Sunday, August 6, 2017

Q&A: What if a believer chooses NOT to forgive someone?

Q: In Mark 11.26 we are told that if we don't forgive, the Father won't forgive us either...this has always been a confusing part of Scripture for me since we are told after coming to Jesus ALL sins, past, present and future are forgiven. What if a believer chooses not to forgive someone?

There are really two parts to your question:

1. What is Jesus saying in Mark 11: 25-26 about forgiving others? And,
2. What if a believer chooses not to forgive someone?

First of all, the context of the passage in question from Mark 11 is PRAYER and the things that hinder it for us. Jesus cited unforgiveness as something that greatly hinders prayer because it breaks fellowship with God.

I understand that a lot of people read Mark 11:25-26 and immediately interpret it as saying that forgiving others seems to be listed here as a REQUIREMENT for salvation. They hear Jesus saying, "If you don't forgive others, God won't forgive you" and they assume that since a person isn't forgiven they are also not saved.

But that is NOT what Jesus is saying in that passage. The forgiveness that results in eternal life is, and always will be, a matter of GRACE through FAITH in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. In other words, it's bestowed as a FREE GIFT which Paul says is NOT OF WORKS. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

That means what Jesus is talking about in Mark 11 is something unrelated to salvation. He is speaking of God's parental dealings with His children and making us aware that an unforgiving spirit in a child of God causes a break in fellowship with the Lord that creates a hindrance for prayer.

What you were taught is true: when we come to Christ ALL our sins are forgiven — past, present and future. But that's referring to the forgiveness that results in salvation. There are other issues related to forgiveness that do NOT affect our salvation, but they DO affect our relationship with God. In other words, once a child of God is SAVED and trusting Jesus for forgiveness, their sin can no longer threaten their eternal salvation. But it CAN and DOES threaten their closeness to God. When you and I sin it STILL separates us from God relationally. It drives a wedge between us and we find it hard to pray and fellowship with God until we come to Him and confess our wrongdoing. Once we do, the relationship is mended and we can carry on in peace.

The sin that once threatened your eternal destiny has been dealt with at the cross. That is a done deal thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the daily mess ups and mistakes that we make must still be brought to the Lord in repentance so that nothing stands in the way of our daily walk with Christ. That's why we were taught to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) Jesus wasn't telling us to get saved all over again. He was making sure nothing gets in the way of our closeness to God.

So what if a believer chooses NOT to forgive? Well, for starters they will be miserable. You have to know that God's Holy Spirit will be working overtime to get their attention so that they will humble themselves and repent of their hard heart. God is fully able to communicate that unforgiveness is an attitude entirely contrary to His will, and I trust that He will bring all the conviction needed to eventually cause that person to repent. I believe that God will eventually have His way — even if He has to bring some kind of suffering to do it. One way or another, they will humble themselves before their God.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Q&A: How should Christians go about going to court against unbelievers, if at all?

Q: How should Christians go about going to court against unbelievers, if at all?

The Bible forbids a believer to take his brother in Christ to court (see 1 Corinthians 6) but there is no specific prohibition in the Word that I know of which would forbid initiating litigation against an unbeliever.

That being said, we are never free from our obligation to reflect the love of Christ, especially to unbelievers. Nor are we at liberty to violate the command to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) For these reasons, I think it's critical for any believer in Christ to prayerfully search their heart before engaging in any kind of legal action. If there is even the slightest hint of any attitude or consideration that is unchristlike, such as greed, unforgiveness, revenge or bitterness, I would strongly advise against moving forward with legal action of any kind. In such a case, it would be better to be wronged or cheated than to engage in court proceedings with improper motives.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How should Christians apply promises that God gave to the Israelites?

Question: How should Christians apply promises that God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament—specifically the promise of living longer if the commandants of God are kept - as expressed in Proverbs 3:1-2?

There are two things I want to address here: first your question, and second your interpretation of Proverbs 3 :1-2.

Your initial question is an excellent one and should be contemplated by all believers who take the time to read and study the Bible, especially the Old Testament. There is far too great a tendency for Christians to assume that everything we read is for our personal application. While the Holy Spirit is free to apply anything to anyone, we need to understand that there are many things in the Old Testament that were exclusively intended for Israel. And the majority of those are included within the expressed terms of the Mosaic Covenant that God made with Israel.

God made many promises to Israel which were conditioned upon their obedience to the commands of the Mosaic covenant. His main promise was to bless them in the land. And that included all kinds of wonderful promises, not the least of which was perpetual success against their enemies, fruitfulness both physically and agriculturally and even long life.

The question is...are these promises something that Christians can claim today?

The answer is no. And the reason is two-fold:

1. The Church does NOT — as some have wrongfully taught — take the place of Israel, and…
2. Because we, the Body of Christ, do not function under the terms of the Mosaic Covenant.

Ours is a covenant of grace, the terms of which were fulfilled by Christ. And the promises made to us are entirely different than those extended to Israel. Rather than a physical kingdom with physical blessings, we have been offered “better promises” — according to Hebrews 8:6. These include a spiritual kingdom with spiritual blessings. (See Ephesians 1:3)

For further insight, I would suggest you listen to my two studies through Hebrews chapter 8.

Hebrews 8:1-7 and Hebrews 8:8-13

Concerning your reference to Proverbs 3:1-2, which says:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. (ESV)

I agree this passage looks very much like a promise from God, but we need to remember that Proverbs is a book of wisdom. As such, it challenges the reader to live a life of wisdom, and then offers a generalized observation of what one can expect for doing so. In other words, this passage is saying that, generally speaking, those who are subject to their parents live longer and better lives. Conversely, those who resist the discipline of their parents and authority in general generally invite all kinds of negative results, such as sickness, accidents, tragedies and even premature death.

A wise and articulate fellow Calvary Chapel pastor once said, "Proverbs are principals drawn from observation, not promises given by revelation."

God bless you!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Q&A: Do children who die go to heaven?

Q: I was taught that when children die, they instantly go to heaven since they have not reached an age of understanding. I was wondering if that is biblically true. If so, what scriptures teach this? 

People usually refer to this as the "age of accountability" and while you won't find those words in the Bible, the idea that children are treated differently from adults is found in various passages throughout the Scriptures.

The first occurs when the people of Israel rebelled against God and refused to enter the Promised Land. God told them that all adults aged 20 years and over would die in the wilderness and never enter the Promised Land. This distinction in age popularized the idea that there exists in the heart of God a time when every person becomes accountable for their sin and before which they are not culpable for their actions.

Another reference which occurs within the prophecies of Isaiah seems to support this same idea of an age of accountability. It describes childhood as a time "...before [the child] knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right..." (7:16 NIV84)

Both passages cited above hint at the idea of an age of accountability, but, I want to emphasize, there is nothing in the Bible that specifically outlines when that accountability begins. Furthermore, there are no passages which specifically promise that a child who dies will be instantly granted entrance into heaven. Some would disagree citing the statement by Jesus in which He said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 ESV) However, this is one of many passages where Jesus uses an analogy of a childlike heart to highlight what it takes to enter heaven. (See Matthew 18:2-3) He is not saying that heaven is literally populated by children.

So the comfort and confidence of knowing that a child is in heaven with God is not going to be fully satisfied by some proof-text of Scripture. Instead, this kind of confidence comes from knowing the character of God. To know God personally and intimately is to know with assurance that He can be trusted.

In such cases, I personally rely on the following facts about God:

1. God is love. (1 John 4:8) I know this statement may sound trite, but the implications remain our biggest reason for having hope in the midst of those things in life which seem horribly unfair and leave us with nothing but questions. When death visits a small child we can have the absolute confidence of knowing that God cares even more than we do about the passing of a small child. Furthermore, He is unhindered in His ability to express His love toward that child.

2. God can be trusted to do what is right. When Abraham was told that God was about to rain down judgment upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (where his nephew Lot happened to be living), Abraham began to question God's mercy and forbearance. Finally, he posed this question to the Lord: "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25) Abraham had confidence in the answer to that question, but sometimes I wonder if believers today possess that same confidence. God is the Judge of all the earth. Can we trust Him to make the absolute best decision in such matters? I believe we can, and that ought to fill us with hope.

For my part, I believe that upon death God accepts children into His presence without question, but not because I have a single passage of Scripture that I can point to. Instead, my confidence rests in the Person of God Himself — His faithfulness and mercy which I find nothing short of astounding.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Q&A: Why does God not help me believe in Him?

Q: Why does God not help me believe in Him? I'm seeking but I'm not finding. In the past my faith in God felt like 100% reality but it slowly has become more like something I'm imagining. I do believe in God but I've lost that earlier level of faith and it no longer feels quite the same and it's hard to get back to what I used to be like. I wish I truly believed with all my heart and had a real passion and had an actual experience with God. See I never really have, and my faith has diminished from 100% to about 5%.

Somewhere along the line you decided that your own conclusions, feelings and experiences held greater weight than the Word of God. Now when you feel something or conclude something, you are MUCH more likely to believe THAT than if you were to read or hear something in the Word of God.

Let me give you an example. You say:

"Why does God not help me believe in Him?"

The message here is clear—God is NOT helping you to believe and have faith. That is your conclusion BASED on your experience and your feelings. Therefore you assume those conclusions are 100% true. Here's another one:

"I'm seeking but I'm not finding."

This statement ASSUMES that you're doing everything you SHOULD be doing...but that God is not keeping up on His end of the deal. The inference of your conclusion is that God is either not being fair...or just doesn't care about you.

Jesus made it abundantly clear that whoever seeks WILL find! (Matthew 7:7) If you're not finding, it's not because God doesn't WANT to be found.

There is a great danger when we decide that our feelings and experiences provide a more trustworthy and authoritative source of truth than the Word of God. We then hear something from the Bible and instantly doubt the veracity of that Word because it seems to contradict what we have already determined to be true based on our feelings and experiences.

So, given the choice of believing the Bible or believing ourselves...we will choose ourselves almost every time. And that means we DO have faith—it's just in something other than God.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Q&A: What are some specific verses that explain the Trinity?

Q: What are some specific verses that explain the Trinity?

There are no verses in the Bible that explain the Trinity. (The Trinity defies human explanation.) However, there are many passages in God's Word that reveal the Trinity.

One God
It is clear from the Bible that there is only one God. That is clear enough from passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 43:10 and 1 Timothy 2:5 (among others). There are not 2 gods, or 3 or more. There is just one God.

Three Persons
The next thing that is clearly revealed in Scripture is that there are three Persons, who are all called God and shown to have attributes that could only be possessed by God. Those three Persons are revealed as God the Father (John 6:27), Jesus Christ the Son (Colossians 1:16-17) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

Some Bible passages refer to all three Person in the same thought, such as the following:

...according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:2 (ESV) 

Notice Peter speaks of the Father, the Spirit and the Son (Jesus Christ) all in one thought. This can also be seen in the following passage:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV) 

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—and yet there is only one God. That is the essence of what the Bible reveals concerning the nature of God. And yet belief in the Trinity is a huge stretch for a lot of people — mostly owing to the fact that it extends beyond the range of our human comprehension. There are a lot of people who struggle to embrace anything they can't grasp on an intellectual level. That's unfortunate since they are essentially demanding that God's nature must be understandable in order to be believed.

A very wise Bible teacher once told me whenever I'm dealing with God to always leave room for mystery. I have found that to be incredibly insightful advice.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Q&A: How should we respond to the people at Walmart with signs begging for help?

Q: Luke 6:30 says we should not refuse anyone who begs. How should we respond to the people at Walmart with signs begging for help? 

This is a really challenging issue! Panhandling has become fairly popular and we now regularly see people with small cardboard signs near high traffic areas asking for financial donations. How should believers respond, and do verses like Luke 6:30 tell us to give no matter what?

It's interesting to me that the ESV used the word "beg" in Luke 6:30, since "ask" is far more often the word of choice. The NASB renders it this way:

"Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back." Luke 6:30 (NASB)

The point is that believers are to be characterized by generosity and compassion—showing mercy and kindness even if the person doesn't deserve those things. Why? Because we are the recipients of God's mercy and He certainly poured out His love on us when we least deserved it.

I really like the following quote from the Tyndale Bible Commentary because it expresses a wonderful balance of thought on this matter. I find it expresses my own thoughts on this issue.

Once again it is the spirit of the saying that is important. If Christians took this one absolutely literally there would soon be a class of saintly paupers, owning nothing, and another of prosperous idlers and thieves. It is not this that Jesus is seeking, but a readiness among his followers to give and give and give. Love must be ready to be deprived of everything if need be. Of course, in a given case it may not be the way of love to give. But it is love that must decide whether we give or withhold, not a regard for our possessions. The word give, by the way, is in the continuous tense. Jesus is talking about a habitual attitude, not merely an occasional generous impulse. —Tyndale Commentaries

Isn't that good? Love is to be our motive—loving people more than our possessions. But when is giving not an act of love?

Personally, I don't think there's any substitute for Spirit-led giving. If the willingness to give is present, and the believer is listening for the Father's voice, giving will be generous and helpful. But indiscriminately handing out cash to someone who will only take it and buy liquor or drugs is not being benevolent or helpful.