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Recovering from Sin

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Question #1:  I am trying to come to a conclusion about forgiveness. Does one have to repent to be forgiven? The world tells us to forgive unconditionally no matter what. God forgives us, but not until we repent, right? Can there be forgiveness before repentance? Do the principles of forgiveness vary? (Among people or the church or unbelievers or believers, the way God does it, they way we should do it......) I know it makes people feel better to forgive others, but is it biblical to do so if the other party isn't sorry or they want to cause pain? There are some accusations, rumors, gossip and such coming about from former attenders at our church. They are persistent about "exposing" their truth about my Pastor. It's a cruel and hurtful situation because it is based on lies, rumors and pure evil intent. Pastor has confronted them and believes they need to acknowledge and repent of their blatant sin and then we can forgive them if it is a true change of heart. They think his idea on forgiveness is wrong and calling him a "false teacher" among other things.... I hope you halfway understand what I'm trying to ask. Thank you for your response and I pray that God continues to pour into your heart the energy and commitment it takes to have a website like yours.

Response #1:  First, let me thank you for your encouraging words, and special thanks for your prayers - they mean a lot. As to your question, I guess the first thing that I would say is that there is a difference between God's forgiven of us and our forgiveness of other people. In terms of God forgiving us, God's understanding of our sin is perfect while we only imperfectly understand the depth of our sinfulness and just what Christ had to suffer to cleanse us from all of our sins. But since Jesus died for all of our sins, they have been expiated, washed away by the blood of Christ (i.e., by His work for us on the cross; see the link: God's Forgiveness of Sins). Claiming that forgiveness is thus a fairly simple matter for believers. It certainly does not involve works or effort of any kind on our part. Indeed, if we have the idea that we are in any way "helping" in this process, then we are of necessity finding some fault with what Jesus did for us. As is clear in your e-mail from your own wrestling with these ideas, the words are important and also the meaning that is attached to the words. Unfortunately, "repent" has become somewhat of a "loaded term" in Christian circles, and it often carries with it connotations and meaning that bear no true relation to the biblical idea of repentance. Let me use an analogy here. I recently received an e-mail from someone who was exasperated that I felt "a believer could lose their salvation". In fact, if a person is a believer, that person is saved; if a person does not believe in Jesus, that person does not have salvation or the assurance of it, even if at one point he or she honestly professed faith in Christ. It is the true status of things that counts. Likewise with repentance. True biblical repentance is a "change of mind" that occasions a change of behavior. That switch in mental orientation and attitude of heart is inevitable and without exception communicated to God through prayer (i.e., confession which always follows true repentance). As it says of salvation in Romans 10:9 "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved". Now some folks try to split these two up, but in fact they cannot be split (and that is a big part of Paul's point in that context). In 100% of cases, all who truly "confess with their mouths" truly have first believed in their hearts, and all those who have believed in their hearts truly, will not fail to give verbal or other expression of that salvation at some point. Simply put, the heart attitude and the verbal expression (along with other results) have to go hand in hand (Jas.2:14-26; cf. 1Cor.12:3). The same thing goes for our repenting of our sins. If our repentance is genuine, it produces results (confession and efforts to reform our pattern, however imperfect and however long-lasting the battle which accompanies those efforts may be). I have written quite a bit about this subject elsewhere and I invite you to have a look at the following links:

Repentance (in Bible Basics 3B)

Repent (in CT 2A)

"Changing one's mind vs. Repentance" (in CT 2A)

The bottom line is that we are not forgiven by God because of the fact of or the intensity of our emotional upheaval. On the other hand, we are not forgiven if we are only giving lip-service to the principle of confession and confessing in a mere rote way without any true intention of changing the behavior we are putatively confessing. Between hyper-emotional breast-beating worked up to impress God and pure formulaic mouthing of biblical truth upon which one puts no true weight lies the correct function of biblical repentance and confession: a genuine understanding of our guilt with a true desire to eschew the behavior that caused it followed by a prayer to God confessing the same.

Forgiving other believers is necessarily a different story because they are no more perfect than we are and they are not all-knowing as God is, nor are we. There is often some doubt about just how sinful the behavior of others towards us may be, even if that behavior has offended or angered us. For one thing, we can't really know what motivated our debtors, nor can we really know the degree to which they were acting in at least some degree of ignorance (at least that is often true). And in everything that goes on under the sun it is also often the case that situations may be different than they appear, at least to some degree. One thing that is certainly true, however, is that we are called upon to forgive our brothers and sisters in Jesus without any further argument. The following is an excerpt from Bible Basics 3B, "Hamartiology":

Part of this contrite attitude we are required to demonstrate is an appreciation and reciprocation of God's mercy and forgiveness in the way in which we deal with others, especially our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ:

And forgive us what we owe you just as we also forgive those who owe us.
Matthew 6:12

And forgive us our sins just as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Luke 11:4

This is not a quid pro quo. It is not as if we are being rewarded for forgiving others. Rather, failure to forgive others is itself sinful, while our willingness to forgive others is a measure, an indication of the genuine nature of our own contrition. Since repentance is in large measure adopting God's attitude towards our sins, if we want His forgiveness of those sins, we need adopt His forgiving attitude to others, and if we want His mercy, we need demonstrate His merciful attitude towards others (cf. Matt.5:7; 6:14-15; 18:23-34; Lk.6:37-38; Col.3:13). If we are truly repentant, then surely we will also be willing to respond to our Lord's command to extend the same loving forgiveness to others that we are now asking of Him. Just as we need to adopt His attitude toward sin for genuine repentance, so we need to adopt His attitude of mercy when we seek that mercy. Such love covers a multitude of sins (1Pet.4:8; Jas.2:13; cf. Prov.16:6; 17:9). Once we have adopted an attitude of genuine repentance and of seeking mercy without the sinful hypocrisy of denying mercy to others, then we can (and indeed must) be fully convinced of the truth that God is ready and willing to accept our confession and grant us forgiveness for all our sinful deeds.

This does not mean that we are forced to have fellowship with believers who are wronging us continually or who are involved in deeply sinful or illegal activities – in fact in such cases we are commanded to separate ourselves from them (Matt.18:15-17*; Rom.16:17-18; 1Cor.5:11; 2Thes.3:6-10; 3:14; 2Tim.3:5; Tit.3:10-11; 2Jn.1:1-11; and compare 2Cor.6:14-18 with Phil.3:18). It does mean that we are to forgive them truly in our hearts, and act toward them in love (whatever that may mean in a particular situation). So while the command to forgive fellow believers is unconditional (i.e., not based even upon any particular behavior on their part, including true repentance), this forgiveness does not require us to become their slaves or do whatever they ask or even continue association with them. Clearly, if we snub them out of mere malice, that is hardly genuine forgiveness. On the other hand, if they are involved in gross sin, we have got no Christian business even associating with them as long as they persevere in that course of life – and in such cases the loving thing to do is to follow the Word rather than give them false assurance of God's tolerance by pretending such things don't matter. It is very important in this regard to walk the straight line between the folly of permissiveness on the one hand, and merely mouthing the words "I forgive" (verbally or mentally) on the other. True forgiveness does mean reconciliation where possible and according to good Christian common sense. In the case of recovering alcoholics (or fill in the blank here for whatever sin or illegal activity is in question), for example, we ought to be very cautious about immediately assuming that the person has truly recovered spiritually and is really now "as good as new", just because they may be making that claim. Generally speaking, it takes time, some times a lot of time, to recover from certain behaviors and from the spiritual degeneration that spawned them. We need to be "wise as serpents" about this even as we strive to show ourselves "innocent as doves" in the matter (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:19; 1Cor.14:20; Prov.14:18). To sum up, we owe all of our fellow believers our forgiveness; but our trust must be earned – and that is all the more true to the extent that our trust has been previously violated. For our forgiveness to be genuine, we do indeed have to be genuinely willing to allow those who have offended us to regain that trust, but that does not mean that we should throw our common sense out the window. In sad reality, those who turn away from Christ are many, and while it is definitely not impossible for people to recover from spiritual degeneracy and terribly anti-Christian behaviors, there are many more in this category who temporarily profess to be doing so (or to have done so) who do not in fact actually ever manage to free themselves from the downward spiral. Those of us who continue to follow Jesus should be willing to forgive and (within reasonable limits) help those who are professing to try to do so (especially with our prayers), but we are also responsible not to let our own spirituality be tainted or to be likewise pulled down by dangerous associations (Jude 1:22-23). And this is especially true if those in question refuse even to acknowledge their bad behavior. So we are to forgive others from the heart; and if they come to us and ask our forgiveness, we are to give it to them (Matt.18:23-34), including a prudent degree of response (unless there are continuing behavioral issues that demand our keeping a distance); but in all cases we are not to condone or commend or participate in anything that is sinful or criminal, or even to suggest that such things are acceptable to God by imprudently tolerant behavior on our part (Gal.6:1-2; Jas.5:19-20; Jude 1:22-23; cf. Col.3:16).

In Him in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of all of our sins through His blood, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Does it say anywhere in the Bible about going to Hell for committing suicide? I am a Christian and if my sins are forgiven, past, present and future…would I not then be forgiven for taking my life?

Response #2: 

To answer your first question, scripture does not say in any explicit way that committing suicide results in eternal condemnation. To answer your second question, the answer is not as clear. On the one hand, your argument is certainly compelling, and I have no good rebuttal for it. On the other hand, your premise may be faulty. A Christian is not just someone who identifies themselves as such to the Census Bureau. A Christian is someone who has faith in Jesus Christ, who has believed in Him in the past, continues to believe in Him throughout his/her life, and does his/her best to follow Jesus in this life. All this flows from true faith and without such "works", faith is dead (Jas.2.14-26). So to answer your second question with a question, what sort of faith would a person have who gives up on the Lord to such an extreme degree that he/she opts out of the entire mission Jesus has given him/her by exiting life early and without permission? As it says in Proverbs, the beginning of wisdom is to fear God (Prov.1:7), but can a person who so despises the calling and the commandments of the Lord to such an extreme degree really have the least bit of fear of God? And if no fear, then can such a person really have any faith? Life is very hard, and it is more so for true Christians than for anyone else (a very under-appreciated fact in today's church visible; see the link: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm"). But we have been called by our Lord Jesus to persevere in these trials just as He did in order to honor Him, helping our brothers and sisters in Christ do likewise in the process. It is this very struggle which proves our faith (*1Pet.1:6-9), but if we give up, do we really have faith?

For yet a little while, how short, how short [the wait], and He who is coming shall come, nor will He delay. "And [in the meantime] my righteous one shall live by his faith, but if he shrinks back, My heart takes no pleasure in him."
Hebrews 10:37-38 (cf. Habakkuk 2:3-4)

It seems to me that suicide is incredibly selfish and self-indulgent because it places the individual's will completely above the will of God for that person's life. And it is at least fair to ask how much faith, how much fear, how much obedience (which comes from godly faith and fear) such a person could be said to have? These are questions which only God can answer, but it seems clear to me from the whole tone and tenor of scripture that making the assumption that suicide will not endanger a person's eternal status is risky in the extreme – not because the act itself is necessarily an unpardonable sin, but because a person who takes such a step may likely have come to such a point of apostasy that faith has been lost and he/she is no longer someone who truly believes in, who truly trusts in Jesus Christ.

If there is one thing I have learned in this life both from scripture and hard personal experience it is that God is faithful and that nothing is impossible for Him. No matter how dark things may seem (or be), no matter how much pain you may be experiencing, if you turn away from despair and turn to Jesus, trusting in His deliverance of you with all your heart and setting yourself to draw closer to Him through scripture, Bible teaching, and prayer, He will lift the gloom, He will give you the strength to endure, He will be with you in the fight, no matter how desperate it may be, no matter how dark the night, and He will give you the victory – maybe not today or tomorrow, but in His good and perfect time. On that day we will lift our banners with you and rejoice in His goodness and His mercy to you (Ps.20:5). Only trust in Him, follow Him, and He will bring it to pass. Be believing and don't be disbelieving. Jesus loves you and will not let you down if only you turn to Him with a mustard seed's worth of trust and have patience, waiting on Him for deliverance. In the meantime, the essence of trust is to pick up your cross and follow Him, not to throw it down out of despair and give up.

You may also find the following links of some help:

Can people who commit suicide be saved?

Despairing of life.

Feeling desperate and alone.

See also the Peter series which focuses on coping with personal tribulation: The Peter Series

In the name of Him who endured all manner of opposition from sinners against Himself yet drank that cup to the dregs so that we might be saved, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

 

Question #3: 

I have a friend who goes to church every Sunday, but I don't know if this person is saved and am afraid to ask this person, are you sure you're saved? Because I don't want to sound judgmental. This person praises God each Sunday, but cusses, lusts after other people too often, talks about sex, and seems to concentrate more on his business rather than God. Are there signs of salvation? and how does one know for SURE that they are saved?


Response #3:
 

I'm afraid there is no hard and fast answer to this question precisely because faith is a very precious but also a very fluid thing. There are plenty of people who receive the seed of the Word with joy, only to fall away when the pressures and distractions of the world regain their allegiance. During the Great Apostasy (which is fast approaching), many who are superficial in their faith (and today they may seem like steadfast Christians, not even exhibiting some of the tell-tale signs of spiritual trouble which you catalog) will fall away under the pressures and temptations of the Tribulation. Hypocrisy in the Church is nothing new. Certainly, it would be prudent to stay away from those whose walk is only superficially Christian, or at least to limit one's spiritual vulnerability to them as much as possible. But one cannot ever know what is in another person's heart in this life. None of the other twelve knew that Judas was a traitor, and Paul speaks of the "dangers from false believers" (2Cor.11:26). When one adds to that the fact that perfectly good and true believers today can be apostate unbelievers tomorrow, the point is made clear: work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. The false religion of antichrist during the Tribulation will be so effective at peeling off those whose faith is not rock-solid that our Lord told us at Matthew 24:24 it will even "deceive the elect - if that is possible (i.e., it will depend on the individual)". All the more reason for spiritual urgency today, even in the face of such overwhelming spiritual apathy.

See the links:

The Great Apostasy

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death

In the Lord who bought us with His own live, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

 

Question #4: 

I read Bob's article on deliberate sin and was wondering if you would kindly take a minute to read about my situation. You see, I am concerned about my soul. I consider myself to be a born again Christian. I was saved over a decade ago. I had a firm assurance of my salvation until I became involved in a relationship which turned into a marriage. Without going into the details, I began to have guilt feelings about having made these commitments under false pretenses. On one occasion I felt convicted by the Spirit not to go through with it. I felt that I was being convicted of idolatry and selfishness. I would confess, but I still did not repent. Although I have since come out of the resulting depression, I feel convicted of having "sold my birthright". Now we are married, and I am struggling with whether I deliberately sinned past forgiveness and if I blasphemed the Spirit. Needless to say that causes many mixed emotions towards the Lord. I am afraid of death and punishment, yet I want to draw near to the Lord. This is causing me to struggle as to whether or not He's forgiven me and I feel my whole life is no good if I'm not forgiven. I feel as though I may be eternally condemned, facing the judgement of Heb. 10:26. I can't seem to draw near because of fear and I can't serve because I don't want to be trying to earn His favor. Also if it is the case that I am going to hell wouldn't it be better not to tell my son about God till he is ready to understand the responsibilities involved. It is my own fault that I didn't know but I had no idea that Jesus didn't forgive everything. It is easy for a child to come to Jesus, just tell them that he loves them and forgives them but if a child accepts but doesn't understand the terms then makes major mistakes what are we to do?
 

Response #4: 

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 7:28, "But if you do marry, you have not sinned." We all make mistakes in this life. Sometimes a particular marriage can of course be a mistake (or not in God's first best will for us) even if it is not a sin. Once we have crossed that bridge, however, we have to make the best of things. But I would say that there is a distinction to be made between the upheavals of marriage (and there are more in some than in others though none is exempt) which can often cause us to second-guess many things, and God's pleasure or displeasure with our behavior. We are all tested; we are all "hit" by the evil one, and if we are married, that is an excellent place for Satan to "hit". So I am inclined from my position of relative ignorance to think that nothing you have done is commensurate with the spiritual grief you are putting yourself through at present. However, since you address some issues that require further comment, and since of course no person can effectively judge another's situation with complete accuracy, I will proceed along the lines below in attempting to answer your concerns.

Let me begin by assuring you that, whatever you have done or may think you have done, God's forgiveness is available to you and that since you have no doubt by now asked for it in faith many times, you have that forgiveness. Jesus died for all sin, therefore all sin has been obliterated as a grounds for judgment. Unbelievers miss eternal life because they reject the work and the Person of the One who died for them, not because of their sins. And while God does deal with us on account of our sins, He behaves towards us as fathers do towards their sons (see below). But as to your forgiveness on confession of sin, know that this is assured (1Jn.1:9; see the link: "Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness").

I would also like to clarify from the start a very common misconception about the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" and also the "unpardonable" or "unforgivable sin". All of these terms refer to the one sin for which Jesus could not die, namely, the rejection of Himself and His work on the cross. That is why faith in the gospel is the critical issue for the human race, because the gospel is the terrible swift sword that divides the sheep from the goats (Jn.10:34-39; cf. Matt.25:31ff.): those who believe have already been forgiven; those who refuse to believe cannot be forgiven (see the links: "The Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit", "Have I Committed the Unforgivable Sin?" and "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"). Blaspheming the Spirit is a unbeliever rejecting the Spirit's testimony about Jesus Christ, thus refusing to believe. So a believer by definition cannot commit such a sin; that sin is the sin of unbelief.

For God loved the world so much that He gave [up] His only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead]. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. The one who believes in Him is not being judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged on the grounds that he has not put his faith in the Name (i.e., the Person) of God's only Son.
John 3:16-18

As to your question about Hebrews 10:26 and related issues, let me assure you that whatever you may have done, your situation and your story is not unique. Both the culture in which we live and the Church era in which we live are very conducive to the "prodigal son scenario". But let me assure you that just as the prodigal son "came back" and was received with open arms, so our loving heavenly Father is eager for all to come to Him and for all who have strayed to come back to Him. There is "more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Lk.15:7 NIV). Moreover, our heavenly Father is "not desiring for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2Pet.3:9). Given the reality of a loving Father who "wishes all to be saved and to come to a full understanding of the truth" (1Tim.2:4), and our Lord's sacrifice, dying for the sins of the entire world – not to condemn the world but that all who believe in Him might be saved, it is a sure and certain truth that God is not looking for ways to condemn us, but rather is offering all human beings eternal life in Jesus Christ (Jn.3:16-18). How much more so will He not then be merciful to us who believe (1Tim.4:10).

The "victory" that overcomes the world, sin and death, is "our faith" (1Jn.5:4; cf. 1Cor.15:57). Now it is also very clear what a "believer" is. A believer is a person who has put his/her faith and trust in the Lord for eternal life, accepting in faith who Jesus is (God and man in one person forever) and what He has done (in dying on the cross for our sins in our place), and following Jesus in a life of faith. Jesus is the substitute for sin God offers us, and when we accept this gracious offer of the Lord Jesus Christ as our substitute, we are washed clean of all of our sins and made one with Him. The meaning of Hebrews 10:26 is often misunderstood:

(26) For if we willfully continue in the life of sin after accepting and recognizing the truth [of the gospel], there remains no further sacrifice we can make for our sins, (27) but only a terrible expectation of judgment, and a burning fire, ready to devour those who oppose [His will]. (28) For anyone who set aside the law of Moses perished without mercy on the [testimony] of two or three witnesses. (29) How much greater punishment do you suppose will justly come to someone who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, and who has considered His blood of the covenant to be unclean (the very blood by which you were sanctified), and who has violently insulted the Spirit of grace?
Hebrews 10:26-29

As the context here makes clear, the issue for the first century Christians in Jerusalem was one of wrongly continuing in the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, of falling away from Christ by falling back into the shadow worship of the Old Testament. This is wrong for believers since believers believe that Jesus has already come in the flesh and has already born our sins on the cross. But by continuing to offer animal sacrifices, these Jewish Christians acting under social pressure were saying by their actions that the Messiah had not yet come and that what our Lord had done on the cross was insufficient for taking away sins – a great blasphemy. But in fact, there remains no further sacrifice we can make if we reject Jesus and give ourselves over to a life of sin. This last point is important, because as it turns out, faith and behavior cannot be split. Many people worry that they may have faith but no works, or works but no faith (cf. James 2:14-26). In fact, the two cannot be separated: true faith motivates works, and true works are always the result of faith. Now "works", correctly understood, are everything we do from the point of salvation onward. Clearly, much of what we do, especially if we take our time getting to the point of being totally dedicated to the Lord, are "wood, hay and stubble" rather than "gold, silver and precious stones" (1Cor.3:10-15). But if we truly do believe in Jesus, that means we truly will follow Him. A person cannot be a genuine believer and give themselves over to a life of sin forever; true faith eventually and inevitably wins out and brings a person closer to the Lord in the case of all who are saved (whereas the faith plant of insufficient depth inevitable dies: Matt.13:20-21). As John tells us, "No one who has been born of God continues in [a life of] sin, since His seed (i.e., the Word of truth in which we believe) remains in him, and [so] he is not able to continue in [a life of] sin since he has been born of God" (1st John 3:9). The point is, faith will force the issue. If a person is genuinely a believer, they may fall into sin, they may stray far from the Lord, like the prodigal son, they may even deny Him, as Peter did, but however far they may stray, and however egregious their behavior, a person is a believer as long as the seed of faith in the truth of the gospel abides in their heart. Now it is possible for that light to go out, for the seed to die, but if and when faith dies, that person has now become a non-believer, and it is inevitable that unbelievers are completely unconcerned with the Lord or the whole issue of faith. The fact that you are concerned is a clear indication that you are a believer, one who is very concerned about your relationship with the Lord and your future life with Him and service to Him. And that is a very salutary and positive thing. Please see the following links:

Does Hebrews 10:26-35 ("deliberate sinning" etc.) mean that a believer can lose his or her salvation?

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

Hebrews 10:26

So it is critically important to understand the difference between those who have fallen away and those who are recovering. Make no mistake, God wants you to recover fully in whatever way you may need to recover, to come back to Him fully, to grow up spiritually and to produce a full crop for Him and Jesus Christ. The fact that you seem somewhat upset with your previous track record for whatever reason puts you in pretty good company with many great believers of both the near and distant past who had their low points but later came roaring back in their spiritual lives to serve God to the full and to honor Jesus Christ. God forgives all our sin when we confess from a genuine attitude of repentance (as stated above, see 1Jn.1:9 and the link: "Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness"). Indeed, from you have shared, it sounds to me as if all of these issues are in the distant past, and that you are doing what Christ has called you to do. I encourage you to unload this burden of unnecessary guilt.

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 3:13-14

Now it is very true that recover in the spiritual life is not necessarily instantaneous any more than if we fall off the wagon with our regime of physical exercise and get overweight and out of shape. In the same way, when fall far from the Lord, getting back close to Him requires us to reinvigorate the process by which we became close to Him in the first place (or should have). And that process of spiritual growth is the same for everyone at every time in human history: learning the truth and applying it to our lives. Every one of us needs the same thing: spiritual food (gotten through personal Bible reading and Bible study and attention to substantive and orthodox Bible teaching); after getting the food, we need to eat it (i.e., believe the truth with faith), then exercise (i.e., apply the truth to our lives); and as we grow, make a point of helping others do so as well (i.e., our personal ministries functioning on the basis of whatever gifts the Spirit has given us). Getting "close to God" is not an effortless nor an automatic process, and it is not primarily an emotional one either (although the emotional pluses are enormous). That is, we cannot "work up" being close to God through, e.g., worship; rather, enjoyable and effective worship is the result of first being close to God; that is, the more we grow, the more we enjoy it in a legitimate rather than merely in a worked up and artificial way. But as I say, it sounds as if and may very well be the case that you are already doing all these things, and that you simply need to trust God, trust what He has said about forgiveness.

And while this may not apply to you, if we have strayed far from the Lord, there is also the issue of divine discipline to consider. For many if not most of us, if it weren't for the Lord's rod of punishment, we wouldn't be walking as close to Him as we are. But blessedly He "scourges" those He loves, disciplining us as we would our own children to show them the right way and to keep them from doing wrong (Heb.12:4-13; see the link: "The Fact and Purpose of Divine Discipline"). Now this is actually an encouragement for at least two reasons: 1) the fact that we are being punished but not destroyed is a clear indication that God loves us, for it is precisely because He loves us that He disciplines us, not to destroy, but to turn us back to the true path (Heb.7-8); 2) discipline not only saves us by turning us back, but it produces a crop of righteousness and peace for the future (Heb.12:11). On top of all this, we can still have joy in the midst of our pain and trouble; we can begin to grow again even while we still "smart"; we can draw close to the Lord again, even while the punishment continues. Just as if as children we had had some penalty leveled on us by our parents, not only did their love not cease as they punished us, but in very many cases of continuing discipline (i.e., some privilege taken away), we found ourselves back in the warm glow of their love and their good graces even when the "sentence" still had some time to run. David continued to be blessed by the Lord even as He was being severely punished him for the murder of Uriah and his sinful relationship with Bathsheba. And lest we think too little of the grace of God, let us remember that in respect to that case that the line of promise, the line of the Messiah, runs through Bathsheba and her son Solomon – lest there be any question of the Lord's ability and willingness to restore those who come back to Him.

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

These issues obviously concern us all greatly, and so they do have a tendency to "get to us". But in all such things we have to go with what the Bible says, and not give into emotions that tell us things contrary to what we know by faith in the truth. Scripture is very clear about forgiveness and restoration, about what our Lord wants from us – not suffering over guilt of past mistakes, but drawing back close to Him again to grow in Him and serve His Body the Church. All these wonderful things are ready at hand, only embrace His truth and don't listen to the doubts of guilt and anxiety over past failures. If Peter had let his failure in denying the Lord dominate his life thereafter, just think of all the Church would have lost, such wonderful and courageous service, not to mention two books of inspired and inspiring scripture which are part of the Word of God forever.

So I want to encourage you not to lose heart or to think that "all is lost" – nothing could be further from the truth. Where there is life, there is hope. And the very fact that you are reaching out in search of Him and His truth in this matter is the best evidence there is of the fact that you are not only a believer in Jesus, and therefore saved, but that you are ready and willing to go on in Him and with, growing up in the Word that you might produce a bountiful crop for Jesus Christ, 100, 60 or 30 fold, resulting in an eternal reward whose weight of glory cannot be compared to the troubles of this short life.

Finally, I very rarely give advice since everyone's situation is different, but about this issue of witnessing to your children there is no doubt: the gospel is the greatest gift ever given, and the privilege and opportunity of sharing it one of the most wonderful and important things in this life. How much more is that not true when the recipient is someone we hold dear? If it were me, I would begin evangelizing those I love in particular at the earliest possible moment.

For more on all of the above issues see in particular the study (sections of which are linked above): Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin.

In the One who died not that we might perish but that we might live forever with Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


Question #5: 

I was reading your page about deliberate sinning - I am really concerned about Hebrews, verse 26 onwards and am deeply troubled. You see, I gave my life to Christ and decided to follow him about 3 months ago. Before this I had been addicted to a certain type of sin. Everything as fine and I was so happy and enjoying being in the presence of God until one day I was tempted to fall back into sin. I fought with temptation for a few days but then I became weak and gave in. I feel so guilty and bad about this and wish I hadn't done it, I am even still tempted to do it again even though I know how wrong it is. I have asked Jesus for forgiveness and have said sorry – and I really mean it from my heart. I am really worried, I keep thinking that I have sinned wilfully (because I knew it was wrong but I still did it) after having known the light, and so I am afraid that there may be no more sacrifice for sin for me.

Please help and pray for me if you can,


Response #5:
 

As possessors of sin natures in our flesh, we will be subject to temptation and so to sin as long as we live in these physical bodies. And the topic of sin is broad and wide and deep – many things that don't disturb us much at all are still for all our lack of concern sins which need to be confessed and behavior which needs to be reformed. But you are right to be concerned and motivated to turn away from such sin as you describe, because the more obvious it is, the more serious it is, and the more willfully we engage it in, the more potential damage we do to ourselves and to our spiritual progress. But I do want to assure you that "the sin for which there is no longer a sacrifice" referred to in Hebrews 10:26 is the sin of turning away from Jesus, of abandoning faith, that is, the sin of apostasy. As I often say at such times, the fact that you are genuinely concerned to want to turn away from sin and please your Lord is an indication that you are in no immediate danger of anything of this sort. As long as you believe, you are God's child.

However, sin does have consequences, both in terms of divine discipline, degradation of the wonderful walk with Jesus we are trying to build up not sully, and over time will erode your faith. So it is very important to understand that temptation not withstanding you do possess control of your own will, no matter how severely that is sometimes challenged by the world, your flesh, and the evil one. On the one hand, that means that you are fully responsible for everything you do. On the other hand, it means that you can make changes in your behavior for the good just as scripture commands (Eph.4:22), and you will most certainly have God's direct support through the ministry of the Holy Spirit when and if you do (Gal.5:16-25). Turning our backs on sin, especially the "sin which so easily besets" (Heb.12:1; i.e., we are all more tempted in certain areas than in others, partly because as in your case we were wont to do certain sinful things repeatedly in the past, partly because our sin natures are all different just as our genetics in general are) is never an easy matter – but it is far from impossible. And just because it is difficult does not mean we should think of it in these terms. We are not victims. We are possessors of the most wonderful thing in the universe: free will faith, the ability to choose for Jesus in walking with Him one step at a time toward a wonderful reward which cannot be taken away by anyone or anything on earth (just as we choose for Him in the beginning and become God own dear children in Jesus Christ).

As Christians we are all responsible to pursue sanctification in all things (Heb.12:14), but God understands that we are not perfect and that no one is going to run a perfect race from the point of salvation onwards. For although it says in the 1st epistle of John, as Christians "we are not sinning", it also says "if anyone does sin, we have [an advocate] who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ the righteous" (1Jn.2:1). He died for all of our sins, so that His blood is sufficient to cover all our offenses if only we turn away from them, confessing them to the Lord (1Jn.1:9). Sin is serious business, but Jesus loves us and God the Father loved us so much, wants us to be saved so much, that He sent Jesus to die for us. Through His blood we are saved, and as long as we continue to follow Him in faith we are assured that "the blood of Jesus His Son continues to cleanse us from all sin" (1Jn.1:7). We should be perfect, but on every occasion we are not, the Lord has already made provision for us, and faithfully so:

If we say that we do not possess sin (i.e., a sin nature which is producing personal sins), we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just so as to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, that we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word is not in us.
1st John 1:8-10

So keep on fighting the fight and don't get discouraged. Know that you can win through the help of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:16-26). Don't get lackadaisical about sin, but don't let the evil one destroy your peace in Jesus Christ. Ride out the discipline, making "level paths for your feet" (Heb.12:1-13); throw away everything that hurts your walk in the Lord; embrace everything that helps. Spiritual growth requires sanctification (defense) and learning about the truth (offense). Continue to devote yourself to both, and don't get trapped in spiritual eddies that whirl you around in the same place which, even if in the end they don't compromise your salvation, nonetheless stunt your progress, harm your witness, hurt your relationship with Jesus, and compromise your ministry.

None of us is perfect. We all lapse and fall and fail. Only the type of sins varies (and hopefully becomes more innocuous and less frequent with growth). But even great believers trip up seriously from time to time (e.g., David and Bathsheba). Confess with confidence in your forgiveness and assurance of your salvation, and make a pledge to yourself not to go down this road again. However you fail and however often you fail and however many times you have to fight this fight until you move on to the next one, keep fighting and don't let your own failures destroy your awe and appreciation of the One who died to wash them away. Our God is a God of great love and great mercy. Keep responding to Him.

You might want to check out the following links:

"Repentance, Confession and Forgiveness", in Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin

Assurance of Salvation

Keep on fighting the good fight of faith!

In our dear and merciful Lord Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins and washed them away with His precious blood.

Bob Luginbill

 

Question #6:  

I feel as if I have committed sin unto death and now I don't even want to live because I am not going to Heaven. I have lost all contact with God' I was in sin for many years after receiving Christ. I was taught once saved always saved but now I can see where that might not be the case. Please tell me if you feel it is possible to repent and ask God for forgive and turn away form sin as I have done and still have no chance of forgiveness. This is unbearable. Thank you

In my love and the love of Jesus

 

Response #6:

First of all, I want to encourage you not to lose hope. While it is true that salvation can be thrown away, the mechanics of that process involve the complete loss of faith in Jesus Christ. Intensified sinful behavior has the effect over time of hardening a person's heart to the point where that person no longer believes – that is the death of the seed of faith (as in the parable of the sower). The fact that you are concerned about your salvation along with the tone and tenor of this e-mail indicate to me that you have not become an unbeliever, that you still do look to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and that your are deeply repentant for your time and actions in wandering away from Him. This is not an unusual testimony at all, and many of us have come back from equally discouraging situations to return to full fellowship in Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, and even to serve His Church.

Also, please do not be discouraged by the pain you are now feeling. God disciplines us for all sinful conduct – as a loving Father He wants us to come back to Him, and in the case of many if not most of us, in extreme cases of rebellion we have to "feel the pain" before we are willing to do so. Even if such discipline continues for some time, even in the midst of recovery, if we return to Him then even side-by-side with this discipline we will yet experience God's blessing. Furthermore, we are told not to despise such discipline; rather we should see it as a sign that we are truly His sons and daughters, loved by Him – if He didn't care, He wouldn't go to such lengths to see that we turn around and return to Him (giving us great incentive not to repeat our mistakes; Heb.12). Just as the prodigal son came back expecting no more than to be made a servant but instead found a father's loving embrace, so we too should expect a very welcome response from our heavenly Father when we come back to Him and to Jesus in truth once and for all. Jesus died for us, after all, and we really have no idea just how deep God's love for is:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19  NIV

So I want to encourage you to have confidence that you can be made whole again and yet rejoice in Jesus. The process of spiritual recovery, after confession of sins to the Lord and a true change of mind and behavior regarding former conduct, is precisely the same as the process of spiritual growth. That is, it requires daily Bible reading and prayer, availing oneself of substantive Bible teaching, learning and believing the truth of the Word, and applying it to one's life, then, as growth comes, helping others to do likewise through setting oneself to the ministries God gives with spiritual gifts and resources He has supplied. This is not an easy process, but from your e-mail you give every indication of being ready and willing to undertake it in all seriousness. I strongly urge you to do so. For there is nothing here on this earth that lasts, and certainly nothing that could ever compensate for missing out on the glorious eternity the Lord has in store for all who are His, and the rewards for all that is done here in time in Jesus' Name.

The issues of sin, confession, repentance, divine discipline, the true nature of apostasy and the sin unto death, and the genuine mechanics of loss of salvation and God's gracious provision for all our sins and failures in Jesus Christ are necessarily only given above by way of the very briefest of synopses. I strongly urge you to consult the following links in order to get the full picture regarding these marvelous truths of the Word of God. You are certainly welcome to these and all the materials at Ichthys as a fellow believer in our dear Savior. May you stay that way forever!

Have I committed the unforgivable sin?

What is the unpardonable sin?

The "Sin unto Death" in 1st John 5:16.

Does Hebrews 10:26-35 ("deliberate sinning" etc.) mean that a believer can lose his or her salvation?

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

*Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin

For the basics on spiritual growth, please see "Peter's Epistles".

Stand fast in the faith by which you were saved in Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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