When I was younger, I remember reading a book that said that if we became Christians, it meant that God guaranteed that our families would be saved too, and they quoted Acts 16:31, where Paul said,
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.
So the book encouraged us to pray for our families’ salvation. While I agree with the need to pray for our families’ salvation, I disagree with the interpretation of the scripture. I believe what Paul meant was, “If you and your family will put your faith in Christ you all will be saved.”
In other words, if the jailer whom Paul was talking to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved. And if his family put their faith in Christ, they would be saved too.
It’s very important as we interpret scripture to not just look at one verse before reaching a conclusion, but to look at what the Bible says on the topic as a whole.
If we look at Paul’s further teachings, he told the Corinthians, “If your unsaved husband or wife decides they want to leave you, let them leave.” Why? Because,
“How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (I Corinthians 7:16)
This was of course a rhetorical question, the answer to which was, “You don’t know if your spouse will ever get saved, so let them go.”
This flies straight in the face of the interpretation of Acts 16:31 that says if you get saved, it automatically means that your whole family will be saved.
This passage in Ezekiel also contradicts this teaching. Here, God proclaims judgment on Israel saying,
Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men – Noah, Daniel and Job – were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord. (13-14)
Even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved. (18)
Several times in this passage, God repeats the same thing. A person cannot save others by their own righteousness, only themselves.
Of course, our righteousness is a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. As Paul says,
The righteous will live by faith. (Romans 1:16)
That was true in the Old Testament days, the New Testament days, and even in our days.
What then am I trying to say? Ultimately, people need to make their own choices, whether to follow God or not. We cannot coerce people into following God. They need to choose to do so on their own.
What is our responsibility then? To pray for them, certainly. But also to make sure that we tell them the way of salvation. That’s all we can do. The rest is up to them and God.
None of us want to think of our family or our friends going to hell. But it’s not up to us. They’ve got to make their own choices.
So with this in mind, here’s the question you need to ask yourself: “Am I doing all I can to make sure that they have the opportunity to follow Christ?”