Question #1: Dear Robert, I a have been a Christian for many years, but find myself at a particularly low point, spiritually. I wonder, have I lost my faith? How do I know if I'm still saved? How does one revivify one's faith? What is the minimum a person has to have in terms of faith in order to be saved? Where can I go (what denomination) to find help with this? My own church experience has not been particularly positive.
Response #1: First, I think if you are concerned about your faith the chances are you have not lost it. Faith can be lost, of course, but those who have completely fallen away into apostasy are spiritually dead and have no concern for any former relationship with God they may have had. Simply put, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have faith, and if you have faith, then you believe in Jesus Christ (that is, you have put your trust in Him, His unique person and His work on the cross, and you are striving to follow Him, even if that following is not perfect).
Please see the link: Apostasy and the Sin unto Death
Faith is revivified in the same way that it is built, namely, through the process of spiritual growth. Many people desire emotional experiences to buck them up after spiritual low points, but all such exercises are of little true spiritual benefit. We grow closer to the Lord through the truth alone. We read it (in the Bible); we study it (from some godly source); we pray about it (directly to Him); we believe it (truth has to be accepted into our hearts through faith to do us any good); we apply it to our lives (we must respond to what we have believed); and we help others do the same (i.e., spiritual production is an essential part of the Christian life). Simply put, to build your faith, to build your relationship with God, to grow closer to Him, to experience His power more dynamically, to live a better Christian life, and to optimize personal ministry, for all these things, one needs to imbibe deeply, daily, and consistently the truth of the Word of God. That is our spiritual fuel; that is the spiritual fulcrum which multiplies the power of the Spirit within us; that is how we become prepared to carry out God's entire purpose for our lives, and the one thing without which nothing good can come into our Christian lives.
Please see the series (which has much to say on this issue): Peter's Epistles
Salvation can be lost, but it can also be "made more secure" (2Pet.1:10), and if we are going forward in the Christian life through spiritual growth we will not be going backwards. We may occasionally stumble and fall, but God is always there to pick us up and help us back onto the high and narrow road that leads to Zion, as long as we are committed to walking along the correct path of the truth of scripture. There are many places to receive help in these terms. Sadly, I do not know of any denomination which I might recommend, as all the denominations of which I am aware are far more interested in other things than they are in growing spiritually through studying the scriptures. There are some independent churches around where teaching the Word of God is the number one priority and where that teaching is essentially wholesome, but I know of only a few which I could in good conscience recommend personally, and none in your area. That doesn't mean there aren't any there, but it does mean that you will have to do your own "knocking and seeking" in order to reap the "finding". In the meantime, you are certainly welcome to all the materials at Ichthys. This ministry is on the net rather than being "brick and mortar" precisely because of the need you and your situation evidence.
You might want to have a look at the following links:
Faith in the midst of the fiery trial.
The Minimum Necessary to be Saved
In Need of Encouragement
Christian Suffering and Christian Encouragement
Despairing of Life
God cares about you and seems clearly to have put it in your heart to get back to Him. I urge you to hold fast to this intention and pursue it in a good and godly way, putting the Bible and the truth it contains in the center of all that you think and say and do, and sparing no effort in your search to learn and believe all that it says.
In the name of Him who is the only truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thank you for that. But I worry that my thoughts are being influenced by demons, tempting me to curse God (isn't there a Bible verse about that?). Do you think it would be profitable for me get baptized?
The passage you ask about is 1st Corinthians 12:1-3. But I think the point here is that we have control over what we think and say as well as over what we do. As believers, demons have no ability to affect our will directly (see the link: Satan's world system: tactics). We need to develop the self-discipline to exercise that control effectively, but with God's help (and He is ready to help us when we ask Him), it can be done. For we are told to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (e.g., Rom.12:1-2). We all have the Spirit, all that is who believe in Jesus (Rom.8:9).
As to water baptism, I am not a big fan of this ritual. In my view, water baptism was a sign of repentance that looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (i.e., it is a.k.a., "John's baptism"), but John himself told us that the Messiah would baptize us "with the Spirit" (Lk.3:16). That is the "one baptism" of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:5. It is true there are many water baptisms in the book of Acts, but that is because this was a transitional period of apostolic authority (see the links below). As to Jesus' "great commission" in Matthew 28:18-20, I am of the firm opinion that our Lord too was speaking of the baptism of the Spirit, not water baptism. You can find more about all this at the following links:
Baptism: Water and Spirit
Is water baptism required for Christians today?
The "baptism which now saves you".
Baptism and salvation
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I stumbled across your site after looking for some information, mainly about Satan's influence on man, our present world and what we have to look forward to here on Earth, which as I suspected, isn't anything pleasant. Why would God put us in what is for most people, a no-win situation? Now, when I say most people I don't mean you or I, you already are saved, I have been saved but turned away from Jesus so I'll probably end up in hell unless I make some serious changes. I am talking about the billions of people who are brought up under different religions, they don't have a chance. If you consider, for a moment, what it would be like to be brought into a Muslim world, you would have almost a zero chance of ever turning your life over to Christ. Mainly, because you are completely and totally surrounded by Muslims your entire life, are all those people going to end up in hell? Secondly, what did we (our present population) do to deserve to take the brunt of what Adam and Eve did? Especially, considering, things are 500 times worse now than they were even 60 years ago, temptation wise! There are drugs (everywhere) the internet, which is full of filth of every kind, women who are willing to do anything for the love of money and even rulers, who will stop at nothing to achieve their demon-filled objectives. So essentially, we are living in the worst possible time in history, what did we do to deserve this? Had I been born 150 years ago, I am certain that I would have made a good Christian, think about it. It's all about circumstances and much less about decisions we make. If we are in the right circumstances, we'll generally make the right decisions (to follow Christ.) Heck Pastor, that would have been easy 150 years ago! What I am trying to say that why is it so unfair for us, the last generation (possibly?) I am writing because I was impressed with your article and thought you might be able to help me to understand. I feel like a lost soul. Thank you for taking the time to read and answer my email and have a good weekend. Confused.
You ask some very basic, very understandable, and highly important existential questions. Most of these are answered in greater detail in various places at Ichthys, but I will try to give you an overview here which I hope will prove helpful, as well as point you towards some more detailed responses.
One has to start with God. It is my firm belief that if people really understood who He is and what He is like, most of the questions we ask ourselves and want to ask Him would be completely unnecessary. But in this life, in these present bodies, it is very difficult even for spiritually mature believers who know quite a bit about the Lord from years of dedicated Bible study to consistently and unfailingly keep their eyes on Him without ever getting distracted by the world. Job provides a good example of this, for His spirituality was exceptional, but under the extreme pressure of circumstances and especially on account of the misguided comfort of his friends, he momentarily forgot just who it was he was dealing with. Of course Job's recovery was instantaneous as soon as he was reminded of the majesty and goodness of the Lord (see chapters 38-42). We, on the other hand, are very likely not to be nearly as spiritually advanced as Job, and in this complex world ruled by the evil one, the temptations and inducements are great to get distracted and forget – at least momentarily – just how "big" God is, and just how "small" the world is in comparison, despite all its problems and troubles. And the next thing you know, we are whining like the Israelites that there is nothing to drink, completely forgetting that God just miraculously parted the Red Sea and destroyed the entire Egyptian army by drowning them in an ocean. Wouldn't it have been logical to assume that He could provide a little water, even for those of very little faith? But of course their reaction is a very typically human one, an emotional reaction to pressure which immediately forgets God and fails to trust Him because there is a problem (although that is why we are still here after salvation: to face such problems and glorify God by demonstrating complete faith and confidence that He will save us, even if we have to wait on Him to do so).
This point about remembering who God really is, is germane to the underlying concerns you voice here. I really do believe that if we all could see the Lord face to face, no one would be an unbeliever. In fact, if God revealed Himself to the world in even a partially visible way, it would come close to removing true free will as an issue, so great is His true glory. But we are here, after all, for the purpose of responding to (or, sadly not responding to) God and His truth with that free will which is the common heritage of mankind. As believers too, we are not yet privileged to see Him "face to face" but only "darkly as though through a reflection" (1Cor.13:12). Thus we who believe have an analogous test to the one faced by unbelievers, a day by day test, namely, to persevere in "seeing the invisible One" (Heb.11:27) through the Word of truth, read, heard, studied, understood, believed, and applied.
As to unbelievers, God has known every single one of them by name before the universe was even created, known every breath they would take, every step they would walk, every thought they would think. And more than even that, He knew in advance what circumstances would be most conducive to their salvation. In my opinion, given the goodness and the mercy of our loving God, and given that Jesus died for every single sin of every single unbeliever, it stands to reason that if any circumstance would have resulted in a person believing in Jesus, then God would have provided that circumstance. The fact that we see complications, doesn't mean that God is either ignorant of them or unable to cope with them. Indeed, He has designed and planned "time" down to the most insignificant swerve of the smallest quark at the farthest end of the universe from its start to its end. But the fact is that some people will not believe as long as they have the free will not to, and the one thing that God has given us that cannot be changed, indeed, the thing which is the foundation of all we really are and essential to the whole purpose of creation in the first place, is free will: the free will to accept God through His Son (or, sadly, to refuse to do so). Why are so many people born in lands and circumstances that seem to us completely non-conducive to salvation? In the majority of cases it has a lot to do with the fact that they won't believe no matter what – and in eternity God will no doubt show us all how that was the case and how each person gave clear and convincing proof of their true attitudes on this score (I expect that to be a large part of the trial of every unbeliever at the Great White Throne; this is covered in more detail in the upcoming Part 6 of Coming Tribulation: Last Things).
But it is well to consider two further factors here: 1) the fact that some do believe in places and circumstances where salvation seems nigh on impossible (and the corollary: many do not believe in places and circumstances which are as close to ideal as possible for hearing and receiving the gospel); 2) there will be believers from every time and place and race and nation in eternity, if only because all who died before coming to the point of accountability are automatically saved. Thus the "impossibility" argument is removed on two grounds: 1) God is able to put incipient believers into places where they could believe, and 2) God is able to save through His foreknowledge of the heart of every person even those who may have been born into "impossible situations". And, needless I hope to say, even in circumstances where we would pronounce the case hopeless, either present or past, God is able to send a "Jonah" and God is able to extract a "Naaman" in ways and manners that we can only guess at. It all boils down to your appreciation of the character and power of God. If you really understand that His power is limitless, and that His love and goodness are perfect, then there is no problem here. Please see the links:
Are the children of unbelievers lost if they die before receiving Christ?
What about those who never heard of Christ?
What happens to people who were born and died prior to the birth of Christ?
As to Adam and Eve et al., it seems pretty clear to me that none of us would have done anything different had we been in their "shoes". Given a choice, people seem always to experiment before turning to God (or after). In any case, it's in the nature of who we are, which is very abbreviated short-hand for the doctrine of universal depravity based upon the sin nature that we all have now at birth (for much more on this particular point and all related issues including "original sin", please see Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin). It is true that these are trying times. On the other hand, it has never been easier to gain access to the Bible in the original languages, and substantive Bible teaching based upon these and orthodox theology is available, if hard to find (Ichthys is dedicated to helping to fill that gap). Generally speaking we have more leisure time, greater facility of communication, more Bible study resources – and we live in interesting times, on the cusp of the end. In my view, there are many believers alive today who will live to see the Lord return. To me this is all a lot like the internet you mention – it can be seen and used as a medium for evil or for good. We have a lot of challenges to face today as believers, but I for one would much rather be living in a time when I can get Codex Sinaiticus in facsimile on my home computer than in the third century when even having a Bible of any sort was beyond the dreams of most people. We have challenges, yes, but we also have more opportunities for spiritual growth and production than has possibly ever been the case in human history. I would like to see this as a "half-full" situation. Indeed, we have to avoid some very difficult tests and traps, and very few of us are without lumps and scars from past failures. But the Christian life is all about "forgetting what lies behind and striving for what lies ahead" (Phil.3:12-14), running a good race rather than running in place (1Cor.9:24-27). This takes discipline, this takes commitment, this takes consistency, this take sacrifice. Spiritual growth and production are not for sissies. But since we are here for the Lord, and since everything else is essentially pointless (or if it has a point, it is a derivative point), why not take responsibility for our lives and start living them for Jesus? Why not dedicate ourselves to true and consistent spiritual growth, and to genuine ministry that helps others do likewise? In this course, there is great joy and great eternal reward – and every other course leads to nothing but disappointment, frustration, and worse in any case.
Your faith is the most valuable thing you possess. I urge you to treasure it, nourish it, grow it, and use it. In doing so, you will be pleasing your Lord, bringing blessing down on yourself for all eternity, and helping your fellow believers do the same. To this we have been called – I beg you in Christ's name to answer that call with the precious time He has given you.
Please feel free to write me back about any of this.
In the Name of the One for whom we live because He died for us, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thanks for your well written and meaningful email, some of it was a little over my head but for the most part, I did understand exactly what you where trying to convey. Most importantly, I agree with your comments regarding Adam and Eve and I had never thought of it in that way. Had I been in their situation, I certainly would have done the same thing, why I've never heard this in a church (sermon) is vexing because I think it's important for people to understand that. After all, it WAS Satan who is/was responsible and although they/we have/had free will, it is always easier to take the wider path, the easier path. I guess it's out nature, that's what I got out of your email.
I was very frustrated and angry when I wrote you that email, it was probably one of the worst days I've had in years. Having problems within my family that seem to be unsolvable. I feel a lot of anger and sometimes even hatred towards them and as a result, I feel guilty. Thinking hateful thoughts and cursing them when I really should simply pray for the Lord to remove these thoughts from my mind and to help me concentrate on things I have control over, like my own salvation and even prayer for those I resent. When Jesus said (I believe he said) pray for your enemies, I know he meant it. I them say all the time that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally. With the exception of the obvious prophecies in some of the latter chapters of the New Testament, I don't agree with this statement. I am left to assume that everything Jesus said IS to be taken literally because he would not leave anything to chance. I believe, of course, that he knew it would be a long time before he would return and that sound instruction (from his mouth) and meaningful and accurate advice was essential. In short, I believe we have to take what was written by Jesus literally because there is no hint or anything stated in the Bible that we should do otherwise. As for the latter chapters, especially Revelations, this is not something I study yet because I believe I need spiritual growth before I move onto such things. I do know that many of the things written in Daniel, Timothy and Revelations (just the chapters that come to mind) have and are coming to pass. I believe 2nd Timothy gives a perfect description of the state of the world and people's hearts before Christ returns, it couldn't be more accurate. I don't know a lot about the Old testament as I have not read many chapters and know nothing about Job. As many American children growing up, I did attend Sunday school classes and participated in communion. I don't recall really ever paying much attention to what was taught, although it was a Lutheran church and probably watered down. At that point in my life, I can honestly say that I really didn't care.
When I was younger, I was not living anything close to a Christian life. I was doing all sorts of carnal and self-destructive things on a fairly regular basis. So much so that I probably could have died. I believe, if not for the prayers of parents and grandparents, I probably would have died or ended up in prison. Most importantly, Jesus, I believe, was watching over me and protecting me so for me to bring up such issues, as I did in my last email is ungrateful not to mention disrespectful to the Lord. I was parceled into a Christian residential ministry and believe I was actually born again there. I wept on my hands and knees as men laid their hands on me and prayed, I felt the presence of the Lord and tears flowed freely from my eyes, I asked him to come into my heart and I believe he did. I am not pentecostal but I believe this ministry did me a world of good and brought the Lord into my life. However, I feel as though I am still oppressed by demons.
The problem is, I feel like I have done a lot of backsliding since then. I have not gotten back into some of my bad old habits, though not like I was in my teens and early 20's, and I have stayed away from some licentious behavior. Sometimes my attitude is bad though and I see myself questioning Christ and angry about the curses that are on this planet. However, in my heart, I know why things are the way they are. This is all predicted in the Bible. Lets face it, things on this planet are many times worse than they were just 25 or 30 years ago, not in every way but in a lot of ways. However, I do pray for the Lord to forgive my sins every night and I always pray in Jesus' name, followed by the Lords Prayer.
I suppose on could deduce that things in this life, on this planet are not fair or don't seem fair because the Earth is ruled by Satan, am I correct? If this wasn't the case, I don't believe we'd have the tyranny and other horrible things that have occurred, especially in this past century. I also believe the clock is ticking and perhaps, we might just be the last generation but then, there is no way to know for certain as no man or woman is outside of time and can see the end and when it will occur, although many have tried. I see it all the time on the internet, Christians predicting (using numbers and a lot of other things) when Christ will return and of course, Tribulation. Again, I am left to assume that we are to be ready at all times. "Like a thief in the night."
Your explanation on your website about various issues regarding God, Satan and many other issues is probably the best I have come across and believe me, I have been to many websites concerning these issues. It must be a gift from God himself that you are able to describe these issues so clearly and efficiently.
Thanks for writing back and no need for an apology for a response that was timely, I have written many so-called pastors who have never written back.
Your reply does my heart good. Not so much for the kind comments about this ministry (which are indeed greatly appreciated!), but because of all the good, sound Christian common sense I hear here. It seems to me that you are much closer to living a productive spiritual life for the Lord than many or even most "Christians" are. For we all have failed, and we all have issues in our lives that need to be cleaned up before we can move on and move forward. Sounds to me as if you are facing up to them in exactly the right way, and, more than that, that you are dealing with them in a sound and reasonable Christian way as well, not underestimating the work that needs to be done. This is the mark of a Christian whom Jesus is bringing back around. Recognizing that He has been with you through the storm and being grateful as you pick up the pieces is a very good sign, and one which betokens a certain amount of spiritual growth (cf. 1Chron.17:8). I am also encouraged by your attitude toward eschatology. It is a very important area of doctrine (as all are), but a good foundation of more basic teachings is, in early stages of growth and recovery, a higher priority. I would only urge you as I did between the lines in the last e-mail to develop a personal daily plan of prayer, Bible reading, Bible study (taking advantage of trusted sources), and daily application of the truth to your life. By the latter I mean starting to apply the principles you remember and learn in the living of your life day to day (in anticipation of the day when the Lord leads you to whatever ministry He has for you). Indeed, everything written in scripture is the truth, and it is all there to be understood. Some things are hard to understand, but do yield to perseverance in every case. Other things are easy to understand, yet hard to accept and apply. But whatever it is, the Lord through His Spirit will take you just as far as you are willing to go just as fast as you are willing to get there. In this course there is great reward, not to mention great spiritual safety – everything else is just a spinning of wheels along with the danger of slipping entirely off the road.
Best wishes and heartfelt prayers for you journey up the high and narrow road that leads to Zion.
Well, I only speak the truth, humility is a good thing and I can see that you have that, many pastors that run internet websites (or otherwise) do not. They don't respond to emails and if they do, they don't take the time to give you a decent explanation or to answer your questions. My feeling is, if they are truly men of Christ, they would take the time. Of course, there are always going to be circumstances where someone can't respond but I know that many I have dealt with have chosen not to, for whatever reason.
The only other question I have (and I do apologize if this is on your website) is if someone is saved and becomes born again and then backslides, goes back to his former life, is that person still "saved" or not? This doesn't really apply to me as I believe I am heading in the right direction now but I think of one of my siblings, who is not. I know another member of my family is not born again and that also is disconcerting, considering health issues and the need for the Lord to b there.
As for reading the Bible, I actually enjoy doing it although I have mainly read Jesus' words as I find a lot of comfort in them. Perhaps I should simply start from the beginning and read all the way through. I was also thinking about finding a Bible study but it's difficult to find a good church now days, or perhaps I am just being negative? I'm glad I came across your site and I really do appreciate the opportunity to discuss Christ and the Bible with a true man of God.
It is difficult to find churches where the Bible is being taught in a substantive and orthodox way. This is a chronic problem with the "church visible" of the early 21st century, and goes a long way to explaining why this ministry is on the internet and not in a "brick and mortar" church building. You are certainly welcome here any time. But whatever the source, I would urge you to avail yourself of some solid spiritual food in addition to your personal reading of the Bible, whether that is face to face, through print, or on-line. That is an essential part of spiritual growth. If you have not already done so, I would recommend the brief study "Read your Bible: Protection against Cults" (see the link). It provides some guidance about methodology both for Bible reading and for evaluating the orthodoxy of ministries whatever the form.
As to your question, the subject of apostasy requires going into quite a bit of detail (please consult the link: in Basics 3B Hamartiology: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"), but I am happy to give you the "gist" of it here. Believers are people who have a living faith in Jesus Christ, and that means not just some intellectual understanding that a person named "Jesus" once lived, but an understanding and acceptance of who He is, God and man in one person forever, and what He has done for us, dying for all of our sins on the cross. It also means continued loyalty and allegiance to Him: it means continuing to respond to Him and what He says. That is to say, if a person really does believe in Jesus in the full sense of that expression, then at least to some degree however minimal such a person is still "following" Him in this life. On the other hand, when we refuse to respond and follow, and when we not only sin but persevere in our sins, stop caring about or confessing our sins, or, worse yet, start justifying our sins, such a process inevitably hardens our hearts against the One we once loved. We become ever more reluctant to "look Him in the face", and, if pushed to extremes, this process of apostasy not only damages our faith but can actually bring us to the point where we lose our faith altogether, where we stop believing in Jesus as our Savior. This is the point at which the "plant of faith" in the parable of the Sower dies out, and the person falls into a state that is "worse than before" (2Pet.2:20-22).
In my observation and experience, people who are worried that they might have lost their faith are generally believers in the process of being shocked back into line by divine discipline, whereas people who have entirely lost their faith in fact generally could care less. It is always difficult to evaluate what is going on in the heart of another person, and in my estimation I would say that there are many instances where we will be very surprised in heaven that person A was really not a believer at all, and that person B was still a believer in spite of all he/she had done. Nevertheless, I understand your concern for the ones you love on this score, and I do encourage you to continue in prayer and ministry for them. Ministry always starts at home.
In the Name of the One who loved us and gave His all for us, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thanks Pastor, I will definitely partake in your on-line ministry as much as possible. I believe you are genuine. There are also many websites that I've come across that go to extremes to get their message across, I won't go into examples as I am not going to judge anyone (nor in I am a position to) but I think you understand what I mean. You give logical and sound spiritual advice and you teach that the only way to God is through Jesus, that's where I want to be, that's all that matters.
Thanks again for your wisdom and may God continue to bless you, your family and ministry. I will do some reading on your site and in the Bible, and I'll definitely be in touch. I also appreciate the warm welcome as this has been a very hard year for me so far. I have wept more times this year than the previous 10 combined although I know the Lord is hearing my prayers and helping be through these tough times. He has pulled (or carried) me through some bad times.
Good for you! As I say, you are welcome here, and I am happy to answer questions. Also, I maintain an e-mail notification list for major new postings (not the weekly e-mail postings which are regular occurrences and have an RSS feed). If you would like, I would be happy to add you to the list.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who
goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs
of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
Psalm 126:5-6 NIV
Now no punishment is a cause of rejoicing as it is being
experienced, but rather of regret - only later does it bear
fruit for those who have been trained through it - the fruit of
[personal] righteousness that makes one whole and complete.
Keep on fighting the good fight of faith.
I came across your website several days ago while attempting to do a little research (personal) about God's relationship with man and the impact that Satan and his demons have on that relationship. Instead, I came across much more, doubtless that your site is a wealth of information although I have not been able to get through the whole thing because of time constraints (you seem to put a lot of emphasis on time, the time we have here on Earth, which is indeed short). It certainly doesn't seem that way when you're a child, the days are long and pleasure abounding. As we grow older though and especially when we get into our 30's, suddenly time does not creep along anymore, the days and months run together and 5 years goes by like 5 months to a child. The Grandmother used to say that life is like a role of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. I believe she is in heaven now (or will be), she was a staunch Christian women and very obedient to the Lord.
I struggled through my teens and early 20's with an addiction to drugs and although things have improved drastically since then, I still find myself giving in rather easily to temptation and demonic influences. I remember reading somewhere that there are demons responsible for certain duties, duties that bring chaos into the world and into our lives and that these demons have names. Is this true? I grew up in a traditional protestant church so as you can probably imagine, not a lot of this was covered in the watered down Sunday sermons, it was a fairly liberal church. Much of what you write concerning man's quest for pleasure and wealth struck home with me not only because I see it in myself but I see it in almost every person I am in contact with. As you well know, there are very few people in my age group (40 or younger) that are true Christians so it's difficult to surround yourself with them, good churches are hard to find and I'm not sure I even know what's good and what's not! Some are obvious but some are not.
I have often wondered what happens when we die, it's a question that I think everyone ponders from time to time. Will there be a waiting area where Christians and non-Christians are held, to be judged by the Lord when the time comes, or do Christians go directly to heaven and the latter to hell. What you said cuts through any Earthly perceptions, accumulated assets, family ties, basically anything physical. We come into the world with nothing and we take nothing with us when we die but the question still stands, will there be demons waiting for non-Christians when they die and angels waiting for Christians? It reminds of the movie 'Ghost.' A totally ludicrous movie except for the fact that when there was a death, there where actually demons waiting to take an evil doer off to hell, so to speak. I am a avid history buff and have read many books about the second world war, Hitler, Stalin, the Holocaust, pretty much everything. Although it's been several years since I've indulged, I recall reading about the death of Stalin (an incredibly evil man who was responsible for the deaths of millions, perhaps even more than Hitler). In his death throes, he is said to have been extremely frightened and had a look of sheer terror on his face, something that the people who surrounded him throughout his rule had never seen. Was there something on the other side waiting for him that he could actually see? Hard to say I guess.
Anyway, it's been a very informative experience reading your site, you are a gifted writer and I would like to show your "Satan's Rebellion" series to several people as I think it would be of great benefit. My last question is, I have been born again but feel as though I have been doing a lot of backsliding since then, what is the best way to turn my life around and walk with the Lord and not the World? It's difficult to exist in these times without falling into demon traps, or is it?
Thank you for your interest and interesting comments. I would say that your observations about life are right on from the Christian perspective. Time does indeed seem to be speeding up the closer we get to the end, personal and corporately. As far as youthful indiscretion and current occasional struggles are concerned, it seems to me that this is by far the most common Christian experience in a culture where opportunity for sin and evil is virtually unbounded. It certainly is many if not most of the good Christians I know – only the specifics of the story vary from person to person. Seems as if we all have to go through a period of finding out that the siren song of the world is an empty promise, and after we get back on the right road there is sometimes even more resistance than before. That's usually a signal that we are on the right track, however, especially if we know for a fact that we are not involved in gross sin or other obvious disobedience. The devil definitely opposes our efforts to draw closer to the Lord and to do His will.
As far as names of demons and angels are concerned, there is very little in scripture (see the link: Angelology), and I am reluctant to "go beyond what is written". In terms of how we get to where we are going after death, the only thing I find in scripture is Luke 16:22 where it says that the "angels" carried Lazarus to "Abraham's bosom", i.e., the place of rest occupied by believers before the resurrection, ascension, and session of our Lord. Interestingly in that passage it says that the rich man "died and was buried", but we know from the same story that he too ended up in Hades, only in the part of Hades known as "torments" (or hell) rather than in the place of rest. No word on how he got there. Also no word on how believers get to the third heaven today, although angelic agency is a good bet in both cases based upon what Luke 16:22 does say. After resurrection, like Jesus we will not need this help (based upon the ascension and second advent; cf. also Rev.19:14). For more about our interim state, about which you ask, please see the following link:
Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State.
Finding a good church where the Bible is the central focus and is taught in a solid and substantive way is very difficult. I have a number of friends from seminary who, going on close to thirty years after the fact now, do not have churches for this very reason, and this ministry is on the internet precisely because there are so very few people who are interesting in finding out about what the scriptures really mean in detail (in a local church setting, this would require at the very least several hours a week devoted strictly to Bible teaching apart from all other potential distractions, e.g., music et al.). But to answer your question, the only way to grow, in my opinion (and I believe in this I also have the Spirit of God), is to set oneself to listen to God's Word (through Bible reading and good Bible teaching), then believe it, apply it to life, and help others do likewise (through personal ministry that promotes the spiritual growth of others based upon one's own true gifts). This is a lengthy process, always challenging and often not particularly "exciting" or "uplifting" when the hard work is being done. But I have come to understand that the power of the truth in one's heart surpasses any temporary emotional experience on Sunday morning by orders of magnitude which cannot even be explained before the fact.
What you are doing, reaching out to find out more about the Bible in a substantive way, is exactly what you should be doing. You are certainly welcome to all the materials here at Ichthys, and welcome to ask questions etc. whenever you like. Like any church (even good churches), there is no way this ministry can be everyone's "cup of tea". Especially whenever a ministry attempts actually to explain what the Bible says, there are going to be explanations and interpretations with which those who come into contact with it differ vociferously. But do keep on with your search, and when you find something you know with you heart and your mind is "good to eat", then stick with it through thick and thin. There is no substitute for the milk and the solid food of the Word of the God, but that food has to be "eaten" (i.e., heard and believed) in order to do any good.
Keep on running the race to gain the prize of the high upward calling in Jesus our Lord.
I was thinking after reading through the Gospels how would I respond to Jesus is I were living in the days and time in which He walked the earth. Sometimes I wonder if I would reject Him or except to for what He had to say and did. Do you think that Christians today would put more trust in Him if they were to live in the days when He were alive? Sometimes I think so because Jesus said "blessed are those who haven't seen but believed". What do you think?
It's really hard to say. We are all different. Our Lord knows us so well, inside and out, that what we can say is that we are living in the perfect time and place to receive Him, grow in Him, and serve Him. I am sure that in eternity it will be made clear to us how that God perfectly selected our life circumstances taking into account the intimate details of our personalities, things about which we ourselves are only vaguely aware if at all. It is certainly true that your quote indicates a higher level of blessing for those who have had faith and been faithful without the same measure of tangible "proof". On the other hand, the more revelation, the more suffering, as Paul makes clear (2Cor.12:7-10). So while Paul and the other apostles had face to face proof and encouragement from the Lord which we do not, there is also the principle that "to whom much is given, much is expected" (Lk.12:48). Would we do as well as they did with what they received? And there is also the principle that "familiarity breeds contempt". Jesus' brothers – who would eventually be saved – were not willing to accept Him as the Messiah before His resurrection, apparently precisely because He was their (half) brother (Jn.7:5). So I would have to say that every human being has been put in the perfect place and time for him/her to have the best chance to respond most fully to the Lord (true of unbelievers as well as believers), and I would therefore suspect that, were we alive then, we would not do as well as we have the opportunity to do today (just as those who lived then were better inclined to do the most for the Lord then than they would be today).
In Him whose wisdom is unsearchable, and who always cares for us in every way, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Bob Luginbill,
I am writing to thank you, and to say, that the work you're doing is helping a lot of Christians like me. I've been Christian all my life, that is for the past almost 37 years, and have had a life of trials. Even though my family has always been Christian, life has not been easy for us. We've had hardships and illnesses, which after a while, made me question my belief. For a while (about 4 years) I didn't really feel like being Christian anymore, I still went to church, but didn't really follow through all God's commandments. I married a non-Christian, very much against God's will (He made it very clear to me, that I should not marry that person, but I married anyway), who turned out to be violent, and finally after 7 years of suffering, I divorced. I felt abandoned by my church after the divorce, because my pastor did not understand why I was divorcing, and I felt rejected by everyone. I also felt like a real "sinner", since Jesus condemns divorce. Right after the divorce, I met someone, also an non-Christian, and started dating him. I eventually moved in though not without feeling guilty. I felt, that the Holy Spirit "talked" to me daily, reminding me, that I was living in sin, in that I should repent and begin living a righteous life. After 2 years, I couldn't anymore, and stopped. I chose Jesus, instead and that's when the real tribulation began for me. For the past 2 years, I've experienced serious illnesses, I am now known at the local hospital(!), accidents and severe economic hardship. I owe money to my bank and friends, lost my job, am alone with my little daughter, and all in all, am in a very difficult situation. On the other hand, my spiritual life has been renovated. For the first time in my life, I feel that the Lord is really watching over me. I feel His love and care, I look forward to go to church and am constantly singing for Him and praising His name. I feel at peace with life. Some of my non-believer friends don't understand me, because I am so calm. Even my pastor is very surprised to see how I am coping with my situation.
Last week I had a car accident, was taken to the ER by ambulance, had some X-rays taken of my entire body and coincidentally the doctors think they've found a tumor. My friends at church, my pastor and my family are all in disbelief. They simply can not understand why I am going through so much. I on the other hand, can only say one thing: I am feeling stronger and stronger for each battle, and I feel Jesus and the Lord our Father, through the Holy Spirit so close to me now, it's incredible.
Only the Lord knows how much I can endure, but He also knows the lessons I needed to learn. He knows, that I needed to learn to depend on Him and only Him. Sometimes I don't have any money do buy food; what I do then, is pray, then the next day, I receive money from an unexpected source. The past 2 years in my life have been one miracle after another.
I hope that next time I write to you, I'll have started a new chapter in my life. I hope, that the lessons being learned will serve to help people in the future. People who might be going through difficult times. I then will be able to "feel" for them and give them my testimony and a word of encouragement.
God bless you
You have certainly had a rough time! It sounds as if you have undergone the testing of Job. I praise God that you have done so with the patience and faith of Job as well. Your testimony is extremely encouraging. To hear how you have not only survived in your faith and faithfulness to our Lord Jesus, but have actually thrived and continued to grow in spite of such severe testing is inspiring in the extreme! It makes me realize (and I am sure will make others realize as well) that God is able, no matter what the circumstances, to support and sustain us, even in the midst of the most severe personal tribulation such as you are undergoing.
You are a strong and powerful witness for our Lord and for His truth! I encourage you to stand fast in that truth and in your faith. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words about this ministry. I am very pleased to hear that it has been some help to you, especially seeing that you are enduring where I and many of our fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus might not have the strength to do so.
Thank you again for your inspiring witness!
In the One who is able to keep us from falling, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I can't say for certain that my friend was lost but I do know for a fact that he took his own life, it was no overdose, he actually put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I still remember the exact moment I received that call; the sad thing is, he tried to get ahold of me that night and I wasn't home (no cell phones back then.) I don't blame myself but that did greatly impact my way of thinking and start leading me into the light of Christ. I still used drugs and drank after that for a while but there was at that point, a battle in my soul. I would often find myself crying at the end of a night of drinking and drugging. Then I realized, there is no material thing that can ever make us happy. If a man wins the lottery and goes from rags to riches overnight, suddenly, he is worth 50 or 100 million dollars but that glory does not last, the happiness does not last. It only takes a year or two before that person (if he was miserable to begin with) is just as miserable, if not more miserable than he was before. That goes for wealthy movie stars and athletes too, many of these people are unhappy and I can say with certainty that there are people who are worth billions of dollars who are miserable. The Bible does mention this, although I don't recall the verse or how it went, something to the effect of gold and silver and all earthly possessions fading away and as your writings mention, they are gone for good when we leave this Earth! Certainly we can leave behind these things for our loved ones but if we are not with Christ, it's not as if we will be able to enjoy the feeling of doing this after death. Life without Christ is so incredibly futile.
I listened to a popular movie star literally berate his young daughter on her answering machine, something the press got ahold of, his voice was filled with rage and he sounded as if he wanted to kill her. Money and fame does not equal long-term happiness. It's hard to ascertain whether or not Satan himself is directly responsible for all of our temptations or he has demons that he orders to attack people, I suspect it's the latter as he is not omnipresent, like God (although I'm sure he'd like to be.) God certainly has limited his powers but again, there is no doubt in my mind who's Earth this is, or rather, who is responsible for all the evil on this Earth. The Bible often mentions to not get involved with "worldly things"; what would you consider these to be? Some are obvious, such as drinking, sex (outside of marriage) drugs, pornography and abusive behavior but some are not so obvious. I read a lot of history books and it occurred to me that many of these books do contain very graphic information, especially the ones about WW2. When I read about the Battle of Stalingrad (fought between the German and Russian armies) I couldn't help but think what a horrible waste of life it was and the suffering was unlike anything we Americans had ever experienced in battle. I do wonder if it's appropriate to be reading this material though. I know a lot about history but that book actually gave me nightmares as the hell-like experience these soldiers went through was just beyond the scope of imagination. A million men dead in five months!
Well, thanks for all the meaningful emails and I do appreciate the company as I don't know a lot of Christians right now, outside of my own family (and many of them are not.) So thank you and have a blessed Sunday.
It is always hard to lose somebody, especially when we aren't sure about their eternal status. But as Christians we have hope, confident expectation, of our Lord's return, our resurrection, and an eternal life filled with joy now unimaginable – and reunion with those we have lost in the Lord, and the confidence that we will never know a moment of regret for all the losses of this life. You are so right about this world of dust and rust (for references you wonder about, see, if you haven't already done so, the link: "Strangers in the devil's realm"). Amen – only Christ can make us happy, learning about Him, striving to do what He wants us to do. There is no true happiness without Him; nothing else lasts.
As a history person myself (most of my secular research for my job is in ancient history or historiography), I think that it is like many disciplines in that there is good and bad (and more good in history than in many disciplines, some of which are pretty well devoid of meaningful content). It is true what you say that there are disturbing things in history and it is always a good idea to keep some emotional distance. This world is composed of what we can see and what we can't, and it's what we can't see that is really important. We have to live in the world, earn a living, fulfill responsibilities to loved ones, employers, our country, etc. These things are not only necessary but good as long as we keep them in the correct perspective. For example, it is possible to do too good a job in one's chosen profession, becoming so fixated upon it that it begins to seem and become much more important than it really is. We have to work, but we don't have to look to our jobs as the basis of our security (God is our security) or of our happiness (Jesus is our happiness) or of our validation (that comes when we are rewarded before the judgment seat of Christ). So even very legitimate and necessary things can become snares and traps if we allow them to distract us from what is really important in life, namely, growing spiritually and helping others to do the same. And if that is true of necessary and legitimate activities, how much more is not true of "hobbies" and even more so of activities which, as you say, are clearly out-and-out sinful? But of all the pastimes a person might have, reading, and reading history in particular, strikes me as one of the most benign and potentially helpful since in well-written historical analyses we will see the world operating as God describes rather than as man under Satan's influence often propagandizes it.
I hope and pray that you will find a good Christian fellowship – one that is truly dedicated to teaching and studying the Word of God in a substantive and orthodox way.
In our Lord Jesus,
I have spent many hours reading your excellent work! I have found no other source of interpretation, clarity of meaning and truthful representation of scripture. My own personal reading and understanding of the bible has been graciously expanded though the blessings you received to produce this fine work. My question which may on the surface seen ultra basic, is at its heart very sincere and serious: How do we know there is a GOD! How do we differentiate God from the many gods of this world. The use of the word god is so general and has been applied to both the spirit world and our own human position. I have struggled to create in my own mind a unique understanding of the concept: GOD. We assign characteristics, attitudes and words to this being (please forgive the common tense of that word), but how do we truly connect to the real, true, living god of Abraham. Is it by faith only? Is there a way to know more personally the identity of the God we believe. How does one fathom the oneness of the supreme entity, and those given the title of sons of god, or statements that suggest man was created in "our" image (does that mean being God is a group effort)? This corner stone of understand is missed in every source of information I have found. Hopefully you can point me in a direction to uncover clarity of this burning question. Again, thank you for your extraordinary work, and your tolerance of this persistent question. God is blessing you, and I pray those blessing will continue!
Good to make your acquaintance, and thank you for your question. First off, there are some materials at Ichthys that address these questions. Let me give you some of the more pertinent links, but below I will try and give you a summary of my thoughts on this here as well:
On natural revelation: Peter #11, "Natural and Special Revelation"
On the image of God: Basics #3, "Anthropology", section II.1, "The Image and Likeness of God"
On the nature of God: Basics #1, "Theology"
In general terms, Paul answers in Romans the essential premise of your question about coming to know there is in fact a God:
God's wrath is about to be revealed from heaven upon all
ungodliness and unrighteousness - on men who suppress the truth
[about God] in their unrighteousness. For that which can be
known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them,
because God has made it obvious. His nature, though invisible,
is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His
foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from
this creation of His - [this is true of] both His eternal power
and His divinity - so that they are without any excuse: they
knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked
Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this
world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were
filled with darkness. Claiming to be wise, they became foolish,
for they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for images
and likenesses of corruptible men, of birds and beasts and
reptiles (i.e., idolatry).
So despite what men may claim, scripture is clear that every human being with normal mental capacity realizes at some (I would say early) point in their lives that there is indeed a God (in the full sense of the word). That is because the nature of the universe, creation, (cf. Ps.8) and the parameters of life shout this truth from every quarter, and also because the receipt of this knowledge has been "hot-wired" into every human spirit.
The heavens recount the glory of God, and the firmament tells
of the work of His hands. One day after another pours forth
[His] words, and one night after another declares [His]
knowledge. There is no tongue or culture that cannot understand
their voice (i.e., of the heavens/firmament). Their design has
gone out into (i.e., "is visible throughout") the entire earth,
and their words to the end of the world. He has set a tent for
the sun within them (i.e., hidden it in the heavens/firmament's
night sky), and from this it goes forth like a [resplendent]
bridegroom from his [wedding] canopy. [The sun] exults to run
its course like an athlete [does]. Its starting line is at one
end of the heavens, and its circuit [takes it] to the ends [of
the sky]. And nothing is hidden from its view.
I have seen all the work that God has given Man to occupy
himself with. [God] has made everything beautiful in its
[limited] time; but He has also placed the [notion of] eternity
in the hearts of mankind - and [He has done this], moreover,
without Man being able to discover the work which God has done
from the beginning unto the end.
God, however, does not force us to act on this truth, and, as the verse above makes clear, he gives us all a measure of "plausible deniability" on this score so that our choice for Him may be a truly free one, and not coerced by the overwhelming reality of Him. Very early on in the life of unbelief individuals make the decision (or a whole collective of decisions really) to choose against this truth. Rejecting truth leads to hardness of heart, and eventually it comes to pass that in individuals who had realized the truth of the existence of the God who made the universe and everything in it that this truth not only fades but is entirely erased and replaced with whatever fashionable lie they have believed or concocted. The irony in this is that, as Paul notes in Romans chapter one above, when the truth is rejected, something else, something false, something cheap and much less plausible than the truth is inevitably and universally accepted in its place. In his day, paganism was the substitute for the One true God. In our day, there is no lack of that either, although it comes in other forms, and many have made a "god" out of science and/or pseudo-science. The knowledge of God that Paul talks about above is a very simple, very clear, very sharp and "unsophisticated" understanding of the One who is unique, complete, perfect, all-wise, all-good, marvelous, wonderful, beneficent, holy, all-powerful, loving, and righteous. In other words, although the precise qualities of His nature that we are blessed to know about in some detail through scripture may not be well-articulated when we first come to realize "He is", they are nevertheless instinctively understood at first – at least until human "wisdom" responding to resistance to His authority and the truth of His existence fills the newly created void with humanly constructed and demonically inspired falsehoods. Nor is some detailed and doctrinally correct systematic knowledge of Him necessary in order to express a desire to be His; Jesus told us that we have to approach Him just like children do the ones they trust (Matt.18:1-5).
So – not to get to Platonic about it – but we all have the perfect idea of a perfect God in our hearts at birth, and this idea is constantly reinforced and elucidated by everything we see in the physical realm. Only our rejection of this essential truth, responding to the influences around us and to our own base desires, causes this truth to fade and evaporate to the point where many people would deny (wrongly) that they ever had an understanding of the existence of God in the first place.
But of course "natural revelation" only gets us so far. The answer to your question in terms of our present relationship with the Lord is entirely bound up in and based upon "special revelation". We can't know any more about God beyond the obvious wonder and glory of Him apparent from His works which He has deigned to tell us about Himself; although admittedly this is quite a lot, it cannot save us, in and of itself. Thankfully, He has graciously deigned to tell us quite a lot more – so much in fact that one can spend a lifetime on the well of living water contained in the scriptures, and yet never drink it dry. In my experience and observation and in my reading of the Bible I would say that the only trustworthy way of getting closer to the Lord is through His Word. His Word is the truth about Him told to us and for us by Him. No other activity, no sacrifice, no mental or physical discipline, no emotional or ecstatic experience is capable of producing anywhere near the same depth of relationship, warmth of His presence, experience of the power of His person as can be had through knowing Him better from what He tells us. That does not mean that building our relationship with Him is quick or easy or without effort – far from it. But it does mean that it is possible, if we commit ourselves to daily spiritual growth as our first priority and our chief love. To get closer to the One who is the Truth, we have to know, study, contemplate, believe, and apply the truth in a consistent and effective way. This requires much from us and much from our ministers. We are responsible for reading the Bible, for prayer, for disciplining our thinking, for disciplining our way of life, for believing the truth of what we read and hear, for applying it in every appropriate way in every aspect of our lives. Our ministers/teachers are responsible for digging into the depths of the Word of God and facilitating our seeking out of the spiritual food upon which so much of our growth depends. Emotion fizzles out; behavior modification systems shipwreck on the rock of our imperfection; entertainment, music, fellowship, inspiring talks will not sustain us in the dark hour of lonely trial. But the Word of God, fully understood, completely believed, and jealously preserved in the depths of our hearts is a power the likes of which the human eye will never see – until our Lord returns in person on that glorious day of days and we see the Truth face to face.
I hope that I have responded to a part of your question in a helpful way. Feel free to write me back about any of this.
In the Name of the One who is "the way, the truth, and the life", our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
You have been so helpful to me in your recent replies. I'd like to change the subject to another important one....our Christian testimonies. As a scientist, TRUTH is all important to me. Whenever I hear a testimony like Oh! how my life has changed since I've accepted Jesus! I have so much peace and joy...everything is new! I just know I'm going to heaven! I have to confess that I'm tempted to doubt it. What would that person's spouse say? What would his co workers, friends, and immediate family say? Would they confirm that person's testimony as true? If I could see a movie of his home life...what would I see? Bob, that dramatic type of testimony has NOT been my Christian experience. I and the rest of us need HOPE, not HYPE! I have had to struggle to keep on believing! My relationship with Christ is mixed with a lot of fear and doubt but has still been enough to keep me out a of a behavioral cesspool and from sinking into a suicidal despair. While my faith is stronger than it used to be, my personal testimony is one of survival, not of dramatic change. No doubt the reason that fear, rather than joy, and victory, has characterized my walk with Christ is because I am at fault in trying so hard to make my life on earth work, rather than focusing on eternal rewards. I have been sorely disappointed. For example, I wanted a great relationship, only to find that there is much disconnection in the relationship to overcome. It's hard for me to get excited about eternal rewards when I could lose it all by failing to persevere to the end! I've got to make it to heaven before I see any rewards. Anyway the only reward I want from Jesus is His approval: Well done, thou good and faithful servant!
Back to the question of truth in our testimonies. According to the Word of God, there has to real, literal transformation of our lives if we truly believe in Jesus. A transformation so real that it can be documented by those who know us and live around us everyday. If there has never been real transformation of our lives, and the lives of Christians down through history as well, then Jesus Christ is not risen! We are giving false testimonies because our lives really have not changed, and we are of all men most miserable! If our lives really are no different than before we were saved, we are just playing church, and worse than that, we are the worlds biggest hypocrites! Bob, what the world needs from us is REAL HOPE, not HYPE! If people who give these kind of sweeping testimonies of transformation would also tell of all the struggle and heartache that preceded them, they would be more credible. I reckon that there is still a cynical side to me that says: If is sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trusting God and other people, especially after my divorce in 1987, has always been difficult for me. On the other hand, I need to take the Word literally when it says that our God is able to do exceedingly above all that we can ask or think , and that if I persevere, I will eventually experience Jesus in a way that will be comparable, though not exactly the same, to the many other dramatic testimonies given down through history. Your thoughts?
Good to hear from you. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also take glowing testimonies with at least a grain of salt. I suppose as you say a person really has to know the individual saying such things to be able to validate the truthfulness of the testimony. They are easy to give; hard to live. And as I often say, true change and transformation is always inside out: genuine improvement comes from the long, hard work of spiritual growth. And there is so much "phony baloney" out there in the ether that it sometimes make my stomach ache; it is just the propensity for such "stuff" that makes going to certain churches such a difficult burden to bear. The closer a person gets to Jesus in truth, learning to separate out the hype from the truth as you put it, the easier it is to recognize non-biblical and non-spiritual behavior – and in my experience and observation the more difficult it is to put up with it as well! As you say very correctly and sagaciously, it ought to be Jesus that we are seeking to serve and striving to please, but the problem with the activities you relate is that they are often calling attention to self instead of to Christ. Such performances are really saying "see how great I am!" instead of "see how great Jesus is!".
Genuine witnessing and genuine life testimony are certainly legitimate, but the change and the report of it both have to come from the inside out. That means, a person has to first truly commit himself to spiritual growth and service, the high road to Zion. Then a person has to do the hard work of reading the Bible, of consistently taking in substantive and orthodox Bible teaching, of learning it, believing it, applying it, and of preparing for and putting one's shoulder to the burden of helping others to do likewise according to one's own spiritual gifts. If a person really does start up this road and despite the ups and downs stick with it over time, then this will be unmistakably obvious to everyone and no hoopla will be needed for those around the person to recognize it. This is precisely what you are striving to do and I can assure you that the true testimony of your life is guaranteed thereby as long as you keep advancing under this standard. Be patient and persevere – trust God and He will help you to do it.
As to the manner of spiritual growth, please do trust God. Please do be careful about trusting other people. No human being is perfect, and even the best, those whose walk is closest to Jesus, are never going to be without fault (as the examination of the lives of just about any major biblical character you can name will show only too well). But while we human beings are fallible, God is perfect and will never let you down. Read the book of Job: the main lesson is that even when it seems like everything and everyone is against you and that things will never change for the good, God has the situation completely and entirely in hand. He is completely faithful and completely worthy of your entire trust – trust in Him; He will do it.
In the end, those who trust God even in the hard times will only have their faith built up more and more, and become thereby ever more useful for the Lord and by the Lord. I am not saying that is always easy to "count it all joy" as James tells us to do. But I do know for certain that what Paul tells us in the first chapter of Second Corinthians is entirely correct: in the midst of distress, pain, sorrow, disappointment and adversity, God is there to comfort us if we are only willing to be comforted, and we can still experience His power and presence while under pressure. Indeed, these are the very times when we experience Him and His truth the most dramatically, for it is only in weakness that His power and presence are made the most dynamically and explosively real in our lives (2Cor.12:9). This takes giving in to Him and casting aside all vestiges of resistance to Him and His Word. It takes faith and trust, aggressively and unreservedly applied. It doesn't matter how or if or when we have failed in the past. This comfort and consolation, this experience of the wonders of Him and His truth are available for the asking now. We do have to pray, to spend time thinking about Him and His Word, reading His Word, and studying His Word, learning and believing what we are taught in truth, and being consistent, persistent, and insistent about it. It is not easy, but ultimately everything else in this world is dust, and, as you so eloquently point out, only the "well done" in our Master's presence will mean anything on that day of days to come. Our hope is "Jesus Christ" (Col.1:27), being together with Him forever, and the "crowns" which we are laboring to win here are wonderful for us to anticipate precisely because they represent ever greater levels of approval from the One we love so much. There is great reward in living our lives passionately for our Savior, and it is important to have faith that He is a Rewarder of those who do so (Heb.11:6), recognizing that our efforts on behalf of His Name are never in vain (1Cor.15:58) – indeed, they are the only thing that really is of consequence in this short-lived world, and "the day" to come will reveal that to be so.
I am very pleased to hear that our correspondence has been helpful to you. Keep up your good work of spiritual growth and ministry in the service of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In Him before whom we shall all stand on that great day of days.