FAQ: What if a person claims to be a Christian but is not living like a Christian?

Suppose Jack claims to have become a Christian at the age of 16, and for some time his walk with God was fairly consistent. He seemed to really want to love God, love others, tell people about Jesus, be actively involved in church, care for the poor, etc.

But at the age of 23, Jack’s Christian life becomes very rocky. He still claims to be a Christian, but he no longer obeys God consistently, he drops out of church, stops telling people about Jesus, and cares less and less about the things that God cares about. Some Christians would describe Jack as ‘backsliding’. This period of ‘backsliding’ might be for weeks, months or even years.

Jack

Because these situations are not all that uncommon, typically the question is asked: “If Jack was to die, where would he spend eternity?”

Will Jack make it to heaven?   

People asking this question are usually not trying to imply that Jack has to earn his way to heaven. They firmly believe that Jack is saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But they also believe that if a person was really a Christian, then they wouldn’t live the kind of life that Jack is living.

Some wonder if Jack has lost his salvation? Others wonder if he was ever saved to begin with?

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately the situation is not as clear cut as we might like. There are actually two possibilities…

Possibility #1 – Jack is definitely a Christian who will go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack really did become a Christian. He came to a place where he realized that he was a sinner under the judgement of God, unable to change himself or save himself. He cast his entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands, trusting Him to save him. As a result, Jesus did two things for Jack…

A. CROSS
Jesus paid for all of Jack’s past, present, future, deliberate and accidental sin by His death on the cross.

B. HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus gave Jack the Holy Spirit who came into his life to wage war against his sinful nature and change him from the inside out.

Jack 2

Once Jack became a Christian at 16, he began to walk with God. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Jack’s life to make him more like Jesus.

But at the age of 23, something changed. It might have been that Jack got led astray by the wrong people. Or perhaps his girlfriend died in a car accident and Jack became angry with God. Or maybe Jack just got busy at work and overtime he got distracted.

Regardless though, if Jack is really a Christian, then his eternity is secure because Jesus has paid for his sin in full.

Possibility #2 – Jack is not a Christian and he will not go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack thought he became a Christian because he did two things…

A. COMMITMENT
Jack made a commitment to try and obey God’s commands. He figured that if he could obey, or at least try and obey, that God would accept him into heaven.

B. CULTURE
Jack started to conform to the church culture. He talked the talk. He behaved the right way. He even got into church leadership.

Jack 3

Because Jack made a commitment at the age of 16 to try and obey, he did everything he could not to put a step wrong. Outwardly it looked like Jack had a close relationship with God. But the truth is that Jack was terrified of God. He had no sense of peace. He felt constant pressure to perform. He was always worried that God might take away his salvation if he failed to keep his commitment.

So at the age of 23, Jack had finally reached a point where he could no longer stand it and he walked away. He wasn’t necessarily angry with God. He wasn’t even necessarily upset with the church. He just couldn’t keep walking closely with God if heaven and hell hung in the balance every time he sinned.

So unfortunately Jack would not go to heaven, not because he sinned too much, but because he never trusted in the finished work of Jesus on His behalf.

How do we know the difference?

In comparing Possibility #1 to Possibility #2, there are various things that could be looked at. Here’s a couple…

hypocrite1


A. IS JACK TRUSTING IN JESUS’ FINISHED WORK ON HIS BEHALF, OR IS HE TRUSTING IN HIS COMMITMENT TO OBEY JESUS? 
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

Our salvation rests on what Jesus has DONE, not on what we have to DO. A true Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! 

B. HAS JACK RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT? 
Galatians 5:16-17 says: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other”.

Here we find that if Jack is truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit will be waging war against his sinful nature. Sometimes Jack will be led by the Spirit, and he will love God and love others and hate sin. Other times Jack will be led by his sinful nature, and he will love sin and crave sin.

This means two things. Firstly, over time, we should be able to see fruit of the Spirit in Jack’s life. Secondly, when Jack does sin, or begins to ‘backslide’ as some Christians call it, the Holy Spirit will be at work in his life calling him to confess his sin and walk with God.

The key is not to expect an absence of sin or even an absence of sinful desires (for Jack still has a sinful nature that loves sin and craves sin), but rather to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in Jack’s life. 

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ILLUSTRATION: ABC

simpleWE CAN BE SURE THAT WE’RE GOING TO HEAVEN BEFORE WE DIE

One of the best things about Christianity is that it teaches us that we can be sure we’re going to heaven before we die.

At the crucifixion, Jesus was placed on a cross between two criminals. One of these criminals became a Christian just before he died. Here’s what happened…

LUKE 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

HOW TO BE SURE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HEAVEN

The criminal was assured a place in heaven because he placed his faith in Jesus to save him. Here are the three things he did…

(A) ACKNOWLEDGE: He acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved punishment.
> He did not promise to make up for his past sin. He certainly would not have been able to.
> He did not promise to never sin again. It was irrelevant. He was about to die. He could offer God nothing.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved judgement.

(B) BELIEVE: He believed that Jesus was able to save him.
> He did not believe the whole Bible. It hadn’t even been completed yet.
> He did not necessarily understand a lot of theology.
> He did not even understand how Jesus could save him. He just believed that he could.

(C) CAST: He cast his entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands.
> He did not promise to live for Jesus. He was about to die.
> He did not promise to obey. Again, he was about to die.
> He simply bet his life and eternity on Jesus. He had no other option. Everything rested on Jesus.

So just like the criminal, we too can be sure that we’re going to heaven. All we need to do is ‘ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who deserve judgement’, ‘BELIEVE that Jesus is able to save us’ & ‘CAST our entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands’.

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GUILT-FREE CHRISTIANITY: Why good people don’t go to heaven and bad people don’t go to hell

THE LADDERGuilt Free

Many people view practicing Christianity a little like trying to climb a ladder to get to God. They believe that it offers them a way to earn God’s forgiveness and earn their way to heaven.

Some try and climb by living a good life. They figure that as long as they treat people well and genuinely try and do the right thing throughout their life, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Others try and climb by being committed to God. They’ve made a promise to obey Jesus and live for Him. They believe that as long as they stay close to God and always try to obey Him, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Many people believe that they can climb the ladder by having the right heart. They know that they fail to obey God, but as long as they never deliberately sin, and are always repentant when they do, then they believe that God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Some climb their way through religious rituals. Some do it by making radical sacrifices. Some even climb by trying to accumulate a number of spiritual experiences. Regardless, the one thing that all these approaches have in common is that they are never able to get us to the top of the ladder.

The problem with the ladder

Trying to climb the ladder is a nightmare. It will either turn you off Christianity, or it will create people who will turn you off Christianity.

It will turn you off Christianity by making you feel like you can never do enough. No matter how hard you try, no matter how committed, how consistent, how good your intentions, you always feel guilt and shame. The reason that so many people walk away from God and the church is because they are tired of climbing a ladder that can’t be climbed.

It will create people who will turn you off Christianity by producing self-righteous, judgemental people who feel like they’ve got a right to look down on others because they’ve made their way up a few rungs. According to the Barna Group, there’s an alarming number of church attenders who are still trying to climb the ladder. They work hard, they live good lives, they pray, they read the bible, they give generously. But they aren’t humble. They don’t have peace. They aren’t driven by joy. They don’t live the kind of lives that make you want to be a Christian.

Diagram 1

All this leads us to ask if there is some other way…

The real purpose of the ladder

It’s often been said that God would never ask us to do something we’re not able to do. But actually, the complete opposite is true. All throughout the Bible we find God calling people to do things that aren’t humanly possible. The same is true with God’s commands. We naturally assume that because God has given us a command, that He expects us to be able to obey. But what if there is something else going on? What if God knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough? What if God gave us commands for an entirely different reason?

The  Apostle Paul explains why God gave us the law… “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:7-11).

God never expected us to be able to climb the ladder. The law was never given to make us holy. Rather the law was given so that we would realize that we are unholy. The law was given to condemn us, not to save us. The more we try and climb the ladder, the more we slip and we fall, the more we realize that we are sinful, the more we realize that we need a saviour.

So when we look at the ladder, there are really three responses. The first is to keep climbing. The second is to walk away from God altogether. But the third is to go running to Jesus.

Diagram 2

What Jesus wants to do for you

Once a person stops trying to climb the ladder and runs to Jesus as their saviour, God is faced with two very significant problems…

PROBLEM #1: THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

God has to punish our sin, but does not want to punish us.

SOLUTION #1: THE CROSS

In order to solve the first problem, God had to figure out a way to punish our sin without punishing us. So 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross.

A lot of people believe that Jesus’ death serves as an example of sacrifice for us to follow. Others see the cross and a great demonstration of God’s love for people. Although both these perspectives are true, the reason Jesus died on the cross was to cop the punishment for our sin.

The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

All our past sin, present sin, future sin, accidental sin, and deliberate sin was cast upon Jesus while He was on the cross. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.

At the same time, all of Jesus’ righteousness was cast upon us. So that every good thing that Jesus ever did is credited into our account. So although we are still sinful, God now treats us as if we live the perfect, holy, and pure lives.

Cross Diagram

For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we are going to heaven. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.

Diagram 3

So the obvious question is this: Can we go on sinning and still go to heaven? This brings us to God’s second problem…

PROBLEM #2: THE POWER OF SIN

God wants us to do good works, but telling us to be good doesn’t work

SOLUTION #2: THE HOLY SPIRIT

In order to solve the second problem, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person runs to Jesus to save them, they don’t just get all their sin paid for, they also receive the Holy Spirit.

Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”.

In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, also known as the Holy Spirit, comes and lives in us and through us.

So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…

1. Unbeliever

Here we find a person who has not placed their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits on the throne (or driver’s seat) of their life.
Holy Spirit Diagram 3

2. Spirit-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is on the throne (or driver’s seat). He is giving them the motivation and power to live like Jesus. They still stuggle with sin, but they are no longer dominated by it.

Holy Spirit Diagram 4

3. Self-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. But they are not experiencing all that God wants to do in their life. Although the Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life, they have placed themselves back on the throne (or driver’s seat). God is definitely at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin.

Holy Spirit Diagram 5

SUMMARY

So for those of us who have STOPPED TRYING TO CLIMB THE LADDER and have RUN TO JESUS to save them, we can be confident of two things…

1. Because Jesus died on THE CROSS to PAY FOR OUR SINS, we have ETERNAL LIFE

2. Because the HOLY SPIRIT gives us the POWER TO OVERCOME SIN, we have a NEW LIFE

Diagram 4

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ILLUSTRATION: Book of Sin

(This is based on an illustration from ‘Christianity Explained’ by Michael Bennett)

STEP #1 – Hold out your right hand with your palm facing upward towards the ceiling…

Book Illustration #1

Let your right hand represent yourself, and the ceiling represent God.

STEP #2 – Now take a book and place it on your right hand…

Book Illustration #2

Suppose this book contains a record of every sin you have ever committed, every sin you are committing now, and every sin you are going to commit in the future. It contains a record of every accidental sin, and every deliberate sin. All the sins you know you committed, all the sins you didn’t even realize you committed. So in effect, the book contains a record of you past, present, future, accidental, deliberate, known and unknown sins.

So now my sin stands between me and God. And the Bible teaches that because God is holy, there is something about Him that He can’t just ignore my sin. He can’t just turn a blind eye. He can’t overlook it. There is something in God that has to punish sin. And the punishment for sin is an eternity separated from Him.

So now God has a problem. He created me to live with Him forever. He doesn’t want to punish me, but He has to punish my sin. So how does God solve His problem? How does God punish my sin, without punishing me? 

STEP #3 – Now hold out your left hand with your palm facing upward towards the ceiling…

Book Illustration #3

Let your left hand represent Jesus. Because Jesus never sinned, there is nothing standing between Him and God.

Now because God has to punish my sin, but doesn’t want to punish me, Jesus offers to take my sin upon Himself.

STEP #4 – Transfer the book from your right hand to your left hand… 

Book Illustration #4

So if I allow Jesus to take my sin upon Himself, my sin now stands between Jesus and God. As a result, Jesus cops the punishment for my sin. This is what was happening to Jesus when He was on the cross. Jesus paid for all my past, present, future, accidental, deliberate, known and unknown sins. He was condemned so that I could become uncondemnable.

Because I allowed Jesus to pay for my sin, it no longer stands between me and God. I have escaped judgement. The Bible says that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I am completely loved and accepted. I am free to enjoy a relationship with God. I can be 100% confident that I will spend eternity with Him.

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ILLUSTRATION: Why should God let you into heaven?

Heaven-Hell2Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say? *

Many of us would probably appeal to our good works. We’d talk about how we’ve tried to live a good life by treating others well, working hard, and being a responsible citizen of society.

Others of us who would appeal to our religious practices. We’d bring up times when we were baptized, took communion, attended church, prayed, and read the Bible.

Another group again would appeal to our commitment to Jesus. Knowing full well that our good works and religious practices are not enough, we would begin talking about the commitment we made to live for Jesus. We’d explain how we always tried to be faithful. We consistently obeyed the Bible. Everything we did was done with a heart to please God.

Essentially all three of these approaches are about ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. They rely upon my good works, my religious practices, or my commitment to Jesus.

But the Bible teaches that there is another way. That Jesus is the one who paid the price for us to get into heaven. He lived the perfect life that we could not live. He died the death that we should have died.

The person who gets into heaven is the person who says: “I am a sinner. My good works, my religious practices, and my commitment to Jesus mean nothing before a Holy God. All that matters is what Jesus did on my behalf. I am not relying upon ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. I am trusting solely in the finished work of Christ. I am betting my eternity on ‘WHAT JESUS HAS DONE'”.

(* This extremly helpful opening question is taken from Evangelism Explosion)

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FAQ: Does the Bible teach that homosexuals will go to hell?

Regardless of whether or not you believe the Bible is true, it is worth investigating what it actually says about homosexuality. There are many issues that could be addressed, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on just two questions:

QUESTION #1
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL?

ANSWER #1
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS SINFUL…

The Old Testament, which is predominantly about God’s plan for the Israelites, describes homosexuality as sinful. Leviticus 18:22 says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”. A similar command is repeated in Leviticus 20:13, which says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable”.

Now the question is, do these commands still apply today?

The New Testament, which was written to Christians, also describes homosexuality as sinful. Romans 1:26-27 says: “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error”.

So both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that Homosexuality is sinful.

BUT IT ALSO TEACHES THAT MANY OTHER ACTIONS ARE JUST AS SINFUL…

The Romans passage continues by saying: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (Romans 1:28-30).

Here we find that homosexuality is listed alongside many other sins, including several which would be considered quite socially acceptable within Christian communities.

This occurs again in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 which says: “The law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers”.

So although homosexuality is clearly being described as sinful, it is not described as being more sinful than any other particular sin.

QUESTION #2
DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT ALL HOMOSEXUALS GO TO HELL?

ANSWER #2
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT HOMOSEXUALS, ALONG WITH MANY OTHER SINNERS, WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD…churchkisssign

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”. This is obviously disturbing for homosexuals. But it is just as disturbing for everyone else.

We are all guilty of adultery. Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery” (Matthew 5:28). We are guilty of greed. It’s almost impossible to live in the west and not struggle with materialism. We are all guilty of slander. We engage in it every time we turn on the news and hear gossip or some kind of slanderous remark about a celebrity or a politician.

So based on this passage, no one will inherit the kingdom of God.

UNLESS THEY PLACE THEIR FAITH IN JESUS…

The First Corinthians passage goes onto say: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Here we discover that this passage is not about condemning us all to hell. Rather it is explaining that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will no longer be judged according to their sin.

When a person becomes a Christian, they are ‘washed’. They are ‘sanctified’, which simply means that they are ‘set apart as God’s people’. They are ‘justified’, which means that they are ‘declared righteous’, even though they are not righteous.

So the Bible doesn’t teach that all homosexuals go to hell, any more than it teaches that all sinners go to hell. Rather it teaches that anyone who places their faith in Jesus to save them will be washed, sanctified, justified, and inherit the kingdom of God.

THE SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY DOESN’T PROHIBIT PEOPLE FROM COMING TO JESUS. SIN IS THE REASON THAT PEOPLE COME TO JESUS

“You don’t go to Hell for being a homosexual… heterosexuality doesn’t get you to heaven. So, how in the world could homosexuality send you to Hell?… What sends you to Hell is self-righteousness – thinking that you can be your own savior and lord. What sends you to heaven is getting a connection with Christ because you realize you’re a sinner and you need intervention from outside” – Timothy Keller

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FAQ: Do we have to wait until we die to find out if we’re going to heaven?

The Problem…

Many of us assume that we can’t be sure. As a result, we end up living in fear of God. We never experience His love and intimacy because we’re not sure if He’s going to condemn us to hell. We do good works, but they can all too easily be motivated by a desire to go to heaven rather than a grateful heart.

The good news is that we can be sure.

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now…

When Jesus was on the cross, he hung between two criminals. One of them acknowledged his sin, and then placed his life and eternity into Jesus’ hands by saying: “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus turned back and said: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus didn’t grant the criminal eternal life and then keep it a secret. Rather He made sure the criminal knew for sure that he had a place in heaven before he died. 

The Apostle John concludes one of his letters by saying: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Again we see that God doesn’t just want us to have eternal life, He wants us to ‘know’ that we have eternal life.

We can be sure now because eternal life starts now…

Jesus made it clear that eternal life is not something we receive when we die, it’s something we receive the moment we become a Christian: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). 

Perhaps the best way to think about this is to consider the crossover between our physical life and our spiritual life. Just as we enter into this physical life through a physical birth, the Bible teaches that we enter into eternal life through a spiritual birth. This spiritual birth takes place when a person becomes a Christian.

In this moment, the person crosses over from eternal death to eternal life. Though their physical life will come to an end, their life with God will live on for all of eternity.

Eternal Life Starts now

Conclusion

We can be sure now because God wants us to be sure now, and because eternal life starts now.

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