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Spiritual Growth II

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Question #1:

How can I strengthen my beliefs and have an easier time not listening to what atheists say when they testify?

Response #1:

The answer is spiritual growth . . . which comes from accessing good Bible teaching in a consistent and disciplined way.

And because of this we also give thanks to God continually, because, when you received the word of hearing from us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it really is, the Word of God – the very Word which is at work inside of you as you believe it.
1st Thessalonians 2:13

I recommend starting with the Peter series (see the link).

And here are some other pertinent links on spiritual growth:

Spiritual Growth I

Spiritual Growth, Church-Searching and "Discipling"

Epignosis, Christian Epistemology, and Spiritual Growth.

Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Growth

Forward progress necessary spiritual growth.

Believing the Bible for Spiritual Growth.

No Growth without Faith (in Peter #14)

Bible Teaching and Spiritual Growth (in Peter #13)

The Judgment and Reward of the Church (in CT 6)

Virtue Thinking: Applying the Truth for Spiritual Growth and Progress (in Peter #16)

Progression of Virtues (in Peter #17)

Spiritual Growth requires Bible Teaching

Spiritual Growth vocabulary

Spiritual Growth: the solution to "ups and downs"

Yours in our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hello, Doctor.

I wanted to thank you again for getting me in contact with our friend. With the distance between us, there's little I can do except pray for him, however I am encouraged. He doesn't even have a believing family. I don't know if I could do that and am incredibly thankful for my believing spouse. This correspondence is taking away my childish "pity parties", I don't have my life in constant threat or my family on the verge of abandoning me. I also apologize for my whining to you as well. For whatever of it was good for me, I am sorry it was and is (probably) hard for you. I feel spiritually retarded in this place, Doctor. It's a hard thing to sit still and learn when I wanna just leave this mini-babylon I currently reside in, but I end up throwing lessons away when I even think of it. But I will say, even in the short time since our last contact that it's already easier.

In light of all of our friend's struggles in a pagan country, the things going wrong in my life seem paltry and letting it go and praying is all I could do, and it feels right. I NEVER would have reacted this way before; thank The Lord Jesus Christ I am changing! Now if it can be applied to things beyond this... I'll keep studying.

Lonely or not, email only contact or not, I am NOT alone, simply not home yet.

In Christ,

Response #2:

Good for you! And you are so right. The Church is "one" in Christ and with Christ, and on the great day of our resurrection and reunion with Him "in clouds", we will all be very aware of our oneness together as His Bride. So many good things await, and they are coming, come what may – and whatever we may do. For that reason, the profitable thing for us to do is to put Christ first in all we do and keep learning, keep believing, keep growing, keep taking on and passing the tests that hone and harden our faith, and keep looking forward to and preparing for the ministries the Lord has for us to help our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ do the very same. That way, we will no longer not only be "not alone" in a positional sense of anticipation of the future "oneness" we will all experience and enjoy to the full then, but also cognizant here and now of fighting the fight with our "comrades in arms" on that part of the spiritual battlefield to which Jesus has assigned us.

Yours in the Lord of Hosts, Jesus Christ, and in anticipation of that great day of reward.

Bob L.

Question #3:

G'Day Brother

Hope you and everyone around you are keeping well. Just doing a study on Faith, and I have all your work on Faith which is absolutely amazing. I'm trying to put something small together and I'm hoping you can help me out with a few questions. Would it be fair to conclude that Abraham's Faith grew as he walked with The Lord? I mean he did have doubts when he was traveling to Egypt and lied about his wife Sarah, saying she was his sister in order to cover his back. Also not waiting and holding off until God fulfilled his promise in giving him Isaac, rather submitting to Sarah's wishes and having a child with Hagar. All compared to the Faith he had by the time he had Isaac and came to offer him up as a sacrifice to The LORD, which is phenomenal Faith. It's one thing to be martyred, but to offer your son, is incredible. What do you think?

Metaphorically speaking can one say:

- The Word of God is equivalent to the food we eat.

- The Word loads us up with Faith, when we believe it and put it into practice.

- The same way if you like physical food gives us energy to work. If we are using weights in a gym it helps to build muscle.

- The Word of God helps us to build the muscle of our faith.

- Along with the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer.

Is that a good and fair analogy? Can you please help me elaborate on that if it is. Can one also say; in the same way one increases weights in a gym to help him build that muscle. The Lord's way of increasing the weights in our spiritual life is by, testing us through trails and temptations (putting some resistance on us) to help us build our muscle of Faith. I know a little about building the physical muscles. One must start eating more, as he trains more and starts to grow more muscle, lifting heavier weights. Would the equivalent spiritually be reading the Bible more and praying more? Another question; can you say we need to work to maintain our faith? But obviously our salvation is a free gift.

God Bless

Response #3:

Good to hear from you – and thanks for your questions.

First, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I think you have it exactly right for the most part. Abraham is a wonderful example of someone who started small in faith and grew to the point of having a faith so powerful that it could move mountains. Our faith can indeed grow. Salvation is a gift of God, and so faith, which is our response thereto (to God, to Jesus, and to all of His truth), is not a constant, but is meant to grow and, eventually, to produce:

For you have been saved by [God's] grace through faith [in Christ]; and this did not come from you – it is God's gift. Nor did it (i.e., salvation) come from what you have done, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for [the purpose of accomplishing] good works, which [very works] God has prepared ahead of time for us, that we might walk in them (i.e., live our Christian lives in the accomplishment of them).
Ephesians 2:8-10

Thus, faith is essentially the equivalent of our free will (I often call it "free-will-faith" for that reason). Many people start out with just a small seed of faith, like that of a mustard seed – but then it grows; as in the parable of the sower, the plant which sprouts is our "faith plant". However, in some people, the plant shrivels and dies under pressure, while in others it grows to maturity and produces an abundant crop, "100, 60 and 30-fold", for those who "accomplish the good works prepared ahead of time for us". Plants tend to grow or atrophy; standing pat is unlikely. It's the same thing with muscles, and the analogy is also a good one. Plants need water (analogous to the Word of truth); muscles need food (analogous to spiritual food) – and muscles also need to be exercised (analogous to spiritual growth requiring testing to proceed past a certain point).

(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 (7) to the end that your faith may be shown to be genuine. This validation of your faith is far more valuable than gold, for gold, though it too is assayed by fire, ultimately perishes. But your faith, when proven genuine in the crucible of life, will result in praise, glory and honor for you at the glorious return of Jesus Christ.
1st Peter 1:6-7

The one thing I would wish to emphasize, however, is that the water that feeds the faith plant and the food that feeds the faith muscle is the truth of the Word of God. Prayer is important; Bible reading is important. But a person can pray all day long and memorize the Bible and still not grow to spiritual maturity. Christians need truth and to believe the truth. That means, they need the distilled essence of the Word presented in an understandable way so as to be something they can and do believe (not mere knowledge but epi-gnosis, "actual truth actually believed").

Even for someone with the gift of pastor/teacher, if that person had been saved on a desert island with a copy of the Bible, it might take years to figure out all the ins and outs of the doctrine of the Trinity, just for example, even though he had nothing else to do with his time. Most Christians do not have the time, the tools, the languages, the skills . . . or the gift, to distill the truth from scripture on their own. That is the province of the gift of pastor/teacher (who have learned much from others too). Christians who want to grow, therefore, need to find the right ministry for them, a place where the Word of God is being taught in a way that actually has the capacity for edifying their faith. They need a source of spiritual food, spiritual water – a source of the truth of the Word of God.

That is not to say that there aren't certain things a believer cannot figure out on his/her own, but in my experience it usually comes down to people who take the independent route actually learning indirectly from some such ministry or combination of ministries (e.g., through TV, radio or tape Bible classes, through books and pamphlets, through notes in their study Bibles, etc.) if they actually do end up growing spiritually. In my observation and experience, there aren't really very many completely self-taught believers who grow to spiritual maturity (if any at all). And after all, that's not how Christ designed His Church. We all need help, and as the Body of Christ, we are gifted to help one another, according to the needs of the Church and Christ's disposition of us in the Church.

(11) Christ Himself appointed some of us apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (12) in order to prepare all of His holy people for their own ministry work, that the entire body of Christ might thus be built up, (13) until we all reach that unifying [goal] of belief in and full-knowledge (epignosis) of the Son of God, that each of us might be a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard of maturity whose "attainment" is defined by Christ; (14) that we may no longer be immature, swept off-course and carried headlong by every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly work their deceit, (15) but rather that we may, by embracing the truth in love, grow up in all respects with Christ, who is the head of the Church, as our model. (16) In this way, the entire body of the Church, fit and joined together by Him through the sinews He powerfully supplies to each and every part, works out its own growth for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16

To take just one example, the Coming Tribulation series at Ichthys has around 1,000 pages single-spaced of detailed teaching about the end times (including a composite exegesis of the book of Revelation and all other relevant scriptures); a person could memorize the book of Revelation in a lot less time and with a lot less effort than it took me to research and write this series (devoting over a decade to it) – but they wouldn't necessarily understand much in particular about the events described therein past a certain basic level, and would have many things wrong (just because what may seem obvious may be problematic without understanding other scriptures that bear on the issues the book takes up).

This last point also illustrates why finding the right ministry is so important for any believer. If we are conversant with four different views of a particular doctrine, for example, it does us no good unless we believe one of them – and that "one" also has the virtue of being the truth. Picking and choosing on one's own is dangerous, because how is a believer supposed to know that "Dr. X is right about A but wrong about B, but Dr. Y is right about B but wrong about A"? Perhaps that is possible in some instances, but the problem comes back to faith. Having an encyclopedic understanding of a wide variety of alternative views on all manner of doctrines may be great for someone writing a survey text for seminary students, but a believer has to actually believe the actual truth in order for growth to occur. Those are the two essential elements: 1) you have to get the actual truth; 2) you actually have to believe that it is true. Only then is the truth in your heart usable by the Spirit. The only way that this can happen consistently is for a believer to carefully search and find a genuine, orthodox teaching-ministry he/she can be comfortable with, and then give that ministry the benefit of the doubt in most things. There will always be a teaching here or there or an interpretation here or there that are hard to accept. These can be put aside (as my old pastor used to say, the same way one puts aside the bones when eating fish), but without a steady and reliable source of truth which one can and does believe it is almost impossible to grow and to progress and to become prepared to help others do the same through the gifts Christ means us to employ.

I think this touches on all of the questions you asked, but please do feel free to write me back about this. If you have not already consulted it, BB 4B: Soteriology has a lot more detail on this set of topics (see the link).

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:

G'Day Brother!

Thank you and God Bless you for replying to my last emails, I need a little more clarity on these few points.

Do you mind commenting on these 3 points:

1 Can we conclude we need to work to maintain our faith ?

2 Can one also say; in the same way one increases weights in a gym to help him build that muscle. The Lord's way of increasing the weights in our spiritual life is by, testing us through trails and temptations (putting some resistance on us) to help us build our muscle of Faith?

3

-Would it be fair to conclude that Abraham's Faith grew as he walked with The Lord.

-I mean he did have doubts when he was traveing to Egypt and lied about his wife Sarah, saying she was his sister in order to cover his back.

-Also not waiting and holding off until God fulfilled his promise in giving him Isaac, rather submitting to Sarah's wishes and having a child with Hagar.

-All compared to the Faith he had by the time he had Isaac and came to offer him up as a sacrifice to The LORD, which is phenomenal Faith.

It's one thing to be martyred, but to offer your son, is incredible.

What do you think?

-Is it fair to say Abraham didn't have the faith to sacrifice Isaac in the early stages of walking with The Lord?

Your Loving Brother In Christ

Response #4:

You're very welcome.

As to your new set of questions:

1) As I mentioned, I like the muscle analogy, but it's not actually in the Bible of course. For that reason, we can't draw deductions from it in the same as we can, for example, with the seed of the Word and the resultant plant of faith (detailed in the parable of the Sower in the three synoptic gospels). A seed grows, or fails to grow, and the plant it produces may continue to flourish and produce a crop, or it may dry out and die – depending on the decisions the person in question makes. Such is our faith in Jesus Christ. As such, "faith" is not really a "something" we make use of like a muscle or a tool – rather, it's really who we are, as reborn sons and daughters of the Most High and followers of Jesus Christ. Everything we think, say and do is a reflection of what is going on inside of us, our decision-making at every stage. Thus, a person who "has faith" is, in biblical terms, someone who is acting in a spiritually aggressive way in response to the Lord as opposed to being lukewarm (and being thus "of little faith"). How much do we really trust Jesus? How much do we really believe that He will reward us for our actions here on earth? If it is "a lot", then won't that come through in how we are ordering our lives? If we really are putting Him first and trusting Him in every way, then we "have [a lot] of faith".

If we are relying on Jesus and doing what He wants, learning and believing the truth, applying the truth to our lives, then helping others do the same, we are growing closer to Him at every step. The opposite is also possible, of course, and in each of these directions the plant-of-faith is either growing/flourishing or shriveling/shrinking. So I hesitate to use the language "use our faith" because that makes it sound as if our faith is something separate from "us", when in fact faith is in a very real sense "who we are" based on "who we have decided to be" in spiritual terms. If we are acting "in faith", "through faith", "by faith", we mean that our trust in the Lord is characterizing what we do, motivating what we do, and guiding what we do. But "using it" to me gives a non-biblical picture of things and may misunderstand what faith really is, namely, our (positional) decision to follow Christ, and our (experiential) consistent decision-making in following through in the course of our Christian lives.

It is certainly true that our faith grows; that is to say, as we move in the right direction, something that takes both the will to make the decision and the same will to follow through at every small step along the way, we can and, hopefully, will become more solid in both our determination and our actual follow-through in doing what Jesus wants from us. This is most evident in the testing/trying of our faith, the "putting of our resolve and our commitment to Jesus to the test" that comes to all believers who are really serious about fulfilling the mandates our Lord has given us: we have to be confident and grow in confidence as to all of our Lord's promises to us as motivating factors to do the hard things that He calls us to do (just as Abraham did):

Now without faith, it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever wishes to draw nearer to God must believe that He exists, and that He will reward those who earnestly seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10 NIV

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV

2) As I say, I do like this analogy of exercise (but it is an analogy, not a biblical teaching per se that can be used for deductions). As mentioned above, after we get to the point of believing enough truth to be mature, solid in our understanding of God's Word, we will be tested and tried for the purposes both of demonstrating that we really have believed, but also for hardening and strengthening our faith (i.e., our mind-set of trusting God "no matter what") as we respond to the test by believing what God has promised us even when our eyes and ears and feelings - - and the whole world – is telling us something different. This is somewhat different of course from muscles which respond automatically to pressure given good nutrition; believers have to make the decision to keep believing when the going gets tough and to keep believing when their faith is challenged and pressured, in order to be benefitted by that pressure – and that takes active application of the will, the free-will, "free-will faith", as I say, deciding to trust God and what He has promised rather than trusting in our senses and taking counsel of our fears. I also would avoid using the word "tempted", since, in terms of what we in English mean by the word temptation, that is something that God does not direct towards us (Jas.1:13); that is something that comes from the evil one (Matt.6:13).

3) Yes, I think this is most definitely the case. Abraham was a great believer, but not perfect, and I certainly do think you are right that we see him progress in scripture to this apex of his spiritual growth and production. What we don't see in scripture, and this is true in the majority of cases for great Old Testament believers, is how he grew; we don't see decade after decade of careful communion with the Lord for the taking in of His truth; we don't see his day by day, step by step mental concentration on God's truths over so many years; we don't see all the little tests Abraham passed by trusting God (because they are not recorded for us) – we only see his "graduation exercises". So whenever we are reading about one of these great believers of the past, we have to remember that they became "great" by doing the very things that we should be doing step by step and day by day. And we have some wonderful advantages: we have 1) the entire Bible; 2) the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; 3) good Bible teachers (even if these are not entirely easy to find). So we Christians today in this lukewarm era in which we live have absolutely no excuse for not doing well spiritually. To put it in your terms, we are not "using our faith", by which I would want to understand, we are not "making decisions for Jesus day by day, step by step" in what we think, do and say, so as to grow by taking in the truth of the Word and believing it, progress through applying it, and produce the way our Lord would want us to do by helping others do likewise.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:

G'Day Brother.

Thanks for your response and work to help me dissect and understand this very important topic.

Would you agree;

Faith has three steps in it; the mind, the heart and the will. Real faith must contain all three.

- Step 1; Our mind must accept that the Word of God is good, we read the Word of God or listen to it.

- Step 2; Is the inward step when we accept and trust that it will personally do us good, when we start to think of the solution to our problem. Holding onto the Word deep in our heart. Otherwise it remains plainly a mental thing.

- Step 3; Is the active step when we willingly obey and respond to The Lord and His Word by applying it and living it.

If so, can you please help me dissect and evaluate the the faith that the thief on the cross had in respect to the 3 steps above?

Your Loving Brother In Christ

Response #5:

Faith doesn't have steps. Faith is a decision. It is the particular decision of trusting God. The "heart" is the inner person and is not distinguishable, biblically, from the mind and the will. These three words just emphasize different facets of our inner life. This is all discussed in great detail at the links:

Free-Will Faith and the Will of God

Faith: What is it?

Free-Will Faith in the Plan of God.

Free-Will Faith.

BB 3A: Biblical Anthropology: "The Purpose, Creation and Fall of Man"

Biblical Anthropology I: The Nature of Human Beings and Human Life according to the Bible

Biblical Anthropology II: 'Soul sleep', & dichotomy vs. trichotomy

The thief on the cross, by observing our Lord, recognized that He was indeed the Son of God – and he then put his faith in Him, he trusted in Him for salvation, he believed in Him. So when he asks Jesus to "remember him", our Lord can assure Him, God that He is, that he has been saved . . . "by grace through this faith". The thief chose to believe, trust, put his faith in Jesus Christ, and he chose to do it, his will, his heart, his mind, his inner being, his person – him.

This process of saving faith is talked about at the link: "The Mechanics of Saving Faith" in BB 4B: Soteriology.

We decide what we will believe. That is "faith". And if we put our faith in the truth, we will grow, both in taking in the truth (through attention to a good teaching ministry), and in applying that truth (by trusting God in all the various circumstances of our lives, applying His perspective to everything we see and experience); if we do this consistently, we will then come to be in a position to help others learn and apply the truth as well: ministry is the final phase of growth and leads to the 100-fold production which in turn yields the greatest rewards for our time spent on this earth.

Yours in our dear Lord Jesus in whom we have placed our trust, faith and belief for life eternal,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for praying for me. I made it through this week fine.

I haven't found another church to go to. I honestly don't think I will like any of the churches. I do like being around Christians, though. I remember you saying that you don't care for devotionals. What do you think about My Utmost For His Highest, though? It's a classic, isn't it? I bought it, and seems alright. What is it that's not good about devotionals? Is it because you're getting the Bible through someone else's perspective? Right now, I have two devotionals on my bedside stand. I have more, but those are the ones I have out. I just like devotionals for some reason. How do you read the Bible? I always skip around. Do you read like one chapter or one verse? How do you absorb it? I have to admit about this thing I do. Sometimes, when I can't think where to start, I'll just be like "God, show me what you want me to read. Then I will flip the Bible to a random page. Do you think this is unbiblical? I know I'm not the only one that does it. Also, do you have to be good to be blessed? Are we punished for bad behavior?

Thanks,

Response #6:

The Bible is the best of course. However, solid, substantive teaching of the Bible is necessary too to have "prepared food" that is actually spiritually "edible" and can result in growth. Devotional material may be helpful for some. If you like it, I don't have any issue with that. I've always found it so much pablum – nothing solid to sink one's teeth into. In terms of inspirational material, reading the Psalms for myself, for example, has always proved far superior (in my book). We learn the truth and we learn to make our own applications of the truth to this life. The only problem would be if the devotional material is doctrinally incorrect (which it almost always is to some degree), or if a person makes the mistake of substituting such material for reading the Bible itself or (even worse) giving attention to substantive Bible-teaching (which people often do).

As to how to approach these two key activities of spiritual growth, everyone has their own methods, but the one thing that is most important is consistency. We ought to read our Bibles and we ought to be engaged in substantive Bible study every day, and the more we do it, and the more systematically we do it, the better. There are no short-cuts to spiritual growth, progress and production (as is true of anything worth doing in this life).

Good to hear that your classes are back on track. As to you parting question, our Father disciplines us for sin as the loving Father He is (Heb.12:1ff.; see the link: in BB 3B: "The Fact and Purpose of Divine Discipline "), not to "punish" us per se, but to teach us to be better – the same way we would spank a child who is determined to keep running across the street without looking (not to exact vengeance but to help him/her to learn not to do dangerous things). David was severely disciplined for murdering Uriah and stealing his wife, but God's blessings to him continued in spite of the horrific (and deserved) divine discipline. God blesses and disciplines at the same time (see the previous link).

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Bob,

What am I supposed to be doing with the remaining 12 + 7 years of my life [until the Tribulation begins and through it]? The only definitive advice that I can gather from the Bible which applies to every Christian's life today are

(1) Study and believe the Bible

(2) Pray to God

(3) Be a good citizen

(4) Help others do the previous three

The first three are clear enough and entirely within my control, but I have many obstacles doing the fourth one.

(1) Believers are not interested in hearing what I have to say. I do not want to preface my statements with 'I have the Holy Spirit guiding my announcement,' because with the exception of the definitive statement that 'Jesus Christ is Lord' (I Corinthians 12:3) and other direct quotes from scripture, I can never claim with 100% epistemic certainty that the Lord God is guiding the motion of my tongue. If I mention your teaching, I tend to be interrupted or resisted. I have tried three on-campus Bible-study groups and four churches (if you count the RCC) but I am treated as if I were the 'runt' of the family of God. Even if so, and even though I am not entitled to anything, including salvation, it is seldom correct to say that 'I'm right and everyone else isn't,' so the idea that believers tend to treat what I have to say as foolishness does not inspire confidence that I am sailing in the right direction. Maybe they are the ones who are pleasing to God and I am the 'apostle Thomas,' so to speak.

(2) Unbelievers are even more uninterested in what I have to say. I tried apologetics, but the general impression I get is derision and scorn, regardless if I do it in a nice manner or in a mean one. If I do it nicely, the general response is that they don't care about my 'love,' just the objective facts (or they condescendingly write me off as just having a good emotional high). If I do it in a confrontational manner, the general response is that I am everything that is wrong with America and that I am a poor model of Christ. And always my arguments are never taken seriously. I tried to give a Kantian argument for the existence of a fair and universal morality, I've tried giving a scientific approach, I even tried giving a historical approach using the knowledge of the manuscripts I've obtained largely from your site in addition to what linguistic knowledge I may have (mostly Hebrew). But never have I ever seen an unbeliever repent because of anything I told them. And even if they did repent, I don't even know how deep or lasting their faith is.

(3) I can never do the first three tasks correctly, no matter how hard I try. I figure that if I can't help others, maybe I can help myself. But apparently I mess that up as well. I always sin, I am not exactly the best student, and I still can't read the Bible in the original languages. How many opportunities will there be for me to fail in the next 12 + 7 years?

(4) I can't even do things that the secular world values! What fresh start in life? I am college age and I can already predict the general trajectory of my life, based solely on the basis of my real world experience, my GPA, my current skill-set, the teeth-pulling pain of that all important 'socialization'. For all of my life, I have been graded and evaluated and for what? Nobody learns anything from the grading: the failures will always fail, and the successful will continue being successful. Even if I were granted unlimited wealth and no responsibilities bound with that wealth, life would still be hard, because I must live with embarrassment. The transitory pleasures that come from wealth will soon stop feeling good, but embarrassment is the only emotion that will always retain its original intensity. Do you want to know why there are people out there who refuse to do anything with their lives? Because success only feels good for a little while. Never has there been someone who is successful and feels good about their success forever, but there are too many people to number who can feel embarrassed again and again for the same action, and never does it lose its original intensity. If I did absolutely nothing with my life, at least I can rest in peace knowing that never again will I be embarrassed or ashamed for what I've done.

If there is one thing that I want, it is a society where everyone is truly equal, because only when we are all equal can we never feel ashamed or embarrassed, because nobody is better than anybody else.

Response #7:

Hello my friend,

I suppose this is one way to look at it. On the other hand, if a person were in prison, dying of cancer, blind and without any education, in a foreign country without knowing the language, and completely destitute . . . . well, things could always be worse. On the other hand, even if the world were coming to an end in 24 hours we could still pray for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the salvation of unbelievers whose hearts had to that point been rock-hard; we could still read our Bibles; we could, in fact, be joyous about the rapid return of the Lord to us – or us to Him!

I am a little less inclined to put "good citizen" on the list, not because every Christian should not obey the laws of his/her country (indeed we should: e.g., 1Pet.2:17), but because the phrase often includes (as it is may seem to some from the wording you use) an active engagement in society for its "betterment". As you know, my reading of scripture sees that as playing the devil's game. He is the one in charge of politics, and no system or society will ever be anything approaching "perfect" until the millennial rule of Christ. Trying to make one so usually results in the exact opposite effect (the Satanic Rebellion series is concerned with these issues).

There is one other thing that should be on your list: spiritual growth. We can only progress in our Christian walk based on growth; and we can only help others by ministering with the gifts we have been given once we have grown to a certain point. This is not to say that you have not grown; this is to say that we should never stop. Our eternal rewards are based upon our growth, our progress, and our production – the areas of the three crowns. If we have only a week or a month or a year to push forward with these noble goals, well, every minute is an opportunity for the Lord. Our success, moreover, is measured by His approval of our method, application, and persistence – not by the visible results by which the world "counts coup", whatever the world may define as "success". Our Lord's earthly ministry was, to worldly eyes, a terrible and tragic failure. But we who follow Him know that it is the bedrock upon which the entire universe and all history is founded: the cross is the plan of God; it is the truth of God; it is the love of God. We therefore should make every attempt to pick up that same cross and follow Him, not looking to the noise and confusion of this world to measure our efforts, but doing what our Lord would have us to do and letting everything else hang – no matter how much time we may have left.

There is more than enough time to do what Jesus wants us to do – otherwise we would not be here.

Yours in the dear Lord who endured so much on our behalf, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8:

Sorry I was particularly upset...the unbelievers I was arguing with were exceptionally nasty. You can see the thread here: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=5709&cpage=1#comment-650426

if a person were in prison, dying of cancer, blind and without any education, in a foreign country without knowing the language, and completely destitute . . . . well, things could always be worse.

Omit 'dying of cancer' (although this may have happened as well) and you basically described the fate of King Zedekiah.

'Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. And he killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He also put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in bronze fetters, took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.'

I am a little less inclined to put "good citizen" on the list, not because every Christian should not obey the laws of his/her country (indeed we should)

I only mean that and nothing more. Speaking of good citizenship, not even atheists trust other atheists:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/04/16/new-study-shows-that-even-atheists-think-atheists-are-immoral/

There is one other thing that should be on your list: spiritual growth.

I thought this was covered under reading the Bible and believing it. I can't see how not doing that won't result in spiritual growth; as we all know, faith produces works. My email was also about something else: the problem of epistemology. I am not a charismatic kind of person, so I don't believe that God will particularly reveal anything directly to me (although this is something to be feared in this life, not hoped for: seeing God, even as Moses did, would be more than enough to ruin someone's psyche if he wasn't an extremely strong person: just look at what happened to Paul). The list is more or less a compilation of my understanding of all we can be sure is useful.

Response #8:

No worries.

On spiritual growth, it does take more than reading the Bible. It takes accessing and believing good Bible teaching. There is a reason why God placed teachers in the Body. If everyone could get everything they needed for growing to maturity directly from the Bible without anyone else's help there would be no need for teachers; and if there were no need for teachers, there would be no need for believers assembling – since learning the truth is the reason for (genuine) Christian assembly. As it is, however, there is no possibility of anyone – even someone with the gift of teaching – achieving maturity without help. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential basic, but it is doubtful that even someone with the teaching gift who knew Greek and Hebrew well would be able to come up with that doctrine and all its correct ins and outs without help (at least not without a life time of investment – so as to make getting down to other important doctrines problematic). So some of what we have learned independent of our own scripture reading is such general teaching as to be ubiquitous (as in the case of the Trinity); even here, however, good teaching is necessary for refinement.

The number one problem with the church visible of the Laodicean era is the lack of good teaching – stemming mainly from the reluctance of those without the gift to seek it and diligently submit to it. The truth has to be sought and it also has to be believed for it to do a Christian any good. Partially out of laziness, partially out of arrogance, most Christians today imagine themselves to be sufficient unto themselves, and that is reflected in the low quality of dissemination of the truth one finds in almost all "brick and mortar" churches today. Reading the Bible is important and in fact essential (see the link), but it is an important supplement to receiving orthodox instruction from a tested source one can believe . . . and then believing it. Only the truth received and believed can help.

To use a cooking analogy, there is nutritional value in wheat growing in a field, but if a person had to go out and find a field and gather sheaves every time he/she was hungry, clearly, malnutrition if not starvation would follow in short order; especially if a person has anything else he/she has to do with their lives besides engaging in the basic search for food, it is better to eat bread – even if the farming, harvesting, processing, cooking and distributing was handled by someone else. All analogies are deficient in some points; while it might be possible to be a successful survivalist in the secular realm, the Lord has set things up in the Church so as to make it impossible for any believer to get where He wants that believer to go without doing it the correct way. I am always happy to have readers question specific points and also to give the best and most helpful responses I can when there is any disagreement. But the correct process is not to be questioned – at least not by any Christian who wants to grow and progress and produce for Jesus:

(11) Christ Himself appointed some of us apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (12) in order to prepare all of His holy people for their own ministry work, that the entire body of Christ might thus be built up, (13) until we all reach that unifying goal of believing what is right and of giving our complete allegiance (Greek: ðßãíùóéò, epignosis) to the Son of God, that each of us might be a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard of maturity whose "attainment" is defined by Christ; (14) that we may no longer be immature, swept off-course and carried headlong by every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly work their deceit, (15) but rather that we may, by embracing the truth in love, grow up in all respects with Christ, who is the head of the Church, as our model. (16) In this way, the entire body of the Church, fit and joined together by Him through the sinews He powerfully supplies to each and every part, works out its own growth for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #9:

I think your point regarding the importance of trust in a good teacher is quite true. Although I think the Trinity is quite obvious from a plain reading of scripture, even a translation: Jesus said He's God, He tells us that the Father is God, and we know from Acts that the Holy Spirit is God. Combining this with the verses about the unity of God reveals that God must have three personae. There are three misunderstandings that could arise: the person might adopt the modalist heresy and assume that each member of the trinity corresponds to a different 'mode' of God (but this implies paterpassionism) or that there is a Trinity...but Christ is lesser than the Father (which obviously contradicts the verse that states that equality with God is not something Christ had to compete for) or that there are three separate Gods who formed a committee (obviously contradicts the unity of God).

But seeing that all three of these heresies arose, perhaps you have a point about the importance of good & Godly teaching. Even Martin Luther, phenomenal of a believer and scholar as he was, ended up rejecting the canonicity of James, Jude, and Revelation due to the absence of good teaching. In light of what you told me, it makes what he did even more impressive. My previous understanding is that the role of teacher was to provide for those Christians who are too busy to invest time learning languages and are doing other difficult but Godly tasks, such as raising a family. Such a group might need 'fast food' rather than home cooking. But perhaps the equivalent today to 'fast food' are megachurches and Charismatic movements that emphasize emotional feelings, while providing very little in the way of actual nourishment.

Response #9:

I'm sure that you, finding yourself alone on a desert island with only a Bible and never having heard of the Lord before (or any Christian tradition) probably could be saved and grow up to a certain degree – but then I would not be surprised if you have a teaching gift. On the other hand, I cannot imagine myself having made the progress I have made in the truth of the Word without all the help I received throughout my life. Even those with the gift of teaching and the commitment to prepare properly and see it through to the point of doing what the Lord would have us to do really do have to have help (teaching help) in order to grow to the point of being effective in our own ministries in a timely fashion. We don't all have 1,000 years and unlimited resources, after all – as you made that very point in an earlier email.

This is not about ego or competition. It's about Jesus Christ and the truth. Every Christian should want to have everything necessary in his/her heart to serve our Lord fully . . . and to get to that point as quickly as possible. That is doubly true for those who have been called to help others through teaching (since there are many other things we need to learn/master as well in order to be effective). I would have been thrilled to have these materials which it has taken me many years to construct handed to me on a platter in seminary. It didn't happen that way, however. Blessedly, it did happen, but it has been a long fight. We are all on the same side (or should be). Why blaze a new trail through a dense jungle if someone else has already cleared a wide path? The only reason to do so would be if the existing path is going the wrong the way. In my own experience, I have had some parts of the journey which were already constructed super-highways, some which were mere goat-paths, some areas of virgin jungle to negotiate. I have always been grateful for the help I have gotten; I have never been willing to go down an easy path just because it was easy if it was going in the wrong way. In my opinion, that is the right mix: take any good help you can get; but don't be lazy about going your own way when the "help" is really not helpful.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10:

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for your response. I think you're right about moving forward. I have been at a standstill in my Christian walk. What I have been thinking about lately, is how exactly to move forward. Do you think I have to lose friends that don't agree with my beliefs? That is, my Christian beliefs. I know no one's perfect. Is it alright for me to associate with people who aren't Christian, or to consume media that isn't Christian? You know, eat the meat and spit out the bones?

I do know one of the reasons I may be struggling. Ever since I left the last church, I haven't made any new Christian friends. When I lost contact with Christians, I fell into a crowd of people that aren't very religious. As a matter of fact, leaving the church was probably the start of many of my problems. I still think leaving was a good idea. It's just that when I left, a huge gap opened in my life. Then, all sorts of things that aren't Christian filled in the hole.

I know that we are supposed to be continually sanctified as Christians. So, I try to make all of these changes in my life. Yet, I sometimes walk backwards after making progress. I think it's because taking things away, without putting anything in its' place, leaves us feeling empty. Then all sorts of things that are worse than before can take its place. I tried to cut out friends, music, tv, gossip and a host of other things because they weren't Christian. I failed at replacing them with Christian friends, Christian music/hymns, Christian programming, pure speech and other things. You probably get the idea. So, I end up feeling like I have had a lot of stuff taken away and nothing to show for it. Plus, I'm not really doing anything and you know what they say about idleness. I've had plenty of time to get into trouble. I think I know what that bible verse was getting at. The one that talks about casting out demons. I put a few metaphoric demons out, and they came back with a vengeance. How can I focus on making Jesus my pearl of great price?

Thanks,

Response #10:

You're very welcome, as always.

I try to tell my brothers and sisters that getting closer to the Lord is not primarily a matter of "defense" but rather mostly one of "offense". Clearly, if a person is involved in gross sin, then that needs to be addressed immediately. But when it comes to giving up things which are not necessarily sinful and then developing a more monastic approach to life, this is not necessarily going to be of any help, and in fact it can do much harm – to the extent that the person in question starts to view such self-chosen restraint as spirituality. This is a little like an infantryman being out of ammo and spending his time polishing his belt-buckle as a good and military thing to do; when the enemy attacks – or if he is called upon to attack the enemy – it's the ammo he's going to need, not the world's shiniest belt-buckle.

Spiritual growth takes truth, biblical truth, learned with discipline, believed in faith, and applied faithfully in the Holy Spirit. Very few churches provide any sort of solid Bible teaching, so nowadays believers who really do want to stop wasting their time here on earth and start doing what the Lord Jesus wants them to do must first and foremost find a good source of detailed, substantive, orthodox Bible teaching. Once that is found (and the search can be a long and difficult one, especially these days when there is so much chaff and so little wheat), that is where the self-discipline you feel inclined to deploy comes in. At that point, it may be a truly spiritual thing to give up an hour or so of unnecessary activity of all kinds every day in order to devote yourself to learning biblical truth, not just reading the Bible (although that too is essential; see the link), but for learning what the Bible means and teaches – and that requires the services of a pastor/teaching in a true teaching ministry. Once a Christian begins to expose him/herself to the truth on a regular basis, and begins to believe, remember, meditate on, and apply that truth to his/her life, everything starts to change . . . for the absolute good. Down this path lies spiritual advance, tests which refine faith and accelerate growth, and, eventually, the coming into one's own ministry (matching whatever gifts the Spirit has given); down this road lies the greatest of life's satisfactions, knowing the Lord's good pleasure; and down this road lies the greatest of eternal rewards: the three crowns and a "well done" from our Lord on that day of judgment to come.

It is not too much to say that doing the above is why we are here on earth as Christians, and that everything else is a complete waste of time. However, a person will not get far by giving up, say, a somewhat addictive model-railroading hobby, if giving it up is some sort of penance or self-willed asceticism. If, however, the time and resources devoted to toy trains is deployed in the service of genuine spiritual growth, progress and production, the Lord certainly honors the sacrifice. N.B., it is no doubt possible to continue to spend some time on the trains in the basement and still be effective for the Lord, doing things the Lord's way.

The above is just an example to make the point that most (though not all) people have some slack in their time or could make some slack for something that was really important to them. Objectively speaking, there is nothing more important than spiritual growth, both now and for what is coming in eternity. The question is, is spiritual growth more important to us here and now than anything else? Sadly, for the vast majority of contemporary Christians, genuine spiritual growth is not any sort of a priority at all. And again, I'm not talking about going to church, singing songs, listening to motivational talks (usually about marriage), eating coffee cake, volunteering for this, that or the other church need, going on mission trips, attending "Bible studies" led by non pastor/teachers where everybody's opinion is important. I'm talking about sitting down and engaging in serious Bible study from a genuine Bible teaching ministry with the same sort of academic discipline necessary to learn, say, physics. The main difference between these two things is that when it comes to the Bible one has to believe the truth taught (so the source has to actually be teaching the truth and the Christian actually has to believe it) for the process to do any good. Anyone can learn physics (except maybe yours truly; barely passed it in h.s.; avoided it in college); only Spirit-filled believers who engage seriously in the process of spiritual growth and commit to believing, retaining, and applying the truth they have learned/believed are benefitted from the latter.

My "R/x" is thus always pretty much the same. (1) First, find a good source of the truth; that is the quintessential step without which nothing else good can happen because there is a (fairly low) ceiling on how much a believer without the gift of pastor/teacher and the necessary training and experience in using the gift can do for him/herself (even men gifted to be teachers by the Spirit can't feed themselves before they grow spiritually, prepare appropriately, and gain the necessary experience to feed others too). (2) Second, set oneself to learning in a consistent and disciplined way; try to set aside at least an hour a day which inviolable for learning (and believing) the truth – this should be in addition to time devoted to prayer and personal Bible reading (along with any other devotional efforts or other Christian applications we are called to do). Third (3), try to remember, retain, and apply the truth and the divine-viewpoint of the truth being taught, learned and believed to one's life, mediating on it and rejoicing in it step by step. For Jesus Christ is the living Word of God, so that the pearl of great price is indeed Him but also His gospel – not just the good news of salvation but every bit of truth God has given us to learn, believe, and enjoy while we are on this earth. Here are a few links on that:

Imitating Christ: Peter #17

Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus

Walking with Jesus

As I often say, Ichthys makes no claims to have cornered the market on truth or to be the only acceptable Bible teaching ministry out there (I always like to recommend Pastor-Teacher Curtis Omo's "Bible Academy" as an example of another place where the Word is properly valued and taught in an orthodox way; see the link). And even if everything taught here at Ichthys were 100% true (as it is most certainly my goal for which I strive daily), that does not mean that the way things are taught here is going to be everyone's cup of tea. We are all one in Christ, but we all have different backgrounds and different ways of looking at the world. What does not change with these superficial differences, however, is the truth itself. So if you do decide to embrace this approach, spend sufficient time on "step one" (finding the right place for you), because going with a "ministry" that is fun or familiar or exciting or attractive (for whatever reason) will usually be a terrific waste of time . . . if it is not also genuinely of God and genuinely teaching the truth in a substantive and orthodox way as its first and essential priority and reason for being.

If you do want to embrace this approach at Ichthys, here is a link to an FAQ answer offering a suggested approach for study sequence: Recommended Sequence: Which of these studies should I read first? And please also see FAQ #7: "How can I best benefit from these studies?"

Best wishes as always for your spiritual safety, comfort and growth in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Bob L.

Question #11:

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for your response. It's very good advice. I'm just not good at following advice. I have still been in a spiritual decline. This has happened before. I thought if I just waited it out things would get better. I know we go through highs and lows as Christians. It's just not there anymore for me. I don't doubt that I am saved. I worry all the time about spiritual matters. It's not like I don't care. I care a great deal, just not enough apparently. I don't commit any sins that anyone could look at me and point out. Other than that, I hardly even deign to follow God's word. You know how the outside looks holy, but inside a person can be sinful? That's kind of where I am. I don't think I am willing to change it. I'm considering living my life as I see fit. I know what that could possibly lead to. I'm fine with being put to death over it. I'm sure it would be awful, having your life given over to the devil. In the end, I would end up in heaven though. What's worse, taking your own life or having it taken by the devil? I thought that my faith was weak, but it's actually a lot stronger than I thought. No matter what happens, or what I do, I still know I will end up in heaven.

Thanks,

Response #12:

I know that if you begin to make a habit of listening to and accepting the teaching of the truth of God's Word, you will come to enjoy it. It doesn't have to be Ichthys, but if you would spend ten or fifteen minutes a day reading the weekly postings here (for example), it would do a lot of good and you would feel better about things day by day (I'm confident). That's the "R/x"; but it has to come from you, both the doing and the believing, whatever teaching ministry you find to help you grow.

In our dear Lord Jesus who is the Truth.

Bob L.

Question #12:

Dear Professor,

Your prayers are much appreciated. I decided not to share with my close ones that I'm in a difficult situation - not only would this result in their distress without bringing about a change in my circumstances, but also, with literally a couple of exceptions, there are no believers among them who could offer their prayers. I know this is a test and I could have done better in it, but I want to keep the faith despite there being no immediate relief on the horizon. I suppose that's the whole point.

If this is of any consolation to you in your hard time, then may I say professor that through the years of commitment to the Bible you have attained to the level of understanding of it that makes reading your answers sheer joy. This is a true dessert for me in my study and one I can't wait to go through.

In our Lord,

Response #12:

Good for you, my friend! I know that you are earning a wonderful reward, and also letting the Lord prepare you for what's next. In addition to physical troubles, growing spiritually hurts too, past a certain basic level. And please don't be over-critical of yourself. As is often the case in many things, the more it hurts, the more potential for rapid growth. We could all do better all the time. I think that is true, for example, even of every professional athlete even on the best championship team: mistakes are always made and playing up absolutely to full potential is very rarely achieved.

Your friend forever in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #13:

Hello Professor,

I am praying for you and will continue to do so. I absolutely agree with your observation regarding a direct relationship between pain and growth. In fact, this is one of the first parallels I drew in my own spiritual life. I took part in a piece of research as a volunteer during my degree and I had to cycle until exhaustion in a room where the temperature was 30 degree Celsius and humidity 100%. I remember very well how I felt I could no longer carry on and deal with the heat before stopping, but realising after I stopped that I still had enough in me to keep going for a short while. It's the same in spiritual terms - there is always room for improvement and I often realise that I've not gone all the way to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4).

Overload is the main training principle in sports and it applies to spiritual life. I've only embarked on the narrow and steep road to Zion about three years ago, some time after our correspondence started and I'm as grateful as I've ever been for you rescuing me after all these years I had been lost. Since then it seems this road has only been getting narrower and steeper. I got caught in looking forward to some earthly comfort last year, but I accept now that if keep moving forward, things will only be getting more difficult, this just isn't the place of rest. When I think about your trials and tribulations I can see this clearly - the greater the faith, the harder the trials.

In our Lord,

Response #13:

Thank you,

I am already doing much better, health-wise. Situation-wise, things are still in the balance, but I trust the Lord. I know you are a man of great faith, and it has been a pleasure for me to see you fight the fight so well – an inspiration, in fact. I would love to be able to live up to your idea of me, but I will have to settle for doing the best I can, while hoping and praying that my "feet of clay" do not pose too great a stumbling block for you in your own wonderful spiritual progress.

Your friend in Jesus Christ forever in the New Jerusalem.

Bob L.

Question #14:

Hi Bob,

I was recently reading through the latest email responses and came upon one of my previous questions concerning natural revelation, the unsaved, etc. I remember being satisfied with the concept of God being big beyond our imagination, but the new insight really helped me blow it into perspective even more. If I understood your response to that fellow correctly, it seems that if God knew a certain individual would not choose for him regardless of any evidence presented, he would be justified in placing such an individual in a culture that never received Christianity, because it would not have mattered anyway! This makes such an enormous amount of sense that I can't believe I hadn't seen this earlier. It also ties up the ends relating to the mentally disabled and children that die young- God can be justified by withdrawing free will (from our perspective) because those in that condition would be saved regardless of their capacity to "choose" (i.e. in a different situation they would be saved nonetheless). Thus God is entirely righteous in both cases; in the former, because the fact that the gospel was not received ultimately had zero impact on those individual's decision, and in the latter because the removal of their conscious free will choice for Christ would not affect their eternal state. Thus God can optimize the chances for the rest of us for whom the Gospel is important. Am I reading this right?

Almost as a corollary, I have a interesting question on "the sin unto death" and God's removal of egregious sinners from the world that they might still be saved (e.g. Saul). Why would God not do this for every person in the process of permanent apostasy (which I know is somewhat distinct from the sin unto death)? If a believer is under intense divine fire for the sake of their repentance but eventually comes to the point where faith is lost, why did God not ramp up the punishment so to speak so that the person would be "saved as through fire?" Perhaps I am misrepresenting a rather unique situation, so let me make sure I am understanding this issue correctly- for the sin unto death to occur the individual in question must:

1) still have at least of seed of faith left, and

2) be caught up in a manner of sin that they are not capable of shaking

I suppose where I am rather fuzzy is in the distinction between losing faith and holding onto faith until death. Both processes start from a life not honorable to God and resulting divine discipline, they just end at different places. If I understand the phenomenon correctly God must remove the "sinners unto death" from the world to save them from eventual apostasy, so why not remove from the world all those going down that path (of apostasy)? Why only some? Thinking about this almost also begs the question of why God doesn't remove people from the world when and only when they have faith. Take as example a made up person named Charlie. Charlie was a strong Christian through his early teen years, but then got caught up in the culture of prodigality and fell away from the Lord. On his 21st birthday he gets really drunk and ends up killing himself in a fatal car crash... removing himself from the world at a point when he had not chosen for God. Why did God not "take him out" at a point when he did believe? Does this violate free will?

I have read a great deal about water baptism and its inherent flaws (you know, the saved through faith alone verses), but came across an interesting article that brought up same valid points but came to the wrong conclusion. It's pretty short so I would appreciate if you could just skim it to see where I am getting this stuff from (here). The author understands that John the Baptist's baptism has ceased, yet somehow takes the baptism of the Great Commission to be ANOTHER water baptism separate from John's. He also exactly flips which "type" of baptism has been phased out: he says that spiritual baptism (which he defines as the type from Pentecost 33 AD) was given directly from Jesus and was necessary only for that time period as a sign of God (as in your interpretation of tongues, healing, etc.), and claims that water baptism is the "one baptism" from Ephesians. I guess my musings mostly centered around the question of how we define "spiritual baptism." If you take it as he does (and as the charismatics would have you), then spiritual baptism requires some babbling in foreign languages and great visible changes (as in Cornelius) and this particular interpretation of it certainly has ceased. But if you take it as the immersion of the new believer into Christ's body, the reception of the HS, the effective "hey, I'm a Christian now" moment, I don't see where we could say this has ceased. I also don't quite see where he got the idea that the "baptism of the spirit" was unique only to the two situations described, and I can't think of any scripture that would support such a conclusion. Then again, I'm not sure if there is great scriptural evidence for what spiritual baptism is period. What thinkest thou? (I also found it amazing how someone apparently as dedicated to finding scriptural truth as he is could not get this right if he is legitimately searching).

I may have a couple other questions to throw at you later this week and will hopefully be able to ask you some stuff over the material on my blog, which is going along a whole lot harder than I thought. To be honest, I have had major problems staying focused since getting off school and I find myself unable to make productive use of all the time on my hands now. How do you continue to have such an amazing ministry without getting distracted by something obviously foolish (but so tempting despite that knowledge)? I find myself reading a thought provoking book or just thinking, coming to the conclusion that I have been stagnant and have to get back on the right path, then wake up the next morning with my mind and body apparently bent on doing maladaptive things. How does one go about this successfully? I seem to be looking at a catch 22: I need discipline to be able to grow spiritually while avoiding my trigger temptations (things not inherently bad but lead away from God ---eventually get distracted enough that real sin happens), but I need to grow spiritually to gain discipline and self-control. You've been doing this for nigh on three decades now if I am not mistaken, but how did you start on the right path? Like so much else it seems that the answers will only come with time... lust will be dealt with in eventual marriage, stagnation will be dealt with when I am busy in college (hopefully) doing God's plan, and peace will come when I actually start living every day the way I know I should (after years and years of spiritual growth and maturation). All of this is cemented into my mind as being "in the future" no matter how many times I tell myself that they must be dealt with now. I guess my question ultimately boils down to how do you fight the apathy until you are strong enough to help others fight the apathy?

Your struggling brother in Christ,

Response #14:

Good to hear from you. On your first paragraph, yes, I would say you've got this well in hand. The only thing I don't quite understand is "Thus God can optimize the chances for the rest of us for whom the Gospel is important". It's not zero-sum; God can do anything. Why He has done things the way He has done them is not always apparent; the only thing of which we can be sure is that everything has been done perfectly and in absolute justice, especially in the case of all who have been created in the image of God. After all, He could bring everyone out of the world before anyone became God-conscious, or make everyone mentally deficient – or He could have made us all perfect in a perfect world to begin with: but not, as is apparent from the actual creation, so as to be the "us" we are, individuals who actual choose according to the image of God we have been given. He made us, as I often say, "who we wanted to be", and perfectly so. After all, He knows all:

I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
Psalm 50:11 NKJV

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will."
Matthew 10:29 NKJV

As to the sin unto death et al., this is really a question of individual cases and it comes down to "what does the person really want/choose"; everyone who really wants, really is willing to choose in a definite and unalterable way for Jesus Christ is saved; those who in their heart of hearts aren't really interested in living in an eternity where God is in charge are allowed to go their own way, even if for a time they dabbled with following Him (as in the case of the seed which falls on the rock in the parable of the Sower, so that the roots don't penetrate and faith plant dies for lack of moisture/truth). None of us is capable of looking into the deepest depths of anyone else' heart so as to know what that essential and fundamental choice really is; indeed, sometimes people have these sorts of questions about themselves and their own motivations. But God knows. He made us who we wanted to be; He respects our fundamental choice to live forever with Him or without Him. And He has arranged creature history so that not only does everyone "self-select" for the eternity they prefer, but so that after the fact there will be sufficient, undeniable evidence to demonstrate that their choice was the choice they would have made regardless of circumstances. In the case of angels, the choice is once for all – because of their nature (knowing far more than we at present) and their experience (stretching over eons as compared to a few short years on earth). In the case of human beings, people often vacillate until the true heart of hearts comes forth (for good or ill) – again, because of our relative ignorance and lack of experience which is greatly limited compared to the angels. Allowing a person who is in his/her heart of hearts really disposed to choose for Jesus Christ to become apostate through abject sinfulness (unchecked by the sin unto death) would thus not be any more "fair" than allowing a person who grows up in an aboriginal setting with absolutely no way to receive the gospel to live out a life without that gospel if they really do want to belong to Him. Could God handle all such cases differently? Absolutely. But He has handled each situation the way He has handled them; and being perfect, we know that He handled them perfectly; and we can understand the principle of how He has handled each case (even if we do not understand the particulars of each case); so that we have to trust Him that the details will show on the day of judgment just what we have said and what the Bible proclaims: "there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Ps.92:15).

On water-baptism, I think you have essentially answered your own questions – good for you! You are right-on about the "flipping" and the reason for that is to falsely support 1) water-baptism and 2) the idea of a "second blessing" (to explain – erroneously – how believers might not have the Holy Spirit, even though all do: e.g., Rom.8:9). I am still working away at part 5 of Bible Basics: Pneumatology (where these and other questions are dealt with in detail; now posted: see the link), but you might look at this link for an overview of the problems with the charismatic movement: "All things Charismatic". As to detailed commentary, I can tell you from just about every area of scholarly inquiry I have ever tackled that there are always plenty of erudite people who write long and (sometimes) convincingly on topics about which they really know nothing. This is more true of the Bible than any other area (because of satanic support for anything inaccurate). Part of spiritual common sense is coming to know the difference:

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:14 NIV

On your last paragraph, if it is any consolation, you are far ahead of me. I went my own way until my early twenties and it took the Lord's serious discipline to make me realize what I really valued in this world and what I really wanted out of this life. Even when we get around to committing to the cause of causes of our dear Lord, no one is perfect and we are all "fighting the fight" one step at a time, one day at a time. On the one hand, we could all be tougher with ourselves; on the other hand, we are all going to make some mistakes and also have to guard against a perfectionist outlook – because perfection is impossible and pursuing that as a goal is a major distraction (not to mention an impossibility): the goal is growth, progress and production in and for Jesus Christ. As in exercise or physical training, the main thing is to try to be disciplined about our approach day by day, and to add to and refine our regimen as we get stronger and smarter about our goals and approaches to reaching them. It is not much use to run a 100 miles today in training for a Marathon if that cripples us for a month thereafter, e.g. We all have to self-evaluate on this score and in doing so guard against being overly generous or overly critical with ourselves. So I would say, first try to do a good job every day; worry later about doing a "great" job: just doing a good job consistently will make that "good" somewhat better day by day. We are all different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and different capabilities, both physical and emotional. I don't want you to "dumb down" your approach, but I also don't want you to burn out by putting a load on your shoulders too heavy to bear in the long race. The sweet spot in the middle is different for us all, but I am confident that with prayer and growing facility with the truth of the Word of God that the Spirit will lead you to it. The answer to everything is spiritual growth, that is "more truth": listened to, believed, applied, and shared. Keep taking in the Word of God, no matter what.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I have been following your Ichthys Bible study for the last two and a half years. Needless to say, as it has to numerous others, your extraordinary dedication to your ministry has changed my life. I can see that I am not the same person I was back then. Above all, the teachings on your website have brought me to saving faith in our Saviour Jesus Christ, His Person and His Work in dying for the sins of the world on the cross so that we may have access to eternal life. I still consider myself to be a spiritual toddler, and stumble many a time. Having said that, I hold firm to the belief of our inheritance and rewards in the life to come, whilst doing my best to persevere and grow spiritually on a daily basis, however minute those steps may be. Like you have written in your studies, I am aware that most people live under a ‘self-induced fog of illusion’ concerning the realities of this life, and the repercussions of their choices now on their status of the next. I have also come to realise how important it is to cut the weeds out of this life, how these weeds tend to blur our whole purpose here in this life and how important it is to realign our thinking to things above if we are to fulfil our calling in Christ.

I would like to share my short testimony if I may, as it concerns my closest friend who is also an avid admirer of yourself and your work, but even more so of the Word. I currently live in the UK, however I am originally from a tiny island in the Mediterranean called Malta. Malta being a Catholic country, I was brought up in that culture and so was a self-proclaimed Catholic. The legalism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness of Catholicism couldn’t be made clearer to me now - with the perception being that ‘as long as I attend mass on a Sunday, I am saved’ along with all the other doctrinal issues. 5 years ago, at the age of 17, I decided to move to the UK to pursue the dream of playing professional football (soccer). Ironically, I had concerns that I wouldn’t find a Catholic church over here and so my faith would disintegrate. Little did I know what God had in store for me. At the age of 19, I decided to go to University to study a BSc. in Sport and Exercise science. It is at this point, just after a football session, that I met someone who, along with yourself, has been the most influential figure in my faith to date. I’m sure from your numerous correspondences with him that you have recognised what a student of the Word he truly is. Safe to say, following this football session we got talking about faith. At this point, I had started to move away from Catholicism, and almost went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum in attending a ‘contemporary’ Christian student church. Initially, this was a breathe of fresh air as coming from a Catholic background I had never seen so many young people be so openly passionate about their faith. My friend and I spent what must have been 4-5 hours, where I got to know about his background of being a Catholic, his initial intentions of joining seminary, and how he came across your website. I look back and see how my spiritual direction clearly changed here - he directed me towards ‘Read your Bible - a basic Christian right and responsibility’, and subsequently to Peter series and as they say...the rest is history! I eventually decided to leave that church as the more I read your website and understood the truth, the more I realised how both the Catholic church, and the contemporary church I was attending were missing the whole point of believers gathering: Substantive, orthodox Bible teaching by a teacher/pastor who had gone through adequate preparation and believers who are all progressing spiritually in order to build each other up.

Over the last 2 and a half years, you and our friend have been a tremendous source of encouragement for me and I praise God for both of you as you have both been instrumental figures in bringing me to the truth, and will continue to be for however long the Lord wants me here. I hope that I am not giving off the impression that I have ‘cracked it’, as that is far from the case. However, I know that in your website, I have found my ‘church’. In you and our friend I have found my brothers in Christ in whom I can trust and confide, whom I can gain encouragement and edification from, and I am hoping that will be mutual.

One significant event which has happened recently, is my brother coming to saving faith. He is a Royal Marine Commando (UK), and I spoke to him about your US Marine background. To put things into context, I don’t think any of my family members are believers, which does deeply sadden me. In God’s perfect timing, I was video calling my brother on new years’ eve as we both decided to stay in. I had felt that I wasn’t in a good place spiritually, having stumbled a lot and not dedicated any time to spiritual growth for a while. This instance was almost as if the Holy Spirit was saying that how you feel emotionally is not reflective of your spiritual state. This video conversation transpired to a conversation about faith. I had no idea where the things I was saying were coming from, though I know I had read them previously (from your studies and Bible reading), and I realised my brother was all quiet and seemed really engaged. I know that we may never know what’s going on in the ‘inside’, however a couple of weeks after that conversation I receive a text message saying that he’s started your Peter’s Epistles and starting going to a cafe` on weekends and doing some Bible reading. To this day, even when he comes and visits me, we go through your studies together and also read a couple of chapter from the Bible. I can’t express my joy that my brother has come to saving faith, particularly because of the risks of his job. I have noticed a change in how he thinks - almost an inward change of heart which is influencing his speech and actions. I praise God for bringing him to faith, and the open heart that he has shown.

Whenever I get blinded by the weeds of this life - with worldly commitments getting in the way more often than not, how refreshing is it when I return to the truth of the Word, and how satisfying is it when I return to your website where that truth is made ‘digestible’! I am currently coming towards the end of Bible Basics, and I regularly go through your emails and I have the utmost admiration of the diligence, humility, and wisdom with which you reply.

Lastly, I am aware you have a very heavy schedule and that emails like this are the rule and not the exception. If it’s not ever any burden to you, I would really find it encouraging if I could maintain some level of correspondence with you. Since I left the church, apart from our friend and now my brother, believers I can talk about the Word with are very few. I have encountered not so little disapproval and resistance against my decision to stop attending church. For them to see someone who just sits in his room and reads his Bible, and also follows Bible study from a website just doesn’t sit with most people. That doesn’t bother me however, for we are here to live a life pleasing to God, not man. My goal is to achieve spiritual maturity and be led to ministry, and I am aware that this requires hours and years of preparation. I have no idea what that may look like, however I believe with regular contact with people like yourself and our friend along with ‘putting in the hours’, I can slowly make progress.

In Him who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith,

Response #15:

It's very good to hear from you, my friend! Of course our friend has told me of you and something of your experiences – and his love and concern for you as a friend and a brother in Christ. So I have been keeping you in my prayers day by day for some time now (and will certainly continue to do so).

I can't thank you enough for sharing your encouraging and enlightening testimony. I will be praying for your brother's continued progress in the Lord as well.

As to other issues, I would be delighted to hear from you again, and often.

It would be ideal if we all had a nice fellowship of other like-minded believers in close geographical proximity and were able to meet face to face regularly to commune in the teaching and learning of the Word of God. Times being what they are, that is a rare thing. So it strikes me that you and our friend and your small group of friends and family who are believers and who are dedicated to the truth are very much blessed to have each other.

And I am blessed to have you as a friend and a brother in Jesus Christ as well.

I have taken the liberty of adding your email address to my notification list (I use it to send out notices of major new studies – and it's been a while since I've used it – but I also "pray through" the list). Also, at some future time I would like permission to post your email (anonymously) as a testimony and encouragement to others for spiritual growth.

Stay encouraged in the Lord, and keep pressing forward, "in season and out of season". He is sufficient for all of our needs and in every trial we shall face in the short time remaining before His glorious return – and then we shall hear the "well done" from Him we so deeply desire.

"In due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart".
Galatians 6:9b NKJV

In our dear Savior.

Bob Luginbill

Question #16:

Dear Professor,

Thank you for such a prompt reply! I was so encouraged to read this email this morning, so much so that it has motivated me to pursue the Word and your studies with more vigour. I am indebted for your prayers on a daily basis - I can’t ever thank you enough for that, as I know they have made a difference. I know the biggest way I can say thank you is by also keeping you in my prayers (which I have been doing also), but I would like to assure you that this will be done even more consistently on a daily basis. You have my prayer.

Thank you also for keeping my brother in your prayers - it’s an environment and culture which I’m sure you’re familiar with, and it’s not the easiest one to stand firm in with the sandals of truth. He has actually just gone away on tour (Albania, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait) and they will also be joining the U.S Marines for a 2 week stint on a navy ship. He spent last weekend with me, and I added the NIV audio bible onto his iPod so that can be a continual source of spiritual nourishment for when he doesn’t get the time or energy to read. Thank you once again for offering your prayer, that truly does mean a lot.

Yes of course, I would love to be on the mailing list. I very much look forward to your new studies when they come out. Needless to say that you are more than welcome to post my email as a testimony and encouragement to others. I can recount many a time when I’ve searched your email postings for ‘In need of encouragement’ - the testimonies that were shared, but even more so your words of encouragement in reply served as a great motivation for me. I would be delighted if it can encourage someone in at least some small way.

I am very grateful for your willingness to maintain a regular correspondence, this really brings me great joy. With regards to the study, I am currently nearing the end of Soteriology. May I ask what would be the best way to ask you questions? I know our friend uses a word document - I would like to put these forward in a way which makes it most convenient for you as I am weary of your workload. I will endeavour to search your website first and foremost though to avoid any duplication of questions. I will be in touch whenever these questions do arise.

One question I would like to ask is one which relates to time management. The way you manage all your worldly commitments, yet keep progressing and producing fruit spiritually, in addition to keeping this ministry going is something which I have the utmost admiration for and I would do well to mimic even a third of your diligence, dedication and perseverance. I am aware that all circumstances are individual, and so it is up to us, with prayer and willingness to find ‘our best fit’. With your and our friend's prayers, I have been moving closer to establishing some sort of routine. My commitments are nowhere on the level of yours, however at times I do somewhat feel heavily burdened with so many worldly commitments to fulfil. To provide you with some context, I currently work within 3 different jobs as well as pursuing a Bachelors of Science in which I am in my final year. One of my jobs is working in elite sport with professional athletes - I am well aware of the dangers that come with focusing too much on the physical, which unfortunately is where most of my time is spent due to the inherent nature of my work. It is rare that I have a set working routine, and constant change does unsettle me. I crave a couple of days ‘off’ where I can delve into your study however unfortunately this proves to be the exception more than the rule. I have recently been trying to adopt the approach which you suggest - that of something done consistently is better than nothing. I do occasionally however make the mistake of biting off things I have trouble sustaining. In an environment and culture which is a spiritual desert, I find that only the refreshing Water of the Word can truly quench my thirst.

There is no rush to reply back, as I would rather you prioritise those whose situations are more vulnerable and are in urgent need of your spiritual nourishment and guidance. Should it interest you at all, I have attached a drawing I did based on the initial stages of Soteriology. Apologies if you can’t ready any of my writing, but if you zoom in close enough it should all be legible. Feel free to adapt it or pass it on should you deem it to be useful. I feel the visual can often help retain certain things better, whilst all the time being mindful that it is the Spirit who is the agent that makes these doctrines believed in our heart of hearts, as long as we are willing.

I do count myself very blessed to have you as a friend and a brother in Christ, and I praise and give thanks to God for such a blessing and gift.

In Jesus, Whose return we eagerly await.

Response #16:

You are most welcome. Thanks for the diagram (with your permission, I will post it with a link), and also for your permission to post the correspondence. I appreciate it . . . along with your prayers most of all.

In terms of time-management, I certainly wish I were even nearly as "good" as you assume I am! Let's just say that we can all do better, and that when it comes to serving the Lord who died for all of our sins, there will never be a point where we reach "too much" (except in trying to do more than we are truly personally capable of doing). It seems to me that you are doing very well, and the fact that you are still not satisfied is also a good thing – as long as it doesn't get to the point of being frustrating. In all things in this life, it is possible to put too much pressure on ourselves to do more / do better. Keeping up that pressure as long as it is productive is a good thing; pushing it to the point where we start breaking down (physically, emotionally or spiritually) is a mistake. Somewhere in the middle (leaning towards acceleration rather than deceleration) is a good and prudent place to be, a place whence smaller adjustments may be made to good effect. And, yes, you have captured the essence of what I always try to say about this issue, namely that doing something consistently is much better either than doing nothing (because the standard set is too daunting to approach) or starting well but wearing out and stopping (because the standard set is impossible or impractical to sustain).

I often tell my undergraduate students that this is for most of them the most challenging time in their lives, because not only are they trying to get a degree (and also, one hopes, an actual education), but they also have to balance this with work (three jobs?!), family/relationships, and all of the other things life demands. If a person has managed all this and is still pursuing a viable program of spiritual growth, that person is to commended – and you certainly have my appreciation, admiration and respect.

Keep fighting the fight, my friend! It's all worthwhile in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #17:

Hello Dr. Luginbill -

I am amazed that you have time and space in your memory bank to not only answer the myriad of questions that come your way, but also to reach out to one of many. Thank you for thinking of me.

Because of my very limited time, I am ever so slowly meandering through all of your writings. Reading Soteriology now, and must say that in my humble opinion should be the essential must-read treatise on salvation for all Christians, both saved and "in name only", second of course to our holy bible. It really clarifies some verses that seem to be contradictory (and frankly bothered me for years), having to do with predestination vs free will. I have seen other explanations of this well-disputed subject attempted, but nothing biblically-backed that resolved it anywhere nearly as well as you have done. Also, I really don't know how this came to be, but immediately upon being saved I knew that most people who believed they were Christians were, in fact, not saved, and moreover, I personally knew (and not well) only a very few people who really were saved in the hundreds of people I know. By the time I discovered (was led to) your website, I had come to terms with this, but it was very confusing at first. What a help reading this section would be to a newly saved child of God in a spiritual desert like where I live.

I have decided to read at least most of your writings before I ask any more questions. Each question I asked previously was already addressed somewhere in your website. I do wonder about your opinions on a few things not in your site. I have an interest in biblical history and also some of the more accepted non-canonical ancient books such Jasher, Enoch, Jubilees, etc. There is one author who writes on these, who seems to have done his homework, and appears to be less sensationalistic than the popular guys such as Tom Horn. His name is Ken Johnson - just wondered if you have heard of him, and if so, what you think?

Also, I am a natural skeptic (living in LA how could one be anything else?), but I am attracted to intelligence and knowledge, and on the rare occasion I see someone on evangelical TV stations speak in well-modulated and rational tones (a rare event!) I will usually give a 30 second listen. I have noticed a few men who seem quite intelligent with presentations on the Seventh Day Adventist channel, the Hope channel. I have to say that while a few of their core theological beliefs differ from mine, there doesn't seem to be any particular one that would prohibit salvation - and in fact, to me it appears that they have a significantly higher percentage of truly saved individuals than the Protestant denominations. While there are at least three major differences in the Seventh Day Adventist doctrinal platform as compared to standard evangelical beliefs, they seem as respectful of the bible as the literal, inerrant, Holy Spirit inspired Word of God as I myself am, and passionately devoted to the doctrine of the Trinity and the gospel of grace and Jesus Christ as the only path to salvation. Their respective presentations of their alternate theological interpretations were so well-explained and biblically-based they made me consider each one. After thoughtful contemplation and reading sections of the bible and your site, I rejected each one, but can understand how they came up with a few of their conclusions. Just curious to know if you consider them to be some sort of cult, or if you think even with their differences they are somehow more on track than most denominations. They seem to be taking a path away from all the Protestant denominations I know of, which appear to be on life-support at best, as they slowly meld into a stew of apostasy.

Nothing pressing about any of this, I am in a time of learning and enjoying reading your work very much. I am doing well, thank you, and pray for your well-being and peace in Jesus Christ.

Response #17:

I'm very happy to hear that you are doing well and especially that you are doing well spiritually. In this world we do have tribulations, but if we are walking with the Lord, honoring and serving Him, then even our trials and troubles redound to His glory and our great reward.

As to your questions, first, I would steer clear of all non-canonical books – at least in terms of giving them even the slightest regard in spiritual matters. The three you mention, for example, are highly problematic. I will be doing a posting in the coming weeks on this issue. For now suffice it to say that these are all without exceptions "pseudipigrapha" and, specifically, works that are deliberately masquerading as ancient when their true origins are much more recent. This is only a problem if a believer makes the mistake of believing anything they say as true or considering them in any way as having useful spiritual content. A couple of links leading to others you might check out:

The Canon: Content, Chronology, and Criticism (see esp. Q/A #9)

The Bible and the Canon: The Inspired Word of God II

When it comes to Seventh Day Adventists, I don't have very much personal experience with these groups, although I have known a number of individuals in my life, both personally and through this ministry, who were connected to this movement/group. It's difficult for me to categorize them, and of course when it comes to individuals (or individual teachers as in your experience), that is always a somewhat pointless errand inasmuch as few individuals are perfect reflections of the official teachings of the groups to which they have joined themselves. I do think that it is a common phenomenon of groups which have walked outside the mainstream that they often exhibit more zeal for God than those of more traditional organizations. That is not necessarily an indication of spiritual purity, however:

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to [true] knowledge (epignosis).
Romans 10:2 NKJV

The Charismatic movement is particularly noteworthy in this regard, and they can be very impressive in their apparently genuine love for the Lord and for each other, both as individuals and in terms of their services and group projections – at least initially. When the emotion begins to fade, however, it turns out that they are human beings too, and ultimately it is the truth and a Christian's belief in it and dedication to it (epignosis) that makes the difference in all things that matter (like being able to bear up under serious testing). In terms of specifics, the idea of necessary Saturday worship as a core principle represents to me being tied to the Law in an unavoidably harmful way, while the doctrine of "soul sleep", while not unique to this group, is as potentially debilitating to a believer's faith and enthusiasm for the Lord as it is patently untrue. I have seen it damage and torment many who were led to believe it (and/or fear it; see the link).

I suppose this just demonstrates the problem with denominations – which of course have no charter in scripture: by definition they must define themselves doctrinally, so that anyone tying themselves to them will be limited in growth to whatever correct principles of truth the original founders of the denomination understood. Progress beyond that point will occur only at the expense of being divisive. And of course if the founders embraced any incorrect principles (as in this case), then these will be debilitating to the person's spiritual growth to the extent that they too are believed.

This is why the individual believer's choice of the right "cook" is so very important, and why even if searching for the right ministry is time-consuming and initially frustrating, "getting it right" is the only way to have a chance at growing up spiritually to the full potential Christ intends for us.

I rejoice that you have chosen "the better part".

Thanks as always for all of your kind words. Feel free to write any time.

Your brother in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #18:

Thanks for your enlightened opinion on these subjects. I wanted to get your take on the Seventh Day Adventists for the same reason you mentioned - I couldn't really categorize them either, and I'm one of those people who feel a need to categorize everything (I do fight this tendency sometimes : )). I think what you are saying is yes, they can indeed be saved individuals - their organization's officially declared different beliefs in some major areas don't rise to the level of unbelief that would preclude salvation, but as with any of the organized denominations, their founder's decreed beliefs, no matter how well intended, will inevitably cause problems as they try to grow in truth.

I am interested in them not at all spiritually for myself, but because they are so different from any other groups. To me, outwardly they actually most closely resemble the Mormons, in that they lead austere lives (no drinking, smoking, overeating, etc), the ones I have observed are rational, respectful and conservative in presentation, and there is wealth and intelligence behind the organization, which is global and quietly growing fast through active evangelism. Their media presence is expanding rapidly. The combination of the last two items causes me to be automatically suspicious of any group. Yet although they place very high priority on following the Ten Commandments, especially the Saturday Sabbath as you noted, they do very much understand and believe in grace without works, the complete gospel and all of Paul's writings, and the deity of Jesus Christ. I guess what intrigues me is the unique nature of this group. Unlike the Charismatic movement, this is an organized denomination, and does not seem to be based on emotion (at least now; in the past they seem to have had a slightly different reputation), but rather an intense search for the actual truth (which may be their problem - they seem to be over-thinking a few things : )). Anyway, I don't mean to bore you, I just think they bear watching to see where they fit in in these last days - i.e., will their devout allegiance to the real gospel hold up while the others fall, in spite of their intrinsic stumbling blocks?

As far as the non-canonical books are concerned, I had read that they were all corrupted with at least some more recent writings. The author I mentioned to you Ken Johnson, is one who attempts to separate the genuine remnants of the original from the corrupted additions. I had already read the entire Book of Jasher (as it now exists) early on, and found it fascinating, although I never trusted it as scripture. It sure does explain a lot of things though, if any of it is true at all. Do you not think there is any way of verifying whether any parts of any of these books are original? That is what this other author seems to believe is at least partially possible.

You said you will be posting soon on this subject, so no response needed. I will look forward to see your complete thoughts on this.

Peace in Jesus Christ

Response #18:

You're very welcome. I certainly know what you mean regarding the difference between wondering about these groups and being attracted to them. On the Seventh Day Adventists, my opinion in general is that it is (probably) not impossible for anyone in any sort of religious organization which does not deny the Person and work of Christ outright to be saved. As I've often remarked, I'm agnostic about Roman Catholics, feeling that there may be many who do have a saving faith (if a lukewarm one – otherwise they would surely flee that church), but almost to a person those who have fled them and have since accepted Christ claim it's impossible to be saved and be in that church (it certainly would be if their doctrine were completely accepted by the person in question since it is a salvation by works doctrine). I always come back to scripture:

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

These words of our Lord do not prohibit being saved while being in the wrong church (from my point of view) any more than they guarantee being saved because of being in an organization which might have all of its doctrinal pronouncements correct. What counts is what is going on in the individual person's heart – we can only judge that in very general terms from the associations people make.

I'm happy to hear that these folks say the right things about grace; however, teaching the need for Sabbath observance is a quintessential contradiction of that principle (just for example). Such contradictions are common of course. I think your parallel of the Mormons is a good one. Clearly, they have developed a very good public witness, especially over the last 50 years or so, and, clearly, they hold members to a very high standard of public behavior. So did the Stoics (in their own way); so do many Buddhists, etc. Knowing what I know of Mormon doctrine – just for example, they do not really believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, at least not in the way we would define deity – it is hard to imagine someone with saving faith staying in that church. But I leave all that to the Lord. Anyone who is not only saved but genuinely determined to grow in the Lord, follow the Lord, and serve the Lord as the fundamental purpose of their lives, will not fail to extricate themselves (with God's help) from all unhelpful entanglements of this nature and find instead a place where true growth, progress and production are encouraged and supported – even it if is a hard slog to get to that point.

But there is a big difference between "good P.R." and what is truly going on in the heart. After all, the Pharisees, it's hard to remember since the Bible is always showing them up for the hypocrites they truly were, were the ultimate religious types and impressed everyone with their holiness and sanctity. Who could be more godly? Who could be closer to God? In fact, as we know very well from scripture, they were not even saved. There has always been a lot of this sort of thing in the devil's world. True believers, and especially believers who are dedicated to growing in Christ, pushing forward through the shot and shell, and helping others do the same, perhaps don't need to worry too much about "which is which" – unless they are tempted to become involved in some group which has a very nice, sweet, loving facade. I can tell you from bitter experience (as most positive Christians can), that behind the whitewash, there is always ugliness. It may "only" be the ugliness of disinterest in truth and spiritual growth on the one hand and senseless dedication to tradition for tradition's sake on the other, but the stultifying atmosphere of any church or group which is not unconflictedly dedicated to the truth will in short order turn all initial joy and "rosy glow" into doubt and despair.

On non-canonical books, the "book of Jasher" which you read is a 19th century fiction. No doubt it does "explain" some things. Problem is that the explanations, which may seem reasonable, are not biblical. Pseudipigrapha is like gossip. It may be "fun" to hear, but it can do damage in unexpected ways and thus is best avoided – except when it is necessary or profitable (as in someone doing an investigation on the one hand or a person examining the material from a scholarly point of view on the other).

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
Proverbs 18:8 NIV

Third party reports, narratives of people who have supposedly been taken up to heaven, e.g., fall into this same category (they are the modern day equivalent since they too claim to be true information or "words from God" just as scripture is from God), and I will give you some links on this below. But as to extracting anything spiritually beneficial from these fictions, that is not possible (not anything genuine, that is), because they are completely fictitious (whenever they were written), and do not in fact "go back" to the genuine article in any way (except if they put pieces we know from the Bible in to make it seem so – as in the "Book of Enoch"). The real, original "Book of Jasher", for example, does not currently exist in any form whatsoever (with the exception of the quotations which occur in the Bible). Here are those links:

Beware of third party reports I

Beware of third party reports II

Beware of third party reports III

Beware of third party reports IV

Beware of third party reports V

*Third party 'testimony'

Always good to hear from you! And thanks so much for your prayers and for you enthusiasm for the Word of God.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #19:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

The bead project evolved in response to a very important question; What process do we have in place that returns our attention back to the Divine and liberates our awareness from our conditioned patterns of addiction?

The answer to this question required drilling down to an essential formula that has been my "mantra" for years: Quality of attention + quality of intention = quality of conscious awareness. This may be achieved by one of three ways. Mindfulness meditation, mindful awareness, and ceaseless prayer. All require a conscious, intentional focus upon the quality of our thoughts, speech and actions at all times, from moment-to-moment. The beads offer simple visual stimuli that remind us to pray, but anything may be chosen as a reminder. In my experience, prayer, discipline, faith, will power and self-control are key to sustaining our connection with God. If we love Him, we will follow His commandments. By following His commandments, we are enabled to communicate with Him freely and purely. Through the process of discernment and clear discrimination, we hear His voice and we follow Him. Our Shepherd knows His sheep.

Sadly, in my experience, very few consider this connection to be important. And those who do consider it to be important are clueless as to how to maintain it. Without continual, heartfelt communication with God, we remain bound to this world of endless distractions, compulsions and addiction. We condemn ourselves to remain separate from our Creator.

The connection has been obliterated by addiction to smart phones, iPods, iPads, the internet, social media, TV, gaming, movies, music, violence, sex, selfies, pornography, food, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugging, shopping, violence, plastic surgery/narcissism, Fifty Shades of Gray, etc.. In short, we are all addicts, we don't know who we are, and we have been profiled by our "screens." The content streaming from our screens now defines who we are. Our identity has been completely usurped, and for the majority, a relationship with the Divine is unthinkable and unknowable.

How many seconds pass before we gaze at a screen to check texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, view TV, internet or theater content? Perhaps the better question is, how many seconds pass when we are NOT gazing at a screen or engaged in an unhealthy, addictive process?

We do not possess the power to overcome. That power and strength must come from God, and the answers must be found in prayer.

For the Sake of Our Everlasting King,

Response #19:

In addition to thanking you for your kindness and your gift, I want to thank you for this very thoughtful email. When you write that "mindfulness meditation, mindful awareness, and ceaseless prayer" are the answers, I would hasten to add that spiritual growth, progress and production is the process that makes these things possible in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes use of the truth we have within us. He is the "dynamo" who empowers us. But even if we are willing to let Him do so, as in the procedure you outline (thinking about Jesus, being aware of His presence, keeping up a continual dialogue with our Lord and Master through prayer), the input of His power is limited – even on days and at times when we are truly and completely willing – to the capacity of the "grid" which we have been willing to build up in our hearts through taking in the truth of the Word. Truth believed (biblical epignosis) is what provides and builds the capacity used of the Spirit in His empowerment of our walk with Jesus Christ. I am in the process of finishing up part 5 of Bible Basics: Pneumatology, where these things are discussed in some depth, and will certainly let you know when it becomes available if you wish (now posted: see the link).

And because of this we also give thanks to God continually, because, when you received the word of hearing from us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it really is, the Word of God – the very Word which is at work inside of you as you believe it.
1st Thessalonians 2:13

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #20:

Yes, Dr. Luginbill, I would be delighted if you would let me know when you've completed your work on Pneumatology.

You have written, "Truth believed (biblical epignosis) is what provides and builds the capacity used of the Spirit in His empowerment of our walk with Jesus Christ."

For many years I have pondered how biblical truths arise as beliefs in the heart and mind of the seeker, and what fortifies these beliefs to make them irrefutable and unshakable. How does our faith in the unseen become empowered by the living Presence within His Word? I posit that there is a mysterious sympathetic resonance that is activated as we immerse our hearts and minds deeply into His Word. Through faith, we remove the encryption from that which was written on our minds and hearts. The truth is the treasure, the Holy Grail placed where we are least likely to look; our mind and heart. The understanding and acceptance of these indelible laws becomes the definitive experience for us as His material witnesses. When does belief cross the bridge into the known?

When we unite with His Word that was made flesh. As His flesh was crucified and resurrected, so was His Word. His Word is imbued with Heavenly power. It communicates to us the Presence of His Holy Spirit.

Speaking for my own life, the cart came before the horse, the chicken before the egg, and the Divine before the chicken and the egg. While I was baptized (sprinkled) and indoctrinated into the Presbyterian Church, my belief in Christ came almost exclusively through my experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and not the church. I then sought to corroborate and validate my experience of His truth in scripture. I came to love Him, worship Him, and fear Him through countless mystical experiences and miracles of Him independent of church involvement.

While my faith is supported by my own overwhelming empirical evidence of His Truth, abject humility and confessing my need of Him contribute most to whatever capacity has been achieved to accommodate this truth. As "I" become less, He becomes more.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
Matthew 5:3

My entire life has been spent authenticating my experiences through scripture, prayer, meditation, and through works in and outside of the church. What supports the reality of my experiences? First and foremost, the consistent, progressive changes in my behavior. I have become what I believe and know to be His truth, and this has been demonstrated through my actions and change of heart. Secondly, I understand that righteous behaviors over time are systematically increasing my capacity, verifying His truth, and fortifying my "grid". His forgiveness of my miserable sinfulness, my unending love of Him and His Word, my commitment to righteousness and overcoming, strict adherence to His commandments, frequent prayer and meditation, and my vow to living as pure a life as possible, all keep the grid energized. I have woven the contemporary, secular life at a busy job into the contemplative life of a 21st century monastic. In the world but not of the world, I have fashioned my own self-styled sanctuary that supports a pure relationship with God sans the toxic elements in the world. Where am I remiss? I am lacking the joy of service within a close fraternal sisterhood/brotherhood, however I happily acknowledge that it is a life that has succeeded for me. What has been lacking through this socialization has been gained through rich periods of contemplative silence and daily retreat. I am active in a nondenominational church that embraces the direction in which The Lord has taken me.

Before truth may be believed, it must first be identified. What is the Divine standard against which all biblical truth must be weighed? What allows any of us to experience the Divine as even approachable? Only the full humanity and complete divinity reconciled through His Son and His resurrection.

In my own experience, the following verses offer a starting point (the heart and mind) through which all divine truth may be apprehended. To some degree, we find closure to the "chicken-or-the-egg" scenario in What is written in Jeremiah and reiterated in Hebrews suggests that His laws written on our hearts and minds suggest that truth begins with that which is both unseen yet altogether known, being both inherent and intrinsic.

31"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Jeremiah 31:31-34

In short (yay for short!), belief in our God and His word may be thought of as a time-release capsule. The laws written upon our minds and hearts (Jeremiah and Hebrews), being inherently known, are supported and established as certainty through our increasing faithfulness, application and productivity. The Counselor functions as conscience, and the immediacy of our response to conscience is determined by our increasing sensitivity to these laws already known within us.

Intentional awareness, purity, our faithful love of Him, and focus upon the external Word that mirrors that within, all increase sensitivity to that truth which we have all been given. It is engraved within us. I have known this since childhood. It presented as a conscience so powerful that sin and wrongdoing manifested as horrific pain, anguish and unbearable mental pollution. I came to Christ by that truth which was unveiled to already exist within. My immersion in His Word validated my experience and became the objective support, that grounded my inner reality.

All For His Glory,

Response #20:

Wonderful words!

You have obviously given all this a great deal of thought. For that reason I'm all the more thrilled that you find the materials at Ichthys worth investing time in.

You also have a powerful testimony, and I would be indebted to you if you allowed me to post it some day (anonymously of course).

Meantime, I have added your email address to my notification list. I plan to be working on BB 5B Pneumatology again this afternoon, but it will be a little while before it is finished and ready for posting. I am hoping to do so by around the end of the month (though that may be a tad optimistic [now posted at the link]).

Keep fighting the good fight for our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #21:

Thank you for your kind words, Dr. Luginbill,

The veracity of my testimony may only be substantiated by my faithful imitation of Christ. Following the voice of His Counselor amplified through conscience, I know peace. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27 NIV

I have learned that proper discernment of His "voice" develops and is reinforced by immersing oneself in His Word and faithfully following His commandments.

There is wondrous joy that arises from righteous living. It is a celebration of His Word in action. He is known through us by our example, and through our faithfulness He communicates His truth.

Do as you please with my testimony. It is only because of you and your penetrating insights that I have even been enabled to finally write it down. Our testimony remains only as strong as the love and life of Christ that we share with others.

I remain eternally indebted to my Beloved Counselor.

Response #21:

And thank you, my friend.

Your clarity of thinking on these issues is truly a breath of fresh air.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #22:

Thank you.

Do you think its important to tell a new unsaved person to ask the God for the Holy Spirit to understand what he is reading for the first time. I suppose it isn't but that God will enlighten him regardless.

Thanks Again,

Response #22:

I think the most important thing for a new "saved" (?) person, if that is what you mean, to get in touch with a good Bible teaching ministry ASAP. Especially in the early going, getting what one needs out of the Bible alone without any help at all is very difficult (and never meant to be the way the Body operates – as BB 5 makes clear; see the link). Every believer has the Holy Spirit (e.g., Rom.8:9). To get the most of out this wonderful blessing requires building up the inner capacity to be ever more useful to Him and ever more responsive to His guidance – and that capacity or "grid" is essentially the truth of the Word of God taken in, believed in thoroughly, and tried and tested in the crucible of life.

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #23:

Dear Brother Bob,

Hope all is going well with you and your ministry. I was thinking about the judgment seat of Christ. I know all of our sins were judged on the cross but if we are judged for things done in the body whether good or bad I am confused about this. During my Christian life I married a good Christian women, was a good father and was able to lead both of my kids to The Lord personally at home, went to college to pursue what I believed what God wanted me to be, have been a Sunday School teacher for 20 some years now. Started and ran a Boys club at our church when my son was young for several years, and have been a deacon for about 5 years. I did all of this out of gratitude and love for The Lord. At times I did want some reassurances from people that I did a good job but not always necessary. But I have also done many bad things in private. I want to be ready for the Lords soon return but I fear for what I may experience at the judgment seat. What can I do to maximize a positive experience if that is possible if you know what I mean. I feel like I am the chiefest of sinners. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

Thank you always,

Response #23:

Hope your are doing well too! It's a good question. You certainly seem to be properly motivated, and that will no doubt be all for your benefit (as your resume certainly suggests!). When our Lord told the disciples at the last supper that one of them would betray Him, the eleven were concerned and asked anxiously "it's not me, is it?!" (Mk.14:19). After our Lord's explanation about dipping the sop, Judas got around to asking the same thing (Matt.26:25), but he did so disingenuously since he knew very well that the traitor was himself. So is it ever. Those who ought to be worried are only worried about getting caught – if they are worried at all. Believers who are genuinely interested in pleasing the Lord do not need to worry, but it is good to keep spurring ourselves on in the realization that we are but flesh and that only by proceeding resolutely forward can we be absolutely certain that we will not slide backward:

(24) Don't you know that all the runners in the stadium run the race, but that only one receives the prize? Run in such a way so as to achieve what you are after. (25) And again, everyone involved in competition exercises self-control in all respects. Those athletes go through such things so that they may receive a perishable crown of victory, but we do it to receive an imperishable one. (26) So as I run this race of ours, I'm heading straight for the finish line; and as I box this bout of ours, I'm making every punch count. (27) I'm "pummeling my body", one might say, bringing myself under strict control so that, after having preached [the gospel] to others, I might not myself be disqualified [from receiving the prize we all seek].
1st Corinthians 9:24-27

If anyone had no reason to worry about an insufficient reward – let alone worrying about being disqualified altogether! – it was the apostle Paul. But he says here what he says here inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we may be sure that taking such pains in regard to our orientation to the will of God in our spiritual forward progress (and keeping ourselves on a tight rein) is not without purpose by any means.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Philippians 2:12 ESV

As to the means by which we can "work on" our salvation (my own translation of the operative phrase above), so that we may "make our call and election [more] secure" (2Pet.1:10) for our entrance into the kingdom to be "richly and generously provided for" (2Pet.1:11), it all comes down to spiritual growth, progress and production. This process is the basis for all eternal rewards. "If you would be perfect", then the thing is to fill up any and all deficiencies. Genuinely good works (right things done for the right reasons) are often reflective of a high degree of prior spiritual growth and progress, the former involving learning and believing an abundance of actual truth from scripture and orthodox Bible teaching, the latter involving the application of that truth to life circumstances so as to effectively pass ever more complicated and difficult testing which the Lord brings the mature believer's way; effective personal ministry should then follow once the believer has been "thoroughly prepared for every good work" (2Tim.3:17).

(11) Christ Himself appointed some of us apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (12) in order to prepare all of His holy people for their own ministry work, that the entire body of Christ might thus be built up, (13) until we all reach that unifying [goal] of belief in and full-knowledge (epignosis) of the Son of God, that each of us might be a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard of maturity whose "attainment" is defined by Christ; (14) that we may no longer be immature, swept off-course and carried headlong by every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly work their deceit, (15) but rather that we may, by embracing the truth in love, grow up in all respects with Christ, who is the head of the Church, as our model. (16) In this way, the entire body of the Church, fit and joined together by Him through the sinews He powerfully supplies to each and every part, works out its own growth for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16

There is, of course, always also room for improvement for us all, so that these three areas of growth, progress and production are not always strictly sequential. There is always something to learn; there is always another test to pass; and we may sure that none of us have yet fully accomplished the ministries the Lord has for us. But if we do these three things (or, really, this "one thing"), we may be assured of a good report at the judgment seat of Christ on that great day of days. After all, in any academic course, it is inevitable that mistakes are made by all students, but some get "A's" while others fail. We want to hear our Lord and Savior tell us, "well done, good and faithful servant!", and that is certainly possible, no matter that we have some "wood, hay and stubble" to be dispensed with in the process of receiving that evaluation (1Cor.3:12-15).

As to the specifics, these are outlined in extensive detail at the link: in CT 6: "The Judgment and Reward of the Church". Please have a look, and do let me know if you have any other questions about all this.

Looking forward to cheering for you on that great day!

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

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