Question: What is your understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew? Is it future or already present, but not yet?

An initial note should be stated: when you compare the parable messages from Mark 4; Luke 8 and Matthew 13, you’ll see that the terms Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are used interchangeably. So is the Kingdom of Heaven future rather than “already, but not yet”?

We first need to see that there are five facets of “kingdom” in Scripture. There terms “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” both refer to God’s rule, although the uses of the term “kingdom” will reveal five different facets.

Continue reading

Question: How could a loving God allow suffering?

How could a loving God allow suffering? That is a question I have heard many, many times.  It’s as if people expect that God is, if He is all powerful, obligated to ensure that people should not suffer, because a “loving God” should not allow suffering of people. Continue reading

Why do bad things still happen?

When a person trusts in Jesus Christ, he becomes a child of God.  There is no greater blessing in life, than to be God’s child. When you trust in Jesus Christ, you become a part of the universal Church, you are identified with the family of God, you have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and you have an eternal destiny with the Lord in heaven. Yet, there are still bad things that happen. Why? Here are six reasons why there is so much trouble.

First, Jesus said bad things would happen. He could stop all bad things, but then he would have to remove every person from earth.  Inside every person, in fact in every Christian, is a sin nature. The sin nature is what continues to cause problems as Paul declared,

15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Rom 7:15-17 NKJ)

Because of the sin nature, people still sin. Sin causes troubles.  Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJ) The question is: Will you trust Jesus while you are in the trouble and learn patience, endurance and perseverance?  He still loves you and He will never forsake you (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5).

Secondly, the world is full of trouble because when Adam sinned, he gave up rulership of the world to Satan. Consequently, Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and he loves to make people miserable and blame God for their misery.  In fact, Satan blinds the minds of those under his influence. Paul wrote, “…whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” (2 Cor. 4:4 NKJ) Satan’s blinding work prevents many from trusting the goodness of God and His good works, because they look for their hope in the world.

We know Satan is the god of this world, because he attempted to offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus during the temptations of Jesus. Luke recorded the dialogue between Satan and Jesus,

5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 “Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”  8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the LORD your God.” (Luke 4:5-8 NKJ)

There is no contest between God and Satan, because God could end the conflict at any time and wipe out Satan.  Why does God not destroy Satan? He will in His sovereign timing (Rev. 20:10).  In the meantime, God is showing that those who live under grace in dependency upon Him will be blessed and those who reject God will be miserable and find an empty future. Yet, even in trouble, there is hope in the Lord that eases the trouble and glorifies Him.

It is similar to when Jeremiah was sitting on the ash heap of Jerusalem’s destruction, he found hope in the Lord.  When God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed in B.C. 586, because they had forsaken the Lord, Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations.  The city was destroyed.  Homes were ruined. The stench from dead bodies was repulsive. And yet, Jeremiah found his hope in the Lord,

21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him! (Lam 3:21-24 NKJ)

Thirdly, God allowed Satan to be a part of the testing process. Regarding testing, God allowed Satan to harm Job who was a blameless man, yet the testing showed that a blameless man would not curse God, but would trust God. When messengers reported that raiders came and stole his herds and another messenger said his ten children died in a huge windstorm, Job responded with trust in the Lord,

20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22 NKJ)

Even in the trouble, the bad things, though Satan was the instrument God used, Job trusted in the Lord.

Fourthly, God allows Satan to be a part of the divine discipline process. That can produce trouble for many people. When a young man was committing incest with his step-mother, the Corinthian church acted like they should just practice grace.  Paul rebuked the church and said,

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles– that a man has his father’s wife!  2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.  3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:1-5 NKJ)

In other words, Paul chastised them for not fearing the holiness of God. They should have put him out of the church, which would have been a discipline on the young man, because there were no other churches in Corinth. Because the young man was saved (1 Cor. 5:5), he would have been exposed to Satan’s wrath. Why? He would have been exposed, because Jesus Christ dwelt within the young man and Satan can’t stand anyone who is a Christian. Therefore the young man would have become a target of Satan. If you are associated with a person or people who are under-going divine discipline, you will experience their discipline by association.

Fifthly, bad things are a purifying process of helping us become more dependent on Him. We in America do everything we can to maintain comfort.  We avoid troubles at any cost.  However, trials and troubles are often God’s purifying process. Peter wrote,

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:12-17 NKJ)

Peter also wrote,

10 But maythe God of all grace, who called usto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Pet. 5:10 NKJ)

The purpose of troubles is to “perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” You will become more dependent on the Lord in His sovereign actions. You will gain strength to face new trials and reveal your tremendous trust in Him.

And sixthly, after death, there are no more bad things. Once the Christian is in heaven, there are no more sorrows and no more tears as John wrote, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NKJ) One of the greatest blessings of being a Christian is knowing that there is an end to the troubles of life. Heaven will be a place of God’s peace.

Generally, people do not like bad things or troubles.  Yet the one who trusts in the Lord will accept troubles as a part of God’s purifying and growing process. God offers peace in the midst of trouble. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJ) You can have that peace today as you walk in and trust Him. Paul wrote, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NKJ)

God has a purpose for everything. God will richly reward those who trust Him, even when circumstances are bad.  He is worthy of hope.  He is worthy of your trust.

Question: Was King Saul a believer?

Was King Saul a believer?

There are many who question whether King Saul was a believer.  They have to, not because of Scripture, but because their theology demands it.  Their theology says that if a person continues in sin, then he really was not a believer.  Saul would be a good example, because after David’s killing of Goliath and the ensuing jealousy, King Saul purposefully and intentionally spent years chasing after that rascal David to kill him.  How could Saul possibly be a believer and want that?  After all, Saul died a miserable death at the attack of the Philistines.  Certainly, he had to be an unbeliever!  That is not true, because that is not what Scripture teaches.

In 1 Samuel 10, there are nine clear indications that Saul was a believer.  This is the passage in question,

·         Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: “Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance1?
·         2 “When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you,`The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. And now your father has ceased caring about the donkeys and is worrying about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”‘
·         3 “Then you shall go on forward from there and come to the terebinth tree of Tabor. There three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine.
·         4 “And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall receive from their hands.
·         5 “After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying.
·         6 “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.
·         7 “And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
·         8 “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”
·         9 So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.
·         10 When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.
·         11 And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”
·         12 Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?”(1 Sam. 10:1-12)

In the beginning of the chapter ten, Samuel, a judge in Israel, had been commanded by God to anoint Saul as commander over His people. The Lord had told Samuel, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him commander over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to me.” (1 Sam. 9:16) This does not say that Saul was a believer, but he was chosen by God as the first king of Israel. As Samuel stood with Saul, he took the flask and anointed Saul as commander over Israel (1 Sam. 10:1).  Let us note nine reasons why Saul was clearly a believer.

First, Samuel tells precisely what Saul will do as he is joined with a group of prophets from Israel (1 Sam. 10:3-5). These prophets were not just coincidently connecting with Saul.  They were on a mission from God prophesying from the Lord.  That would be absurd if Saul was an unbeliever, because an unbeliever cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14).  There would be no reason for any connection from any further messages from God.  If he were an unbeliever, he would be anointed and then he would do his own works and ignore any messages from God.

Secondly, God’s Spirit came upon Saul, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you and you will prophesy with them…” (1 Sam. 10:6a). The Spirit of God does not come upon unbelievers to do God’s work. However, God’s Spirit will convict the unbelieving world (John 16:8-11) and judge the world, but not come upon the unbeliever for prophesying.

Thirdly, Saul was turned into another man, “…and be turned into another man.”(1 Sam. 10:6b) This is the transformation process of regeneration.  Paul uses the term, “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). 

Fourthly, God was with him, “And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.” (1 Sam. 10:7) This is a clear sign that Saul had trusted in God’s provision and God was with him to lead the people.

Fifthly, Samuel offered burnt and peace offerings for and on behalf of Saul, “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. (1 Sam. 10:8a) There is absolutely no reason to offering sacrifices for or on behalf of an unbeliever.  God is concerned with the heart.  After the heart is right, then sacrifices are made to honor the Lord.

Sixthly, God gave Saul another heart, “So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.” (1 Sam. 10:9)  Changing of the heart is a clear sign that Saul was a believer and the signs that came to pass affirm God’s blessing on Saul at that time.

Seventhly, God’s Spirit came upon Saul a second time, “…then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” (1 Sam. 10:10) In the Jewish Age, the Spirit did not indwell the believer, but did endue the believer for special purposes (In the Church Age, the Spirit indwells all believers {Rom. 8:9}). The special enduement allowed Saul to prophesy for the Lord.

Eighthly, the people recognized God’s ministry through Saul, “…when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam. 10:11)  There was evidence that was witnessed by other prophets of God as being from God.  God may have spoken through a donkey and He can use any mouthpiece He wants, but the prophets recognized a transformation in Saul.

Ninthly, a proverb was named after Saul, “Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam. 10:12)  In other words, the father (or the source) is the same source as the rest of the prophets of God.  Saul is from the Lord.  He is a believer.

Someone may be able to pick apart one or more of these reasons.  When you put them together, there is clear evidence that Saul was a believer in the Lord.

Now why is Saul questioned?  He is questioned about being a believer, because his actions are not “fitting” of that of a believer.  Really? See the article on the believer’s Downward Spiral.1 People who question if Saul was a believer never seem to provide a good answer to the question, “How many sins can I commit, before I need to question whether I’m a believer?”  A believer can act just like an unbeliever as Paul warns in Ephesians 4:17.  That is why the Lord disciplines His children, because they sin and refuse to repent (Heb. 12:5-6). 

 

1Check this link to read about the believer’s Downward Spiral: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-how-sinful-can-believer-get.html

Question: What is Prevenient Grace?

What is Prevenient Grace?

The word “prevenient” is no longer used today, but is common when discussing theology.  Prevenient is an archaic Latin term that simply means “to go before.”  It refers to the grace of God that precedes a person making a decision for salvation.  However, depending on the theological background of the person, the word can have different meanings.

Most people holding to the Reformed point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace to be the grace of God that goes before God’s work in a person’s life to regenerate and “give faith for salvation.” It will be used as a synonym for “Irresistible Grace,” that is, the grace of God that is irresistible by an elect person to believe.  In this sense, it is often equated with Effectual Grace, that is, the grace of God that is effectual to bring the elect person to the point of salvation.

Most people holding to the Arminian point of view will use the term Prevenient Grace as that which deals with the effects of the fall so that a person can choose to come to Christ or not.  It also can be a synonym for Effectual Grace, but used in a different manner in Reformed Theology.

Catholic doctrine would see Prevenient Grace as “assisting grace,” which assists those who are in the process of believing in Jesus and completing the work necessary for salvation.

Similar to Prevenient Grace is Common Grace, which is the grace of God that is common to all men. It is common, because it is for all mankind, not just those who might be elect as in Reformed Theology. Common grace is undeserved blessings extended to all mankind regarding God’s creative order, the restraint of sin from totally destroying man and man’s universal awareness of right and wrong.  Basically, the word is used according to the theology from which it is described.  It will mean slightly different things based on a person’s presuppositions.

I look at Prevenient Grace as the work of God prior to salvation.  It is unmerited favor that is not deserved and cannot be earned.  God made a universal call to man. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Jesus was in prayer to the Father and He was also just talking to the multitudes about the sinners of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. The disciples of John the Baptist had been sent to ask Jesus if He was the coming One and Jesus turned and spoke to the multitudes about the greatness of John the Baptist and to consider their own lives.  As he rebuked the rejection of God’s light to Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, He went into prayer to the Father.  From that prayer, He invited all to come to Him.

When Peter gave the first message in the Church Age, he invited everyone to Christ. He said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Peter was talking to Jewish people who had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, which came to be known as Pentecost. Peter was not distinguishing between elect or nonelect.

Additionally, when Paul was in prison, singing with Silas, the Philippian jailer realized the potency of the moment, and humbly approached Paul,

  • 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
  • 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:30-31)

Paul made the invitation to a complete stranger. It was the call of God.  God does not desire than any should perish, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) That is why the Holy Spirit convicts the entire world of sin,

  • 8 “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
  • 9 “of sin, because they do not believe in Me;
  • 10 “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;
  • 11 “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)

In that call and in that conviction, the grace of God works to ensure the certain futurition of God’s decree. The tension between the sovereign decree of God and freewill is the antinomy (literally the incompatibility) that holds us humbly submissive to the will of God.

We could not choose for God, if He did not work His grace in us.  We could not have a relationship with Him, if we had not chosen to accept what He had done.  No one believes apart from His grace (common and prevenient). No one could choose for God apart from His work of calling and conviction. No one is saved if God did not take our nonmeritorious faith and enter us into union with Christ. And God’s grace can be spurned as men suppress the truth in unrighteousness and are therefore without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).  In that antinomy are the sovereign work of God and the free will of man in harmony.

Question: Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death?

Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death?

A previous article looked at how James wrote how a Christian could be in the Sin unto Death.1 This article addresses John’s first epistle and how John clearly demonstrates that a believer can be in the Sin unto Death. 

The Gospel of John was written to the world to explain how a person would believe in Jesus and have life in His name (John 20:30-31).  Each of the three epistles of John have a separate purpose.  The first epistle was written to believers regarding the credibility of Jesus as the Christ.  It was written in a time when Gnosticism had taken hold and was drastically influencing the church.  Consequently, John wrote how Jesus was seen, looked upon and touched (1 John 1:1).  The Gnostics believed that Jesus just seemed to be a man, but was really just an aeon as a lower level being from God.  Gnostics taught that He was neither God, nor fully man, but was some kind of spirit being. If that were the case, He could not be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), He could not satisfy the righteous requirements of God (1 John 2:2), nor could He be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Because some people approach 1 John with their theology fixed, they do mental gymnastics to make sense of the letter.  IF people would take the natural, literal, historical and grammatical approach to understanding the meaning of the epistle, the interpretation becomes quite easy.  A key verse in the letter is found in 1 John 2:29.  John writes, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.”(1 John 2:29)  If the person knows that Jesus is righteous and believers do, because that is part of what makes a person a believer – Jesus is the righteous One- then the one who practices righteousness is born of Him. What about the person who does not practice righteousness, i.e. the one who sins.  Whether the sin is one time or lasts for a few days or weeks, at that point the person is not practicing righteousness. When a person is not practicing righteousness, he is not “born of Him.” In other words, he reveals he is not acting like he is a believer.  When a person is living a spirit-controlled life, then he reveals He has the spirit living through himself and reveals he is “born of Jesus.”

First John is a book of fellowship, not declaring the difference between a believer and an unbeliever.  John makes this clear in the beginning, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) The key is fellowship, not salvation. 

So when John writes in 1 John 5:16, he is writing about a Christian who is out of fellowship with God. In fact, he is in the last stage of the Downward Spiral called the Sin unto Death.  John writes,

  • 16 If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. (1 John 5:16)
People stumble over this verse for two reasons. First, they cannot comprehend how a believer could continue in sin, but that is primarily because they have been taught a theology that does not allow continuous sin in a believer, so they impose that theology on the text.  Secondly, they do not understand the difference between the two words for “ask” and “pray” in the verse.

John writes, like Paul (Gal. 6:1), that if anyone sees a brother sinning a sin, he has some responsibility.  First, note that John calls this person a brother.  He’s not talking about a physical blood brother or a person from the neighborhood. He is talking about a spiritual believer and is called a brother. Secondly, note that brother is “sinning a sin.”  This is not a one time sin, he is “sinning a sin” (present active participle).  In other words it is on-going.  It may be several days, or weeks, or months.  It has to be quite some time, because you observe this is the behavior, not just a one time action. Thirdly, he is sinning a sin, “which does not lead to death.” In this case, he is sinning, but he is not in the final stage of the Downward Spiral.  He could be in the first or second step.  Or he could be in the fourth or fifth step of the Downward Spiral.  The fact is he is not in the stage called the Sin unto Death.2 He may be worried about not paying his bills and is struggling because he wants to provide for his children.  He may have “borrowed” some time from his work, because he was late.  In either case, even though they are both sins, he is still going to church and is somewhat open to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.

If a person is in this case, the observing believer should ask God on behalf of this brother.  The word for “ask” (aiteo-) is a Greek word that denotes asking with a humble awareness of authority.  The believer is to humbly ask God for mercy for his brother, recognizing that God may or may not grant his petition.  The Apostle Paul describes this in his letter to Timothy,

  • 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
  • 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
  • 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
God may or may not grant repentance, but John directs the observing believer humbly to approach God and ask. John says that God will give life to the brother.  This is not eternal life, this is operational Christian way of life, for fellowship with God.  When the person repents, confesses his sin and depends once again on the power of the Holy Spirit, then the sinning brother is restored to fellowship life and can serve the Lord. Again, John clarifies that this is for sin, not leading to death or the Sin unto Death.

However, as John says, “There is a sin leading to death.”  This is the Sin unto Death.  John is not talking about unbelievers here.  John wrote the gospel of John so that the sinning world would respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and believe in the name of Jesus (John 16:8-11; 20:30-31). John is writing about believers who have descended the Downward Spiral and are in the holding stage called the Sin unto Death. John says, “I do not say that he should pray about that.”  The word for “pray” here is the Greek word ero-tao-, which means “to pray or ask between two equals.”  This is similar to the first word for pray, but that word aiteo- was pray or ask someone on a different authority level.  This word ero-tao- refers to praying or asking a person who is a peer.  John says, “DO NOT approach God as a peer.”  God may or may not grant the request (2 Tim. 2:24-26). When you approach God, do it with fear and intrepidation on behalf of the sinning brother.  Do not add insult to injury by approaching God like He is your buddy.  He is holy, righteous and just.  He deserves all the honor, respect, reverence and fear a person can muster.  Do not approach God casually when you observe a brother who is in the Sin unto Death.

Does John say a Christian can enter the Sin unto Death? Yes.  He teaches a believer can be in the Sin unto Death and he should be helped or turned back to the truth, just as James said should happen,

  • 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
  • 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (Jam. 5:19-20)

What does Paul say about a believer in the Sin unto Death?  That is for the next article.

 

1See the previously posted article on the Downward Spiral: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-what-is-downward-spiral.html

2See the following link for a description of the believer’s Downward Spiral: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-how-sinful-can-believer-get.html 

Question: Did James say a believer could be in the Sin unto Death?

Did James say a believer could be in the Sin unto Death?

It seems incredible that a believer could even be considered in the Sin unto Death,1because a believer should be pursuing God’s righteousness and seeking to please the Lord in thought, words and actions.  Yet, as seen in the Downward Spiral articles, a believer can continue in sin, even though he is still God’s child and going to heaven.  James is one author that supports the view that a believer can enter the Sin unto Death.

The book of James is written to Jewish believers, who are in the dispersion (Jam. 1:1).  Fifteen times, he calls his audience, “brethren.”  James was written at a time when there were no church buildings. Christians were not kindly treated or respected.  They were considered part of a new cult and ostracized by the mainstream population.

James gives a very practical letter on how to live with a divine perspective. At the end of the letter, James gave a call of hope for those who might stray from the truth of godly living.  James exhorted believers not to trust in their riches (Jam. 5:1-6), to have patience with each other as they waited for the return of the Lord (Jam. 5:7-11), if they were suffering or struggling, to come together for support (Jam. 5:12-15) and to pray together as they worked through conflict (Jam. 5:16-18).  Finally, at the end of his letter he gave these words,

  • 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
  • 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (Jam. 5:19-20)
Let us look at these verses.

            This is a passage regarding believers who have strayed from the truth and have entered the Sin unto Death. First, he is talking to “brethren.”  They are again affirmed as believers. Secondly, James highlights a believer who has strayed from the truth, “…if anyone among you wanders from the truth…”He is referring to a believer from among them and that believer has strayed from the truth of the faith they have believed. The word “strayed” comes from a word (planao-) from which we get planet, because the ancient people thought the planets wandered across the sky. Thirdly, “someone” refers to another believer who cares and is willing to risk rejection by being a part of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 6:1).  That person comes alongside and guides him to repent (turn him back). At this point confession of sin and restoration of fellowship is assumed.

            Now in verse twenty, James summarizes the blessing the spirit-controlled believer is to the wandering, but now repentant believer, who has been delivered from the Sin unto Death.  James highlights these godly actions.  First, James exhorts believers to affirm the godly actions of the believer who was willing to restore the wandering, “let him know.”  It’s a big deal to restore a believer to the truth, but it is a believer’s responsibility. Secondly, the believer is called “a sinner,” because that is the description of his life at that point.  He is living according to sin, rather than according to the Spirit. It is a similar exhortation that Paul gives to those who are spirit-controlled in their godly actions toward a brother who has crossed the obvious line of sin, but is being restored.  This is not referring to an unbeliever in this case for the reasons stated above (words gain their meaning from context more than their simple definition). Thirdly, the godly believer has “saved his soul from death,” which phrase must be examined.

            Words have basic meanings.  The word “saved” has a basic meaning of “deliverance.”  When a person is saved, he is delivered from condemnation.  When it refers to the believer who is “saved” from worldly viewpoint and living, it refers to the sanctification process and deliverance from self-control to spirit-control in life. Paul states, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18; cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).  Paul said he was “being saved” (present passive participle) as an on going process which God was working in his life. Paul was talking about sanctification, not positional salvation.

In the same way, the word “death” has a basic meaning of “separation.” There are actually nine different meanings of death in Scripture, depending on the context.  For example, it can refer to physical death (Gen. 24:67), or spiritual death (Gen. 2:17), or divinely operational death (Jam. 2:17). The context determines the meaning of the word.

            When James says that the spiritual believer “will save a soul from death,” he is referring to deliverance from the Sin unto Death.  The believer is already saved and so cannot be spiritually saved again.  That wandering believer is also in the Sin unto Death, the condition where he is facing the misery of a life of sin before he is taken out of earthly living and enters into the heavenly realm.  The godly believer will deliver that person from the final stage of the Sin unto Death. The godly believer also “covers a multitude of sins.”

            When a person is in the Sin unto Death, he is living a life of sin in carnality.  When that person is delivered from carnality, the person is restored to fellowship with God and spirit-controlled living, rather than sin-controlled living.  Hence, the multitude of sins is discontinued (covered).

            Does James teach a believer can enter the Sin unto Death? Yes.  James not only teaches a believer can enter that stage, but can be delivered from that by a godly believer who is willing to risk coming alongside the scoffer.  May God grant us mercy and love as we might be willing to help a believer return to the truth of God’s word in one area of life or in many areas of life.

 

1There are three articles posted on the Downward Spiral.  One summarizes the Downward Spiral: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-what-is-downward-spiral.html

The second records the Downward Spiral for the unbeliever: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-how-sinful-can-unbeliever-get.html

And the third records the Downward Spiral of the believer: http://renewingtruth.blogspot.com/2013/06/question-how-sinful-can-believer-get.html