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Salvation, the Gospel, and Unbelief

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Question #1: 

My apologies if I'm asking too many questions. My mind often gets flooded with bible questions. One came to mind regarding how God can allow for someone to be tormented eternally in the Lake of Fire. I believe that even if God would forgive someone for their sins after death, it wouldn't change them, that they will still reject God. The bible says that some of the lost will experience the plagues in Revelation in their eternal torment state. I notice that when the plagues are poured out on the lost, they don't repent from their sins.

Revelation 9:20,21:
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

It further says that instead of repenting after the plagues, they blaspheme God.

Revelation 16:9:
And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.

Revelation 22:18:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

To me, this seems to imply that the lost in hell will never repent as shown in Revelation. And since they will never repent, they will continue to sin in hell, and continue to earn punishment. As a result, they will be there forever. That people who end up in hell are there because they chose not to be with God and chose to do things their way. Even in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is never shown to be repentant. Does this seem biblical to you, or is this wrong?

God Bless,

Response #1: 

It's always a pleasure to hear from you! As to the eternal state of the lost, I certainly agree with you that people only to go to hell of their own free will, and that those who refuse to choose for Jesus Christ or even reject Him would do so again and again in a thousand life-times (please see the link for much more on this: in BB 4B: Soteriology: "The Problem of Unbelievers"). The Pharaoh of Exodus gives us the perfect example of this. Every time he was struck with a plague, he relented – but just as soon as the pressure was off, he returned to his preferred state (see the link: "Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart"). That was true even after the loss of his first born and the departure of the Israelites: he tracked them down and would have destroyed them but for being miraculously destroyed in the middle of the Red Sea. God made us who chose to be and we choose to be who God made us. Unbelievers do want to have to bend their will to God's will, and if exposed to pressure intolerable to human kind they would relent – but not really repent. They would revert just as soon as the pressure was off. The Lord allowed Pharaoh to harden his heart beyond the human norm to exemplify this principle. Most people would have found the pressures of the 10 plagues more than they could bear and would have relented (not repented) long before Pharaoh did. But what all unbelievers have in common in this regard is their consistency of choice: they do not accept the Father's gift of the Son because they choose not to do so. They would rather be kings of their own will than bend in service to their Creator even to accept the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. For that reason our pity for them really ought to be limited. We can desire and pray for their salvation, but we need to understand that they are not "victims". If you knew I was about to lose my home and came over and handed me the money to pay off my mortgage but I then threw it into the fireplace, would you be sad when I was evicted? That kind of pride, arrogance and ingratitude is what unbelievers manifest to the Father who sacrificed His own dear Son unto death so that their sins have actually been forgiven. Being unwilling to accept this gift out self-willed pride and a desire to be independent from God will result in all unbelievers getting exactly what they want: an eternity apart from God.

Whether unbelievers are "repentant" or not in hell is something we cannot perhaps know. After all, since we are finite creatures, our free will only functions when we have the ability to exercise it. That is to say, anyone who saw God face to face if allowed not to die would have no choice but to worship Him; likewise, I would imagine that everyone in the lake of fire will regret being in the lake of fire, and it may be that at this point they will be willing to say or do anything if it would get them out – but because of their exigency this would not even come close to being any kind of free will choice for Jesus Christ. In my view there is no single case where a person in hell would "learn their lesson" if let out and thus be willing to change – personally I think that the negative choice is such a part of their essential internal makeup that even if restored to life where they could actually choose again they would still make the same choice (although having experienced the consequences without having to trust God first would probably invalidate any positive choice if it could be made). The main point beyond the speculation here is that unbelief in not an accident; no one goes to hell by accident. Unbelievers deliberately choose not to have anything to do with God even though they know (and it will be shown that they knew) that He was good, and gracious, and the only way of salvation (please see the link: "The Last Judgment"). As I say, there is much more detail about all of this in the new BB 4B study.

In Jesus Christ our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hi Bob,

How do I know for sure that I am in Christ and Christ is in me?

Response #2: 

Good to make your acquaintance. The simple answer to your question is "by faith". Scripture tells us that as Christians "Jesus us in us" (e.g., Col.1:27), and that we are "in Christ" (e.g., Rom.8:1), so that it is up to us as Christians to believe that testimony. There is no test a person can give us or that we can give ourselves, save the basic test of faith: "what think ye of Christ"? All believers through their saving faith are part of His Body, the Church which we are (Col.1:24). So if you "know for sure" that you are saved, a child of God, a believer in Jesus Christ, then you "know for sure – by faith" that He is in you and you in Him. There is no emotional manifestation or tangible feeling which can prove this truth. As with most things in the Christian life, truly beneficial emotional responses follow an understanding of the truth of the Word believed by faith, and are not a means to that end (many denominations today have this entirely backwards).

For more on the appropriation of God's truth through faith, please see the link: "Faith Epistemology". For more on the meaning of the Church and Mystery of Christ, please see the link: "The Church" (in SR 5).

I hope this is helpful. Please do feel free to write me back about any of the above.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #3: 

Hallo,

The past three days i have been listening and making notes from a DVD I recorded on GOD TV a few years ago.

The Preacher was Dr. Nasir Siddiki from Wisdom Ministries, asking for donations on GOD TV.

His main discussion was the more "seed" (money) that we give, the bigger the blessing or "harvest". I've just read on the internet about "Prosperity Gospel."

What is wrong with Prosperity Gospel?

Thank you.

Response #3: 

Good to make your acquaintance. I am not familiar with this particular ministry (and I have no idea whether or not they teach the prosperity gospel), but in general terms it is certainly true that the more effort we put forward as Christians for our Lord and the edification of His Church, the more bountifully we shall be rewarded – when we stand before Him on that glorious future day (please see the link: "The Judgment and Reward of the Church").

So the principle of the more we do for Jesus, the more we will be rewarded in eternity is a true and a good one (provided, of course, that what we do really is acceptable to Him; the "Day" will see all that sorted out: 1Cor.3:10-15). However, there is a brand of false teaching abroad in the world today which says not "the more for Jesus, the more in eternity", but rather "the more you give to me/my ministry, the more God will bless you in this life" – and the "blessings" are usually monetary or at least material. For this sort of false gospel I find no scriptural support. On the one hand, any ministry/minster who is trying to get money by using the Word of God in this way is most certainly not "of God", so that even if a person did give this group/person money they would be wasting their time, effort, and money, since, ipso facto, they are not doing anything for God (the ministry is false). On the other hand, if we are only giving to God to get back something material in this life, we are not acting out of true Christian motivation; therefore even if the group/individual is "of God", since we are not acting in the power of the Spirit but out of our own selfish lusts, what kind of reward can we honestly expect, in this world or the next?

One of the main problems with the proposition "if I give money, I'll get more money" – apart from the fact that it is not biblical – is that it gets Christians even more focused on this life instead of the next than they may already be, more focused on money and material things instead of on spiritual things, and it completely misunderstands who God is and what the truth is. God has already given us everything: His own dear Son to die for us so we can enjoy eternal life. Therefore we owe Him, we owe our Lord Jesus everything. Everything we have we only have because He gave it to us. Therefore all true Christians ought indeed to be seeing every day as a gift to be used to follow Jesus, to learn His truth, and to serve Him in the way in which He would be served (the proper functioning of our individual spiritual gifts in whatever ministry He calls us to). For these things there is great eternal reward. But to reduce these sublime truths to a financial exercise in the here and now is not only obscene – it is a recipe for spiritual shipwreck.

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1st Timothy 6:3-10 NIV

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.
1st John 2:15-16 NIV

As I say, I know nothing about this ministry you mention, and the term "the prosperity gospel" may or may not be used by those groups and individuals who are doing similar or similarly misguided things. You can find out more at the following links:

Are Health and Wealth a Part of the Gospel?

The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel

The "Prosperity Gospel"

Does God really want us to be sick and poor? Revisiting the prosperity gospel.

Yours in Jesus Christ, the Gift of all gifts,

Bob Luginbill

Question #4: 

Greetings and thank you for your ministry. I have been pouring through your bible study series and materials on ichthys. I would say I have a fair grasp of salvation, but there are a few verses that absolutely terrify me. I came to a knowledge of the truth when I was very young. As I became a teenager I fell into habitual sin. It feels to me that my two natures have been at war with each other for over 10 year, my faith constantly being under attack. Possibly biblical if my faith isn't considered already completely dead. I have been taking what many people would consider insane measures to get out of this sin, but even if I never go back there are those verses. I know God says that if we confess our sins he is faithful, and I have probably daily confessed my sins (although repentance is less than debatable considering the continuation of the sin for so long, even if I felt as though I was truly sorry) over the past 10 or more years. I know you are not able to know my heart in any way, but I was hoping you could tell me what you thought of these verses.

Hebrews 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

The dog that returns to his vomit seems to also be related to this, and there seem to be other verses referencing unconditional judgement. I don't believe that unconditional judgement would be grounds to continue in sin against God, and I don't plan on it. And this may be a totally off base hope, but the ability to remain faithful (by His grace) during the tribulation also seems to be a case of unconditional salvation. Although a strong faith would be one devoid of sin, would it be wrong to look forward to the tribulation as a test of ones faith?

Response #4: 

Good to make your acquaintance. Your concern on this issue and with these verses in particular is by no means unusual, and I want to assure you at the outset that if you believe in Jesus Christ, then you are saved. After all, if you are a believer, then you possess God's righteousness which comes to all who have put their faith in Jesus Christ (e.g., Rom.4). God no longer looks at your sin: He looks at you and sees someone who belongs to His beloved Son who died for all sin. You have been forgiven in Jesus Christ through faith in Him, and, while in this world you may occasionally need to have your feet washed of sin and evil (confession), you do not need another bath (salvation) – that is only necessary for those who "have no part" in Jesus and so are in need of the initial forgiveness through which they too are justified through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn.13:10).

This is not to say that sin is not an issue. It certainly is. But sin is an issue on this score because it has the potential – if unrepented, unconfessed, and unchecked – to undermine faith. A person can come to the point of being so enamored of sin and so unwilling to deal with the prodding of conscience, the pleading of the Spirit, and the discipline of the Father that he/she eventually "turns God off" entirely, becoming then no longer willing to "look God in the face", so to speak, and so apostatizes (i.e., loses faith entirely so as no longer to be a believer because of no longer having faith in Christ). Please make no mistake about what apostasy is. Apostasy is the complete death of faith. An apostate is someone who once believed in Jesus Christ but now no longer cares about Him at all, no longer having even the tiniest trace amount of faith remaining in their heart. The "seed" implanted at salvation has, in the case of the apostate, entirely died. The corollary to this is important for believers like yourself who are concerned about their situation for whatever reason (i.e., whether they are in deep spiritual trouble or merely neurosing unnecessarily): if you are concerned, how can you be an apostate, since the definition of apostasy is a complete lack of concern?

There are many passages in scripture which are indeed meant to get us looking carefully at our lives and correcting our course if need be – as well as to help us steer clear of dangerous behaviors which, if pressed to extremes can lead a person to choose completely against God and His Son in the end. Please see the following link for much more detail on all this: In BB 3B: Apostasy and the Sin unto Death.

Simply put, there is a big difference between those who "sin by profession" (and are not believers) and those who "sin by exception" (and are believers). These sorts of passages which concern you warn us not even to get close to allowing the latter to metastasize into the former, but it is a gross misapplication to assume loss of salvation as a result of sin. Sin does not destroy salvation; salvation triumphs over sin. The only way the two are even connected for the believer is, as mentioned above, in those extreme cases where a believer allows his or her experiences in this world to undermine and then at last to swamp his or her faith in choosing sin completely over any residual obedience to and love of the Lord (as in the parable of the Sower where the seed planted in rocky ground dies off completely): believers believe, and all who believe are saved; on the other hand, all who lack faith, even if they once possessed it, are not believers, and only believers are saved.

The Tribulation will most definitely be a crucible for the faithful. All the more reason for those of us who are aware of its rapid approach to 1) straighten out now whatever may be crooked in our lives and 2) make every effort to put the Word of God first in our lives from here on in, its reception, belief, application, and ministry. Only then will both be spiritually safe and also gain a measure of confidence that the righteousness we possess through faith in Jesus Christ is no transitory thing but a sure and certain eternal possession for all who believe.

Please feel free to write me back about any of this, and please see the following links:

Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?

Does Hebrews 10:26 Teach Loss of Salvation II?

How Can I be assured of my salvation?

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who bought us with His blood to be His Bride,

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

Thank you for taking time to respond. The first link you provided was very helpful in understanding Hebrews 10:26. I greatly appreciate your desire to understand everything written to us in the Bible. It is hard to find people who believe Revelation is a book we can understand through careful study, and harder to find those that do not attempt to use human philosophies to interpret scripture. Faith comes by hearing the word of God, and the best arguments come by pointing to scripture. Thanks again for your ministry. I will continue to press on.

Response #5: 

Thank you friend!

Best wishes for your continued and continuing spiritual growth, progress and production for our dear Lord Jesus.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

In your BS paper ' The Study of Sin: Part 3b you claimed that bible Story book Adam & Eve were allegedly ' Spiritually dead '. IF that were the case, then they were far better off being so -

Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3) KJV Story book

Your Doctorate is unwarranted, unless it was a Doctorate in biblical BS of which you are highly qualified!

Response #6: 

Dear Friend,

First, Adam and Eve are not "story book" figures. The Bible is God's Word of truth, and everything it contains is the truth (even if many people misinterpret it to their own harm).

Second, Adam and Eve became spiritually dead only after they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowing good and evil in contravention of the very direct and unmistakably clear commandment of the Lord. They died in terms of their relationship with Him, a situation which ensured their physical death and, absent our Lord's gracious promise of salvation and their acceptance, would have resulted in their eternal death thereafter (see the link: Threefold Death).

Third, no one is "better off" being spiritually dead. Spiritual death is the absence of any relationship with the Lord, and absent such a relationship spiritual death will result in eternal death on the other side of physical death – just as it would have with Adam and Eve had they not responded to the offer of salvation (the "coats of skin"; see the link) and thereby gained eternal life. Whatever you think of this ministry, your personal spiritual situation is of the utmost importance:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2nd Corinthians 5:20 ESV

This reconciliation which restores our relationship with the Lord lost at the fall comes through accepting Jesus Christ, His perfect person, human and divine, and His perfect work in dying for all of our sins on the cross. That is the only way to put an end to the spiritual death to which we are all otherwise subject. The "poor in spirit" of Matthew 5:3 is better translated "spiritually blessed are the poor" – i.e., the ones who are children of God are blessed even though they are poor because they are spiritually blessed.

In Jesus through whose Name alone is salvation unto eternal life,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Your silence after my follow up email exposing your institution confirms my prophesy that you are too ashamed to admit your defeat! You cowards are all the same, living and ministering a proven lie in your incestuous cult! Because YOU say "Adam and Eve are not story book figures" doesn't alter the facts against you! The legitimate evidence even a single word contained in ANY acclaimed ' holy-books ' emanated from ANY god(s) remains a constant zero and again your claims otherwise is nothing more than your illegitimate imagination running wild and out of control! When was Story book Eve allegedly commanded by Story book god NOT to partake of the forbidden tree? (Chapter, verse, Story book version(s)?) Being made dependent on the Tree of Life to make them IM-mortal assures us they were innately created ' mortal and hence innately subject to physical literal death '. Their literal eventual physical death had nothing to do with them and they were proven innately mortal already and innately created to physically die. Your god(s) lied that they brought literal death upon themselves through allegedly sinning! Your ministry is a proven fraudulent biblical ministry and your claims of my alleged ' spiritual personal situation is more of your ' Story book snake-oil salesmanship! '. IF your Story book lord had truly sacrificed itself for us it would still be dead and not raised and rewarded for its fraudulent and lustful efforts for Story book divine rewards! It is good manners and basic discussion courtesy to follow my examples and always provide the accurate source(s) of Story book(s) quotes you use and the Story book(s) that quote(s) came from? As to your claim, "In Jesus through whose Name alone is salvation unto eternal life", this is more empty claims based upon proven man-concocted Story books! Much much better luck next time IF you wish to try again?

Response #7:

Dear Friend,

I am always happy to answer questions about the Bible and to explain the theological positions of this ministry. Frankly, your last email in response to my answer to your previous question did not provide any useful material for discussion. Apart from being abusive in tone (not the stuff of fruitful discussion) and rhetorical to a fault (i.e., claiming to have "defeated" someone else's reasoning may work in a school-boy debate, but between two adult parties it is a canard, especially as in this case if no counter-reasoning worthy of the name was ever supplied in the first place), there seems to be little point in having a discussion with you. That is because 1) by your own admission you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, and 2) you do not accept the authority of the scriptures.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
2nd Corinthians 6:14 NIV

Under such circumstances, there seems to be no point in arguing with you about the truth of a Savior you deny or of the truth of the words of scripture which you reject. What I find curious is your desire to continue such a discussion under such circumstances. Perhaps the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit is calling you to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. If so, I am happy to encourage you to accept Him as your Lord and Savior – for He is the only Way unto eternal life:

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
John 14:6 NIV

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

It doesn't matter ' what ideology I am! ' What matters is that whatever I am, I easily and legitimately expose your ministry as a proven sham and you a fraud, because you are both based upon a fundamental lie! Actually before you even try to attempt to go in to specifics about biblical Stories (such as the Adam & Eve example of them being inherently created as mortal & your Story book god(s) a liar(s), I repeated last) in your preferred Story book; the fundamental position of ALL religions and cults like yours; is that the legitimate evidence ANY of them have (including yours currently) that their preferred and self-acclaimed (arrogated) ' holy-text ' is indeed or in fact the legitimate words of ANY god(s) given to man, remains a 100% total of zero!

Looking Forward to your much, much, much better luck in any future discussions you wish to engage yourself with me, IF indeed you have the alleged ' courage of your current convictions? '.

Meanwhile and as always, your current ministry is a lie!

Response #8: 

It does matter, and fundamentally so. Everything I teach is based upon what the Bible says. But if you do not accept the truth of the Bible (and do not even believe in God), then ipso facto you will not be persuaded by my recourse to scripture. Everything in creation shouts the reality of God, and so loudly that all human beings come to recognize His existence, usually early on in life. This is the essential truth (natural revelation; see the link) which is the common property of the entire human race and which leads those who want to have a relationship with God to seek Him. However, most human beings shortly thereafter begin to blot Him out of their hearts, the extreme example of which is coming to deny His existence altogether. Once that happens, there is very little point in such persons arguing about the specifics of a Bible they reject and a God they pretend does not exist (even though in their heart of hearts they know better, or once did). Religion is something different from Christianity. Christianity is the truth, the only means of salvation through responding to God in the only way He finds acceptable, namely, by appropriating eternal life by His grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ who died for the sins of us all. Religion, by way of contrast, is just a way of soothing a person's guilty conscience through ritual. Those involved in religion are at their core just as unwilling to submit to the true will of God as you are, and, absent a fundamental change of mind that leads to faith in Christ, will come to the same end.

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3-4  NIV

We beg you as ambassadors of Christ, be reconciled to God through believing in His dear Son our Lord Jesus.

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Hello--I hope you don't mind answering a question for me. The WBTS (Jehovah's Witness organization) wrote this:

"rs. P.164) John 1:12, 13: "As many as did receive him [Jesus], to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name; and they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God." (Notice that the context, in verse 11, refers to Jesus’ "own people," the Jews. As many of them as did receive him when he came to them in the first century became God’s children, with heavenly life in view. The verbs in the text are in the past tense, so this passage is not referring to all people who have become Christians since then.) "The verbs in the text are in the past tense, so this passage is not referring to all people who have become Christians since then."

The verbs in English are in the past tense, but in Greek, they are in the aorist tense, are they not? And is there any equivalent in English? I know what that tense means – it doesn't have any time limit on what the verb is doing, if I remember correctly. A JW is telling me that since it is in English as past tense, the last sentence in the quote above is true. I told him that, to get the most accurate idea of what John means, we need to see first what it means IN GREEK.

I don't know if you know that much about JW theology, but they think only literally 144,000 will be in heaven at the close of the age – the rest of saved humanity will be on earth. It's complicated.

Anyway, could you please elaborate a little on the verb and if there is any approximate equivalent in English of an aorist verb? Thanks. Hope you didn't feel that earthquake; people in Ohio did. God bless.

Response #9: 

Hello again,

The verbs translated "received" and "gave" in the KJV of John 1:12 (all other versions similar) are both aorist (as is "born" in verse 13). Most of the time, the aorist indicative (what we have here) is the simple past tense in Greek, and that is how most of the versions render the verbs in question here.

However, things are not quite so simple as that. I begin by noting that in spite of the past tense renderings of the English versions, generations of Christians from all denominations have read these verses time and again and yet have not come to the conclusion that they are meant to apply only to the Jews of Jesus' day who received Him as the Messiah. What this tells me, just as an opening observation, is that even English allows for a general, historical description without necessarily meaning that the principle given must apply only in the past. To put that another way, when I read these verses in English with no thought of what the Greek text is, it never occurs to me that these words don't apply to me because the main verbs are in the past tense – and the same is true when I read this text in Greek! Note that the participle, "who believe", is not translated as a past tense in non-JW versions, and that is a big part of the reason for the discrepancy here (see below).

If an author or translator wanted to make the point that present company is not included, it seems to me that he/she would have to use a qualifying adverb like "only". After all, when the fledgling Church gathered together after our Lord's ascension to heaven, there were only 120 who might then fit into the number of believers described in John 1:12-13 according to this person's view (Acts 1:15). The idea that the gospel of John, written decades after the fact, written to those who "are" children of God (1Jn.3:1), would devote these important verses only to 120 people, many of whom were by that time already deceased, is beyond odd. It is not too much to say that such an idea is contrary to the whole tenor and tone of the context -- and to the whole tenor and tone of the entire New Testament.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 ESV

So I think that it is a fair observation to point out that even if one wishes to understand these verbs as simple past tenses, and even if one wishes to take their primary application as being towards Jesus' contemporaries, and even if one wishes to ignore or mis-translate the participle "believe", the idea that the language or the context or the theology here expressed excludes others who believe is very wrong-headed indeed.

The present participle of pisteuo, the verb "to believe", the one which the JW version over-translates, merely means here "to those who believe" – note, not "those who believed" or "those who had believed". And these are distinctions which it would be possible to present through the use of the aorist and perfect participles respectively:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name.
John 1:12 KJV

To me, the really operative part of the verse for these purposes is the participle: "to those who believe". If John had meant to restrict the gift of becoming sons of God only to that previous generation, he would have had to use a different tense of the participle here. It is no doubt just for this reason that the JW translation attempts to cloud the issue with their gratuitously expansive rendering of pisteuousi, "because they were exercising faith", when "who believe" is sufficient and much less susceptible to confusion. The "were" in their translation is an interpretation which in my view is not supportable. John has found a perfect way to make the import of this verse timeless while at the same time starting with a focus on Jesus' believing vs. unbelieving contemporaries. The use of the aorist indicatives plus the present participle accomplishes this, with the result that all of the standard translations communicate very well what was said and what was meant. Only someone with a (false) theology to advance would quibble with the clear, straightforward – and correct – sense.

It is certainly true that the aorist indicative is also open to other renderings, and that is true more so in John than in some other writers. Whether one wishes to call it a "gnomic aorist" or invent some other designation, it is a fact that aorists in the NT more often must be translated as presents or perfects than is the case in other Greek authors. Robertson and others have bridled at the notion of Hebrew influence, but to my mind that is sailing against the wind. Anyone who has read the Septuagint, let alone studied Biblical Hebrew, can see very clearly the close parallels between Hebrew verb usage and some of the "odd" things that occasionally happen in the Greek NT.

For example, in Matthew 3:17, the KJV's "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" by rights ought to be translated "I was well pleased", since the verb is aorist indicative just like the verbs in John 1:12-13. So I suppose someone given to a perverse theology could argue that the Father "had been" pleased with the Son, but only before the baptism – which is of course entirely ridiculous. However, it is not any more ridiculous in my view than arguing for the same exact reason that John 1:12-13 does not apply to all who believe, even after Jesus' day. Similarly, in Matthew 23:2, KJV has "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat", but the verb here is also aorist indicative so that by rights (according to this person's Greek logic) we ought to translate "sat in Moses' seat", implying that they no longer did sit there when our Lord made this statement. But since Jesus is describing a contemporary situation, that would yield only nonsense. Or, perhaps more to the point, consider John 15:6: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch" (KJV). But since the verb is aorist, the nonsensical "was cast out" would be "correct", again, according to this simplistic method. The point is that the aorist is often used in the NT where we would use a perfect or even a present in English, and that is a fact which translators always have to take into account (regardless of whether they see the origin of this phenomenon in Hebrew or wider Greek or a combination of both):

But as many as receive Him, to them He has given the power to become the sons of God, [even] to they who believe on his name.
John 1:12 KJV

The above translation may not be everyone's "cup of tea", but it is completely defensible, and it most certainly is what John means (or perhaps I should say "meant").

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord, in whom we have become children of God through faith in Him.

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hello--This JW wants to know if you would criticize the following translations of "believe" in John 1:12, since you didn't like "WERE exercising faith":

* ESV John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

* NIV John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--

* NRS John 1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

I think you said "believe" is a present participle, so why the past tense here? I think you touched on it, in your first discourse to me, but could you please elaborate a little for me? Thanks.

Response #10: 

Just as we read the main verb in the past in an English version yet understand it as applicable now, so it is true with the participle as well. Ask 100 people what the above translations mean and you won't find anyone who will tell you the proposition no longer applies because of the past tenses (unless you get a JW by accident). The participles in these cases have been assimilated for the sake of euphony in English, not for any grammatical reason. If there had been the sense that these renderings might lead someone to think that because of the past tenses no one today was covered by this verse, I am sure these versions would have gone another route.

Of course the KJV, ASV, NASB, HNV, Darby have "believe", not "believed" (and the Vulgate uses the present tense). From an English, stylistic point of view, both translations are defensible but the three you quote are unfortunate for the reasons discussed. The only justification to making the participle past tense in English is to accord more smoothly with the main verbs in how the English sounds – in defiance of the actual grammar. As I say, since it is unmistakably clear to any unbiased reader that the first chapter of John (not to mention the entire gospel) is meant for everyone who reads it, understanding the phrase as restrictive is clearly wrong in my view (so that translating in that ways is problematic). So in defense of the ESV, NIV, and NRSV, I am sure that the translators must have felt that just because Jesus "gave the right to become children of God to all who at that time believed in His Name", it most certainly does not follow that He has not given the very same right to all who subsequent to that time believe in His Name. In fact, the context, the logic, and the whole tenor of the gospel of John demonstrate pellucidly that this is precisely what the verse means. John 1:11-12 is a pattern for all who follow, both those who believe, as some of Jesus' contemporaries did, and for those who do not, as many of Jesus' contemporaries did not:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:31 NIV

In Jesus our Lord, through faith in whom we are all God's children unto eternal life.

Bob L.

Question #11: 

How were people saved before 33 a.d.? (ish) And do you think that those who depend on water baptism and works are saved so long as they believe He is I Am and he died for us? Or must they actively depend on His work through faith like Romans 3. Romans 10 says person and work, chapter 3 says believe like Abraham that he can do it (save us). I hope this isn't vague, you clearly have the Spirit in your responses as you say things that you don't even know cut to the quick. I wish i understood the Spirit better, as i know by faith and Acts that i have Him, but fail to realize the potential. How awesome is it that we have the canon and Spirit?! We are blessed.

Sorry but a quick addition to the email. Is the Spirit of Christ different than the Holy Spirit?

In Lord Jesus Christ the Righteous (to the glory of the Father)

Response #11: 

Always good to hear from you. These are good questions. As to the Spirit, I do think that the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Jesus are indeed the Holy Spirit (this is seen perhaps most perspicuously at Romans 8:9 where "Spirit" is then "Spirit of God" then "Spirit of Christ). The reason for the terminology is that the giving of the Holy Spirit to us only comes as a result of Jesus' victory on the cross and subsequent resurrection, ascension and session in heaven (Jn.7:39). There is indeed very much to praise God about when it comes to the gift of the Spirit – and there is much to discover about Him and His ministry from the scriptures (Bible Basics part 5, Pneumatology, will be devoted to this blessed subject; see the link). It is also true that the Spirit is the "felt but not seen" Person of the Trinity, so that there is nothing wrong with us trusting to God in all aspects of His ministry and focusing upon Jesus as the object of faith, both initially and in our daily walk. I have quite a bit written about the Spirit and His various ministries, but at present that information is somewhat scattered throughout the site. In addition to checking out the subject index and the link above, please see the following links to get you started:

The Persons of God: the Trinity

The Holy Spirit: Blasphemy against, Restraining Ministry, and Gender.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

As to pre-cross salvation, in my view the mechanics are not at all complicated. It is true that before the incarnation and the actual death of our Lord on the cross, previous generations of believers were "eager to discover the precise time the Spirit of Christ within them was signifying as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1Pet.1:10-11). They did all "call upon the Name of the Lord", however, which means that all believed in God, both His existence, His goodness, His majesty, and, critically, His willingness and His ability to save them. So prior generations looked forward to the cross and wondered; we look back to the cross in wonder; but faith in God's salvation was the key then and it is the key now. The main point I would like to make about this is that no single person in the history of humanity was ever "lost" because he/she had some faulty understanding of the mechanics of salvation – God the Father knows the hearts of all, and did before He created the universe in Jesus Christ. Being here in this life is all about choice, and choosing for God over the world (or not) is the fundamental choice which determines our eternal future. Before the cross, people believed that God could and would save them, even though they did not understand all the specifics about the Sacrifice by whom He would do so; after the cross, we believe that He has saved us through Jesus Christ who died in our place. The point is what God would do and did do, and what they did believe and what we do believe in exercising our free-will faith in response and submission to the Lord in order to be saved: we and they choose and chose to have an eternal life with God by accepting His means of deliverance. And just as we did not fully understand everything there is to understand about Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf when we were saved but were saved nonetheless, so in the case of Old Testament believers it is the essence of their faith responding to the truth of God's salvation which results in deliverance and eternal life.

There is a good deal about all these issues in BB 4B, Soteriology (see the link).

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord.

Bob L.

Question #12: 

Dear Brother Bob, (Any relation to ethnic Mennonite Luginbill's?!)

I just found your web site while searching on the Internet for the passage about Christ going to preach to the souls in Hell. And I read your answers to your readers' questions about 2 Pet.3:18-20.

My wife's Bible Study group is just starting to study Romans and my wife is disturbed by the passage in Romans 1 which speaks about all mankind having an awareness of sin, and therefore after all reject God's Law they have no excuse, but are consigned to hell. So she has trouble with the fact that there are some "who have never heard" about Christ. How can justice be served if they have never heard?

I answered her that ALL mankind is consigned to Hell for their sins, BUT because of God's love and mercy, they can find "a way of escape" through Christ. So she says "it's not fair that some should find salvation and others not". Evidently, according to your explanation, 2 Pet.3:18-20 is not referring to Christ proclaiming and giving a final chance to those in Hell/Hades "who have not heard", but rather proclaiming to the fallen angels about His victory, etc.

So how does one answer about the _Justice of God_ for those who do not have an opportunity to hear (or have heard) about the only Way, Truth, and Life? I used to believe that a just god would somehow have a way to know - for the many who never heard of Christ in this life. What is your answer if 2 Pet.3:18-20 is not an option?

Blessings,

Response #12: 

Good to make your acquaintance. My family came from the Pandora, Ohio Mennonite colony (my grandfather left about the time of the First World War). It's a very big family, and there is an even bigger group of "Luginbills" that hail from the New Bern, Indiana Mennonite colony to which our side of the family bears no particular relation.

As to your question, Jesus Christ died for the sins of each and every human being, so that condemnation is the result not of sin (for all sin has been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ – His death and suffering for all sin), but is instead the result of outright rejection of God's solution or failure to accept that solution throughout one's life. I have addressed the question of "what about those who haven't heard the gospel" in great detail, especially in Bible Basics 4B: "Soteriology" (see the link). I will give you those links below (and please do consult them if you wish a more detailed answer), but I will attempt to give you "the gist of it" here.

God is indeed absolutely just. What many who are exercised by this question often fail to take into account is that Jesus did die for all the sins of all who have ever lived or ever will (please see the link: in BB 4A: "Unlimited Atonement"). We know of a certainty that God "wants all to be saved and to come to the truth" (1Tim.2:4; cf. Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9), and we know that He sacrificed His one and only dear Son our Lord unto death that this might be possible in each and every case. So if God who is perfect desires all to be saved, and if He has actually paid the price of their salvation, it would seem that He would not only want to but also would indeed in each and every case, perfect God that He is, make the salvation He wills and has made possible at the highest possible price available to all. And so He has. If it doesn't seem so to us, then we should accept that we may be in the dark about the mechanics, but that the principle is clear enough: no single human being has ever been condemned by accident or through oversight or via a lack of information. And for anyone who thinks that they have, well, they don't believe in a particularly powerful or a particularly knowledgeable or a particularly fair God. That is to say, they don't really understand much about the inherent power and omniscience and righteousness and goodness and love of the God with whom we have to do. Despite that, this is a fairly common complaint.

God is in fact so much "bigger" in every way than we could ever imagine that there are many things which, when viewed from our limited human perspective, can seem confusing, but, when illuminated by the infinite nature of His being, make perfect sense. God is wise enough, God is powerful enough, God is "big enough" to have understood in more detail than we can imagine exactly how human history would play out if He created the world and initiated the process. Indeed, nothing could have happened unless He decreed everything, that is, the totality of history, before He initiated creation (see the link: Foreknowledge and the Divine Decrees). He perfectly understood all of the ramifications of the creation of every single person – as well as the slightest swerve of the most minute subatomic particles at the end of the universe at the beginning of time and at its end. In short, God knew everything ahead of time, including what we would choose if created, and God has structured our lives for the good in accordance with that perfect knowledge. No one who would believe in Jesus has ever failed to hear about Jesus. And that is true whether it is apparent to us or not.

Further and importantly, the depth of understanding about the most essential choices in life which all human beings possess is often lost on western Christians who falsely assume a sort spiritual superiority over "natives in mud huts". But I can assure that everyone in the third world, or in the remotest corners of the world in centuries far past, has clearly understood the essential issues of life: mortality, sin, and the existence of a perfect God before whom an account would have to be given. That is because the creation loudly proclaims all these basic truths in a way that no one can fail to understand (e.g., Ps.19; see the link: "Natural Revelation"). It is only in the false protestations of those who find all this uncomfortable that an alternative (false) view may be found. Knowing all that would ever happen, God also knew in perfect and complete detail how each and every human being would respond in their heart of hearts to these basic issues of life: given the approach of death and our moral insufficiency in the face of God's perfection, are we willing to seek Him for a solution?

One of the main purposes of the last judgment for unbelievers will be to expose in complete detail precisely this rejection of God which has resulted in their condemnation. And given a self-chosen rejection of God, even though they knew these basic truths, how can God be held at fault if those who were not in the least bit interested in seeking Him were not hit over the head with the details of the gospel they had already determined to reject? It is only important for us to understand that all who have ever been the least bit interested in seeking Him have indeed been provided with all they needed to be saved.

(24) The God who made the world and everything in it, He is Lord of heaven and earth. He does not dwell in man-made temples, (25) nor is he waited on by human hands, as if He needed anything from us. He is the One who gives us all life and breath and everything else. (26) From one man he created all the nations of mankind – that they should come to inhabit the whole face of the earth. He fixed and determined the specific times and extent of their habitations, (27) to the end that they should seek out this God, that they might go in search of Him and so might find Him – for His is not far off from any one of us.
Acts 17:24-27

The verses above make clear that far from consigning those who would choose to reject Him to an impossible situation, to the contrary everything God has done in assigning each human being to their proper time and place has been done with the express purpose of maximizing the chance that they would in fact /accept/ Him and His Son and so be saved. God does and has done absolutely everything to make sure all are saved – even judging all sin in His own dear Son so that all may be saved – everything, that is, except for taking away our free will. The fact that even so most have chosen to ignore Him if not reject Him outright is certainly not a just basis for complaint against Him:

(18) So then, upon whom He wishes, [God] has mercy, and whom He wishes, He hardens. (19) So you will say to me [by way of argument], "Why does He still find fault [with us]? For who has [effectively] resisted His will?" (20) O [mere mortal] man! On the contrary, who are you who is answering back to God? The thing made will not ask its Maker, "why have you made me this way", [will it]? (21) Or does the Potter not have authority over the clay to make from the same lump a vessel for honorable purposes and another for dishonorable ones?
Romans 9:18-21

Unbelievers who object to reality, who object to God's creation, are essentially condemning God for giving them free will in the first place: "Why did you make me like this!?" God has made everyone, in spiritual terms, how they chose to be made. The only thing He has not done is to make them in way in which they would have no genuine choice. God wants everyone to be saved, but He has given everyone a choice. That is the "nubbin" of the issue and the "problem". Having desired everyone to be saved, having paid the highest price imaginable in sacrificing His own dear Son for them, and having set them in the precise place and at the precise time when they would be most inclined to seek Him and be saved, however, not only have most human beings rejected His ineffable grace, but they even throw their very existence in His face – that is the consequence of free will.

What this is really all about is free will. Give people free will, and they will usually use it to reject God. But without our ability to choose, we would be robots, not men. God desires our love and response from the heart, not a forced response (which He could easily obtain without putting Jesus to death). The devil knew more about God than we can ever hope for this side of heaven, and yet he used the free will he had been given to try and dethrone the God who made him. Thus is it ever so. The most "backward" human being in the most "primitive" conditions is still a "god" in his heart in the sense of being able to render a decision about the truth and whether or not to desire it and embrace it in free will or alternatively to reject it from willfulness and become "a god unto himself" putting God's truth to death and enthroning his own truth in its place (whether we call it religion, personal philosophy, agnosticism, atheism, or just indifference to and ingratitude for the gift of life from the Lord of life). For Christians who have in proper humility subordinated their will to God's WILL this often seems unthinkable, especially given the dire consequences of unbelief. But short of being coerced, unbelievers of all ages have recognized the essential calculus of our common human dilemma, and have universally chosen to prefer being their own god for a few short years in preference to humbling themselves before Him who is God – all the more breathtakingly shocking when we consider what He has done in putting Jesus to death that we might be saved and that all that is necessary to be saved is to accept the gift of Him who died to saved us.

When this issue is considered properly and in the detail scripture allows us to apply, the case of "those who never heard" will always be seen to be when accurately assessed a case of "those who were not at all interested in hearing" – because being masters of their own will was more important to them.

And one last point. Any unbeliever who says "what about those who never heard?" has him/herself actually heard, and is only offering this problem up as a rhetorical defense for his/her own hardness of heart. None of this will avail anything at the Great White Throne where everything God has done will be shown to have been not only thoroughly just, but also incredibly merciful, long-suffering, gracious and loving. The fault lies not with Him, but in those who have never had any intention of accepting His authority or embracing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Here are some of those links where the other facets of the argument and the scriptural references are included:

In BB 4B: "Natural Revelation and Accountability" (especially "The Problem of Unbelievers")

What is the Eternal Future of those who Lived before Christ?

Are Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel Lost?

God Knows all Things

I hope this will be helpful to you in your search for the truth on this important question. Please do feel free to write me back about any of the above.

In Jesus Christ our Lord through whom we are saved by grace through faith,

Bob Luginbill

Question #13: 

Professor,

Another set of questions:

A phrase 'unsaved humanity' appeared in your text and a question occurred to me - what with the salvation of people who didn't have an opportunity to know Jesus?

Response #13: 

Good to hear from you as always. As to your questions:

The issue of the accountability and responsibility of all human beings to respond to God through faith in Christ is a fairly complicated one which I have developed elsewhere (see below). The gist of it is that 1) we cannot really say from our limited human perspective that, absolutely, there was ever a single person at any time who "never had the opportunity". After all, God could have sent an angel to any place at any time to explain the truth – or He could have used any sort of means, miraculous or not. The fact that we don't know is not proof that such a thing did not happen. We don't know about all individual cases, but we do know that God is fair and could not possibly be unfair. For example, we only know about the salvation of the generation of Assyrians ministered to by Jonah because it is in the Bible – they were willing to repent, and so God sent them Jonah with the message of truth. God is all-knowing – He knows whether or not the person "without the opportunity" really wanted anything to do with Him or not – and just what that person actually expressed to God in his or her heart. And God has preordained history, and in doing so He made us as we wanted to be and put us in precisely the right place at precisely the right time to fulfill our fundamental choice. I would venture to speculate that the reason why you are where you are right now and not in Mongolia in the 5th century B.C. is precisely because God knew very well that you would respond to Him and be hungry for His Word after you did.

For the details, in addition to this link to the rather lengthy part I of BB 4B: Soteriology, "God's Plan to Save You" and part II, "How to be Saved", please also see these links:

What is the Eternal Future of those who Lived before Christ?

Are Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel Lost?

God Knows all Things

Question #14: 

You wrote: 'For while no one shall come to Him apart from Jesus Christ (Jn.14:6)'. The passage says 'through', so I would like you to explain what you meant.

Response #14: 

Jesus is "the Way", and the Greek phrase in John 14:6 (di' emou = "through Me") represents that fact precisely ("apart from Me" is merely an alternative English way of saying "except through Me"). The only "way" to the Father is "through" Jesus. He is "the Gate" through whom one must enter for eternal life (Jn.10:7-9). That gate is "narrow", and the way is "constricted" which leads to eternal life, "and few are they who find it" (Matt.7:14): there is no other way to salvation except for accepting the gift of Jesus Christ given in grace through faith.

Question #15: 

You wrote: 'In each instance, it was the oppressor who was, in the end, chastened far more severely than Israel, the original object of wrath. In modern times as well the examples of Russia (imperial and communist) and Nazi Germany stand as vivid reminders of the results of active antisemitic agendas. It is well for those who follow Jesus Christ to consider that, although the suffering of Jews in this Church Age may be the result of divine visitation (according to the same pattern of chastisement to turn His people back to Him in truth), the consequences for those used in such a capacity remain dire indeed'.

I cannot understand - God uses people to achieve certain aims and then their consequences are dire for that reason?

Response #15: 

Indeed He does! As Paul says, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom.11:33 NIV). Everything the evil do forwards the Plan of God, because everything that happens in history has been preordained by God – in such a way that everything we do is a genuine matter of choice. To put it in far too simple terms, God had everything completely figured out ahead of time and arranged everything for the salvation and spiritual growth of all who were going to be willing to respond to Him. All the things that most human beings are distracted by and think of as important in this temporary world are actually of very small moment to the real objectives of the Plan of God (all this is also covered in detail in the first section of BB 4B at the link). On the specifics, read Isaiah 10:5-19 regarding the Lord's similar use of Assyria. The overall point here is that God allows the evil to do evil in ways that He has anticipated and in regard to which He easily manages to "work everything together for the good" for those who love Him even so. In this way, the righteous are tested but not destroyed, and wicked are allowed to choose freely but not to triumph, in the end only doing what God foreknew and foreordained for them to do – as they chose.

Question #16: 

Could you please explain the parable of the bags of gold? The following passage:

29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

This fits very well into what is happening in Satan's world, where rich get richer and poor get poorer, but I cannot understand its application to the kingdom of God.

Response #16: 

The "more" in the context you quote (Lk.8:18) is "more truth" (in the other gospel contexts it refers to eternal rewards based upon loving and responding to this same "truth"). Yes, it is true that if the object is material wealth, those who love the riches of this world are the ones who are most likely to receive them, and those who have managed to attain such wealth are the ones most likely to attain more. But these "first" will ultimately be "last". Our kingdom is "not of this world", and we are, in response to the gift of our dear Savior, striving to lay up riches not on earth but in heaven, "where thieves cannot break in and where moths and rust cannot destroy and corrode". So in the spiritual realm we see the same principle at work: it is those who love the truth in the first place who "have it", and it is precisely these same individuals who are the most likely to seek and to receive more of that truly most precious commodity upon which all of our spiritual growth, spiritual progress, spiritual production, and resulting eternal rewards is based:

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 NIV

For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Proverbs 8:11 NIV

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!
Proverbs 16:16 NIV

Question #17: 

You wrote that 'God had preordained history and in doing so He made us as we wanted'. It sounds as if we had an influence on how we are created, I thought this wasn't the case.

Response #17:

Lack of functional choice is what hyper-Calvinism teaches, incorrectly. Again, this is all detailed in BB 4B. God, being God, could not help but know what we would decide in every instance where He gave us the godlike power to decide. Everything in the world He created is about choice, and everything God has done in arranging the world has been specifically done in order to give everyone for whom Christ died – and Christ died for everyone – every opportunity to be saved, if only they are willing to subordinate their will to His WILL.

(24) The God who made the world and everything in it, He is Lord of heaven and earth. He does not dwell in man-made temples, (25) nor is he waited on by human hands, as if He needed anything from us. He is the One who gives us all life and breath and everything else. (26) From one man he created all the nations of mankind – that they should come to inhabit the whole face of the earth. He fixed and determined the specific times and extent of their habitations, (27) to the end that they should seek out this God, that they might go in search of Him and so might find Him – for His is not far off from any one of us.
Acts 17:24-27

Question #18: 

You wrote (about Satan's antediluvian attack): 'Unable to prevent the inevitable replacement of himself and his followers that was taking place in the persons of saved human beings...'. I thought that human beings were not saved until Jesus' sacrifice.

Response #18: 

Salvation has always been the same: God pronouncing a person righteous by His grace on the basis of faith:

And [Abraham] believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Before the cross, this salvation was given "on credit", so to speak, but the credit of the Son of God couldn't be better (please see the link: in BB 4B: "The Gospel before the Cross").

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:25-26 NIV

Question #19: 

You wrote: 'As believers, we ought to take great care not to be guilty of subverting the resolve of those for whom we care (a thing which is all too frequent and often done out of misguided love: we ought not to condemn the sin of others from self-righteous motivation, but we also ought not to give them false information about its consequences)'.

What would be an example of a phenomenon you're describing here?

Response #19: 

Telling someone who is lost that it doesn't make any difference; telling a believer that some sin he or she is committing doesn't make any difference. As in almost all things there is a proper middle ground between condemning other people vociferously and giving them the impression that nothing they are doing is of any consequence.

Question #20: 

Should we pray for the dead?

Response #20: 

Absolutely not. We are here on earth and here on earth is where we are to fight the fight Jesus has given to us. Beyond this life, there are no more free will decisions of consequence. All of the dead have made their choices and unchangeably so, the righteous for eternal life, the unrighteous for eternal condemnation. There is no biblical passage that even suggests such a thing is legitimate and no instance of it in scripture; there is a very sound theological argument against doing so. Further, wherever groups engage in this activity, it is always accompanied by other more serious abuses of the truth (please see the link: "Is there a purgatory according to the Bible?").

Question #21: 

What does it mean to be 'born again'?

Response #21: 

A question to which there is a very short and a very long answer. Short answer: being born again is being saved, being a believer in Jesus Christ, having been made alive, spiritually speaking, by grace through faith though previously spiritually dead. For the long answer, please see the link in Peter 19 "Spiritual Rebirth", and for the even longer answer: BB 4B: "Spiritual Rebirth".

Question #22: 

You wrote: ' And God has preordained history, and in doing so He made us as we wanted to be and put us in precisely the right place at precisely the right time. I would venture to speculate that the reason why you are where you are right now and not in Mongolia in the 15th century B.C. is precisely because God knew very well that you would respond to Him and be hungry for His Word after you did.'

Am I correct to understand that you believe we somehow influence how we will be before we are even born? I always thought that our salvation is only decided during our here on earth.

Response #22: 

Indeed I agree, however I do not see these two things as mutually exclusive. God knows how we will decide. If a person would not decide for Him and faith in Jesus Christ no matter if that person was given to be born right next door to Jesus and live throughout the time of His earthly ministry, surely God is not obligated to place that person in such a circumstance. In my estimation of these things, it will be revealed in eternity that every single person was given just the right life-circumstances to maximize the chance that he/she would respond to the Lord. How that might be so is dependent upon all manner of things invisible to us now (as the heart of each person is cloaked from our view), but if we accept a loving and merciful God who gave His Son up to death for all and who wants all to be saved, it seems that this must be true. All this is developed in BB 4B: Soteriology.

Question #23: 

You wrote: ' Evangelism is important, as are all the other functions of the Church. But the thing Jesus chooses to emphasize above everything else in His final teaching is "feeding the flock"'.

It looks as if you were trying to contrast evangelism and 'feeding the flock', but if we assume that evangelism is 'spreading the gospel', it seems identical in meaning to 'feeding the flock'. Please clarify.

Response #23: 

This is a question about English and Anglo-American terminology. In this country, and in the English speaking world generally, "the gospel" and "evangelism" is overwhelmingly meant to mean "the good news about Jesus whereby a person is saved" rather than "the entire truth of the Word of God". You are certainly correct in your observation. My practice has been to adhere to the culture usage which surrounds me, especially as in the book of Acts "gospel" and "giving the gospel" (euangelia and euangelizomai respectively) usually are focused on the initial leading of the unsaved to salvation. But there are times in scripture when "gospel" does refer to the entire teaching of the Word, and it is good to keep that principle in mind lest when these passages are encountered one wrongly restrict the word to meaning only "the basic truth necessary to be saved" (e.g., at Rom.1:15, we may be sure that Paul, who is already writing to believers, is talking about more than basic principles of faith).

Question #24: 

Could you please explain John 3:5-8:

5 Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

a) Why does Jesus mentions both being born of 'water and the Spirit'? You wrote that water baptism is not appropriate today and one could argue that the passage only refers to people who lived during the earthly ministry of Jesus, but His statement 'no one' sounds like it refers to everyone, including people living in this day. Please clarify.

b)Why does Jesus say 'The wind blows wherever it pleases' and the sentence that follows right after saying 'You must be born again'? Why is being born again likened to the wind?

Response #24: 

On John 3:5-8,

a) This passage has nothing whatsoever to do with water-baptism. The water referred to is the water of the Word of God, the element used by the Spirit to make the gospel appeal to unbelievers. They have to hear the Word from someone. When they do, the Spirit makes the truth of it clear. Please see the links:

Faith Epistemology (in BB 4B)

Baptism: Water and Spirit.

Baptism: Water and Spirit II.

b) Verse 8 is explaining the mechanics of verse 7. To be born again, we must receive the water of the truth made real and meaningful to us by the Holy Spirit. This is a supernatural process, for, just as the wind is not seen – yet its effects are felt – so it is with the Spirit. No one can see why or how an unbeliever who behaves like an unbeliever may, upon conversion, all of a sudden begin acting completely differently. He/she has been affected by an unseen force, namely, the Spirit who has made the truth clear for the person to respond and be saved.

Question #25: 

Thanks to your answers I understand why Jesus spoke in parables and, in similar vein, why the prophecies of the Old Testament are not easy to interpret. One further question in this matter that I wanted to ask concerns Mark 4:12 and Isaiah 6:10:

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, "'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'

Mark 4:10-12 NIV
10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

The part that is still unclear to me is the final statement of the prophecy: 'otherwise they might turn and be forgiven'. I don't know how to link it with 1 Timothy 2:3-4: "3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."

We know that the Truth is for those, who want it and we know that God wants all to be saved, which involves 'turning and being healed', mentioned in Isaiah's prophecy. Where it says 'otherwise' (and I don't know how well that is rendered from Hebrew), one can almost perceive the passage as stating something God would rather avoid - but this is the very thing required for salvation. I read earlier passages of Isaiah 6, but with my limited knowledge and understanding didn't find clues to direct me. Was the purpose of that to show what are the effects of not believing in God and his message (similarly as in the case of Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened) and to show, who the true believers are?

Response #25: 

On "otherwise they might turn and be forgiven", clearly, God wants all to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). But God also respects our free-will. If He did not, there would be no point to this exercise called human history. So the phrase you ask about is 1) ironic (i.e., clearly God wants them to be saved, but they are not willing to be saved), but 2) also practical: if a person receives an experience that makes the truth clear to the point that it is impossible for them to deny it, then accepting it is not a measure of faith (e.g., the demons cannot deny the existence of God, since they can behold Him, but that is not a measure or test of their will: Jas.2:19). I think your other comments here are very good and helpful for understanding the full force of this passage as well.

Question #26: 

You wrote: ' Thus before they even left the garden of Eden, God had given Adam and Eve a new tree of life to replace the one they had forsaken: that is, the cross of Jesus Christ (foreshadowed in the animal skins and in the prophecy of the Seed). Like their descendants after them, Adam and Eve were thus given the opportunity to regain the spiritual relationship with God lost at the fall'.

Could you please clarify, what specifically Adam and Eve's opportunity was? My understanding is that they were given the prophecy (the Seed) and the symbol (the skins) of Jesus, but that didn't come until a few thousand years later. How did (or could) Adam and Eve restore the spiritual relationship with God?

In Jesus and with constant prayer,

Response #26: 

This is the question of salvation before the cross. In my view, Romans 4 makes it clear that the issue has always been the same for everyone: justification by faith. Romans 3, on the other hand, makes it clear how that was possible for Old Testament saints: God's foreknowledge and fore-ordination of the cross and Jesus' sacrifice for all sin from Eden to eternity (especially Rom.3:25). The "mechanism" of salvation is therefore the same for all people at all times: faith in God's Substitute for sin as the basis for forgiveness and restoration. The difference, of course, is that before Jesus actually came to earth and suffered "in the flesh", the prophets of old were "searching intently", "trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1Pet.1:10-11 NIV). We are blessed to be able to look back at the cross with perfect clarity. Adam and Eve and all who went before had to look forward it to it through shadows (the symbolism of blood-sacrifice). But for them as well as for us trusting that God would (them) and has (us) sacrificed a Substitute to wash away our sins that we might be saved is the essence of the gospel, and the Object of belief is in both cases precisely the same, the prophesied Savior and the Savior who came and died for us, our dear Lord Jesus Christ (please see the link: The Gospel before the Cross).

As always, I very much appreciate your questions, your persistence in the Word, and your attitude. Please feel free to write me any time.

To the glory of the One who bought us with His blood, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

 

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