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Free Will and Faith under Pressure

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Question #1:  I would like to know more about the writer. Who he is and where he preaches or teaches from. But my search question that led me to this web site was... if heaven was a perfect place with perfect or blameless creatures how or where did original sin come from. You seem to indicate that God allowed or gave them a free will and thus opened Pandora's box because he wanted free moral agents not robots. Someone said, that God did the one thing God could not do. He was all powerful so He limited His power or influence in allowing free moral agency to thus have a freely given love and moral submission vs. coerced conduct. He did this however at the expense of knowing the result would be much rebellion and disobedience by which we suffer...Is God then more concerned about His prompted love and obedience of some at the expense of many who will suffer because of a tendency to fail... Is that being selfish. Why not make us like cows, and we just love God just like cows love grass. Ignorance is bliss or Choice can be catastrophic... any way how or why did God allow sin in Heaven to begin with and then the follow up is.....what has he done to ensure no repeat performance in the new heaven and earth... isn't tendency still there or will freedom be removed..???

Response #1:  First, I am the writer and responsible for all the materials at Ichthys. My CV is posted on-line at the site (see the link: Current CV).

As to your question(s), I would say that you have framed things up more or less correctly in terms of my understanding about what scripture really says about free will, namely, that it is the ability to choose for God, and it is that quality and that quality only which qualifies us as being made "in the image and likeness of God". As to why God did what He did, or what the moral or philosophical ramifications of this regime of creation are, I am certainly willing to share my opinions and feelings, but would like to differentiate at the outset such an exercise from interpreting scripture. The simple fact is that the Bible, correctly interpreted, tells us the answers. How we feel about them and we deal with them is part and parcel of this free will about which we are now speaking. I think it is fair to say that anyone who begins to look into the Bible in a serious way will swiftly be confronted with things they do not like, agree with, or otherwise find difficult to accept – whether it be information that is difficult to believe or standards that are hard to comply with, or representations of the true reality that for whatever reason the individual in question might find offensive. Simply put, the truth tests our willingness to respond to God every day in all sorts of different ways. No one is perfect, but the scriptures are a perfect mirror held up to our inner-selves (James 1:23-25), and truth quickly separates out those who are enthusiastic for it, no matter what the cost, those who are lukewarm to it, and those who are in their heart of hearts genuinely antagonistic towards it.

Whatever else we can say about the Lord, selfishness is not a charge that can be reasonable laid at the feet of Someone who has sacrificed His one and only beloved Son on our behalf. The Father's sacrifice of Jesus, and our Lord's willing offering up of Himself unto suffering and death for all of the sins of the entire world is a breathtaking thing, truly beyond complete comprehension, but hardly selfish. Since He has done the most for us in the biggest thing, providing eternal life at the greatest possible cost to Himself, and in all the little things too, providing for us in this evil, awful world in ways which can barely imagine at present, it would seem that a little gratitude is in order. Indeed, in Paul's upbraiding of the unbelieving world in Romans, the lack of gratitude for a God who is known by all but rejected and dishonored by most is at the heart of his indictment (Rom.1:21 in the context of 1:18-32).

In specific response to your question, yes the original heaven was a place of perfection, and it is indeed the case that the gift of freedom carried with it the possibility and, as it turned out, the eventuality of sin and rebellion. But before we blame God for this, it would be well to consider that this is just the argument made by those who want to blame the potter for the pot. The Potter in this case had every right to make "pots" with free will, and the fact that some use this wonderful gift to reject Him who gave it can hardly be a reasonable "offense" with which to charge Him, the gracious giver, instead of the ungrateful abuser. Is it not inherent in the idea of a true choice for God that some will take it and some will not? Consider then that if there were no such choice, if we were just "cows", then it is not just that there would be no possibility of damnation for those who willingly embrace that choice for themselves, but it would necessarily also have to be the case that there would be no possibility of true fellowship with God on the part of those who choose to avail themselves of God's gracious offer of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In other words, without the damned, one cannot have the saved. If we had the power to wish away condemnation, we would also thereby be wishing away salvation (since there would be nothing to be saved from). Without the choice against, there cannot be the choice for. And without having made this choice, from the heart, we wouldn't be who we are. We wouldn't have any idea of how wonderful the Lord is. We wouldn't be heroes for God or villains opposing Christ. We would just be cows. Our entire internal makeup, the very essence of us which allows us to ask such questions and consider such issues, is so fundamentally dependent upon free will that one could sooner unscramble an egg than postulate “us” without free will (because we would then in no sense be “us”).

It is undoubtedly true that God did not have to initiate creation. But I for one am enthusiastically glad that He did. And while it is certainly regrettable that many are lost, I rejoice in those who are saved, and I take some comfort in the fact that those who are not saved are not because of their own deliberate choice. Scripture certainly indicates that it is not God's first best will for those who are lost to be so (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9), but that they are so in spite of His will through willfully setting their own will in place of His.

I don't believe that ignorance is bliss. If I were not a morally responsible creature, if I did not have free will, I would not be "me" in any meaningful sense, and neither would any other human being be what they are. We are what God made us, and it is a blessing that He made us so. I am certainly not in a position to give dogmatic answers to hypothetical questions on the state of mind of the Trinity at the moment of original creation, but all that I have learned about the Lord from scripture and personal experience leads me to give God the benefit of the doubt on this – and then some.

Finally, our knowledge about eternity is limited. Scripture gives us some information – as much as we need but less than we might like. One thing I think it is fair to say, however, is that eternity is always portrayed as "solid-state", that is, as a truly perfect and "eternal" continuum that will never change. Since judgment will have been passed in all of its phases when the eternal state begins (cf. Rev.20-22), this picture is consistent with a construct of "time" being the place of choice and "eternity" being the place where life-changing choice of the sort we are talking about here will be over and done with. After all, if we could still "fall" in eternity, then there would never be a place where we were ultimately and finally secure – and what sort of an eternal life would that be? This construct also agrees with everything we see about the way this life works; while pagan religions often theorize a cycle of repetition, the world as God has actually constructed it (and certainly as it is described in scripture), present a different picture: life is short, choices are very important, and we always have to live with the consequences of our choices, good, bad, or indifferent.

I hope you find this of some help. There is quite a lot on the site relating to this issue. On the image and likeness of God in man as it relates to free will, see "The Image and Likeness of God" in Basics 3A; on the issue of original sin, see "The Sin Nature" (esp. pt. #4) in Basics 3B.

In Him who freely gave His life for us that we might choose to live forever with Him, our dear Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

I have written you a few times now, and am always happy to read your response. I am a frequent "flyer" to your site and find it and you to be such a blessing in my life.

I am writing you today with a heavy heart.....and need some encouragement, and of course, a place to go to in Scripture for solace. I recently experienced an ectopic pregnancy. My question is this...did I lose a child? It may seem a silly question, especially from a woman, but it was obviously very early in the pregnancy, and from seeing the sonogram, nothing close to resembling a child was there. I was saved "in the nick of time"....of course, I take that as our Lord's purpose for my life here has not yet been met. I keep going back the Scripture where the Lord says "I knit you in your mother's womb". I do have a beautiful daughter who was the result of a perfectly normal pregnancy and delivery. This ectopic pregnancy happened after a tubal ligation, and came long after I thought I was done in the baby making business.

Is there something I can take from this experience that would bring glory to our Lord? Was this just a medical issue I had to live through? It wasn't particularly physically painful. I'm a little sore and stiff, but not the worst pain in the world. I know and believe that He has a plan and purpose for everything. I just can't seem to make sense of this. And, I know that that is okay too. Not all things are for me to know. I mostly want to know your thoughts on the beginning of life.....should I be grieving the loss of a child....or no? Do you have a particular passage of Scripture that might be of some encouragement to me now? I will eagerly await to hear from you.

May our Lord continue to use you as instrument - In our Lord and Savior, and the One who knows all reasons for all things.

Response #2: 

While it is always a pleasure to hear from you, you certainly have my commiserations in this difficult time. First off I would like to say that I draw much encouragement from your e-mail – not just because of your words of appreciation and support (which are in turn very much appreciated), but even more because of your mature response to this heartache and your clear witness of strong Christian faith. I have seen so many people in my life "tripped up" by far lesser challenges when there is the great temptation to shout “Why me God?!”, so that it is a great pleasure to see someone who really does love and believe in Jesus to such a degree and from such a pure heart that even a shock like this cannot shake, cannot shatter faith, but is instead an opportunity to demonstrate the power and the value of faith. Believe me, if your solidity of faith in the Lord comes through to me through an e-mail, it cannot help but to be coming through to all who are close to you. Anyone can be a fair-weather witness for Jesus Christ. But in my observation and experience, the true sincerity of one's witness is tested and demonstrated in adversity. Therefore while I grieve with you in your loss and pain, I rejoice for you (and, hopefully, with you) in the triumph of your faith. Everything you say in this e-mail – trusting God even when the purpose and the point of the trouble are not at all clear – demonstrates that you have truly come to put Him first in your life, in the fundamental construct of your thinking, in everything you think and say and do. The number of Christians today who have achieved this level of spiritual growth – through diligent Bible study and determined application of the truth they have believed to their daily lives – are few and far between. So in spite of the heartache, I want to encourage you that you could not be handling this better, and that you are a witness and an encouragement to all of us who understand that the Lord is our life.

As to the specifics of the questions you ask about, I would say that you are so right to look to scripture, and that you are so right to trust God even in the absence of clear information about your particular situation. When Abraham was taking Isaac up to Mt. Moriah to present him as a burnt offering and sacrifice, he had no idea why this was happening, and, to the contrary, every bit of human logic – even scriptural common sense – pointed to this being a horribly unfair thing that he should refuse, absent, that is, a faith in God that was so deep and so enduring that even something so painful and seemingly wrong could not faze his trust in the One who made him and saved him. You put it very well when you say we may not know why and that is "O.K."; faith that doesn't need an explanation from God is the strongest, most mature type of faith, and it is just that type of faith that honors our Master the most.

I will say a few things more. I am no M.D., but it is my understanding that ectopic pregnancies can be dangerous, and the fact that God has delivered you in good health is a blessing. What I can say about the whole issue of when life begins is that for me the issue is made very clear in scripture: life begins at birth when God places a human spirit inside the newly born.

At that time we had those who fathered our flesh to discipline us, and we respected them. Shall we not all the more submit ourselves to the Father of our spirits and live?
Hebrews 12:9

As this and many other passages make clear, only the physical body is passed down by the parents; the spiritual part of man comes directly from God, and without the giving of the human spirit, there can be no life (cf. the case of children who are "still-born"). For a much more detailed discussion of this issue, please see the following link: "The Dichotomy of Man" in Basics part 3A: Anthropology.

It is true that we are wonderfully "knit together" and that God is the Architect and Superintendent of the physical side of the process as well as the spiritual one, but many Christians and Christian groups are dangerously mistaken in their assessment of the spiritual side of the equation: there can be no life without an act of God. I know that this leaves many "what ifs", but I am content and always counsel others to be content as well in the knowledge that our God is grace and mercy personified, and that all whom He means to see the light of day do so, and all whom He means to save without the necessity of a decision for Jesus are so saved (whether their lives last ten seconds or ten years). When we remember that He loved us so much that He sacrificed His own Son like a burnt offering on that same Mt. Moriah, the hill of Calvary, and that unlike Isaac there was no deliverance for Him who was forsaken on our behalf and judged for all our sins, we know for certain that we have every grounds for confidence in these cases and no grounds for ultimate regret. Whatever we have lost in the case of the very young, as children, or newborns, or even before that as in your case, we can have complete confidence that the personal grief we may feel now will, on that day of days when we stand before Him who gave Himself over to death for us, be transformed into unimaginable joy and eternal life.

God most certainly has a plan and a purpose for you and your life, and I rejoice that you are actively seeking His will and guidance for this in a day and in an age when so many are defining that plan and purpose in terms of what they want instead of what God wants. That is why faith in the crucible having the quality of gold refined in the fire of testing such as yours is of so much greater value, both in terms of personal reward and in terms of witness for the Lord – precisely because faith and faithfulness in the midst of sorrow and heartache demonstrates choosing for God in what He has willed, even when we don't understand it at all and even when it hurts us terribly, rather than choosing what we want and calling it Christian service.

Whatever the specifics of what the Lord has for you in a broad scope, one of the things I believe that He certainly has for you in terms of plan and purpose is the demonstration to the world, to men and angels both, that your faith in Him transcends what the eye can see, in the hope of resurrection, reward, and eternal life, in love for Jesus Christ with a joy that surmounts all tears, springing up to His glory forevermore. Does the Lord have plans for you? Indeed He does, and it seems to me that in this witness of yours you are carrying out your duty most admirably.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future".
Jeremiah 29:11  NIV

Thank you for faithful witness and the encouragement it brings to me and to us all.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I was just sure I had read on the website about the spirit entering the body at birth. I am going to go back and re-read the Dichotomy of Man. I think that will be most comforting to me now.

Thank you also for your kind words. I take it as a heavy responsibility that I, a mere human, His creation, have the ability to make God sad. I try very hard not to do that, and know in my heart He doesn't want me to be sad. He loves me far more than I can imagine, and far more than in this form I can love Him so I know that my happiness is His. I still can make no sense of this situation, and have accepted that I can't see the big picture, but I know it's doing something for somebody or it wouldn't have happened. Yes, ectopic pregnancies can, and are very dangerous. I had emergency surgery on Friday afternoon, and after they got in there, they discovered my tube had ruptured. It was messy. I can report though, that other than the stiffness, I'm not much worse for the wear. I, of course, thank our Father for that. I'm glad I have more time to spend with my daughter and husband. Although, like you, I'm very ready and excited about meeting the Lord, He has to decide when that will be.

My faith is of great value to me. It is my most prized possession. I do love the Lord. And I try each day to communicate that to Him. I worry that He doesn't hear thank you enough. I try to say it at least once a day. I've found myself almost mentally curled up in His lap these past few days, just resting. I'm sure from all I've read that you can relate to that.....sometimes, when I pray, I'm sure if I reached out a hand, I could touch Him. He's that real....always has been, always will be. I owe that to Momma and Daddy. I was raised in church, and like the prodigal son, no matter how far I strayed, I always came back. I've been "home" for quite awhile now. I'm very content here. I'm sure you understand.

I also wanted to take a moment to relate a quick story to you. When I was just a few days pregnant (I didn't know it yet), at Easter, I was at Mother and Daddy's and I found a book called "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23" by Phillip Keller. I began reading it and was surprised to learn how similar we are to sheep. Mr. Keller was a shepherd for a time and observed sheep first hand. His thoughts on this Psalm and his telling of shepherding were very comforting to me. It made the Psalm come to life in a new way. I'm also happy to report that Mr. Keller seems to be a genuine Christian. He has known great loss and still puts our Lord first. If you haven't read this, I highly recommend it. Anyways, I'm convinced that the Lord put it in my hands. I've had it during this whole time and it, along with my Bible and prayer have brought me great comfort.

Thank you for your kind words, for all of your hard work and wisdom.

In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who makes us all kindred spirits.

Response #3:

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and encouraging e-mail. We have a lot in common in a lot of different ways. It is so nice to know that there are genuine and true kindred spirits out there soldiering on for Jesus Christ in spite of trials and tribulations – "these are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight" (Ps.16:3). Your approach and your application are models of faith and faithfulness. Someday, with your permission, I would like to post all of this to the site.

In the meantime, continue to stay close to the Lord, and know that your doing so helps me and others do so as well.

In Him who is our life and our all, our dear Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

What constitutes marriage, biblically speaking?

When I was younger, I had what I thought was an immoral relationship with a young man I was dating. We repented of our sexual involvement with each other after about a year and decided to wait until we were married. We eventually broke up and I married another man some years later.

Recently, I ran across a website which, beginning with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:16, asserts that sexual intercourse alone makes a man and a woman married to each other in God's eyes. If this is true, Jesus' teaching about divorce (putting away) affects many people who don't even realize they have been "married" before.

If that is the case, I certainly understand. I am very frightened that I am in adultery right now. I have read some (all) of the other emails about divorce/remarriage posted on your site. I know that there is not any scripture that tells persons to divorce from second marriages, but it seems to me that if you are committing adultery, God would want you to stop.

Perhaps it is too late for me. Even as I write that, I sink into hopelessness. Who am I kidding here? I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I did it anyway. I have owned a Bible and possessed the ability to read it for many years, I just continued sinning carelessly, selfishly, and
rarely even gave God a thought. If the gate is narrow, if God only saved eight when he destroyed the world the first time (in the flood), the odds are heavily against someone like me being saved.

I have read and studied so much about this one flesh thing that I don't know where the opinions of others, my own feelings and the truth begin and/or end. Please help me if you can.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Response #4:

I want to commend you for your obviously genuine desire to pursue a sanctified life for Jesus Christ. It is not easy to ask questions like this, but the fact that you are asking is a very clear indication of both the sincerity of your heart and your honest desire to do what God would have you to do – this is sound, biblical approach (Is.66:2; cf. Ps.51:17; 2Cor.7:8-12), and you are to be
commended for it.

I did get a chance to look at the website linked in your e-mail. Although I did not spend a copious amount of time there, I did spend long enough. The first thing I would point out about this site is that the individual (and it seems to be an individual) does not reveal anything at all about himself (and I guarantee you it is a "he"). Even were I to be in total agreement with the content of such a "blind" site, I would never recommend it or join fellowship with it: if one is going to pronounce on the Word of God, one should stand up and admit who they are, where they are coming from, what their associations are, and what qualifications they have as a basis for the authority they are claiming. In other words, I would rank the authority of this site as "zero".

Let me start with the first basic proposition. Marriage is marriage. I am well aware that there are a variety of different interpretations out there in the ether, some even from a scholarly perspective. But in my view, based upon the original languages of both Testaments, what I know of the cultural parameters of the ancient civilizations involved, and, most important, what I understand from the pertinent scriptures, marriage is marriage. That is to say, we all know who is married and who is not, for marriage is legally defined institution (and for good societal reasons, regardless of faith). The same was true in the ancient world. For example, when Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn.4:4-26), He says at one point, "Go call your husband", and when she responds "I have no husband", Jesus tells her "You are right when you say you have no husband". Immediately after this our Lord says "You have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband". The implications for your question are profound. This woman, in Jesus' words, had been married, five times in fact, but now was not ("You have no husband"). And although she was living with a man, he was not her husband. This can only mean that she had not married this man in a legal marriage ceremony, and in Jesus' eyes, that meant she was not married to him at all. Moreover, although scripture does not say so, the odds of the previous five husbands all being dead are extremely remote. The only way one can honestly interpret these verses is that for our Lord (and thus for us), marriage means marriage (i.e., a binding, legal ceremony as defined by the state and culture of the time, just as it always has been). Further, assuming any one of the previous five were alive, after divorce, the marriage is over. Finally, living together with someone, or having sexual relations with someone, is not a marriage.

This means, of course, that those who take the horrendous and anti-biblical position that worries you are dead wrong in every way. Indeed, if it were any other way, what should we think? If someone comes to Christ from a very secular life-style that involved sexual relations with multiple partners over time, then, according to this absurd theory, they would be married to them all. And it is certain that those multiple partners had sexual relations with other people too, so we are also married to all the people they have ever had sexual relations with or are legally married to now with the result that we are all in one big group marriage. If we are not careful, everyone will end up being married to everyone else. And to take this absurdity to its final absurd outcome, if we are married forever to the people we have had sexual relations with, then what is the problem? If we are married to them, then why can't we go on having sexual relations with them and be justified in God's eyes, no matter what the legal reality may be? After all, we are "married to them". So it doesn't matter that we are legally married to someone else at the same time. As long as we are married in this other sense, we can have sexual relations with impunity. For the ultimate logic of this position that removes the legal aspect of marriage from marriage is that we would be allowed to have sexual relations with anyone we have ever had sexual relations with in addition to whomever we are currently legally married to. Because even if we are not married to them legally before we have sexual relations, we are in this view after we have had sexual relations. Although, in my view, the Bible discourages polygamy (and certainly it commands us to conform to the laws of the state in which we live which, in our case, do outlaw multiple legally contracted marriages), it does not outlaw it (even in the New Testament: cf. 1Tim.3:2; 3:12), so not even this complication can be adduced as a measure of control to the problem outlined above. So if we do accept the absurd hypothesis that "sexual relations = marriage", we could just relax and accept the fact that we are married to multiple people and can have sexual relations with them without sin whenever we want, and if we get interested in someone else, there is no problem, because after we have had sexual relations we will be married to them too.

I certainly do not wish to give anyone the impression that sexual sin (or any sin, for that matter), is of small consequence. Jesus' words about being "one flesh" are designed to show the importance and the sanctity of marriage in God's eyes. The idea that a man could willy-nilly divorce his wife for any cause and move onto the next woman leaving the first one in the lurch (and in the patriarchal society of Jesus' day this would be very much the case for the woman), was and is an abomination. Jesus' purpose in this statement is clearly to support the institution of marriage and to show His listeners what the proper attitude of heart ought to be: "love and care for you wife, husband (and vice versa), and do not take this commitment sanctified by God since the creation of mankind lightly, for God does not". The purpose of this statement is most definitely not to level unresolvable guilt upon all but the most chaste of human beings.

The conscience is a very important human asset, empowered at the fall as a necessary compass without which we would have no hope of recognizing our shortcomings in God's eyes and so becoming motivated to return to Him on His terms. Feelings of guilt, therefore, are beneficial when properly interpreted, motivating the unbeliever to seek Christ, and the believer to seek forgiveness through confession and repentance after lapsing into sin. But guilt can be a monster when it is allowed to burst beyond the proper bounds that the truth of scripture set for it. We are all sinners (1Ki.8:46; Job 15:14; Ps.143:2; Rm.3:23; 5:12; 1Jn.1:8-10). But Jesus died for all our sins on the cross. He was "made sin for us" (2Cor.5:21; cf. Rom.4:25; 1Pet.2:24) so that we could be cleansed of all our sins and be righteous in God's eyes, not by our own works, but by God considering us righteous on the basis of what Christ did for us. And how do we get this forgiveness, this righteousness not properly our own? Through faith (Rom.3:22-24; 8:1).

At some point, we have to accept in faith the fact that God has forgiven us. We all sin, therefore we all need to admit it to ourselves and confess it to God from a contrite heart (1Jn.1:5-10). When we do repent and confess, we need to understand that God has accepted us back into fellowship, not because we are special, not because He is impressed with our emotional reaction, and certainly not because of any penance we have done (God forbid!), but because the Father places the highest value upon the work done by His Son on the cross (see the link: "John's primer on sin"). Jesus' blood spilt for us is the basis for our initial redemption and all our subsequent cleansings (cf. Jn.13:1-10).

Sin is no small matter, it is true, and God does indeed discipline us for all our transgressions, and, reasonably, more so for worse, more willful, and more chronic infractions, but He does so as a loving Father training up His children (Heb.12:7-13), not to crush us and destroy us, but to teach us and to help us. If we sin, when we sin, we are going to regret it – if not from conscience, then certainly from punishment. But as soon as we turn and confess, we enter back into our Father's good graces, back into fellowship with the Lord who bought us, who loved us so much He went through a life of suffering of which we cannot now know even the thousandth part. And all the discipline we endure for our sinning is turned to the good. His anger does not last forever, and in the morning there are songs of joy (Ps.30:5).

David committed adultery with another man's wife, a trusted and trusting subordinate, then had the man murdered to cover up his sin. You know the story. David was severely chastised. As a prophet of God and the man that the Lord has set over His people Israel, one cannot imagine how he could have been more culpable – how could anyone have born a greater measure of responsibility for such crimes and for such sins? But God forgave him (2Sam.12:13b). Considering the 14 years of horrendous trouble David endured as a result, this story is certainly not a recommendation for high-handed and willful sin. But it does illustrate God's forgiveness of those who love Him and repent of their sin (2Sam.12:13a), and it is well to point out that during that time David was still king, still writing Psalms, still enjoying the prosperity God gave him, and even learning and growing from the discipline that continued to come his way.

Guilt can be a very powerful force for good, but also for ill. All cults know this, and there are very few cults or cult leaders who do not have an almost instinctual grasp of the principle that guilt is probably the easiest and quickest way to motivate good people to turn away from common sense and fall in behind the cult. For once you accept whatever the cult says about whatever it is that makes you feel guilty, you hand over the only possible solution, the only hope for redemption to the cult – let's be clear here – not to the Bible or to the One whose Word the Bible is.

I don't know you personally, and the details I have about your situation are necessarily limited, but from what I do know it is quite safe to say that you are married to your husband, and that he is the only one to whom you have ever been married. If you sinned in your past, you are in this respect no different from any other member of the human race, including all of your brother and sister Christians. Sin is not a small issue, and we are indeed called to live holy lives, lives of sanctification wherein sin's hold upon us becomes less and less as we grow up spiritually in Jesus and more and more put His truth to work in our lives. We will never be entirely free of sin – it is always crouching at the door, but we can through the Spirit gain the mastery over it and avoid the terrible consequences of gross and wilfull disobedience such as befell that great believer David.

My advice to you, clear already I would imagine from the content of this e-mail, is to let the past rest in peace in the past, and to put away the pangs of conscience for things long since turned to dust. We would all like to have been perfect. We all have some skeletons in our closets. We all, from time to time, are tempted by the evil one to look back and attribute present misfortune to sin long passed (even Job did this [wrongly]: Job 13:26). But like any other test of faith, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to put what we know by faith ahead of everything else, no matter what our eyes tell us, no matter even what our conscience may say, when we know through the eyes of faith that such matters are long “out of date”.

By this we know that we are of the truth, and before Him we persuade our heart, that if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows everything.
1st John 3:19-20

Put your heart in God's hands and move on in faith in Jesus Christ.

In the One who died to redeem us from all our sins, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

Thank you for your quick and thorough reply. I want to believe what you have pointed out – that marriage is marriage (and we all know whether or not we are married). I am troubled that (among other things) my physical relationship with my prior boyfriend went on for quite a while. It lasted longer than some celebrity marriages that I read about in tabloid headlines at the grocery store checkout. So, because I was "playing the harlot" I can be forgiven and move on, but the woman who actually marries the guy is "stuck for life"? It seems illogical. And unfair.

So what do you think Paul meant by his "one body/one flesh statement" in 1 Corinthians 6:16?

Still trying to work it all out...

Response #5: 

My policy in all things is to put scripture first and leave what I may think far behind in second place. In my experience, even things in scripture which seemed "odd" or "unfair" or even "somehow wrong", but accepted in faith, ultimately all have turned out to make a great deal of sense as more and more of the truth of scripture became clear. For me, Jesus' explanation of the situation is decisive. I don't see how anyone could have been more clear than He on the occasion mentioned, and one certainly couldn't ask for a better authority.

But let's take your argument, namely, that it seems prima facie unfair that someone who has not committed to marriage can so "easily" be free of the situation. In my view, that is only true in the limited legal sense. It occurs to me that your experience is evidence enough that there are consequences for behavior that go far beyond what the world may see. Our heavenly Father knows us far better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware of how best to discipline us to make us understand the gravity and the wrongness of what we have done. Given that you are still burdened by the experience, it does not seem to me that you got off "scot-free" by any means. On the other hand, it is also true that whether or not someone takes the step of making a solemn commitment in actually getting married is an extremely important issue. One of the major societal problems we have is that people nowadays do not seem to be taking their commitments as seriously as they did in the past. Getting married is no small thing in God's eyes, and that is true even if it seems less binding to contemporary society than was true in the past (compare the gravity of taking oaths in the Old Testament and the corresponding advisability of not taking them at all if one is prudent).

Ideally, yes, getting married is getting "stuck for life", and, again, ideally, this will be a blessing for two people who behave honorably, especially for two Christians who do their best to follow the guidance contained in scripture of maintaining love and honor for each other. There are cases where disaster strikes, but in my experience and observation, God also knows how to deliver His children, even out of the lions' den. Marriage is difficult, and sexual promiscuity is against God's law, so we would all do well to be very deliberate about getting married, and prudently abstinent where all other forms of sexual relations are concerned. But we are human, after all, and so we sin, and we make other mistakes too which may not be sinful but can also cause us grief. Praise God that He watches over us for good, delivering us many times from disastrous relationships, and forgiving us for others! He knows how to help us in marriage, and how to discipline and heal us in sin.

As to 1st Corinthians 6:16 and following, the point Paul is making here is that porneia, sexual misconduct of all kinds, is an especially deadly and damaging type of sin. It can be devastating in a variety of ways, and you are certainly neither the first nor the last to experience that. The example of consorting with prostitutes is chosen here by Paul not only because it was a particular problem in Corinth (where religious shrine prostitution was a major industry), but more specifically precisely because it was clearly not marriage. Paul is saying to these offending believers (and to all of us who may be involved in or tempted to any sexual sin) that to do such things is to behave as if one were married when one is not, and that is a violation of the most basic human institution ordained by God, that of marriage. So to the extent that we understand how important marriage is in legal terms, and how important it is to God (hence Jesus' quoting
from Genesis), to that extent we come to understand that it is no small thing to engage in the sexual privilege that belongs only to marriage when we are not married, and to that extent we will be careful to follow Paul's advice and "flee fornication". Again, if this verse were teaching that we became "married" when we did such things, there would no longer be any offense since we would have passed over the threshold of marriage by our acts.

I hope this is helpful to you in trying to work through this difficult time. One of the problems with sexual involvement – one that younger people in particular do not understand until it is too late – is that one really can't expect to have a sexual relationship without also having an emotional one, and that the emotional after-effects, residue, and "bonding" that takes place in illicit affairs is always going to be an experience for the worse. The best we can do after the fact as Christians is to put ourselves into the hands of our loving Savior and merciful Father and trust for the healing that God can bring.

Yours in our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill:

But is Jesus in His teaching on divorce differentiating between marrying and becoming one flesh? He does say "Whosoever puts away his woman/wife and *marries* another...". He acknowledges that another *marriage* has taken place, but that marriage still does not make the sexual involvement legitimate. He calls it adultery. (Or perhaps I am just interpreting it that way. He does not actually say, "Whosoever puts away his woman/wife and *marries* another and then lies with her...) Perhaps it is the action of marrying.

So the question, I guess, really is this: When does God join a man and woman? What does leave (as in *leaves* his father and mother) mean? It occurs to me even as I write this that I am looking for a guarantee that God did not yoke me together with my prior boyfriend. I guess no one, other than the Lord Himself, can give me that assurance. If I pray earnestly enough perhaps He will answer me in a way that I can have confidence that I am not deceiving myself with my thoughts and conclusions. I am so new at this that I don't know how to discern God's answers to prayers.

Somewhere on your website you made the point that you dislike the kind of game some people play in trying to argue and find legal points to prove a position. I don't wish to do that. I want to know where I stand in terms of my marriage. What you have kindly written makes sense, and I hope it is right.

So, if I may ask yet another question on a related note: What is your translation of Leviticus 21:7 and 14 (verses regulating marriages of Levites). Does it refer to prostitutes (as in paid prostitutes?) or women who have committed fornication?

Thank you again for your time and thoughtful answers. I pray that the Lord will continue to bless your life and work.

Response #6: 

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouraging words.

People who divorce without any justification and then remarry put themselves in a very awkward situation. From your e-mails, you make it clear that you have read my responses about this problem, so I will just say here what is pertinent to your question, namely, a marriage is a marriage, and a divorce is a divorce. A bad marriage has it consequences, and an unjustified divorce has its consequences. Regardless of how much I love the Lord, if I marry someone who is not a Christian in full knowledge of that fact, I am doing something against God's will, but I have still committed myself to God and man as married to that person. Scripture is clear on this point that one is not given the "green light" to divorce for that reason after the fact (for it is not even advisable to do so if the marriage is otherwise sound even for those who are saved while married to an unbeliever: 1Cor.7:12-14). And regardless of how much I love the Lord, if I divorce someone without any scriptural justification, especially when this puts them in a difficult situation, then marry someone else, it is the same as committing adultery against them. But that does not mean that in order to fix the situation I should now divorce spouse #2, or that I can withhold what is due (1Cor.7:3-5). What it means is that I have put myself in an awful situation by my own doing, and that the new marriage I am in is still a marriage, even though I didn't have the right to divorce in my prior marriage.

In all such matters, we need to understand two things above all: 1) God is holy, and He demands our respect and obedience, and will not allow our transgressions to go unpunished; 2) God is merciful, and He understands that we are but flesh and is ever ready to forgive our transgressions based upon the saving work of our Lord Jesus. As with many things in scripture, both of these principles are 100% true even though they may seem to contradict each other in the world's logic. Further, if we overemphasize either mercy or justice or forget either principle we do so to our grave spiritual peril. If we focus unduly on God's mercy and forgiveness to the exclusion of His holiness and intolerance of sin, we will find ourselves emboldened to do things that will result in terrible consequences, both divine and temporal. On the other hand, if we focus unduly on God's demand for holiness to the exclusion of His mercy, we will torture ourselves to the point where our faith can endure it no longer, and may well fall away to get out from under the emotional pressure. One thing I know about our God and I will shout it from the rooftops: He does forgive our sins, and He does provide a way out of the most impossible and intolerable messes, messes we have cooked up for ourselves through our own folly, sin, and disobedience. If we really do return to Him with all of our heart and make Him and His Son our Lord Jesus the focus of our lives, then He always will and always does show us mercy and forgiveness, bring healing and repair, making the end better than the beginning, often just when we fear that we have come to the end through our own mis-steps.

Leviticus does enjoin members of the Jewish priesthood from marrying any woman who is not a virgin (cf. Lev.21:14). By implication, this means that other men (i.e., 99% of the Jewish male population) were not enjoined from marrying widows, or divorced women, or women who had otherwise previously had sexual relations. The heart of the person is what really counts, their love for the Lord (or lack of it).

In the line of our Lord Jesus Christ, we find Ruth, a gentile who was widowed then remarried, Bathsheba, a woman who had committed adultery then was widowed then married her co-adulterer, Tamar, a woman who had tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her by pretending to be a prostitute (albeit with righteous justification), and Rahab, a prostitute by trade who later turned to the Lord and married an Israelite. In my view it is far from being an accident that these things happened or that they are so purposefully recorded in scripture – and right at the beginning of the first gospel (Matt.1:4-6). We do not find here any condoning of sin of any kind, but what we do find is a very pointed object lesson in that sexual impurity from a variety of causes did not stop God from using the women so named from having prominent places in the line of His Son, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Love for the Lord is more important than any past mistake or past circumstance (1Pet.4:8), for He has already died for them all.

Rest assured that I do not consider your e-mails an exercise in legalistic wrangling, but instead I see them as what they are: an earnest attempt to know the truth of God's Word and be at peace in your relationship with Him.

In Him who has left us His peace, a peace that passes all understanding, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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