Tag Archives: anxiety

If Christians Believe in Heaven, Why Do They Fear Death?

Every living creature instinctively fears death. Like everyone, Christians are human, and like everyone, they fear dying. In crisis situations, fear of death is important to survival. An animal species that lacks an instinctive fear of death won’t survive even a few generations. Therefore it’s normal for all creatures to fear death. Healthy people spend a lifetime doing their best to avoid it. Surrendering to death without a struggle is inherently unnatural.

Humans weren’t originally created to experience death. They were created for life. Death is a process that came as the result of sin (Genesis 3:19 ). According to Paul, death is the “last enemy”:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 NRSV).

It’s probably good that we retain our instinctive fear of death. After all, we have work for God’s kingdom to do in this world. If we had no fear of death, we might become so fanatical in our pursuit of death that we wouldn’t be willing to face the serious problems this world sets before us.

Our awareness of our mortality may also temper our arrogance and make us more sensitive to the instruction of God’s Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, the apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (NKJV).

Near the close of the wonderful classic Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan captures the normal fear of death in his description of Christian approaching the river:

Now I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate was a river; but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river, the pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.

The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate. To which they answered, Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world, nor shall until the last trumpet shall sound.

The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said, No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.

Then they addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink, and [cried out to] his good friend Hopeful. . . .

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother: I feel the bottom, and it is good. (Pilgrim’s Progress, pp. 87-88)

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Is It Possible for a Believer To Be Overwhelmed with Fear and Despair? 

In spite of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah fell into deep despair (1 Kings 19:4).

After confidently proclaiming his faithfulness to Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35), Peter denied Him with curses and wept bitterly (Mark 14:66-72)

Paul “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and agonized over his helplessness when struggling against the “flesh” (Romans 7:18-24).

Though God accomplished great things through each of these people, as persons of faith they experienced their worlds spinning out of control.

These examples from the Bible make it clear that believers often face trials that are unexpected and have no discernable purpose. Trials like these overwhelm our efforts to understand and rationalize them. But these biblical examples of great people of faith illustrate that experiences of stress and despair can be times of greatest spiritual growth.

A story about the Victorian poet/hymn writer William Cowper illustrates how dramatically God’s grace can interact with our despair. Anyone knowing his history would understand why Cowper was given to long periods of depression. On one occasion, convinced he had committed the unpardonable sin, he left his home on a foggy London night and walked toward the Thames River, determined to commit suicide by drowning. As he walked, the fog grew thicker and he lost his way. After several hours of blind wandering, he found himself back at his doorstep. Astonished at God’s intervention, he wrote a poem that later became a beloved hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;

behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;

God is His own Interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Job’s story provides a framework for understanding the common elements of experiences that make believers feel they are abandoned in a hostile and meaningless world. God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1), just as our accuser tests the faith of everyone driven to despair. Every believer has a personal enemy, Satan, who consciously seeks to make him or her feel their faith is empty (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-12). But just as God set limits to what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12), He sets limits to what Satan can do to us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Luke 22:31-32). Even more importantly, if we are faithful the Creator is able to change our despairing experiences into good. God uses satanically induced despair to strengthen and refine us in our love for Him and each other.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).

 

 

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How Can I Overcome the Feeling That I’m Damned?

To a person passing through the spiritual changes that the Bible describes as moving from death to life (John 5:24; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 5:14 ), awareness of the ugliness of one’s sin can be overwhelming. One of the reasons repentance is so difficult is the pain that comes from acknowledging sin.

Repentance involves spiritual battle. The names “Devil” and “Satan” mean accuser and adversary. When we move towards repentance and salvation, the enemy of our soul strives to transform our Holy Spirit-given consciousness of sin into despair. If he can make us so obsessed with our sin that we doubt the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and think that we must somehow atone for our sin ourselves, he will succeed.

People who are genuinely bound for hell either deny sin, explain it away, or rationalize it by comparing themselves to other people they consider worse. The first step in assuring one’s salvation from sin’s curse is acknowledging its power and influence. This step requires the humility to repent and see one’s helplessness. The next step also requires humility—a willingness to acknowledge that our sinful state is not unique. The Bible tells us that the whole human race is under the curse of sin. Everyone is too corrupt to earn salvation by his or her own efforts. We are no more or less lost than anyone else. As well as being a spiritual attack, obsessive focus on personal sin can also be an expression of a diabolically twisted pride that says, “I’m worse than other people. I’m too evil for God to redeem.” Of all sin, this pride is perhaps the most tragic.

Morbid, despairing thoughts come unbidden. If you choose to resist them in obedience to God’s Word, they will fade. But if you entertain them, their power will grow (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Faith is trust in God’s love. If your parents were distant, arbitrary, or abusive, it may be difficult to view God as a loving Father. If you have been under the enemy’s power for many years, it may be difficult to believe God loves you. Spiritual and emotional growth is slow, and uphill. Trust involves carrying on without absolute emotional assurance or intellectual proof. YOU have to do it. No one else can do it for you (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Trust is willingness to live with unresolved issues, doubts, and frustrations and willingness to forego the demand that God eradicate all your problems and dispel all your fears.

Trust accepts the world as it is and moves forward. It sees the clouds as they shift and darken but is willing to wager1—on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—that behind them is glorious hope of freedom and restored life.

  1. Pascal’s “wager” was the challenge issued by the brilliant 17th-century French mathematician/inventor/religious philosopher Blaise Pascal. A translation of the main part of his “wager” is below.

    “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up . . . Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose . . . But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is . . . If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

    The basic meaning of his “wager” still applies today: If we live a life of faith as though the Christian God exists, we will have a better life in this world and hope for redemption and eternal life following death. On the other hand, if we live as though the Christian God doesn’t exist, we will experience increasing torment and alienation in this life, and the possibility of retribution in the life to come. Back To Article

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Is Religion Just a Crutch for Weak People?

Many people today think religion is “pre-scientific,” bound to the past, and practiced only by the superstitious and ignorant. In their view, we’d be better off without it. John Lennon expressed this sentiment in his song “Imagine” when he wrote, “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion too.”

This anti-religious viewpoint has a lot of appeal to people who don’t want their personal moral choices “restricted” by tradition or creed. It appeals to young people who want to “kick over the traces,” and to older people who long to suppress the ache of a guilty conscience. Regardless of its appeal, it doesn’t hold up under examination. Religion is basic to human experience. It is such a basic aspect of our experience that we can’t get rid of it. Other creatures may live without religion, but people can’t. We are religious to the core.

Why are people so incorrigibly religious? Perhaps the main reason is our consciousness of the inevitability of death.

No matter how we try to suppress it, we all know that we are living on borrowed time, making decisions that define us forever. With maturity and age this awareness becomes even more intense and more troubling. Death is approaching; time is limited; the ways we invest our lives express our values and our source of meaning.

Our religion gives us our basic set of values and our source of meaning. Living consciously in the shadow of death, we express our religion involuntarily by the way we live.1 Animals live entirely in the moment, aware only of present time. But human consciousness, which is created in God’s image, constantly scans past and future, searching for patterns of meaning that link the isolated experiences of our lives. Humans can be immersed in the present only for a limited time, like a diver who submerges to see the wonders of a coral reef but inevitably comes back up for air. Meaning is as essential to our survival as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.2

The longing for ultimate meaning has a dark side, as does the longing for greater knowledge. Both religion and science have been misused. People have done terrible things in both their longing for meaning and knowledge. Evil people exploit our longing for meaning and knowledge to promote their agendas. The life-denying effects of false religion are confirmed by Scripture:

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence ( Colossians 2:23 ).

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world ( James 1:26-27 ).

But it would be as unreasonable to condemn religion because it is sometimes misused, as it would be unreasonable to condemn science because it is often twisted to evil purposes.

The issue isn’t whether we are religious, because we all are. It is disingenuous to claim that one can live without religion, or that true religion is responsible for evil done by false religion. The crucial issue is whether our basic values are true or false, whether our reason for living brings life or death, whether or not it is aligned with the purposes of the Creator.3

  1. The term religion comes from a Latin word that refers to “the bond between man and the gods.” Worship is uniquely human. For ancient people, the “gods” referred to deities personifying aspects of their experience. But the “gods” also had a symbolic reference — a reference to the transcendent powers that unify human experience and give it meaning. Back To Article
  2. The fact that we are hungry for meaning and concerned with establishing a link between our past and our future doesn’t imply that it is good to be anxious about the future. Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of living fully in the moment. But He didn’t speak of doing so in the context of living like an animal. In fact, He stressed that animal existence couldn’t be our goal. As people, we don’t live on bread alone, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He showed His disciples their potential for enjoying the present because of faith in the Father’s goodness — i.e. because of religion. Back To Article
  3. A final comment to a brilliant popular musician: Doing away with the possibility of final punishment for evil and reward for good — the possibility of ultimate justice — would never make the world a better place. If convinced of “no hell below” and “only sky” above, people would be even less compassionate, more desperate for immediate satisfaction, and less willing to endure personal hardship for the sake of others. Back To Article
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Is It Possible for Me to Lose My Salvation?

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus Christ personally offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Of the millions who have accepted His offer, many have found the peace and joy of knowing they have a secure relationship with their Lord and Savior. Others, however, haven’t felt as secure. Some routinely struggle with confusion and uncertainty, wondering if they’ve lost their salvation in Jesus Christ because of something they have or have not done.

It’s a frightening and tense place to be in when you are uncertain about where you stand in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Understanding the basis and the nature of salvation can eliminate much of the uncertainty that some Christians feel regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Bible stresses that salvation completely rests on trusting in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 3:15-16,36 ; Romans 3:22-24 ). Faith alone is the basis for our salvation. It is not based on our own merit or performance ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Titus 3:4-5 ), nor is it based on the amount of our faith. It is the object of our faith that matters. Trusting in Christ (not anyone else, including ourselves) brings salvation. A strong sense of security settles in our hearts as we realize that while we are the fortunate recipient of God’s grace and mercy, we are not responsible for earning it. It’s free!

Additionally, the Bible teaches that we are eternally secure when we solely trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the eternal and binding nature of the salvation that Jesus grants. Jesus said that He gives us eternal life and we shall never be lost. He declared that no one can take us out of His or the Father’s hands ( John 10:27-30 ).

In the same way, the apostle Paul wrote that those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are eternally saved. He stated, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 8:1 ). He went on to say that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love ( Romans 8:35-39 ). So then, according to the Scriptures, we can confidently believe that we are eternally secure if we have placed our trust solely in what Christ accomplished on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 5:24 ; 1 John 5:13 ).

If we could somehow lose our salvation in Christ, then Jesus and Paul would be liars since they both described the gift of salvation as eternal ( John 3:16 ; Titus 3:7 ). Eternal means that it never ends. Our salvation is permanent. In other words, once we are saved, we are always saved.

God doesn’t give us the gift of eternal life and then take it back if we are bad. Our eternal security is not based on our ability to be good or perform, but on the promises of God ( John 3:16 ). Moreover, any attempt on our part to say that we can somehow earn and maintain a secure relationship in Christ is an affront to God. It strips Him of glory and lessens His remarkable offering of grace and mercy to an undeserving world.

Although we never lose our salvation in Christ, we can lose the enjoyment of close communion and fellowship with our heavenly Father. For example, when my daughter sins against me, it temporarily hinders our ability to be close and enjoy each other’s company. But even though all is not well between us, she never ceases to be my daughter. The same is true for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior. Whenever we sin against God and put distance between ourselves and Him, we are still His children who are secure in His love. That is why in Luke 7 Jesus told the sinful woman whose faith had saved her to “go in peace” ( Luke 7:50 ). She could rest and not worry about where she stood with God. That relationship was eternally secure.

We will sin as Christians, and our sin should grieve us. But it shouldn’t take us by surprise. The apostle John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8 ). Most importantly, there is no sin we could commit that would cause us to lose our salvation. The apostle John added that God is willing to forgive all of our sins if we confess them ( 1 John 1:9 ). He didn’t just mean the total amount of our sins, but the various kinds of sins as well. In other words, God forgives and cleanses us from every kind of sin possible. His mercy has no limits.

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