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Fighting the Fight IX

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Question #1:

Dear Teacher

Thank you for telling me about the posting of BB 6A, Peripateology, Sir, and I am so very honored to be among the first to hear it. I already started in on it. Thank you very much, Sir.

I'll wait for your email and thank you for the encouraging words and all the prayers. I will continue to trust the Lord for guidance in this.

Please, Sir, what do Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29 and Luke 22:36 mean? And how does one forgive a wrong that one does not confront the wrongdoer about? That is, what is forgiveness? When I forgive someone, how do I know that I have?


Response #1:

In terms of forgiveness, that is an attitude, and sin involved in not forgiving others is an offense against God not man (cf. Ps.51:4). We forgive from the heart; our thoughts, words and actions thereafter reflect that attitude of forgiveness; if the person in question begs for a verbal forgiveness we offer it; but we are not required to track people down and tell them we forgive them (they might not even realize we have had a bad thought about them, e.g.).

Keeping you in my prayers, my friend!

Keep me in the loop.

In Jesus Christ our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2:


Response #2:

There probably are very few Christians who don't have "issues" with what they think from time to time. Just consider what James has to say about problems with the tongue. If most Christians have to take pains to learn to keep their hands from sinning, and if it is nearly impossible to be totally consistent in keeping our tongues from sinning, what about our minds? The main thing I try to tell Christians who have struggles in this area is that God understands our struggles and He certainly knows the difference between what we willfully think and what is merely a product of our subconscious (aka the sin nature) churning up all manner of nonsense – with the devil's help.

Next to that in importance is the principle that you can't beat something with nothing, or "no one ever wins on defense". That is to say, it is impossible to merely "fend off" any pattern of thinking we find annoying merely by trying to suppress it. We may be able to have some success in doing so, but in the end countering this negative thought pattern with a positive one is the way to go. And herein we have biblical guidance:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:8 NKJV

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Colossians 3:1-2 NKJV

Three major areas of "good things" to think about: 1) scripture we have memorized (particularly the Psalms); 2) the blessings of eternity we are anticipating (the resurrection, the crowns of reward, the glories of the New Jerusalem, being with the Lord and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ in perfect bliss forever); 3) and last but not least, prayer: if we are engaged in prayer with the Lord it tends to shut out all other thoughts (or certainly should); there is plenty to pray about, and we are told to "pray without ceasing" after all (1Thes.5:17).

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice wicked works
With men who work iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
Psalm 141:3-4 NKJV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3:


Response #3:

If a person's only concerns in this regard have to do with dress et al., that person is living a very sanctified life! Sin is a subject deep and wide, however, and what we think is always going to be a battleground, likewise what we say. Focusing on non-essentials concerning dress of the type you relate here is symptomatic of legalistic groups who are far from the Lord. Such groups like to adopt "codes" of behavior wherein they can restrict sin to small areas over which they have some control – and then use this code to control others. But sin is sin, and legalists are almost always wallowing in sin – sin that they do not recognize as sin because they have no humility, no regard for scripture, and no true fear of the Lord (only fear of the displeasure of the group).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L

Question #4:


Response #4:

I'm sorry to hear this, of course. If it is any consolation, I am so proud of you in your determination not to throw your beliefs and standards out the window because someone you love so much has put you in this position. I would imagine that during the Tribulation, loved ones taking the mark of the beast will put even more pressure on those who love them to do the same or to compromise somehow. It is certainly possible to love those who are in the wrong. It is also possible and for family inevitable to continue a relationship of love with them. But it is very dangerous – for us as well as for them – to pretend that we are "OK" with their behavior when the truth is exactly the opposite. You have had tests somewhat similar to this before (I remember), but this one has to be very hard (and I promise to keep the situation in my prayers until we have "victory").

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, it seems, even if these are sometimes small and hard to find . . . and certainly don't diminish the pain the cloud brings: 1) surviving this test is no doubt going to bring about intense spiritual growth; if you can handle this, I doubt the Tribulation will bring much that you can't handle just fine too; so no doubt the Lord is preparing you for something special; 2) the fact that your son let this be known indirectly is possibly a plea for help (at least subconsciously); when he sees that, no, you do not approve, thank you very much, the reevaluation that is underway (as evidenced by this coming out) may just proceed in a positive direction; 3) if your son is a believer – and with great parents like yourselves I would imagine that is the case -- then the Lord is not going to allow this to go on for very long, and this may be the beginning of the end of it (even though this is only the first you have heard of it); when it comes to believers, the Lord knows how to "shake us and wake us" – and if we refuse to wake up, the shaking can get really intense. Unbelievers may be allowed to go on in their sins, but not believers. Presenting a loving front which refuses to compromise on the truth is just the lifeline he needs. I am certainly going to be praying that he grabs for it sooner rather than later.

I also very much appreciate how you have so correctly diagnosed the traps and the tricks of the evil one towards you. By all means it is not your fault! Everything I have seen of you two over the last couple of years bespeaks a solid and deep Christian love. This is something that could happen to anyone. Two of my good Christian friends here – salt of the earth types like you two – have a son who is an alcoholic. He recently almost died from it too. But now he seems to have turned things around finally (keeping that one in prayer too). I can tell you absolutely that it was not their fault – but good people always want to find fault with themselves, it seems. At least that is the temptation, mis-applied guilt, and the devil is good at exploiting that wayward emotion.

Another trap is the "what will people think" trap. Even if you really don't care, it can still be a trap, because instead of being cowed by "those people" you then are tempted to get angry at them. Under the circumstances, it takes a great measure of spiritual growth to "maintain an even strain" when the emotions are jumping all over the place. But that is what battlefield courage is all about – the spiritual battlefield, that is. And you have it spades.

I am so proud to know both of you, and while I grieve with you in your bad news, I am also supremely confident in the Lord's ability to turn this upside down. Nothing is impossible for Him.

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
Mark 11:22-24 NKJV

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
Matthew 18:19 NKJV

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5:


Response #5:

When you say, "there isn't much you can do but have faith", I would say, Amen! – there also isn't anything you need to do but that. But is amazing how few people do put their trust in the Lord in the first place, and how few believers ever build their faith through belief in the truth, and then do what you are doing: trusting the Lord to make it OK when the pressure is on and there is really nothing you can do about it yourself. And that is the one other blessing, counter-intuitively, to this: there is NOTHING you can do – besides continuing to manifest love on the one hand and stick up for the truth on the other hand – a blessing because it allows us to rely on the Lord without even considering that the solution has anything to do with our actions.

. . . this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
1st John 5:4 NKJV

"He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."
Revelation 21:7 NKJV

Keeping you and your family in my daily prayers.

In our dear merciful Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #6:


Response #6:

You two are an inspiration. I'd like to think I'd be as "stand up for the Lord" under similar circumstances. But I would imagine that we will all be put in all manner of similar or related situations once the Tribulation begins, similar in that not being willing to compromise on the truth will have the potential of putting our necks in a noose even more so than is the case today.

Keeping you guys in my prayers daily.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #7:


Response #7:

I'm not sure what to tell you about this. I guess the first thing is what I've probably mentioned before, namely, that being tempted is not a sin. We all have sin natures and we all are predisposed to certain types of sinful behaviors more or less strongly than others. If a person is not interested in the opposite sex, that is no sin, and not getting married is not a sin either (as long as said person remains celibate, of course). Being attracted to members of the same sex rather than the opposite sex can be a predisposition – although the "black and white" way our culture chooses to define these things today as in "you are" or "you aren't" is clearly political and not a reflection of the many different shades of reality. So while I would no doubt be pained to learn that my son was more interested in boys than in girls, I would be "OK" with that – as long as being the good Christian man he is he didn't do anything about it (or if he had, that he repented and stayed away in the future).

As to "what to send" a person we love in this situation, I'm not sure there is a "magic bullet" passage or treatise. Here's the thing: as I said, we are all tempted to all manner of sin. If a person is tempted towards greed and love of money, all the scriptures that warn against that aren't going to help until he/she is willing to be helped. Everyone of us who is walking with Jesus has been tempted in the past and no doubt will be tempted in the future to turn away from our good walk by something or other that appeals to us or frightens us (and the evil one is very good at reading our weaknesses). But we who persevere in the truth will resist and reject those temptations, and even if we stumble slightly, will get back up, confess, and continue to follow Jesus Christ. But someone who, e.g., is devoting their life to amassing wealth to the exclusion of all else has already mostly turned away from the Lord if they were ever following Him in the first place. To "get right" requires not a minor adjustment, therefore, but a complete repentance unto salvation (if unsaved) or unto a return in the manner of the prodigal son (if a believer). The latter is usually something only the Lord can effect, and often requires, as was the case for the prodigal son, a good deal of pressure that only God can provide. And He does provide – in every case where there is a genuine seed of faith that refuses to die out.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I can't tell from your report where exactly your son "is"; but I can say from personal experience and my understanding of scripture that wholly embracing the Lord is what is needed, not just one aspect of His truth. Anyone who really is trying to please Him as their number one objective in this life will be led to abandon everything and anything and anyone which is putting them in danger of swamping their eternal life.

So in speaking with him / contacting him, I would suggest a more general approach, that is, how is His relationship with Jesus Christ generally? If that seed, that spark is still there, it is constantly poking his conscience on this issue just as it does with all of us on every issue where we know very well that what we may be doing, saying or thinking is not pleasing to our Master.

I will certainly continue to pray for you. Remember that the Lord loves you and honors all of your good efforts toward Him and His people and His truth. He is "not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name" (Heb.6:10), and He surely knows just how important this matter and your son are to you. He is working things out for good – even if at the moment everything seems far from good. So this is a test for you as well as for your son, but the Lord is faithful and nothing is impossible for Him. He can breakthrough where no human being would deem it even possible.

But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26 NKJV

Keeping up the prayer on this end, my friend.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #8:

Dear Teacher

Our friend mentioned this honeymoon time for believers finally coming to the truth. I am very grateful for it. Incidentally, it is a continuation of a lean physical existence for me. For some time now, it has been on my mind that whatever else may have been happening back before I found you, God seemed to have been using me in something of the same way He used Job, not that I am that important at all. But He preserved me and kept the Hunger for His Truth alive in my heart and cries for it burning on my lips. I remember how just before I found your website, I was in tears and much sorrow over how I didn't understand anything. I was complaining about it bitterly to my girlfriend then, so bitterly that she texted a prayer that she was praying for me to encourage me. It was like matters came to a head then. I was under no illusions that I knew anything then. I needed guidance badly. I felt like if something didn't happen then, I was done for somehow. I had spent all of the past years begging God to show me His Way, to teach me His Word so that I could please Him and had continued trying to figure out the Bible and figure out who to listen to and who to avoid. So many mistakes and failures and so much pain. Then like lightning, I found you.

You remember how angry I was that I had tried so hard to figure this all out and do the right thing only to find that I'd been heading the wrong way most of the time. Then I was so relieved and so happy that finally I was learning the Truth. Perhaps the honeymoon is just for this short time to nail certain basic truths down flat but it certainly cannot be about how happy I am to be here. That part of honeymoon - the feeling, that is - is, I suspect and certainly hope, going to carry on for the rest of my life. I don't even like to imagine what would have happened if you had not been there to be found. I am grateful for this time to learn. I know that it will end, perhaps soon even. But I am grateful to have it right now. I wish I could work at least so that I won't always feel this helpless about stuff like providing for myself and getting married but God is not at all handicapped with respect to that. I know that if I am still here, it is because He sees that I need to be here for now. It pleased Him before perhaps to use me to make a point to keep me waiting until I found you, who knows but that He may be making yet another point. I have no true quarrel with being used like that. In fact, I doubt that I am really being used like that since I know me - before, I was so mouthy and arrogant supposing that God owed me something; today, I am probably taking too much for granted (I hope I'm not but I wouldn't bet on it).

Work is very hard in my country. I think it is so everywhere. I just don't normally think in general terms about such things. But, yes, in fact it is. When people make so much noise about entrepreneurship, it's mostly because they don't appreciate how desperate people can get. Pretty much everyone of working age here finds some business or something to stick their fingers in either because they can't find work or because whatever the job is that they're doing is not keeping them alive. It's why we have such a corrupt culture. Survival is a full-time affair for the average person here. But where isn't it really? Right now, my thinking about it is that God arranged every present circumstance taking into full account both my own desire to know His Truth and theirs to ignore it for now. So, perhaps I should just continue to be grateful that I can study? I definitely will be no matter what the circumstances are. At least, I hope I will be.

I have been trying to figure out the angels too and how hardness really works. I wondered, for example, how the people of the Earth could still rebel against Christ when He is reigning from Millennial Jerusalem. I was particularly concerned because of . . .

Isaiah 52:10 NASB
[10]The Lord has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God


Isaiah 40:5 NASB
[5]Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

It was hard for me to understand how you described it but I think I get it now. It is not that just seeing the Lord in His glory does not dismiss every argument. It is that although it does, God does grant the target(s) a supernatural ability to sort of forget or ignore what they have seen and proceed to fight Him. They would do so if they could. But they couldn't unless He gave them the ability to. This is why despite the awesome judgments of Revelation, unbelievers and apostates will continue to curse God instead of repent. But how then does free will function? In hell, those who rebelled will no longer be so arrogant. Is this then because God will have taken away all ability to do so? How does He do that if not by the unveiling of His full Glory? It is by the extreme meticulousness of the Last Judgment, isn't it? Every hypothetical is being addressed in history, right? The Judgment of the Great White Throne will just reveal the answers to every last one so that there will no longer be any possibility of doubt. It is not just His Majesty that ends every rebellion or His Naked Power, it is His absolutely unassailable Judgment, isn't it? That was why rebellion was possible in spite of Satan's exposure to God's glory and to His Power. This is what I was getting wrong, right, sir?

I remembered something else that I've been meaning to ask you...two, in fact. One, could the minas rather than the talents not be corresponding to our Free Will since we all equally have it while the talents correspond to our unique circumstances, gifts and opportunities (as you said somewhere else) since we have a different combination for each person?

Yours in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #8:

I had a honeymoon period too. After I finally got the big wake-up call from the Lord, and after things died down, I got put in touch with my mentor's ministry by a fellow Marine officer (we are still good friends today), and the Lord sent me off to a professional school for about five or six weeks a long way from where I was living. I had not much to do there once the school day was over so I had a lot of free time on my hands. I used most of this to pore over the books my friend had given me, much like you are doing with Ichthys. This was the beginning of everything. When I got back to California, the Lord turned my life inside out, and again I all of a sudden had a lot of time on my hands after work. I used this to listen to tapes and got caught up on many years of ministry in about a year. After that, I got sent to Okinawa. This was also a good thing because it made me realize that my original plan to stay in the USMC to have a good livelihood was really a poor use of my time for what I was beginning to see I wanted to do with my life. So I did my year overseas and left service after that to go back to school. I see parallel things happening in your life. Just be flexible, because none of us knows ahead of time just how things are going to work out. Your life with and for the Lord is what is really important. Everything else is only a means to that end.

On the issue of hardening the heart, I think you have put it well. Without this ability, there would be no way for those who reject the Lord to keep on with their lives. But it is still "free will", first, because the decision to harden and then harden some more is also a choice; second, because no matter how hard a person is there is still some light getting through. If a person hardens himself to the point where no light can get through, that is usually the point where they are removed from this world (as in the case of the Pharaoh of the exodus). By the way, talents / minas are the means so I would not want to disconnect free will from that equation (I hope I didn't give that impression in anything I've written).

Keep up the good work, my friend. I really appreciate the update and your most encouraging email.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Dear Teacher

Thank you so very much for sharing your own experience with me, sir. That helps a great deal. I think I have come to the point where I don't even know what plans to make anymore. I just have general ideas about how I would like to work things out if circumstances allow. But generally, I have no concept how things are going to go so I keep pretty much every option open. As long as my life can please Him, it is all I want.

As for the talents and minas, I'll keep thinking about it. You said just now that both represent the means, right? So both could actually mean the same thing in the parables. Is it then not particularly significant that in one case everyone gets a different advance to work with and in another everyone gets the same advance to work with?

Yours in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #9:

You're most welcome, my friend.

Yes, I think the whole point behind both parables is to motivate us to use our free will in faith to respond to what the Lord is giving us in terms of opportunities to serve Him and His Church. That is what we are doing here on earth after salvation, after all, and that is how we earn a good eternal reward which glorifies him. In that regard, I think you are wise not to get to deep into planning. Some planning is necessary in this life, especially reverse planning (i.e., focusing on where you want to get to and tracing backward to see how it would be possible to do so). In terms of the kingdom of God, He uses prepared believers. Technology is changing rapidly and indeed everything in this world is changing at a far more rapid pace than when I was young. And we know that this will accelerate even much more dramatically during the Tribulation. So it might be impossible to form any detailed plan that could actually be useful down the road. But preparing spiritually will always be useful, both personally and in terms of ministry, however the Lord decides to put you to work – and of course HE already has that planned. WE just have to wait to find out. But I am sure He does have something important for you, and I keep you in prayer on this score day by day.

So keep pushing forward, my friend. I'm very proud of you using the opportunities you have in such a diligent fashion. It really is encouraging to me.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10:

Dear Teacher

Thank you so much for your encouragement. Here is what I think I have come to understand regarding the subject of "Hardness of Heart":

Note: Hardness of Heart.

How God hardens people: by giving them the expanded ability to choose to continue to resist Him after seeing undisputed reasons not to. For example, when God washes Egypt in terrible, awe-inspiring judgments that brought them to their knees, they could no longer fight Him. But they had only capitulated to God because they had been given no more choice in the matter. The terror of God does end the ability that creatures have to resist His Will.

Therefore, it is an act of Great Grace on God's part that creatures (both humans and angels) who resist Him until they no longer can are given yet another chance to choose. This new chance is what the Bible calls "hardening" as an act of God.

However, people who have set themselves opposite to God without any willingness to repent may capitulate or yield when they find Him too great to oppose but that does not make them willing, obedient servants to His Will. So, a supernaturally expanded ability to choose again is usually only used to resume their opposition to Him.
This is what Satan did, what Pharaoh did and what every unbeliever who continues to reject Christ until they die would do.

This is what the Bible also terms as "hardening the heart" as an act of free will.

So, there are two sides to the hardening of the heart. After enemies of God have been struck with His Terror so that they lose all ability to continue to resist Him, His gracious gift of the ability to forget or otherwise ignore His Terror and have another shot at choosing of their own will to submit to God or not to without any interference from God is God hardening their heart only because without God's Terror to stop them, they are committed enemies of His.

So, when the Bible says that God hardened someone's heart, it does not mean that He gave the person no further choice to obey Him or resist Him. It means that He graciously enabled the person to regain that ability in fact when ordinarily such a person had already lost it because of the paralyzing fear of God's Majesty and Power.

It is the person in question who deliberately uses this renewed ability to choose to rebel again and resume their opposition of God. This is what makes hardening of the heart a free will choice.

This is exactly why Satan could continue to fight against God after that awesome Genesis Gap Judgment. Without God's Own gracious provision of an ability to ignore His Own Previous Display of Power, Satan would not be able to continue to run a campaign of opposition against Him. This means that it was never necessary for God to dim His full Glory when He made the angels. Satan was able to rebel in the first place and to resume his rebellion in the second because God provided him and his fellow angels with the ability to ignore His Power in making the free will choice to submit to His Will or rebel.


Have I got it right now? What gave me pause with that very first writing about it was the constant reminder in my mind that "the demons believe and also tremble" in James. Why were they able to resist God knowing how powerful He is? How could Satan even rebel at first while seeing God in His full glory? And thus how does unrighteousness and rebellion completely end? I had read everything I could find that you wrote on it but I still didn't fully understand it. I think now that I do. I did believe your explanations. They just hadn't fully come together in my mind. I think that this is an accurate representation of them. Am I right, sir?

Yours in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #10:

As to hardness of heart, it is something "we" do, but something God allows. I had never considered the matter from this point of view you relate here since hardness is always described in scripture in negative terms. But I suppose it is an act of grace, considering the alternative. Hardness is turning away from the truth, turning away from "real reality" (as opposed to what the secular world thinks of as reality wherein there is no place for God, and nothing could be more unreal than that). Why do people do this? Because they can't "take" the reality. For someone who is not willing to accept the Lord as their Savior, the reality of impending death AND eternal damnation following physical death is – one would hope – unbearably oppressive. It is so oppressive, in fact, that those of us who have fled to the safety that is in Jesus Christ were highly motivated to do so for just that reason. Unbelievers who are not seeking God virtually have to harden their hearts in order to be able to deal with the reality of "the ultimate concern" – that is to say precisely by NOT dealing with it, and hardening the heart allows them not to have to deal with it "right now" to varying degrees (and there are many methods of doing so, preeminently religion), specifically, the degree to which they have hardened themselves against the truth of natural revelation:

(18) God's wrath is about to be revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness – on men who suppress the truth [in their hearts about God] in their unrighteousness. (19) For that which can be known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them, because God has made it obvious. (20) His nature, though invisible, is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from this creation of His – [this is true of] both His eternal power and His divinity – so that they are without any excuse: (21) they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness.
Romans 1:18-21

As this passage suggests – and as the link to where this is all discussed in BB 4B teaches – there are stages of hardening the heart. But the mechanics and the purpose is all the same, namely, to allow creatures to continue in this world as free will actors without that free will being hindered by the truth which they are determined to reject. Anyone who is sensitive to the basic truths of human morality, for example, will stay away from the sorts of things Paul goes on to describe in the passage above (Rom.1:22-32). Even though they may be unbelievers and hardened against accepting Christ, able to live with zero desire for a relationship with the Father because of being able to sufficiently blot out worry about death and damnation (often through religion), yet in regard to right behavior they "show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" (Rom.2:15 NKJV). Whereas the individuals at the end of the previous chapter have blotted out the truth of the consequences of such evil behavior, namely that they will as a result be "receiving upon themselves (i.e., in their bodies) [as a result] the penalty their error deserved" (Rom.1:27), and proceed anyway.

Any time the Lord does not carry out swiftly the penalty we are due for our sins, crimes and rebellions, that is grace, so, yes, I would say that allowing people (and angels) to continue in this world and to continue to act in free will even when they have used it to ignore, deny, and fight against the truth, is grace (Rom.9:22-23). However, while it may certainly be true in some cases (and blessedly IS true in some case) that this reprieve eventually results in a change of heart, salvation, spiritual growth and production (one thinks of the special case of the apostle Paul in particular, and I am sure that most of us know or know of individuals who seemed to have gone "beyond the pale" and yet did come to Christ in the end), in most cases hardening the heart, being a very bad thing, ends in a very bad place. Eventually, when it comes to those who WILL respond, it comes to such a pitch of divine judgment (for the unbeliever) or discipline (for the believer) that He does break through and break down the wall of arrogant denial of the truth (that is certainly what happened for me, very graciously so). But God never does this in a way which will violate free will.

As you understand in your analysis, there are limits to the ability of any human being to deny the truth when it is crushing him/her underfoot. That is why the case of Pharaoh is special: he was given a unique ability to harden himself so as to be able to continue to exercise his free will doing what he wanted to do in the face of divine opposition which would otherwise have forced him to do what he did not want to do. When it comes to accepting Christ, no one has ever been forced to do so nor will any ever be forced to do so – because free will is the issue, the whole reason for history.

So, yes, the ability to harden may be seen as a gracious act on God's part – everything He does is just and good and right and could not be otherwise. But I wouldn't recommend it.

Keeping you and your situation and family in my prayers daily, my friend!

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Hi Bob,

[mental battle against sin extremely distressing]. How can I hold fast so that I do not succumb to sin?

"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."
(Hebrews 12:4)

Response #11:

The truth is, the Spirit is more powerful. BUT, you have to believe that, and you have to commit to it. The Spirit will not violate your will. So to the extent that you indulge sin and evil at all, to that extent it will rule over you (Gal.5:16-25; cf. Gen.4:7). But if you do listen to the Spirit – listen and follow His guidance – then you have nothing to worry about. It's all about choice, but that doesn't mean it is easy. The hard part is truly rejecting "that which you hate" (Rom.7:15). As Paul's discussion in the context makes clear, that is an impossibility for the natural man. But for a believer who is walking in the Spirit, confessing sin, making the Lord, His truth and His Church their #1 priority in all things at all times, there is nothing to worry about because we know (epignosis) by faith that the Spirit is able and willing to help us. Every battle won is a step towards consistency; every time we throw in the towel and indulge (whatever it is), we take a step backward and make it harder to do the right thing the next time. You can have victory here – and in every other aspect of life. But it takes absolute determination of will – a choice without "shadow of turning" which emulates the perfect WILL of God.

Here are a couple of links that talk about this from various points of view:

Guilt, Sin and Victory through Spiritual Growth

Dealing with Sin and Guilt

Sin, Guilt, and Salvation

Sin, Guilt, and Salvation II

The Battlefield Within: Fighting the inner spiritual Struggle.

Who Controls our Thoughts and Emotions?

There's also the question of spiritual momentum.

Every believer needs to be reading their Bible, praying, learning the truth from a good ministry, and aggressively applying that truth daily. No exceptions (not even for teachers or those ministering – maybe especially not for teachers and those ministering). This momentum is what empowers our walk with Christ and makes all good things in the spiritual life possible. Take it away, and we open ourselves up to attack exponentially. There is a lot about this at the link: BB 6A.

In Jesus our dear Savior – the One we aim to please instead of ourselves.

Bob L.

Question #12:

Hi Dr,

I hope all is well with you, your family and your ministry. Please let me know of any urgent prayer needs. As for me, I would like a personal prayer for strength and endurance and for my walk to be a witness to God's grace in my life so I can be a shining light unto me. (MT 5:16)

I would like some clarification and feedback as it refers to your recent mailing, Culture and Christianity, around "No one is perfect".

I. No One is Perfect

Perfection means mature or complete in a biblical sense from what I gather. So when the Lord states in Mt 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." I take that literally. In a biblical sense it means to grow up into maturity and completeness as Christ was mature and complete in His Father's eye. This is a mandate for spiritual growth and maturity and no longer babes in Christ because if you are not perfect (mature or complete) how can Christ use you for His glory on earth. Maturity or perfection deals with your walk in obedience, studying His Word and living a lifestyle that will allow the Holy Spirit latitude to do Christ will for you and others via your life. So it crinches me, after diligently studying the Word, for someone to say we can't be perfect. I don't measure perfection because that is judging but the Lord does and the Word teaches us how to accomplish it.

There is spiritual perfection and moral perfection. Moral perfection is a mandate for everyone because Christ died to free us from sin not so we can sin freely. The way moral perfection is stated in 1 Thess. 5:22, "Abstain from all appearances of evil" this will lead to a path of moral perfection. Spiritual perfection has to do with one's calling in life. So a preacher whose gifted by The Spirit and called by the Lord to do that work should be perfect (mature or complete) in his calling so that the work of the Lord will be effective. A perfect example is our Lord himself who completed the work God called Him to do on earth. We likewise if we have the Spirit of Christ will be perfect (mature or complete) in our calling. You are a prime example to me of being perfect spiritually based on your calling. Only God knows if the person is spiritually perfect because the Bema seat will determine that but there is a hint of that completeness when the ministry you are called in has affected others for the glory of Christ from a salvation and growth perspective. So perfection is a mandate both spiritually and morally based on the word of God via MT 5:48 and other scriptures.

Response #12:

In regard to the above and paragraph #1, so you think you might be able to improve in these areas, even though you are no doubt doing well? That is the point. There is ALWAYS room for improvement (and anything that can be improved is not yet perfect in the English usage of that word). Yes, we can reach spiritual maturity, but that is not the same thing as being sinless or in no way capable of improving. The idea that such a thing might be possible is contrary to everything I read in scripture. We can always do better, even those who are far advanced in their growth, progress and production for the Lord. And of course since we do have sin natures, being human and being under attack from the world, the flesh and the devil, we are all always susceptible to counterattack and failure of alertness. David was one of the greatest believers who ever lived. If he wasn't close to perfection, I don't know who else might claim it. But when he got sloppy on one occasion, he fell into adultery, topped that with murder, and suffered for it terribly for many years. The danger with assuming that perfection is possible is that this concept will tempt believers to assume that they have "arrived" and will coax them into letting down their guard and relaxing their efforts. The result? They weren't actual "perfect" before and they certainly won't be after they falter as a consequence of the sloppiness which will ensue. This life is a fight, a war. And all combat is messy. There are advances and retreats, victories and losses, and dangers at every turn . . . until we cross that heavenly finish line. We are supposed to shoot for perfection, that is clear. But that doesn't mean we should ever assume we've made it – because we're not going to be pristinely "perfect" until we see the Lord face to face in resurrection. Matthew 5:48 gives the standard: perfection. But a good deal of our Lord's efforts are evangelistic. Anyone listening to Him say this – anyone with an ounce of humility – would realize that they fall short . . . by a lot. This leads to recognizing the need for a Savior, someone to die in our place for our sins, for our "lack of perfection". Beyond all argument, anyone who is still committing sin, sin of any kind, is not perfect, not in the English definition of the word. And anyone who says he/she is no longer sinning, ever, at all, is lying:

If we say that we do not possess sin (i.e., a sin nature which is producing personal sins), we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just so as to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, that we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word is not in us.
1st John 1:8-10

I do take your point about spiritual maturity, and maturity is a measure of completion/perfection in one sense (though I am loath to use either word because of the problems discussed above). So it depends on how one is using the words. I distinguish between absolute perfection (which must include sinlessness which no one has in this life) and spiritual maturity – which is not only possible but mandated. So I don't think I have ever described spiritual maturity in the sense of "perfection". As I say, I think that would be a bad idea. "Nobody is perfect" – a common and true sentiment when "perfect" is seen as all inclusive to comprise sinlessness and complete fulfillment of the will of God at all times and in all ways. Only Jesus Christ ever did that. He is our role model, that is the standard, but we should be careful about suggesting we have gotten there (because we haven't, not in this life). I have more to say about the morpheme "tel-" in BB 6A (link). But in sum, I take Matthew 5:48 and related commands as legitimate targets to shoot for, mandatory ones, the failure to reach them being a prod to seek salvation through grace rather than through works.

Question #13:

Is wanting to learn something coveting? After all, you're desiring knowledge you do not have. Should we remain in a place of total stagnation?

Response #13:

As, e.g., Exodus 20:17 makes quite clear, it is the desire for things that do not belong to you but belong to someone else that is the problem.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17 NKJV

Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek vocabulary suggest that "desire" or "wanting something" is bad in and of itself. It is wonderful, for example, to desire good things:

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
1st Timothy 3:1 NIV

The verb translated "desires" in the second instance above is epithymeo, the same verb used by the LXX to translate Exodus 20:17's chamadh, a root that means "pleasant" with the verb meaning "find pleasant" – and that is only a problem if it incites lust to take away something belonging to someone else (as in the case of David and Bathsheba, e.g.).

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #14:

I'm sorry to hear that things are hard for you at work. Why do they keep making cuts? Don't you work for a state funded university? Is it that they don't see the classes you teach as valuable? Because that's very sad if so.

[details omitted]

Response #14:

Thanks so much for your reply and for the update. Things in academia are all about the money these days it seems, but I do have tenure so, God helping me, I will be difficult to be rid of. It is a bit annoying to be constantly hammered for doing a consistently good job in an area that in my view is objectively important – even if it doesn't bring in grant money. We endeavor to persevere.

You certainly ARE busy, to be working like this AND taking three summer classes – which I know very well condense the material into a more limited time.

On your situation, first, let me assure you that you are NOT "stupid". People like this have a great deal of experience in manipulating other people having learned how to do so by trial and error over many years. Add to that that everyone in an authority-inferior role is particularly vulnerable to such pressure (does the name "Harvey Weinstein" ring a bell?). I think most people who have much life experience in working outside of the home – and women in particular – have similar stories to tell. I am very happy to hear that you have been spared worse, but this sort of thing is bad enough and does leave emotional scars as I can testify to. So YOU are not the "problem". That "person" is the problem.

You have your own free will and you say here that you think it "right to stay" so normally I wouldn't say anything – I really hate to give advice since there are always so many details that are not knowable by a third party such as myself who is not even physically present. But you did ask, so I will say a couple of things.

Even though it's not my business, I would strongly counsel you to get a different job. The economy is by no means perfect (in spite of what they say in the media), but for a young person with experience and an obviously positive attitude like yours there is a virtual certainty that you will be able to get something else – God helping you, let's not forget. And given what you have told me, it seems to me that almost anything would be better than what you have had to put up with. Last time we talked, you told me that you hadn't even been paid for all those insane hours you've been working. That is exploitation on a colossal scale and there is no other way to interpret it. Any boss / company that was aware of what was happening to you and permitted it to continue is not worth the tiniest bit of loyalty – rather they ought to be brought up on charges. So please take a couple of weeks off (I'm sure you've earned that) and think it over, maybe put in a few applications elsewhere while you're at it. But there is no future with a boss / bosses / company which behaves in this way. Eventually they will use you up and spit you out without so much as a thank you.

As to the "person" and the situation you described, that is all the more reason to get out while the getting is good. We human beings are very emotional and our emotions work in odd ways very often. It is not uncommon for people who have been abused to continue in an abusive relationship out of guilt ("was it my fault?") or out of desire to "fix" what happened by "proving" themselves worthy of not being abused. There are all manner of things that happen to us internally when we suffer something like this, but you have to remember and understand that YOU did NOTHING wrong. Also please remember that you belong to Jesus Christ and that He will protect you on your journey to somewhere else, someplace better.

You are worth a GREAT deal more than these people and this company understands. But please make sure you DO understand it, and start making plans and taking steps accordingly.

In Jesus Christ who is our true Master in all things great and small.

Bob L.

Question #15:

Thank you, as always, for your kind reply. It saddens me to hear you say that academia is only about the money these days, but I know in my heart that it is true. What the world values isn't in line with what we as believers value. You are valuable, Dr. Luginbill! And what you teach is valuable. I will pray that you will keep persevering under pressure! Not that I'm at all worried, since you are "difficult to get rid of;" for if God is for us, who can stand against us?

On a somewhat related note, at my own University, I'm currently taking a business ethics course, and it pains me having to sift through what the world believes is ethical and what I know to be truly ethical. [details omitted] Always praying for you.

In Him,

Response #15:

Thanks for this, both for your good words and encouragement and also for sharing with me your solid spiritual perspective on the things you are "learning" in college. Calvin Coolidge's dad was a multipurpose county official, and one of his many jobs was to collect taxes. Coolidge said that on occasions when he accompanied his dad he couldn't avoid seeing how much it hurt people, families and individuals, to have to pay money that was not easy to come by. He never forgot this and always resisted taxation because he realized the bad it did. But as you say, we Christians have no choice, as Paul says, "not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake" (Rom.13:5 NKJV).

I'm relieved to hear that you are looking for something else. A smart, talented, experienced and exceptionally hard-working young person like yourself is going to have no problem landing something much better. It's just a question of getting your resume and yourself in front of the right committee or boss.

As to your question, I would strongly recommend against any further contact of any kind whatsoever under any circumstances with person "X". That would be very unwise, in my view, and very dangerous in the bargain. The Lord delivered you. Please take that to heart and don't put Him in the position of having to do it again.

Keeping you in my prayers daily – and thanks so much for yours!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #16:

Hello Professor,

I looked at your most recent email posting - "Fighting the Fight VI" - and questions from one of your correspondents caught my attention (starting with question 18). Not only it seems he may have been considering and potentially also employing some of the methods for combating his weakness that I wrote about but he also mentioned studying my Spiritual Battle, something I found incredible.

I fully agree with all your responses to him. Having given consideration to his struggle, I thought I would write a few points which I would probably include when I update my "Spiritual Battle" (I'm taking notes for each of the texts I produced and will review and update them before I go online with my ministry) but which are currently not there (or at least not applied that specifically). Not that I consider these observations worthy, but if in your view they may help him in any way, then please feel free to forward this message to him. And I will in any case say a prayer for him. If you think it is better that his name remains confidential, then this is absolutely understandable. If it is not a problem for you to share it with me, then I always say the prayer for fellow brothers and sisters using their name.

1) I completely agree that all the behavioural methods we may employ, although not wrong in and of themselves, will never solve our spiritual problems (Colossians 2:21-23). This I know firstly from having tried to fight my battles in this way for years before salvation when I was still a Catholic. I never overcame my sins until I got saved when impossible became possible with God's empowerment. Secondly - also when still an unbeliever - I did fairly extensive study in Sport Psychology and some mainstream Psychology during my BSc and then decided to do my MSc in Sport Psychology. I can honestly say now that I see Psychology as largely a waste of time (very little of what I have studied has even got any application to my football coaching) and entirely a waste of time when it comes to our spiritual life. Then some of the methods he asked about pose other problems too, including potentially causing us or others to stumble and I agree with all your comments on these.

Every behavioural or psychological method, however we label them, attempts to solve the problem from the outside and we know this cannot work. In fact, whatever barriers we set to keep us away from sin, we are also able to remove and often, sooner or later, this is exactly what happens. This is why I believe that he must focus his full attention on the issue of choice. When we choose to overcome our sin, God empowers this choice through His Spirit. The problem is, of course, that often we don't want to make the right choice or find ourselves struggle to persevere in it as we have developed an area of weakness.

2) Now regarding the choice. I have devoted some sections of the "Spiritual Battle" exactly to what can motivate a believer to choose faithfulness over any transitory pleasure of sin (particularly the sections "Perseverance" and "Motivation to persevere and not give up in the battle"). But I would add something else here also, regarding the perspective.

The problem often is exactly that we don't perceive our problems as a spiritual battle and don't approach them as such. With Satan knowing our weaknesses, our most difficult struggles tend to of course come in areas where we don't really enjoy the combat. For example, a certain believer could easily gather up courage to defend a child or an older person being attacked by a thug or stand up for the truth in some sort of a meeting/conference/family gathering when the name of Jesus Christ or the Word of God is being blasphemed against, but could consistently fail to apply this combat approach when he experiences other temptations he finds particularly enticing.

And this is where I believe the key is exactly to start perceiving fighting all sin as a real battle, in fact, our most important battle. We often tend to think of such occurrences as being "breaks in faithfulness" (a bit like a continuous line of study, growth and production suddenly became a dotted line), as "side tracks" or whatever else we may call them to avoid confronting the sin in a fight to the point of bloodshed (Hebrews 12:4). I suppose we are all guilty of it sometimes, but I believe that it is crucial for winning the battle to treat it as battle. Fighting a thug or confronting a blasphemer it seems is easy to be perceived as a battle, but, for example, combating the sin he wrote about is usually not seen as a spiritual battle - at least not when the temptation begins. And that's the point - it is and it needs to be seen as such and it needs to be seen as such when the test begins.

Not only that - it is actually the most important battle of all. Fighting the sin nature, resisting Satan and avoiding the damage to our service that sin inevitably brings is the only real battle. We are often motivated by some earthly battles we engage in - be it athletic or intellectual or of any other kind - and yet we know that apart from the fruit we bear for the Lord, none will remain of all else we do - all will burn. So ultimately it is only this free will contest - faithfulness or sin - that will matter. And what I find key here and what I apply in my own struggles is that it is our spirit in which we make this free will choice and engage in this contest that is our true self. This is what we are. A believer is not X the tennis player or X the chess player but X is who he is in his spirit - choosing to follow Christ or give in to sin as he engages in the battle. All the earthly contests and realities are only a reflection of the only reality that lasts and - the spiritual reality - and the only contest whose results will be eternal.

So maybe it would help our friend - if he has not done that yet - to see his struggle as a real contest. Not as dealing with weakness, not as trying to improve on a spiritual failure, and perhaps not even as just trying to avoid a certain sin - but a contest. And this is not a call to some vain bravado in which we win by our effort, because the fight is fought by us choosing to seek refuge in God. But that is exactly the fight - choosing God, seeking refuge in Him, praying to Him when the last thing we may want to do is pray.

3) Linked to the above I could also draw one more earthly parallel - that of exertion. We tend to exert ourselves in our earthly pursuits, again - athletic, intellectual, etc. - but we often don't show the same desire in the one area that matters (1 Timothy 4:8). You mentioned completing the Boston Marathon in your response and it brought memories of me doing long distance running in the past, including completing a marathon. It struck me a some time ago how I could really push myself to the point of pain when running or how I would spend hours practicing certain skills in football and yet as soon as a certain temptation comes, behold, the desire to exert oneself, to persevere, all will to fight - vanished! It is the same paradox as described above with regard to the battle, only applied to the specifically to our spiritual determination, fortitude and perseverance. What I have also found in my efforts as a runner is that even after engaging in a maximal effort (like a VO2 max test) towards the end of which I thought I had nothing left, I would realise immediately after the effort was finished that I indeed had something left in the tank. How much more is it true spiritually where we are not only never tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13), but we have the Spirit empowering us and we know that nothing is impossible for God - if we are only willing to yield to Him.

And this is particularly important when it comes to overcoming sin of any kind, as it often has to be outlasted. It is rarely the case that we say a prayer (once we get ourselves to do that) and the sea becomes smooth. It may take a while before the storm is over - and until it's over, we need to stay in prayer and hold on to our Master.

4) There is one more point that a believer should bear in mind when being tempted. In an area of weaknesses the enticement may seem very, very powerful. And it is always an error to start weighing things in our heart - "How good is this temporary pleasure? What will I miss out on if I don't do it?" We all have our sin nature with its cravings and there is the devil with his lies too, always ready. We know that what we are thinking of doing is wrong and that means that even by engaging in this sort of contemplation we already enter Satan's territory.

And this is where we must exercise the truth that our Lord has taught throughout His ministry - self-denial (Luke 14:26-27, etc.) that is necessary to follow Him. Overcoming a temptation will not make us happy we must accept that at the very outset. In this respect we will "go hungry" - and we are meant to. On the other hand - winning the battle and finally overcoming a weakness is the only way to the true and lasting happiness that comes only from being faithful to the Lord and walking with Him

So we must never engage in this sort of consideration, but accept that we will have to go without. We will be with our Lord sustaining us, however, until going without whatever tempts us will be easy for us and the only way we will want to go. Once we have fed the sin nature for a while, it can become a rampant beast and starving it may initially be a real challenge, but it can be done.

5) It can be done and what our friend may or may not have experienced in his particular area of weaknesses yet is that all temptations and all sin - when confronted head on and defeated time and time again - finally begin to wane (James 4:7). Enticement that simply seems too much too handle at one point, gradually grows weaker until what causes us to stumble - even for years - simply becomes pointless (as it really is). This is worth remembering, as it is not the case that certain hard battles will be the theme of our Christian walk forever - they can be won and they can be left behind.

6) Finally, it is good to engage in the contest and win it with God's help sooner rather than later. We are disciplined for our sin and Lord's hand can get heavy. We may ourselves do damage that will be great, maybe even permanent - and that could later itself need to be dealt with (embarrassment, bad testimony, despair, always loss of this short time we have here, etc.). It seems that to be complacent and not to act until things get very hard is a part of our nature, but it is always so much better to get back on track after a scuff on the side of the car rather than totally crashing it and starting again - when we know there is no other way. Crashes can be very painful and the sooner we realise we are steering in the wrong direction and are on a downward slope in a particular area and the sooner we get back, the better. I have myself applied some corrections only when my car crashed and I really, really regret it. It took me a while to accept the failure of not turning back before things got to where they got.

And one more point on this would be that once a certain sin becomes a part of our Christian walk - and we are not fighting it with all our heart and making progress, then one of the most tragic consequences is that we become hardened and lukewarm - and that is a terrible, terrible snare. In whatever earthly commitments we are engaged in and whatever jobs we are doing we may not be world champions, but our spiritual walk is the one area where we just cannot accept not doing our best, where we cannot accept mediocrity. Being a believer who accepts stumbling constantly is a path to spiritual nothingness, to an empty, dark and unproductive life. If Satan cannot get us to leave the faith and be condemned together with him, then such a scenario is the second best option. To use your words, Professor, we just cannot give him that satisfaction. And here also seeing it as a contest is crucial.

As you know, I pray for you and your ministry daily, so I hope your current work is completed soon. I myself have now almost finished another chapter of the Marian study.

In the grace of our Lord,

Response #16:

Some people do look at the list of links where your work is linked (I recently have tried to highlight that a bit more), so kudos to you that you are already bearing fruit – with much more to come I'm very sure.

Thanks for this heartfelt email. I will go ahead and forward it on since your study was mentioned. N.b., there are a lot of Christians who have emailed me about this and related issues over the years, so your work will be valuable to them all – including this very thoughtful expansion.

Keeping you in my prayers too, my friend.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17:

If I understood your study on sin correctly, young humans who die before sinning would still be lost without the Lord because, by virtue of their nature, they are against Him (in attitude and soon to be action)? I just mean, for those who never sinned because they died before they could, why would the Lord have to die for them? Couldn't he just give them a new body without the sin nature?

Response #17:

On the reason for the need for a Savior, everyone, you are correct, is born with a sin nature, so everyone sins. The idea that anyone doesn't sin is incorrect. In the history of the world, the number of people who died before sinning is essentially a "null set", at least for practical purposes, so that there is no profit in getting theological about something that could never happen, that is, a hypothetical person who didn't need a Savior. Without a Savior, how would anyone have the right to be resurrected? With a sin nature, everyone dies physically and thus has "no where to go" unless Christ pays the price for all so that all who are interested in living with Him forever might do so. In any case, this is what the Bible says:

For all sin and fall short of God's glory.
Romans 3:23

That is as comprehensive as it gets. And the good news comes in the next verse:

[But we believers are all] justified without cost by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:24

So all need redemption. As Paul also says:

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;
2nd Corinthians 5:14 NKJV

Entire schools of false doctrine have been built on speculation regarding theoretical persons who haven't sinned. There are no such persons, and even if there were, they would be infants of an hour or two longevity who still died with sin natures and would still need God's intervention for the world in Christ in order to be saved. But that is hypothetical. For all we know, God has always allowed every infant to live long enough to sin. Baby's are born crying – which is not a sign of contentedness – and anyone who has ever been around a two year old knows for sure that infants sin all the time (if sin be rightly understood).

In Jesus our dear Savior who died for the sins of us all.

Bob L.

Question #18:

Hi Dr,

Thanks for responding. I will make one last comment on this topic and we can move on. Thanks for your input and love of Christ and the purity of His Word.

I'm not talking about legalism, self-justification, works based salvation or anything you do post or pre-cross that can replace the Cross and the faith in its atoning work. I want to emphatically state, I am not part of any denominations, churches, teaching but the reading of the Word of God as led by the Spirit and to affirm that I believe we are not saved by works but by faith. I have been discussing the standards of God as it regards to his Word and a professed believer. What state should they be in? Sin or sinless?

Can you please reconcile these verses:

"For if we have planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection knowing this, that our old man [sin nature] is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve in. For he that is dead is freed from sin." (Rom 6:5-7)

If we believe that Christ died for us, then we must believe the rest of the gospel that we died with Him. That is the "faith" of the gospel. "Our old man is crucified with Him", and "the body of sin is destroyed." In the 11th verse, Paul shows that this is what we must believe if we are to live free from sin.

"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Ro. 6:11)

How can sin be dead in a believer if what you say above that there are "dark reaches of sin" that the Cross can't penetrate? It is inconsistent with a resurrected person who is made in the likeness of Christ.

My translation of Ro 6:6 is "knowing this, that our old man is crucified in union with Christ, in order that the entire body and source of sin might be rendered entirely idle and useless, less we continue to be slaves to sin."

With much love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Response #18:

I'm very sure I never ever have said anything like "there are 'dark reaches of sin' that the Cross can't penetrate".

I have never condoned sin or sinning.

I always encourage believers to fight for victory over sin.

I always stress that sanctification is necessary.

As a teacher of the Word, however, it is important to present the entire scriptural picture on any issue – and there are often are two sides. For example, if I only taught that God has already planned everything perfectly and that what we see is the playing out of His divine decrees, I would be a Calvinist. Or if I only taught that we all have free will and that the choices we make not only decide our eternal future but our eternal rewards, and that perseverance was very much "in our court", then I would be an Arminian. As it is, BOTH things are true. Teaching only one or the other leads to huge spiritual problems for those who think that only one side of this double-sided truth is true.

The same thing goes for sin. We are supposed to be perfect; but we are not. We are positionally sanctified; but experientially we will never completely arrive (until we are ultimately sanctified). We are supposed to refrain from all sin; but we are told to confess sin when we do sin – and the Lord's prayer given by Him to us confesses sin daily.

I do believe that it is possible for believers to live in a decent and respectable way – a holy and a godly way. That is certainly what I teach and what I encourage. But there is a difference between gaining victory over, say, 'porneia', on the one hand, and gaining an absolute mastery over one's tongue on the other, so as never ever to say anything that is rude or selfish or angry or hurtful or complaining (etc.; cf. Jas.3:2-13). And there is a difference between gaining victory over alcohol, drugs, gambling, criminality, aggressive violence and other such gross and obvious affronts to Christ on the one hand, and gaining an absolute mastery over one's thoughts on the other, so as never ever to think anything unkind, or covetous, or angry, or lacking in faith, or fearful, or jealous, or arrogant (etc.; cf. Gal.5:19-21).

I understand that many preachers (in particular) make a habit of "preaching sin". They emphasize sin and sinning and punishment for the same – out of a desire to keep their congregations out of trouble (one hopes). The Bible has plenty to say about sin and the problems with sinning. And in your defense, there is certainly nothing wrong – and everything right – with expressing the truth (as I have done very many times) that Christians can indeed get the better of habitual patterns of sin as long as they are willing to fight against it "to the point of blood".

The two problems here are:

1) Not being clear about the means and methods of this fight. I don't fault you on this point as I am sure that in your teaching you emphasize the point that a person can't change from the outside in, but can only change from the inside out: true victory that is anything more than superficial has to come as the result of spiritual growth – offense; merely playing defense against sin as a spiritually immature believer will only go so far, even when it comes to gross and obvious sin.

2) Failing to provide a balanced perspective. This is an occupational hazard with all teaching. But as a teacher, it is critically important to provide both sides. The fact is, Christians do sin – all Christians do (1Jn.1:10; cf. Rom.3:23 in the Greek). The fact is, while we get better about becoming more and more sanctified in our walk with Christ with every passing day (or certainly should), we will never get to the point of being able to proclaim ourselves "sinless" or "without sin" or "no longer in need of confession", if for no other reason than even if a person can / does get to the point of committing no overt sins, mastering the tongue absolutely and, even more difficult, gaining complete control of thoughts and emotions so as to never sin mentally is beyond even the best of us. I do understand that giving this side of the equation may well result in those who are not truly interested in living a sanctified life using this set of truths as an excuse, and in my reading of what you have written to me about this so far, that seems to be both the problem you are seeing and the danger you are wishing to avert. However, the truth is the truth. People abuse, misuse and distort the truth all the time. Our job as teachers is to teach the truth. And we can certainly encourage and try to guide those who listen to use it correctly. But because some do the opposite gives us no mandate – indeed, gives us no leeway – not to teach the whole truth.

One of the problems with teaching sinlessness as a realistic possibility – a problem I have noted many times before – is a twofold unintended consequence:

1) For those who are really serious about following the Lord but who do stumble, this failure will be all the more deeply felt, depressing, and spiritually crushing than would otherwise be the case. Christians who fail even though they are trying (obviously, not hard enough), need to hear about the prodigal son, not the rich man in Hades. The number of Christians who have come to think that they have lost their salvation because of failure after being exposed to such preaching is immense, and many have actually gone on to even greater spiritual depths because of being discouraged. Our job is to encourage, not discourage. Our job is to lead forward and upward, not (effectively) to reinforce failure by holding out a standard – which the Bible does hold out – in a way that the Bible never does.

2) For those who are more interested in pleasing the preachers and the rest of the congregation than the Lord, such preaching produces the most awful kind of self-righteousness. These types learn how to put away all obvious sin (or at least how to cover it up so that it is no longer visible to others), and then redefine sin in their own minds to be those obvious and gross things which they personally have little problem staying away from. Entire heresies have been built on this (Pelagianism, the Pharisees, more modern legalistic groups, churches and denominations than can be counted – "Holiness" for one). It is possible to be a member in good standing in one of these groups and not even be a born again believer. Unbelievers can gain mastery over gross sin out of willpower, if they are motivated enough. But that doesn't lead a person any closer to Jesus Christ.

As to Romans 6:5-11, here is what the next verse says:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
Romans 6:12 NKJV

Question: why is Paul urging the Romans "not to let sin reign" if "sin reigning" is not a problem they (and all of us) don't have a constant struggle and a constant problem with?

Paul is doing exactly what I suggested needs to be done, namely, presenting all sides of the picture. In chapter six, he gives us the truth that we are positionally dead to sin and can gain victory over it – and so we should. In chapter seven, he demonstrates that this is impossible to do in an absolute way. In chapter eight, he resolves the dilemma but reminding us of what he had said in chapters 3-5, namely, that our victory is positional – being "in Christ". Chapter six without 7-8 leads the conclusions you are suggesting. Chapter seven without six and eight suggests that we can't ever get anywhere in struggling against sin. Chapter eight in isolation lets us feel good about where we are in Christ – without the other two truths that 1) sin is an intractable problem (c.7) yet we can have victory over it and should (c.8). Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, and one finds all three of these themes in all of these chapters, merely different emphases apparent in each. Teaching / preaching only one part of the whole picture is taking things out of context – literally (in this case).

I appreciate your heart and do see where you are coming from, but teachers have to have a very sensitive awareness of how anything that say may be misused (Jas.3:1).

I continue to keep you in prayer, my friend. I hope that you will enjoy BB 6A (link) – it has a lot to say about the practical aspects of many of these questions and how to "fight the fight".

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #19:

[comments omitted regarding teaching 'strictness' regarding avoidance of sin]

Response #19:

My aim is to teach what the Bible teaches. We are all possessed of a sin nature, we all sin (though it is our objective as those who are growing in Christ to repress sin, and certainly to repress the most dangerous and gross varieties).

We all have free will. If we sin, it is what we choose to do. It has nothing to do with what someone is "preaching".

I dislike "preaching".

As far as strictness goes, I'm sure I never said anything about dress or makeup or hair-length that didn't make it clear that these are minor issues and that concocting legalistic rules about them is not biblical and in fact very dangerous.

As far as vulgarity goes, it may well be a sin (depending on what we are talking about). There are much worse sins – but it's a bad Christian witness. I started to clean up my act on that point in the Marine Corp when a Christian brother and brother officer said something like, "I appreciate that you never take the Lord's Name in vain, but what about all those other 'words' you use?". So I realized it was a bad witness (which of course I knew all along but apparently had to have it pointed out to change).

Any sort of illicit sexual behavior is on a whole other level of dangerous behavior. Comparing make-up or vulgarity to porneia is like comparing picking up an apple found on the ground to armed robbery – there is no true comparison between an essentially innocent act and something deadly wrong. Don't take my word for it.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
1st Corinthians 6:18 NIV

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
1st Thessalonians 4:3-7 NIV

I'm pretty sure that if the Lord took a Christian out of this world via the sin unto death for disregarding the importance of this issue, He might just say something like "What was about these verses (and many others) you didn't understand?"

One of the things that believers often don't consider in such cases is that illicit sexual behavior not only is described as highly dangerous and its punishment threatened in scripture, but it is also the case that it always involves harming other people as well (if only through covetousness or the temptation it inevitably provides). Even if we only suggest "it's no big deal", we are thus weakening the consciences of those who might otherwise resist. And if we participate with someone, they might not seem at all "innocent" (and may not be by any reasonable definition), but sure as shootin' we are helping them to go down the wrong road, and even if they are more than willing to do so, how are we not placing a stumbling block in their way?

"If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!"
Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

I do get what you are saying about hypocrisy. I hate hypocrisy too. Correct me if I'm wrong, however, but on the one hand, I never claimed to be perfect. And on the other hand, I only ever (very reluctantly) commented on this subject when pressed to do so. And then, all I have ever told you is what the Bible says about the subject. I don't think that is either wrong to do or hypocritical. I think it is godly, loving, and my job as a teacher of the Word.

Preachers often do lambast their congregations "preaching sin" in all sorts of noxious and obnoxious ways, and in doing so they often are merely highlighting their personal hypocrisy. But teaching a true principle of scripture when it comes up (say, in a verse by verse study) is not at all the same thing.

So please don't confuse me, a teacher, with a preacher. There's a very large difference (as I hope the above makes clear).

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #20:

[comments withheld by request]

Response #20:

It's posting day (and I am deep into it), but I felt I should email you back ASAP (forgive the fact that this is shorter than might otherwise be the case).

What is "arrogance"? It is arrogating to oneself authority, position, power and glory that are not rightfully one's own.

You are not arrogant by any stretch of the imagination (and I have dealt with enough people in my life who are – as well as myself at times in younger years before the Lord dealt with me on that score . . . or perhaps better put with the behavior that resulted from arrogance).

What is "humility"? It is not making an issue of oneself but of things, matters and persons that are more important than oneself, which facts a person with humility realizes and accepts.

You may not be perfect (who of us is?), and in terms of personality you might be mildly assertive (nothing like what is required behavior in the USMC, however), and you do have a tendency to "stick to your guns" – when you are convinced you are right or want to be shown how you are wrong; but that is not arrogance either and not really even true stubbornness. That is merely the positive quality of guilelessness (Jn.1:47). Everything I have ever seen from you has been motivated by a deep love for the Lord, for His truth, and for His people (sometimes past the point of personal comfort and even safety – as may be the case here).

Here is what I read in the Bible:

The Jews there were amazed and asked, "How did this man get such learning without having been taught?" Jesus answered, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him."
John 7:15-18 NIV

Assessing arrogance involves assessing motives. At great personal cost and with great difficulty and effort you have been pursuing a course that will allow you in time to honor our Lord by serving His Church, just as He instructed Peter to do (Jn.21:15-17). You have subordinated yourself to this ministry and humbly learned as much from it as you can, but not in blind faith in myself or Ichthys; rather you have been testing and trying and faithfully learning in the Spirit as much as you can from a source that has proven useful – in order to be useful yourself to the Lord and those who belong to Him. You have given up worldly opportunities and/or put them in second place. You have gone without sleep and "fun" and have worked very hard in the Lord and for the Lord. Why? Because it doesn't matter if you are well-prepared? To the contrary: because you know that it matters a great deal. That is the essence of humility. Doing the hard work necessary to be genuine and not a mere poser.

When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked.
Mark 6:2a NIV

Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Matthew 13:54-56 NIV

Our Lord told us explicitly that if they persecute the Master, they will persecute his servants as well (Jn.15:20). Our Lord prepared for ministry like no one else in the history of the world (obviously), and His teaching – hard won through intensive effort from His youth, was as a result perfect, and was designed not for His own glory but for the glory of the One who sent Him (Jn.7:15-18 quoted above).

We are not the Lord, not even close; but we are to emulate His example, and we are told that in doing so we will share His sufferings – and that we will opposed as He was opposed, by family, friends, false brethren, and of course the evil one and his subordinates: they hate and fear the truth being taught.

Arrogance would be claiming to have the gift of pastor-teacher if one does not have it (but you do have it).

Arrogance would be dispensing with the hard work necessary to prepare to use that gift and assuming it doesn't matter (but you know very well how much preparation matters and you are sacrificing much to do as much on that score as you can).

Arrogance would be claiming that anything a person wants to be the truth is the truth, and that anything a person does not want to accept is not the truth (but you have devoted your life to the actual truth in spite of all resistance to it and all obstacles put in your path).

In other words, arrogance is what those who are displeased with your humble and innocent embrace of the truth are displaying. They do not have the gift of teaching, but they claim that their opinions are on a equal par with principles of truth that you have mastered through diligent study over many years now. They have no preparation for teaching whatsoever, but feel they are on a par with you and the skills and tools you have been perfecting for a long time now with blood, sweat and tears. They want the right to determine what the truth is according to what suits them – but you have the humility to understand that the truth belongs to God, and that all mortal men, dust and ashes that we are, need to ever be throwing ourselves face down in the dirt before Him and accepting every word that comes from His mouth as more blessed and desirable than our daily bread.

Arrogance dictates to God (and those who belong to Him and are truly working for Him). That is precisely what the devil did and we know how he ends up.

I'll be casting my lot with you, my friend, over all friends and family and powerful or famous or influential people – who have no use for the actual truth.

This is all about the truth. This is all about Jesus Christ who is the very Word of God. There is no room for compromise on that.

As to your present situation, I have to say that I am concerned for your personal safety. Yes we are to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ "70 times 7" when they repent. However, 1) I remain to be convinced about the spiritual status of these individuals who claim to belong to the Lord; and 2) the first passage you quoted does not conflict with the second one: sometimes we are to "love from afar"; we can forgive, but that does mean we are required to fellowship or associate.

I do understand that there are contractual issues here, but if there is any way to move to some safer place where you would be on your own and away from these influences – and dangers (which have me more concerned, I have to say) – then, while I hate to give advice, I think you should consider it. I always make an exception on this "no advice" policy when personal safety is at issue, and I think it may be.

For what it is worth, I am sure that almost all of my family and non-seminary friends of the past feel pretty much the same about Ichthys as these individuals who are disrespecting you (Jn.4:44); and you can certainly read for yourself in very many of the email exchanges that this attitude of claiming arrogance on my part for not being willing to go along with lies is a very common thing.

But it's not about us. It's about the Lord. So we need to learn not to take this flak personally (I might have mentioned that once or twice before). The evil one is not going to let us complete our missions without a fight. But we are not fighting our own fight; we are fighting the Lord's fight. And as long as that is true inside and out – and as long as we keep it in mind – then we may be sure that even the gates of hell will not be able to resist our humble assault in the power of the Spirit to the glory of the One who bought us and the Father who made us . . . whose glory we truly seek (Jn.7:15-18).

I am keeping you in my prayers on all this, my friend. Remember who enlisted you and whom it is you serve (2Tim.2:4).

In our dear Lord and Savior, the Lord of hosts, Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #21:

[comments withheld by request]

Response #21:

You're very welcome, my friend. Glad to help.

Yes it can be a lonely path, but what's the alternative? To be lukewarm like everybody else, knowing little and believing less, "tossed to and fro by every wind and wave of false teaching" (Eph.4:14), with little regard for the Lord, let alone any genuine love for Him?

It's better to have the Lord than to have the world; and it's better to be in company with a few ostracized Christian warriors (as David was at the cave of Adullam) than to be friends with the entire lukewarm world. Those warriors became "the mighty men", and in a similar way, those who are genuinely fighting the fight for Jesus Christ here and now are the ones who are going to hear "well done!" from Him. Lonely or not though it may sometimes seem, is there anything better than that?

"Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets."
Luke 6:22-26 NIV

In honor of your request, I won't post your info from these two emails; the responses, absent identifying features, will be good for others to hear, because you are far from the only one out there being treated thus by family and friends on account of your love for the truth.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

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