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Faith and Free Will in Trial and Testing

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Question #1:

Hi Bob,

Here is the end of John 13:

"Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"

But then at the beginning of John 14, Jesus says:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."

Is there a thematic connection? Is Jesus telling His disciples that, despite their failures, they should nonetheless not let their hearts be troubled?

Response #1:

I would say that this is true regardless of whether or not a person wants to connect things here. All of us are failures (from time to time); it's just a question of how spectacularly we fail. And all of us can and should be resting in Christ and trusting Him at all times. If we have fallen out of that place of moment by moment Sabbath rest, our task is to reclaim it ASAP (see the link). Spiritual failure of any kind militates against that peace which our Lord has left us (Jn.14:27); spiritual growth and consistent application of the truth through whatever comes must be utilized to gain and to hold onto the trouble-free heart we all can and should have in Jesus, resting in faith even in the eye of the storm.

Enter into His Rest

Faith Rest in Hebrews

The Law, Love, Faith-Rest and Messianism

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hi Dr.

Quick question, the "his", in Colossians 1:9, is Paul referencing the Holy Spirit or Christ. It is a lower case his so I initially thought it is not the Holy Spirit but also if it is Christ, shouldn't it be upper case as well.

Irrespective of the case, I take it to mean Christ's will. Please help me clarify.

Thank you very much and God bless

Response #2:

Here is my translation of the passage:

(9) For this reason we also from the [very] day we heard [of your love] do not cease praying on your behalf and asking that you be fulfilled in regard to the full acceptance (epignosis) of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, (10) that you might walk worthy of the Lord to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by means of the full knowledge (epignosis) of God.
Colossians 1:9-10

I take "His" in verse nine to be "God's", meaning "the Father's" – that is usually the case where "will" is in view since this is generally are reference to the overall plan of God. So the "His" will technically be going back to verse six. Upper and lower case letters are English interpretations (there is no such distinction in the original Greek), so "His" might possibly apply to any member of the Trinity, but I think the Father is the One in view. And, after all, the Trinity are One. There is no difference between Christ's will and the Father's will and the Spirit's will – and the only way for us to grow is to accept that Will of God, pleasing Him more and more through our growth, progress and production for Jesus Christ – which things are themselves the Will of God, His plan for us all.

Hope this helps!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3:

Hi Dr.

I hope all is well and you and your family are doing well. One thing I realize about trials of this magnitude is that deep inside, we really have a hard time of leaving this world and items behind. Even though God has blessed me immeasurably these years, this sudden trial makes me realize I still hold onto material things.

I believe most believers, even ardent ones, have a very difficult time of letting things go at a moment notice for Christ. I think that is an area that I want to grow in Christ. If he blesses me and then takes my comfort away will I be joyful? Believe it or not, I am joyful because I have past testimonies of his faithfulness but I do need to get better at being joyful continuously. But I keep thinking about what my family will go through and not me, which in turn makes me not joyful at times.

I read your Peter series about personal tribulations and I am still confused to see whether I fall into this category because this event is a byproduct of some sinful act committed years ago but Paul's, and other Christ stalwarts of the past didn't suffer because of their past acts but because of their love and living life for Christ. I believe personal tribulation only applies to believers who are persecuted for their faith.

Thanks for listening. I am trying to communicate as much as possible when things come on my mind because in a couple of weeks, I more than likely will not

God bless you and your ministry in Christ Jesus

Response #3:

Please feel free to write me anytime, whenever you can.

I would recommend to you the example of king David. He endured fourteen years of intensive discipline for doing far worse things, and yet his close walk with the Lord, the grace he continued to receive, and his wonderful testimony to the power and goodness and love of the Lord, make it very clear that he had been forgiven and was being blessed throughout these troubles. So both things can be true. That is, we can (and if we are honest often do) find ourselves in situations where the antecedents might be traced to bad things we have done. That in and of itself is a test, because rather than fall into guilt and despair, we need to recognize that, like David, once we had confessed and turned away from that sinful or foolish conduct, we were immediately forgiven with all future discipline and/or natural consequences being for blessing and not for cursing:

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die."
2nd Samuel 12:13 NASB

Of David. A maskil. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 33:1-5 NIV

Two pitfalls to avoid in analyzing our life experiences therefore are 1) attributing everything bad that happens to some sin we think we are being punished for (inappropriate if we have confessed something and especially if it is long in the past) and 2) assuming we have done something bad whenever we experience trouble. As mature Christians, we should realize easily enough what is sin and sinful, shun it in the first place, repent of it and confess it immediately when we do err in the second place, and put it out of our mind as we move forward with Jesus Christ in the third place (except to be committed not to repeat the error in the future). We will have trouble as long as we are in this world; we will make mistakes as long as we are in this world; therefore there will always be the temptation to "connect the dots" between the one and the other – but this does no good, even if there are dots to connect. Because there will always be SOME dots to connect:

Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff? For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth.
Job 13:25-26 NIV

No man was ever so undeserving of the suffering that befell him as Job was – and we have it from scripture that what happened to him happened not at all because of anything "he had done". And yet he was a man and had not lived an absolutely sinless life. If even Job could wrongly look back and assume his trouble was due to some sin long past and long ago forgiven (as in these verses above), surely we too need to take care to avoid that same mistake.

I think your wonderful perspective in how you are handling all this demonstrates not only your spiritual maturity but also the truth of what I have been saying: this is testing for blessing from the Lord, in spite of the fact that there are "historical antecedents". I know that He will be with you in this, and I can tell you that your spiritual courage is a wonderful witness – no doubt not only to me but to all who are witnessing it, men and angels both.

Please also remember that the Lord does take us through fire and water often – and we do make it through by His grace – but that He also sometimes does deliver us from the lion's mouth. Abraham, remember, did not actually have to put Isaac to death – although he was prepared to do so and brought right to the edge of doing so.

Your spiritual stalwartness in this trouble is a crowning demonstration of the progress you have made in Jesus Christ. Please make every effort to hold it fast, regardless of what happens. There is hope of deliverance from – and if that does not happen, the Lord will certainly deliver you through.

It is an honor to know you. You are in my prayers day by day, my friend.

In Jesus our Lord and Master, the Good Shepherd who leads us faithfully forward, even through the valley of the death-shadow.

Bob L.

Question #4:

Thank you Dr Bob for your kind words of encouragement. Likewise you have been a blessing to me and encouragement in the faith. I will always keep your family and this ministry in my prayers.

This prayer came to mind:

Lam 3:31-33 "For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. 32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone"

I will also keep you abreast of any news.

God bless in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

You have my permission to post this email strings to your site for edification of others. You don't not have to redact anything.

Thanks

Response #4:

You're very welcome, my friend. Thanks, and thanks very much for your prayers.

This is a great verse to remember!

Some recent postings which may be of help too:

Mutual Encouragement in Christ III

Encouragement, Spiritual Testing and Spiritual Growth II

Fighting the Fight IV: Dispatches from the Laodicean 'Front'

In Jesus our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Dear Bob,

Maybe I am doing this too much, but I am analyzing myself to see what may be the cause of some more of my worry. I do not know how to word this, but I will try. One thing that keeps coming to mind is my parents, and the whole 'it's not fair' and 'they deserve to go to heaven' thoughts, you know, further concern about my parents. At the same time, I do know that all of us fall short of God's glory, that none of us 'deserve' to go to heaven, but it is a gift by the grace of God through Jesus' work on the cross. I think what this is doing is causing me to have feelings of bitterness or even anger towards God, like it is unjust, but that isn't possible because God is justice, He is light, and He is perfect. Obviously the flaw is with me, and my own sensibilities, and I was wondering what to do about this? Is this just a matter of spiritual growth? This is making me wonder if whether or not a believer at all, sometimes.

I know that God is perfect, and His plan is perfect, and I'm sure much of this is just from the fact that I cannot see it. Our human minds can't comprehend even a small portion of it, much less most of it. This may very well be just my feelings 'being elevated' tonight and I do have a tendency to think in circles and dwell on matters, and chances are I may very well wake up tomorrow feeling much more secure and sure about things than I do right now.

I think there is a lingering thought in the back of my head, thinking that God is 'wrong' in this, that I am right and that it isn't 'fair'. These thoughts had not come to mind before, and I am hoping that with experience and time they will go away, or I will just accept what is and move on, as even if I don't understand God's plan, that does not mean it is wrong or that I 'know better'. Much of this started after I was reading, I think the email responses in Ichthys, where you were answering someone who was talking to you about hell, and were explaining that the terrible and frightening thing about it was that anyone sent there would be aware and have to live with their decision for all of eternity. The thought of it is horrifying, and it terrifies me greatly, even though I know it (hopefully) isn't for me since I am a believer...at least, I am pretty sure I still am. I have this human sensibility that 'the punishment should fit the crime', and I guess it is this same mentality that keeps screaming into my head that 'this doesn't seem fair'.

I want to believe, I do choose to believe and follow Christ, and I want to make sure and know I'm not 'faking'. It's not possible to 'fake' being a believer, is it? Can one fool themselves into thinking they're believers when really they are not? I know how silly that must sound, but sometimes I wonder if I am such a person. I don't want to be such a person, I want to believe and choose for God no matter what, so doesn't that in and of itself mean I'm a believer since I'm grasping for Him so hard and wanting to, and still following Him despite all of my thoughts or any doubts that may arise?

Response #5:

You are a believer, so please don't waste any time worrying about that. If you believe in Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of God, true man and genuine God in one person forever, having died in the darkness of Calvary for all of your sins, if you have put your faith in Him for salvation, then you are by definition a believer.

"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
John 3:18 NASB

However, do be careful about ever getting angry with God or blaming Him for anything. That is a very natural human tendency, but a very spiritually destructive tendency. By nature of His essence, God cannot be unfair. He is righteous in His being and so could never even possibly do any single thing, no matter how small, that was not absolutely just. Think about it. Jesus Christ had to die for the sins of every human being in order for any of us to be saved. If God the Father could have overlooked anything, wouldn't He have overlooked the need for His own dear Son to die for us? Conversely, the fact that Jesus had to spill His blood, spiritually speaking, shows beyond question that not only is God absolutely just (Jesus paid the full price), but also that He is love – while we were yet sinners, He gave up His beloved Son to die in our place (Rom.5:8). When we consider that dying for the least sin of the least person who ever lived is more monumental than all of human and angelic history put together – and that Christ died for all sin – that certainly ought to put into perspective any assumed grievance we think we have against God. If we were the least bit grateful for Jesus dying for the least of our sins, we would clap our hands to our mouths and ears before hearing or expressing such things. And He died for them all. It is only because we live in these earthly bodies whose senses are unable to penetrate the veil of eternity that we can even be lulled into such a lack of proper perspective (self-imposed hardness of heart, be it only temporary).

I'm not blaming you. Job did the same thing – and he was one of the greatest believers who ever lived. In fact, we all do this to one degree or another, anytime we are tempted to say or think, "Why me, God?!" Spiritual growth is in large part coming through the truth to the divine perspective on all things. This is easier to obtain in theory, moreover, than in practice. We may understand and truly believe that God is fair, cannot be otherwise, and is in control of all things; but when we are under pressure or experience some setback or shock or loss, it's very easy to forget – or to fail to apply – such fundamental truths.

God knows you love your family. Don't you think He took that into consideration when He gave you to them and them to you? This was all planned before the stars were set in place. Don't you think God understands what is going on in your heart? He does so better than you, and did before He even made you. You can trust Him. In fact you have to trust Him – to get anywhere spiritually and, in the end, to stay safe spiritually. We all have these sorts of "issues", but as we grow we learn to cope with them and train ourselves to react in more trusting ways, ways that glorify Him instead of tending to vilify Him (even if only by implication).

One of the most common ways that people fall away from the Lord is by blaming Him for things that happen which are hard to take and unwanted, the death of a dear loved one being a prime example (Matt.13:21; Mk.4:17; Lk.8:13). It's certainly not easy to keep trusting when such things happen – and harder in practice than imagining it ahead of time – but it has to be done. We do know that the Lord is working all things out together for the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28). Newsflash: He is working everything for actual good, not for what we in our earthly myopia see as "good". We are often wrong about all manner of things. We can't look into another person's heart. God can. We don't really know what will happen tomorrow, and can't really say what would have happened "if". God can. We don't really even know, if we are honest with ourselves, the precise and true motivations of our own hearts, especially when we are emotionally upset, or what we really truly do "want" when the dust all settles. God does. Having done the most we could even imagine in sacrificing His own dear Son for us (something we really don't yet fully understand or appreciate even as we should be able to in this life), don't you think God deserves the benefit of the doubt?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 NASB

And one last thing. Don't look to the beginning of the matter or even to the middle. Until you see the end and see it clearly, you really don't know the facts. We will only know all the facts on "that day" – and our Lord will explain them all to us. Do we really have any doubt that when we ask "why?" to Him in resurrection and face to face that He won't give us a perfect answer that explains things based on numerous factors of which we are presently unaware? Since that is true, our Lord deserves more than just the benefit of the doubt – He deserves our absolute, unreserved and total faith.

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1st Thessalonians 5:18 NASB

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Thank you Bob,

Yes, as I probably should have held off on last night's email, today I had actually started to rethink on these very things. I recognized that the more I worried or stressed over this, the more I was 'taking the world upon my shoulders', which is not only an impossibility, but it has already been done through Jesus Christ. I realized today that what I was doing was the beginnings of viewing Him from the viewpoint of an antagonist, which even trying to be as 'objective as possible', is a really unhealthy and incorrect way of viewing things, without even realizing I had started to do so. I still seem to be in the habit of shifting into this mindset that God is this monumental judge, sitting on a chair and just waiting for us to trip up so He can't discipline us, which isn't the case – at least not the first part. I know we are disciplined; in fact, being disciplined is actually a reason to rejoice, since I know that that means we are indeed of God, since He only truly disciplines His own.

Today, while walking, I managed to convince myself that on the line of thinking I was on last night, it was losing trust in the Lord, and I needed to start to do that again – and realize that if anyone is willing to be saved, they will be (in terms of Him not forsaking anyone and knowing ahead of time who would choose for Him). I also reminded myself of that very thing – that while I may not 'like' or 'just don't see how it is fair', that such a mindset is from the viewpoint as though looking through a cardboard tube. I supposed what worried me was even having such thoughts automatically meant that I was not a believer, or well on the road to no longer being one, but I don't want to stop, and I never will. I don't think this was 'I'm mad/angry' so much as 'I'm frustrated that I don't know the whole answer', so that I can cast down my own doubts should they ever re-arise.

I seem to keep leaning on my own understanding, but THIS is something I know IS an issue of spiritual growth. Maybe it is just impatience? The things which bother me (my mind, emotions, etc), and my concerns for those I love could very well take much time, and even many years – maybe even decades, and I need to realize that just because it's not happening today does not mean it ever will.

Thank you for putting up with and listening to me, and I really do think that I am being tempered right now, that God is 'ironing out' all of my wrinkles, even if it doesn't quite feel like that is the case. I need to spend less time worrying, as if that could possibly solve anything, and just let God handle it all, and trust that if He wants me to do something, He will somehow let me know what it is and what my purpose here is.

Response #6:

Good words. You're very welcome.

This is a nice recovery. Please keep in mind that the solution to all such worldly thinking is not just the application of the truth we have in hearts – although that is certainly crucial – but the continued intake of the truth to the point where by sheer volume, habit and concentration, the truth begins to overwhelm all other points of view. So keep taking in the truth, through scriptures and Bible teaching. That is the way to eventually put all such issues behind you.

To that end, if you have not already done so, you might want to check out Pastor/teacher Omo's Bible Academy at the link. These are wonderful studies done not in writing but in the Khan Academy style of tutoring.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Dr.

It is interesting that in the midst of your own personal trials, God brings others who are experiencing trials for you to uplift them. The last week other family members were experiencing trials and reached out to me for prayer.

When you pray for others and encourage others while you are in the midst of your own trials, it brings peace and perspective. It makes you realize that your trials are meant to strengthen so you can strengthen the body of Christ.

I have never experienced this until this trial and I guess it has to be because God by his mercy and grace, feels that I am growing spiritually and can now can help others even while I am undergoing this trial.

He is wonderful and does bring wisdom and peace. I still have pockets of anxiety but overall I am approaching this trial much differently with a sense of anticipation and seeing that he is already using me to encourage others makes me honored.

Thank you Dr and God bless.

Response #7:

I continue to be impressed by your stalwart faith under pressure, brother!

Keep up the good fight for Jesus Christ!

This testimony is a great encouragement to me and will be to all who eventually read it.

The Lord certainly knows what He is doing, and in the end it all brings great reward to those who persevere as you are clearly doing:

(2) Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. (3) For you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
James 1:2-4

(6) In anticipation of this ultimate deliverance, your joy overflows, though at present it may be your lot to suffer for a time through various trials to the end that your faith may be shown to be genuine. (7) But your faith, when proven genuine in the crucible of life, will result in praise, glory and honor for you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1st Peter 1:6-7

In Jesus Christ our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #8:

Hi Dr. I hope all is well with you, your family and your ministry. I have a question I want to ask you. What are the characteristics of someone with little faith? Let's take my situation for example, I believe that God will be with my family and myself through this storm but I still have anxieties issues primarily because I do not really want to go through this. Deep down I know he will be with us but I just don't want to go through this trial and like my wife aptly said "get beat up again". She says it in a loving term but that is what it means.

So because we do not want to go through this but know from experience and deep down that He will be with us, does that characterize little faith on our part because at times we have anxiety issues around this process?

I listened to a sermon about trials from John MacArthur on James 1 and he states that if you have any anxiety issues or feelings apart from pure joy, then you have little faith. Mature faith will not have evolving emotions but steadfastness consistently.

Can you help me understand this more? I did a search on your site and did not find particular answer in regards to little faith in terms of reactions to trails or I might have missed it in your Peter Series.

Also on the topic of little vs mature faith, if I have a feeling that God will not deliver me from this trial, does that constitute little faith. Should I feel 100% confidence in my deliverance when the opposite could be his will and I am preparing myself for it?

I am just wrestling in my mind if I God is pleased with how we are reacting to this trial if we have anxieties and also if we feel we will not be delivered but sent through with grace.

Thanks for listening. I appreciate all you do for everyone who comes to you with their questions and problems. Your are special and God is using you mightily so I will specifically pray for your strength and endurance because it does take that to help others in need.

God bless.

Response #8:

I want to encourage you, my friend, to keep on doing what you are doing, growing and trusting God. You are running a good race. Please don't let these "little foxes" ruin your vineyard which is growing nicely and on the point of producing a good crop.

I heard John MacArthur a few times at Talbot Seminary (he was even then a famous alum); to be honest, I didn't think much of his approach then, and it seems that every time I've ever been made aware of one of his teachings since it has been "off" to some degree (when it wasn't downright "wrong"). Here is another case. It's certainly not as if there is a discrete category of person who is "of little faith". Jesus used that adjective (one word in Greek) to characterize the conduct of the disciples on more than one occasion, but we also know that they (minus Judas) turned out to be eleven of the greatest believers who ever lived. So we can safely say that they were not inherently "of little faith", even if they proved insufficient in their application more than once while our Lord was still with them.

Faith is the inner "us" in many ways. I like to call it "free will faith", because faith really is how we decide to think about things at any given time, at any given moment. Whenever a person did really well in this regard, our Lord would sometimes say, "Great is your faith!", and it is clear that since these persons He addressed were imperfect human beings, they were not "great" at all times – they certainly didn't start out "great". We also know of many instances in scripture where the greatest of believers sometimes failed particular tests out of an obvious lack of faith. So when Elijah ran away from Jezebel's threats – right after one of the greatest victories of faith recorded in scripture – what are we to say? He acted at that moment "in little faith", but overall he was a man of very great faith. That is to say, he had grown in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and had believed what he had learned, and had further learned to apply that truth in faith under very difficult circumstances. You see, no one is ever at the same precise place in their spirituality since we vary to some degree from moment to moment. This life is a fight for believers, a fight of faith from start to finish. What is important is our trend line, and we can be sure that those who are moving ever forward are going to be rewarded for all of their acts of faith even if on occasion they may act as if they had "little faith". Different tests strike different people in different ways, and it is definitely the case that some things can be very hard for person A while person B can take them in stride – and vice versa. The important thing is to keep up the fight.

Secondly and of equal importance is the fact that just as temptation is not sin, so also not enjoying pain and suffering is not a failure of the test at hand. Certainly, when it comes to the former, the farther we put ourselves from temptation, the less chance we will be plagued by it or succumb to it. Analogously, the more we can take the divine perspective on these tests that come our way and truly be joyous in the face of things that are anything but joyful – because we really are trusting the Lord that He is in control, that everything really is being worked out together for us for good, and that in the end this will redound to our eternal reward which is after all much more important than any temporary earthy consideration – then the more easy it will be to bear the test on the one hand and the less likely we will be to faint in our faith application on the other. However, making Christians feel bad about the fact that they are not naturally deliriously happy about, for example, suffering from some terrible and painful disease, strikes me as despicable.

We Christians do have to watch our attitude at all times. It is very easy in this world run by the devil and filled with all manner of temptations and pressures to lose our proper focus and become too attached to the things down here we tend to like on the one hand or too mentally negative towards the things we don't enjoy on the other – like suffering of any kind.

As with most things in life where principles of truth have to be applied to fluid circumstances with many unknowables, how the mature believer should negotiate intense suffering is a "try to stay in the middle of the road" type of thing. If we take MacArthur's position to its logical conclusion we will have to act and actually be nearly ecstatically joyful at all times – but that is an artificial emotional "work up" that no believer naturally has and that no one can sustain. The charismatics have built their entire house of sand on this false spiritual approach, and it never works in the long run. On the other hand, if we start feeling sorry for ourselves, or start blaming God, or get overly depressed, or come to doubt we will be delivered, or lose hope, or develop any other of the many negative thought-patterns that constitute the REAL test to those under pressure, then we have gone off the other side of the road. We should like David continually "encourage ourselves in the Lord" (1Sam.3:6), especially when the going gets rough. But it is unrealistic – and not biblical – to imagine that under terrible pressure we are going to be able to be truly "happy" and in a constant state of bliss. We will have to continually struggle in such times to keep up the divine point of view, and "enjoyment" in the honest sense of the word will rarely be the right way to characterize our fight of faith. When Job's friends first found him, he had as yet done nothing wrong and was passing the test with flying colors (Job 2:10), but he was also clearly miserable because of his intense suffering (Job 2:11-13).

If we try to "work up" a false sense of joy which is inappropriate to the actual circumstances we face (as is being suggested), then we are only going to be setting ourselves up for inevitable failure. On the other hand, we also want to give a good witness of stalwart faith, of trusting the Lord even though the trouble is great and the circumstances dire. If we really do trust Him to deliver us and get us through, then that witness will be obvious in what we say and in what we do. We know, or should know, whether or not we really are walking in faith and trusting the Lord. Being under pressure and having to fight off what the world says, what our eyes see, and what our feelings feel, is in fact the biggest part of the test, i.e., maintaining our faith under the difficult burden we are bearing. Overcoming that resistance and continuing to keep it at bay is precisely how these great trials are won by believers who really do trust the Lord more than anything in this world – and we can and should feel "good" about that when we do it right and do it well. That is what James is saying, namely, keep up a good attitude in spite of the pain and pressure of the test at hand (v.2) because of looking forward to the full reward and the Lord's good pleasure that results from doing so and passing the test (vv.3-4):

(2) Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. (3) For you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
James 1:2-4

In short, from what I can see, you are doing precisely the right thing. You are trusting the Lord to get you through. The fact that pain is painful, that suffering is unpleasant, that anticipation of terrible things that may come is a thorn in the mind which must be held off by continual application of the truth – these things are merely part and parcel of the test itself. Anyone who would suggest that to even be capable of being tested is in itself a failure of the test is merely falsely condemning fellow believers before the fact. Such logic would have condemned Job, Paul, Abraham . . . you name the great believer.

Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."
Matthew 26:38

We do have to be careful about drawing the comparison with our Lord here. For one thing, He was in complete control and said these words for our benefit, not for His – in order that we might have some small idea of the tremendous pressure He was under in facing the cross and spiritual death for the sins of the entire world. Also, that ineffable sacrifice was so much more than all the suffering of the human race in all of history put together that it defies proper description. Nevertheless, using the MacArthur argument we would be hard pressed not to find fault – and I hope it is not necessary to add that there was no fault. In any trial, mental pressure is part of the test – probably the biggest part. And in a long test, there are going to be moments when we do flag in our spirits and have to make a concerted effort to regroup. This life is a spiritual war and these tests are its major battles. No war was ever won without loss and no battle ever fought without casualties and mistakes. The only really important question in the end is "who won?". You are winning. Please don't let someone who doesn't even understand what's going on cause you to think that you have lost just because you have to fight. We all have to fight, every day, every step of the way.

I will continue to keep you in prayer, my friend. Know that the Lord has already written your deliverance in His book.

We will sing for joy over your victory, And in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
Psalm 20:5 NASB

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Bob,

In my talks with my friend (on free-will / election), I have I have had some good understanding, and wanted to share, so you can in-turn share it. I think this gives us a because picture of our Lord.

I really think this potter analogy that is used in Jeremiah gives us the picture of free-will and how God foreknow and chose us. Look at the potter and pot analogy of the Bible, it makes clear that it is how we responded in the Potter's hands that determines His purpose. It is our response that causes us to be spoiled or corrupt. See Jeremiah 18:1-12.

Jeremiah 18:4
But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

The potter was ‘forming’ the clay and it was spoiled in His hands. I don’t believe God, in His ‘forming’ of us messed up, and we somehow got ruined because He didn’t do it right. If you look at netbible on the notes on the Hebrew of these verses in Jeremiah, it says:

The verbs here denote repeated action. They are the Hebrew perfect with the vav consecutive. The text then reads somewhat literally, "Whenever the vessel he was molding…was ruined, he would remold…

Something was wrong with the clay – either there was a lump in it, or it was too moist or not moist enough, or it had some other imperfection. In any case the vessel was "ruined" or "spoiled" or defective in the eyes of the potter. This same verb has been used of the linen shorts that were "ruined" and hence were "good for nothing" in Jer 13:7. The nature of the clay and how it responded to the potter’s hand determined the kind of vessel that he made of it.

The only logical view, and my view I see based on scripture is that everything is dependent on us responding to His hands. Do we listen to God’s voice. "if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice" (verse 10)…. It becomes corrupt. He forms us with His hands and as we learned in Romans 1, He makes us know Him, we suppress the Truth, and He ‘hands us over’ to the desires of our flesh.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.

The Greek phrase "Gave them up" is paradidomi and means, ‘to give into the hands of another’ or ‘to deliver’. We are formed in His hands, and through rejecting Him, He hands us over to another, the lust of our flesh. This analogy was written this way for us to understand. He was forming us for glory, and because we responded by rejecting His voice, we became ruined. He then reformed us. I believe God ‘formed’ us all the same, and based on our response to His hands, God continues to form us according to our response of His terms. God knows all, and we don’t have to ‘experience this’ for Him to know how we are going to respond.

o We are a spirit made in His image and His likeness; this is ultimately who we are; it is our ability to respond at our own discretion to His sovereign terms. The terms set for all are:

o Respond to our flesh

o Respond to His Spirit

The more you respond to one, the more it molds you into what you become. This is exactly how everything is ‘just’ with God, because we all share the same image and likeness of Him, and all respond to His Spirit or our flesh. He shapes us (predestines us) according to His foreknowledge of our response to His sovereign terms. He shapes our eternal destiny, and our earthly destiny.

The more I think about the potter and pot analogy that God gave us, the more I understand why He used it. He sets us down on His wheel, and starts molding us for the purpose of glory. He desires to make a masterpiece (made in the image and likeness of His Son, to receive glory). He will take us from the wheel and put us on His mantle of glory. But if while He is forming us we become spoiled (because of our response), He then reshapes us for a different purpose. Now the vessel will still result in the Potter's glory, but when done, the vessel will be thrown into the fire. I think it's beautiful. It shows the intimacy God had in creating us, how He loved us and wanted all to be saved, and it is our response to Him that determines our purpose.

Praise be to Him,

Response #9:

This is a very nice application of the truth. Clearly, the difference between a pot and a person is that a person has free will. So seeing in this analogy the potter's change as really belonging to the pot in the analogy is right on the money, in my view. Nice job!

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #10:

There are some strong bonds that must be formed when serving together, especially in the Marines which I believe is a lot tighter (closer) than other branches of the military. Just out of curiosity, is training for USMC officers the same length as enlisted men/women, I'm thinking it must be more challenging in some ways, the Marines aren't going to give people who aren't capable a commission. I've heard a lot about Parris Island and San Diego from former enlisted Marines but I don't know any veteran officers.

I had typed this 2 months ago, drafted it and never sent it, my apologies. Was horrified and saddened by what happened in Paris yesterday, a lot of young people murdered in the name of a false god. One thing is certain, this is a vastly different world than it was even 20 years ago when I was in my mid 20's. I guess all we can pray for is that Jesus Christ continues to protect our loved ones and friends and that he returns, sooner rather than later. So many I know have fallen away, saying if there was a God he would have come back by now, things have gotten ugly. I continue to pray every single night and thank Jesus that my mother returned from Paris 2 weeks ago as opposed to still being over there. How are things with you? Well I hope, thanks (as always) for your candid responses.

In Jesus Christ.

Response #10:

Good to hear from you my friend. Also happy to hear that your family is OK – scary times (but of course they're going to get a whole lot scarier before it's all over). The trend towards falling away is also going to increase (one third of actual believers during the Tribulation with another third martyred). The USMC is fine organization. I'm sure that everything is somewhat different now than when I was in many years ago. But it's probably still the case that the officer training concentrates more on mental stress and decision-making under pressure than merely being physically tough (although there is a good deal of that as well!).

Keep running a good race!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Hi Dr.,

I hope all is well and like always my prayers to you, your family and your ministry.

I have a question about moving "faith to faith" in Rom 1:17. Below is an exegesis I found about how God is growing your faith exponentially with each fiery trial. This quote caught my attention and like always I come to you for final assurance.

http://www.precious-testimonies.com/Exhortations/p-t/trialsmbradley.htm

Here is the quote:

"And once you see God supernaturally move in to really help you out, then your faith levels will move up the next level. This is why the Bible tells us that we can go from "faith to faith" and from "strength to strength." This specific wording is telling us that our faith and strength in the Lord can literally move from one level to the next highest level as a result of being forced to put our faith into major action to engage a fiery trial."

I never thought of it this way. Some fiery trials can only be delivered out of supernatural act of God and that process will increase your faith level to a different dimension as that of Abraham, Daniel and friends, etc. Would you agree that a supernatural deliverance of a fiery trial will then equip the person to do the ministry that God has for him/her? Without a supernatural deliverance, their faith level has not really matured to be of an effect to God in ministry he has ordained for them.

If that is the case, what happens in the fiery trial if you are not delivered supernaturally but have to endure it. How does endurance increase your faith level exponentially? Is it through the endurance of the trial, you are learning about God's sufficiency, such as in the case of Job?

With this trial we are facing, we are learning more about our faith level in Christ and I believe that it is growing and I agree with you that the test is based on antecedent in my past but that was not the reason why God is putting me through it. I had inordinate amount of guilt and it was wearing me down but your emails, like always, have shifted my focus and with the Spirit helped make me realize it is not because of a current outrageous sin in my life but what God is preparing us for. I am including my family here as well because this trial affects them.

This is the reason why this quote I found was interesting and I did not see it from this point of view. I just wanted to get your input on it like always when I find something I want final clarification on.

Thank you very much for your patience and your prayers. God bless.

Response #11:

It's always good to hear from you, my friend, and I hope to be hearing good news from you soon about deliverance from your troubles.

As to your question, Romans 1:16-17 is talking about "the power of the gospel" which power is made manifest "from faith to faith" in the life of those who accept it by faith. Paul explains this through a quote from Habakkuk 2:4: "but the righteous by faith shall live". The word order I use here is deliberate, because in both the original Hebrew and in the Greek the phrase "by faith" can be taken equally as likely either with the substantive or with the main verb. In other words, "the one who is righteous BY FAITH, BY FAITH shall live." The Romans quote is speaking primarily about salvation (we believe and so are saved), but also demonstrates that the principle is sound for the life of the believer after salvation: we believe all God's truth and are delivered through believing it (and the Tribulation context of Habakkuk is speaking about believers under pressure bearing up in faith and not apostatizing).

Paul uses this double noun idiom unique to himself also at 2nd Corinthians 3:18 where "from glory to glory" clearly means something like "to an ever greater degree of glory", so "faith to faith" does most likely invoke the growth of faith, with the result that the quotation of Hab.2:4 demonstrates the proper path for the believer after salvation: applying that faith to grow: that is the principle by which we should "live" as those made "righteous" through our faith in Christ.

We can therefore take from this passage the principle that our faith is meant to grow, that such growth is meant to be the pattern of our life in Christ, and that the means of said growth is the truth of the Word of God, the "gospel" which a quick perusal of any concordance will show means more than mere entry-level knowledge of the truth necessary for salvation – it can and in Paul mainly does refer to the entire realm of "kingdom truth" of which it is the "good news" (see the link).

I do also think it is obviously true that our faith is always either growing or declining. As in all things spiritual, it is virtually impossible to stay in status quo for very long. Either we are moving forward or, if we lose momentum, starting to slide backward. On most days most believers most likely do some of both. Such is the fight we find ourselves in these corrupt bodies here in the devil's world.

What I don't see here (nor anywhere else in scripture) is some sort of system of discrete levels of faith. Our spiritual life is dynamic and not mechanical, so it would be odd if there were really any such thing, but in any case it's not here in Romans 1:17. We do all want to "grow up" spiritually, and scripture does contrast the immature with the mature, but that is a very flexible analogy and deliberately so. Just as in the analogy we would probably be hard pressed to say when we ourselves ceased being immature emotionally and became mature – if only because there are many facets to emotional growth so that the idea of picking out a definite time is really impossible – with spiritual growth it is even more problematic to do so. But as we do grow spiritually we can see the progress.

It is also true that testing is a part of growth. Scripture is very clear about that (although, again, that principle is not present in the Romans passage):

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 5:3-4

(2) Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. (3) [Why?] Because you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
James 1:2-4

However, this principle of faith being tested producing growth is, on the one hand, clear throughout scripture, but on the other hand I also don't see any justification from this passage in Romans nor from the Bible as a whole to break down tests into categories such as "fiery trials" and "non-fiery trials. All tests seem plenty "fiery" when we are under them. What is surely true is that some tests are worse than others, and also that God prepares us for the worse ones – if we allow Him to do so by responding properly to all tests – by gradually giving us harder and harder assignments. Given that the Tribulation is not too far off at present, it is certainly understandable that He would wish to prepare us – and we really ought to be willing to be let ourselves be prepared (hard as that always is). Let me also add here that He never puts on us anything we cannot actually bear up under, despite how it may sometimes seem (1Cor.10:13), and that He is always good and gracious to us, providing us with plenty of blessing even in times of trouble – which actually does allow us to "count it all joy" (if we are solid in our application of the truth under said pressure, we will be able to focus on the good in the face of the bad, looking forward to the reward and His eternal good pleasure that successful negotiation of such trials is promised to bring). In fact, staying mindful of that joyful appreciation of His sure deliverance, of His grace in getting us through, of His comfort to us in the process, and of the proper focus of eternity are all part of passing the test with high marks – because, after all, there is such a thing as just barely eking our way through just as there is passing "with flying colors".

In terms of "supernatural acts", I would also wish to resist adopting any special category here (especially since I don't find that in the Bible). I do understand that there are many places in scripture where great believers are delivered by miraculous intervention. But consider: God is supernatural, and everything God does is a miracle. If He chooses to use what may seem to us pedestrian means to get us through, that should not be considered any less of a deliverance or any less supernatural or any less of a miracle than if He sent an angel to visibly save us. Indeed, having faith without such obvious signs is clearly superior to needing such signs in order to have faith:

Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
John 20:29 NKJV

"A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed.
Matthew 16:4 NKJV

I am sure that we have all had experiences where the miraculous deliverance of our Lord was very clear to us (whether it was to others or not). We can and should treasure those experiences. But it is the mark of complete faith, mature faith, to be confident in deliverance in the absence of anything overtly supernatural.

You are running a good race, my friend. I have confidence in the Lord's deliverance for you, though I cannot say anything about the how or the when. We don't know these things ahead of time which is exactly why it takes faith to endure such trials. Whether the Lord sends an angel or a human being, whether He works overtly supernaturally or to all appearances naturally, whether you experience a miracle or a good result from seemingly visible causes, we know that God is behind the deliverance in any case. Our part is to be strong and courageous in faith regardless of what we see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, or feel with our feelings. Having confidence in His deliverance is what will build up our faith through this trial, even as we continue to feed the truth into our hearts in a consistent way – for faith feeds on truth.

To conclude, this snippet you include is not necessarily wrong, but it is somewhat misleading (in my opinion). It's very tempting for "teachers" to produce categories where they don't exist. That is dangerous enough; more dangerous is when they and those who listen to them start to take these categories are principles of truth, then draw conclusions and make applications based upon those categories which don't exist. It's always better to stay with scripture and what one can definitely say is true based on scripture.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith, my friend!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #12:

Hi Robert,

I have felt a sense of ease since this whole trial has started and I do believe God could have delivered me from this trial and possible still could but I believe he is bringing this on years later for our benefit we can not see.

I already see his grace through this by allowing some time with family before any impending day, opportunity to see that he will always be with us and letting us know that this is for our benefit, encouragement to others and witness to others by our reactions.

I do not know how it is for our benefit but we sense and feel it. I am even praying that he will open ministries wherever he lands me, if that is my lot. Who knows with the Spirit help, I might lead a bible study group. I have prayed for that as well.

I don't want to rehash old emails but want to say again thank you. I have grown so much spiritually in the last few years and I can honestly say my wife and I are new creatures in Christ and have such solid faith even through this that I can't explain.

It is ironic and I do not think it is a coincidence that this trial came exactly two-three weeks after I have consumed all your materials, except for old emails, in your ministry. You have helped me grow spiritually and allowed me the avenue for growth.

You have my permission to use this email. I will continue to reread your materials until things changes. I have read the Peter series at least 3 times now but I believe I will start on the Bible series again, with attribute of God first and foremost. Who knows, I might be able to share of some your work with other believers in Christ who are imprisoned.

God bless. Thank you. Continue to pray, particularly for the strength of my wife an external family to endure if it is my lot to go.

In Christ Jesus our Lord

Response #12:

Hello my friend,

It's difficult for me to advise you as to what to do, for I am certainly ignorant of most of the key facts here. So all I can do is encourage you to continue to be "strong and courageous", and also to continue to listen carefully for the Spirit's direction. I pray that you may come to know in your heart what is the right course, and then to have peace whatever happens, knowing that it then truly will be God's will.

Thanks for your kind and encouraging words as always, my friend. I am drawing great inspiration from your lucid words of faith under such intense pressure. I am sure that similar scenes will be played out very soon by many of us once the Tribulation begins. I hope and pray that we may all exhibit the same type of quiet and humble confidence in the Lord as you are doing today.

Please do keep me informed – thank you again for your kindness and your courage in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #13:

I believe the Lord will give me the appropriate time, if that is His ultimate will, that will not be detrimental to our family and we can bear under

My goal is to go through it with humility, understanding and perseverance and let the Lord do His work. This also might be a testament so I can help others when you aptly put it the Tribulation starts.

Thank you and will keep in touch. What I am going to do is put a curriculum together with your materials that I can have sent to me and if I do go, I can use that as a source of bible study.

Stay tuned. I will need your thoughts and inputs once I start on it later this week.

One last thing. Reading all your ministry work and emails, the ultimate goal is helping other grow in Christ. What if this is the plan God has for me? It might be unpleasant and believe me, I would want something different. But what if God put me in your path, where you helped me grow mature in the word and then he uses that to reach other believers who have no hope? I have to approach this as a means and ways to glorify our Lord. If i don't, all that will be on my mind will be despair and thinking of the amount of time. As your study puts it, time is very very short. What is ___ if God through me, through your diligent studies, helps nurture and grow many believers?

In Christ our Lord

Response #13:

I continue to be impressed by your faithful attitude! Few people would be able to maintain such a wonderful "divine viewpoint" perspective under this sort of pressure. Indeed, it takes a solidly mature believer to do so.

I won't quibble with your assessment of things. I also do not want to be responsible for having you attach a false hope to some desired outcome if it is not the Lord's will. However, I will say that your statement "if that is His will, which it seems that it is because this occurred years earlier and all of a sudden surfaces" is not one with which I would necessarily agree. Daniel was thrown into the lions' den, but not eaten; Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were thrown into the fiery furnace, but not burned; Isaac was tied to the altar, but not sacrificed. There are any number of scriptural instances (and many more in the lives of believers we may know, not to mention our own) where the Lord allowed the believer in question to proceed right up to the brink of disaster but yet did not let him/her fall in. We never know if we will be delivered "from" or "through"; we always would prefer the former, but sometimes indeed it is the latter. What we can say without question – and what we have to have faith in no matter what – is that God will deliver us in His own way and in His own timing, even as He works everything out for our absolute good.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
2nd Timothy 4:16-18 NIV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #14:

[personal remarks omitted]

Response #14:

I won't post your comments.

When it comes to any habitual sin, the cycle is often hard to break. If we weren't particularly vulnerable to behavior X, it probably wouldn't have become a habit in the first place. It is possible to gain victory over anything with the help of the Spirit and a resolute determination to do so. That doesn't mean that it's easy, that it's quick, that there won't be relapses and failures along the way, or that after victory defeat won't be waiting in the wings for the first time we drop our guard – but it is possible once we get serious with ourselves about "it" (whatever "it" may be).

In terms of spiritual growth and our relationship with the Lord, if sin made these impossible, no one would grow or have any relationship with the Lord. However, it is also true that if we are doing things or failing to do things whose commission or omission is an affront to our own consciences, it can't help but be a drag on both our growth and our joy in the Lord.

In terms of doubts, I'm no psychologist, and of course everyone is different. I will venture to say that I have noticed that doubts in terms of the truth we really do know to be true usually come about as a result of an overly subjective focus on ourselves instead of a healthy occupation with the Lord in our hearts. If we look too much at our own weaknesses, failures, foibles, limitations, we are more likely to become frustrated, disorientated, frightened and discouraged. That can set up a cycle of giving ear to the lies that swirl around us like enraged hornets. However, the more we are putting ourselves in the Lord's hands, concentrating on His goodness, love, mercy and forgiveness, and letting go of the all too natural preoccupation with ourselves, the less all these extraneous things seem to matter.

In addition to doing all the good things we know we ought to do day by day to build that relationship with Him, divine perspective and focus on the Lord (through prayer, Bible reading, and, very crucially, Bible study), it is also true, once we get to a certain point of growth and begin to attract special attention and opposition from the evil one and his cohorts, that we need to develop a good re-orientation drill that works for us personally. Whether it is recalling a favorite set of Psalms we can recite and really listen to (I like e.g., Ps.16, for said purpose), or a key set of biblical principles that we know well and love to focus on (I like e.g. to think about the gates of New Jerusalem), or remembering important blessings and deliverances the Lord has worked in our lives (many here for us all no doubt) – or whatever works – it is important to fight lies with truth whenever they dare to raise themselves up in our consciousness (see the link).

(4) For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful for God, for the destruction of strongholds, (5) destroying sophistries and every presumption that raises itself up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought prisoner so as to obey Christ, (6) being ready to reprove every disobedient thought once you have come into the fulness of mature obedience [in respect to guarding your thoughts].
2nd Corinthians 10:4-6

The method is not nearly as important as the resolve to do so and the commitment to follow through in doing so. And whenever we actually engage in this fight, it is amazing how wonderfully the Spirit helps us to dispel these evil attacks:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7 NIV

Keeping you in prayer day by day for your continued growth and spiritual success.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #15:

When you said to think about anything concerning the truth in the bible does that mean that thinking of earthly things is bad? Like concentration on your work or plans? Because I can't find myself to think of things above when I'm busy working since I need to concentrate on finishing up some task. And when I don't think of anything an inappropriate thought comes to my mind, but I feel I just replace it with another less inappropriate one to justify daydreaming and idol worship.

Also, I find myself setting off doing certain things for entertainment so I can indulge in them after I read the bible, just so I can encourage myself to read it daily. I find myself eager to read it when I do this, and other times trying to rush through it so I can do other things. Is it bad to do this? Especially since the rewarding normally means I place aside thinking about the Lord so I can think about worldly things?

Response #15:

Good to hear from you, my friend.

Let's start with the proposition that no one, not even the apostle Paul whose writings speak about this subject more than anyone else's, has ever been anywhere close to perfect. I would say that spending any time thinking about the Lord is a good thing, and that if a Christian focuses on eternity and/or any of the wonderful things to come at any time during the day, that is a good thing whenever it happens. I would also say that more is better. However, it is also important not to get overly legalistic about it. If we try to hold ourselves to a standard of absolute perfection in how we think we will very soon become completely frustrated. And if we try to impose some sort of exacting discipline to do this we will risk taking the joy out of it which completely defeats the purpose: between iron discipline and no discipline is a "sweet spot" where joy is possible through reasonable, active engagement.

Clearly, we are going to have to think about some things which are not related to God and the Bible and eternity. If a person is a surgeon and doing an operation, he/she very well better be thinking about the task at hand while performing surgery. Whatever we do, we really ought to give that thing we are doing our fullest possible concentration – doing it as "unto the Lord" (Col.3:23). Some things of course do lend themselves to thinking while we do them, as in a walk in the park. In our spare moments, taking some time out to think about the Lord and the truth and orient ourselves to what is going on from the divine perspective is a wonderful and a very spiritually helpful thing, and in my view a somewhat necessary thing in order to grow spiritually past a certain point – at least it seems that all the great believers of the Bible did so (e.g., Gen.24:63). However, we should make this quality time to be enjoyed and not a necessity imposed by fear or worry.

There are certainly some things we shouldn't do and some things we shouldn't think about at all. But between truth and sin/lies, there is a great deal of gray area where we live our lives and carry on the tasks of our daily existence. The more we edge towards the good, the better; the more we edge toward the bad, the worse. Whatever we do as Christians to learn more truth, apply it more effectively, and help others do the same is a sacrifice in that we have chosen to do something good when we could have used that time and effort for other worldly things, some necessary, some optional, none necessarily sinful.

In my observation and experience, this is something we all have to work into and grow into as we progress in our Christian lives. Perhaps we are basketball fans, or were when we were saved. Now there is nothing inherently sinful about playing basketball or watching it. Certainly, there are people whose entire lives seem to be fixated on it and involved with it (at least when it's in season). A growing Christian may decide to pray more and watch less; to read the Bible more and play less; to think sometimes about the Lord while walking to work and not obsessively only about basketball. As with all things, there will be a mix, and that mix is up to us. We make the choices. The more good choices, the more we grow. The more bad choices the more we are set back. The more we stay in neutral, the more we will remain where we are.

So I think if you are finding ways to do more of the things that in your heart of hearts you know are "the good part", that is wonderful (Lk.10:42). The important thing is to enjoy all the glorious things the Lord has done, and is doing for us, and to anticipate all the wonders to come. If that means a person needs to reward him/herself with watching a basketball game (e.g.) once what was purposed for the Lord is done, I don't see any problem with that at all.

This life is all about choices and all about the testing of our free will in what choices we will make. If we are not happy with the choices we are making, we are free to make other ones, better ones. It is good to be zealous for the Lord (so that we make more choices in favor of the truth and less which are neutral and fewer still which are sinful); but we have to be realistic about our limitations as well, so as not to become overly frustrated that we are not living up to some false standard of perfection that is not only not attainable by us but will only end up leading us into legalism and self-loathing.

In my experience and observation, consistency is the most important thing; after we have achieved a measure of consistency in a good approach that we find acceptable (and the Lord does too), then we can think about building up to a better and more efficient approach. We have to get good at crawling before we start walking, and good at walking before we start running, and we are not going to last long running if we try to sprint full-out all the time.

You are in my prayers day by day.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #16:

I grew up going to sunday school every now and then...never learning anything. I said the sinners prayer when I was younger...while in aa at the time...I decided to stick with aa. I had a hard time believing in or contacting God. I didn't pursue church or the bible til years later. And then . . .

[many details omitted]

Fears keep attacking me. Is my repentance too late? Am I lost forever? Does God still want me? Have I blasphemed the spirit? Is it too late for me? Please help!

Response #16:

First, let me assure you that I have you on my own personal prayer list, and that you are on the Ichthys list as well. I think that the ups and downs you chronicle here are far more typical of modern American Christians than you may realize. Of course you've made your share of mistakes and taken your share of lumps as a result. What I find encouraging about this is that you are still clearly a man of faith in spite of it all:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 3:18 NIV

Clearly, I don't endorse the failures you report – any more than I would endorse my own or those of others. But if a person is a believer in Jesus Christ, that person is saved. Apostasy, the thing that scares you, is the result of the complete death of faith. That is to say, for a variety of reasons, some quondam believers end up not believing in Christ. They fall away from the faith because of resentment or despair or a proclivity to sin and not wishing to be accountable. This is a fundamentally different state of affairs from a Christian who falls into recurring patterns of gross sin, refuses to stop sinning, but also continues to believe. The end of that sort of pattern is "the sin unto death", a terrible end of life in intensifying divine discipline, but an end which does not result in condemnation (see the link). All who continue to believe continue in Christ; none who stop believing in Him are saved in the end. Believers are saved; unbelievers are not. Sinful believers are saved; unbelievers who live exemplary lives are not. It's all about our faith in Christ through which we are saved by God's grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV

The long list of things you have "tried", both on the sin side and on the institutional Christianity side, are prototypical of what the Church is going through today. On the one hand, this world and this culture in particular offer a wide variety of enticing and tempting sinful outlets, and it is the rare Christian who has not fallen afoul of any of them – not that such stumbling is good or does not entail suffering for discipline and setbacks in spiritual growth (it certainly does). On the other hand, the church visible offers all manner of phony and pointless remedies which do nothing to give a Christian true spiritual confidence or victory over the flesh and worldly temptations. Water-baptism was a Jewish rite anticipating the coming of the Messiah – but He has come and persisting in the water-rite proclaims (if only subtly and often in ignorance) that He hasn't. Tongues and other so-called "sign gifts" were meant for the early part of the apostolic age where there were as yet no seminaries or established churches or, most importantly, the completed canon of the scriptures. Now that the Church is up and running, these gifts are not being given and what passes for them is merely infantile distraction. Multifarious not-really-of-God ministries on the internet and otherwise as well as combing the scriptures selectively to confirm one's worst fears provides the antithesis of what you really need: spiritual growth. It's all about spiritual growth.

To put aside sin, to put aside fear and doubt, to reclaim the joy of your salvation, and to begin making a difference for Christ instead of being an embarrassment to Him (we've all been there), requires a diligent commitment to genuine spiritual growth done the right way. That "right way" does involve individual effort in the reading of the Bible daily, praying daily, and persistently applying the truth to one's circumstances daily so as to follow the Spirit's guidance in the right way. But above all else spiritual growth requires commitment to learning and believing the truth that scripture contains as that truth is elucidated through a good, solid, orthodox, reliable teaching ministry. Ichthys is one such place, but there are others. One other place I highly recommend is Pastor Curtis Omo's "Bible Academy" (at the link). To put all these things behind you, you need to have something solid to hold onto. That something is "the truth", truth which you know to be true and believe to be true and which you then act on as a result. Especially for someone who is dire spiritual straits, feasting at a Smorgasbord of different teachings and teachers will only give you spiritual heartburn at best and ptomaine poisoning at worst (since many of these places are teaching terrible lies and are almost completely devoid of truth).

I will keep praying for you, and others pray through this list at Ichthys as well. But the solution to your troubles has to come from a decision within yourself to start "doing it right". You can do so, and, God willing, you still have time to earn wonderful eternal rewards and help others do the same. But it must be done the right way. Again, I don't want to suggest that Ichthys has a monopoly on the truth, but it would prudent to find one good place where you can grow, and give that ministry your complete attention, at least until you work your way "out of the weeds". From your report, it seems that whatever you are doing now is not consonant with that basic plan.

Here are a few links which may be helpful for you if you want to look more deeply into what Ichthys offers:

Salvation and Sin

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

Doubting Salvation and Questions of Sin

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation

Sin and Salvation, Confession and Forgiveness

Have I Lost My Salvation? (III)

Lost my salvation II?

Have I Lost my Salvation?

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

"Whoever does not believe is condemned already."

That scares me...cause I had a couple nervous breakdowns during the past year to the point where I didn't believe...thinking Jesus took another name for himself...I was clutching out at other names for forgiveness. But I do believe in my heart that Jesus is the son of God...maybe I always believed, but it went dim for a while. I hope I didn't blaspheme the Spirit...cause there was a while I didn't believe the bible...even after I did believe...I hope it isn't too late for me.

Response #17:

First of all, blaspheming the Spirit is rejecting Christ – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ as you report, then by definition you are not guilty of that sin – which is rejecting Christ by calling the Spirit who witnesses to Him a liar (see the link).

Here is what the prodigal son said:

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son."
Luke 12:21 NKJV

But here is what the father – representing our heavenly Father – said in response:

"Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
Luke 12:21 NKJV

God wants everyone to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9), and He gains no pleasure from their condemnation (Jn.3:17). After all, Jesus died for the sins of every single human being. Why, then, are some not saved? Because they have no use for God or for His one and only Substitute for our sins, Jesus Christ our Lord. They go to hell by their own choice out of a refusal to accept the grace of God.

So if you are a believer, you are saved. The only sin for which Christ could not die was the sin of rejecting Himself. Hold fast therefore to your faith, firm until the end, and you will have no worries about your eternal status. How do we hold onto our faith? By growing spiritually day by day. Here are a few links on that:

The Judgment and Reward of the Church

Principles of Spiritual Growth

Spiritual Growth I

Spiritual Growth II

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

According to Facebook, today is your birthday. How wonderful to always begin the new year on the day of your birth! I hope that it has been a lovely, restful day filled with important visions for this year. May peace, prosperity and the Lord's blessings be with you today and all days to come!

Yours in Christ,

Response #18:

While I appreciate your good wishes, I'm a little embarrassed to say that I don't have a January b-day. I tried deleting the b-day info on FB, but was not allowed to do so (I'm very, very rarely on FB and keep it for outreach for Ichthys only); I was allowed to change the date, however (so I chose what to me to be the most obvious generic date). What with all the cyber-crime out there (and what with everything else about me being public on the internet through Ichthys), in prudence I've had to take some precautions.

Thanks anyway!

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #19:

Haha, I understand. Perhaps every day we express gratitude for being alive is our birthday. Each day can be a time of renewal.

Response #19:

Well put indeed!

Our new birth is so much important than our old one, and each day is "the day which Lord has made". We can indeed "rejoice and be glad in it" because it's a one day at a time opportunity to learn about Him, to walk with Him, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same. Everything else is background noise.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #20:

Hello Bob,

I've contacted you before and thanks for the website. I was a strong Christian for 7 years and became addicted to alcohol and drugs. I was involved in a fundamental baptist church and got tired of the people so I stopped going. I kind of tried to find my own way to God outside the church and began spending time with worldly family members and friends. I finally broke my addictions 6 years later. I prayed for deliverance for years. I thought God had given up on me and even told my wife I think he did. I also complained why God would give me a mental illness. I've had mental illness since I was 10. I have since repented of my sins and now can clearly see how bad my situation got and I'm afraid that my situation is unforgivable. My church always taught osas and I believed the lie I could come back anytime. I directly disobeyed the Holy Spirit and ran from people but was really running from God. My current church believes osas so my pastor isn't much help and since studying and rethinking scripture I'm terrified. If I ever thought you could lose your salvation I don't think I ever would have made these horrible choices. How can God forgive me? I fell hopeless and also scared because I don't know what church to go to because baptist scripture interpretation is restricted by their doctrines. Am I an apostate doomed forever? I want to return to the Lord and have been begging for forgiveness but my anxiety is terrible and I'm having trouble with sleeping and nightmares.

Response #20:

I'm sorry to hear that you are still having these troubles. But let me assure you that you have not "committed apostasy" – because apostasy is not something that can be "committed". Apostasy is the state of non-belief when entered into by someone who previously believed, as in the parable of the Sower:

Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
Luke 8:13 NIV

The words translated "they fall away" here are in the Greek the single word aphistantai, which means, literally, "rebel" or "stand away from" (rejecting a former allegiance); this verb provides the root for our English word "apostasy". Apostates are unbelievers – who used to be believers but who no longer are. They were happy to believe in Christ when they heard the gospel, but one thing or another in this life soured them on following the Lord, and in the end they abandoned their faith, they abandoned Him by refusing to believe in Him any longer. But what does "abandoning faith" mean? It means losing faith to the point where one no longer has any faith, at all. It means no longer believing in Christ, where previously the person was a believer in Christ. "Belief" is not a one-shot thing; believers are, according the Bible where the present participle is often used in the NT to describe us, "people who are [now] believing" (not "people who at one point in their lives made a single decision").

Whoever believes [i.e., "is believing"] in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe [i.e., "is not believing in Him"] stands condemned already because they have not believed [i.e., are "not in the state of believing"; Greek perfect tense] in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 3:18 NIV

Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Then you are saved; you are not an apostate.

And all unbelievers are lost; on the contrary, however, all believers are saved. This is true even if the unbeliever in question is a "good" person, doing charity which rivals Mother Teressa – said person is still lost because only believers are saved; and this is true even if the believer in question has committed all manner of unspeakable sins – said person is still saved because all believers are saved. That doesn't mean that there aren't worldly rewards for those who "do good" even though they are unsaved (there may well be); that doesn't mean there is no divine discipline and horrific consequences for those who "do evil" even though they are saved (there most certainly will be). But it does mean that there is all the difference in the world between believers and unbelievers, and it does mean that this is precisely the difference: faith in Christ or the lack thereof. For that reason, apostates never bemoan their apostasy: if they were really concerned about abandoning their faith, well, faith is first and foremost an exercise of the will (non-meritorious and effortless though it may be). No one ever complains about not believing in Christ because there is nothing easier to do in the whole wide world . . . for those willing to do it. For it was Christ who paid the indescribable price, not us.

But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ " (that is, to bring Christ down) "or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, "Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame."
Romans 10:6-11 NIV

We have mostly all done damage to ourselves in the past, some more than others. But God is gracious to a degree none of us can really and truly appreciate – He sent His Son into the world to die for every single sin of every single person who has ever lived. During those three hours of darkness on the cross, He paid the price for every sin. That is love, and that is grace, beyond comprehension. So we do have to be very careful about assuming that somehow our sins are greater than the grace of God, greater than the price Christ already paid for them "so that we might not perish but have eternal life" (Jn.3:16). There is nothing we could do to win eternal life, yet because of what Christ did for us all we have to do to gain it is to put our faith in Jesus Christ – and nothing can then snatch us out of His hands . . . as long as we continue to believe in Him (Jn.10:28-29).

Does that mean that it is impossible to lose salvation? Clearly not. As in the example of the first quote above, some "believe for a while" then in times of trouble fall away from the faith and into apostasy, by losing faith and becoming unbelievers again. This happens more than some are willing to admit, and during the Tribulation it will happen to one third of the Church who turn away to follow the beast and take his mark.

Where is sin in all this? Does it have a role? Yes and no. Many people mistake sinfulness (of various sorts) for apostasy, but the two are entirely different things. Some who go off into apostasy do so without recourse to gross sin whatsoever – they may even be morally better people once they have renounced Christ (at least to all appearances), especially if their brand of substitution for the truth involves a strict legalistic code. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for Christians to fall into gross sinfulness of many different types. But that does not mean that they do not still believe. It is absolutely wrong and contrary to scripture to suggest that gross sin is a mark of unbelief/apostasy, and equally mistaken to think that moral conduct is a definite indicator of faith.

Is not sin dangerous, then? Yes indeed, and very much so. Rebelling from our Lord in what He commands us to do (and not do) makes our relationship with Him adversarial, and since we cannot win such a confrontation, our sinfulness, when we are unwilling to give it up, cannot help but drive us away from Him in our hearts. That is the real danger of sin as far as apostasy is concerned – not that some unspoken act will cost us our eternal life, but that in our spiritual devolution we will get to the place of being so far from Him that we are no longer willing to come back. When that place is reached, the death of faith is often close at hand. It becomes easier to relinquish Christ than to consider any longer any change of conduct. But if we are still believers, there is always a way back, just as our Lord told us:

"The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ "But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate."
Luke 15: 21-24 NIV

Jesus died for every sin. The Father wants all to be saved. Nothing prevents anyone from being saved except their own decision to reject Christ. Sadly, some believers do come to reject the Lord they had gratefully worshiped in the past – that is apostasy, and as said above there are many reasons for it. But what apostasy is is the complete death of faith out of a choice by the quondam believer to reject and renounce (whether implicitly or explicitly) their prior faith in Christ.

Once the devil has a person "down" with guilt, he is unlikely to let him/her up. Believers in that situation have to be very careful to follow, to believe, and to cleave to the very clear teaching of scripture on these matters, rather than to what their guilt and other emotions – roiled by the evil one and his henchmen – are wont to tell them.

Here are a number of links at Ichthys where this very common complaint is addressed, but please remember that if you were not in truth a believer it would not concern you at all that were not a believer – because all you would then need to do would be to believe (and all believers are saved):

Salvation and Sin

Doubting Salvation and Questions of Sin

No, Hebrews does not teach that you lost your salvation

Sin and Salvation, Confession and Forgiveness

Have I Lost My Salvation? (III)

Lost my salvation II?

Have I Lost my Salvation?

Sin according to the Bible: Hamartiology I

Sin according to the Bible: Hamartiology II

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #21:

I have read your theory that somehow believers can be transmuted into unbelievers through sin. There is not space here to deconstruct this.

I am 68. I was DELIVERED ... not "saved" at age 4. I was delivered now and ultimately from ALL the consequences of sin ... death ... hell and the lake of fire. When ever "apostasy" loomed ... omnipotence in the form of divine discipline turned the tide. No believer can resist that modulation of omnipotence. Jonah is the proof. He could die as an obdurate believer or repent and live.

Response #21:

Dear Friend,

I am happy to hear that your faith is secure. However, apostasy is not a "theory" – Paul mentions it at 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, for example.

Also, as to the fact that some believe then fall away (Greek: "apostatize"), we have that from our Lord Himself:

And those [whose seed of faith fell] on the rock do receive the Word with joy when they hear it. However these [types] have no root [to their faith]. They believe for a while, but in time of testing they apostatize (aphistantai).
Luke 8:13

Believing "for a while" then reverting to unbelief is always a possibility as long as we are in this life, because God never takes away our free will. We are here in this world to exercise it, after all, and that is true both before and after we put our faith in Jesus Christ.

Could God, in His omnipotence, prevent anyone from falling away after salvation? Indeed, He could have made it so that no one ever needed to be saved in the first place; He could have made it impossible for the devil to rebel – but none of these things were possible if we were to be created with the image of God, the god-like ability to choose for ourselves whether or not to follow Him. God could have created a universe without free will, but then we would not be "who we are", free, for example, to accept the truth of scripture – or reject it.

If interested, there is much more detail about all of the above at the link: "God's plan to save you".

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #22:

The image of God is not found in abstract western concepts of free moral agency. That idea is easily deconstructed. The image and likeness reside in more visible issues. And of those given Him He had not lost one. Jesus Christ finally gets exactly what He wants. Regardless of your limited decisions. I have seen it in my doctrine. I have seen it in my life. In raw miracles that incorporated my limited decisions ... whether good or bad. Then the tide of omnipotence rolled on. You adjust to the justice of God. Or the justice of God adjusts to you. By rolling right over you. You can adjust to the high road and ride the tide. Or you can "decide" against the tide and be swept along the low road entirely helpless and cursed. Even your decision for Christ was divinely enabled. Your innate human volition is deranged by the old sin nature. That enablement was omnipotent. Jesus Christ does not know half measures. It is preposterous to think that puny human will can wrest itself from omnipotence or that He would ever lose a new covenant possession forever. I am 64 years in the ancient faith. 68 years old in the flesh. I have made many good and bad decisions. The quality of my life was modulated by these decisions. However only the raw power of Jesus Christ has kept me in His plan. I can no more be unborn again from my Father than I can be unborn from my mother. It is preposterous. I am in union with Christ. I have HIS eternal life. Eternal life cannot cease. It is preposterous. I cannot walk away from my new birth anymore than I can my old ... earthly birth. No matter how hard or determinedly I "decide" to do so. At the point of regeneration there are at least 40 permanent things done for the church age believer. Your decisions cannot alter these. It is the height of arrogance to say you can. I do not say ... once saved always saved. Rather if delivered ... always delivered. Like many of your ilk you seem to not understand that deliverance is in three phases. Thus a conflation of three schedules happens. He skins alive EVERY son He receives. I assure you by doctrine and long experience that NO born again one can evade ... ignore or prevail against divine discipline. It is an omnipotent force that cannot be resisted. Its final expression and corrective is the sin unto death. Btw. That is solemn covenant language. Does the thing made say to the maker ... why have you made me thus? One is spun up to honor. Another to dishonor. It is resistless. Whatever is not of faith is sin. All sin is departure from faith. All sin is finally volitional. Did you sin today? While in that sin were you in the faith? No. You departed. You were apostate. I dare say you do not see yourself as apostate. But you were for a time. To say that one falls from grace and its temporal provisions is the same as decoupling from sovereign ... ultimate ... deliverance is very bad transitive logic. Jesus Christ knows everything about us. He has a precise knowledge of how to make divine discipline hurt. Maximally. Four years ago I underwent five bypasses ... an ablasion and a valve reconstruction. It was severe divine discipline. I am a new man physically and much scourged spiritually. You fail to understand the discipline ... cursing ... destruction ... ruination and death dealing temporal clauses in the new covenant and their UNFAILING powers of correction and preservation. Jesus Christ IS the new covenant. His ENTIRE PERSON is the enforcement of His blood sealed covenant. HE AND HIS FLAWLESS PERSON AND CHARACTER ARE THE BOND OF THAT COVENANT. Not your little puny decisions. He is impressed only with Himself. Not your decisions. I think to say that He can lose any blood bought covenant possession is the height of personal arrogance and perhaps just this side of blaspheme. The entire church these days seems bereft of the limitless force of His chesedh ... covenant loyalty. By my doctrine. By by long experience I will testify before any and all that Jesus Christ has always been immutably loyal to me. Regardless of my mutable ... variable performance. He took me to the cusp ... the vary marches of agony and death to preserve me now and forever in His matchless and flawless plan. This is my hard won faith in my Lord and His keeping power. It is the unshaken certainty that His blood ... His death ... provided everlasting ... immutable sacrifice for my sin. Anyone who has not this divinely instilled and imputed conviction and confidence does not have delivering faith.

John 10:28
And I give them eternal life, and they will never perish forever , and no one will seize them out of my hand.

John 10:29
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can seize them from the Father’s hand.

The hand of Christ and the hand of the Father are expressions of executive power ... omnipotence. "no one" includes you and your profoundly limited choices. Including "apostasy". Apostasy as presented in most churches is a poor theory. It is actually a temporal expression of reversion to type. The old sin nature.

Peace

Response #22:

Dear Friend,

It's obvious that you have no idea what this ministry teaches (just from the fact that you are inveighing against positions that it does not hold).

If you would like to discuss the biblical view of apostasy or the image of God, that is fine. However, I should tell you first that inasmuch as this is a Bible teaching ministry, I do my best to stay away from philosophically based arguments (how much more theosophical and anthroposophical ones such as those you employ here).

So if you'd like to have this discussion, it needs to be focused on one point at a time, one scripture at a time.

On apostasy, I gave you two verses that demonstrate it to be a biblical teaching. Your part would be to respond directly to those verses and then to offer a few of your own which, in your opinion, argue for something else (not clear from your impassioned responses just what that is).

On the image of God, you can find the details about what this ministry teaches at the link. If you are not convinced, again, a scripture which teaches something opposite in your view would be the appropriate manner in which to respond. The fact that Genesis 9:6 mentions the image of God does not necessarily argue for or against any particular position unless a further point is elicited. But we are not to that point yet. Kindly tell me what it is you have against the teaching of the image at this ministry (which is unique as far as I know), and then perhaps we can contrast it with your belief, if there is any serious contrast in the first place (of course the image involves "the whole person" – we are all "whole persons" from the point of individual creation of our spirits at birth and forever afterwards).

Finally, it is probably a good idea to point out here that this ministry has no political affiliations or interests (politics is the devil's brew and engagement therein is always spiritually counterproductive). Also, the purpose of this ministry is to help any interested Christian come to the knowledge of the truth and grow through belief in that truth. That means that my attention span in regards to those who are adamantly opposed to learning anything new is limited. I help where I can.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #23:

Hi Bob,

Why do some believers believe, fall away for a while, and then come to believe again? Perhaps (I'm not sure if he was a believer at this point, but I find it likely that he may have been) we would put Moses in this category, because after he killed an Egyptian slave driver he ran away and hid from God in the desert for forty years.

Sincerely,

Response #23:

Unless scripture states that a person lost faith AND came back to faith from a state of unbelief, it would be difficult for us to say with any authority that such was the case. The prodigal son is the example that the Lord uses (along with the lost sheep and the lost coin), but these all seem to me rather to be instances of believers straying far from the Lord yet never entirely abandoning their faith (they may even seem to be unbelievers on account of their conduct, but only God knows the heart). I have had plenty of contact with believers who have done this, but don't know of any indisputable case of where a person reverted to being an unbeliever and came back. I wouldn't put Moses in the camp of those who did not believe; after all, he only got in trouble with the authorities when he tried to act on his faith (albeit in a twisted way). As Stephen says about this incident:

Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.
Acts 7:25 NIV

I don't see anything in the running away that indicates having reverted to being an unbeliever (he merely was trying to avoid being killed). And when the Lord appears to Him in the burning bush, it doesn't seem that he is converted or reconverted – and it seems difficult to comprehend that the Lord would use ad unbeliever for the great task ahead.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #24:

Hi Bob,

I asked you this question because it is a very personal one for me. I deal with atheists and agnostics frequently, some of whom are lapsed Evangelical Christians, and to be perfectly frank, if they are rabid God-haters, they do a very good job of concealing the fact and are very willing to give a hearing to a Christian who presents reasons for the faith.

Let me put it to you like this: can you make yourself believe that you're Chinese? Some people have just a hard of a time making themselves believe in the resurrection as you do making yourself believe that you're Chinese.

Sincerely,

Response #24:

Well, that would be hard, because of course I'm not Chinese. However, I do believe that God could bring on that or any other transformation, and I would believe that He would – if that was what He had told so me in His Word. The resurrection is something that is impossible by human appreciation of things possible, but nothing is impossible for God. It's a matter of accepting that there is a God, and then accepting who and what He is, and that everything He has said is the truth.

Everyone knows these things at some point in their lives (Rom.1:19-20). The real problem of unbelief is that most people don't want to face the implications, namely, that eternal life is dependent upon responding to Him and His authority (as manifest in His Son our Lord), whereas rejecting Him and His authority (as manifest in His Son our Lord) brings on self-deserved condemnation. People always want to make this a matter of knowledge. It is not a matter of knowledge, it is a matter of faith or deliberate lack thereof – which is to say it is a matter of free will. Directing our faith towards something we know is true is merely a matter of accepting the authority of the One who provides this truth to us. That is a choice, the fundamental choice we face as human beings born into this world. Understanding the implications of the choice on a deep level, most still prefer not to accept the truth they find uncomfortable. And why uncomfortable? Because it means doing things God's way now and forever more. Most people want to do it "my way", and are only interested in gods (by any other name) who accommodate themselves to that "my way" predilection.

As to those who may "come to disbelieve in the resurrection, but then later come back to belief", it is important to remember that we cannot look into another person's heart and know for certain either that the person in question really was a believer in the past or really is not one now. There are many cases of persons who "for all the world to see" are "Christians", but who have no genuine faith and are merely engaging in traditionalist Christianity from a variety of motives which have nothing to do with loving Jesus Christ. And there are also many cases of those who "for all the world to see" are not "Christians" (at all or any more) but who, although they are engaged in clearly non-Christian behavior or one kind or another, have wandered far from the Lord as opposed to letting the spark of faith die out entirely. If the former come to Christ it is a case of being born again for the first time; if the latter come to Christ it is a case of returning to the Lord from "a far country" as the prodigal son did. What has really gone on in the hearts of the individuals in question is impossible for us to know even if we have testimony from these individuals themselves – but God knows. I have had contact with many who want to tell me that they have "committed apostasy", when in fact they were believers all along (as becomes evident in discussing things with them); they had wandered far from the Lord, but came back to Him when brought back by divine discipline after He showed them the emptiness and folly of going their own way.

Lots of Christians have doubts, especially in today's world where there is little truth being taught and little interest in receiving it. To succumb to those doubts entirely and actually revert to being an unbeliever (faith in the heart completely dying out) is fundamentally different from wandering around in a fog of spiritual "near death" but then being restored by the Lord (analogous to Nebuchadnezzar's sanity being restored) once they've learned their lesson. It may be hard or even impossi person in question is conflicted (e.g., Lk.15:24).

Either way, if you are ministering to such people I don't think the approach ought to be any different whether we have cases of real apostasy or serious backsliding. In both cases the truth is the truth, and in both cases coming back to a life of faith in the truth is the answer. And in both cases restoration and renewed spiritual safety is the result of positive response. Either way, it is a matter of rejoicing.

"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
Luke 15:7 NIV

You are doing a good turn for these people and also for the Lord in your good efforts in their behalf, my friend! Be pleased to continue for in this there great reward.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #25:

Dear Bob,

It's been quite some time, but I do think I am overall better and finally just not letting my mind/thoughts get to me, should they ever arise. I still have them, though not quite as frequently, but if I linger on them then it just gets worse, so I try to ignore them. I just wanted to give you a quick update on that before I ask you a question about a small situation that has arisen, nothing too big, I think. It's about interacting with people on the internet.

In a game I was playing, my character was in a clan, basically a 'guild' of sorts, and they were in an alliance. So I had a "Clan Chat" and "Alliance Chat", and while I'm fairly sure you don't play many -if any- video games, this isn't really about the game itself, but the people. Anyway, the people in the clan were nice and we got along, but the "Alliance Chat" were, well... let's just say they were coarse on an average day, and on 'bad' days it was downright unpleasant to read. There is no option to turn this chat off, either.

Well, what happened was I finally decided I just couldn't read it anymore, I didn't want to see the messages and the attitudes and such, so I left the clan in order to effectively 'turn off' chat. I did have a very minor outburst, BUT I did give a lengthy apology and reason for why I'd left (to the alliance, not to the clan. I still have to speak to them, at some point) afterward.

What I wanted to ask was, aside from my little outburst (and I do mean little, I didn't even say any cuss words, all I said was "I'm sick of this chat" or something like that), was this an alright thing to do? Is it unforgiveness to remove myself from that environment? I'm not angry, at least not very much, I don't hate anyone in particular, and if someone's name did stand out I just relaxed and forgave them, apologizing to God if I did get angry at them or something (but I never spoke to or yelled at anyone other than the aforementioned outburst, this was all just my feelings/my thoughts to myself), and I'm not holding a grudge or thinking to myself "Ohhh I hate them, I'm gonna leave, that'll show 'em! RRR" or anything, at least I hope anger/hate isn't involved, but I'm pretty sure it's not.

It was literally just a case of I was bothered by how inflammatory and rude and negative that chat room was, and wanted to no longer be a part of it or read it.

While I could've handled things a little bit better, overall, was this an alright thing to do? It's not unforgiveness, is it? I don't think it is, but I want to make sure. All I can think about is how Jesus would go out to be around sinners and tax collectors, since it's not the well that need a doctor, but those who are sick. And the more I think about that, the more I wonder if I did the wrong thing? Like, it's very highly unlikely that someone would reach out to me or anyone else in that chat room, looking for God...but there is that very small chance, however unlikely it might be. Like, if I were more active and positive, then maybe that could have 'poured out' and reached over people, you know?

I may very well just be over-thinking this, or letter how I handled it at first get to me more than I should be, but I just didn't want to be around that negative and toxic atmosphere anymore.

I hope to hear your thoughts on this,

Response #25:

Good to hear from you, my friend.

When I went to seminary, there was a "code" that was in the tradition of the legalistic fundamentalist ethos in which the institution was birthed. One of the things that was outlawed was gambling, but in its earlier iteration it was "playing cards". Games always involve some level of competition, and competition often brings out the worst in people because it is selfish by definition. Some people are better than others when it comes to putting that sort of silliness into perspective, but others really can get riled up, even over very simple board games or bridge, for example. I would counsel any Christian to stay away as much as possible from anything that tends to "get his/her goat" – and it may very well be that game X does not affect me in this way, but for some reason game Y does; so engaging in game X would be less problematic than game Y.

When it comes to sin, the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of refusing to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. All other sin has already been paid for by the Lord on the cross (praise God!). Unbelievers receive a blanket forgiveness of all sins past when they put their faith in Him; believers are forgiven whenever they confess (1Jn.1:9). If a believer sins, that believer should turn away from the bad behavior and confess it; and it's advisable to take steps to avoid the things that led to that bad behavior in the first place, lest a pattern be created from which it becomes hard to extricate oneself.

It is also true that some things are far worse than others. Adultery, for example, is far worse than breaking the speed limit (just by way of example). When it comes to horrendous things that are certain to bring down serious divine discipline as well as serious natural consequences, that area of sin is clearly one which ought to be avoided might and main; more garden variety errors (as in losing one's temper) may be impossible to avoid altogether (we will never achieve sinless perfection in this life, after all, even though we are called to walk in perfect sanctification). All sin is sin, all sin requires confession, and all sin has consequences. But we are in a fight down here on planet earth, and in this battle, eggs will be broken. We need to keep our eye on the objective (spiritual growth, progress and production for Christ), and we need to avoid letting sin – either the commission of it OR any agonizing about it after the fact – throw us off our game.

Keep running a good race for Jesus Christ our Lord!

Bob L.

Question #26:

Dear Bob,

My feelings tend to linger on what was done, even though I did everything I could to rectify/apologize for it after the fact, even though my heart is telling me that the right thing to do was to remove myself from that environment. It was tolling, and was not helping me, and while anything is possible, I really don't think anything positive would have come from me remaining in that chat room with them. I think I'm letting my feelings affect me again and cloud the bigger picture, which is having taken steps to prevent myself from being effected by their words to begin with. I guess I wanted to make sure that my actions (leaving the chat room) didn't constitute as unforgiveness, but I am pretty sure it's not, since again – I don't hate them, or hold a grudge, but it was mostly/entirely just to get away from that environment.

Thank you for your reply. I don't want to think too highly of myself or become overconfident, but usually when I come to you with something like this, usually I already know or am pretty sure of what the answer will be, or come to the same/similar conclusion, but I always appreciate and seek out confirmation of sorts, just to make sure my line of thinking is on the right line or that I'm not getting the wrong idea about something and 'hitting bumps on the road', as it were. Thank you for your help.

Response #26:

I think it is a very common human reaction to agonize about some things we wish we had done differently, and in my observation of the human condition it is often just this sort of "small potatoes" type of incident where we are really upset with ourselves that continues to grate long after the fact. No doubt the evil one knows this too and is only too happy to throw us off of our game by whatever means are at hand. Forgiveness comes from God. Once we are forgiven, we are forgiven. If we truly do forgive others from our heart, we may wish to express that forgiveness in some cases, but in other cases it's probably impossible. For example, if a person cuts someone else off in traffic and immediately regrets it, following him/her for miles "in order to apologize" would be a very, very bad idea. When it comes to that sort of thing, there is a direct relationship between the level of expression of personal forgiveness we should express and how close our relationship is with the offended party. That is to say, we should be more forthcoming in this regard with family members (i.e., actually telling them we are sorry) than with total strangers we have never met before and will never see again – if only because they don't know us and will have no clear idea how to react to our overtures of forgiveness (we might be scamming them) nor we of their reactions (they might react in unpleasantly unpredictable ways).

In this fight to the finish, we will break some eggs. We can't afford to be looking back, even for an instant. Every time we look back, we make ourselves vulnerable to being blind-sided by what is directly in front of us because we are not paying proper attention to the here and now. So "repent, confess, forget and move on" is always the best policy.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #27:

Dear Professor,

It has now been five years since my first message to you. It seems a long time during which a lot of things happened.

I wanted to thank you for all your prayers, guidance, support, the time you've taken to reply to these hundreds of questions I've been asking. Your brought me to faith and have been helping me to grow spiritually. I thank God daily for crossing my path with yours.

I finished Walker today and will commence Metzger tomorrow. Both Thiessen's and Guthrie's Introductions to New Testament are also there.

I've also re-read Peter's epistles and perhaps may go through Basics series again soon too. All these academic resources are a part of the preparation for the ministry, but one does feel a lack of teaching which has truth as its foundation and helping others to grow in it as its objective.

You are in my prayers daily.

In our Lord, who is the Truth,

Response #27:

Time certainly does fly (or "flee" as they say in Latin)! I want you to know that this has been very much a two-way street. I have certainly benefitted greatly from our relationship as well, and this ministry would not be what it is without your very helpful input. So true is it that the Body of Christ is composed of many members, and we are all a part of one another.

I had the same experience with the scholarly materials necessary for preparation that you are noticing, namely, that they are mostly spiritually dead. On the other side of the equation, the situation one finds in many institutions, churches, groups and fellowships today, is an excess of emotion – which initially is very uplifting, but which quickly disappoints and leaves one feeling just as hollow because it lacks all true substance. The correct path which you have chosen and to which you give witness every day requires disciplined study and disciplined application of the truth. There is great joy in this correct approach as well, but it is joy based on the truth which does not desert us when the pressure rises "because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Rom.5:5 NIV). I look forward eagerly to the development of your own ministry, my friend.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #28:

Hi Doc,

How are you doing? I hope mom is still ok and you're not hit too hard from another year of crazy weather.

It's been almost 3 years since I first read ichthys.com. Literally everything in my life has been uprooted, dismantled, reassembled then messed up all over again and I clearly see it all related to my walk and choices I've made. Satan is losing with me so, lately, he's been right in my face. I want to be happy about it, but stuff is still so heavy and I'm on a thread in the worlds eyes as to whether I'll succeed at anything financially or otherwise and it's getting harder and harder to make a living, again.

Now that I've been given to know my sick brain much better tests are less innocuous and I surmise will be more and more dangerous here on out and until the end. I've come to realize I've got the emotional development (roughly) of someone less than half my age and the logical tendencies of someone over twice my age. Being aware of these facts alone makes temptations a matter of calculation with minimal emotional strain, because I can determine the logic behind not sinning and the futility of the matter regardless of my "I wanna" screaming from the inside out (I still fail, but not quite like before). I see my 16 month old daughter and feel for her when she just can't contain it; that was me for YEARS.

Autism is no joke, but I have an "In" with The Spirit.

The Lord isn't allowing me time to learn much extra with all the stress load on my plate, it seems, however I still want to do it, it just takes me so long to re-center after each day, I would need serious, dedicated study time I just can't even fathom at the moment. Do you think it's purposeful?

I see Babylon getting more and more harlot like daily (Syria, all the trade agreements, the evil "candidates" for president, sexual relativism...); the story is happening exactly before us and there really seems to be no one serious about faith anymore; am I a warning/is this a type of evangelism?

I'll tell you, I can see the thread of each situation I come into start to unravel as soon as faith or The Lord come up. I can't help but say what comes to me, but because response is so great here (sarcasm), I'm almost always thrust out of said situation shortly thereafter, or its torn apart in such a way that there's no salvaging of contact and whatever may have been of use is not made useful, at least not in any way I can discern. It's like I used to ask you about, as to whether there is a warning ministry of sorts. That's what I feel I am; I can't truly fit anywhere, but I look like it, until The Lord's Will (I pray so bad) is done and I'm on to the next recipient.

I don't know what to say other than I'm a certified zealot and can't go along with anyone but my wife and kids because no one else what's to know Him.

I lost my business partner and the business itself because I won't get back into marketing tactics and commercial lying so I'm on my own again. The market is terrible so I've been away trying to make less active markets more viable, but it's covered only the bare minimum of our needs and now that situation is being destroyed so I don't think there's any chance of normalcy for me or mine. This last situation was ridiculous but par for the course.

Please pray for me; I don't really even know what for as jobs always come, there's just nothing consistent and I'm rarely in the same place for too long anymore to be able to get grounded. I feel like trying to do anything normal is only going to cost me as normal means easy to the devil and all his friends down here and I'm an easy target.

I pray for your peace and some rest brother.

Talk soon,

Response #28:

I'm sorry to hear that things are still a struggle for you. It seems here in the devil's world things are almost always a struggle for us all – at least for those who like you are determined to keep fighting the fight. The devil focuses his effort on the vanguard. He doesn't spend precious resources on those "in the rear with the gear" – much less those who have gone AWOL.

I have been and I continue to keep you in my prayers every day, my friend. I'm hoping that you get some respite soon. In my observation, experience, and reading of the Bible, respite always does come, even if we will never be completely out of the shot and shell this side of the New Jerusalem. But we know that our Lord is with us and in us; we know that He is helping us every step of the way; we know that He has every single thing all planned out; we know that we don't have to be like Job who lost his perspective on this – and he was one of the greatest; we know that we can take comfort in all of the Lord's promises, such as never to put on us more than we can bear; because we know that He is absolutely faithful, and perfectly so.

I draw great encouragement from your persistence in spite of facing troubles that would have swamped the faith of many and neutralized the effort of most. You are a true Christian warrior. I am reminded of this passage:

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
2nd Corinthians 6:4-10 NIV

Keep fighting the good fight my friend! I'm keeping you and your family in my prayers.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #29:

Shalom Dr. Luginbill,

Peace be unto you my dear brother! I don't know if you'll remember me, we spoke several times a little while back. I apologize for my long silence, I should have checked-in with you earlier, please forgive me. You have been such a blessing to me, always willing to take time to answer my questions, or to help me when I am having a hard time understanding something, so, again, I apologize for not keeping in touch, I shouldn’t have done that my brother. By the way, may I ask how you have been my brother, how are things going in your neck of the woods? Is there anyone or anything you would like me to keep in prayer? I hope you and your family are doing well, and may you each continue to prosper spirit, soul and body, to the glory of King JESUS, our beloved Master, Who is more precious than anything which life has to offer. I look forward to hearing from you my friend; I am blessed to know you, to have the privilege of your friendship. You’re a gift from GOD, truly!

Your Brother in King JESUS, the LORD !!!

Response #29:

It's very good to hear from you, my friend! Thanks so much for your good words, kind wishes, and especially for your prayers. How are things going with your efforts to study Greek? It's hard to do on one's own, but essential for anyone contemplating a teaching ministry.

The Lord continues to keep me safe despite all storms and tempests. No doubt I am helped also by the thoughtful prayers of fellow Christians such as yourself.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

 

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