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Believers in the World IV:
Making Godly Choices vs. Following Man-Made Rules

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Question #1: 

Dear Professor,

I have implemented some strategies which have helped me spiritually.

My plan had been to read two chapters of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New every morning. Now that apart from reading the scripture I have also been going through our correspondence on each passage, reading commentaries and recently more frequently consulting both Hebrew and Greek texts, this has become considerably more time consuming. As a result, I felt that this critical part of daily Christian walk was being fulfilled under time pressure, without all the focus and diligence it's due. Alternatively, if I did everything as it should be done, it would take much longer and other parts of the study - studying languages and theology - would suffer. And there are still earthly commitments which require time and energy daily. Usually it's been a mixture of the two - not enough attention and still a long time allocated.

Now I read one chapter of the Old Testament, as I want to understand as many problematic passages as possible which arose through the previous reading. It's been working well and I'm not later in the day bothered about going for quantity and not devoting sufficient attention to difficult verses. Diligence is so important and I'm happy not compromising on it. As you say, so I want to live up to saying also - this is my real work, my profession is a hobby which pays my bills. I want this work to be done the way in which it should be done.

Also, the NASB Audio Bible has now become an integral part of my daily living. I listen to scripture whenever the circumstances allow me to. Here also lack of focus and going for quantity crept in, which I had to address. But more importantly, I have been refreshed by listening to the gospels daily. I would normally listen to the books I'm reading and although listening the word of God is always spiritually helpful, listening to the Word of God incarnate is most powerful and has also provided me with a lot of encouragement amidst the issues I wrote to you about.

I'm careful to take each day as it happens, but Professor, I daily thank God for this deliverance. I knew I had to trust when there were no prospects for my situation to improve and I now regret and feel ashamed of every instance when I asked "Why?", when I let doubt appear and sought my own solutions. God delivered in a way I could never imagine. And now I look back, and what can I say, Professor? God's timing has been exactly right. I am now given professional opportunities which allow me to make two ends meet and it is good in so many ways that I had to wait. It's been a great test of faith for me, long and difficult. Just as in training, so also spiritually the overload principle applies - one has to be challenged beyond what one is accustomed to in order to grow. It's been a lesson in patience and perseverance. It's been good not having money, because as I now might be starting to earn some, I don't take it for granted, but thank God for provision and know that it is all from Him. And even in purely professional terms - I'm better in what I'm doing than I was three years ago. Things which seemed hard to understand at the time are crystal clear when one looks at them in retrospection. Faith is about looking into the future with the same peace as when we look into the past and understand God's plan. But this peace, rather than coming from things being now clear and resolved, has to come from unshaken trust.

I pray for your deliverance daily,

May this be a blessed year for you. I pray for you daily that God may grant you all that you need to continue your inspirational and life-changing ministry. I am looking forward to hearing about your deliverance.

Your student and son in faith (1 Timothy 1:2,18; Titus 1:4) who owes you his very self (Philemon 1:19),

Response #1:  

Thank you, my dear friend!

I very much appreciate all of your kind and considerate words, and value your friendship in the Lord greatly. Your comments all bespeak much wisdom. First, "do it"; then "do it well". One should not allow the first stipulation to override the second (as if the first were enough); one should not allow the second to prevent one doing the first at all (as if nothing is preferable to a less than perfect approach) – both are common maladies of the human condition in all things. Getting the balance exactly right, as you are doing, takes wisdom and exceptional self-discipline – but in the Lord that pays the greatest of dividends:

For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
1st Timothy 4:8 NASB

In anticipation of much mutual prayer support, encouragement and rejoicing, in this life but also in the life to come.

Your friend forever in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

What is the will of god, just to believe in Jesus?

Response #2: 

We enter into the family of God by faith; and after we are in we are to walk by faith (Phil.3:16; Col.2:6-7; cf. 1Pet.1:22-25). That entails spiritual growth, spiritual progress in our walk in this world with Jesus Christ, as we deal with the troubles and tests which come, and spiritual production which helps other believers to do the same. When it comes to doing God's will, we all fall short, and we all have room for improvement – which is a challenge to improve, not to give up in despair for past failures (of which we all have a share). As Paul says, pressing forward while forgetting the past is the only way to win the prize we all seek:

(12) [It is] not that I have already gotten [what I am striving for], nor that I have already completed [my course]. Rather, I am continuing to pursue [the prize] in hopes of fully acquiring it – [this prize for whose acquisition] I was myself acquired by Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I do not consider that I have already acquired it. This one thing only [do I keep in mind]. Forgetting what lies behind me [on the course] and straining towards the [course] ahead, (14) I continue to drive straight for the tape, towards the prize to which God has called us from the beginning [of our race] in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hey Dr. Luginbill,

Can you please tell me how to be more disciplined? That's probably my biggest issue right now. It's not big at all when I think about it. I don't really have problems anymore. Well, I do have things that I would like to change. I'm just pretty zen about it. I haven't been worrying nearly as much. I don't get worked up over things so easily. Spiritually, I feel fine. That might sound lackluster, but fine is good enough for me. At least, for the time being. Also, I stumbled onto a career idea. I think I might look into being a screenwriter. You know, like for television series and whatnot. What do you think about that? I never considered it before. I saw myself as a poet, or a novelist. I had kind of lost my passion for writing though. This is the first time in a while that writing has truly interested me.


Response #3:  

Self-discipline is a heavy lift, and not an overnight thing. Most people who have a great deal of it have been aided in developing it through having come up in some "hard school", whether it was a very demanding home situation (as in growing up on a working farm), or having been subject to military training and discipline. However, even such aid is no guarantee that a person will be disciplined once the authority and necessity is removed. Those who have neither authority or necessity to help will have a harder time developing self-discipline. Blessedly, all Christians have the Holy Spirit who is more than willing and able to help us to do what is right at all times – provided that we are willing to do what is right at all times. By "right" I mean "spiritually profitable", for while there are many things that are permissible (1Cor.6:12; 10:23), not all things are "profitable" viewed from the standpoint of accomplishing what Jesus Christ wants us to do in this life: grow spiritually, attain maturity and advance spiritually, then help others do the same through ministry – that is where the eternal rewards are to be won. It's also blessed that the way to become ever more disciplined and effective in all this is by engaging in the process in the first place (and in the second, and third, and fourth places, etc.). The more we grow, the better we get at all such things.

There are of course secular means towards greater self-discipline, but these are often antithetical to the truth. The best way for a believer to make progress in this regard is to keep his/her objectives and priorities very straight in the head and in the heart: trying to please Jesus Christ and receive a good report before Him on that great day of days. The important thing to remember is that we are in charge of our own free will, that in respect to what God asks of us we can do what we purpose to do if we are but willing to do so, and that any change for the better or perseverance in the good requires that we take absolute responsibility for our decisions at every point; once we doubt we should or doubt we can, we won't.

As to writing, it is a fine profession, but also a very tough one with a great deal of competition. There are also spiritual issues to consider (one has to be at peace with the Lord in one's conscience about what one writes when it comes to fiction). One piece of advice I would have for you on this is to be prepared to be frustrated and disappointed. Very few commercially successful writers attain that success without years in the wilderness and many prior failures. Even if your stuff is good, be prepared for most people not to realize it. To succeed in this profession, you really have to develop a very thick skin. It may be an apocryphal story, but I once read of a frustrated author whose work had been much rejected. This person took a copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' classic, highly awarded and best-selling novel "The Yearling", copied it with a typewriter, complete with erasures and all the makings of a draft copy, re-titled it and then sent it out to a hundred publishers. The result? Ninety-nine rejected it; one accepted it . . . but said it would need major revisions. On the other hand, the absolute dreck that gets published . . .

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Hi Bob,

The Bible has much wisdom and many instructions for life. But there are so many opportunities to make mistakes, so why doesn't God speak to all believers in the following manner:

At 7:00 CST you should wake up.

At 7:01 CST you should stretch for 4 minutes.

At 7:05 CST you should brush and floss your teeth.

At ...

This kind of communication wouldn't take away a believer's free will, because said believer is always free to say "I'm sorry God, but I don't have enough faith to follow your instructions with that degree of precision."


Response #4: 

It's a blessing He doesn't do it this way! The first time you missed the alarm clock, what would you do? Also, the way things actually are is designed by God to find out whether we really do love the Lord, and, if so, just how much? If we do love Him, then He'll help us find just the right way to serve Him . . . and not "one size fits all" either. When the personal plan to please Him and the self-discipline to carry it out are supplied by us, we will be helped by the Spirit to carry out all that is in our hearts for the true good: our growth, our walk with Jesus day by day, and our support of His Body, the Church, in helping them to do likewise. That is what we get rewarded for in eternity, and those rewards far exceed anything we can presently imagine. So this struggle is absolutely worth it, even it is sometimes hard to keep answering the bell day after day.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2nd Corinthians 4:17-18 NKJV

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Do I have to forsake fake tv violence? Wouldn't that be God's will?

Response #5:  

Here's what I read in scripture:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
1st Corinthians 6:12 NASB (cf. 1Cor.10:23)

There's nothing about television in scripture. That's not surprising, of course, but there's also nothing in the New Testament about attending dramatic performances, of which there were plenty in the Roman world of the NT. In fact, Paul quotes Menander, a Greek comic poet, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor.15:33). It is true that the context is negative, and also true that this is hardly a ringing endorsement for attending Greek (or Roman) plays et al. (let alone watching TV), but it is difficult to explain for those who want to make television one of the seven deadly sins.

That sort of thinking, i.e., the negative approach of prohibiting activities not specifically deemed sinful in scripture, is contrary to the best approach, the positive approach suggested by the apostle Paul above, namely, to put Christ first in all we do. If we are really trying to walk closer to Him at all times and do what is well-pleasing to Him, our behavior will change over time, especially as we grow spiritually and develop a better perspective on all things worldly with each passing day. If something is an outright sin, there's no justifying it (and there is terrible danger in trying to do so). If something is clearly pleasing to the Lord, then the more of it the better (within the realm of human capacity). But there is much in this world that falls in-between what is clearly and absolutely good or bad, so that the benefit or detriment of engaging in all the other sorts of behavior and activity of this middle type will vary with time and circumstance and from believer to believer (cf. Eccl.3:1-8; 7:16-18). That is not relativism: we call sin "sin", and we call doing things the Lord approves "good", but using either word to describe things that don't fall directly into either category is a mistake (either way). We are not all subject to the same temptations to the same degree. We all have an old sin nature but it is different in its weaknesses and desires from person to person. And we are none of us at precisely the same point of spiritual growth. Add to that the kaleidoscopic differences in circumstances confronting one believer to the next and we can see why Paul says what he says: when it comes to this gray area, you are free to do what you think best, but not everything you might do will be good for you to do. Knowing the difference is to a great degree what spiritual maturity is all about:

(1) Therefore I entreat you by God's mercy, brothers, to dedicate your bodies as a living sacrifice, well-pleasing to God – [this is] your "priestly-service" spiritually performed. (2) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by this renewal of your thinking, so that you may discern what God's will for you is, namely what it is good, well-pleasing, and correct [for you to do].
Romans 12:1-2 (cf. Rom.2:17-18)

(9) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in full-knowledge and in all discernment, (10) so that you may be able to evaluate the things that are good and appropriate [for you to do] to be sincere and without offense in regard to the day of Christ (i.e., to gain a maximum reward at Christ's judgment seat), (11) full of the righteous production Jesus Christ [commends] to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11

Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties to [properly] distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:14

If a person is in no way tempted by alcohol, having a glass of wine for dinner and a modest collection of wines would represent no problem or danger, I would imagine (1Tim.5:23). However, for someone who is a recovering alcoholic, it may be "permissible" to do the same and have the same, but it could hardly be profitable, spiritually speaking, to put oneself into such unnecessary temptation – analogous to playing with fire. The bottom line is that you have freedom in Christ, but you should use that freedom not as license to indulge yourself in every possible (potentially) non-sinful behavior (Gal.5:13; 1Pet.2:16), but to please Jesus Christ in all you do. None of us is perfect in this regard, but that is the goal, objective and standard to which we are to conform.

One thing a Christian should never do, however, is to "reform" some behavior for the wrong reasons. We have to follow our consciences (Rom.14:5; Jas.4:17). If we stop doing something because someone else tells us we shouldn't be doing it, while it is godly not to do X in their presence (1Cor.10:24-33), to stop doing X altogether (or to start doing Y) when we are not firmly convinced in our own minds of the rightness of Y or the need to stop X would be a huge mistake. God will lead us to conviction if we really are growing in Him. But one of the quickest ways to derail spiritual growth is to turn the Christian walk into legalism where someone else makes arbitrary rules with which we must conform and then "feel good" about following these prejudices as if they were absolute rules (when they are not from God at all). This is a very common thing in the church-visible today, because where spiritual growth is neglected (and it is being neglected wholesale), some evil always rushes in to fill the vacuum – and legalism is one of the main ways contemporary Christians make up for their lack of growth and lack of genuine understanding of the truth of the Word. Here are some links on this:

Believers in the World III: Prosperity Gospel, Tithing, Cults and Legalism

The Apostles, the Jerusalem Council, and Legalism then and now

Legalism, Past and Present II

Legalism, Past and Present

Combating Legalism I

Combating Legalism II

Combating Legalism III

Combating Legalism IV

Combating Legalism V

Combating Legalism VI

My advice is what it has always been. First, get moving with spiritual growth by means of the consistent taking-in of the Word of God from a sound, doctrinal reliable Bible-teaching ministry (this will solve all problems in the end). And second, in terms of the question you pose, do what you feel God is leading you to do, but do not do anything out of false motives or for the wrong reasons, and avoiding being extreme about it (i.e., instead of immediate abstinence, if you are not convinced of the rightness of that approach, try "less" in terms of volume and in terms of what afflicts your conscience). What is important is your spiritual growth, not how you manage your appearance to the world in terms of the gray areas of life. True growth from the inside out produces genuine and godly change; trying to impose "reforms" from the outside and only to improve how the world sees you, absent the power of the Spirit, absent the truth of the Word, absent the growth from learning and believing the truth that makes all other things possible, will never come to any good.

On television, see also the links:

TV 1

TV 2

TV 3

TV 4

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hi Bob,

Everyone knows that gross sin can lead to physical death or maladies. But what people don't know is that being overly righteous can be just as destructive as gross sin.

"Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

The truth is, you are not God, and you are not Jesus Christ. You cannot live your life as if you were sinless without completely and utterly ruining your life. Personally, I draw the line at any person or spirit telling you to stop listening to entertainment you would otherwise enjoy (which isn't obviously depraved, like porn). There are many Baptists that consider dancing, movie-going, and Rock and Roll to be of the Devil, but if you were going to stop enjoying everything because it wasn't written by King David, I cannot see how this could lead to anywhere other than destruction and withdrawal from the world.

I had a specific example of this kind of "righteousness" in mind that motivated my writing of this email. This guy says that Teletubbies is more or less occult entertainment that will lead toddlers down the wide road to Hell. I'm sorry, but do you really need me to explain how stupid this sounds? That out of all the evils in the world, it is Teletubbies that is Enemy #1?

Give me a break.


Response #6: 

Yes, legalism cannot produce spiritual growth. We all make decisions about what to do with our time; if some things are definitely not helpful and not profitable, that is something we have to decide for ourselves about, and we need to realize that we are deciding. That kind of change has to come from the inside out. If it is being imposed from the outside in, especially in response to someone else's standards or agenda, it not only is not going to help but definitely is going to hurt our spiritual progress, because instead of refining our own standards through the Word and the Spirit, we are adopting a third-party standard whose motives and dynamics we don't even comprehend. This has the effect of making the believer weaker, spiritually, not stronger. It also tends to result in the phenomenon of attempting to build oneself up by battering others down – as in me telling you what you can and can't eat, can and can't watch, can and can't listen to, can and can't think . . .

In the interest of balance, just because legalism is a mistake doesn't mean that it also isn't true that believers who are advancing will get better about using their time and resources more efficiently for the true goals of this life, glorifying Christ with growth, spiritual progress and production. For while one should not be overly righteous or overly wise (as you quote), one should also not be overly wicked or overly foolish (Eccl.7:17). The middle of the road going forward is the right place to be (Eccl.7:18) – not sitting still in the middle or heading backward, but moving forward to a good reward.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #7: 


Selected Comment:

Equal temperament chords do have a kind of active buzz to them, a level of harmonic excitement and intensity. By contrast, just-intonation chords are much calmer, more passive; you literally have to slow down to listen to them. (As Terry Riley says, Western music is fast because it's not in tune.) It makes sense that American teenagers would identify tranquil, purely consonant harmony as moody and depressing. Listening from the other side, I've learned to hear equal temperament music as a kind of aural caffeine, overly busy and nervous-making. If you're used to getting that kind of buzz from music, you feel the lack of it as a deprivation when it's not there. But do we need it? Most cultures use music for meditation, and ours may be the only culture that doesn't. With our tuning, we can't.

My teacher, Ben Johnston, was convinced that our tuning is responsible for much of our cultural psychology, the fact that we are so geared toward progress and action and violence and so little attuned to introspection, contentment, and acquiescence. Equal temperament could be described as the musical equivalent to eating a lot of red meat and processed sugars and watching violent action films. The music doesn't turn your attention inward, it makes you want to go out and work off your nervous energy on something.

Response #7:  

I don't often listen to music per se. When I watch television (even news et al.), there is, of course, a soundtrack to almost everything (except CSPAN). Also, one cannot go grocery shopping in this country without being subjected to muzak. But I do try to tune it out. I mostly find music a distraction and too emotionally manipulative for my tastes (both of which things are already in plentiful enough supply in this country). But I'm aware that this is an odd perspective. It's not a recommendation for others. It's just an observation.

Christians are on earth to please Jesus Christ. And we know how to do that. We know we have to grow up spiritually through attention to and belief of the Word of God and its truths; we know that we have to get better about walking close to Jesus Christ day by day through effectively applying what we have learned in all the trials and tests that come; and we know that, eventually at least, we ought to seek out the right ministry for us in order to help other believers grow and progress as well. This is how we earn the rewards that will glorify our Lord and please us too for all eternity. This process doesn't happen without consistency, self-discipline and sacrifice. We are allowed to do many things which are not sinful (and it is a foolish and dangerous thing to pronounce things which are not sinful as "sinful"), but "not all things are profitable". There is no way that a believer could indulge and engage in everything which is "permissible" and still have time and energy to embrace what is truly spiritually "profitable" in an effective way. What we sacrifice and how, and just how hard and fast we run this race says a lot about how much we love the Lord and just where our true priorities lie. It is a fools errand to "give up" everything on Monday when in the course of human events we will have fallen back into our old patterns by Friday (or maybe even Tuesday). If we really want to have success in this process, we have to develop the self-discipline to engage in sustainable profitable behavior, adding more day by day as we are able to do so. Just as we could never go from couch-potato to Marathon runner in a day or two (it might take years), so we are not going to go from immature new believer to highly productive mature believer in a matter of moments, and it can't be done artificially. If we are truly determined to serve Christ with our all, we will over the course of time "give up" things that are not sinful in order to have the time and energy to do what we really prefer, namely, learning about our Lord, following Him more closely, and serving Him better day by day. Clearly, anything truly sinful is going to harm us and retard this process. But when it comes to optional things like music (or _________ - fill in the blank with your own favorites), our choices will show what we are really made of in the end. Few of us are capable of the "total effort" that the likes of the apostle Paul made in Jesus' Name, and if we are going to get anywhere close, we have to be realistic about the fact that this journey will have to proceed one step at a time. That is not a justification for not taking steps – it is merely a recognition that "all or nothing" is a mistaken point of view, looked at from either side. We should be doing "something"; we can and we ought to want to be doing "more" – and that we can, and, God helping us, that we shall do.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #8: 


I have just read your notes or directions about ensuring to read the Bible in groups and have your own self-guidance rather than following a reading plan.

I saw that you grouped the books in 5 parts, e.g

1) Genesis through Esther

2) Job through Book of Solomon


My question is, do you mean reading each chapter (you said 5 a day) from all the books from Genesis extending to Esther OR only from the two books of Genesis & Esther alone??

Thank you

...If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small!

Response #8: 

Good to make your acquaintance.

This plan is just a suggestion; there are countless ways to approach this issue, and it is always wonderful to read more rather than less each day as time permits. But to answer your question, according to this suggestion a person would read one chapter a day from each group, moving through Genesis, then Exodus in the first group, Job, Psalms, Proverbs in the second, etc., thus reading five total chapters a day. So it would take a good deal longer to get through group one, for example, than group five (the NT epistles). That is perfectly fine – and in my view a very good thing – because it will mean that the reader is going to move through all of the epistles of the New Testament more often than the first third of the Bible. The New Testament is more concentrated in the truths every Christian needs to have sink deep down into their heart, so more important to read more often. Clearly, the entire Word of God is important. However, if a person merely reads the Bible "straight through" it may be that in the course of several years the Christian in question has only read, e.g., the book of Romans a couple of times. I think it would be fine to read Esther, for example, only once or twice a year, but I think it is pretty obvious to anyone who has any familiarity with scripture that the gospel of John, for example, is more worthy of reading more often. This desire to place a greater emphasis on the portions of scripture which are more important for our spiritual growth – while at the same time leaving no part of the Bible out – is behind my suggested plan. In an ideal world we would be able to spend so much time reading scripture that it wouldn't make much difference. In reality, of course, we have limited time, energy and resources, and we have to make choices. Reading and re-reading the Psalms is, in my opinion, more important than reading and re-reading Chronicles. No plan of Bible reading will ever be "one size fits all", and of course it would be fine to change things up to fit your personal interests and needs.

What I am trying to avoid with this suggested approach is the common and problematic "plan" most people adopt, namely, to read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation. The problem with that approach is that much more time will be spent on the Old Testament than the New, just because there is so much more of it, and the emphasis will be shared equally between historical books, e.g., and books which have decidedly more spiritually and doctrinally concentrated content (Ecclesiastes, say, or the epistle to the Ephesians). Further, the gospels containing the words and the deeds of our Lord are clearly worthy of rather more emphasis and time than, say, the books of Leviticus and Numbers, while it is also true that the way in which the epistles are written, that is, being highly concentrated in their expression of truth, require much re-reading before they begin to "sing" to the believer who reads them (whereas the books of Samuel, for instance, are instantly accessible).

As I often say, "how" you read your Bible is not as important as "that" you read your Bible, and I commend your intent to delve deep into scripture in a systematic way.

I hope this answers your question – please do feel free to write back about any of this.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior, the One who is the Word of God.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

1) "Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses." Not everyone who sinned during under the Mosaic Law was stoned right? Everyone cannot go without sin and if everyone was stoned wouldn’t that mean there would be no Christ, since he had to have come from the Jews? So what does that verse mean?

2) In the New Testament, Galatians, an Apostle rebukes his brothers and sisters for going back to sacrifices. Would following the Mosaic Law include stoning people (homosexual behavior, fornication, etc) because there are so many people who use that as an argument for not just homosexuality being okay, but for the bible being inconsistent with what it teaches. I do know that it was temporary because of what the New Testament’s warning about going back to the Mosaic Law causing legalism, which is why that horrible shrimp argument is easy to answer, but as for everything else I have no idea. I don’t know that much about the Mosaic Law, which worries me because I may be saying things that aren’t biblical. Frankly I don’t even know the specific reason they couldn’t eat the shrimp other than "God said so, bt now you can eat it now because he said you can now" because of that "Do not declare unclean what God had declared clean" verse in Acts and other verses on whether or not to abstain from food.

3) Was it possible for people to misuse the Mosaic Law? Like testifying that a person committed immoral behavior when they didn’t and they were stoned from false testimonies? People talk about that a lot when it comes to stoning a woman supposedly found not to be a virgin.

Response #9:  

The Mosaic Law was designed to be a perfect code to demonstrate the sanctity or separation of God's special people from the rest of the world. It was important in its time because of the almost absolutely pure paganism of all other peoples around the world. Today, in the Church Age, with the expansion of the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling presence in all believers is both the mark and the empowerment of this time, there is no national "people of God"; rather all who belong to Christ, His Body, are the people of God. Our separation is a spiritual one which is only visible from the good witness we manifest through the power of the Spirit resulting from spiritual growth and a close walk with Jesus Christ.

"Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
Acts 15:10 NKJV

Peter's words about the Law above demonstrate that no one has ever kept the Law. Paul, of course, goes to great lengths to demonstrate this in Romans and Galatians in particular, pointing out emphatically that "by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Gal.2:16 NKJV). Rather, the purpose of the Law was as a "tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal.3:24 NKJV). The Law sets a perfect standard and no one is perfect; therefore any honest person will have the precise reaction you are having: even if we try to keep the Law, we will fail, and then how can we be saved? The Law's essential purpose, therefore, is to demonstrate our sinfulness as well as the fact that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation: this leads us to Christ as the only solution.

Anyone reading the Old Testament carefully with a view towards Israel's history in this regard as related in scripture will have to come to the conclusion that there are many things in the Law that were seldom paid attention to and others which may never have been adhered to at any time. Just for example, the stipulation to destroy any town or city wherein any idolatry took place was never once followed (at least there is absolutely no evidence of it), and would at some point have required torching every city and town in Israel (Deut.13:12-18). The standard is good; and just by considering it people should realize how fall they/we fall short.

Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.
2nd Kings 22:11 NKJV

Josiah's reaction and the circumstances of the re-discovery of the Law show that the average Christian today knows more about the Law than did this good king and his court before the scroll was discovered. This demonstrates very clearly that the Law was never followed wholly and wholeheartedly – indeed that is impossible. But Josiah's reaction is appropriate: it makes it clear that he understood that without God's mercy we are lost (that is the larger point). His reinstitution of the Passover demonstrates that even the "big things" of the Law were not observed as they should have been. After the return from exile, the Jewish survivors were more diligent in "keeping the Law", but Paul's experience shows what became of an over zealous desire to do the impossible, namely, the result was a sort of legalistic works salvation that reduced the truth of the Law to formulae (tithing cumin while ignoring mercy and justice, as our Lord pointed out) so as to be able to keep the Law, which is really only keeping a man-made watered-down and completely misunderstood version of it – and even THAT is impossible to do perfectly as Paul found out when the commandment against covetousness "killed him" (i.e., caused him to realize that he was not going to be saved by keeping the Law; Rom.6-7).

So your observation is a good one. If even small violations of the Law required the death sentence, why then was so much of the Law concerned with making amends for sin through animal sacrifice? Many have tried to sort out these supposed contradictions, but to my mind they are not contradictions at all. You are drawing the right conclusions: 1) if we were in ancient Israel and if the Law were enforced perfectly, we would be in big trouble; 2) if we or they tried to follow the Law in all things we would fail miserably as they in fact did; 3) in actual fact, the Law was never even close to being enforced at any time in the history of Israel when it comes to the overall societal statutes you ask about, and even on the level of individual behavior (after the exile) was only capable of being "followed" by those who "dumbed it down" to remove things they found impractical or unpleasant.

Finally, we are not ancient Israel and we are not a theocratic state. The law we have in this country is secular, and, just as in the Roman empire, not necessarily Christian-friendly. We are responsible to be law-abiding nonetheless, and the only allowable reason to act otherwise is if we are told we must do something which is wrong (as in bow down to an idol – the case with Daniel's three friends) or if we are not allowed to do something we must do (as in pray – Daniel's case). And if we do find ourselves at odds with secular law, we need to be prepared for what happened to Daniel and to his three friends, remembering that God is well able to deliver us as He did them.

Here are some additional links where these issues are addressed:

The Purpose of the Law

Paul and the Law

The Law of Moses (and forgiveness)

No longer under the Law

Should Christians observe the Torah?

Christ's fulfillment of the Law

What is a biblical Covenant?

The Old Covenant and the New:  Shadow versus Reality

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hi Doctor,

How are you holding through the winter? Our friend in India says your mother is struggling yet lively; bless her resilient soul.

I have questions that I feel I already understand but am having a hard time accepting; will you help? Leadership and shepherding are the same thing biblically, yes? Also, with all the warning in 1st Timothy about false teaching and the need to be protective of the flock: is the pastor the spiritual body guard? I ask because these are things/issues I deal with constantly only I have no church. I'm put in front of all sorts of wayward believers and something about their incorrect biblically view comes up and I'm led to lovingly rebuke them. I recently had an encounter with a oneness Pentecostal pastor, that was weird. He kept trying to convince me of water baptism and the "Jesus name only" stuff, but he couldn't answer any of my retorts, like all the instances of salvation in Acts sans water. It was like that with my stepfather. Last year my wife and I decided to get in contact with him (they are estranged and it needed to end) so we went to see him. He was about to marry a woman he swore was a believer but she had zero fruit and, in fact, much disbelief in all her behavior. Of course it came up, and I my wife were lovingly straight about how this was a bad idea, but he swore she was the Christian woman of his dreams. Not at all. She got her ring and a Jeep and is now not holding back about her disbelief, and he was leaning on the "once saved, always saved" evil, but after speaking with my wife again (because she asks me what the Word says) he's decided on another divorce because she is a terror of a wife. I pray he's not beat up too badly.

This stuff happens ALL the time. The couple coworkers I have that are believers always ask about worldly issues as if they're a part of them. I cringe inside then lovingly explain how we are of faith and the world doesn't apply to us, but they rarely hear anything.

One more question: I don't know Greek or Hebrew, but I know your systematic theology very well (all your writings really). Still, how can I be a shepherd when I don't know the language? The Spirit says to me that the days are so short and so full of evil, that the current false teachers know the languages well yet abuse and distort them and that I'll be dealing with English speaking believers and need to communicate in my own language, the language of Babylon, and that the believers that will hear the truth do so by The Spirit, not by the Greek language and that some (most) use their "fancy" knowledge of language to deny and denigrate Him. I am a "foxhole pastor".

I can honestly say that although I'm in denial about my office . I do know what to do: keep passing all these tests and keep accepting His guidance. I can finally see it. I never knew I'd be living the Bible in this life. Please keep me in prayer. I can't do it myself.

Now I'm rambling, but I think you're up to speed with my current growth. Thank you again for all you do, Teacher, Brother.

In Christ our God and Savior,

Response #10: 

Good to hear from you as always, my friend. I do and promise to continue to keep you and your situation in my daily prayers. From my perspective you are making progress. Hang in there and keep fighting the fight day by day.

On leadership / being a shepherd, that is in fact the pastoral role, but the "how" is what is really important. Jesus told Peter (three times) to "feed my sheep". Pastor/teachers are supposed to feed their congregations with the Word of God. That's not an easy thing. Paul says that pastors who actually fulfill this mandate of "laboring in the Word and teaching" are worthy of "double honor" (1Tim.5:17). Far too many pastors have misunderstood the analogy and gone off the dangerous side-road of trying to directly manipulate the behavior of their flock. That, in my view, is a monstrous mistake. For a believer to grow, he/she has to make his/her own good decisions. Loving the truth and seeking the truth will lead, in a good church, to hearing and believing the truth . . . and that will result in good decisions whenever a Christian is willing to listen to the Spirit's guidance. But in far too many evangelical churches today virtually nothing of substance is taught from the pulpit while the pastors spend their time instead "discipling" or otherwise manipulating their congregations, "holding them accountable" for their behavior in very intrusive ways. We are indeed all accountable . . . to God. When instead of Jesus' opinion, however, we are trained to look to the pastor's opinion there is no growth, only legalism – and that is a deadly spiritual cancer. Legalists only "behave" when they are being watched (or when directed by their guilt, not the Spirit).

I don't have a problem with witnessing to the truth or giving relatives and close friends the benefit of my honest and frank opinion, especially at critical junctures. That is a judgment call as to how and when and how much – just as witnessing to unbelievers is (so I find no fault with your present approach). A pastor leads by learning, believing and teaching the truth, and by living that truth as best he can (which will not fail to reflect in his teaching as well as in his visible walk).

On Greek and Hebrew, I can't make that set of decisions for you; only you know the details of your circumstances (which always include much more than eye can see or tongue can tell). I can give you one piece of advice, however: it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the only two options are perfection and total ignorance. It used to be said in medieval England that a man who would be educated, "learns Latin well and gets as much Greek as he can", meaning that everyone understood the limits of time and circumstance where tougher goals were concerned. It is also often said that a little language can be a dangerous thing. That may be true, but only if the language is misused. If a man is humble enough to understand his limits of knowledge in one field or another, he can still benefit from knowing something about them. Bottom line: without a certain amount of depth in, e.g., Hebrew, you might not want to be translating your own verses to the point of being dogmatic that you were the only one who had "gotten it right", but even with a little facility in Hebrew you would better understand the points made by those you follow – and one hopes also better prepared to teach these things to your (future) congregation.

Yours in our dear Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.

Bob L.

Question #11: 

I will reexamine what may be done as far as learning Hebrew and Greek, I'm just poor and don't have the ability to move to the nearest university. I've already checked into community college, however what they offer isn't much better than the reading you've suggested considering the cost and the seminary here requires full time attendance and I have kids to feed.

I feel incredibly upset about my situation. I have been gifted since I was very little and yet have not made the progress I want with any formal training. And, I'm very sad in saying, what could He want with me?

I'm going to try, however impossible this seems to be, to learn more.

Thanks again for everything.

Response #11:  

Please don't get discouraged. The point of the advice in my last email was (meant to be) that you can do some of this on your own. I have a good friend/correspondent in England who has worked his way through beginning Greek and Hebrew on his own without anything more than a couple of pedagogical grammars. Granted, it took him the better part of four years to do so and a lot of sacrifice (plus, he doesn't have a wife and children). The point is that while you might not be able to get to Ph.D. level in the languages absent a total commitment of many years, that does not mean that you can't do anything at all about this concern. Sometimes humility and reliance on God means appreciating the fact that we must "do what we can" even when it is not "what we really want to do" or not "all we really want to do". I am a sort of "all or nothing" person myself, so I appreciate this temptation better than most. But this is a fight to the finish we are in, and "eggs will be broken" if we wish to make this omelet. It will never be a perfect fight on a perfectly arranged battlefield. If we wait for "perfect", we will end up doing nothing at all. To apply this line of thought to your situation, my advice would be to keep growing, keep learning, keep ministering, and if you do get a chance, if you do have some time, if you do find a way to get some Greek and Hebrew, well, a little bit is better than none. Much better.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #12: 

Dear Bob,

Do you know anything about Living Stream Ministry and their Recovery Bible? What little I have learned makes me wonder if they're a cult like JW.

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Response #12: 

Good to hear from you. I have heard of this group before. I can't recommend them, but I will stop short of issuing a blanket condemnation. They are, if not mistaken, historically connected to the "Watchman Nee" movement out of China, and they have the idea, based on Revelation chapters two and three, that in any given locality there is only only "one church".  I have commented on that mistaken idea very briefly previously (see the link). I'm not greatly conversant with their other teachings or particularly their methods (which is key: it's OK to say "we teach X", but not so OK to camp out on your doorstep to make sure you "do X", e.g.). Unlike the JW's, however, they do profess to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ (and the basic doctrines they espouse seem to me to be orthodox). If I understand their approach correctly, it is to try and replicate "church" as it was in the early days of Acts, with "every member" participating in services (that is a big part of the "recovery" for which they aim). In communist China where there is little opportunity for any sort of serious academic preparation for ministry, that is perhaps not a bad stop-gap approach (there may be cultural issues which come into play here as well). However, for the rest of us, spiritual growth comes from learning the truth of the Word of God. The average member of any congregation is 1) not gifted as a pastor/teacher, and 2) not prepared to teach (even if so gifted). Further, this sort of service only "worked" in Acts because of the miraculous spiritual gifts which filled the similar gap of those days. But today there are no prophets nor anyone who can interpret tongues, for example. I would attribute the success of this and similar organizations to 1) disaffection with the typical "church" experience by many believers, and 2) an interest in "more exciting" Christian experiences (instead of being willing to do the hard word of spiritual growth the right way). The first cause is understandable, the second a sign of unwillingness to do what the Lord wants done (and also explains the rise of the Charismatics and many other odd churches and outright cults).

As to their Recovery Version translation, I did have a look at it. It seems to be something of a cross between Darby and the ESV. I didn't see anything particularly offensive or objectionable in the passages I tested, but I can't vouch for the whole thing. I would observe that it is often true that groups which wish to be presenting a strong front of "us against them" often produce their own Bibles. Sometimes that is for the good (e.g., the Luther-Bibel gave Germans a Bible in their own language), but often bad (e.g., the JW "New Word" version).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #13: 

Dear Bob,

Thanks for the feed back. The reason I asked was because I had a copy of their New Testament that was given to me years ago by someone who struck me as a little crazed. Given my ingrained bias against damaging or marking a book, I stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it until a couple of days ago as I was getting rid of useless stuff prior to moving. I was going to throw it away but thought I would ask you about it first.

I hope all is well with you and yours.

In Jesus Christ,

Response #13:  

You're very welcome.

The sort of proselytizing you relate should give any Christian pause, and a Bible with which one is not familiar which uses an unknown methodology and has been translated with unknown motives is not too helpful – and potentially dangerous if it can't be checked by the reader against the original Greek and Hebrew.

Feel free to write any time.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #14: 

Can you reconcile these verses for me?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60)

Response #14: 

There are a number of critical differences, but the most salient is that Romans 12:5 gives guidance on how we are to comport ourselves towards our fellow believers regarding our response to the things which befall them, for good or ill. Luke 9:60, on the other hand, is speaking about unbelievers and the pointlessness of being overly concerned about the things of the world when our main purpose here is to follow Jesus Christ (as the individual to whom Jesus said this conflicted about doing).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #15: 


I have a question on repentance and restitution. During one of my backslidings, I fraudulently received a large sum of money. I had forgotten about this sin for quite a while until recently. I also owe many back bills (such magazine subscriptions and student loans), and there are things I stole as a kid. Now, how do I go about this? Making one of these restitutions would clearly land me in prison (thus not be able to work to pay the others), as well as a few other parties in my past who would also want my head at the same time. What is the biblical method for handling this? It is really scary. I want to be assured that the Lord has forgiven me, but I want a chance to pay EVERYONE back – which could take me the rest of my life since I am almost broke now with no job. Any thoughts?

Response #15:  

Let me answer this in very general terms since, as I usually have to point out at times like this, it is not my place to tell other believers how to run their lives or what decisions to make about XYZ. We are here on this earth to make choices, not to hand our free will over to others.

First, we have redemption for all of our sins as believers in Jesus Christ (Eph.1:7; Col.1:14), and we also are forgiven each and every sin we may commit after believing in Christ when we confess them to the Lord.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1st John 1:9 NKJV

This promise of forgiveness of sins is absolute. Getting right with the Lord requires we confess in truth, and that means we really do understand that what we have done is wrong and really do turn away from it in our hearts (biblical repentance) as we confess. If we confess, we are forgiven. If you have confessed, God has forgiven you.

However, there are still consequences for our actions, and in my observation and experience the Lord may allow natural consequences of the sins we have committed to form some part of the discipline we receive, especially before we turn back to Him, precisely in order that we may turn back to Him when the going gets to tough for us to handle (there is much more about all this at the link in Basics 3B: Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin).

As to what to do now, I know that there is not a Christian alive who has not sinned. And I know that there is not a Christian alive who has paid back or made good or made restitution or made up for every single wrong they have done, whether to individuals or groups, whether the action was criminal or negligent or merely unkind. Since we have all received this mercy from God – forgiveness of consequences as well as of the sin itself – to one degree or another, since for all of us "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Ps.103:10), it seems to me that the proper response in situations where there really is no good way to "make it good" is to be grateful for the deliverance we have undeservedly received, making an absolutely determined bargain with ourselves never ever to go down "that road" again (whatever "that road" is precisely in our individual case).

Only God can forgive us; only God can absolve us; only God can protect us against the natural consequences of our actions. In the case of the latter, it does no spiritual good in my view to keep dredging over the past as if that were the way forward spiritually. I do realize that this is the AA approach et al., but in my view it is misguided. We can realize fully that we were wrong about something, and yet now move forward on the right path through the grace and mercy of God. This is not to say that if we are still in some way benefitting from past wrongs to the detriment of others and have it in our hands to release people who are suffering from our past mistakes that we should not do so (e.g., if a person stole a large sum from someone and put that person in dire need, but now repents and still has the money while the victim is still in dire need, obviously, giving it back would be appropriate); it is to say that for most situations in the past the egg has already been scrambled and there is no way of going back and really "fix things" in any case (e.g., if we hurt someone, betrayed someone, disappointed someone, going back may only open old wounds and won't take away the wrong originally done). In most situations, revisiting the past is merely a way to assuage our own guilt. Determining the difference – between a real problem for someone else we caused and can and should fix, and a past sin/crime/mistake that cannot be undone to anyone's present-day benefit – takes a measure of spiritual maturity, but in most instance a little objective thought about the matter can distinguish between the two categories. The main thing is to do what God wants us to do because . . .

Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
Psalm 51:4 NKJV

No human being can be righteous – except through the righteousness that comes by faith. What every Christian who begins asking the sort of questions you ask can do is to make a point of walking righteously with the Lord going forward. That is the real point of God leaving us in this world.

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

The father – representing the Father – in the parable of the prodigal son does not make the son repay the money he wasted before he receives him back with love and gladness. The Lord has welcomed you back. Rejoice in that reconciliation. It is very clear from your testimony that you have not "gotten away" with anything – no one ever really does. Perhaps someday you will be blessed with the means and opportunity to do something about all this. In the meantime, my advice would be to grow spiritually, progress in your walk with Jesus Christ, and be looking for your ministry opportunities to help others do likewise. After all, the real debt we owed in this life is one of which we could never have paid the smallest part, and that was paid in full by the suffering and sacrifice of our dear Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross.

Here are a couple of links on this:

Making Amends (in BB 3B)

Making Amends (in Marriage and the Bible IV)

In the One whom we owe everything, even our eternal lives, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #16: 

Is seeking reconciliation with people we have hurt a necessary fruit of faith, will those who genuinely been born again bare this fruit, and things like restore money that has been stolen etc or as John the Baptist said fruits meet for repentance? This will lead to a question I want to ask next


Response #16: 

It's not the first time I've received this question.

First, some perspective. John the baptist was preaching to the nation of Israel which was on the point of receiving their Messiah and entering the Kingdom – and of course they rejected Him so that the "vineyard has been given to another people", namely, the Church, with the Kingdom coming only at the end of this age. So apart from the fact that John's words are spoken to Jews under the Law, they are also spoken at a different "theological time", and there are differences, depending upon "the times". Granted that dispensationalism has wrongly understood many of these issues (and has overemphasized even some of the things gotten right; see the link), it is nevertheless true that we have to take that fact into account:

And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" So they said, "Nothing." Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."
Luke 22:35-36

During the Tribulation soon to come, there will again need to be some adjustments by believers because of "the times". These are detailed in the Coming Tribulation series, but just to give an example here, while today it is noble and honorable to serve in one's nation's military to defend one's country and people, joining or being a member of the army of the beast would clearly be inviting spiritual compromise (at the very least), analogous to service in the Nazi army of WW II (versus, say, the German army of WW I).

When we look at what John actually says vis-a-vis this issue of restitution we find the following:

So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?" He answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise." Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you." Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?" So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."
Luke 3:10-14 NKJV

So John does not actually counsel restitution here. In fact, since tax collectors notoriously made their money by overcharging those they mulcted (it was known as tax-farming, a procedure in which a person bid for the contract in a certain area and had to raise more than the bid in order to pay Rome and also make a profit), often very outrageously so, it would be the rare "righteous" tax collector who had not taken more than necessary from very many people over his career – yet John just tells them not to do that going forward. That seems good advice. Going back and making it up is always a tricky business. David famously said, "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned" (Ps.51:4). That is the correct biblical position, and we know that we are forgiven by God for all the sins we have committed whenever we confess.

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Luke 19:8-10 NKJV

The standard of "fourfold restitution" for robbery mentioned here comes from the Law (e.g., Ex.22:4-7), but there are lesser standards therein, especially for voluntary restitution (e.g., Lev.6:5; Num.5:7) – and other standards show up in scripture too (as any good commentary will tell you – I got these references from Plummer's Luke). But it is well to remember that we are not under the Law, and in this instance it is civil/secular law we are talking about . . . and in this country no court is going to accept a voluntary admission and a prior self-imposed penalty when it comes to illegal activity. Most important of all is to notice that, like John, our Lord does not tell Zacchaeus to do any of this, and He certainly does not spell out what the standard of restitution should be, nor does he correct Z's words – our Lord is pleased with the actual repentance of heart which this pronouncement represents.

Clearly, if we have sinned, we have sinned. If we have broken the law, we have broken the law. Neither can be "made up for", and in the case of the former in particular we risk falling into self-righteousness, works righteousness and gross legalism if we try. Sin was paid for by the Lord Jesus in the darkness on Calvary's cross. Legal systems are in place to exact punishment for lawbreaking. If we have been disciplined less than we think we deserve for sin, or have been punished less than we think we deserve for some civil or legal infraction, that is not something we are required to address in any other way other than to give thanks to God for His great mercy and protection, and to resolve not to go down that road (whatever "that road" is) ever again.

Clearly, there are times when we do wish to "make it up" to people, individuals whom we have wronged in some way or another previously in our lives. This often happens when a person turns to Christ or when a Christian who has strayed returns to the Lord. As the prodigal son said to his father, " I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Lk.15:21 NKJV); but what did his father say? "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (Lk.15:22-25 NKJV). The prodigal son's father was just happy to have his son back and wasn't at all interested in exacting a strict punishment from Him; so also God is happy to have us back – our Lord welcomes us back with heavenly rejoicing when we repent, like the lost coin found and the lost sheep recovered. He blesses us in our repentance; He does not lay upon us a harsh load of penalty to be exacted (as legalism and "religion" often suggest He would/should).

Wanting to "get right" with others when we recognize the error of our past ways is understandable, and part of the motivation for that is often admirable, the desire coming from a good heart. However, guilt is also often a motive that the devil will use to make us feel uneasy about our past mistakes, sins, and wrongs done. Restitution or amends made purely out of guilt will seldom if ever come to any good, so a good rule of thumb on this score is often to look at the motivation in our heart of hearts.

There is no "one size fits all" answer to this question. On the one hand, I do not find in scripture a command or directive for us to make restitution or amends for past wrongs, and if our motives are guilty ones, they will tend towards legalism and self-righteousness. We can't wipe away a single sin by any amount of good deeds; blessedly, Jesus covered all of our sins with His blood (i.e., His spiritual death on the cross). And if we ever get to think that we are truly "making up" for what we "did" by some action, that is a wrong and spiritually very dangerous place to be. On the other hand, just because we are forgiven (and we are forgiven when we repent of such behavior, turn from it and confess) does not mean that we should in each and every case do nothing about what we have previously done. I can only give a few general observations about that: the more recent an offense, the more it can be made up for in material terms, the more it concerns an individual rather than a group or government, and the more the person wronged really does need that material benefit, then the more likely it is that "making amends" would be a good and decent thing to do. But the longer ago the offense took place, the less it can be made up for in material terms, the more it has to do with a group or government rather than an individual we know personally, and, if an individual is in view, the less the person in question needs or will truly appreciate or be benefited by our offer of amends or restitution, then the less likely it is that we ought to try any such thing.

If a person parked repeatedly at a meter and never "fed it" and managed to "get away" each time without a parking ticket, confessing this behavior to the authorities would in my opinion make little sense, do little good, and would be of no spiritual benefit. However, if a person had agreed with a neighbor last month to share the expense of repairing a common fence, but had then moved out and had never gotten around to paying up, getting that money to said neighbor would be a good and right and decent thing to do . . . especially to the degree that said neighbor was in financial need. These are just examples, and any change or addition of detail could change the picture entirely. In the former case, while "confessing" to the authorities would seem to be ill-advised, adopting an attitude going forward of trying to do right "by Caesar" in all other activities would seem appropriate. What if some weaker brother or sister saw you deliberately avoiding feeding the meter? What if they took that as a principle (since you are a mature believer) and decided they could skimp on their taxes? In the latter example, keeping one's motives pure will be important. God forgives our sins, so our forgiveness does not depend upon making such restitution, nor should we assume that by doing so we are "now perfect", nor should we assume that we will avoid divine discipline for the sin by paying up.

As with many things in life, eggs once broken cannot be repaired; omelets once made cannot be unscrambled. When we do things we regret, we have to learn to live with that regret and to accept the fact that it will be there to be dealt with regardless of whether we "make amends"; because, after all, we have done what we have done irrespective of what we may choose to do in the future. Even if I pay up for the fence, e.g., it doesn't mean the neighbor will not still feel hurt for not getting what was right at the proper time: so if I feel "great" by finally doing what I should have done in the first place, it probably means my motives were "out of whack" in this process to begin with.

In terms of making amends for personal wrongs done, that is a trickier business yet. I am aware that this is a big part of certain "five step programs" but I am not a fan of the practice. Take close personal relationships, for example. If we have wronged someone in the past by being unkind or by pulling out of a relationship for selfish reasons (or have otherwise hurt someone), going back to find that person well after the fact is probably one of the worst ideas I can imagine. We have to look at things from that person's point of view. I think it's certainly possible that some personally might take greater offense at an apology years after the fact than from the original insult. These sorts of things tend to open old wounds instead of healing them.

In all this, we have to trust God. If we really are determined to live in a righteous way, He will show us how to walk going forward. If we have sinned in any way, He will forgive us when we confess. If there really is more that we can do either materially or personally, He will give us wisdom and needful opportunity to do something positive in a truly Christian way, a way that actually helps others materially and spiritually, one which truly witnesses to Christ, rather than merely assuaging a selfish sense of guilt. After all, our Lord has called us to peace (see the link), not to torture ourselves over our past mistakes and misdeeds (of which we all have an abundant share).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #17: 

This leads to say that Hebrews 12:14 states to "Pursue peace with all people and holiness without which no man will see the Lord" Pursuing peace is an active not passive thing it involves seeking reconciliation. "all people" is as many as we can, that would mean if we have the ability to get in touch with someone we know where they are have two legs we are to do it. I see nothing in this teaching here that makes any allowances except when it is totally impossible when someone is dead or you can trace them, which then makes it truly impossible. Jesus state that the servant that knew his masters will but didn't do it will be beaten with many stripes. Suppose you end up choosing not to make restitution in a certain case and as a result that was the wrong choice, you could end up falling foul of that!

"Blessed are the peacemakers" it says nothing about blessed are the peace keepers! Being a peacemaker is again the active not the passive. If we make something that is active.

In Matthew 5 Jesus says that whoever says "Thou Fool" will be in danger of hell fire, then he adds the words "Therefore" which mean this being the situation or the case. In other words you called your brother a fool you are in danger of hell fire and so that being the situation that you are in that danger you need to seek reconciliation with your brother. Where are the exceptions to this rule? Jesus and Paul made exceptions in divorce and remarriage. Jesus allowed it for adultery and Paul a non believer husband or wife that wanted to leave.

In the Old Testament it say that when a wicked person gives back what he has stolen and does what is right he shall live.

Response #17:  

The business of "making amends" is a very spiritually dangerous one because it is almost impossible to divorce it from sinful guilt on the one hand, and attempting to assuage that guilt by works of supererogation on the other. What the Mosaic Law enjoined in terms of civil penalties is neither here nor there for Church Age believers neither under the Law spiritually nor in terms of the legal system with which we have to do – which is not based on the Law of Moses.

Wherever one reads "peace" in the Bible, spiritual peace is meant (directly, most of the time, and even when peace between human beings is meant, the spiritual dimension is not absent). Jesus is our peace, having made peace through the blood of His cross – not peace between different people, but peace between God and mankind through removing the obstacle of sin by means of His spiritual death on our behalf (Eph.2:14-17).

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
John 14:27 NIV

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
John 16:33 NIV

Many Christians are mixed up about this principle, it is true. "Peacemaking" (as in Matt.5:9) is making peace between God and man, following the example of Christ: we do not atone for sin, obviously, but we are God's witnesses in leading others to Christ that they may have the same peace in Him through salvation that we enjoy. Contributing to the spiritual advance of others also contributes to their peace, their "spiritual completeness and rest in God" (Heb., shalom).

As to Hebrews 12:14, as the second element, holiness, makes clear, while there is of course an element here of how we relate to other people (our Christian walk), the main thrust of this command is directed towards our relationship with the Lord. We "pursue peace" and "pursue sanctification" the same way: spiritual growth, spiritual progress, and spiritual service. In this verse, "peace" represents our spiritual "offense", gaining an ever deeper and more comforting relationship with Him as we grow; "sanctification" represents our spiritual "defense", namely, our resistance to sin and all manner of bad behavior as we grow – and note well that growth/offense comes first because sanctification, which never comes about in truth by being imposed from without but always comes from true inner growth, is the natural result of the former. The phrase "in company with all" relates first and foremost to the idea of all believers in unison adhering to this same mandate. While there may be an element of avoiding difficulties with other people (along the lines of Rom.12:18), note that this is a secondary consideration which flows from the primary concern of deepening our relationship with the Lord. Note also that this and similar verses say nothing about making amends in order to accomplish this "peace". That is at best a personal application, but one I could not recommend. Please read the previous email carefully about the reasons for that. Let it suffice here to say that we can never go back to square one. Wrong done is wrong done which can never be undone. All we are likely to accomplish by trying to undo a wrong is to (potentially) unwittingly do another wrong in order to (at best) assuage our feelings of guilt and establish our own works-righteousness.

As I told you earlier, there may be (rare) instances where said behavior may be appropriate, but even here the believer should approach such things with great care lest it be thought 1) that such is necessary for forgiveness (in which case there would be no forgiveness since it would be sought by works not by grace), or 2) that a "good thing" has now been done (in which case said believer is merely turning him/herself into a works-righteousness legalist which is only a hop-skip-and-jump away from apostasy). In the history of the church-visible, this tendency, nourished by guilt and fostered by groups which benefit by such efforts of the flesh has tended to result either in godless religion (as in the R.C. church) or spiritually destructive political action (as in the "social gospel"). In truth, only God can forgive, and if we reject His promised forgiveness for our own works-system of forgiving ourselves, we will make a terribly bad bargain indeed.

Yours in the grace of Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior, the forgiveness of our heavenly Father, and the mercy in which we revel through the Holy Spirit.

Bob L.

Question #18: 

You mentioned context in the previous e-mail. The context of Hebrews 12:14 is about not letting a root of bitterness among believers. The context!

When believers interpret these texts the way you do I find it very disingenuous. Reason being when people find something hard to do they tend to rationalize why they don't do it. You have not addressed Jesus teaching where he says that the servant who knew his master's will but didn't do it will get many stripes, nor the other things I said about this verse. If you are saying Matthew 5 doesn't apply to Christians then in that case it could be argued that non of the rest of the sermon on the mount such as the beatitudes don't apply and before long Christians are finding reasons not to try and live by it. "Blessed are the Merciful" That does apply as I think you will find most Christians agree. You have confused what Grace means. No we can't earn salvation, but the scriptures are clear about what the results of salvation will be. Are you really telling me the apostle Paul didn't seek reconciliation with those he persecuted. Really? I don't think so. The atmosphere wouldn't have been very easy if he didn't.

Yes you mentioned a lot in the previous post. You also revealed that if someone apologised to you would be easily offended. Paul says love isn't easily offended. What makes you different? Didn't Jesus say that's not the way it should be with you to the disciples? Where is your conform not to the standards of the world? It is the behaviour of non Christians to take offence easily. What ever happened to as Paul says beating down your flesh till it obeys, and self control?

What you said is very revealing in my opinion as to your hearts condition. We shall know them by their fruits. It is this type of hypocrisy that has led me not to return to church for years and even doubt the truth of Christianity. What leader can't keep his troops under control, where is the real fruit of love? I must admit it makes me feel furious. And always with Christians if you are furious it is never them in the wrong is it?

I have attended in the past a church that takes you approach to Grace and to call it unwarm doesn't even come close. Back biting, snobbery, favouritism abounded. I'm sick of it

Response #18: 

I always try to teach the truth, even if it upsets people (as it has you in this instance). With all due respect, I think you misunderstand my motivations entirely. I personally would not take offense at someone from the past showing up at my doorstep to apologize for something they had done to me long ago. It would be more of an annoyance, an imposition on my time, and a pointless one too – because I make it a point not only to confess all such sins on my part but also to forgive everyone everything, even things long past, whenever it comes to my attention that there may something harbored in my heart against anyone. That, after all, is what our Lord has told us we must do:

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Having forgiven them, why do I need someone to make amends to me? And having confessed to the Lord, why would I rub an old wound raw on someone else since the Lord has forgiven me? Such things seldom come to any good (you have in the previous email instance of where on rare occasions such things might be worthy of consideration).

While it is also true that some people shy away from things that are too difficult, an equally forceful human tendency is to be attracted to things because they present a personal challenge. That is what is behind all legalism and works-righteousness.

And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?"
2nd Kings 5:13 NKJV

It's not about "seeming difficult" and how we may feel about the "difficulty"; it's about "what is the truth?"

The "root of bitterness" in Hebrews 12:15 is idolatry, which is exchanging the Lord and His truth for the things of this world:

. . . "so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood;
Deuteronomy 29:18

That is why next in the context the subject is personal apostasy – not interpersonal relationships. This is all about our relationship with the Lord. Only by walking closer with Him will we ever walk better with others. But where here (or anywhere) is there anything about making amends or restitution? I don't find that at all in scripture, and that is a very interesting thing if it were really a cardinal point of what believers are supposed to be doing. But if we substitute our own private interpretation based upon what we think is right or should be, isn't that making up of our own system of religion essentially a form of idolatry?

Matthew 5:9 says what it says: peacemakers are blessed. But peacemakers are first and foremost those who advance the peace between people and God, binding up the brokenhearted through the Word of God, leading them to the peace of salvation and the peace of spiritual growth in a close walk with the Lord. Getting involved in quarrels between other individuals is not a good idea, and not what this verse means (even though it is very often misunderstood and misapplied):

He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears.
Proverbs 26:17 NKJV

Paul is indeed a wonderful example. There is not a single statement in the epistles or Acts which indicates that the apostle Paul engaged in any such "five step program" to "get right" with those he had persecuted. If anyone in the Bible had reason to make amends, it was Paul. And if he had done so, it would certainly be recorded in Acts, and he certainly would have mentioned it in his epistles. But we have not a single shred of any such thing. You see, Paul knew that he had sinned . . . against Christ, and that as a result he was "the worst of sinners". But he also knew that he had been "shown mercy" for the things he had done, being forgiven by the Lord. So instead of spending his time going from house to house asking forgiveness from men, Paul devoted himself body and soul to serving the Church of Jesus Christ. In this way, he blessed and benefitted and recompensed the entire Church (not just those he had abused), and in so doing carried out the true will of God for his life. We should all "go and do likewise". Jesus wants us to look forward for the sake of His Church and our own spiritual growth, not backward for the sake assuaging our guilt and restoring a false sense of self-righteousness. Only God can forgive sin – and we have been forgiven in the Beloved Jesus Christ. That is the peace we are to pursue, that is the peace we are to make for ourselves and others.

If someone has wronged you, and you are bitter as a result, my advice to you in Jesus Christ is to forgive that person from the bottom of your heart and then move on with your life. The Lord can give you so much more than you have lost and can heal your heart, restoring your joy and your peace. But you have to let go of the past . . . and embrace instead the brilliant light of the future in store for all who "love Jesus Christ and His appearing" (2Tim.4:8). You may not find this in a local church. We live in the days of Laodicea where lukewarmness and legalism are the orders of the day (just as you report – I have seen many such reports and that is part and parcel of why this ministry is on the internet). But I do hope that you will reconsider your opinion of this ministry (think what you want of me), and be pleased to drink deeply of the waters of the truth. Those are the true healing waters, those are the rivers of delight that can restore you to the joy and to the peace that are ours in Jesus Christ the Lord. Even if all who wronged you threw themselves at your feet, it would not change your heart – only you can do that through the Spirit and the Word of God. Be pleased to forgive and to let the peace and light and joy of Jesus Christ back into your heart. Please don't make the mistake of blaming God in the bitterness of your soul, but be pleased instead to let His comfort and peace back in.

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
John 14:27 NKJV

Yours in the peace and mercy and grace and joy that are in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #19: 

OK but didn't Paul also say "if it be possible, as much depends on you, be peaceable with all men" the context is certainly interpersonal relationships, and since we use scripture to interpret scripture! Romans 12:18 What makes me angry is that those who hold to your position tend to condemn those who hold to a different interpretation. I don't see it as you do. I once had a heated debate with two clergymen and the atmosphere was left very icy as a result. They couldn't stand it that I would see it there way.. As for Roman 12:18 should this scripture not interpret the scripture in Hebrews 12:14 or what is that point otherwise in looking at what the whole of the Bible says on a subject?

You didn't address my point on Luke 12:47 What are the stripes for? Say you should have apologised to someone and you didn't obey the Lord's will would you not fall foul of the stripes?

What does Jesus mean when he says the servant didn't 1) prepare himself 2) do his will?

You mentioned the sermon on the mount not applying, but was a time when Israel was under he Law Jesus command to forgive and love our enemies came in the same sermon where he said to go and seek reconciliation anytime someone has something against us. So on that basis should we not forgive and love our enemies. If we say one thing doesn't apply, how long before the rest don't?

Have you considered I might be right? What I'm saying isn't salvation by works. However the result of salvation is that it result in specific works obedience to Jesus commands "If ye love me keep my commandments"

As to fruits worthy of repentance that same call is repeated in Acts and wasn't restricted to John the Baptist Acts 26:20 but was also for people under Grace. The same fruits. Confession, forsaking, restitution. Are these not the fruits of repentance. If not what is?

But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Response #19:  

I'm doing this for your benefit, not my own. The thing you are doing consistently in these emails is making a very long logical jump between any mention of peace or repentance (e.g.) and what you see as appropriate behavior for believers, namely, making recompense and amends after the fact (none of the verses you have adduced even suggests any such thing). You are certainly free to do whatever you want on this score. My concern for you is twofold: 1) in making amends yourself, I worry that you may create strife and trouble for yourself (and others) on the one hand, or fall into legalistic works on the other (perhaps both); 2) in expecting this from others, I worry that you will be able to bully them into doing what you want, or develop some very destructive mental-sin postures towards those you feel wrong you and owe you (perhaps both). Inasmuch as I find no biblical mandate to do so, with the evidence leaning against it, and the instances where such making of amends can even potentially be helpful or fully godly, the worries and dangers outweigh the small (and only potential) good (as discussed on previous emails).

1) Romans 12:18: We should be peaceful and live peacefully with all with whom we have to do. To do so is a matter of avoiding all behavior that would antagonize our neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and family, as well as turning the other cheek as far as possible when they do something against us. If you are expecting restitution, it seems you are doing the opposite of Romans 12:18; if you are looking up old acquaintances you have wronged to apologize et al., how will this not dredge up old quarrels, even if your attitude now is right? Both behaviors are contrary to true peace. The clear meaning of this verse does indeed demonstrate that the same thing is at the heart of the meaning of Hebrews 12:14 (Q.E.D.).

2) Luke 12:47: To be honest, I don't see this as any sort of evidence for what you are suggesting, even obliquely. This verse has two applications: a) very specifically it refers to those in positions of authority in the Church who are responsible to do a good job since they have been entrusted with "much", both knowledge and also authority: Jesus expects His stewards to do a good job, and they will be held to a higher standard (cf. Jas.3:1); b) very generally: all believers need to do a good job, and if we know we should do A or refrain from B, we are going to receive a stricter judgment because we didn't do what we should have done or did what we shouldn't have done. That would apply to restitution the way you are imagining it – if such restitution were a biblical principle. However, that is only something you are assuming.

3) I most assuredly did not say that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply. You may have heard that from someone else. It is true that different circumstances in God's arranging of the ages do make for difference in how we are to act (Lk.22:35-36). Obviously, today we do not need to worry about the fact that we are not going to Jerusalem three times a year to sacrifice animals, for example. But the principles of truth in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles are all the same truth. It just requires correct interpretation of that truth to see how they all mesh perfectly together.

My point to you was that the peacemaking our Lord referred to at that time was first and foremost directed at our relationship with God: we help others be "at peace" by helping them to believe (if unbelievers) and by helping them to grow (if believers). I do not disallow that the word can comprehend making peace between disaffected brothers and sisters as well, but 1) that is not its main application; 2) using this verse to promote "social gospel" is illegitimate and not present in the word (ambassadors who sign treaties are not biblical "peacemakers"); and 3) most importantly for our purposes there is not even a hint here of any sort of need for making amends. That would not necessarily not be part of the picture (as I said in the first email – there's nothing wrong with apologizing, e.g., if we offend someone), but it is not a mandatory part. If I were charged with "making peace" between you and someone with whom you had a quarrel, I would strongly counsel you both to forget the past entirely, forgive each other and move on. It is always better to leave such things to God and not to allow oneself to become involved in petty bickering (and all such conflicts, rightly understood in the light of eternity, are petty).

Then one from the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But He said to him, "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
Luke 12:13-15

If our Lord, the perfect Judge, refused to become involved in these sorts of squabbles at all, it little behooves us to make them a priority.

4) John 14:15: Keeping our Lords commands is exactly what this is all about. Isn't the greatest commandment the one to love each other? If I refuse to forgive my brother for failing to make amends as I see fit, how I am I walking in love? As to restitution, I don't see the Lord commanding that anywhere.

5) Acts 26:20: "Works in keeping with repentance" are indeed the things we should do after we turn from the world and turn again to God through faith in Jesus Christ – that is the repentance which is meant. The "works" which are in accord with our new status as born again believers in Jesus Christ are all the things we "do" from here on in, namely, what we think, what we say, and whatever we do in any way: all these things should be in accord with the love He has shown us and the truth we have received. The only way for this command to be fulfilled is through continual daily spiritual growth, spiritual progress and production, once the Lord leads us into ministries of our own, attending to the truth and acting it out as we walk with Jesus. If there were are a command for making amends, that would be one small part of the picture, but I don't see it (generally speaking) being a part of the picture at all. The reason, in my view, why we can accept that certain things ought to be done by those who believe in some cases and circumstances – and yet this is left unspecified or even addressed in scripture – is precisely because the act of making amends (legitimately) will be the exception rather than the rule; however, if we see it is as a rule, we are going to be harping on all our brothers and sisters to do things they should not in fact even be contemplating doing to the great disruption of the Body of Christ, leading to a legalistic interpretation of all things in the Word to the spiritual detriment of all.

(8) 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. (9) Nor did it come from what you have done, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

God has called us to peace. If we are worried about something we did in the past – and for most things in this life eggs cannot be unscrambled so that "true amends" is an impossible thing to bring off (if we look at the matter objectively) – aren't we giving up the peace we have as a birthright from the Lord? That is bad enough. Denying it to others by imposing this false burden and/or stirring up the bad things of the past for other parties is in truth antithetical and diametrically opposed to true spiritual peace.

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
John 14:27 NKJV

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior who died for all of our sins.

Bob L.

Question #20: 

What do you mean seeking reconciliation is not a biblical principle What about were Jesus says if you remember your brother has something against leave go your way and be reconciled. It is right there in the text. You admitted the sermon on the mount applies. Jesus made allowances for remarriage but where does he make allowances for ducking out of seeking reconciliation. He doesn't

So how can you pursue peace Heb 12:14 without doing something. Pursue means to go after something. It is active not passive so how is not seeking reconciliation pursuing peace.

What other ways then do we pursue peace with people other than seeking reconciliation.

As for your interpretation of Hebrews 12:14. That vast majority of bible commentaries agree with my understanding of it.

I certainly don't appreciate the suggestion that I might bully people.

1 John 1:7 says if we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin.

How can you have fellowship between Christians if those Christians haven't been reconciled if there has been serious things done one against the other? Fellowship is about closeness in relationship to one another. How can you have that if there is no reconciliation. A grudge held could be resolved by the other person saying sorry.

Response #20: 

Apologizing is fine. That is different from "making amends" (a tangible penalty paid under the law of legal system). I don't believe that I have ever used the word "reconciliation" in this discussion. What I have been questioning is the initial claim made by you that making amends is a "necessary part of repentance" for contemporary Christians. Of course, reconciliation is a "biblical principle", and it is no small moment that the primary reconciliation – which means reestablishing peace – is between God and mankind accomplished through the blood of Christ (2Cor.5:18; Eph.2:16; Col.1:20-21). As to Matthew 5:24, which I note you are bringing in here for the very first time, this is speaking of the restoration of brotherly love, something which I hope all Christians would aspire to preserve since it is the very "bond of unity" which holds the Church together and preserves peace (Eph.4:2-3). Peace among brothers is a good and wonderful thing, like "oil running down Aaron's beard" (Ps.133:2), and if we have or are doing anything to violate that bond of love and peace, we need to repent and, if appropriate, reconcile. Does that mean "making amends"? I don't find that in scripture at all:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
Luke 17:3-5

No mention here of restitution or making amends in the reconciliation our Lord commands here. Surely, some of the "sins" our Lord envisions would involve material loss or other inconveniences that could be "made up for". But what are we called on to do? Forgive without condition. That is the only way, after all, to be forgiven without condition:

And forgive us what we owe you just as we also forgive those who owe us.
Matthew 6:12

And forgive us our sins just as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Luke 11:4

So here is the pattern. We are forgiven by the Father even without making amends, because there is no restitution we could ever make for sin. Only Jesus could do that. And if we seek to add our personal restitution to the mix – as many religions and sects do – then we are not even saved because we have presumed to add to the sacrifice of Christ and by definition have found it wanting. And just as we are saved "by grace", so we need to forgive others entirely in grace in no hope or expectation of restitution:

"If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:34-36 NASB

There are, as I have mentioned, certain instances where perhaps restitution would not be out of line, but we must beware of making that a principle when the real principle is "love and forgiveness". We have a duty to forgive our debtors without expecting amends, and we have a right to expect the same treatment from those who are out brothers in Christ. Some people, even Christians when immature in particular, will not always be willing to live that high standard. So in some cases the church might intervene:

So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
1st Corinthians 6:4-7 NIV

Faced with believers suing other believers to receive just such recompense, Paul shames the Corinthians by pointing out first that there ought to be someone in the church there, a believer, who could act as a go-between, and in fact that even the "least" in the church would do better than a pagan court. But in truth, "the very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already".

When confronted with an irate and irascible brother who is not going to ever be satisfied without "recompense" he finds appropriate, we might consider obliging for the sake of peace – but that would depend upon all the variables. And as I mentioned before, a person who had stolen from a fellow believer who is now left in the lurch would certainly want, after being saved / repenting, to consider "making it right" if that is possible. But the general principle is the law of love. God has forgiven our brother; who are we to find fault with him?

The "doing something" in Hebrews 12:14 is twofold: 1) avoiding getting upset when people wrong you and forgiving them from the heart when they do; and 2) avoiding doing things that get other people upset and seeking their forgiveness when you do. Recompense does not come into the equation. You can find commentators who are mistaken on all points of truth (feel free to share any significant points you may have found).

Apologies if you took offense at the word "bullying". I don't know your circumstances and am not at all sure why you are so het up about this issue (you have not yet enlightened me except in general terms).

In the love and peace that are ours in Jesus Christ the Lord who died that all our sins might be forgiven.

Bob L.

Question #21: 

Matthew 5:24 You say I am bring this in for the first time. No it isn't I said

"In Matthew 5 Jesus says that whoever says "Thou Fool" will be in danger of hell fire, then he adds the words "Therefore" which mean this being the situation or the case. In other words you called your brother a fool you are in danger of hell fire and so that being the situation that you are in that danger you need to seek reconciliation with your brother. Where are the exceptions to this rule? Jesus and Paul made exceptions in divorce and remarriage. Jesus allowed it for adultery and Paul a non believer husband or wife that wanted to leave."

Did you read what I was saying all the way through?

What makes you think in Matt 5:24 "brother" is only a reference to believers only? Further on is the Adversary mentioned the Devil, a non believer or still referring to the brother?

Response #21:  

"Thou fool" is not in verse 24 but in verse 22. I didn't mean (or say) that you had not referred to the Sermon on the Mount (yes I read what you wrote). Calling your brother a nasty name is a sin, and sin is punishable by being thrown into the lake of fire – that would be the destiny of us all, absent the gracious Gift of Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins. That is the point in many of our Lord's appeals to the severity of the Law, namely, to make even the most self-righteous understand that they are not perfect and that therefore perfect behavior to get into heaven is an impossible proposition.

As to your other email, Jesus says "your brother", and that term is used in the New Testament for brothers in the faith.

As to "reading what the other writes", I gave you some very important points in the last installment, but you have chosen to focus on some rather trivial points – as if the rest (especially the principle of love) didn't matter. I don't think that's the way to get to the bottom of whatever it is that is bothering you.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #22: 

Could you explain the relationship between Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:18-20 and Matthew 5:38-39:

Exodus 21:23-25 (NASB)
23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Leviticus 24:18-20 (NASB)
18 The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. 19 If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.

Matthew 5:38-39 (NASB)
38 "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

How should we reconcile this passage with our Lord's words? I read your response which explains that the passage in Leviticus is to do with the Israelite justice system and crime prevention rather than individuals seeking justice themselves, but if the context of the two is different, then why does our Lord give such a command?

Response #22: 

In addition to what you correctly report about my prior consideration of the passage in question, I understand this along the lines of "all things are possible, but not all things are profitable". Believers who are following Christ will live by the law of love, and that will often require a higher standard of conduct if one would be perfect. We are not perfect, and our Lord certainly knew that when He said this. As with many of His teachings, we are lead to understand not only the perfect standard, but also how greatly we fall short of it – and therefore how much we are in need of grace in order to be saved. That was certainly the lesson that the Pharisees and their followers should have taken: not only can you not keep this true, perfect standard, but you cannot even keep the Law perfectly so as to be saved.

Question #23: 

Your explanation that "we still have a sin nature, though not enslaved to it" has made a big difference for me in understanding this issue, and it has been on my mind for a long time. Please let me know if the following summary is correct:

1. Christ died for our sins and accomplished redemption for us.

2. When we believe, we are placed, as you wrote, "in union with Christ" and become "one with Him" and become a part of His Bride - the Church. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

3. Now because Christ has paid for every single sin ever committed, our sin nature is rendered ineffective for a believer - this is because whatever sin comes as result of it and the wilful choice of the one who has placed his faith in Christ, this sin no longer results in death, as it has been the case before we believed. So we can say that "we died" with Christ, because our old self, enslaved to sin which was leading us to (the second) death, died. And this is how we are now "dead to sin" - the part of "us" who was enslaved by it and held in its power, died. We are still in possession of the sin nature, but it does not hold us in its power.

4. So we are "dead to sin", but "alive in Christ" - both positionally. Now we have to do our best to pursue sanctification and live up to this standard, before it becomes a reality on the day of resurrection.

Response #23:  

I think this is right on the mark – except for point 3): Being born again does not make the sin nature ineffective in the sense of damping down sin; that is something that we are responsible for doing with the help of the Holy Spirit through the process of sanctification and spiritual growth. Positionally speaking, the sin nature has been put to death because we – our earthly life in these earthly bodies – has been crucified together with Him, so that while we are still in the world, we are not of it. Practically speaking, we are still in the world with all of its temptations, still have a sin nature, and still have to make choices day by day. We cannot do this perfectly, even though that is the standard to which we have been called. Therefore we have been given a means to repair the damage when we do sin (confession of sin: 1Jn.1:9), and Advocate in heaven, our dear Lord, to defend us against the devil's accusations (1Jn.2:1), and are told in no uncertain terms that refusing to own up to the fact that we are sinners who do sin is the equivalent of "calling God a liar" (1Jn.1:10).

Question #24: 

Would you thus say that a following summary is correct:

1. Law sets a standard. This standard is difficult to fulfil and teaches the need for a Saviour, but in this particular instance is also meant to help us understand that there is a consequence to sin and that the punishment fits the crime.

2. Our Lord does not abolish the standard set by the Law, but "superimposes" a new, higher standard - in accordance with the law of love. This new standard again brings home the message that we cannot be saved without a Saviour, but would you say that it also teaches another lesson - that just as punishment fits the crime (Mosaic law), there is also forgiveness with God through Christ, which has now come in Person.

So the difference could here be understood as resulting from different dispensations - the Law's primary purpose was to show our sinfulness and thus the inability to fulfil it, which should help all understand that they cannot be saved without a substitute for their sin. This teaching of the substitute, however, was given in shadows and symbols. When our Lord came, however, forgiveness comes to the fore - as it is now being fulfilled through His redemption. In Christ God forgives us and we are called to fulfil the same standard by forgiving others. This is not to say that the former standard was not true - it was true and before being granted forgiveness there is a great benefit in us understanding the gravity of what we've done - but now our Lord shows us the other side of the same coin, as in Him God's judgment and mercy find fulfilment. So we can say - Law shows God's judgment and forgiveness in the substitute for teaching is in the shadow - our Lord shows God's mercy and so replaces (or maybe "superimposes", which seems a fitting word here) the Law of Moses with the law of love.

Response #24: 

Again, I think your understanding and your comments here are on the mark (particularly bringing in 1Cor.15:54-57, well done!). I think Paul generally uses this description of things as a way of getting us to see that we can't really claim (any more) that we have no choice, or it wasn't our fault, or temptations are too great – as proper excuses. The dilemma is that we can win, and of course should win – even though we often lose. One important lesson from this way of talking about sin is that believers absolutely need to take personal responsibility for all failures under the circumstances. As to dispensations, you will find what I have written about that at the following links:

Dispensations, Covenants, Israel and the Church I

Dispensations, Covenants, Israel and the Church II

Dispensations, the Church, the Rapture, and the Destruction of the Universe.

Dispensations (in CT 2A)

The Five Dispensational Divisions of Human History (in SR 5)

Eschatology and Dispensations

The Scofield Reference Bible

Ironside and Dispensations

Overview of Dispensations

It is certainly true that different times/circumstances sometimes call for different applications (e.g., Eccl.3:1-8), and our Lord explicitly said that as well:

Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered. He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
Luke 22:35-36 NIV

However, in the history of evangelicaldom in the last hundred years or so the biblical doctrine of "dispensations" has been wrongly understood and applied by many with the effect of erasing much of the Bible as "not applicable to our dispensation". We are not under the Law (that is certainly clear), but beyond that it is very dangerous to ignore any scripture entirely, even if we are to apply some of them differently because, e.g., we are not living in the nation state of biblical Israel.

Question #25: 

On reflection, I can see I've gone too far with the issue of forgiveness. This is because I have looked at Matthew 5:38-39 in isolation - if these were the only verses in the context dealing with the Law, then maybe forgiveness would have more gravity as an application, but since our Lord addresses a number of Old Testament passages dealing with a variety of problems, it isn't the case. At the end of the passage in Matthew 5:46-48 (NASB) Jesus said:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So our Lord, as you wrote, introduces a new, perfect standard - the law of love. What I am then still unsure about is how to reconcile the Old and the New Testament teaching. Love fulfils both, but then the letter of the old law, as evident from verses 21-48 sets different rules which are now being changed. I would like to understand why was the law of love not introduced straight away - what was the purpose in the context of issues described in this last part of Matthew chapter 5 to introduce regulations which were later to be changed?

The interpretation which is in line with what you previously wrote is that our Lord is here setting a new standard which is not aimed at changing the governing law in a society, where for the sake of justice and crime prevention punishment has to fit the offence, but rather it is given to His disciples - I suppose this is the caveat which allowed me to recognise that both teachings are not inconsistent, rather - they are aimed at different audiences. So the courts should operate in the manner set out by the Law, but the disciples are called to a higher standard and all of chapter 5 is addressed to the disciples. And the second important condition should be mentioned here, which I know from your other studies - our Lord is referring to offences rather than capital punishment.

Let me know if this is correct. This would be a step forward, even if the question as to why the law of love was not introduced straight away still remains for me.

Response #25:  

I do think this explains much of the difference (I would not want to say that I understand every aspect of the difference). Israel was a special nation (and will be again), one ruled directly by the Lord (until they rejected that direct rule), and meant to show by adherence to a perfect standard the difference between the holy and the profane. But while all Israel was supposed to believe and to carry out the Law perfect, in truth "all Israel" has never been truly "Israel" (Rom.9:6), since it was never the case that all believed (usually far from it); and it absolutely was never the case that any, let alone all, perfectly carried out the Law – hence the need for a system of sacrifices to atone for the violations, sacrifices which foreshadowed the Sacrifice to come, that of our dear Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross whereby He cleansed away the sins of the world with His blood, His spiritual death. The day will come when we who belong to Him will all be perfect – in resurrection, and just as the Church is supposed to demonstrate by our godly lives the difference between choosing for the world which is passing away and choosing instead for the perfect world to come, offered freely by the Father through the blood of His Son our Lord, so it was Israel's charge as a special nation to demonstrate the difference and hold out the promise of better things to come. The ins and outs of how we should behave as we await the kingdom are variously described in the Law and the New Testament, but all resolve to the principle of love: God's love for the world in sacrificing His One and only beloved Son, and our reflection of that love as witnesses for Him. Just how we are to do that varies with time, place, circumstance, and individual (not to mention where we are as individual believers in our spiritual progress), but the objective is always the same: the salvation and growth of all who are willing to be saved and grow.

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
1st Timothy 4:10 NASB

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

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