The Bible has a lot to say about those who won’t be in the Book of Life or the Kingdom of God. Does that include you? And if it does, what can you do about it?
It’s difficult to overemphasize the mercy of God. From the first page of the Bible to the last, the reality of our Creator’s mercy is a thread that weaves itself in and out of parables, historical accounts, psalms of praise, epistles and divine proclamations alike.
God of mercy
That mercy is the only reason you and I can be Christians in progress. We didn’t earn our knowledge of the truth. We weren’t freed from sin’s eternal death penalty by some cosmic fluke or lucky happenstance. We don’t have the opportunity to enter into the Kingdom of God because we are somehow vital and indispensable to the bigger picture.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. … For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9).
In the book of Psalms, the word mercy shows up in about 100 different verses sprinkled throughout 49 different psalms.
- “The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:17).
- “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5).
- “Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds” (Psalm 57:10).
Jesus’ teaching on God’s mercy
In His earthly ministry Jesus emphasized this aspect of God’s character in the parable of the prodigal son, who returned to his father after years of poor decisions and found forgiveness instead of rejection (Luke 15:11-32); in the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd goes to the mountains to rescue one lone, straying sheep and rejoices in the rescue (Matthew 18:11-14); in His own lament as He looked at the nation of Israel and cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
There’s no arguing that we serve a merciful, patient God, who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
What happens to those whose names are not in the Book of Life?
And yet …
And yet the Bible is clear that some people will perish. The apostle John, who watched the final stages of God’s plan play out in a vision, wrote, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
There’s a limit to the patience.
God’s Word tells us two important truths about this harsh-sounding verse in Revelation.
- The vast majority of all who have ever lived have never truly understood God, His way of life, or their own potential to become sons or daughters of God. Most people have been (and continue to be) blinded by a spiritual veil that God has not yet removed from their eyes (Isaiah 25:7; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18).
- That veil will be removed. One day, all people, even those who died millennia before us, will have the opportunity to learn and to live God’s way of life—to repent of their sins and experience the mercy of God in their own lives.
(For more insight into this phase of God’s plan, read “The Last Great Day: The Final Harvest.”)
The lake of fire comes after all this.
In the Kingdom: no more pain requires no more sin
God wants everyone to come to repentance, but He also knows that not everyone will come to repentance. At the end of it all, with the veil removed and eyes wide open to the truth, there will still be those who refuse to leave sin behind—who see God’s perfect way of life and say, “No, I want to do things my way.”
God refuses to allow that into His Kingdom. In the Kingdom, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
That’s not possible until sin is removed from the picture. While sin is present, sorrow, crying and pain are unavoidable. And so, in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, God leaves us with a promise and a warning:
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:14-15).
Inside the Kingdom are those who have repented and dedicated themselves to living within the boundaries of God’s law. On the outskirts of the Kingdom are those who cling to sin. Inside the Kingdom are those who have repented and dedicated themselves to living within the boundaries of God’s law. On the outskirts of the Kingdom are those who cling to sin. They—and their sinful lifestyles—will be permanently destroyed in the lake of fire, blotted out of existence for eternity.
Whose names are in the Book of Life?
It’s hard, as a Christian, to not entertain a fear about the Book of Life:
What if my name isn’t in it?
What if I’ve messed up too much—what if I haven’t conquered enough of my sins—and when the day comes, I find myself standing on the outskirts of the Kingdom instead of inside it?
If you find yourself wondering that, you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. It’s something most of us have worried about at some point in our lives.
Jesus told a lot of parables that ended with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for characters who shirked their responsibilities (see Matthew 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). It’s easy to wonder if we’ve somehow slipped into those roles without realizing it—to wonder if we’re straying toward the outskirts of the Kingdom ourselves.
But take a closer look at those parables. What characters get punished? The “sons of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38), a disrespectful wedding guest, an evil servant and a lazy servant. These aren’t roles we just “slip into”—they’re decisions. These parables aren’t about people who tried and failed; they’re about people who stopped trying altogether—and who, in many cases, are actively opposing God.
Is that you? I doubt it. I suspect you care very much about being aligned with God, or else you wouldn’t be reading this column. You are a Christian in progress, which means you probably fail more often than you like (in which case, welcome to the club), but that failure doesn’t mean you aren’t trying.
And the trying is what matters. Are you repenting? Are you putting in the effort? Are you pushing yourself to be better? Do you have spiritual goals you’re working toward?
Here’s the thing about the Book of Life: The people whose names aren’t in it are those who don’t want to be in it. They’re people who aren’t willing to repent and change, even when brought face-to-face with the truth of God. They’ll refuse to make the effort. Through their actions, they will tell God, “I don’t want what You’re offering. Holding onto my sin is more important than living Your way, and I refuse to let go.”
If that is and remains our attitude, we can be certain there will be no place for us in the Book of Life or the Kingdom of God. But if that’s not our attitude—if we’re just flawed people who make mistakes and struggle with our own human nature while trying to seek and obey God—well, then, we don’t need to be afraid.
God wants to write your name in the Book of Life
Our place in the Book of Life and the Kingdom of God is reserved for us through the mercy of God: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
None of us are strong enough to pry open the doors to the Kingdom—but the undeserved grace God gives us flings those doors wide open. It is by God’s grace that we can be made clean again when we stumble. It is by God’s grace that we are justified in His eyes. It is by God’s grace that we come from the outskirts of the Kingdom and into the family of God.
Jesus told His disciples, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
It’s difficult to overemphasize the mercy of God. From the first page of the Bible to the last, it’s there, reminding us that, if we’re willing to follow Him, nothing in the world can stop us from stepping through the gates of the Kingdom of God.
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