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Unbelief and its Consequences

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Question #1:  Bob, Would you please have a look at this article? He cites your work.

Response #1:  Dear Sirs, I would appreciate you sending this along to Mr. Plugaru. It is in regard to his citation of one of my pieces in his recent (2005) net article on the AIK site, "Argument from Insufficient Knowledge of the Bible for the Nonexistence of the God of Christianity".

 Thanks much, Dr. Robert D. Luginbill

Dear Mr. Plugaru,

Your citation of my article, Read Your Bible, caught the eye of one of my readers and thus I got the link for your piece. I don't generally get into debates of this sort as life is short and time precious, so let me say right away that my purpose is not to get "into it" with you, but I did feel the need to point out a couple of things which might be of interest, and also thought I might take the opportunity to ask you a question for my own benefit and edification.

The first thing that I should probably point out is that my work and this ministry, ichthys.com, is not exactly mainstream. Not that I do not feel in all sincerity that these studies are important and do indeed accurately reflect what scripture actually teaches apart from any tradition or denominational bias. I do indeed, but the price for this independence is non-affiliation in the extreme. What I mean to say is, you might want to be aware in your citation of my piece on reading the Bible that, while I would hope that most serious evangelicals would agree with most of what is said there, they would also be surprised to learn that something with my name on it was being set up as the opinio communis, especially since this work is not particularly well-known (something that has proved to be a blessing!).

The second point has to do with the precise belief in question and your understanding of its ramifications. You argue that "if the Christian God existed he would ensure that (nearly) all human beings have an excellent knowledge of the Bible before they die". An important fact to be considered here is God's purpose for mankind. We are here to choose, and God, omniscient as He is (among many other things), can easily discern the intents of our hearts even without a Bible, let alone a deep understanding of it on our part. Indeed, I would imagine that you would agree with the proposition that by far the vast majority of humanity, certainly before the 18th century and probably still true today if one takes a strict approach, lived and died without ever hearing the gospel or even knowing that there was such a thing as the Bible (let alone coming to an "excellent understanding" of what the Bible has to say). But apart from at least a spark of faith in the heart, providing such information would be pointless since such knowledge is useful only to the extent that it is mixed with faith. This is why, for example, the New Testament makes such a point about the difference between gnosis and epignosis, the latter being a submission to the truth rather than a mere intellectual mastery of certain propositions. One has to have faith to get anywhere in a relationship with the Lord (Heb.11), and, indeed, it is only by mixing faith with knowledge in the power of the Spirit that there can be any true understanding of Jesus Christ and His truth – and that is at the heart of the difference between biblical epistemology and all secular systems. What goes on in the heart of anyone who turns to God in faith is therefore supernatural and can't be subjected to a materialistic, rational dissection (1Cor.2). Thus, where there is no desire to turn to God, there is little point in God providing information (let alone all information), since it won't, it can't be understood or do any good in the first place. Knowledge never produces faith. Faith mixed with truth is what produces genuine understanding – it's all about our free will response to God and the sacrifice He has made for us in Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your patience in bearing with me thus far. To get to my question I first have to say that there is one area where scripture does indeed proclaim unequivocally that God has provided a complete and universal knowledge and understanding, and that is in precisely the area about which you are writing, namely, the existence of God. For example, I don't believe one can read Romans chapter one or Psalm 19 or any of a whole host of biblical passages and not be compelled to agree with the proposition that the Bible teaches that all human beings (who reach mental and physical adulthood) come to the point of realizing that God exists. That is the scriptural position. Notice, scripture does not say (and indeed affirms in a variety of places) that people don't at some later time or even almost immediately after receiving it come to reject that very truth – most people do. But the Bible does tell us that for at least one fleeting moment at least once in a lifetime everyone does have in his or her heart the understanding that there is a God in the wonderful sense of what we know Him to be (if only dimly so). What people do with this truth is up to everyone individually. Again, it is all about choice. To apply this principle to your over all argument, I would affirm that God has never let anyone go begging for information about Him and His Son or indeed of any and all of the truth of the Word of God (this ministry is dedicating to serving precisely that principle). But that proposition does not mean that those inclined to have such information, knowledge, and understanding don't have to pray for it, and wait for it, and search for it, and dig for it, work for it, choose for it, and, occasionally, sacrifice for it. They usually do, but that too has purpose, the purpose of demonstrating to them and to the world of men and angels both what really is important to them in spite of any and all opposition, and just how deeply and truly they do desire a deep understanding about and relationship with the Lord above everything else. Sad to say, not very many in the Christian community really have this sort of fire and desire for the Word of God (which explains why this ministry is largely beyond the pale). So now my question to you, if you are still with me here, is this: Do you remember a time or a moment when you did believe that there was a God?

Thanks again for putting up with this rather long-winded e-mail. I would certainly be happy to talk with you further about any of this if you so desire (to wit, please see the links:  Natural Revelation, and "How do you prove the existence of God?"

In the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

Bob, Thanks for sending me your well written response to Mr. Plugaru's argument. I will pray that his heart will be open to the Gospel. He seems to be an agnostic (not atheist) since in his argument he states that "the God of Christianity probably does not exist". I think he's looking for someone to prove to him that the God of Christianity does exist.

Response #2: 

You're very welcome. I don't know if this response will ever get to Mr. Pluragu. My first attempt got bounced and I was told that the administrators don't contact their authors except via postings to their forums (I am skeptical that this is completely true). Even though I attempted to register to get my e-mail address to Mr. Plugaru I have yet to "pass muster" on the forum (and probably will not, given some of the answers I gave to their questions). I did try another route by I'm not confident it'll ever pass before his eyes.

I think it says quite a lot about this organization and their point of view that they are so insecure as to avoid even seeing anything discordant with their non-belief beliefs.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Greetings in the Lord Jesus, Dr. Luginbill,

Your website and credentials, are both awesome! I thank you for them and plan to revisit and READ extensively. I just have a question about 1st Peter 4:6. The commentaries are not succinct enough for me to grasp the full meaning with a clear understanding; full enough to allow that still, quiet voice of God to give me rest over it!

Thank you.

Response #3: 

Thank you for your kind comments about this site. As to 1st Peter 4:6, it would be surprising if you had found a satisfactory answer to your questions on this verse in the commentaries, not because of lack of information, but because this is one of the most highly-commented-on verses in the New Testament, and confusion about it is rampant. The number of completely different (and unsatisfying) interpretations runs into the dozens and, indeed, one finds a slightly different twist at least in just about every commentary. This verse is a good example of how understanding the underlying theology of the New Testament is sometimes necessary in order to correctly translate/interpret a particular verse that takes such knowledge for granted. That said, I am happy to give you my interpretation, but first, the translation (bracketed phrases are expansions added in order to elucidate what Peter means here):

For it is for this [very] reason that the gospel has been preached to the [spiritually] dead as well [as to you], in order that they [too], after they have been convicted in the flesh according to [their] human conduct, might live by means of the Spirit according to God['s grace]. 1st Peter 4:6

The way this verse begins with the Greek conjunction gar ("for") reinforced by the prepositional phrase ("for") tells us that here we have an explanation of the preceding discussion of unbeliever depravity, unbeliever surprise at believer sanctity, and God's coming judgment of them (as well as of us all). In fact, this verse provides a commentary on what precedes and adds an additional bit of encouraging information.

As believers, we are "the living" even when we physically die (Matt.22:31; Lk.20:38); whereas unbelievers are "the dead" even while still physically alive (Gen.2:17; cf. Rom.5:12; 5:14; 5:17; 5:21; 7:5; 7:10; 7:13; 7:24; 8:2). Peter's audience was apparently troubled by the fact that while they were being "good", the world around them was continuing on its sinful course with no apparent negative consequences. After reminding his readers of the need for sanctification in verses 4:1-4, in verse five Peter assures them that those who defy God will also be judged, not as "the living" who enter into eternal life and are evaluated for the purpose of rewards (cf. 1Cor.3:12-15), but as "the dead" whose evaluation consists merely of a detailed accounting of their life of rejection of God's grace (Rev.20:11-15; cf. Matt.25:31-46).

But while the "judgment" of verse 5 was the last judgment, the "judging in the flesh" in verse 6 refers to the condemnation of conscience which Peter's audience is helping to provide, at least in part. "Why?" they may have complained, "are we so reviled for our good conduct while they suffer no ill-effects?". And "Why are all of our attempts to share with them the gospel being rebuffed?" Peter's response to this situation, which is after all the universal situation for all Christians at all times, is that we are indeed lights to the world, both through the giving of the gospel and by the living of the gospel. Our sanctified conduct may be ridiculed and reviled, but it is a witness to those doing the ridiculing and reviling. It is, in short, an all important part of the plan of God. God, after all, wants everyone to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9), but we have to make this choice for ourselves, because if He made it for us, we would cease to be creatures of free will, made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, the unbelievers in question who do receive the gospel (by hearing the Word and by seeing the deeds of believers) are given it precisely in order that they may be convicted "as men" in their hearts while still in their sinful "flesh", and as a result turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. In this way, there is still hope that at least some of these unbelievers will eventually respond and thus "live through God's grace by the saving instrumentality of the Holy Spirit" (i.e., the Holy Spirit is the One who quickens us, making us spiritually alive: Jn.3:5-8).

It is ever the case and it is one of the blessed profundities of our dear God's grace that it is through judgment that we come to be justified. For Jesus was judged in our place, that we might be vindicated through faith in Him. When we come to recognize the truth of who we are in all its dismal reality, that is the point at which we are ripe to turn to God and seek His grace in humility.

I hope this answers your questions about this verse, but do feel free to write me back about any of the above.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


Question #4:

Dear Bob,

Just wanted to thank you so much for your prompt response to my query about 1 Peter Chapter 4:6. Your expertise helped me a great deal. I admire your steadfastness in the faith. Here's another question for you: How important do you think it is for unequally yoked wives to be mentored, nurtured, supported in the faith in a specific, structured, way ('programs')? (For example, there is Promise Keepers for dads/husbands). I make no comments about PK other than at least there is ideational recognition that guys who are born again in Christ also have need for specific group support in those God given positions. And, what would be your take on how this topic of women being unequally yoked is handled within individual congregations on the whole? I ask because my experience has been that it doesn't QUALIFY as, a topic AT ALL and that it's not worth an ounce, of importance. I deeply pondered (was led?) creating a program to help such women modeled after the one I'd used in teaching. And, the vision that was sort of given to me, was that it would grow in the same way: local to national. Though online one can find a few websites; it's not the same thing as personal able-to-see-someone's-eyes-bear-hugging, support where you live! It was poo-pooed by three pastors here in the area and received by one, who informed me he didn't believe in theological hell....that "no-one was going to be separated from God)...; whereupon my response was to not attend that church. It is my belief that this topic is extremely worthy yet a sensitive one. Disclosure within a congregation is risky. Hence my program was to be held autonomous and anonymous from any denomination or church affiliation. Blessings to you in this worldly realm.


Response #4:

You are certainly welcome - glad to be of some help. As to your question, I think you have a wonderful idea. It seems to me that women in this situation of being married to an unbeliever are indeed in need of special and specialized help and support, and I am not aware anything out there tailored to their specific needs. Each of us is called to ministry according to the gifts we have been given (1Cor.12:4-7). Obviously, this is a decision you have to make, but from what you have shared with me about your background, education, preparation, and call, it seems a well-thought out and highly appropriate direction in which to go. Also, God seems to have prepared you with the prior life-experiences necessary to know just what to do and how to do it. I would certainly encourage you to continue to seek the Lord's guidance on this matter – it seems to me at any rate a very worthy and necessary effort. I am also inclined to think that making it an independent outreach rather than teaming with a particular church or group is likely to be the most profitable course. Like you, I have been frustrated in my life with denominational experiences, and that is the reason why this ministry is non-affiliated and on the internet.

I wish you great success in this endeavor and look forward to hearing more about it.

In our Lord for whom nothing is impossible, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


Question #5:
 

Hi Dr. L:

What is the meaning of Proverbs 14:12? To what man? Does "to a man" mean a man who doesn't consider God's laws and ways? In what I would think of as a related verse, Jesus speaks of the difficulty of even finding the narrow way. Why should it be difficult to find it? He said He is the way.

Thank you,


Response #5:
 

In the Proverbs 14:12 passage, the Hebrew just says "man" which could be "a man" (Hebrew has no indefinite article), or "Man" (i.e., mankind). Given that this is a proverb, either way I believe what it means is that just because "a person" or "we" in general think our course is yashar (i.e., "right" or "just") does not make it so. We are foolish to assume that our standards of self-approval are automatically the same as God's (cf. Judg.21:25). A wise person, a wise Christian, will 1) make it a habit to train up their conscience, their norms, their standards, by sharpening them with the truth of the Word of God on a consistent and regular basis (Heb.5:14), and 2) will look to the Word of God whenever a situation comes up where they are in any doubt about what is really "right or wrong" (Is.8:19). In my understanding of this passage and of biblical anthropology and biblical psychology generally, I would say that this proverb applies first and foremost to people who have made it a habit do whatever they please and then rationalize it and justify it after the fact (see the link: "The Conscience (in BB 3B)"). This proverb points out just how wrong, how foolish that is. Secondarily it is a both a warning to believers on the right road not to do the same, but also an encouragement to them that their truly righteous way – one based on God's standards – is not pointless, even though at times of course we are all tempted to ask the question, "Why do the wicked prosper?" (cf. Ps.37; 73; Hab.1:12-2:20).

"And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not."
Malachi 3:18 NIV

I think you are correct that Matthew 7:13-14 is saying something very similar. When we are taking care to adopt God's standards, we are "calibrating" our consciences narrowly, "fine tuning" them, so to speak. But when we give ourselves plenty of latitude, even to the point of self-justification so that we may do whatever pleases us without remorse, we are not on the narrow road that leads upward to life (i.e, not following Jesus) but are instead on the broad way that leads to destruction. There are many ways to go to hell; there is only one way to eternal life, through faith in and faithfulness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Only a few "find it" because only a few are looking. In the history of the world, the gospel has not been nearly as readily available as it is today, and the reason for this is that few have ever really wanted to know about Jesus, believe in Him, and follow Him. God definitely knows who wants to find the truth. If we seek truly, we always truly find. This is also the reason why so little solid, substantive, and orthodox Bible teaching is available today in our era of Laodicea (in my view). Not many are looking for it, so there is not much to be found (cf. 2Cor.8:15). Like our Lord and His gospel of truth through which we are saved, you are very correct, salvation is not "hard to find" -- but you have to want to find it first.

In Him who is indeed the only Way, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


Question #6:
 

Just curious...should altar calls be used at every service? How do you use it in your church and what kind of response does it get? My personal feel is that the altar call can be overused, but if used appropriately, it's a powerful tool. What do you think?

Response #6:

This is another practice of which I am not enamored. It leaves the impression that coming down front in front of other people is what salvation is all about (which is of course terribly wrong). Worse, it leaves the impression that if one does not come down front in front of other people one is not saved. So this practice can hinder some from salvation, make others who do conceive faith in Christ feel they are not saved, and put the deadly idea in other heads that the effort of "doing something" is what saved them. I think there is a better way to go about this, namely, to make the issue of salvation clear and let people respond to the Lord with their hearts instead of to the preacher with their feet (see the link: "God's Free Gift"). Those who receive the truth and want to join with the particular fellowship where they are attending will have ample opportunity to do so without mandatory and public emotional manipulation in the bargain, and without confusing the issue and message of the gospel (as altar calls are wont to do).

I think the reason why altar calls were developed in the first place was not out of a true desire to help people come to Jesus, but out of desire to show results (i.e., "look how many people came to the altar during that service/rally/meeting/campaign!!!"). Not only is this a false motivation for a questionable practice, but the "results" will always be so as well because any mass altar call is going to 1) attract a number of people who are mentally unstable (and who go to every altar call in every church/meeting); 2) attract a number of people who are beset with guilt (i.e., they are saved but the whole process is designed to play on guilt feelings and often induces those with any doubts to come down front [so they are now relying on altar calls for the spiritual security – bad news]); 3) even if it does attract some who are now putting their faith in Jesus, there is no guarantee that these people will continue in the Lord forever – and if this organization is really about the "show" rather than true spiritual "go", it won't do much for them in terms of leading them forward in spiritual growth, the only sure-fire way to build a lasting foundation for Jesus Christ. For those who emphasize such things as altar calls, however, it is no doubt true in many cases that none of that matters to them just as long as a sizable number comes down front. I would rather have a single person genuinely come to Christ without any fanfare and persevere in that faith firm until the end than have a hundred people come down front with great fanfare who already are saved, aren't really saved, or won't stay saved.

Yours in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7:

Pastor,

How should a true Christian Christmas and Easter (holidays which have always been celebrated with great zeal in my family)? Also, I was reading about the organization of demons and their rank. It's almost, in some strange way, like the military with Satan himself being the 4 star general. Perhaps a subject I shouldn't spend a lot of time on but this is something I never considered and I didn't know that Satan was actually the highest ranking angel in heaven before being ousted by God. It makes sense though, clearly he has a tremendous amount of power here on our Earth as he has basically turned it into his own personal cesspool (pardon my language.) It's just been a tough day after watching those poor families deal with the loss of their children at V-Tech. Things seem to be getting worse by the day. My fathers partner just lost his grandson in Iraq. I never really imagined or considered that our planet is actually ruled by Satan and his demons. If only we could actually see these evil spirits with our own eyes, there are so many unbelievers and atheists I know and it's absolutely impossible to try to convince them otherwise. Only divine intervention could succeed. Then there are the agnostics, thinking that good works will earn them a ticket to a happy afterlife (as many don't really believe in heaven or hell.) I know that both exist and have thought many times about what hell must be like, not a pleasant thought to say the least. Let me ask you this one last question as I know I have been a bit of a pest lately. When someone who is a non-believer dies, do they go directly to hell with no hope of salvation? Is the lake of fire (which is described in the Bible) hell or is it different? I can only assume that once there, you are doomed, there is no hope. It seems like God has sent lifeboats in the past, he sent us Jesus to save our souls. One can't help but think that perhaps, there is some hope for the condemned. It's just that I know that God's love for us is very strong, it's hard not to question these things so forgive me if I sound ignorant. I guess the reason for these questions has to do with the death of friends and loved ones that were non-believers. My best friend committed suicide at a very young age, drug addicted, depressed, and obviously in a great deal of pain.

God Bless and as always, thanks for your insight,


Response #7:

The influence of the devil and his minions on this world is indeed large, but it is a blessing that we are unable to see them or directly discern their influence where in most cases it is hard to tell how much is merely pure human depravity. This makes the main point I would like to get across on this subject, namely, that Satan's control of the world coming from his influence on human thinking is a myriad times more profound than any direct affect on the material and physical realm that he is currently allowed to have. So I certainly am not one who sees demons under every bed – it's impossible in truth to really do so and spiritually unhealthy too. But we can certainly see the march of evil in all contemporary events. It is also very important to understand all things demonic as outlined in the "Satan's Rebellion" series because it is really difficult to get a clear picture of the positive plan of God as He is working out human history from the beginning to the end in a vacuum of understanding of this topic. That is also why the series is sub-titled: "Background to the Tribulation", namely, because without a solid understanding of the devil's plan versus God's PLAN, the Tribulation is likely to sound very strange, and the next thing you know the book of Revelation is being taken as a mere allegory – not the most spiritually safe point of view for us upon whom the end of the ages has come. I have heard a number of people opine in the wake of the VT massacre that this might be a "sign" of the end. Technically speaking, there will be no signs of the Tribulation until it actually begins (see the link: "Signs of the Coming Tribulation" in CT 2B), but that doesn't mean that we are not be sensitive to the increasing volume of evil in the world – I can't believe it's meaningless.

On holidays, unless they are in the Bible, I can't get too excited about them. But I try not "rain on the parade" of other people who prize them as long as I don't have to compromise my own beliefs in the process (see: "Is it wrong for me to celebrate Easter", "Is it valid to celebrate Christmas", and "Christmas trees").

As to the end of life, it is indeed a sobering thing to think that when we breathe our last our record is complete. At that point scripture is clear that we have no further opportunity to affect things on this earth, including our status at the point of departure (Eccl.9:6). The lake of fire is the final state of the unsaved (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:11-15); before the last judgment they find themselves in "torments" or "Hades" (Lk.16:23). It may seem unfair that the few, short, often unhappy and seemingly pointless year of our lives are all we have to decide for Jesus. That, in my understanding of scripture, is certainly Satan's complaint – condemnation is not fair – but look at the lengths that God has gone to in creating human history to refute him! As you rightly point out, God wants everyone to be saved and Jesus died for everyone so that they might be saved. Therefore it certainly stands to reason that a loving God who sacrificed His own dear Son so that they could be saved would save them if He could: having done absolutely the most for every human being in the gift of Jesus Christ, certainly God will do everything that will make a difference to bring about salvation (consider all He did for Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapters 1-4!) – except, that is, to take away their free will or compromise the principle of free will. Without choice, none of us would be who we are and none of this would make any sense or have any purpose. God does not take away the opportunity to choose for Him, and without the possibility of refusing the choice, there could be no true choice (see the link: "The Few Saved"). This is why there can't be a "second chance" in Hades. Once we have seen the power of God and the truth of God and the consequences of turning away from Him to that degree, how could anyone make a choice other than for God? But of course all those who rejected Him in life would only thereafter be "accepting" Him to get out of the horrible situation they are in rather than making a genuine "choice" that is truly for Him. This is a lot like being sorry for "getting caught" rather than genuinely repentant about what one might have done.

I am firmly convinced that my perfectly just God who knows the slightest swerve of the tiniest quark at the far end of the universe throughout all time (and did so before He created it) knows exactly and precisely what is going on the heart of every human being, and whether or not there is or was or ever could be a chance or a way for them to turn to Jesus. I am firmly convinced that my perfectly merciful God will leave no stone unturned to bring any such potential believer to the point of salvation, no matter what it takes (indeed, we are sanctified by the Spirit thereto from our birth: 1Pet.1:2). And I am firmly convinced that my perfectly loving God will wipe away all such tears I may have on that great day, and will show me how what He did was at every time and at every point just, and merciful, and loving and good in every way. It only remains for me to trust Him here and now even before I am able to see these things with my own eyes. That is the very essence of faith and the challenge to which I aspire (Heb.11:1).

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

 

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