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The Saved and the Unsaved

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Question #1:  I have read your articles on this subject with great and very personal interest because I feel that I am one who may have indeed lost salvation. I was once quite active within a Christian church and felt moved by the spirit to do works, not for myself, but in service. I was an active member in the youth ministry, I witnessed openly, was active in my high school's Youth For Christ organization, traveled with the youth ministry to witness to underprivileged children, sang in a youth ensemble, dedicated hours upon hours of my life to study and witnessing. I was baptized early in life before, it was my contention, I really understood the gravity of the act. Once I rededicated my life as a teenager, I was baptized once again with the full weight of the act understood intellectually and spiritually. The bottom line, I feel, was that when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior in my teens, it was a genuine, heart-felt act of faith. My life after salvation was, as I outlined, one of service without expectation of any worth of the service beyond that which it gave to those receiving it. But, as water eventually finds its level through persistent seepage, so too did evil and doubt erode my faith. Suffice it to summarize my reversal of faith by saying that the deeds of the elders of the church always countered their words, with no exceptions. To expect perfection is unrealistic, that's true. But I felt I had every right to expect leadership by example and faith without judgment. I changed churches and denominations several times over the years and, now these nearly thirty years later, I am a member of no church body and practice no ritualistic worship of any kind. I still pray and hope on Christ for my salvation, but believe it to be wholly lost. Even when witnessing to my children when they ask about faith as precursors to their own self-inclusion into a church, I convey the facts but feel little if any conviction. I am able to direct them to the scripture which supports their questions and answer some philosophical questions based on my previous experiences and knowledge, but the answers I provide are, as I said, passionless. In short, I have little or no depth of faith, if any, left in my heart. I hope that I'm leading them in the right direction by answering their questions, but the truth is that the leadership by example I expected of my elders is absent from my role as their father and spiritual leader; completely absent. Perhaps it's the way of things since I had less than my kids now have by way of examples in my own childhood and 'found' Jesus and the church all on my own. Perhaps it was the amount of faith, sweat and hope I placed in my Christianity and salvation that led to such bitter disappointment and eventual spiritual distance I would experience. Whatever the results and for whatever the reasons, I am where I am. I see no hope of regaining any of the former zeal and warmth I once had. I chalk that up to the passion of youth, especially after having found something that so completely filled a void in my life and heart at that time. The older I get, the less I see that convinces me that anything I formerly believed had even the slightest kernel of truth to it. I see no evidence of a loving, forgiving God in our world. While I still hold onto the last shred of hope I have that I am wrong, I have no reason to think that anything will ever prove me wrong and that what I believed was, if not a lie, a fable-based framework which was a good guide to living fairly, but little else. I answer my children's questions and guide them to the Bible, I think, out of a vestigial belief that to deny them that small guidance would indeed condemn me. Which brings me to my question. Why would I feel or be in any jeopardy of condemnation if my spiritual conversion was wholly genuine (as I believe it was) at the time that I experienced it? Why would my salvation, a gift unearned, be taken back or even be subject to nullification, regardless of my current beliefs and doubts? For the record, I loved my life as a Christian. I never doubted my own commitment until that commitment was eroded by the examples, or lack thereof, put forward by those charged with the education and nurturing of my soul. Once the doubt was planted, I admit, it could only be sowed by me. Regardless, I live in fear that I'm lost and I have no belief or philosophical underpinning to ever mount a counteroffensive. I remember how difficult it was as a teenager to stand firm in my belief, especially when it rendered me vulnerable to ridicule and taunting among fellow athletes, friends, etc. I have no strength of faith to ever attempt that again. And so, you see, I think I'm the very example of the fact that salvation, regardless of what anyone may or may not believe, is not an irrevocable gift. Distance yourself too far from it, apply too much logic, tweak it too many times, and faith becomes an empty, mocking, past-tense emotion.

Best Regards

Response #1:    No person can really know the heart of another. As it says in Proverbs, "Every heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share in its joy" (Prov.14:10). It is often difficult for each of us to know our own minds completely, our feelings definitively – how much more is that not so in the case of others? I sense in your words, however, a desire to have and to anticipate eternal life, to have a deep and powerful relationship with the Lord now in anticipation of an inexpressibly wonderful one beyond this life. And so I ask myself the question which in one form or another you have posed in one form or another in your own words: "Can a person so disposed be completely and irreversibly distanced from God?"

I will make a few points here which I believe are important to make – and you have my apology ahead of time if any of this may seem insensitive – but it seems to me that such situations call for frank talk. The first point is this: whether you are still a child of God or not is a fact, one way or another. Your true status is an objective reality with no subjective element in it at all. Somewhere deep inside yourself is the answer to this question. It can be determined, if you truly do care to know. Your e-mail speaks to me of a desire to know, and I cannot help but suspect that this in turn suggests that rather than having turned your back on God irrevocably and eternally you have instead become estranged from Him. Please do not mistake my words. Both situations are bad from a spiritual point of view, but while the former is hopeless the latter is not without hope or promise. The prodigal son went on a far journey, so far in fact that he considered himself dead to his father to such a complete degree that only the most dire necessity caused him to even dream of approaching his father again. And when he did, it was with no expectation of restoration – and yet his father received him with open arms and an outpouring of love. Jesus tells us this story to make it crystal clear to us that no matter how far we may stray, we should not lose hope but have confidence that God is eagerly desirous of seeing us restored to His loving embrace once more. That being the case (and it is most certainly the case), our alienation from Him and from our heavenly Father is most definitely not God's fault but ours. He is willing to have us back even if we may falsely assume that such is not the case. The goodness and mercy of God are incalculable and unfathomable.

This brings me to my second point. Your experience and your reaction are far from unique. It is an all too familiar story both in Christian and secular contexts how that a person is completely "gung ho" for another person or organization until such time as he or she feels him or herself betrayed. Most of us have had such episodes. Indeed, it is hard to navigate a life through the devil's world without at least one such disillusioning experience. In the case of other individuals or organizations or causes or what have you, our reaction may not only be entirely justified but also salutary (and this may definitely include churches and church people). In the case of God Himself, however, such reactions only hurt us – and we have to be very careful to separate the two. God is perfect (even if those who claim to be His agents are not), and everything He does is by definition perfect. God is love (even if those who claim to represent Him are not truly loving at all), and everything He has ever done for us or has caused or has let happen to us is all part of His perfect plan of love for us. God is just (even if those who freely invoke His Name are anything but), and He has never and could never do anything to us which was unjust. But imperfection is the rule in life, hatred bitterness and envy hold sway, and injustice reigns. "Where is God?" "How could God let this happen?" These are questions to which even the Psalmists give vent (cf. Ps.10:1ff.), but to which every godly person will ultimately find a comforting answer (cf. Ps.10:14ff.). If we were part of an army involved in a long and difficult campaign, we would certainly experience many emotional ups and downs along the path to victory, but in every successful army the lion's share of its members never lose faith in the essential rightness of their cause or the ultimate victory. We too are part of an army. We too find ourselves on a battlefield, and the shot and shell of this unseen conflict are far more real and potentially devastating than what the eye can see, for the consequences are eternal. If we question our human generals and fleshly political leaders in times of war, we may possibly do so with some justification. But God's victory is assured, and our participation in it and the rewards which will flow from the judgment seat of Christ on that day of days are not to be compared with the comparably light and short-lived trials and tribulations we are now experiencing. We need to remember always who we are – members of the body of Jesus Christ, and whom we serve – our dear Lord and Savior who died for us that we might live forever with Him. And we need to exercise extreme caution about equating Him and His actions with what "God's people" may do (or those who claim to be such) or with what may happen in this evil world (much of which is caused by the forces of evil in their opposition to our Lord). On this last point I can only commend to you the series "The Satanic Rebellion: Background to the Tribulation" (see especially part 4: "Satan's World System, Past, Present and Future").

You say "I am a member of no church body and practice no ritualistic worship of any kind". To my mind, you may be closer to the truth than you have any idea. There has always been a gap between the church visible and the truth of the Word of God, and that gap has never yawned so wide and deep as it does today. Membership does not convey salvation, and with more and more churches and denominations straying farther and farther from any serious consideration of the Bible (in anything other than lip service), that has never been more obvious. Ritual does not save, does not edify, and – apart from communion (the only biblically authorized ritual still in force) – does little good in any case. But when ritual comes to replace by design or by default the careful learning and applying of the truth of God's Word, then it is better to move on from any fellowship or organization caught in that trap.

Whoever let you down, I want you to know that God did not betray you. It may very well be that He saved you from relying upon some group and upon your own work for it rather than upon Him. True Christianity is not about working for God – it is about letting the Lord work through you. By humbly getting out of God's way and giving in to the wonder of His mercy, the power of His truth, the astonishing beauty of His gift of life in Jesus Christ, we learn to follow Him on the path to glory by hearing, learning, believing, and living the truth, then helping others to do the same.

Your spirit and heart seem parched and deeply desirous of the water of truth. I earnestly entreat you to come to the waters of His Word and slake that thirst (Is.55:1; Rev.22:17). If you truly do look, you'll find what you are looking for. If you truly do ask and knock, you will receive a blessed answer and the door of fellowship with Jesus Christ, powerful, dynamic, exquisite beyond imagination or expression, will be opened wide for you yet again. Do not despair, my brother, but rather open your heart wide again to Jesus. If you did not find Him in a building, if you did not find Him in a false fellowship, you will surely find Him in the Bible in the powerful words of truth of Him who is the Truth. It would be my sublime pleasure to do what little I may be able to help you find your way back to the path that leads to Zion.

In the Name of the dear Lord who loved us so much He gave up everything He had that we might be delivered from this world of darkness into the kingdom of light, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #2:

I had a question. A close friend of mine has a sister who has mental retardation, and she is very concerned, as am I, about how we can help her to understand the Gospel of Christ. She is pretty high-functioning for someone in her condition, but she simply doesn't have the same mental competency as the rest of us. Does God expect the same out of her as us? And what can we do to help people like her? Also, I wanted to let you know that I've been praying the last couple of days for you and your family.

Response #2: 

Thanks so much for your prayers! They are always appreciated. On your question, my understanding of this issue is that most people in such a condition are, theologically speaking, much like (or exactly like) children from God's point of view. That is to say, they have not and will probably never reach the point of "knowing good and evil" in the sense of having a true understanding of the issues. Since people of limited faculties are like children who die young before coming to understand the issue of right and wrong and hence the need for a Savior, God does not hold them accountable. Jesus died for their sins as well as for ours, so there is no obstacle to prevent their automatic salvation. So while the world looks upon such individuals with a condescending pity, these people are far better off than most of the world's population who, having come to the knowledge of God, reject Him and most definitely will be held accountable for their lack of interest and lack of faith, whether passively or actively expressed in this life. This is one of the ways in which God has reserved for Himself a remnant from every people and every race at every time in human history – His unsearchable knowledge is always breathtaking, is it not?

As to what to do for such individuals, I would have to say that this is certainly something which would have to be taken on a case by case basis. Generally speaking, people become aware of the existence of God at about the same time they come to contemplate seriously their own mortality. There is no set age for this, obviously, but certainly by early adolescence most people have been brought to understand from casual contemplation of God's creation and the natural order of things that there is in fact a God, understand that they will not live forever, and see clearly enough that there is right and wrong in the world. Since they also understand by virtue of being human that this God they infer is perfect while they are imperfect, the jump to the need for help – Someone to save them – is much shorter than most suppose. As Paul says, God has set everything up this way deliberately "so that people may seek for God, if they might only be willing to grope around for Him and [thus] find Him – for He is not far off from any one of us" (Acts 17:27). The perception of God and His essential character is universal ("He has also set eternity in the human heart": Ecclesiastes 3:11 TNIV), but, sadly, over the course of life most people not only resist doing anything about the obvious problems of mortality and sinfulness in the face of a perfect God, but instead actually reject the chance of life He holds out to us all in Jesus Christ (Rom.1:18-32). While these issues are universally understood by all mentally capable adults, they are stuff of "opened eyes" in the (negative) Genesis 3 sense of it. Children don't "see" these things, no matter how precocious they may be, and the mentally handicapped to a certain point may not be able to "see" these things either, no matter how highly functional they are.

So I suppose such conditions can be seen as a positive thing in at least two respects: 1) parents and friends of such an individual never need worry about their eternal state, for unlike other children who may be very talented but whose future allegiance to the Lord may be cause for concern, this is not an issue in cases of limited accountability; and 2) whatever "good news" one can impart to such individuals is just that, all good news and no bad news. For there is no moral issue for them with the result that they and we can enjoy their appreciation of the Lord and His truth on whatever level it occurs without worrying about whether they "really get it" or how they will respond later on. Just like we are warmed by five year olds singing "Jesus loves me" but do not worry about the depth of their understanding of just who Jesus is and just what He did for us and just how we are saved by grace through faith in Him, so with those of limited abilities who are incapable of understanding in a completely "eyes open" way we can be happy for the joy they may find in Jesus without ever worrying about the fact that on that great day of days they will be with us and with Him in resurrection forever – and with no further limitations of any kind.

Please see also the following related links:

The Age of Accountability

What will our relationship be in heaven with children who died young?

In our wonderfully wise and merciful Savior, Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3:  

I can't believe you said that all you have to do to be saved is believe...The bible said the "even the demons BELIEVE and they shudder"...are the demons going to heaven as well?

Response #3:    

I would suggest you delve deeper into the site (Ichthys.com). Salvation comes by grace through faith; faith is indeed more than a mere mental appreciation of the issue. I like to compare it to loyalty or allegiance. After all, true Christians, true "believers", are followers of Jesus, and it is impossible to have true faith without that faith translating into action of various sorts, while, conversely, reluctance followed by refusal to follow our Lord leads to the death of faith (i.e., apostasy). Yet it is true that entrance into God's family and Christ's Church comes by accepting the truth of the gospel. The demons understand that God exists. They have not joyfully pledged themselves to follow Jesus Christ – the difference couldn't be more profound.

In our Lord Jesus, the object of all our love, hope and faith.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4: 

Does this passage state that Hymenaeus and Alexander are believers? I believe an unbeliever can't make shipwreck of his faith because he hasn't got a ship yet. So it refers to believers. It says they put it away. To put something away assumes possession. Some put away and 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; names two men who were included in that putting away.

1Ti 1:19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

It seems that believers can blaspheme God still.

2 Samuel 12:14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

Romans 2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

Isaiah 52:5 Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed.

Isaiah 65:7 Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the LORD, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom.

Ezekiel 20:27 Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.

John 10:33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

Revelation 17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

So blaspheming God can be speaking against Him OR setting yourself up as God (ie. like claiming to do something only God can do). However I was given a different take on this by a friend, he said:

"I do not believe you can discuss these two verses without including verse 18 where Paul tells Timothy to war a good warfare and not to lose faith or to violate his conscience. The fact that Paul reminds Timothy that he is in a war implies that that Satan is in the mix and bringing much pressure against the young pastor. From all evidence Hymenaeus (2 Timothy 2:17) is placed in the same category of Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14). If this is true and I believe it is then the "putting away concerning the faith have made shipwreck" implies that they pushed away the conviction of the Holy Spirit choosing to wreck their lives through their own choice to reject the gospel. Therefore the blasphemy spoken of would be the rejection of the Holy Spirit "for he has greatly withstood our words" 2 Timothy 4:15. I don't believe there is any solid scriptural evidence that either are saved or in the church of Ephesus where Timothy pastored though obviously that can be debated."

What do you think is correct? Thanks in advance!

Response #4:   

I translate the verse as follows:

I give you this command, Timothy my child, in accordance with the prophecies that were made long ago about you, that you conduct a good campaign, one that is in keeping with [those predictions], holding onto your faith and to a clean conscience (cf. 1Tim.1:5-6) - which [conscience] some have rejected (lit., "pushed away") and [have thus] suffered the shipwreck of their faith. 1st Timothy 1:18-19

I agree with you. These men had been believers, but they later actively rejected "faith and a clean conscience" which means they gave themselves over to gross sin (destroying their consciences in the process) and thus let go of their faith; that is what it means to have your faith suffer shipwreck: it's not just battered by the storm with holes in the rigging and taking on water – it's hit a rock and sunk.

In our Lord Jesus, the Rock upon whom we have set our faith to last forever.

Bob L.

Question #5:

Hi Dr. Luginbill,

I just read an email response from your site entitled, "Does Hebrews 10:26 teach loss of salvation?" and I just wanted to ask you a few questions, a couple about salvation and another about the parable of the talents.

This is an area that i struggle with- whether a true believer in Christ can lose their salvation. This is what I mean by a true Christian, one who has an abiding relationship with Christ. There are many scriptures in the Bible that support the notion that the one who overcomes to the end will be saved. That is why we have to be on point against the enemy and things that pull us away at all times.

I know that there is nothing that I did to secure my own salvation- it is because Jesus died on the cross. I believe that people can throw it away, neglect it, fall away...but is that the same thing as it being lost? This may be an issue of semantics, but I am so desperate to understand it.

Then there are ones who profess Christ, but never progress past being justified- they have no relationship and do not abide with or in Him. It is my belief that these people are not possessors of true salvation, because the relationship is missing. (i.e. Christ will say to some, I never knew you).

Are "professors, but not possessors" even saved in the first place? Are they false converts? 

Second issue: Using the parable of the talents in Matt 25, my pastor says that you can go to hell for mismanaging money. I don't agree with that. I know that a parable is a type of literary style, allegorical in nature, that uses objects and people to teach a moral or spiritual truth. Generally, my take on the parable is to use the gifts, preach the gospel that God has given us for His glory. I am not asking you to contradict my pastor or anything of the kind, I just want a different perspective.

Thank you so much for your time.

Response #5: 

Let me take the second issue first. I don't think that this parable really has anything to do with money (except incidentally). In fact, our English word "talent" comes from this parable, so that I think most people have (correctly) understood the "measure of gold" to be a metaphor for everything that God gives us (our "talents" and spiritual gifts being prime elements of this but not of course the only ones). It is true that the person with the "one talent" who buries it in the earth goes to hell. So we need to understand exactly what the use or disuse of the "one talent" means above all else. In my view, this "one talent", the least and most basic amount that every human being has, represents our free will to accept Jesus as Savior, with the focus in this parable being the works that are indicative of that salvation: even the worst believer in history has at least some small amount of "interest", however minuscule, to show for their time here on earth, that is, at least one contribution to the church, or one helpful word of encouragement, or one good deed done selflessly, etc. It is impossible to be a genuine Christian and not have that faith motivate you to do at least something for the Lord at some point. That is James' point when he tells us that "faith without works is dead". Not that works save us – far from it! Rather, if we have genuinely given our lives to Jesus, there is no single case where a person has done so and not acted on at least some opportunity of demonstrating that faith at some point. When Paul at Romans 1:5 speaks about "the obedience which comes from faith", he shows what faith really is, namely, a genuine loyalty Jesus rather than a mere intellectual assent to His existence, and all such loyalty, all such faith, cannot help but have some results (however small they may be in some cases). These demonstrations of salvation are just that, moreover, not a means to salvation, which is a matter of grace, but proof of the fact that we are indeed saved.

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 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

As to salvation in general, I do believe it can be lost through "apostasy" which is, literally, a turning away or rebellion from our Lord, in the process of which the "faith plant" in our hearts dies. A person in this situation goes through a process of alienation from the Lord until at some point he/she stops believing and stops following and stops serving the Lord entirely (please see the links: "The Parable of the Sower" and "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"). I think it is right what you say that there are false converts, false friends, false believers – that trend is going to get worse the closer we come to the Tribulation. However, that does not explain it all. There are most assuredly people who "receive the Word with joy" but then in hard times "fall away" (compare Matt.13:5-6 with Matt.13:20-21). The mechanics of this process are discussed in detail in the second link above, but suffice it to say here that, in addition to reacting to hardship, sin is also often responsible for apostasy leading to loss of salvation. For if a person gives in to a life of sin and refuses to turn away from that life of sin even under intensifying divine discipline, eventually the heart becomes harder and harder until the point is reached where faith dies. Not wanting to "look God in the face" any longer (Jn.3:19-20), not being willing to repent and ask forgiveness, such persons often get to the point of actually "justifying" their sinful course of life, with the result that "the end is worse than the beginning":

For if after having escaped the defilements of this world by recognizing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ they should be overcome [spiritually] by becoming involved again in these foul things, then they have become worse off than they were before. For it would have been better for them not to have accepted the Righteous Way in the first place, rather than - once having accepted this holy command [for faith in Christ] committed to them - to now turn their backs on it. And so in their case this proverb is true: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow, though washed, to her muddy sty".
2nd Peter 2:20-22

Hope this helps with your questions. Please feel free to write me back about any of this.

In our dear Lord Jesus, the One to whom we have pledged our eternal lives.

Bob Luginbill

Question #6:  

My sister died recently, and her death gives me cause to take a good hard look at the doctrine of heaven and hell and indeed, my entire Christian experience. To the best of my knowledge....and I hope I'm wrong... she was not really living for the Lord . But neither had she hardened her heart. I have to say that describes me at times also. I abhor any suggestion that she might have gone to hell, and I think we need to look at why anyone goes to hell in the first place. I hate the thought of anyone going to hell...even my worst enemy! I almost wish I could dip my finger in water and soothe the tongues of the damned as Dives requested in Luke 16:24. I almost HATE the doctrine of hell! If I had been God, I'd have been a universalist-saved everyone in the end. After all, Jesus did pay for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD. But I'm not God, and I don't make the rules. No doubt I feel the way I do because I take too light a view of sin and its unimaginable affront to His holiness. Also if I reject what Jesus said about hell, then He cannot save me because He would have lied and could not have been the sinless Substitute who atoned for my sin.

Yet, somewhere between being without excuse (Romans 3:20) and Jesus' story of a servant being beaten with few stripes because of not knowing the masters will ( in contrast to being beaten with many stripes for the one who knew his will) fall most of us. We each have varying degrees of light for which we are answerable to God. Our responsibilities range from those of an infant or retarded person. (even a retarded adult) incapable of making a free decision, to those of mature adults with superior reasoning powers. Mathematically, somewhere between infinite eternal punishment and no punishment at all should lie temporal punishment.

It would seem, balancing Gods justice and mercy, that NO ONE goes to hell who does not actually choose to go there! Not someone who is fighting an addiction who yields to temptation at a moment of weakness when they know better, but all the while hates what they are doing (Roman 7:15) and then gets hit by a car before he finish an act of contrition. In contrast, a person who, with full knowledge and consent, shakes their fist in Gods face saying, "I don't want to EVER submit to You and your law, and I reject CHRIST as my Savior and His Atonement on the Cross" is worthy of eternal punishment! Such a person tramples the Son of God underfoot, counting the Blood of the Covenant by which he was sanctified (Hebrews 10:29) an unclean thing, and does despite to the Spirit of grace.

It would seem that it would be difficult to reach the point of ultimate rejection of Christ unwittingly or unknowingly. It would seem that we have to actively and persistently resist God until we no longer hear His voice. Stephen describes such Jews in Acts 7:51 as always resisting the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about being given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28), and in short, being filled with every kind of wickedness imaginable. In Catholic terminology, this is truly a state of Mortal Sin, a Sin unto Death (1 Jn 5:16). But if we can hear the Holy Spirit at all, we are to respond, as it says in Revelation in the letters to the 7 Churches, Gods hand was still heavy upon David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (Ps 32: 4 ) and David noted that his moisture had turned into the drought of summer. It would seem that if we still feel guilt and shame over our sin and are being drawn to repentance, that we have grieved the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) but he has not left us; and we are still a child of God. A fruit of the Spirit, love, was in evidence in my deceased sister's life, as those who knew her testified at the memorial.

My point in all this is that she, while sidetracked in certain areas, was probably not in a state of mortal sin, or total rebellion against God. Referring to my above statement that temporal punishment should lie between zero punishment and eternal punishment, I would like to believe (though I cannot know unequivocally that she was saved ) that she was saved though passing thru the flames (1Co 3:15), I still would not like to be in that position, though. To the person saved while going thru the fire it might seem like a million years!

I abhor hearing any Christian body teach that unless one follows their interpretation of Scripture, that they are going to hell! Excuse me, but eternal judgment exclusively Gods domain! I cringe when I hear Protestants say the Catholics are going to hell! Learned scholars, Protestant and Catholic, and no doubt some Popes, have battled over hermeneutics, or Bible interpretation, for 2000 years. While they have had consensus in some areas, they are still doctrinal worlds apart in others, such as whether water baptism by immersion is essential to salvation. If there is so much difference among learned and sincere Biblical and Archaeological scholars on correct Biblical interpretation, how can anyone be so cock sure of his understanding of doctrine as to condemn people to hell? A local radio talk show host says this about Christians resolving differences: In the Essentials of the Faith- let there be Unity- that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, thru a Living Faith alone! In Non Essentials, let us have Liberty, but let us not cause our brothers to stumble! In all things, let there be Charity, until we all come "to the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God...not children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:13-14.)

I could be wrong, but I am confident that anyone, regardless of their denomination, can be saved as they approach Christ in the best of their understanding with a desire to seek the truth: If they are really seeking truth they can be saved (2 Th: 2:10). Hebrews 11:6 says that God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (not the rewarder of those who think they are sinless and perfectly understand doctrine).

In my present approach to Christianity, I am looking for points of agreement, not disagreement. Our disagreements among ourselves repels unbelievers. How can we tell them what to believe, if we cant agree among ourselves what we believe? I know that there are good Catholic as well as Protestant writings out there! I reserve the right to examine writings of ministers, pastors and laymen from every denomination in an attempt to see the Big Picture the way God does.

Response #6:    

I am very sorry to hear about the death of your sister. May the God of all comfort comfort you in your loss. From what you have shared here, it sounds to me as if you have reason for confidence that your sister was a believer. In that case, you have the greatest comfort of all: sure and certain knowledge not only of her present blissful state, but of your reunion with her when the Lord calls you home.

My position on all this is fairly straightforward and simple, and worked out in fairly good detail in the studies posted at Ichthys (see the link: Assurance of Salvation). Everyone who maintains their faith in Jesus Christ firm until the end is a believer, and all believers are saved. Those who reject following Jesus, either actively (overtly denying Him) or passively (refusing to come to Him), are not saved. As finite and imperfect human beings, there is much we don't fully understand about what is going on even inside of our own selves – how much more is that not true when it comes to the hearts of others. This is a principle that gives hope regarding those for whom we are concerned (for it may well be that Jesus lives in them by faith, even if their application of faithfulness is far from perfect), while at the same time counseling salutary caution as we evaluate our own lives: the best way to "make our calling and election secure" (2Pet.1:10), is to stay aggressively on offense (spiritual growth, progress, and production), even as we maintain a solid defense (the pursuit of personal sanctification).

God knows the heart of every person, and He most assuredly wants everyone to be saved (1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9; cf. Lam.3:33; Matt.18:12-14; Jn.3:16 Jn.12:47; Acts 17:27). He loves us so much that He gave up His one and only Son to die for the sins of all mankind on the cross. From any logical application, since God has done the most for us and wants us to come to Him, He will certainly do everything in His unlimited power to bring that salvation about – except overrule our free will. For if He overrules our free will, then we cease to be what we are and become mere puppets (cf. Jn.4:23-24). Free will is the bedrock principle of God's foundation of the universe and of His all-encompassing plan, and without understanding its importance it is not too much to say that one's understanding of any principle of scripture will be severely vitiated as a result. It says quite a lot about human nature that in spite of the universal gift of Jesus Christ, in spite of God's first best will for everyone of His creatures, and in spite of His considerable efforts to woo the entire human race to the free gift of salvation, that in the history of the world only a very small percentage have deigned to come to Him – even in complete knowledge of the alternative death and damnation that awaits. But for all for whom there ever was a spark of interest, He provided the Seed of the Word of God. And for all who cherish that Seed in their heart, safely nurturing their love for Jesus secure until the end, for all, that is, who clearly and definitively respond to Him with persistent, non-meritorious free will faith, there is salvation, and abundantly so.

In Him who knows the unknowable, who is able to comfort us in our grief, and is well able to keep our deposit safe and secure until the end, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

I notice that many Christians seems to think, if it doesn't send me to hell, its oh to do it, I'll use my Christian liberty, and then they get upset if someone questions them. Does God really offer each of us so much grace that we can do things that He actually tells us not to? I'm not really referring to new Christians, but to those who have been a child of God for quite sometime and ought to know better. What do you think?

Response #7:   

I think that this tendency in the case of many Christians who think this way is due to the widespread teaching of the false doctrine "once saved, always saved", which, in its most extreme form does as you suggest tell people that nothing a Christian can do will ever cause them to lose their salvation. This is of course a false teaching (please see the links: "The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security", "Positional Security" and "Eternal Security – where does one draw the line?"). Irrespective of this, however, one would think that even a cursory reading of the Bible would be sufficient to teach that at least some small modicum of "fear of Lord" is salutary. Clearly, we are disciplined for the sin we commit (even those who ascribe to the hyper-eternal security position recognize that), we don't please the Lord by giving ourselves over to sin (and we are here, after all, to please Him), sinning with abandon is a terrible witness (aiding the cause of the devil and alienating many from Christ), and preoccupation with sin makes spiritual growth and production impossible. Christians are forgiven their sins – when they repent and confess. But if a person gets to the point where sin, especially of the more serious and/or chronic sort, doesn't even cause them any fear of trepidation, then inevitably the process of apostasy (falling away from Jesus) is not far behind, followed by either the sin unto death (where such a person is taken out of this life in a horrible way) or loss of faith (where what follows this life will be horrible in every way). Either way, sin is not something to be played around with, and our gracious and loving Lord is not someone to be taken advantage of. Doing either will quickly result in a "lesson" that such a person is unlikely to be able to forget quickly. Please see the following links:

"Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"

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

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #8:

If someone used to be what you would think to be good Christian, maybe even a full time Christian worker or a preacher. Then this persons ends up divorcing his wife and having relations with another woman and then marrying her....and also makes money on the side by doing something unethical. And as far as you can see, God hasn't struck him dead or done anything drastic as chastisement. Does that mean the person is not saved? Or does it just mean God is allowing them to live like that?

Response #8: 

There are all sorts of possibilities, none of them good. Christians who fall into sin and a sinful way of living sometimes recover, sometimes bounce along in a sort of spiritual limbo, wasting their lives, sometimes end up being taken out of this life through the sin unto death, sometimes fall into apostasy and stop believing entirely. It is often difficult for us to be able to classify them looking at the situation from the outside. Using our own personal standards of what would constitute divine discipline is also not a particularly effective thing to do. One reason for this is that God knows precisely what will hurt someone, make them miserable, get their attention, etc. (and what might "sting" most for me might be easy for you to bear, and vice versa). God also knows exactly the right time to act and intervene, whichever category of spiritual degeneration is involved. So while we may think someone is "getting away with something", in reality no one ever gets away with anything (cf. Ps.73:15-20). Whether it's a case of person straying from God temporarily or decisively or anything in-between, God knows the facts, and you can be sure that the person is not doing him/herself any good whatsoever by going in this wrong direction (even if in some fog of self-delusion they are allowed to think it doesn't matter for some considerable space of time). I always try to hand such people over to the Lord in prayer, knowing that if there is any way that might be turned around, He is able to do it.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

My son just announced his adherence to atheism. Do you have advice on this subject?

Response #9:    

In my experience and observation, there are few things more difficult in life than seeing the ones we love make bad decisions that are beyond our capacity to salvage. If my own life gives any guidance on this point, I would say that this sort of thing is harder to bear than the worst things that happen to us personally.

Atheism is of course a horrible lie, but I have found that the facts about the human condition as scripture reports them are helpful in confronting it. First of all, the starting position that atheists take that God's existence cannot be proved is incredibly disingenuous. That is because all human beings of normal mental capacity come to an appreciation of the fact of God's existence at some point in their lives, usually early on. We human beings by God's design are all created not only with an innate capacity to recognize the existence of God (cf. Eccl.3:10-11; Acts 17:27), but are also confronted with the overwhelming evidence of "natural revelation", the irrefutable testimony of the creation itself, of God's existence and His majesty (Rom.1:18-23; cf. Ps.19:1-6). So atheism is inherently dishonest because it adopts as its basic debating stance a lie which all atheists know to be untrue (at least on some level). Almost without exception, atheists recognize that God exists (although the most callous of them have buried the spark of truth deep in their hardened hearts). What they really mean to do by denying the existence of God is to put to death any authority or claim He might have over their lives. If you can "kill God", your arrogance can lay claim to the stars. But of course even though the human ego is capable of projecting its pseudo-self-importance around the world and beyond even in the face of our true pathetic smallness, turning God's natural order of things so completely upside down is something that can never rest peacefully in the heart. That is one reason I suppose why atheists tend to be so confrontational and militant about their "belief", taking on false comfort for the uneasiness inside by means of easy victories over "stupid Christians". But the dis-ease can never be entirely removed, and the profession of atheism in my view, oddly enough, can sometimes be a hopeful sign – at least they care enough to dare those of us who believe the truth to prove it. That is why I would never give up on anyone I loved, especially in cases where the very advocacy of their position bespeaks an uneasiness about their inability to completely obliterate the truth they know deep inside.

I would never underestimate the value of prayer in such matters. Sometimes these sorts of victories are very hard-fought and take decades to achieve. But they are worth fighting for.

I will keep your son in my prayers.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #10: 

Thank you for your website. Having just found it I am in the process of "testing". What I have found so far is impressive, knowledgeable and curiously in these times, very fair. So much out there is either hardcore/heartless or worse yet, softcore- "tickling the ears". You seem, so far, a great example of "truth in love". My specific question relates to a personal experience. My wife comes from a traditional Jewish heritage, her parents probably closer to the Reformed, certainly not Orthodox. As a Christian she has taken it seriously to present the Gospel to all, and did so to her parents. Her parents were loving and respectful but did not profess an obvious change. After her mother died, a well-meaning Christian women asked if her mother "knew the Lord". Our response was the we didn't know, we do know that a clear invitation was made. Some years passed, and now just recently, her father died and the same question has been asked, although in the later case I'm not so sure it was well-meaning. I do not wish to fall into the trap of creating a truth to ease a pain, but I'm not entirely sure that asking if someone is saved has any value. I'm certain from scripture that even some pastor's will be told "I never knew you". Trying to put a "saved" label on someone seems a bit sketchy. I can obviously see the value of a public confession and the encouragement that comes from seeing/hearing professing, righteous Christians...but using that to track the saved from the unsaved has exactly what value? The question? When unbelievers die, we believe they are separated from God. When they are close friends or relatives, we believe the same thing, but is it fair to suggest that we do not know their status of unbelief in those last moments? Responding with "God only knows" is certainly accurate, but it doesn't satisfy everyone.

Response #10:   

First, let me thank very much for your kind and encouraging words. I appreciate them very much. Secondly, I want to express my admiration for an extremely lucid and well-thought out exposition of this question. It inspires me to give you a great answer, but I'm disappointed to say that I'm not sure how much I can add – you seem to me to have "covered all the bases" in a very precise, biblical way. I remember many years back in seminary being struck by Paul's words in Philippians 3:11 "if somehow I may attain to the resurrection of the dead". I tried to exegete my way around this for many years to no avail, and have since come to see that the sentiment is perfect: no matter how spiritually advanced we may be, even to Paul's unattainable level, it isn't over until it's over. For believers contemplating their own salvation, this is a clarion call to keep on offense and defense aggressively until the end (which, of course, is what we should be doing anyway). But there is a "flip-side" here which may offer some comfort to believers contemplating the fate of unbelievers whom they know and love: as long as there is life, there is hope, hope that God will indeed answer our prayers and affect those unbelievers we love in just the right way to cause them to accept Jesus of their own free will. However, that last qualification is what is so critical. Free will is why we are here, despite what our eyes and the world may tell us. And the most important test of that will comes in our attitude toward God which is measured in our willingness or lack thereof to come to Him in the way He requires: through His Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I very much appreciate your desire not to "create a truth to ease pain". Short term misrepresentation of the scriptures even with the very best of intentions always has long term negative consequences regardless of intentions. I wish I could say that I personally am immune from such pressures whether it comes to comforting others or dealing with tragedy myself. But to take great adversity "on the chin" and then be able to turn to God and say "thank you", knowing through unshakable faith that we need always to rejoice in whatever happens to us because "that is God's will for you in Jesus Christ" is the stuff of great spiritual maturity (1Thes.5:18). But even if we fail such tests initially, it is yet important to bounce back quickly, confess whatever harsh words or feelings we have harbored in "blaming God" – something that is never justified – and accept the truth that He really is working out everything in our lives for our complete good, even it is beyond our imagination of how in the world that might be so in the case of particular tragedies or suffering we are forced to endure (see the link: "Peter's Epistles: Coping with Personal Tribulation"). In this, of course, the ideal thing is to remember our role model, our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured suffering and disappointment beyond our ability really to imagine, even before His spiritual death for us in the darkness on the cross. For it is the province of the truly mature to "share the sufferings of Christ" (Rom.8:17; 2Cor.1:5; Phil.1:29; 3:10; Col.1:24; 1Pet.4:13; cf. 2Cor.13:4; 13:9; Gal.6:17).

To return to your question with a bit more specificity, I would never presume to give someone who is suffering loss a "lecture on the Bible". Scripture tells us clearly to "grieve with those who are grieving" (Rom.12:15), and I think that this is possible without the two extremes of giving false comfort on the one hand or rubbing in what we believe to be true but know will not sit well at present on the other hand. If we are empathetic Christians as we should certainly aspire to be, we will no doubt be more tempted by the former rather than the latter. But we can, as Paul did, take comfort in the sure and certain knowledge that God's comfort in the Holy Spirit is fully sufficient, and abounds all the more to the degree that the suffering is excessive (2Cor.1:3-7). Sometimes, it seems, it is even more heartbreaking and difficult to deal with the pain of others for whom we greatly care in such instances than it would be had the loss been more particularly our own. In such cases, I think all we can do is to remember that what our eyes see and what our feelings feel is not nearly as important as what we know by faith (2Cor.4:18; 5:7; Heb.11:1-2). And we know without question that God so loved the entire world that He sent His one and only Son to die for the sins of all mankind. Having done the most for everyone, without question He wants to save every single person (1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9; cf. Lam.3:33; Matt.18:12-14; Jn.3:16 Jn.12:47; Acts 17:27), and especially all who are of Abraham's physical seed (Rom.1:16; cf. Matt.10:5; 15:26; Acts 13:46; Rom. 2:9-10).

So we don't know for sure, as unsatisfying as that is. And since it's not over until it's over (see the link: "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"), that is true of believers and their eternal status as well (so that as you so pithily point out we can't put a label on anyone and expect that to be somehow dispositive). Perhaps there is an element of God's mercy to found here. For while in the case of believers we know and love, we are not allowed to become complacent and thus run the risk of endangering our spiritual status, in the case of unbelievers we are not tortured in the sure and certain knowledge of their condemnation: if there was anything God could do to save them short of violating their free will, I am convinced that He could and would have done it. When death is at the doorstep, sometimes the mind is finally concentrated on that one true issue of life as never before. So I am left to do nothing more than affirm your own conclusion in unsatisfactory fashion. We do know for a fact that when the veil of tears that is the life finally dissolves, we will know nothing but everlasting joy in the presence of the One we love, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (cf. Rev.7:17b), regardless of what we may lose or suffer in this life. Sooner or later, all Christians who wish to grow spiritually, grow closer to Jesus, and produce a bountiful crop for Him, are forced to develop that perspective, looking with Abraham not to this ephemeral world, but anticipating their inheritance in the New Jerusalem, that city "whose architect and builder is God (Heb.11:10; cf. Heb.11:16).

In the comfort and confidence of Jesus, who is truly working all things out together for our good (whether we can fully accept it now or not).

Bob Luginbill

Question #11:

This concerns a little bible study I had with my friends and was looking for some answers:

Mat 10:32-33: Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

"Deny" is arneomai in the Greek and it is used in Titus 2:12 "to show estrangement from a thing" but in that sense it isn't necessarily people.

What I'm concerned about is how Jesus is going to react to me if I show estrangement from Him. I'm still studying it but I think that you should all study it and answer the question,"At what point is God going to consider it a denial or even a partial denial?" And what am I going to say to Him? Do we really want the Son of God to deny us before the Father? The English definition of "Deny" should be pretty clear and the Bible does say, (Matthew 5:28) "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." In my allegory, though it isn't the same sin, could we be denying Christ when we feel that people will laugh at us for being Christian, the constant threats or the constant persecution that we face (when we shy away)?

1Cr 11:25: After the same manner also [he took] the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink [it], in remembrance of me.

Are we supposed to be remembering the Lord's death through His death, baptism and resurrection in our lives by proclaiming the Lord in His resurrection?

1Cr 11:26-27: For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink [this] cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

Thanks in advance!

Response #11: 

The Greek idea in "denying" someone is the same as in English. I think the formal pronouncement aspect of it is important and set out that way in scripture for a reason (i.e., "before men" is a verbal denial, not a mental process). Our Lord tells us in that same chapter in Matthew 10:17-20 that the context to which He is referring is one of being officially examined as to our loyalty to the Lord. All of this is looking forward to the Tribulation and the eventuality of believers being haled into courts and accused of being "Christians". We are told that the Spirit will help us, giving us just the right words to say at that time. On that day, the day of our martyrdom, it will be important to witness for Christ and not deny that we know Him. Denial in a broader sense has broader sense applicability too – by which I mean we can indeed deny Him in a way other than words, namely, by losing our faith in Him (as in the case of the foolish virgins: Matt:25:1-13), or abandoning our faith in Him (as in the case of the wicked servant: Matt.24:48-51). That is the real point of the passage you cite as a parallel, 2nd Timothy 2:12 (where the Greek word is the same, arneomai): "If we disown Him (i.e., lose or throw away our faith so that we no longer believe) . . .". In short, "denying the Lord" is not some near accidental mistake we can make or a momentary lapse of focus we may experience. No such mental hiccup is capable of ruining our whole life's work for Jesus (cf. Heb.6:10: "God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name"; NASB) or destroying our eternal future – God is not like that and He doesn't work like that. God is gracious, God is merciful, God is forgiving. He sent His Son to the cross to die for every one of our sins and He wants us to be saved more than anything (1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9; cf. Lam.3:33; Matt.18:12-14; Jn.3:16 Jn.12:47; Acts 17:27). He is not waiting to trip us up (or waiting for us to trip up). He is helping us every second of every minute of every day so that we may reach harbor safely and spend eternity with Him. All who believe are saved. Only those who refuse to believe (or who jettison their faith and thus trample the blood of the covenant underfoot) are lost. We do have to maintain our faith in Jesus until the end, but that is not any sort of "pins and needles" salvation. We do not have to worry about some little mistake costing us our eternal lives, not for a moment. Our faith is much stronger than that, and, if we are willing to hang onto it come what may, we can sleep soundly through the storm as our Lord did on the Sea of Galilee. However, there may come a time when we find ourselves standing before an inquisition or other evil tribunal where admitting that we love Jesus will cost us our lives. In that situation, we must indeed be prepared to tell the truth.

Finally, remember that Peter actually did deny Jesus, and the rest of the disciples ran away (which is a sort of "denial with the feet"), and yet they will have their names inscribed on the foundation stones of New Jerusalem. If we are walking with Jesus, loving Him, learning about Him and His Word, and serving Him by helping others to do the same, we will find that we have absolutely nothing to worry about, and when the crunch comes, if it be our lot to see that day, we will do Him proud.

In Him whom we proclaim through our faith day by day, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


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