by Luke Wayne
This question can be taken more than one way, so let's walk this issue out carefully. First, will God forgive a repentant murderer? Can such a person enter heaven? Yes, if the person truly surrenders to Jesus Christ and believes fully on Him as both Lord and Savior, if it is such a faith that has brought them to a true and genuine repentance, then they will be saved. The death of Jesus Christ atones even for murder. First, we see that forgiveness was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself. In the Book of Acts, for example, we read:
"'Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.' Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.' And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation!'” (Acts 2:36-40).
And again, Peter preaches to the very crowd who had Jesus killed, saying to them directly:
"put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses," (Acts 3:15).
But to them He says:
"Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time," (Acts 3:19-21).
And if this is true of the murder of the sinless Christ, it is true of other murders as well. Paul himself had violently persecuted Christians and put some to death. He wrote to Timothy:
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:12-16).
So Paul, a forgiven murderer, is an example to all who would repent and believe after him. The grace of Jesus Christ is abundant and wholly sufficient, even to pay for murder.
Grace, Not License
Yet, the original question can be taken another way. If someone is a "Christian," can they go out and murder someone and just say they're sorry to God afterward and be saved. In other words, is God's grace a tacit permission to go out and commit sin while getting a free pass to heaven? This flows from a fundamental misunderstanding of faith, repentance, and what it means to be a Christian. God's grace is not a cheap excuse to sin. Jude warns against this very idea, saying:
"For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ," (Jude 4).
So someone who joins the church but turns the grace of God into a license to sin is not a true Christian. They are an imposter who is marked out for condemnation. Jesus Himself warned that there would be disobedient false Christians who would call Him Lord with their word but betray their lack of true faith by their deeds, (Matthew 7:21-23). This does not mean that works save us, but rather that true faith evidences itself in a changed life. You can't honestly believe Jesus is Lord and feel no compulsion to obey Him. Lord means "Master." By definition, it means one who must be obeyed. If you believe that Jesus is one who must be obeyed, you will obey Him. Such a belief will naturally produce action. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and that helpless faith will drive us to the fruit of obedience. Faith is not an excuse to sin, it is a reason to obey.
A New Spirit
What's more, God puts his very Spirit in us. He changes our will and our desires by dwelling in us and making us into a new creation. The Apostle Paul writes:
"For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him," (Romans 8:5-9).
If you are Christ's, you have the Spirit it in you. If the Spirit is in you, it changes your thinking, your focus, and your walk. You are not saved and regenerated because of good works, but salvation and regeneration change you and produce in you good works. Paul goes on to say:
"So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:12-15).
Judas and False Faith
So the content of our faith changes us and the Spirit enters us and makes us new so that we are no longer slaves to our fleshly, sinful desires. True Christians will not go around murdering people and then throwing up token "forgive me" prayers. Such behavior actually demonstrates one to be a false Christian who does not, indeed, truly believe in God or have eternal life.
We noted above that Jesus forgave the repentant crowds who put Him to death, but we should also note that Judas was not forgiven. He felt bad after he betrayed Christ. He was sorry. He tried to give the money back to those who bought his betrayal. He felt so guilty about it that it drove him to suicide. He was sorry, he was ashamed, he felt his guilt, but he was not repentant. Repentance is more than an apology. It's more than feeling bad. It's more than wishing you could take it back. It's nothing less than a true turning which is brought about only through true, saving faith. Judas' suicide was not a turning from sin. It was an attempt to escape the weight of his sin with another sin.
So, while many who put Christ to death and repented were forgiven, Judas did not truly repent and was not forgiven. How much less will one be forgiven who abuses the name of Jesus to justify feeling no shame at all? This is a powerful picture of a true and a false faith in Christ. A true faith in Christ covers any sin. A false faith in Christ is simply another sin. So, while even murder can be forgiven of the person who comes to Christ in true faith and repentance, the person who attempts to use Jesus as an escape hatch to get away with their sin will not have eternal life. They heap only further judgment upon themselves.