heaven?
My pastor's son recently died of a drug overdose. He was always in and out of jail and had a drug problem that ultimately ended his life. At the son's funeral, my pastor said that he was confident that his son was in heaven because he witnessed his son praising God. He went on to speak about how his son would always work around the church and how he would take his buddies' children (also drug addicts) to church. Is he in heaven? Is he believing in salvation by works? He died because of his sin. I am confused. I understand my pastor is going through a lot, but you can't teach false doctrine if that is what is going on.
Let's start at the foundation. Abusing drugs is sinful for several reasons. It is condemned in both the Old and New Testament, though the wording may be a bit subtle. See the lesson "Legalizing Drugs" for a list of verses. It is also wrong because drugs cloud the user's mind, but Christians are to be sober-minded (or clear-headed). "But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation" (I Thessalonians 5:8). Drugs cause a host of related sins: lying, stealing, sexual promiscuity, and the like.
The second thing that we have to face is the fact that God looks at who a person is. ""The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die"" (Ezekiel 18:20-24).
People sometimes are puzzled by I John 5:17-18, "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death." John is not talking about one particular sin, but that sin comes in two varieties if you would. Sin can lead to eternal death or it may not. The difference is in the person's response to the sin. Any sin unrepented of leads to death. "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).
The third thing we must admit is that we don't know enough to be certain whether an individual is destined for heaven or hell. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (I Corinthians 4:5). We don't know everything that a person does because we aren't with them 24-hours a day. Nor do we know a person's motives we cannot read another person's mind. We can make guesses as to what we might think, we can express our hopes, but ultimately the fact is that we do not know what a person's final outcome will be. In a strange, but interesting verse, we find that even the archangel, Michael, in an argument with Satan, refused to put himself in the position of Satan's judge (Jude 9). If anyone stands condemned, it is Satan. But the point is that Satan's destiny has been determined by God and not by you or me.
In other words, drug users, fornicators, and liars will end up in hell because God said so. "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). They will not be there because I happened not to like these particular practices or because I happened not to like that person.
Few people want to admit that their own children are in sin. A common reason drug users stay in drugs is because their family denies the problem exists, or minimizes what it happening. I've seen over and over people who will tell me "He's really a nice boy inside. It's just the drugs." Most people are nice inside, but it is the sin that corrupts them.
Whether your preacher admits it or not, he is encouraging others to sin by stating that a person in sin can reach heaven. "Who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32). Life is not a zero-sum game where your good deeds weigh against your bad deeds. The only thing that matters is the life you are living now. Nor is an expression of belief a guarantee of the final outcome when we recall that Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
The proper way to handle such sad situations is to say that here are the good things this person has done, here are his faults that caused his death, here is what God has said on the matter, so let us all pray that God will be merciful to his soul and that God's will be done and accepted in all things.