This is Part 3 of 4 parts answering the question, “What happens to those who dwell on the suffering that God allows?” in the larger question, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.
The Seven Steps of the Unbeliever’s Downward Spiral
The first step following the acrostic NEBISCOS is Negative Volition. Negative Volition recognizes the free will choice that the unbeliever has to choose against God. Paul wrote, “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). Note the two choices the unbeliever makes: 1) did not glorify God and 2) were not thankful. These are two key characteristics of unbelievers related to God. They make light of God rather than exalt Him, and are not thankful for who and what He is.
The second step following the acrostic NEBISCOS is Emptiness of the Soul. Paul used the phrase, “but became futile in their thoughts” (Rom. 1:21). The word “futile” (mataiote-s) refers to the vacuum of the soul. Inside every person is a “God-shaped vacuum,” as Paschal stated, that only He can fill. However, if this person rejects God, his soul will “suck in” anything and everything around it from the world. If he does not satiate it with Biblical Truth, he will fill it with worldliness by default – probably without the awareness of what is happening!
The third step in the acrostic NEBISCOS is Blackout of the Soul. Paul uses the phrase, “their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) Just like the inside of a vacuum cleaner gets very dirty and dark, so the inside of the soul of an unbeliever becomes very degenerate and murky. He cannot change this, no matter how civil he tries to be. His soul will become more and more darkened toward the things of God as he looks to the world for his blessings.
The fourth step in the acrostic NEBISCOS is Ignorance Induced. This is ignorance, because as his soul is darkened, the unbeliever is not able to understand the things of God. This creates an environment of greater and greater ignorance (1 Cor. 2:14). Note the phrase Paul used, “Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom. 1:22) The unbeliever thinks he is becoming wise in worldly things, but he is actually more and more foolish related to God. His pride induces ignorance or foolishness into his soul.
The fifth step in the acrostic NEBISCOS is Separated from God. Paul wrote,
- and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
- 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
- 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 1:23-25)
Note the entire Romans passage above and you will see three times “God also gave them up.” (Rom. 1:24,26,28) God is a “gentleman” and does not force man to choose. He allows the creature to reject Him, because there is a greater Divine court-room scene going on. The chasm is always great and fixed between God and the unbeliever, but as he is given over to the desires of his heart, he becomes more and more separated from the holiness of God. In his rejection of the Truth, the unbeliever is given over to deeper levels of degeneracy.
The sixth step in the acrostic NEBISCOS is Callousness of the Soul. Paul wrote, “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” (Rom. 1:28) Calluses are great on the bottom of your feet when romping and playing as a kid in the summer time, because you can “float” over sharp rocks and prickly weeds. But a similar condition can happen to the soul. Every time a person sins, a “callused cell” is laid upon the soul. Over time, a hardened layer builds and prevents the Holy Spirit from having an effect on the unbeliever for salvation. Conviction will be present, but there will be no effect. At this point in the Downward Spiral, the unbeliever can attempt to deal with his suffering by committing heinous crimes (even serial murders!) without being overly bothered by them.
The seventh step in the acrostic NEBISCOS is Occupation with Evil. At this point, God has given up the unbeliever to his life dominating sin patterns. He may be civil and even altruistic, but life is all about self and evil. Paul wrote,
- 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
- 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
- 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; (Rom. 1:29-31)
This is the state of many in our society. We can see how their suffering leads to their Downward Spiral, because it makes the temporal so much more real than the eternal! Hence, people can fall into any number of the above sin patterns, compounding their suffering!
The last letter of the acrostic NEBISCOS stands for Sin unto Death. This is the final condition of the unbeliever as he waits his transition into eternity. His life is characterized by sin and death and he is used as an aggressor against Christians who are pursuing the Lord. Paul writes, “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”(Rom. 1:32) He has allowed suffering to bring him to the state of utter foolishness. He is callused and hardened about hell and the enemy called Satan. He also has no concern for the holiness of God. His has allowed suffering to contribute to his sinful thinking, and is so darkened in his soul that he has very little understanding of the saving work available to him through the shed blood of Jesus.
These are the unbeliever’s seven steps of the downward spiral. The portion of this chapter following this one will be the believer’s seven steps of the downward spiral. Then, in Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul immediately gives the solution to what a believer should do.
Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.