Tag Archives: salvation

Can I be a Christian and still struggle with impure thoughts?

The Bible says that becoming a follower of Christ is like a dead person coming to life.[1] Moving from spiritual death to spiritual life is a drastic change. Spiritual rebirth makes it possible for us to consciously share God’s love and partner with Him in bringing about his kingdom. Although spiritual rebirth brings instant change, it doesn’t result in an immediate transformation. We are too deeply flawed for an instant cure. When we choose to follow Christ, a process begins that will continue to the end of our lives.

Before we followed Christ we were, in a sense, like zombies—spiritually dead and driven by urges and emotions we didn’t understand. Even after we were awakened by spiritual life the same urges and emotions remained, although we were no longer entirely under their control (Galatians 5:17–21; 6:8; Ephesians 2:2–6). The New Testament uses a special term to refer to these urges and emotions: the “sinful nature.” [2]

Our natural inclination to sin continues to generate impure thoughts that are out of sorts with our new life. But these bad thoughts don’t represent our current spiritual state. They represent the death we are leaving behind.

In addition to our own natural faults and weaknesses, Satan acts as an adversary (see Job 1:7–12), “slanderer,”[3] and “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). He wants us to be obsessed with our dark thoughts. If we do, he—like a vampire—can drain away our joy and the influence of our new life.

Since we will never be completely free of lustful, unkind, and self-destructive desires in this life, we need to have realistic expectations. Experiencing a bad thought isn’t the same as hanging on to and nurturing it. Our goal shouldn’t be to eliminate bad thoughts but to be quicker to recognize and resist them when they appear. Far from indicating that our faith isn’t real, our awareness of continuing impure thoughts and unfree tendencies that still lurk within us proves that we are being transformed. If we weren’t becoming more spiritually aware, we wouldn’t even recognize the lingering shadows of spiritual death. First John 1:8 says, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth,” and the apostle Paul describes his continuing struggle with sin (Romans 7:15–25).

In fact, it is important that we recognize the wrong within. If we didn’t recognize the impurity that still remained in us, we might be drawn into the most dangerous sin of all—spiritual pride.

[1] John 5:21; Romans 6:13; 8:11; Ephesians 2:1–3; 5:14; Colossians 2:13

[2] In the New Testament the Greek term, sarx, often translated “flesh,” occasionally refers to the body, but most often refers to the destructive, death-prone tendencies within us. These tendencies still reside in us even after conversion, while we are moving from spiritual death to spiritual life. Paul calls it the “law of sin at work within me” in Romans 7:23 (niv). The Bible calls this the “sinful nature” in Romans 7:18 and 7:25.

[3] The name “devil” is from the Greek word diabolos, meaning “slanderer, false accuser.”

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If Christians believe in heaven, why do we still fear death?

Christians believe that when we die we will be resurrected with new bodies. But just like other people, we try to avoid it.

Change can be unnerving, and death is the ultimate unknown. We spend our entire lives investing ourselves in this world, assuming that our investment is meaningful. Death challenges that investment. It seems to deny the ultimate value of careers, possessions, friends, and families. Christians have to face this harsh reality just as much as unbelievers, and while faith in resurrection offers comfort, it isn’t easy to imagine how a future life can offer continuity with our investment in this one.

As human beings, resistance to death is physically and instinctively ingrained in us. Recently our family made the difficult decision to euthanize a pet terrier dying painfully of cancer. As I cuddled her in my arms, the veterinarian gave her an injection of anesthesia to relax her and put her to sleep in preparation for the fatal dose of barbiturate that would follow. She was afraid. She fought the drug’s relaxing effect, looking at me and making heart-rending sounds.

Deeply bonded with our little dog, I rocked her like a child until she gave in to the medication and fell asleep. It wasn’t easy. Knowing that life was departing from a little creature that was a cherished part of our family for nearly twenty years brought deep feelings of sadness and loss. Yet losing our little terrier, Effie, didn’t compare to the loss of parents and other human relatives we had experienced in recent years.

Humans easily overlook how much of our experience isn’t under rational control. Our emotional life (including our affection, joy, anger, and fear) is as influenced by instinct and hormones as by imagination and reason. The life within us, like that in our little terrier, reflexively seeks to avoid death. Our hopes and beliefs transcend death, but as physical creatures, we resist it.

Death reduces living bodies to physical objects—soon to become decaying corpses. It mocks relationships, personhood, and hopes (John 11:38–39). Facing the ugly physical and emotional reality of a close friend’s death, Jesus wept (John 11:32–25). The apostle Paul viewed death with such seriousness that he referred to it as the “last enemy” that the kingdom of Christ will overcome (1 Corinthians 15:25–26). Even when Christians approach death with faith and hope that has been reinforced by God’s faithfulness through a lifetime of experiences, facing such a hideous enemy is never just a dispassionate decision. It is a time for courage.

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Do those who reject the gospel understand what they are rejecting?

Rejection of the gospel isn’t necessarily conscious rejection of Christ. Some people reject the gospel because they misunderstand it or because it has been misrepresented to them. This is partly why Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other biblical authors warned so strongly against hypocrisy and causing a truth-seeker to despair (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9).

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Scripture implies that rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ is often the result of ignorance and misunderstanding rather than conscious evil intent. Jesus doesn’t refer to unbelievers as “snakes,” “dogs,” “jackals,” or “scorpions,” but as “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25). We can assume that the image of “sheep” (known for harmlessness and herd instinct) was chosen for a reason. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

Even when the gospel hasn’t been misrepresented, a world marked by disease, competition, and violence makes the gospel sound improbable to many people (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Harsh life experiences make us wonder how a loving God can be in charge. Even Hebrew believers who lived in the time before God “made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10), had an ambivalent view. They believed their departed loved ones were at peace with God in some sense, but considered them unable to join in the joyous worship of the Lord’s people in the same way as when they were living (Psalm 88:10; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiastes 9:3–6).

Jesus knew the obstacles to faith and understood His role in revealing God’s love to us. We should pattern our response to the lost on His compassion.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV).

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Do those who reject Jesus really understand what they are rejecting?

Let’s face it. Jesus has been badly misrepresented by both friends and enemies. In the centuries following his ministry, his enemies described him as a sorcerer and false prophet. His followers, on the other hand, misapplied his teachings in ways that would have been deeply offensive to him. It really isn’t surprising that when people reject Jesus today, they are usually rejecting a misrepresentation of him.

Even those of us who follow Jesus have moments of doubt. There are times when we are so oppressed by the suffering, injustice, and chaos we see in the world around us that it is hard to believe his description of God as a loving “heavenly Father” is really true.

Jesus himself understood the difficulty of faith. In Matthew 8 he was surprised at the faith of a Roman centurion and noted that he hadn’t yet met even one of his fellow Jews who had such faith. He was painfully aware of the superficiality of the faith of his closest disciples and friends and wasn’t surprised when they all abandoned him at the time of his arrest (Matthew 26:56). Even after Jesus had met with a number of his disciples after his resurrection, Thomas refused to believe Jesus was alive until he saw him for himself. Jesus said, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29).

In his teaching, Jesus made it clear that most unbelievers are not his enemies. He described them with the metaphor of “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4). His listeners were familiar with the harmlessness, helplessness, and herd instinct of sheep. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18). Jesus used much harsher terminology (“serpents”; “whitewashed tombs”) to describe the self-righteous religious hypocrites who genuinely hated him and rejected the Truth he represented (Matthew 23). But even some within this group of hardcore enemies, like the apostle Paul, rejected him out of ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13).

So it’s pretty clear that we sometimes find it hard to believe in Jesus, even if deep down we really want to. It’s a good thing he is who he is because he loves us. He understands our struggle for faith.

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Should I Believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security?

Many Bible passages emphasize the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:27-30; 13:1; Romans 8:29-39; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; Jude 1:24.

But even genuine believers can backslide and lose the joy of their salvation. The New Testament gives many examples of believers who drew back from their fellowship with Jesus Christ: the disciples (Matthew 26:56); Peter (26:69-75); the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20-21); and the Asian churches (Revelation 2:4,14-15,20).

There is a stark difference between backsliding and apostasy—a permanent departure from the faith. A true Christian can backslide, be chastened, and then repent and return (Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 2:5). A person who has merely professed faith without a genuine encounter with Christ may depart, prosper outwardly, and never return. The apostle John said that some who had left the fellowship of believers and were now teaching false doctrine showed by their actions that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19).

The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it is intended to comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. People who once professed faith and are now living sinfully without remorse should not be comforted by assurances that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. We gain nothing by examining the nature of the “decision” they made. We need to point out to them that their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession by showing them Scriptures such as 1 John 3:4-9. They must be led to self-examination. If they are genuinely saved, God will chasten them (Hebrews 12:6). They will repent and return.

It may be impossible for us to make a judgment as to whether a person is a backsliding Christian or an impostor. Sometimes only time will tell.

 

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