Monday, March 19, 2018

Stop Sinning (Help, Grace, and Encouragement to Stop Sinning, post #1)

Through His Word, God commands us to stop sinning.

Every child of God has been given a new heart. We desire to obey God. We want to stop sinning.

But our old sin nature, our flesh, still has sinful desires. And so we find ourselves in a lifelong struggle with sin.

NIV Galatians 5:16-17 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

NIV 1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

God has put it on my heart to write a series of blog posts with help, guidance, and encouragement to stop sinning. I’m not writing as one who has won the war, but as one who is right in the middle of it.

In writing this series, I pray that God will help me help you.

We will never be perfectly sinless in this life. But this must never be an excuse to not work to get rid of sin. We can become more Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions. The Bible urges us to do this. From Genesis to Revelation we are urged to resist sin and obey God.

Focusing on our fight against sin without remembering God’s grace would lead to despair and failure. On the one hand, God’s grace should never be used as a rationale to sin.

NIV Romans 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!

In fact, it is only because of grace that we can be free from slavery to sin:

NIV Romans 6:14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

God’s grace makes the fight against sin worth fighting. Grace functions like a safety rope when we slip and fall. Grace empowers us to get up again when we are knocked down for the 10th or 100th time. Grace gives our hearts hope and peace. For these reasons I intend to include reminders of God’s grace and forgiveness in every post in this series. This truth about grace is captured powerfully in this 7 minute video with music and preaching:

Sin is a terrible enemy. The devil and his demons tempt and assault us. The world all around us pushes us towards sin and pulls us into temptation. And the very desires of our own flesh war against us. We can’t win this fight in our own strength. But God doesn’t ask us to.

The very Holy Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and it is by His power that we fight against sin:

NIV Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

The Holy Spirit works in many ways. We need every ounce of Holy Spirit power we can get for our fight against sin. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, through prayer, and through other Christians. These resources are mighty for overcoming temptation and resisting sin.

In writing this series, there are several specific resources I plan to draw on.

1.  Most important is the Bible. The Bible is filled with many stories, teachings, and warnings that are designed by God Himself to encourage us and strengthen us in our warfare.

2.  I am also reading the book Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen (it is actually a collection three short books written by him). John Owen wrote in the 1600’s and his style is not the easiest to read. But his passion to overcome sin and help others to do the same is contagious and encouraging.

3.  Finally, I draw on my own experiences and struggles, and the grace God gives me each day.

As we each struggle, let’s pray together as our Lord taught us to do:

NIV Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

NIV Luke 22:40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."

Be encouraged. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Remember God’s grace.

Related posts and other posts in this series:

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

What Would Love Do? (A Response to a Common Universalist Argument)

A Common Universalist Argument

Universalists often make arguments for their position based on God’s love. They point out that God is love. He loves the world. He even loves His enemies. They then reason that you would never destroy someone you love. Would a loving parent would destroy their child? Based on this, they conclude that God will not destroy anyone in hell. This argument may be summarized as follows:

God is love.
Love would never destroy anyone.
Therefore, God will never destroy anyone.

Universalists who argue like this have a good starting point. They are entirely correct to say that God is love (1 John 4:8). It is true that God loves the world (John 3:16) and that He loves His enemies (Matthew 5:44, Romans 5:8-10). These truths are clearly revealed in God’s Word. And yet, Universalists reach a conclusion that directly contradicts other truths which are also revealed in God’s Word. God’s Word teaches that the unrighteous will suffer an “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), that they will “perish” (John 3:16), their souls and bodies will both be destroyed by God in Hell (Matthew 10:28), and they will be burned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6).

So where does the Universalist go wrong?

Basically the Universalist is attempting to extrapolate from a known starting point, God’s love. From that point they try to figure out what God will do with the unrighteous after their death.  The problem is not with the starting point. God really is love. The problem is with the method of extrapolation.  The further one extrapolates from the known starting point without any additional revealed truth, the more likely one is to make errors.

Here is an example of how extrapolation from a known starting point can lead to errors. I served in the Navy for five years as a junior officer on submarines. It’s very important to know exactly where a submarine is because if we didn’t we could literally run into an undersea mountain. Navigation always started with using some known external reference points to determine our exact position. These reference points could be lighthouses if we were close to shore, or satellites or the stars if we were out in the ocean. But when we were underwater, known reference points were not always available. So we used a type of extrapolation called dead reckoning. We knew where we started and by keeping track of what direction we were going in and how fast we were going, we could calculate where we were. The problem with dead reckoning is that even very small errors add up overtime. A 1% error in a compass could result in being a couple of hundred miles off course by the time you crossed the Atlantic. Much less error than that could be disastrous. That’s why whenever we came up to periscope depth, if at all possible, we tried to get a new external fix on our position.

Universalists have an excellent starting point when they begin their argument with God’s love. God’s love is verified by the reliable lighthouse of revelation in God’s Word. The problem is that they then try to reason out a really long ways. They attempt to dead reckon all the way past the end of this age, into the next age, and to God’s judgment day. It seems to me that they trust their logical dead reckoning more than they trust what God’s Word says about the fate of the unrighteous. This leads to error.

Let’s give a closely related example of this type of error. Someone might reason like this:

God is love.
Love would never create a world where there is a lot of pain and suffering.
Therefore, God would never create a world where there is a lot of pain and suffering.

But He did.

The starting point of the above argument is the same as the starting point of the popular Universalist argument based on God’s love. From there, both arguments extrapolate based on what they think love means God would and would not do. The arguments go wrong because they presume to be able to predict what God would do based on just one piece of data and extrapolating a long ways from that one reliable data point.

What Would Love Do?

While love is not God’s only attribute, I believe that all that God does is entirely consistent with His love. At first it might seem that predicting actions based on love would be so simple that any child could do it. But that is naïve. Due to the massive, pervasive, deeply rooted sin in people, there are complex and difficult situations where the most loving action is not obvious or easy.

Should a wife stay with her husband if he’s abusive? What if he abuses her children? What if he is beating her child, she rightly fears for the child’s life, and a gun is within her reach? What would love do?

Here’s a true and tragic story. A little over a week ago a pastor and his wife who are in their 70's came home and found two robbers in their house. The robbers beat the husband, tied them both up, and burned down their house. The pastor was badly burned but escaped. His wife died. According to news reports, both of the robbers had extensive criminal histories. One had even been charged seven years ago with breaking and entering into another house where three people were shot and one of those three died. Now in a situation like this, what is the loving thing to do with respect to the criminals? Would love ever lock someone up for life? Would love ever execute anyone? Our human justice system is imperfect. But what if we knew someone’s future actions would bring great harm, damage, and suffering to many other people? Do we only consider our love for the criminal? What about his past and future victims? What would love do?

When you consider all the people involved, an execution might be consistent with love.  God commands us to love our neighbor and teaches us that all the rest of the law is based on love. God revealed that in some cases executing people for crimes like murder was right and good. God commanded this for Israel.

NIV Exodus 21:12 "Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.”

Does the Bible teach this kind of love? Does the Bible call it an example of God’s love when He destroys some hard hearted sinners who refused to repent after many chances in order to rescue His people?

Psalm 136:
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever.
 11 and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.
 12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.
 13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever.
 14 and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever.
 15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.

Some sins are so serious that God insists that parents must be willing to see even their own children executed if they commit these sins:

Deuteronomy 13:6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known,
 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other),
 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them.
 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The verses above are part of God’s law. Jesus said that all of the law was based on love (Matthew 22:40). God knew that showing pity to people in some cases would result in much greater damage and suffering to others in the long run. What would love do? We don’t have to guess. The same Bible that tells us that God is love tells us that He will destroy the unrighteous on His day of judgment.

A Little Extrapolating of My Own

Human sin has brought great suffering and loss to the world God created. God has gone to incredible lengths to rescue us from our own sin. He even sent His son to die for us. What more could He do?

God’s rescue plan has resulted in the salvation of millions. Based on God’s Word, we can be confident that people will be saved from every language and nation.

But some people reject God’s amazing grace. What if God knows that allowing these people into His eternal kingdom would ruin it in ways similar to what we see on earth now, only on a scale that extends for eternity? Would it be unloving for God to destroy these unrepentant, unrighteous people so that others can enjoy an eternity of His love? I don’t see why this is inconsistent with God’s love. In fact, it seems that God’s love requires it.

But I don’t trust my own extrapolating any more than that of the Universalists. That’s why I look to God’s own revelation to see what He tells us about the final fate of the unrighteous. As I stated at the beginning of this post, God’s Word reveals that the unrighteous will, in fact, perish. God will destroy them. Their destruction will be eternal.

Anticipating Universalist Objections

Because I have spent time reading Universalist material and interacting with Universalists, I am aware of different types of objections Universalists might raise to my arguments in this post. I can’t cover all Universalist arguments in one short post, but I will briefly mention two.

Objection #1:  Since God is all powerful He can cause all the unrighteous to love and obey Him.

Answer: Maybe there are some things which power, even unlimited power, cannot do. Maybe power cannot force people to love, because love by its very nature cannot be forced (You may read more about this here: Does Love Require Free Will?).

Objection #2:  Surely, given enough time and the right kind of revelation, everyone would freely choose God’s way of love.  Some Universalists believe that as the unrighteous suffer in Hell they will come to their senses and accept God one by one until Hell is empty.

Answer:  First, God is not obligated to give sinners who deserve destruction an endless amount of time to repent. But even if He did, there is no guarantee that they would. The Bible teaches us that outside of Christ sinners do not tend to improve and draw closer to God over time. In fact, their hearts become ever harder, their thinking darker, and their sins more heinous. For those who do not immediately recognize this truth from the Bible, I explain it here:  The Universalist Story is Not a Realistic Story.

Perhaps a more fundamental answer to the second objection is that the unrighteous cannot repent in Hell because the unrighteous will be burned to ashes in Hell and ashes can’t repent.


God is love! This is a glorious, comforting, powerful truth that shapes all of reality.

Universalists have a good starting point when they begin an argument with “God is love”. However, when they extrapolate into areas far from human experience (like God’s judgment at the end of this age) they come to a conclusion that is different from what God reveals in the Bible concerning the final fate of the unrighteous. This should cause Universalists to reevaluate what decisions love might make when faced with unrepentant sinners who reject God’s grace, have ruined this current age, and might ruin the New Earth if they were allowed to exist there. We don’t have to guess. God has revealed that He will destroy the unrighteous with an eternal destruction. They will exist no more. Everyone left will enjoy God’s love forever and love God and others as He always intended.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .