Take a listen as I walk through Jesus’ prayer in John 17.
Q: Jesus is the Son of God. He died for our sins, and rose again. Can you believe this and still not be saved?
A: That’s a very good question. First of all let me stress that I do not intend to judge the hearts of men and women and make determination on their final states. We often do not have total insight into the lives of individuals and can only determination if they are saved by examining the fruit of their lives. But God’s Word can help us in thinking through the question.
There was a similar question posed in Scripture and I think it’s important for us to go back to God’s Word for more information. In James 2:14-26 it appears that James may be dealing with a very similar situation. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one, you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” In the context of that passage, James is discussing the importance of works as validation for faith. Works DO NOT save us, but they can serve as the “fruit” that validates the sincerity of our internal faith. In v. 19 we see James saying that “faith,” without verifying fruit, is no different than demons, who are indeed in hell.
Now it is important to distinguish between saving faith and what may be called mere intellectual assent. Time and again we see in Scripture that those who are saved are those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; etc.). But we must understand what “believe” means. In Scripture the word translated “believe” could also be translated as “faith” and gives the idea of trust and commitment. For example, I have faith/belief in my wife. I trust her and am committed to her. I can say that I believe she is my wife but go out and be with other women; then my actions call into question my “belief.”
On the other hand, there is mental or intellectual assent only. This occurs when we believe the facts about something but it doesn’t have any bearing on our lives or our heart. For example, I believe the sky is blue. But it has no effect on how I live my life. If someone came in tomorrow and said the sky is now green, ok, no big deal. I’m just mentally agreeing with what is being said. This involved no action on my part at all.
The same is true for Jesus. If we say that we believe he is the Son of God, died for all our sins, and rose again, then that necessarily has implications on our life. Why? Because Jesus said it does. In Luke 6:46 Jesus asked why people want to call Him Lord but don’t desire to do what He says. The implication is that if we believe in and love Jesus, we will do what He tells us to do (John 14:15, 23). Therefore, if we have someone who says they believe all of these things about Jesus, but yet their lives are unchanged and they have no desire to fellowship with Him and to live the life He has called us to live, then we have good reason to question the substance of their belief. Just as Jesus said, how can they believe Him (in a saving way) without showing it by their actions?
If you have a particular question you’d like to have answered, feel free to submit it via the contact page.
Q: The Bible says that the sexually immoral will not enter heaven. What is sexual immorality? I’m scared that I’ve committed it. Also, why do some say pornography sends you to hell?
A: Thank you for your question. Sexual immorality can be generally defined as anything outside of the commandments God has for sexual activity. God’s standard for sexual activity is that it only be practiced within the boundaries of marriage, between a husband and wife. Anything outside of that would constitute sexual immorality. For example, adultery is sexually immoral because it violates God’s standard for sex to be kept within a marriage. Fornication (sex between two single people) is sexually immoral because it violates God’s standard that sex be experienced only within the covenant of marriage. Therefore, anything that falls short of God’s standard for sexual activity would be considered sexual immorality. Pornography also falls into that category because pornography, by its very nature, is designed to stir up lust within the human heart. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:27-28 that anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent is already guilty of an adulterous heart. In other words, if we engage in things that provoke lustful thoughts, we are exhibiting an adulterous intent in our hearts.
To address the other half of you question, unrepentant sexual immorality does indeed exclude people from heaven. But why is that the case? The key idea here is unrepentant. Those who refuse to forsake sexual immorality and turn to Christ, will not spend eternity with Christ because their actions exhibit a heart that does not know God, regardless of what they might say or profess to believe (1 John 3:6). As we’ve seen already, sexual immorality includes pornography, which is why it is logical to say that unrepentant pornography use excludes someone from the kingdom of God, because it gives evidence of a heart that doesn’t know God.
With that said, let me encourage you. You mentioned that you are “scared” that you may have committed sexual immorality. I don’t what you’ve done that makes you feel that way but perhaps it is the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin and giving you an opportunity to forsake it and repent of that sin. Let that “fear” drive you to seek God’s forgiveness. While God does indeed judge sin, the Bible tells us over, and over, and over again that God is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:31; Psalm 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13). God has promised that He will forgive any sin that we confess before Him (1 John 1:9). Take courage from what Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6 (I’ve bolded and underlined the part I want you to be sure and see):
This was addressed to people who had committed sexual immorality in the past. That’s why Paul says “And such were some of you.” But we see that God forgave them because they turned to Christ for forgiveness. If you are a believer now and you made a terrible mistake, the same offer of forgiveness still holds true. In 1 John 1:9, John is speaking to Christians when he says God will forgive confessed sin. Also, remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22 when He told Peter to forgive those who repent, “70 times 7,” which means to forgive someone every time they repent of their sin and return. Therefore, God demonstrates that He too forgives when we repent and return.
I hope what I’ve said has helped answer your question. Please know that I am praying for you and asking that the Holy Spirit would give you answers to your situation and lead you into repentance and forgiveness. God bless you, my friend.
Q: If God’s Spirit is in us, (a) why do we still have sickness and ailments, (b) why don’t we hear God speak to us more clearly, and (c) why do we still sin?
A: You’ve asked several good questions. I will try my best to answer them as thoroughly as I can.
- The Holy Spirit does indeed dwell within every believer and Jesus did indeed take the wrath and punishment for ours sins. However, we shouldn’t confuse temporal consequences and ailments with eternal punishment. Just because Christ took away the eternal consequences of our infirmities (in the sense of our sickness of sin) doesn’t mean that all earthly consequences were taken away. Scripture says in Hebrews 9:27 that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment. That is true for believers as well. We are still mortal in our flesh as we have not yet been physically resurrected and therefore are still appointed to die and stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for our lives. Our sins are forgiven but we are still living in fallen bodies until the end of this age.
- In terms of hearing God more clearly there are several reasons this can be the case. The primary reason we may not hear God very clearly is because we have unconfessed sin in our lives. If we want to have uninterrupted fellowship with the Father we must be confessing our sins and keeping short accounts. When we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit which can certainly account for our inability to feel His promptings and leadings. In regards to answered prayer, sometimes no answer is an answer. We can’t assume that God’s every answer to our every prayer is yes. Sometimes what is best in His eternal plan may result in a no to the prayer request we have placed before Him.
- Christ did indeed pray to the Father that we would be one. And the Church is one. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet fellow believers from across the world you know that it is a strange and mysterious, yet precious thing to meet them and feel as if you’ve known them for years. That is because we are all baptized into one Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). So, we are one in the sense that the entire body of Christ is knit together by the indwelling of the same Spirit of God.
- The presence of God’s Spirit in us does not automatically remove from us the threat of temptation and sin. In fact Jesus, who was God Himself, was tempted in every way that we are tempted (Matthew 4, Luke 4, Hebrews 4:15). So, if Satan could tempt God Himself, how can we expect to not experience temptation when we just have His Spirit within us? The Christian life is a journey toward perfection. Perfection is not achieved in this life (Philippians 3:12) and we are still tempted to sin. However we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as well as plead to God on our behalf when we do sin. Paul himself struggled with sin (Romans 7). It is a battle we will fight until we are called to our heavenly rest and are fully glorified as is our Savior Jesus Christ.
If you have a particular question you’d like to have answered, feel free to submit it via the contact page.
In his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, R. Kent Hughes argues that the effective Christian life is one of discipline and intentionality. I completely agree. I recently preached a sermon on the intentionality and discipline it takes to stay on the path of wisdom. None of us just “coasts” into holiness. If we desire to be more Christlike, we must follow Paul’s instructions to discipline ourselves just as athletes aspiring to win a race (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
In his book, Hughes tells the story of Lt. General William K. Harrison, Jr. (1936-1987). General Harrison was part of the US Army’s 30th Infantry Division during World War II and received numerous accommodations during his military career. However, one of the most important disciplines in his life, arguably, was his disciplined reading of scripture. Even in his demanding life, General Harrison made time to consistently stay in God’s word.
Starting as a young cadet at West Point, he began reading through the Bible every. He would read through the Old Testament once each year and through the New Testament four times each year.1 He continued this reading process until he died at the age of 91, having “read through the Old Testament seventy times and the New Testament 280 times!”2
One’s life will certainly be influenced by such prolonged exposure to God’s word. Hughes noted that “[Harrison’s] godliness and wisdom were proverbial,” “people marveled at his knowledge of the Bible and the ability to bring its light to every area of life,” and “his presence brought a distinct sense of Christ.”3
Reading Hughes’s account of Harrison’s discipline inspired me to put together this Bible reading plan based on the known details of his Bible reading process. By reading six chapters each day, it allows you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament four times in a year. In addition, you will read through the Psalms twice.
I commend this Bible reading plan to you as a resource and tool for those looking for a disciplined plan for daily scripture reading. My prayer is that this tool would help others develop a disciplined practice of daily Bible reading that influences their lives in much the way it influenced General Harrison.
- Lolana Thompson, “Guide To William K. Harrison Jr. Papers” Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 2017, https://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/HarrisonWK_CN038.pdf.
- R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines Of A Godly Man, 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.
- Ibid., pp. 75-77.