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Doubting Salvation and Questions of Sin

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Question #1:  

Robert,

As always, God Bless you for taking the time to respond to me and for your words of wisdom, it's hard to express appreciation to someone online that you've never met before the same way you can express it in person but I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You find out who your true friends are when you experience times as difficult as these. Thanks for also providing a link to your website, my old computer crashed and although I had tried several times to find your site, I could not. Probably because I just happened to recall emailing you from my old Yahoo account a couple years ago, and was able to find your name and email address there, so I believe The Lord helped me find you again.

Yes, I know Jesus had it a lot tougher than anyone who has ever walked the face of this Earth, he must have known as early as 12 or 13 years old, what would eventually happen to him. Because he was a man, he also felt pain, got sick and was subject to the same emotions and temptations that we are. My feeling is that Satan didn't bother using his most powerful demons on Jesus, he simply attacked Jesus himself as is evident when he offered the kingdoms of this Earth to Christ. I wonder if Satan believes he can truly defeat God when everything comes full circle, he must be aware that God is capable of destroying him at any time, I wonder why he would choose, as intelligent as he is, a losing battle? It would be nice if he simply gave up but alas, that's not going to happen.

Unfortunately, I have been undergoing some very serious medical problems [details excluded]. I believe if I ask for God's help, he will help me through this painful journey although I know he's not going to make it easy for me. The older you get, the less forgiving your body is also.

Yes, I am worried about deliberate sin. If someone is saved, and I am, if they turn back to their old ways isn't it true that this is indeed deliberate sin? I know there is mention of this in the Bible but I don't recall which book or the verse. I am going to start going to church as well where my parents go. It's certainly not perfect but I believe it's a decent place.

In the meantime, what do you make of all these strange noises that have been occurring around the world? Mexico, Germany, Canada, Costa Rica, Chicago (just to name a few) Some are hoaxes but many have been heard by millions and can't be written off as rubbish. They are largely unexplained and many of them sound almost demonic in nature, some are more innocuous, like loud horns or trumpets, just do a Google search and you'll see what I mean. Perhaps its our own government, gearing up for something or maybe, a sign. I don't know.

God Bless,

Response #1: 

I'm sorry to hear of all your troubles, my friend. I will most definitely be keeping you in my prayers.

On the issue of "deliberate sin", you are probably referring to Hebrews 10:26-27 (and possibly also to Hebrews 6:4-6). I receive more emails on this passage than possibly any other, and almost always from believers who are having trouble and who feel that they have lost or are in danger of losing their salvation. There is much to say about these verses (and I will give you some links below), but the main point is that the "punch line" for this statement is to be found in chapter 10 verse 29: "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? " (NIV). Simply put, Paul is here referring to the fact that his listeners, Jewish believers in Jerusalem, had fallen back into the practice of the rites of the Mosaic Law and its sacrifices. Since the sacrifices represent the coming death for sin of the Messiah, and since Jesus had already come and died for us, continuing in the now obsolete ritual was, in effect, "crucifying the Son of God afresh and subjecting Him to open shame" (Heb.6:6).

Certainly there is a principle here which applies to us all, but "deliberate sin" in the context of the Mosaic Law is a direct contravention of God's WILL in a high-handed and arrogant way which, in the particular case in Hebrews, is the gross sacrilege of blood sacrifice that implies Jesus' death was not sufficient. The only direct equivalent possible today would be some sort of gross sacrilege in the communion service which somehow disconnected it from our Lord's death (or taught everything wrong). There is no question that sin is serious business, but God forgives sin (1Jn.1:9), and He has already judged all of our sin in Jesus Christ at Calvary's cross. While continuing in sin has spiritually devastating consequences if we are not repenting and confessing and fighting our way back to sanctification, the attitude of a person's heart tells the true story. Those who do not care what God thinks are in danger of apostasy or the sin unto death (please see the link); those who do care very much what God thinks will confess and return to fellowship (and ride out whatever divine discipline He adjudges in His absolute impartiality and mercy; see the link). For people who are caught in a web of consequences which prior errors, bad judgment and sin have brought about, well, that is an extremely common human complaint (even Moses and Elijah and David, etc. can relate to this, so how much more the rest of us), God is most certainly merciful and understanding and ever willing to help us extricate ourselves and get back to fulfilling the purpose He has for us (even it if it isn't a pretty process or a short process or a painless process). Here are those links on Hebrews:

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

Results of sin in Hebrews 10:26 (in BB 3B)

Hebrews 10:26 again.

On the strange noises, this seems to me very clearly to be a hoax of some sort. It may have something to do with all this "end of the world in 2012" nonsense which is currently making the rounds. It is true that the way we will know that the Tribulation has begun will be the "peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" which are audible and palpable throughout the world after the opening of the 7th seal (Rev.8:5). But as I say everyone will hear and experience these signs and they will have to be explained away by unbelievers (rather than in this case sought out on the internet). From a spiritual point of view, I can well see how the evil one would wish to put something like this out there. When the hoax is seen as a hoax (both the strange sounds and 2012), it will make people less likely to accept the truth of the start of the Tribulation once it does occur (on the "cry wolf" principle). Such things also undermine the faith of those who are weak in doctrine (cf. Matt.24:23-24). So this is a "win/win" for Satan: on the one hand he stands to gain followers; on the other hand he stands to confuse and undermine weak believers.

In hopes of hearing of your victories soon to come.

In Jesus who loves us much more than we can ever know, having died in the flames of darkness for every sin we will ever commit.

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Robert,

That was a very fine description of the very thing I was referring to. Do you mind if I pass this along to a couple friends? They are Christians and when I asked them, they had no answers, I would like to pass this email (without my personal issues) on to a couple people. I will also send them the link to your wonderful site; any particular section of your site that you believe I should focus on?

I don't know if the noises were a hoax or not, the problem is, the original noises (Costa Rica) were authentic and perhaps the one in Canada and Mexico. Unfortunately, many have popped up since then that are indeed fake. There are some strange happenings about 40 miles to the north and east in Clintonville Wisconsin, the city has even hired someone to find out where they are coming from because it's keeping people up nights and scaring them. I believe you are correct, I don't think it a signal that tribulation is starting. If that were the case, I believe God would make sure that everyone was aware of these sounds, they've occurred in relatively isolated areas. I have not heard them first hand so I'm not going to concern myself with it. It might well be scientific, solar flares affecting the magnetic field, this is something I know little about. We have seen a huge increase in quakes and massive storms though, the data is there.

I do believe we are nearing the end of an age though, the world seems filled with corrupt and wicked people/events. What happened to the America of your youth, of my youth? The 12/21/2012 is a complete hoax, I feel sorry for the people who believe it. These are demonic prophets and I pay them no mind. Hope your family is well, and that your job at U of L is going well.

In Jesus Christ!!

Response #2: 

By all means, feel free to pass any of this on. We are here to mutually support each other in the Body, and it is in that spirit that I post email conversations (although not intimate details and of course also always anonymously with personal info edited out). As to focus, the Peter series is a good place to start (lots of information on suffering and personal tribulations; see the link). Also, the Satanic Rebellion series has quite a lot of information on the spiritual warfare perspective we all need in order to handle difficult times. From your latest response, it is clear that you have a good grasp of these matters already, but of course it always helps to keep reminding ourselves of these things (Phil.3:1; 2Pet.2:12-15).

I have been keeping you and your family in prayer and will continue to do so. The capacity of human beings to block out the eternal realities which stare us all in the face has always amazed me. If a person really is enjoying "a good life" with no problems and with good health, that person is often likely not to give God or eternity a thought – until they wake up dead (so to speak). I hope and pray that the troubles your family member is experiencing will lead to look for help in the only One who can provide any sort of help when all human efforts fail. Trouble, and life in general, is designed by the Lord to bring out the true inner "us". He has all things planned, and I know that your love and your prayers and efforts have also certainly been entered into the divine decree in eternity past along with everything they imply.

Two people live side by side. They are happy and so have no need of God. A meteor falls on the house of the first and destroys everything but spares the house of the second person. So the first is cursed and the second blessed and God is unfair? What if the second person goes on his merry way and ends up in hell (Lk.16:23-25), but the first, having been forced to realize that he needs help, comes to trust God in Jesus Christ so as to be saved? This life is very short. No amount of blessing now can possibly ever make up for eternal condemnation. And as believers we realize very well that enduring the maximum amount of cursing in this life would be worth it and then some if that was what was necessary to have eternal life. How much more then is that not the case if what we are really experienced, objectively rather than subjectively considered, is really "momentary light affliction which is working out for us an exceedingly abundant eternal weight of glory" (2Cor.4:17)? The true issue is never "our situation". The true issue is always our attitude towards the truth and the choices we are willing to make to respond to it . . . or not.

On strange events and current fascinations, celestial and political, I agree with you completely. To the extent that they get people thinking about the Lord and the Bible and the need to seek answers in the right places, well and good. To the extent that they pull believers away from the Bible and have them looking for signs or theosophistic revelations on the internet, that is clearly in Satan's interest.

Things at UofL are fine, but we are going through a significant crisis here, so your prayers are appreciated too!

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord in whom is our only sure deliverance.

Bob L.

Question #3:   

[Correspondent concerned about loss of salvation]

Response #3: 

I hope that you are feeling better and more confident about your salvation after our brief exchange. I do not know of any Christian who hasn't had the odd "horrible thought" – this is one of the many ways the evil one attacks us. But there is a massive difference between something sinful "occurring" to us on the one hand and our embracing it definitively on the other. The heart is the last battleground of the conflict in which we are engaged. There is some information about these things on the website (especially in BB 4B: Soteriology); please see the following links also:

Who controls our thoughts and emotions?

The Battlefield Within

Sin and Spiritual Transformation

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

Does sinful behavior indicate a loss of salvation?

Are those in Hebrews 6:4 who "crucify the Son of God afresh" lost?

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord in whom we stand firm by faith (1Pet.1:5),

Bob L.

Question #4:   

Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you so much for responding to me. I know your schedule must be extremely busy.

I just wanted to follow up, giving you a little more details into my situation, and seek your opinion. Please keep the details of this email confidential.

[Details omitted]

I fully expect that you will rightfully say that only God knows a person's heart, but have you ever heard of anything like this before? I am surrounded by Calvinists who tell me that there is no way I could have lost my salvation and yet I am in this state of fear and confusion. Dr. Luginbill, do you have any thoughts for me? I am desperate for insight, and very appreciative of your time.

Response #4: 

You ask, "have you ever heard of anything like this before?", to which my reply is "I hear this sort of thing all the time". By "this sort of thing", I mean believers like yourself who are unnecessarily torturing themselves about their spiritual status and about their salvation.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, then you are a believer – and all believers are saved.

Let's start with that. Since you do believe in Jesus, since you have said "I do" to Him, so to speak, and have become part of His Bride by grace through faith, whatever else we may say, there is no need for you to doubt your status as belonging to Him (link: "What it means to be saved"). You were sealed with the pledge of the Holy Spirit, His eternal guarantee (2Cor.1:21-12; Eph.1:13-14), and neither the Father nor the Son will allow anyone to snatch you out of their hands (Jn.10:28-29). Absolutely the only way a believer can lose their salvation is by ceasing to believe – and that is almost never an overnight sort of process and almost always involves addiction to gross sin (which is not your situation at all) and the unwillingness to give it up to the point where the conscience and the heart are hardened and faith eventually dies (link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death").

I do understand your situation since it is a very common complaint, and one, mind you, which is apt to come from very good and honorable believers who are indeed pursuing a high standard of sanctification (rather than those who really are playing fast and loose with sin). I don't remember all the details, but I recall that when Melancthon was similarly agonizing about being perfect, Martin Luther told him to "loosen up and sin a little". No doubt what Luther meant was not to encourage sin (at least no one should do that), but to try and give the young man some perspective about the fact that we live in the world under constant satanic bombardment and inhabit bodies infested by sin. We are called to perfect sanctification, and we should strive to fulfill that mandate, but at the same time if we do not realize that we are going to make some mistakes along the way, or if we hold ourselves to a standard that exceeds our present level of spiritual maturity, or if we make the mistake of thinking that God's attitude towards us is based entirely or even largely on our day to day efforts at perfection, then we cannot help but tie ourselves in knots and to no good end.

Do not be overly righteous, and do not be overly wise – why should you ruin yourself? Do not be overly wicked and do not be a fool – why should you die before your time? The best thing for you [to do] is to lay firm hold on the former (i.e., wisdom and righteousness), while not completely releasing your hand from the latter, for the man who fears God will escape both [extremes].
Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

There are many things I would like to say, but I will try to stick to the main points.

1) There are only three days a Christian should give any serious consideration to: the day of salvation, the day of eternity, and today, when the objectives of learning the truth, living the truth, and helping others grow by means of ministering the truth are the main concerns and delights. We can't change the past, and we should not bog down our spiritual advance and effectiveness with morbid rehashing of old, dead issues. If it happened yesterday, then it's over. If we are being disciplined for something we did in the past, God knows the details; if we have confessed, then all the suffering we receive is for blessing anyway, so even here there is no point in looking backward – it only leads to getting off track.

2) If we have not sinned in some gross or spectacular way, we need to consider the possibility that the Bible is right and that believers do share the sufferings of Christ ( (Rom.8:17; 2Cor.1:5; Phil.1:29-30; 3:10; Col.1:24; 1Pet.4:12-13; cf. Mk.10:38-39; Acts 5:41; 2Cor.4:10-11; Gal.6:17; 1Thes.1:6; 2Thes.1:4-5; 2Tim.3:12). David received 14 years of discipline – for adultery and murder. If our sins are not on that level, it is likely that mistakes from the distant past are not in fact a primary factor in what is happening to us today. All believers who are genuinely faithful to Jesus are opposed by the evil one – and especially those who are trying to live godly and advance spiritually.

3) There are a very large number of otherwise good Christians today who are suffering from spiritual malnutrition. Were I to diagnose your condition, that would be what I would conclude (based upon limited information, so please forgive me if I am getting this wrong). Truth is so important. If I believe I can lose my salvation by having an odd sinful or blasphemous thought, then indeed I will walk around on pins and needles and will no doubt be all the more likely to entertain such thoughts just because I am so fearful of having them. The false idea is at the center of such trouble, not a lack of mental discipline or any special attack – but false ideas only gain credence when there is no true idea present in the heart to oppose them. If the thought occurs to a Christian well-versed in the security of salvation (true security through continued faith and faithfulness as opposed to "once saved always saved"), that "maybe I'm not saved if I ever did this" (whatever "this" may be), then the truth in that person's heart which says otherwise may be mobilized in the power of the Spirit to fight off that lie in the manner of white blood cells attacking an infection. But if the truth is not present, or if it is not fully formed, or if it is not fully believed, or if the person in question has not learned how (and not been taught how) to mobilize the truth in his/her heart to attack false ideas, notions and doctrines, then such a false idea (or any false doctrine) will be able to gain a hearing, gain a foothold, cause trouble – or worse.

(11) Christ Himself appointed some of us apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (12) in order to prepare all of His holy people for their own ministry work, that the entire body of Christ might be thus be built up, (13) until we all reach that unifying goal of believing what is right (i.e., "faith", Greek: πίστις, pistis) and of giving our complete allegiance (Greek: ἐπίγνωσις, epignosis) to the Son of God, that each of us might be a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard of maturity whose "attainment" is defined by Christ; (14) that we may no longer be immature, swept off-course and carried headlong by every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly work their deceit, (15) but rather that we may, by embracing the truth in love, grow up in all respects with Christ, who is the head of the Church, as our model. (16) In this way, the entire body of the Church, fit and joined together by Him through the sinews He powerfully supplies to each and every part, works out its own growth for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16

From the verse above you can see that this problem of being "swept off course" by things which are not true was a problem for believers in the first century – and indeed always has been and always will be until history's end. It is certainly a point in your favor and in the favor of all believers in a similar pickle that in our present age of Laodicea finding a place that teaches the truth and that does so consistently and to such depth that this common spiritual malady may be overcome is problematic in the extreme.

So there you have my diagnosis. My prescription is to follow the guidance explicitly and implicitly given in the passage above and seek our substantive Bible teaching. The only way not be carried to and fro by every wind of emotion and every stray, incorrect "word" from random "teachers" is to get the actual truth of the Word – and get it detail and depth. Be consistent in the process of spiritual growth, for spiritual growth, getting as rapidly as possible to the place where all these issues are understood correctly and where that truth is so deep down in your heart that you cannot be easily shaken, regardless of the intensity or the subtlety of the satanic attack, is the only true way to gain control (link: "Who controls our thoughts and emotions?" and "The Battlefield Within"). Find a good source of teaching, stick with it, and, as far as humanly possible, believe the truth of what your are taught. Only what is actually true and believed is usable by you and by the Holy Spirit.

It is not important "how we feel". Indeed, we may feel great or we may feel horrible; we may feel justified or we may feel guilty. But these and all other feelings are incidental and are very often counter-indicative of our true situation. We have to learn to navigate by the truth, not by our feelings. Only then will we begin to be able to guide our feelings into responsiveness to the truth. As I often say, we have to "go with what we know" by faith, not with what our eyes may tell us or our emotions suggest to us. But if we do not have a deep faith in actual principles of truth committed to our hearts through both diligently learning them and forcefully believing them, then we will continue to be "tossed to and fro". Bible study, the truth of the Word, digging deep and, most importantly, believing the truth is the key to achieving spiritual maturity and the solution to all of these issues which are currently plaguing you. Find a good source. Stick to it. Be diligent in your application. Commit the truth to your heart by faith. Live what you know by faith, not what you may experience emotionally or even what your eyes and ears seem to tell you.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:11-19 NIV

Putting on the full panoply of God's provision is accomplished by and really indistinguishable from spiritual growth and the application of truth once believed. This is the only way to effectively oppose the evil one and all of these assaults you are currently experiencing. This is the "medicine" for the "ailment" of spiritual distress and uncertainty instead of experiencing fully the joy of your salvation. As these verses and so many others in scripture make clear, the Christian life, for all those who choose to live it correctly, is a struggle, a fight, a veritable battle with the minions of the evil one. One of the current lies many in this country have bought into is that the Christian life is one of joy and prosperity – it is a life of joy, but one of joy in fighting a good fight and of not surrendering in spite of being bloodied; and it is a life of prosperity, but of spiritual prosperity which exceeds any sort of material prosperity by orders of magnitude. One of the reasons why your own road has been so difficult, it seems to me, is that you actually have been attempting to "live godly in Christ Jesus":

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
2nd Timothy 3:12 KJV

There is a limit, however, to what we can do with defense (the sanctification which you have been pursuing and the attempt to be perfect which that has brought you so much upheaval). When we get out of balance in the Christian life, spiritual trouble always ensues. And it is just as dangerous to be overly fixated on sanctification to the detriment of pursuing the Christian offense (growing spiritually, applying truth to the life, and helping others do the same through ministry) as it is to grow but to be loose about sin.

This life is a battle, and combat is never pretty, never clean, never perfect, never pure, never predictable. We should have perfection in all things as a goal, but if we get fixated on our errors, what good will come? I have seen this sort of thing lead to spiritual paralysis many times, as if those stricken by this spiritual malady have concluded, "since I did this in the past, I'll never be perfect" and/or "if I can't be perfect, what's the point?" But the point is that Jesus expects us to keep getting up off the ground even when we stumble, to keep punching even when we are being hit, to keep running even when we are tired. Our Lord expects us to be good soldiers – and no soldier ever fought a perfect battle – and many battles have been lost through becoming demoralized by losses and mistakes instead of keeping the objective in sight and pushing forward come what may.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
1st Corinthians 4:3-5 NIV

There are so many things we cannot possibly know this side of heaven that evaluating even ourselves on this level and to this standard is really an impossibility as well as a pointless and counterproductive task.

For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.
Proverbs 24:16 NIV

The righteous man may face many disasters, but the Lord will deliver him from them all.
Psalm 34:19

My advice to all Christians is entirely the same. Never look back; always look forward. Forget about past mistakes, sins and regrets, confess and move on. Always try to do your best; when you don't, make a note to do better next time, but don't punish yourself for not being perfect. If you have done something worthy of greater correction, God will provide in His grace the necessary discipline. And even when you are being disciplined, as long as you have corrected your course and repented and confessed your sin, even this is for your blessing and a cause of joy in the long run – for it is a proof that you are a genuine son or daughter of the Lord (Heb.12). God is for you, not against you. Jesus died for you; He certainly wants to get the best out of you in this life regardless of past mistakes. Devote yourself to the reading, study, and application of the Word of God every day as a priority like no other. Love the truth, for by the truth you were saved and by the truth you are being saved (1Pet.1:5). Make it your heart's number one desire to grow up in Jesus Christ, to walk closely with Him in this world, and to find and engage in the ministry He has called you to so as to help your brothers and sisters in Him do the same, for to this you were called and in doing so is great reward (and also peace of mind here and now: 1Tim.3:13). Try not to take yourself so seriously. Jesus is important, other believers are important, but "I" should be careful not to consider myself of too much importance (Rom.12:3) – yet to the Lord I/you/we are all important, and we can leave the sorting out of the apparent contradiction to Him – for in Jesus both things are true. Make it your endeavor to fight the fight of faith aggressively and confidently every day, every step of the way. If you do so, you will find that where your faith leads, combined with the truth, your emotions will follow. Encourage yourself in the Lord at all times, for He is able to help you and will never ever forsake you. In doing these things your heart will be relieved of all these troubles, and all trouble that does come will be for blessing in holding up your end of the Plan of God in ministering to the Church of Jesus Christ.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:8-12 NIV

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
Micah 7:18-19 NIV

In the Lord who loved us so much He died for ever one of our sins when we were still His enemies – and not for ours only but for the sins of the entire world.

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Dr. Luginbill,

I appreciate so much your prompt and extensive reply to my email.

If possible, I would like to ask you a question regarding the nature of my sin as it relates to your observation about loss of salvation involving gross sin.

[Details omitted]

I'm just so confused as to whether I crossed a point of no return and the thought is always with me.

Thank you so much for any additional thoughts you may have.

Response #5: 

You are most welcome. I did not address the specifics of what you had mentioned, because in my opinion these things did not seem to me to amount to anything substantial. Take by way of contrast with your experience three scriptural cases: 1) David committed adultery with Bathsheba then murdered her husband in order to cover up his affair; 2) Moses directly disobeyed a very straightforward command given verbally to him "face to face" from the Lord; 3) the man in 1st Corinthians chapter five actually "married" his step-mother. We know from scripture that all three of these men were disciplined severely for their egregious violations of God's will, but we also know that the first two are most definitely "saved" – and in fact are two of the greatest believers who ever lived and will be two of the most highly rewarded individuals in eternity – and in the case of the third, there is every indication from scripture that he repented and was even restored to fellow with his church at the apostle Paul's pleading (cf. 2Cor.2:5-11; 7:12). In these cases we find (in stark contrast to your situation) sexual immorality which also violates the rights of others destroying authority relationships and harming entire families, taking away the life of someone else along with all the choices they might otherwise make forever, directly disobeying God's direct Word given personally and representing Him incorrectly to the entire community of the faithful as a result; these are sins/crimes/blasphemies well beyond the run of the mill sin, and in fact are beyond the inclination and in most cases even the opportunity of most of us to commit – and yet these three did not lose their salvation, nor, in the case of the two named famous believers, their reward. Why? Because they repented, confessed, and moved on.

This is a perfect example of one of the fundamental points I am attempting to make. The above are things we can know from scripture and things we should believe. These lessons teach us not that sin is of no consequence (all three suffered terrible consequences of the like that no one would wish to repeat), but that the real issue in salvation is our attitude towards Jesus Christ. Everyone knows whether or not they belong to Him by faith. Please note, "knows by faith" – this has nothing to do with feeling. Your latest email stresses and emphasizes the way you feel / have felt about these matters, but I am here to tell you again that how you may feel about these things is of next to no consequence. I qualify because there is a sense in which how you feel can make a difference: it can send you off in the wrong direction, and severely so.

I can only give you my opinion on the seriousness of your sins. Beyond all argument, all sins are bad though some sins are more consequential than others. What all sin has in common is that Jesus had to die for every single one, large or small, private or public, criminal or personal, cognizant or ignorant, and all sin has to be confessed by believers for restoration of fellowship with Him. But no sin can keep us from Jesus since He died for all our sins.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1st John 1:9 NASB

This verse is straightforward and admits of no exceptions. So my advice is to confess anything unconfessed and when in doubt confess in any case. If you are a believer in Jesus now, then you are saved, in which case a prolonged postmortem of what happened in the past is worse than pointless: it is also terribly distracting and can do grave spiritual damage.

(12) [It is] not that I have already gotten [what I striving for], nor that I have already completed [my course]. Rather, I am continuing to pursue [the prize] in hopes of fully acquiring it – [this prize for whose acquisition] I was myself acquired by Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I do not consider that I have already acquired it. This one thing only [do I keep in mind]. Forgetting what lies behind me [on the course] and straining towards the [course] ahead, (14) I continue to drive straight for the tape, towards the prize to which God has called us from the beginning [of our race] in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14

The Christian life is all about moving forward – something almost impossible to do if we are ever looking backward. God tells us that if we believe in Jesus, we are saved. God tells us that if we confess our sins, we are forgiven. God tells us that we are here to serve our Lord by striving for "the prize" (v.14), the heavenly rewards that are earned by spiritual growth, spiritual advance, and spiritual production. At some point, therefore, if we really want to make our lives count, if we really want our time here on earth to mean something, and if we really want to experience all the joy, peace, and satisfaction that our Lord has for us, we have to accept what God tells us. We have to believe the truth. It is all about choice. And, for believers, choice is believing the truth, acting on the truth, helping others to get the truth, in ways large and small, day by day, with every choice we make. If we are honest, we know we will never be perfect in our approach. Therefore we must not allow our lack of perfection to paralyze us into inaction – that is just what the devil wants. Jesus, on the other hand, wants us to get up, get moving, and start making a difference for Him, for the truth, and for our fellow believers. If only perfect people grew, witnessed and ministered, there would be no mature believers, no witnesses, and no ministers.

As I tried to intimate before and am saying a bit more plainly now, your personal experience does not seem to me to qualify as "gross sin". But even if it did, as explained above, even great believers involved in egregious sin not only did not lose salvation but also did not lose their effectiveness in God's plan or their rewards for doing God's will. Why? Because they repented, confessed, and moved on. Because they proved by their subsequent conduct that they really were believers by profession.

"All sin and fall short of God's glory."
Romans 3:23

The issue for believers is not whether or not we will ever fail (because we will all fail eventually in some areas great or small), but whether or not we are willing to get back up when we fall, confess our sins, take our lumps, and get back in the fight.

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."
John 13:14 NIV

Jesus died that we might not only be cleansed initially (i.e., the "bath" after having which one needs no other: Jn.13:10), but also that we might be restored to functionality and service through confessing our sins – and we ought to help one another realize this truth. So you see your experience in agonizing over these matters is far from unique: our Lord felt the need to demonstrate very tangibly on the night before His crucifixion this very principle and the importance of those who would be leaders to help others have such confidence in the mercy and forgiveness of God – based upon Jesus' death for all the sins we would ever commit, before or after our so great salvation.

These things are true. If you believe, you are believer. If you confess, you are forgiven. If you really want to respond to Jesus, you will move on, move forward, and, through the ministry opportunities He opens up for you in the future, help others to do the same. These things are true. How you may feel about them makes no difference whatsoever – except in so far that your feelings cause you to resist believing the truth. These things are true – but they have to accepted by faith in order to do you any good at all.

God deals with us where we are. Whenever anyone is willing to get back into fellowship with the Lord, God is willing and ready for this to happen. Jesus died not to condemn us but to save us. God is more concerned about the one sheep returning than the other ninety-nine not lost. The prodigal son is accepted with open arms – not with reproaching. I fear that you are punishing yourself when God has no such intention. Even when God disciplines us, it is out of a Father's love, for our good not our harm, and always with the loving reassuring of the Spirit's ministry – for all who come back to Him in faith.

Jesus loves you, more than you can know. He is more than willing for you to revel in your status as a believer in Him. Please don't push away His fellowship. God the Father loves you, more than you can know. He is more than willing to have you embrace with confidence the restoration to fellowship with Him available to all believers simply through the confession of sin. Please don't push away His forgiveness. The Spirit loves you, more than you can know. He is ever interceding for you before the Father and the Son, praying just what's right to pray with groanings the human ear cannot hear. Please don't push away His comfort. And these things and so much more belong to you as a daughter of God Most High and a believer in Jesus Christ, a member of His Bride forever. You entered into these blessing by His grace through your simple faith. Why do people think the life of the believer after salvation is any different? All these things are known by faith, appreciated by faith, and fully appropriated by faith – just as they were initially received through faith when you were born again.

The answer to all these problems is spiritual growth, the process of getting closer to Jesus Christ through learning and believing the truth of His Word. The more you devote yourself to this process, the better things will get and, eventually, the better you will feel. The feeling part is not the cause – it is an ancillary result. And I can certainly tell you that even for believers who are at a very advanced spiritual place there will be many times and instances when the "good feeling" will not be there of its own accord. David often had to "encourage himself in the Lord", that is, muster up the correct feelings by informing his emotions based upon what he knew was true by faith. He knew God was for him, but it often didn't feel that way. Walking by faith is essentially teaching our heart to see and appreciate what is invisible. Our emotions can never be counted on to lead us in the right direction. Over time, with growth and experience, we can guide them, and, in the case of those who attain a high level of maturity, even dictate to them much of the time. But we should never let them rule over us. As believers, we have to obey the truth, no matter how we may feel about it at any given point in our lives. The devil knows very well that guilt, remorse, envy, jealousy, anger, fear, trepidation, pride, frustration, disappointment, and all manner of negative emotions tend to dispose each and every one of us to stumbling, to getting off the path, to self-pity, torpor, and spiritual ineffectiveness. When we learn how to push through all these wrong signals and to see the correct path with the eyes of faith, looking through the darkness of the storm towards the glorious invisible rewards ahead, ever moving forward in spite of how we may feel, we have reached that desirable place where we are no longer "being tossed to and fro" and are now able both to advance personally in spite of opposition and also to help others to do the same – exactly what our Lord wants from us all.

Your experiences are not at all unique. Indeed, I would venture to say that every Christian could look back and torture him/herself about things done in the past (failures of commission or omission). And to some degree this sort of thing is necessary in order for us to learn the lesson that we and what we do is not of prime importance: God's truth in Jesus Christ, the reception of it and its promulgation in the world is what is really important. The sooner we start focusing on the Lord instead of on ourselves, on the truth of the Bible instead of how we may feel, and on carrying out our Lord's mandates for our lives instead of what might otherwise seem important to us from our greatly restricted earthly perspective, the sooner we will cease to be plagued about past mistakes large or small – because we will be looking to Jesus, to the truth, and to our eternal future.

My advice, therefore, remains the same, and it is (predictably) what I tell everyone: find a good source of Bible teaching, one you trust and in which you can believe. Commit yourself to spiritual growth through learning and believing the truth. Begin making it your practice to apply that truth to every part of your life, fighting the fight without excessive, morbid introspection. And when you are able, God will make clear to you the ministry our Lord Jesus has in mind for you so that you can begin helping others do the same. Down this path there is great peace, great satisfaction, and great reward. And, indeed, there really is no other path.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts [i.e., has faith] in you.
Isaiah 26:3 NIV

So now that we have been justified by faith, let us take hold of the peace [we have] with God [the Father] through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge (epignosis – truth believed) of God and of Jesus our Lord.
2nd Peter 1:2 NIV

Praying for your peace and for your confidence in Jesus Christ through faith in the truth,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Dr. Luginbill,

Please bear with me. I do have another question for you. As I examine my heart, I remain deeply concerned as I truly do not feel the witness of the Spirit, conviction of sin (I feel condemnation over the terrible things I did a couple of years ago and the willful sins preceding that, but no current conviction). Also, something that really scares me is that I do not think the Spirit is striving with me any longer. Honestly, I just feel dead. As to the question of faith, of course, I still intellectually know what I know about Jesus but I don't have a certainty that I still own that in my heart. If what I fear were true, the way I read the passages in Hebrews, I would be without hope. Is that your interpretation as well? Again, I appreciate any time you have to give me as I try to understand what has happened to me.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Response #6: 

The apostle Paul said:

But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
1st Corinthians 4:3 NASB

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:14-15 NIV

If the greatest of the apostles had no time for detailed self-examination and made it his personal practice to blot out of his memory all of his past mistakes, errors and sins (or whatever aroused his guilt, whether actually sinful or not), it seems to me that we would all be well-advised to take a page out of his book. After all, by his own calculus he was "the greatest of sinners" (1Tim.1:15-16) having "persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ" (Gal.1:13).

As I have mentioned and written several times now, our emotions are a poor measure of our spiritual status and a poor guide as to our proper spiritual direction (please do see the links: "Who controls our thoughts and emotions?"and "The Battlefield Within"). When we "feel" bad or guilty or ashamed (or however our emotions are bothering us), it is almost always impossible to tell whether or not these feeling are valid. Indeed, the only way we can really tell is to compare "what we are feeling" to what we know by faith and the Spirit's ministry is actually true – and we then must allow the truth we know by faith to trump however we feel (this is also true if we "feel great" but are really doing something wrong).

The English word "heart" is also potentially misleading on this score: in fact, the biblical "heart" is our entire inner person comprising not only our emotions but also our conscience and our minds and thinking processes. The Spirit illuminates our heart by interacting with the truth we have made our own through learning it and believing it, accepting it by faith (see the link: "Our New Orientation as Born Again Believers"). When we are attempting to discern anything in life, it is this truth in our hearts which the Spirit uses as the "leverage", so to speak, or the working capital to guide us. The Spirit's ministry is thus not to our emotions but to our entire inner-selves. Our emotions follow whatever is gaining the upper hand in our thinking, and because we have a sin nature it is often the case, even for mature believers in good spiritual standing, that they tend to send false signals. The best our emotions can do for us is to support us when we are leading them; but if make the mistake of following them, we will almost always be led down the wrong path.

That is all a long way of saying that not only is how you may feel about these matters not the point, but also that if a person gives undue attention to how they feel as opposed to the truth they know and have believed by faith only bad things will happen.

I am not sure what distinction there might be between "feeling conviction for sin" and "feeling condemnation over sin" – except that I do not know of any biblical basis for either (neither is a true biblical concept, despite their ubiquity in the church-visible today). These are the sorts of things one hears from misguided (or deliberately manipulative) pastors who are attempting to "lay a guilt trip" on their congregations for any number of possible reasons. From our conversations it is clear to me that you know what sin is, that you are not living a life of sin, that you have confessed and repented of past sin, and that these things which trouble you are very much in the past. Paul was responsible for putting innocent Christians to death for no other reason than that they refused to reject Jesus Christ – and he not only was able to put that unimaginably horrendous past behind him but commends the same application to us.

So my recommendations to you are the same as ever:

1) Affirm the salvation you know in your mind (i.e., your heart) that you have by grace through faith.

2) Accept the forgiveness you have been promised in Jesus Christ (however you may feel).

3) Turn away from the past and face the future so as to make use of your life for Jesus instead of spinning your wheels and grinding away at this so unnecessarily.

4) Focus on what you believe through learning the truth of the Word of God and pay no heed to feelings which do not accord with the truth (we all have these; we all must suppress them from time to time).

5) Devote yourself to learning more of the truth of the Word of God and to believing it with all your heart: it is only in this way, as you begin to gather some spiritual momentum, that your emotions will start to calm down and respond to the leadership you are giving them through attention to the truth.

Finally, as to Hebrews 10:26 and related passages, no, I most certainly do not think that they affirm your worst fears: far from it. But they do make my point rather well: if we give into emotion (fear, in this case), it will lead us to throw aside what we know to be true and turn instead to give credence to the worst deceptions of the evil one. Please see the following links, and do feel free to write me back about any of this:

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

More on Hebrews 10:26

Are those in Hebrews 6:4 who "crucify the Son of God afresh" lost?

Have I lost my salvation?

Have I lost my salvation? (II)

Have I lost my salvation? (III)

In Jesus our dear Lord in whom all who believe are absolutely secure for ever,

Bob L.

Question #7:  

Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for your continued patience. I know that it is frustrating how much I appear to focus on my feelings, but what I think I am focusing on is not so much my emotions per se as the Spirit. You mentioned in your email the Spirit's ministry and my concern is that He doesn't appear to be ministering to me any longer.

I've read your links on Hebrews 10:26, as well as any others on that topic that I've found on your site. They are extremely insightful. What frightens me so is that knowing what transpired during that awful time, I'm afraid they describe my situation precisely. I do have a question about something you said in one of your articles. The excerpt is, "because of the hardening of the heart of the person in question who has now become unwilling to ever look God in the face again, unwilling to repent and unwilling to take back his denial of Christ which his actions have proclaimed and to which his heart has eventually responded." What I'm wondering is if I indeed went too far and committed apostasy, does the fact that I now am trying to look God in the face and have tried repeatedly to repent (with no peace) and have tried to take back the shameful way I conducted myself, mean that there could be hope, or once a person commits apostasy, is it over no matter how hard they try to return to God? I'm afraid I already know the answer to that and I'm trying to legalistically find some loophole where I might be ok. I fear that even though I've tried desperately to return to Him, I may just be like Esau who wept because he felt sorry for himself.

Thank you for your insight.

Response #7: 

Good to hear from you again. Let me start by reemphasizing what I think is a very important point, namely, the true role of the Holy Spirit versus what is often wrongly taken to be the Spirit's ministry and manifestation. There is an entire major movement in contemporary Christianity today (i.e., the Charismatics) which falsely equates emotionalism with spirituality. They are not the only ones, however, and it is very common to hear Christians today say things like "I'm feeling spiritually dry", etc. But this is to completely misread scripture – or better put to either fail to read it entirely or fail to understand or believe it once read. The Spirit's role is to remind us of what is true: His is the "still, small voice" of guidance (1Kng.19:12), not the welling up of emotion, whether of joy or of sorrow, not yelling and screaming, not weeping and wailing, but the consciousness of simple truth with the conviction that it is true. Emotions very often fight against this clarity.

It is not uncommon to find Christians who have it entirely backwards. That is to say, it is not uncommon for Christians to think that if they feel bad about something it must be because it is wrong or that if, conversely they feel good about something it must be right. But that makes no sense whatsoever. We Christians are all about the truth, and the truth is not an emotion. The truth is the truth, regardless of how it makes us feel. The evil one and his minions are very adept at poking and prodding us in just the right way to get our emotions working against us, whether to encourage us to do something we shouldn't (i.e., it feels good, it must be OK), or to discourage us from doing something we should (i.e., it doesn't feel good, it must be wrong). I cannot emphasize just how important it is for Christians to learn the simple principle and accept it for the truth that it is that if something is God's truth, then it ought to be believed and acting upon as such regardless of how we may feel about it. If we allow how we feel to ride roughshod over this fundamental principle of the Christian life, we will only be doing ourselves (potentially grave) spiritual harm.

This is not to say that the Spirit does not act in concert with our consciences – He most certainly does; nor is it to say that our conscience does not provoke all sorts of emotional reactions – it most certainly does. The problem is that our emotions can and are provoked by all sorts of things that have nothing to do with this aspect of the Spirit's ministry. For example, if we do something wrong and "our consciences smite us" (cf. 1Sam.24:5), this is no doubt because the Spirit is using the truth in our heart to convict us of our mistake so that we may do what all responsible Christians should always do about sin: repent, confess, straighten out our approach, move on with our mission. But it is a terrible mistake if we feel bad for whatever reason to misapply the truth in any way.

People get all sorts of misguided notions about how to repent, for example, and do all sorts of counterproductive things to themselves as a result (things I am reluctant to exemplify for fear of giving anyone any ideas). When this happens, it is a case of misapplying the truth. Alright, we feel bad. What does scripture tell us to do? Assuming we have recovered in the biblical way, we are to forget the past (Phil.3:13), start moving forward again (Phil.3:14), and have confidence that God will reveal to us anything else we need to be concerned about (Phil.3:15). And how does He "reveal to us" whatever else we need to know? Why, in precisely the same way everything else is revealed, namely, through the ministry of the Spirit, making biblical truths known to us when we hear them and accept them by faith. As I have said previously, the solution to spiritual confusion is always spiritual advance. It is only when we have grown and matured to a certain point in the Lord that we will possess a high enough "spiritual I.Q." to be able to discern "what the will of God is" in a wide variety of circumstances (see the link: in BB 4B: "Our New Orientation as Born Again Believers"). Only then will we be able to resist being "tossed to and fro by every wind of false teaching" or by every emotional swing (Eph.4:14).

So while I fully accept that the Spirit can and does make use of our conscience and the emotional pressure that can be brought to bear thereby to influence us to something or dissuade us from something, it is not God's way to make us miserable for no particular reason: if we are being disciplined, we will be led see why, to confess anything unconfessed, and will then be able to ride out the discipline in confidence that God is treating us as His own dear children; if we are being led to something or away from something, this will also be made clear to us so that we may make the right decision and eschew the wrong one. But, assuming we are proceeding in the correct way, God does not torture us to no purpose; He does not roil our emotions continually to no effect; and He expects us to trust Him and His character in this, believing confidently all the truth He has given us to negotiate the trials and tribulations of this life. It is possible, that like Job, a believer under unexplained pressures is "sharing the sufferings of Christ", and it does take a level of spiritual maturity and careful application of the truth to recognize that fact and embrace God's joy in the midst of such troubles. But beyond all argument there is no point and no purpose in God tormenting an apostate with worries about lost faith – and if a person were truly an apostate that person would be incapable of feeling bad about the loss of something they have come to value at absolutely nothing (which is the definition of apostasy).

So the "R/x" is clear enough:

Are you an unbeliever? Then, "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved".

Are you a believer guilty of sin? Then "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us".

Are you confused or upset by anything? Then "grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord".

But rest assured that your fears on this point you are having difficulty letting go of are not justified. Consider: for your fears to be justified, 1) it would have to be the case that a believer could lose his/her salvation directly through sin rather than complete loss of faith (and such is not the case); 2) it would have to be the case that a person who had apostatized still cared about the Lord and about their eternal status (which is by the definition of apostasy impossible); 3) it would have to be the case that God made a point of tormenting apostates – and of this there is no evidence and no discernible point if 4) it is the case (and it would then have to be the case for your fears to be justified) that it is impossible for someone who has turned away from the Lord ever to be restored again – and that is, after all, is essence of what you fear (please see the link: in BB 3B on Hebrews 10:26-27). But does not the entire Bible shout God's mercy? Is not God concerned more about the one gone astray than the ninety-nine? Does He not always welcome back every prodigal son?

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

Peter, who went on to become one of the greatest believers of all time, denied the Lord three times. And what did our Lord say to him even before this threefold denial? Luke 22:32: "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail (i.e., in spite of the denial prophesied two verses later). And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers".

We are to fear God – but not to be terrified of Him. Those who oppose Him do need to be terrified; we who have sought refuge under His wings should ever be mindful of His love.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
John 3:16-17 NIV

(14) For this reason I bow my knees to the Father, (15) from whom His entire family in heaven and on earth has received its name, (16) that He may grant you according to the riches of His glory to be powerfully strengthened in your inner person through His Spirit, (17) so that, rooted and grounded in love, Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, (18) so that you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height [of His love for you], (19) [that is], so that you may know the love of Christ which outstrips [human] understanding [in every way], and so that you may be filled up [to the brim] with the entire "fullness" of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19

The love the Father has for all His creatures is past imagining – He gave up His Son unto death that all might be saved, and He wants all to be saved. To assume that He is looking for ways to condemn us is to entirely misread His character. The only ones who will find themselves in hell when all is said and done are those who chose to be there – not by accident, not by temporary lapse, not by indecision or bad judgment, but by deliberate, concerted, verified, and demonstrable choice – and this will all be made clear at the last judgment.

Martin Luther famously was likewise tormented about loss of salvation and finally gained relief by giving in to the Spirit who was wrestling against these false emotions. Luther came to accept that he was, as scripture very clearly presents it, "justified by faith alone". Since that was the seminal moment in the beginning of the Reformation and the cardinal point which had to be appreciated and accepted for Luther to put aside self-doubt and doubt of God and move forward, it seems appropriate to say a few things about that here in hopes of your own personal spiritual reformation soon forthcoming. We are justified by faith. Think about what that means. It means that even if Satan accuses us before God of something we have done – even something heinous, even something we have not confessed, even something of which we have not repented – we are nevertheless considered "righteous" by God Almighty. Why? Because, of course, Jesus died for all of our sins, so that we now have God's righteousness through faith in Him. God no longer looks at our sins; Jesus has already paid for them in full. God looks only at our spiritual status: we are believers. We did not become believers by being good and attempting to walk sinlessly; and we do not stop being believers if we commit sin – only if we stop believing. We are righteous, as long was we are in Jesus Christ, and as long as we have faith in Him, His perfect Person and His work for us on the cross, we are in Him and we are saved – because God considers us completely righteous on account of what Jesus has done, not on account of what we have done, whether good or ill (please see the links: "Justified" and "Justification").

Grab hold of this spiritual truth. Grab it and hold it fast. Add others to it as well (see the link: "What it Means to be Saved"), learn them, believe them, remember them, meditate on them, and before too long, the joy of your salvation will return – and that will be from the Spirit as He encourages you in the truth.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Dr. Luginbill,

I continue to be amazed at your patience in dealing with me and writing to me with such extensive and thoughtful responses. Regarding your last email, I just have a couple of thoughts. You note that for my fears to be realized, a person would have to be able to lose their salvation through sin and not complete loss of faith. But isn't that my concern: that my willful sin did lead to such a hardening of heart that a loss of faith was the result? You also state that such a person wouldn't care about their eternal status. But I think someone who had truly lost the Lord would be able to think of nothing else (like Esau). I found one website that seemed legit wherein someone is lamenting having lost their salvation. Although the underlying facts are different, the current situation sounds very much in keeping with my experience and they are deeply concerned. The site is www.experienceproject.com/stories/Am-Afraid-I-Lost-My-Salvation, in case you're interested. You also make the point that God is not in the business of tormenting apostates, but I think they would torment themselves, as I am doing. I think at the point of falling away the person is unconcerned due to the deceitfulness of sin, but once it's done, I think they would have to be appalled. I understand if you have grown weary of responding to me, but in the event you have any thoughts on my concerns, I'm always grateful to hear from you.

Response #8: 

You are very welcome – and I dearly hope that this dialogue is proving helpful for you in regaining confidence in your status as a child of God, saved by the blood of our dear Lord Jesus.

Esau was never a believer (Rom.9:5-16). As to the "whether you did / whether you didn't", that is an academic theological question and one that you should not allow to concern you in the least. Think about it: if you don't know for certain now, after all this introspection, then you will never know this side of heaven whether you lapsed or only came close to lapsing. More than that, many of us have had serious lapses in the past and cannot now long after the fact say just how low our spiritual state was at the time (e.g., Job 13:26; cf. Ps.25:7). But that is of no importance if we are believers in Jesus Christ now. I am agnostic on the issue of whether or not an apostate can ever return to the Lord. That is because of precisely this issue we are discussing, namely, if we belong to the Lord, inevitably we cannot really say looking back whether or not our faith had died in some past spiritual black hole. The only ones who can be sure their faith died are those who are now apostate, who now do not care at all about the Lord, who now are unconcerned about spiritual issues, that is, who now are not interested in the question at all – because they no longer believe now. I am concerned about your present, not your past – and in this I am convinced that I have the Spirit of the Lord.

Since it is not an important issue as to whether or not you "completely fell away" in the past or "came close to falling away" as long as you now are "in the Lord", the only thing that preoccupation with this question can do is to distract you from spiritual growth, the one and only thing that can ever really bring you peace. We who are advancing in Jesus have peace not because of something we feel, but because we know deep down rock-solid strong in our hearts by faith that we belong to Jesus and that He is working everything out together for good for us. That is to say, true peace, the peace Jesus left us and encourages us to embrace, can only be accessed, appreciated, and achieved by means of truth understood and uncompromisingly believed. If you believe in Jesus, then you are saved, and that is the most wonderful thing in the world. However, for this to bring you peace, that foundational principle of the truth of salvation must be built upon with all the other truths of scripture, and these must be taken in by faith and consistently applied to our experience through that same faith in order to promote growth and the solid-state relationship of confidence in the Lord which all believers have their birthright.

(2) May [God's] grace to you and [His] peace be multiplied by means of the full-knowledge (epignosis: truth believed) of God and our Lord Jesus, (3) inasmuch as His divine power has bestowed upon us [every]thing we need to live and to live in a godly way (i.e., physical and spiritual provision) through this full-knowledge (epignosis) of Him who has called us for His own glory and renown (i.e., the continued provision is based upon continuing attention to the truth).
2nd Peter 1:2-3 (cf. 2Pet.1:8)

(1) So now that we have been justified by faith, let us take hold of the peace [we have] with God [the Father] through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom we have also obtained our access into this grace in which we stand, and let us boast in the hope of the glory of God (i.e., in anticipation of our resurrection).
Romans 5:1-2

As the verse immediately above indicates, peace is not automatic: it takes effort. Specifically, the effort of hearing, learning, believing, and applying the truth of the Word of God.

Apologies for not spending any time on the website you reference. Believe me, you are not the only one who has ever broached this issue with me, and, honestly, I think all believers who were saved at an early age, then, like the prodigal son, "went off to a far country", have questions similar to yours, even if the specifics vary. But, as I say, while the question may have historical interest, it is in practical spiritual terms of no use to know the answer and repeatedly posing the question can only be distracting. As I mentioned above, after all you have put yourself through, do you really think you are going to be able to come to a definitive answer, one way or another? Even if you give into your worst fears, because you are in fact a believer (at least in my estimation), the Spirit will not let you rest in some self-inflicted limbo of supposed apostasy – so you will certainly not get any peace in that direction.

The main thing I would like to know from you is whether or not you believe in Jesus Christ, whether or not you accept Him as your Lord and Savior, recognize His deity, and appreciate that all sin has been washed away by His work on the cross. If you do, then you are a believer, and what happened in the past is only a concern if you let it torment you (because all believers are saved, regardless of their past actions, whether these bother them or not).

Everything I know about the Lord, about His grace, about His mercy, about His love, and, yes, even about His justice and righteousness, indicates to me that your agonizing over this issue is unnecessary. Plenty of Christians have done terrible things in their past, much worse things than you report. In fact, in my understanding of scripture, there are none of us in Jesus' Church who are not sinners – by position, by commission, and by profession, yet saved by the blood of our dear Savior . . . by grace through faith. That is the victory (nike) which overcomes the world:

For everyone who has been born from God overcomes (nikao) the [devil's] world. And this is the victory that has overcome the [devil's] world: our faith [in Jesus Christ]! For who is the one who overcomes (nikao) the [devil's] world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
1st John 5:4-5 (cf. Rev.12:11)

If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then you are a believer, and through that faith of yours you are overcoming the world. Hold that faith fast. That is the basis for your eternal life, not your track-record whether present or past. Damage done can be repaired – as long as you believe.

Your fellow Christian soldier in fighting this good fight of faith,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

Dr. Luginbill,

Is it possible for you to send me a brief word of encouragement? I've scared myself by going on the internet and reading testimonials from different people. Just a brief word from you would help, I think. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

I hope that you have a blessed weekend.

Response #9: 

I very much wish your peace and encouragement: Both are always founded upon truth and its acceptance. Paul tells the Corinthians (2Cor.1) that he is actually encouraged by news of their suffering in that he knows from experience that where suffering abounds so does the encouragement of the Spirit – but of course that is only true for believers who know and accept the principle. Allowing oneself to be led by the Spirit is largely giving oneself over to the "sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph.6:17). That means accepting the truth which is the Spirit's "weapon" for defeating all that is false and defending all that is true. This also takes some effort, that is, the involvement of our free will in aggressively choosing to apply the truth we have believed in the past. When faced with a horrendously difficult situation David, instead of panicking or allowing himself to be completely disheartened "encouraged himself in the Lord" (1Sam.30:6), that is, he made himself remember and concentrate on the truth that the Lord was with him, and went from there. And we see that sort of encouragement bubbling forth from all of the Psalms.

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2 NIV

If we remind ourselves that Jesus loves us, that is very encouraging:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

For He will never withdraw His love from us.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 NIV

If we remind ourselves of the hope we have been given in Him, that is very encouraging:

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
Hebrews 6:18 NIV

For He will always extend His hope to us.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2nd Thessalonians 2:16-17 NIV

If we remember that we are all in this together as members of one Body of those who have faith, that is very encouraging.

Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.
1st Thessalonians 3:7 NIV

For the words of God are always encouraging for those who let them in through faith.

Therefore encourage each other with these words.
1st Thessalonians 4:18 NIV

Genuine encouragement comes through the truth of the Word of God in the ministry of the Spirit. God provides the truth; God provides the Interpreter of that truth in His Holy Spirit; God provides all the visible means for the dissemination of that truth in those used by the Spirit. We have everything we need to be at peace, to be encouraged in every strait, and to grow to the glory of our Savior. But we still have to believe it and apply with our own free will for these wonderful things to happen.

Let the light shine in, . Let it drive out all the darkness and warm the innermost parts of your heart.

God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Hebrews 13:5b NIV

In Jesus who gave up His life for us when we were still His enemies,

Bob L.

Question #10:  

Could you please explain John 6:65: And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

What does Jesus mean by 'no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father'.

Response #10: 

John 6:65 and its companion passages John 6:44 (to which Jesus is referring when He says in John 6:65 "This is why I told you that no one can come to me . . ." NIV) and John 12:32 are referring to the fact that all of our positive choices are already foreordained in God's plan. Here is what I write about the latter two in BB 4B Soteriology:

These passages not only show the eagerness on behalf of the Father and the Son to save all of humanity but also their active involvement in the lives of all human beings to draw each and every one to salvation. But in fact few respond to God's will, God's desire, and God's not insubstantial efforts to lead all of His children to salvation (Christ died for all, and the entire universe is structured to proclaim His glory and the need for salvation).

In order for genuine free will to be able to exist, all of human history had to be decreed in advance in the most minute detail. Moral creatures operating in terms of making genuine choices can only do so in an environment of time and space which is under God's complete control, and, most importantly, the decree of such a process (history) necessitated in advance the obligating of God to sacrifice His Son in order for that will really to be free (so as to demonstrate the principle to the angels and so as to provide for the forgiveness of sins for human beings). All whom God has foreknown as those who would, given the chance, come to Jesus Christ for salvation are therefore decreed to have done what they chose to do and enabled by the Father to do so in every way. Part of that process is the attraction of the gospel which is efficacious unto salvation for all those who are saved.

Question #11:  

Responding to my question, you wrote: It is certainly possible for them to, like the Pharaoh of the exodus, harden their hearts against truth to such a profound degree that salvation from that point on is seemingly impossible. In such cases, it is fruitless to attempt to intervene. That would be a case of "throwing pearls to swine", and as John says about believers in such a fix, "There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that" (1Jn.5:16b NIV).

I assumed, based on your previous response, that the 'sin unto death' is a domain of believers that struggle with particular sins, often serious, and are unable to leave these sins behind, but they are believers nevertheless. Pharaoh wasn't a believer and hardened his heart to the extreme, could you explain why the sin unto death relates to him as well?

Response #11: 

The sin unto death only relates to believers. Pharaoh merely provides a point of comparison to demonstrate from a famous example that it is possible to harden one's heart past the point of no return. Believers sometimes do that as well, and when they do – and if they are unwilling to give up their faith – instead of apostatizing the Lord takes them out of this life in a very unpleasant way: the sin unto death (see the link for the distinction between the two). Pharaoh was killed too, of course (for his violent opposition to the Lord), but the great difference between an unbeliever who suffers his just desserts and a believer who dies the sin unto death is that believers are still saved.

I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1st Corinthians 5:5 NASB

Question #12:  

Could you please clarify Romans 8:20-21: For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Response #12: 

Here is how I translate the verses:

(20) For the created world is now subject to futility – not of its own choosing, but because of Him who subjected it [as a consequence of Adam's sin] – but not without hope. (21) For [at the 2nd Advent] the created world will be liberated from its enslavement to decay at the glorious liberation of the sons of God (i.e. our resurrection).
Romans 8:20-21

The earth (our world as opposed to the heavens) is here personified by Paul to draw an analogy to the resurrection in order to help us understand the resurrection and anticipate it. Just as we long for the pains and troubles of these present bodies to be swallowed up by eternal life in the new bodies we will have forever (vv.17-18; 23-24), so the creation "wants" an end to the same sort of trouble and pain that is analogous to ours. The creation will receive "liberation" when Christ returns and the Genesis chapter three curse is removed (i.e., the millennial blessings which the earth will at that time experience; see the link: in CT 6: "Physical Blessings of the Millennium" – where this passage is quoted), and that liberation will be parallel to "the [similar] liberation [from decay] of the sons of God" since we will be resurrected at the time and will not longer know death or pain or suffering of any sort.

Question #13:   

You wrote: When we find ourselves under divine discipline, we need to keep a very close watch on our attitudes, taking care not to become sullen or angry, reacting more in the manner of stubborn mules than children of God (cf. Is.1:2-3).

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding, but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
Psalm 32:9 NIV

I'm wondering - in Is.1:2-3 animals are used as positive examples, contrasted to Israel, 'who does not know', but in Psalm David uses animal examples to depict the lack of understanding.

Response #13: 

I'm not sure if I'm understanding your question correctly (maybe if you give me the Psalm you're thinking of), but it seems to me that stubbornness and ignorance are closely related: you have to be foolish where God is concerned to be stubborn (a self-induced sort of ignorance), and ignorance where God is concerned is generally the result of a stubborn refusal to seek Him. I understand that they are technically different, but are, practically speaking, close concepts when it comes to negative behavior (and it is usually hard to find the one without the other where human beings are concerned -- animals are only used for analogy).

Question #14:   

You wrote: But if we insist on being resistant to God's training, and if we persist in the behavior for which we are being punished, we can expect ever increasing pressure and severity of discipline unless and until we respond in the appropriate way (Deut.28:15-68; Ps.107:10-22; Heb.10:26-31; cf. Hos.10:10; 1Cor.5:4-5).

Am I correct to assume that this course of action refers only to the believers? Are people who have completely abandoned God and enjoy worldly prosperity not any longer considered 'sons of God', hence no longer subject to divine discipline?

Response #14: 

Yes, that is correct. And not only that: in addition to not coming in for the divine discipline that God reserves for His own sons and daughters, unbelievers (whether or not they are apostates or never believed in the first place) are also not targets of opposition for the evil one. Hence the common biblical question, asked within the Bible and even more frequently without: "Why do the wicked prosper?" (Jer.12:1). The answer is that unbelievers are not objects of Satan's attention and do not receive the immediate kind of "close accounting" from the Lord that believers receive. But as Asaph the Psalmist relates in Psalm 73, for believers to be complaining about this state of affairs is very short sighted, because it overlooks the fact that God's justice always catches up with everyone, both in this life and in the next:

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
Psalm 73:16-20 NIV

Question #15:  

You wrote: The Lord will deliver us at the appointed time, even though we may have totally sold ourselves into sin (Jn.8:34; Rom.6:16).

If you buy a [fellow] Hebrew as a slave, he shall be in servitude to you six years, but on the seventh year he shall go free without having to buy his freedom.
Exodus 21:2

I was wondering why you linked the two passages in the brackets with Exodus 21:2 - is it in order to say that the period of slavery eventually comes to an end? Also, according to your point, I assume that both Jn.8:34 and Rom.6:16 can refer to believers?

Response #15: 

The two bracketed passages (Jn.8:34; Rom.6:16) both speak of sin in terms of slavery which shows what a bad idea becoming involved in sin is: it is enslaving oneself to a very harsh master, with harshness in this context defined by the punishment and discipline it will exact as the "wages of sin". But, as Exodus 21:2 shows, God is merciful and all things come to an end, even severe discipline for outrageous sinning (for believers who repent and confess, that is, as David did: 2Sam.12:13; Ps.51; cf. Ps.32). David murdered Uriah after having made his wife pregnant through an adulterous affair. He sold himself into very serious sin and reaped the consequences of similarly serious divine discipline lasting fourteen years. He did not "pay" for his sins, as only God can do that (Jesus paid for our sins), but he did "enjoy the bitter fruits" of what he had done. But all slavery comes to an end. It takes very serious offenses for the penalty to run fourteen years rather than seven (even that is for something very serious) as in David's case where it was a case of dual outrage: adultery and murder.

Question #16: 

You wrote: Furthermore, faith is tested, and as believers we may be assured that part of the life of faith we are called to lead will include trials and tribulations which serve to prove the quality of that faith (or lack thereof: Gen.22:1; Ex.15:25b; Num.14:20-23; Judg.2:22; Ps.66:10-12; 1Pet.1:6-7; 4:12).

All these passages relate to our faith being tested, but it seems that in Numbers 14:20-23, it is God who says that he has been tested.

20 So the LORD said, "I have pardoned them according to your word; 21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22 Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.

Response #16: 

Numbers 14:20-23 is a "lack thereof" (i.e., of faith) passage. The "ten times" Israel put the Lord to the test were the ten times He tested them (Ex.15:25; Deut.33:8; Ps.81:7; Jdg.3:4), but they put His patience "to the test" instead of responding to the tests as they should have, and thus demonstrated what was really in their hearts despite the good words their lips had uttered (Ex.19:8; 24:3; 24:7).

Question #17:  

You wrote: I take the eating of the fruit as producing the physiological change in Adam and Eve (but for theological purposes it is Adam's sin that matters since the sin nature or corruption is passed down through the male seed as the lack of corruption in Jesus' body demonstrates).

That's one part I cannot quite understand - both men and women have sin nature, so Mary must have been a sinful human being as well (even though RC church teaches otherwise). So both Adam and Eve were corrupted in that respect, but only Adam passes the sinful nature. Is my understanding correct - in 'physiological' terms, both Adam and Eve acquired sinful nature, but through the fact that he sinned in cognizance, he is the one that started transmitting sinful nature, and that was followed by every other male.

Response #17: 

Yes, that is entirely correct. Adam and Eve both acquired a sin nature through eating of the tree of knowing good and evil. All of their progeny – all with human fathers, that is – receive a sin nature through the process of natural procreation (1Tim.2:13-15). That certainly also did include Mary, the mother of Jesus (pace R.C. doctrine and Mariolatry generally). This is the reason for the necessity of the virgin birth, namely, not only to fulfill prophecy but to avoid the transmission of the sin nature through a male seed. Some (including my old pastor) have tried to show how this would have worked biologically. I am always leery of such things. On the one hand, Jesus' birth was supernatural in every way (and in my view that should be enough for us), and on the other it will always be the case that our understanding even of physical processes is incomplete (even if it is prodigious and amazing to some).

Question #18: 

Could you briefly explain Luke 13:18-21? What are the reasons behind these specific comparisons? Is it the case of the growth of the kingdom of heaven, it's expansion linked to it now growing, as you illustriously called it, geometrically?

Response #18: 

Yes. Like a small seed or a small amount of yeast, the Kingdom of Heaven is now almost invisible to the eyes of the secular world, but a day is coming when it will fill and define the New Heavens and the New Earth. And this is a process: the patriarchal line of faith became a specific nation of faith (Israel), then a world-wide community of faith (the Church), will yet be a worldwide kingdom of faith (in the Millennium) and eventually fill the entire new cosmos to come. This is also true on the individual level, as every Christian who sets him/herself to seek the Lord discovers. What starts as the smallest "yes" to God in Jesus Christ, comes to dominate and define our lives in every way on this earth – and will be our life eternal with Jesus Christ forever.

Question #19:  

You wrote: For to continue following the path of sin, without repentance, without restoration, requires that we constantly and deliberately choose against our Master, Jesus Christ, until He gradually becomes less and less in our thinking, and gradually disappears from our hearts altogether (Matt.7:21-23).

I assume then that even though the people mentioned in this passage do call God's name, they can still be considered apostates? Is it then possible to be an apostate and still perform miracles and cast out demons?

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB): 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Response #19: 

The people in these verses are not saved. That is what it means when our Lord says "I never knew you". I find this passage in the book of Acts:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out."
Acts 19:13 NIV

These individuals also were not saved (cf. what happens later in the passage), and neither are those in Matthew chapter seven who – after seeing Him come in His glory – say "Lord, Lord". The exorcism, prophesying and miracles I therefore take to be false (just as the exorcism in Acts is false). For our Lord characterizes all these activities as "lawlessness", and "lawlessness" is sin (1Jn.3:4). I suppose it is hypothetically possible that we have here a case of some apostates, but then our Lord's words "I never knew you" would seem to run counter to that idea. I think the main point our Lord is trying to make is that engaging in "Christian-looking" activities is not what saves a person. We are saved "by grace through faith" when we actually believe in Jesus Christ. We may go to church, we may read the Bible, we may give to charities, we may even appear to do miraculous things (as the beast and his false prophet will do) – but absent faith we are not saved. A contemporary version of this passage might read, "Lord, did we not go to a church that bears your name? Did we not read your book? Did we not give money to those who claim to be your agents?" These things will also draw the response "I never knew you" if they were not the result of genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

Question #20:  

Could you please clarify Revelation 3:15: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.

What specifically do 'cold' and 'hot' mean here? I thought there might be some moral value attached to being either 'cold' or 'hot' (one being good, the other bad), but I assume that if that was the case, then the scripture would have never said 'I wish that you were cold or hot'. Please clarify.

Response #20: 

You are in fact correct. So distasteful to our Lord is spiritual lukewarmness that He would rather have those of us (and sadly the majority of us) in this present age of Laodicea be cold if we cannot be hot (see the link). This is in part because someone who is cold is more likely to be capable of turning around that someone who is lukewarm. Those who are lukewarm are comfortable in their applications; they feel that they are "doing OK", and are not willing even to examine their approach to the Christian life. If a person was outside of a local church and living a riotous life after beings saved in their youth, they would at least realize that their position was untenable and would be ripe for repentance and a switch from cold to hot – especially when the divine discipline became intense (that was my own experience). But someone who has bought into "feel-good Christianity" or "insurance-policy Christianity" is likely to be comfortable with their application, as horrific as it in fact is, and unlikely to re-examine their approach (as is actually the case with most Christians today).

Question #21:  

I wanted to ask what is the basis on which the Lord decides to allow a believer to completely move away from faith (resulting in apostasy), hence losing salvation or to remove a particular believer from this world (sin onto death, which allows that believer to remain saved)?

Is it not the case that a believer subjected to sin unto death could have, at some point, reached the spiritual degradation of apostasy, yet was saved from it?

Response #21: 

This is a hard question to answer because 1) the Bible for very good reason puts things in terms of absolutes (so that specific gradations of these behaviors are difficult to discern directly from scripture), and 2) when it comes to particular cases in the lives of particular individuals, it takes a good spiritual common sense and wisdom to discern between specific situations. We can be sure that at the Judgment of the Church (in the case of believers) and at the Last Judgment (in the case of unbelievers) all of these issues will be made crystal clear in the case of every single person who has ever lived. What I would say about this is that the fundamental criterion here is choice. God knows whether or not a person would turn around given circumstance X. And in my understanding of the justice of God and the mercy of God, the ultimate true desire of each person is what is allowed to come through in this life. So if a person is genuinely desirous of salvation, God will effect that, however his/her life works out. But if a person is really not at their core willing to submit to God no matter what in order to be saved, then God knows that and will not rescue such a person against his/her true will, if we are talking about a believer headed towards apostasy. Certainly, God could do so. Think of all the truly wicked people in the history of the world who were not only unbelievers by who by any reasonable standard deserved to go to hell. God could have removed them one and all from this life before they reached the age of accountability with the result that they would have been automatically saved. Indeed, God could have made us all without any need or chance to make choices. But that would have been a different universe, a different creation, more of a "petting zoo" than what we have: finite creatures blessed with the very image of God, the God-like power to choose, to whom God has wed Himself forever in the Person of the God-Man Jesus Christ through His sacrifice on our behalf. In order for there to be those who choose for God, in the perfect iteration of creation which is our cosmos there had to be those who would not. "The Lord knows those who are his" (2Tim.2:19 NIV), and we who are of that number should rejoice in the fact – and have complete confidence that He has never let slip from His hand a single individual who truly, genuinely, and completely wanted to be with Him forever and was willing to subordinate his/her will to Him in Jesus Christ in order to do so. Apostates were, by definition, never really serious about their faith in terms of ultimately being willing to continue choosing for Jesus when "push came to shove" (e.g., Lk.8:13).

Question #22:  

You wrote (about people subject to apostasy and sin onto death):

For many are walking (about whom I have been telling you and now tell you with tears) as enemies of the cross of Christ. The end [of this course of theirs] is destruction, their god is their appetite, and they glory in things of which they should be ashamed. They have their minds set on earthly things.
Philippians 3:18-19

In the passage above, Paul lumps the two categories together, and that is perhaps the safest course when evaluating persons who are demonstrating their lack of faith and faithfulness in one way or another.

I wanted to ask - how do you discern that Paul talks about these two categories in this passage?

Response #22: 

At Philippians 3:18-19, Paul does not mention the sin unto death specifically nor apostasy specifically, and also these descriptions could be true of either category. He is talking generally about the results of turning away from Jesus, whether or not that "backsliding" results in the loss of faith. For one thing, we have multiple, unnamed persons here, and for another these individuals had not yet died, apparently, so that whether they were going to be taken out of this life ("destruction" being temporal) or allowed to live on into loss of faith ("destruction" being eternal) is not yet clear. Even if it was clear to him personally, it was more important to make the overall point: both ends should be avoided: given the absolute nature of the problem of backsliding, it is all the same to Paul's point here, contrasting the proper-mind set of the positive, advancing believer ("our citizenship is in heaven") with that of those who have strayed decisively from the path with dire consequences (however defined).

Question #23:   

You wrote: Some actions are so unacceptable that they invite instant termination (as in the arrogance and complete lack of holy fear underlying some specific acts, such as in the case of touching or looking into the ark of God: 1Sam.6:19; 2Sam.6:6-7; cf. Ex.28:43; 30:20-21; Lev.16:13; 22:9; Num.4:15; 4:20; 18:22).

Could you please clarify 2 Sam 6:6-7: But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.

It seems from the passage that Uzzah had good intentions (I know that good intentions can lead to sin) and maybe his action was directed by reverence to ark. I wonder - what should he have done in that situation?

With constant prayer for you and your ministry and in our Lord,

Response #23: 

This incident was, in fact, one of the ones I had in mind. Only the Levites were allowed to touch the ark, and only in the prescribed way. Moreover, the attitude that the ark needed to be "helped" from falling is an entirely incorrect one since God was certainly capable of keeping it from falling. Nor should this have been an odd perspective to have, since the ark had just been responsible for a number of miraculous activities in the Philistine cities. Indeed, the very fact that it was back at all and the way in which it came back was miraculous, so that treating it is a just an object was certainly wrong.

As is frequently the case at the beginning of new circumstances or the inauguration of new ways of doing things, God in His justice seems here to be "making a point". We may compare the command to stone to death the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath (Num.15:32ff.; and cf. Lev.10:1-8) – although without question there were far worse offenses later in Israel's history on this score, and numerous too, which were not punished at all; and also the miraculous deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – even though in the history of the Church many believers have acted in this and in far worse ways. However, rather than being appalled at the severity of the judgment in such cases, we should take note and develop a healthy fear of God, being ever grateful to Him for His ineffable mercy in not dealing with us in the summary way He might have done on many occasions.

In constant prayer for your continued edification and ultimate service to our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

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