Anytime we face a time where great evil has been committed, I am often asked as a pastor if God can forgive the perpetrator of such an evil act. In this case, the perpetrator is Nikolas Cruz. The crime was Cruz's merciless school shooting at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The victims were the 17 individuals who were killed. Would God forgive Cruz if he truly repented and asked Christ for salvation? What about serial killers? Rapists? The answer in all cases is, yes. Some have held, "Well, that doesn't seem fair!" How could God forgive someone like Cruz? To answer this question, four theological issues need to be considered.
1. No one deserves salvation.
First, one must understand an important truth. No person deserves salvation. The apostle Paul made it clear, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, CSB). Everyone since the time of Adam, save Christ alone, are sinners. With that in mind, let us ask the question again. Does Nikolas Cruz deserve God's forgiveness? Absolutely not! But, neither do I and neither do you. It is only by God's grace that one can be forgiven.
2. All sin is condemnable.
Second, one must remember that all sin is condemnable. It is a popular notion to qualify certain sins as greater than others. While this is true in one sense, in another it is not. In Romans, the Paul states that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23, CSB). Thus, any sin leads to death. God is absolutely holy (Lev. 11:44; Rev. 4:8). Any sin is punishable in God's sight. Jesus tells us that the sins of the mind are just as condemnable to the sins of action, as such mental sins comes from the heart and can lead to atrocious acts. Lust is the same as adultery (Matt. 5:27-30) and hate is the same as murder (Matt. 5:21-26). There are sins of commission—things we do and shouldn't, and sins of omission—things we don't do and should (James 4:17). So, how is your life looking right now according to God's standards? Mine...not so great.
3. God's compassion allows for salvation.
Third, one must understand that it is by God's compassion and love that any of us can be saved. Salvation is not achieved; rather, it is received. Paul notes, "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift—not of works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9, CSB). God can save anyone he pleases. When individuals claim that Cruz and the like cannot be saved, the desire is for justice. But, if God delivered nothing but justice, no one would be saved. We really don't want judgment. We want grace. God has given us that grace through his Son who died on a cross so that anyone who receives his grace would be saved (Jn. 3:16).
4. True salvation brings about complete transformation.
The fourth point may seem out of place, but it really isn't. True salvation brings about true transformation. Perhaps, the root of the problem is a false understanding of salvation itself. By that, I mean to say that some may think that a person can half-heartedly say, "I'm sorry" and be forgiven without being truly apologetic. It's like a kid who is caught grabbing a cookie and is apologetic only because he was caught. Most likely, he would do it again if given the opportunity. But, biblical salvation is not like that. The Greek term metanoia is used for repentance in the NT. Metanoia indicates that a person has a change in their mindset, change in their heart and a change in their actions. Jesus makes it clear that a person who has been saved will produce fruit (Matt. 7:18-23). Could it be that our questions pertaining to the salvation of evil-doers reflects a cultural Christianity that has been inundated with easy believism?
As believers, we need to pray for Nikolas Cruz. I realize that may be difficult in light of the heinous crimes that he committed. However, what if those we have faulted said the same about us? While our crimes are probably not as bad as Cruz's, sin is still sin, and all sin leads to hell. Perhaps the question has been shaped wrong. Rather, than asking why God would save those who have committed great acts of evil, maybe we should be asking why God would choose to save any of us at all. God was not forced to offer the world salvation through his Son, Jesus. It was truly an act of love that God himself bore the penalty for our sins so that we could have life in and through him. As we continue to pray for the families of Parkland, Florida, let us not fail to pray for the salvation of Nikolas Cruz.
Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian is full member of the International Society of Christian Apologetics and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as the pastor of Huntsville Baptist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.