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Q&A: Do you believe that a Christian can lose their salvation?

Q: Do you believe that a Christian can lose their salvation?

A: Can I start by saying that I greatly dislike this question? I've been asked it many times, but I always hate to answer. No one asks this question because they're wondering what the answer might be. I find that most Christians have their minds pretty well made up on the subject and the reason they ask is so they might know whose side I've taken.

That being said, I always endeavor to answer each and every question I receive by taking a serious look at God's Word—not allowing myself to be swayed by passionate feelings on either side of the issue. There is so much emotion attached to this question that I'm not at all sure people even want to know what the Bible has to say. I get a distinct impression that Christians just want to be told that losing their salvation isn't possible so they can get on with their lives without being bothered by the notion.

Here's the fact of the matter—I don't have any idea whether or not a person can actually lose their salvation. Even if it were possible, I don't know how you or I would come by that kind of information. We just don't possess that level of insight.

Here's what I do know and am absolutely certain about: the New Testament authors issued repeated warnings to born-again believers about the danger of walking away from Christ. Here are just a few examples:

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) 
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 

Galatians 5:2-4 (ESV) 
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Hebrews 2:1-3a (ESV)
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

I know there are many sincere followers of Christ who passionately reject any idea of a true believer possessing the freedom or ability to walk away from the Lord in unbelief. I respect their position, but as I study the Word of God, I see repeated warnings by the New Testament authors about doing that very thing. As a Bible teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to respectfully communicate the message of God's Word without bias or partiality. Although it seems impossible to think about someone being saved and later being unsaved, my number one goal is to communicate what God's Word says. 

How were people saved in Old Testament times and where did they go when they died?

Q: How were people saved in Old Testament times and where did they go when they died?

This is an excellent question and one that I have been asked many times.

It is often assumed that today we are saved by accepting Jesus as our Savior and that believers in Old Testament times were saved by their obedience to the Law of Moses. But that is not at all true. The argument of the Apostle Paul throughout Romans is that the Law was never meant as a means to save anyone, and he makes it abundantly clear that "...no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law..." Romans 3:20 (NIV)

So, if people weren't saved by keeping the Law in Old Testament times, how then were they saved? The simple answer is, the same way we are saved today — BY FAITH. The Old Testament sacrificial system merely gave the Israelites a graphic touchpoint for placing their faith in God's goodness and mercy. It provided a clear example of a blood sacrifice involving the exchange of one life for another — all pointing beautifully to the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ which was yet to come.

So, people in Old Testament times died placing their faith in things hoped for and things not yet seen.

As for where they went after death, Jesus made it abundantly clear that prior to His death on the cross which opened the way to heaven, no one who had died before that time had ever gone there.

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. John 3:13 (ESV)

So, if they didn't end up in heaven, where did they go? Jesus revealed the answer to this question in a story that he told which is recounted in Luke's Gospel account. As you read the verses below, take special note of the descriptions given about the place where people went after death.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31 (ESV)

It's important to note that this story is not a parable. This is a true account concerning real people and real places. (Notice that Jesus used a proper name in these verses, which was never done when merely relating a parable.) 

When Lazarus (no relation to the man of the same name whom Jesus raised from the dead) died he was taken to a place which Jesus referred to as "Abraham's side" (the Greek word is literally translated bosom.) This is certainly not heaven, but a kind of holding place of comfort where those who died in faith awaited entrance into heaven. 

The rich man in the story also died and Jesus said that man was sent to a "place of torment" called Hades (which literally means the grave or hell). The incredible thing is that these places were within some kind of visual range from one another. It was even possible for the inhabitants of each place to converse, even though moving from one place to the other was impossible.

I believe this story gives us a unique glimpse into the place where those who died prior to the cross of Christ awaited the opening of heaven. Now that Jesus has paid the full price for our sin, all who have placed their faith in His finished work on the cross are immediately ushered into the presence of God upon death. The words that Jesus spoke to the penitent thief on the cross are now ones we can all confidently embrace: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43 (ESV) 




Q&A: How do we know when decisions in life are ones we need to hear from God about before acting or if they are something we just need to take care of ourselves?

Q: How do we know when decisions in life are ones we need to hear from God about before acting or if they are something we just need to take care of ourselves? 

Your question is pretty common, and yet I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding about this sort of thing in the minds of most Christians. 

Walking with the Lord is not so much a matter of figuring out when and where you need to ask for guidance. It's really more about having a surrendered heart that desires the Lord's leading even when you don't ask. As the Lord spoke about Caleb in Exodus 14 He said, "But my servant Caleb...has a different spirit and has followed me fully..." Numbers 14:24 (ESV) The Lord called attention to Caleb's heart attitude to simply follow the Lord in all things.

Like Caleb, we ought to be desiring God's will and direction every single day — and our prayers should reflect our desire. "Lord, lead me today and guide my life as You think best. I give my day to You and ask that You would open and close doors according to Your perfect wisdom." Then, as we go through our day, we can walk in the expectation that He is leading and directing us. (See Psalm 32:8)

Now obviously there are some really huge, life-changing decisions that we encounter from time to time, and some of them may require us to wait for a very specific directive from the Lord before preceding. And I think we identify those kinds of decisions by quieting our hearts in His presence and spending time in the His Word. 

But even if other decisions seem small and insignificant, I would never want to think of myself as taking care of business on my own. I believe the Lord always wants His children to walk in a surrendered attitude toward all our decision-making, and to pray for His guidance each day. Then we can step out into our day with an expectation and confidence in the Lord's leading.

Q&A: If I am set free from sin why do I still sin?

Q: If I am set free from sin (Romans chapter 6) why do I still sin? 

Don't you mean, "Why do we still sin?"

Born-again Christians still sin for lots of reasons. In some cases, it's because we've established deep ruts of habitual behavior that are challenging to break out of. Other times it's because we simply choose to disobey God. And still other times it's because we fail to discern dangerous circumstances until it's too late.

One of the benefits of being born-again is that Jesus sets us free from the dominion of our sinful nature. That means we now have the FREEDOM to say "No" to the voice of temptation and to resist the impulse to sin. We didn't have that freedom before we came to Christ. At that time, we were slaves to sin and in bondage to our sinful nature. But since coming to Jesus, we've been set free to choose the leading of God's Holy Spirit rather than running after our flesh.

But you must understand that the very FREEDOM you've been given means you are completely free — free to choose to do right or to choose to do wrong. (That's what real freedom is...the ability to go whichever way you wish.) And the fact is, sometimes we choose to go God's way and sometimes we choose to follow our flesh and fall back into sin.

But there's good news. The blood that Jesus shed for you and me on the cross is a perpetual source of forgiveness, even when we fail to follow the leading of the Spirit as we should. As the Apostle John wrote:

...I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1 (ESV) 

We've been given the living Word to keep us from sin. However, when we do sin, John says "...we have an advocate with the Father..." The word advocate means one who pleads the cause of another. This doesn't mean we take sinning lightly. On the contrary, we understand from God's Word that sin still has painful consequences — even for those who are saved. But even so, we know that the failings of our flesh can never tear us away from the love of Jesus Christ. His hold on us is stronger than our sin.

So what can you and I do to keep ourselves from falling into sin? We need to stay in the Word and stay connected to other believers. (We were never meant to be Christians on our own.) And we need to pray about the weak areas of our flesh and then memorize Bible passages that speak directly to those areas. Ask God to give you the strength to overcome the downward gravitational pull of your flesh and to stand strong against the temptations of the enemy and this world.

Q&A: How will we recognize one another in heaven before we've received our new bodies?

Q: When we die and go to Paradise, I understand we will be without physical bodies until the Lord returns for His Church. My mother just passed and I'm wondering how we will recognize one another before we've received our new bodies. 

The reason you're asking this question is because you and I are so accustomed to identifying people and objects using our five senses. When I see someone whom I recognize I conclude that I know them. We assume it will be the same when we're with the Lord. But you need to understand that when you and I shed our physical bodies we will not have less than we do now — we will have much more! More insight, more understanding, and more abilities. Our ability to recognize people will go far beyond anything you know now and will not be determined merely by sight.

Have you ever read the passage where Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto the mountain where Moses and Elijah appeared and had a conversation with Jesus? (Matthew 17) If you read the passage again you'll see that Peter began speaking about the presence of Elijah and Moses prior to anyone actually telling him who those two men were. How did he know it was Elijah and how did he know it was Moses? There were no photographs back then, and yet he instantly knew who they were and called them by name.

The reason he knew them is that in the presence of the Lord there is knowledge — a knowledge that far transcends anything we have today through intellectual learning or observation through our five physical senses. (Isaiah 11:9)

So, don't worry. When you see your mom again you'll know it's her! :)

God bless!
Pastor Paul

Q&A: Is Christmas a holiday with pagan roots?

Question: I've heard that December 25th has pagan roots and believers are foolish to participate in a pagan holiday. What's the truth?

Imagine for a moment that you — a believer and follower of Jesus — live right next door to a pagan. Now imagine that on a particular day of the year both you and your neighbor choose to celebrate something related to your faith. Your neighbor, as a pagan, celebrates his pagan deities and holds a feast and invites his friends. You, on the other hand, use that very same day to celebrate the Lord who created all things and who saved you from your sin. Like your neighbor, you also hold a feast and invite your friends.

Now the question: Are you celebrating a pagan holiday simply because your celebration lands on the same day as your neighbor's?

If pagans at one time in history used December 25th to celebrate their pagan deities, does that mean that date is forever off-limits to believers of the One true God? And if so, WHY?? Did not the God, whom you and I serve, Create ALL THINGS...including the days of the year?? Why then should ANY of those days be off limits or unavailable to Christians simply because some poor pagan soul used that day to worship a god that is really no god at all?

I have been celebrating Christmas ever since I can remember. For me, December 25th has ALWAYS been about celebrating the incarnation — God becoming a man in the Person of Jesus Christ. When I grew up I learned that December 25th had also been used for a pagan celebration. But that information didn't affect me at all, because paganism has never been part of my reality. In other words, for me, December 25th has only ever been a celebration of the goodness and mercy of God. And it remains so to this day.

Here's the point. To celebrate a pagan holiday I must 1) be a pagan and, 2) worship what pagans worship. And yet those descriptions don't apply to me. I am a child of the Living God, and I serve and worship Him alone. I, for one, am NOT about to surrender one single day of the calendar to pagans. They have no right to take the days my God created as if they were their own. All 365 days of the year belong to the One who made them.

Q&A: How can I tell God's voice from my own?

Question: How can I tell God's voice from my own head/heart/gut??

It's not uncommon to hear Christians say things like, "The Lord showed me..." or "Then the Lord spoke to my heart and said..." or even, "God told me..." It happens a lot, and frankly, those kinds of remarks leave a lot of believers wondering why they don't hear God's voice that way. When those same believers are facing important decisions they pray for guidance but their answers never seem as clear-cut and specific as some Christians seem to experience. And even when they seem to get some sense of direction, they end up wondering if it's really God, or just their own mind playing tricks.

Welcome to the world of living by faith.

Here are some tips:

Tune your heart to God’s voice

This rather challenging business of discerning God's voice is nothing new. But the reason it's so hard is because hearing from God is spiritual work — and let's face it, our daily lives are lived in a very physical world. That means we're dreadfully out of practice when it comes to operating on a spiritual level.
So the real question ought to be: How can I learn to tune my heart to hear God's voice?
Understanding as we do that God wants to communicate with us through His Spirit, it should be obvious that we're not waiting for an audible voice. Sure, God can speak audibly if He wants to, but don't forget that His Holy Spirit lives in your heart, and that is where He wants to communicate with you.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that. "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things..." and, "...we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV) But the mind of Christ is not apprehended by mere intellectual pursuit. Jesus told us that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and that means pursuing His will and His direction for our lives is a spiritual pursuit of God Himself.

Learn to quiet your heart
Learning to hear God's voice means learning to quiet your soul (emotions and intellect) and waiting on the Lord.
David said to the Lord: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me." Psalm 131:2 (ESV)  David was in a place to hear from God. Ask the Lord to teach you how to quiet your soul.
Pray and be patient
Prayer is a major key in all our pursuits with God. James 1:5 says, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. That is a rock-solid promise. God will give you wisdom and direction. The real question is: how long are you and I willing to wait for the answer?
Learning to wait in prayer is essential. Our modern approach to life with express lanes and fast food drive-throughs have fostered an impatience in our hearts that doesn't serve us well in the area of hearing from God. I've learned over the years that God is never in a hurry, and if I want to hear His heart on a matter, I'm the one who needs to adjust to His timeline, not the other way around.
Exercise your faith
Christians forget that it takes FAITH to hear from God. James reminds us that when we ask of God, we are to "...ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."
God responds to our faith, so if you're struggling in that area chances are good you will also struggle to hear from God. Thankfully, we serve a God who is rich in mercy. Come humbly before the throne of grace and confess the weakness of your faith. You can know for certain that God wants very much to see you built-up and strong in that area, and He will do it.
And finally...
Be in the Word regularly and prayerfully
Along the lines of getting your faith in shape, spend as much time in the Word as you’re able. The Bible is our guidebook for life and you may just find the answer you're looking for right there in the Word. Even if you don't, reading your Bible builds your faith.
...faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (ESV)
The other reason it is so vitally important to know God's Word is that we learn the heart of God through His Word. Even if I don't get a specific answer, knowing His heart helps me to understand His will for my life. And finally, knowing God's Word keeps me from running after things that are not His will. God will never contradict His Word, so if I'm sensing the Lord's leading in a way that directly violates something in the Bible, I know immediately that I'm on the wrong path and I need to make a U-turn.
For more on this topic check out the teaching: Why We Struggle Getting Close to God