In my lifetime I have known many people who have suffered with various forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Vascular dementia are just a few of the many forms that dementia takes. Some of the more severe cases result in changes in personality (“Mom, who always held her tongue, cursed out my sister and accused her of doing things that she simply didn’t do”), behavior (“he went outside in his underwear”), and loss of memory (“when I went to the bathroom my wife told the waitress to call the police because a strange man had kidnapped her”). These situations can be heartbreaking for loved ones to deal with. Some may have this question, “My loved one was a godly Christian who trusted in Christ alone for his salvation. But since he developed dementia his behavior is contrary to the gospel. Is he really saved?” Let’s look to the scriptures for our answers.
It is impossible for God to condemn anyone who is “in Christ”. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, ESV)
It is also impossible for someone to be separated from Christ after being joined to Him. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39, ESV)
But what of the Scriptures that teach that believers are not to continue in sin? “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Romans 6:1–2a, ESV) While the believer’s salvation is all God’s doing (Eph 2.8-9; Rom 8.28-30; 9.15-16), his being set apart from sin and changing to be like the Savior (practical sanctification) requires him to renew his way of thinking (Rom 12.2), consider himself dead to sin and alive to God, and to “Let not sin… reign” in his “body” (Rom 6.11-14). Our human effort, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, makes this ‘practical sanctification’ possible.
But the believer with dementia no longer has the ability to resist the remaining insurgents of sin in their body (Rom 6.12). They may ‘groan inwardly’ for their body to be ‘set free from its bondage to corruption’ and to have their body be redeemed (Rom 8.18-23), but they are no longer physically capable to resist. God would no more expect a believer with dementia to throttle their tongue than He would a paraplegic to run the 300 meter hurdles. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14.38)
Jesus lacks no power to save, nor to keep saved His own. Believers are secure in Christ, even when their minds and bodies fail them.
David Harris is the Senior Pastor at Faith Baptist Church. A former programmer, in his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife Kim and trying his hand at the illusive craft of smoking meat.