Mailbag

The Mailbag: Regrets…I Still Have a Few

 

I know regret should lead us to repentance. My question is: After repentance and salvation what do we do with regret? Is it sinful to continually experience regret? Is it just a consequence we must live with? I feel like I’m being swallowed up by it the more I read the Bible, which is not the end of the world, but I just want to handle it correctly.

Great question. I think correct context and semantics can help us out a lot here.

The verse you’re referring to is 2 Corinthians 7:10 (which I have linked in context in your question above):

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There are several concepts at play here between your question and the verse, and we need to be sure we’re not conflating them: regret, godly sorrow or grief, shame, and guilt.

When we American English speakers say, Frank Sinatra-style, “Regrets….I’ve had a few….,” what we mean is that there are things we’ve done in the past that we wish we hadn’t done, and that if we had it to do over again, we would do things differently. Every Christian has had incidents we feel this way about, whether they took place before or after we got saved. If your love for Christ and your growing understanding of the blackness of sin have led you to regret rebelling against Him, that’s not a bad thing. What would be bad is if you had no regrets. When we look back on past sins, we should always do so with an attitude of regret for having committed them.

But doesn’t this verse say repentance leads to salvation “without regret”? Yes. But that phrase doesn’t mean we’ll never look back at our past sins and wish we had obeyed God instead. Read the verse in context. Paul had written his “severe letter” rebuking the Corinthian church for their sin. It cut them to the heart in godly sorrow over their transgressions and they joyfully repented, never once looking back and wishing for their old way of life. Even with the hardships and persecution many first century Christians faced, they never, for a single moment, regretted turning from their life of sin and following Jesus. (I think we could all say a hearty “Amen!” to that!) That’s what “salvation without regret” means- we don’t regret casting our lot with Christ.

Another aspect of this verse and question we need to address is this: The verse doesn’t say our regrets produce repentance that leads to salvation. It says “godly grief”, or “sorrow,” or “sorrow that is according to the will of God,” is what produces repentance that leads to salvation. There’s a big difference.

Regrets are more in line with the “worldly grief” mentioned at the end of the verse, which produces death. Even lost people like Ol’ Blue Eyes can look back over their lives and recall their embarrassing or jerky behavior and the choices they made that hurt others or themselves, and they can wish they hadn’t done those things. Why? Because of the natural consequences of sin. He got caught. He lost his job or his wife or a friend.

He had to pay the piper, and he didn’t like the looks of the bill.

Not a thought to the Lord whose laws he broke. Not a twinge of guilt and shame for committing sins that crucified the Savior who loves him. No fear and trembling at the feet of a thrice holy God of wrath who has the power to cast him into Hell for all eternity.

That is godly grief. It’s a grief that goes vertical first…

I have offended a high and holy God.

Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips!

Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.

Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

…and then, springing from that godly grief, seeks horizontal forgiveness from and reconciliation with others.

When godly grief over sin produces repentance, repentance leads to salvation. And when Christ saves you, a transaction takes place in God’s legal system in which Christ absorbs the shame, guilt, and penalty for your sin, and God, the righteous Judge, rules you not guilty.

But what can you do when you’ve been genuinely saved and you look back at your past sin not only with regret, but also feeling the weight of guilt and shame? I think maybe that’s the heart of what you’re asking.

You have to hold on to what you know to be true according to God’s Word over and above what you feel. God’s Word is objectively trustworthy. Our feelings are not. Our feelings can be fickle and fleshly. Subjective and deceptive. We have to tame those feelings like wild horses with the bit, bridle, and spurs of Scripture, and rein them in or turn them in the direction God wants them to go.

So what do we know to be true about feeling guilt and shame for our past sin?

• Whatever we may feel, the fact is that, in Christ, we are not guilty, and our shame has been removed:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4,8

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:4-5

• It isn’t God who is leading us to feel a way that doesn’t line up with His Word. Satan is the only one who makes false accusations against Christians:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10

• It is not God’s will for us to focus on the past, but to move forward like the Christians we are, keeping our eyes on Jesus:

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:13b-16

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

When you look back on your former life and are overwhelmed by guilt and shame, remember the words above are from the very lips of God Himself. Remember that you were guilty and covered with shame, and let that knowledge lead you to thank, praise, and worship the One who took your sin and wretchedness upon His own shoulders. Who absorbed your punishment, your blame – and set you free. Free to honor and obey Him. Free to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Civil disobedience, Bearing one another’s burdens, Does our obedience please God?…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


What are ways to help carry other Christians’ burdens? I’ve been praying for guidance in this area.

What a completely awesome question! It’s so encouraging to hear from readers who are striving to carry out God’s Word.

Galatians 6:2 tells us:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Now, typically, we tend to think this verse means to help our brothers and sisters in Christ through difficult times in their lives: “weeping with those who weep” due to the loss of a loved one, helping out with a financial need, offering a word of encouragement to someone who’s down, etc. These are all good things that we should be doing. And the Bible does teach us to help others in these ways, it just doesn’t quite teach that in this particular verse.

Let’s take a look at the context of verse 2 and a couple of cross-references:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2

See? Verse 2 isn’t really talking about helping the fam through the tough times. It’s talking about the obligation we have to our brothers and sisters (and they to us) to watch out for them, help them avoid temptation and sin, and, if they fall into sin, urgently, yet gently, pull them back to where they ought to be. The cross-references for Galatians 6:2 help us to see this even more clearly:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Romans 15:1-2

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

So, Galatians 6:2 may have a bit of a different meaning than we thought it had, but in either of these senses – helping others through difficult times, or restoring a sinner – how do we “bear one another’s burdens”?

Pray– The most important thing you can do in either of these situations is to pray. Pray for the person you’re trying to help. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to say and do what’s godly in the situation. Pray that He will intervene and work things out as only He can. And be sure to let the person know you’re praying for her. If anyone has ever told you she’s praying for you, you know just how meaningful and encouraging that is.

Remove stumbling blocks– For example: If you’re helping someone who struggles with the temptation to drunkenness, don’t offer her a glass of wine when she comes over for dinner. Many men (yes ladies, even Christian men in your own church) fight a constant battle with lust. Help bear their burden by taking an extra look in the mirror to make sure your outfit isn’t cut too low, high, or tight before you go out or go to church. Whatever we can do on our part to avoid making things harder for someone who’s struggling with temptation is helping to bear their burden.

Ask her– No two people are alike. No two situations are alike. The only way to know how best to help another person is to ask her. If there’s something you’ve found helpful in a similar situation, you can suggest that and ask her if she feels like that would be helpful to her as well, but ask before doing it (see “Just do it./DON’T just do it.” in this article). Sometimes the things I find helpful aren’t the same things you find helpful.

Ask your pastor– In order to really pursue “bearing one anothers’ burdens” well in your own church, have a sit down with your pastor and get his guidance and counsel. He may know of a situation that’s just begging for someone like you to step in and be helpful. Just think of that – God could use you to be the answer to your pastor’s or a fellow church member’s prayers! And even if there’s not a specific situation he could assign you to, at the very least, just the fact that you asked will be a huge encouragement to your pastor.

The Mailbag: Ministering to the Bereaved


My church teaches that “man” and “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 isn’t the correct translation, that it should be “husband” and “wife,” because this passage is about marital submission, not women teaching in the church. Is this true?

I’ve answered this question before, but I’ve received it again twice in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if that’s just coincidence, or if there’s been an uptick in this error, but if it’s the latter, I want to make sure you have the right information at hand.

The short answer to this question is no. This is eisegesis. Bible translators are hired for their expertise in the biblical languages (which is not a skill set the average pastor teaching this error has). If it were supposed to be translated as “husband” and “wife” they would have translated it that way. Check out all of the reliable English translations of the Bible. Across the board, they all translate it as “man” and “woman”. Even the unreliable versions/paraphrases of the Bible (like The Message and The Passion “Translation”) translate it as “man” and “woman”. This is just another silly and preposterous attempt to smuggle an unbiblical teaching (i.e. It’s OK for women to preach to/teach/hold authority over men) into the church.

For the longer, more detailed answer, see the second section of The Mailbag: Potpourri (Heretical church music, Mistranslating 1 Tim. 2:12, Books for women…).


I’m struggling to get a handle on how the idea that our obedience is pleasing to God fits with the idea that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s righteousness in us. I know our obedience to God doesn’t save us or keep us saved, but in what way is our obedience pleasing to God? Can you help me sort this out?

Another phenomenal question from a godly woman who’s a good student of the Bible!

You’re quite right in saying that our obedience to God cannot and does not save us or keep us from losing our salvation, so let’s box that one up and shove it out of the way. You’re also right in saying that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s righteousness that was imputed to us at the moment of salvation rather than any so called “righteousness” we have on our own. But God can be pleased with more than one thing about us, right? And He can be pleased with different things in different ways, can’t He?

So to answer your question: Yes, for Christians, our obedience, springing from our love for Christ, is pleasing to God.

Think of it like a parent-child relationship (an illustration God often uses in Scripture).

When you have a baby, you are pleased with and love that baby simply because he exists and has been born into your family. He doesn’t have to do anything spectacular to earn your good pleasure with him (In fact, he’s doing all kinds of things, like pooping and crying all night, that aren’t pleasing at all!). He’s your child. You’re pleased by that fact. End of story.

Now, if you see your child busily cleaning his room, being kind to his sister, saying please and thank you, etc., those things that he’s doing are also pleasing to you, but is that what makes him your child? Of course not. He’s your child because he was born into your family. He would be your child whether he was doing those good things or making a mess, hitting his sister, and being rude. But it’s more pleasing to you when he’s obedient out of love for you.

Being pleased with your child’s behavior is a separate matter from being pleased by the simple fact that he’s your child. It is the same way with those of us who have been born into God’s family and are now His children. He is pleased by the fact that we were born into His family and are robed in the righteousness of Christ, and He is pleased when we show our love for Him by obeying Him.

Check out these Scriptures about our obedience and good works – as Christians – being pleasing to the Lord.


What are your views on civil disobedience? Do you believe it can be a sin since it involves the refusal to submit to authority?

This question came in as a response to lesson 4 of Living Stones: A Study of 1&2 Peter, which dealt largely with submission to authority.

Civil disobedience – intentionally breaking a civil or criminal law, or disobeying the command of a governmental authority because you don’t feel you can, in good conscience, obey it – can be a sin. It also can be obedience to God. It totally depends on the situation, the law you’re contemplating breaking, and what the Bible says about it.

Submission to the authorities in our lives – including governmental authorities – is a huge theme of the New Testament. Romans 13:1-2 says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

God has put certain people in certain positions of governmental authority. He says we are to submit to them, and that, if we don’t, we’re rebelling against Him and will incur judgment. This is a command straight from the lips of God that we are to take just as seriously as all His other commands.

The only exception to submitting to the authorities in our lives – whether it’s the government, our husbands, our pastors, or our employers (and for children, their parents)- is when that authority requests or requires that we disobey God’s (rightly handled, in context) written Word. No human being has the authority to go over God’s head, cancel His clear commands, and expect to be obeyed. God is our ultimate authority.

One of the clearest examples of this in in Acts 5. The high priest and other Jewish leadership arrest and imprison the apostles for preaching the gospel (which Jesus had commanded them to do in the Great Commission). In the middle of the night, God opens the prison doors and commands the apostles to go back to the temple and keep preaching the gospel. The high priest hauls them in again and says, “Why are you doing this? We commanded you to stop teaching this.”. And Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Our ultimate example, is, of course, Jesus, who always obeyed God even though the governing authorities eventually convicted Him of a capital offense and executed Him as a criminal as a consequence of that very obedience.

We obey God first and foremost and above all human authorities, no matter the cost.

So if you’re thinking about disobeying a human (governmental or otherwise) authority, consider these things first:

• Do you know your Bible, rightly handled, in context, inside and out on the issue at hand?

• Can you objectively differentiate between “This command clearly conflicts with Scripture,” and “I personally don’t like this command even though it doesn’t conflict with Scripture.”?

• Are you absolutely certain the human authority is requesting/requiring that you disobey clear Scripture (either ordering you to do something God has forbidden or ordering you not to do something God has commanded)?

• Do you fully understand the fact that if the human authority is not requesting/requiring that you actually disobey clear Scripture, and you refuse to comply, that you are disobeying God (sinning) by refusing to submit to the human authority He has established?

• Have you counted the cost? What will the consequences be if you disobey God? What will the consequences be if you disobey the human authority? Are you ready to “man up” and accept the consequences with grace and godliness?


I really enjoyed reading your article about the women’s conference you just spoke at. Will you be coming to my area soon?

I hope so! There are two ways to catch an event I’m speaking at in your area:

1. Keep an eye on the “2020 Calendar” section of my Speaking Engagements tab (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page). I’ve got several more events in the works. When I get them finalized, I’ll post the details there and announce them on social media.

2. If you want to attend an event that’s really close to home, contact me to see if I’m available, and set up an event at your own church! There’s lots of great information at my Speaking Engagements tab on how to set up a women’s event at your church.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Holidays (Other)

40 Things to Give Up for Lent

Originally published March 3, 2017

40-lent

Although, as a Louisiana girl, I’ve had a decades long love affair with king cake, and I totally support the increased availability of fish entrées at local restaurants and getting a few days off school or work, I’m not a big fan of Mardi Gras and Lent.

The intrinsic philosophy behind Mardi Gras – a day of revelry, indulgence, and debauchery to get it all out of your system before you have to start “being good” for Lent – is patently unbiblical.

The practice of Lent often is, as well. Lent is the forty day period, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday, observed by Catholics and some Protestants. Originally, it was simply a time of fasting, prayer, and worship in anticipation of Easter, and for Christians who continue to observe it this way, it can be a valuable and meaningful time of respite and renewal with the Lord.

For many, however, Lent – particularly the aspect of giving something up for Lent in an act of self-denial – is nothing more than an empty religious ritual, or worse, works righteousness. Giving something up for Lent because, “I’m Catholic and that’s what good Catholics do,” or to atone for your sins, or to curry favor with God, or to flaunt your self-righteousness flies in the face of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone biblical Christianity.

If you give something up for Lent, why do you do so? If it’s for one of the aforementioned unbiblical reasons (or others), or even if you don’t observe Lent at all, I’d like to challenge us all to give up the things below for Lent:

1. Give up Lent for Lent.

2. Give up attending any church that requires the observance of Lent in a sacramental way and find a doctrinally sound one.

3. Give up thinking your good behavior earns you right standing with God.

4. Give up the idea that there’s any such thing as truly good behavior.

5. Give up thinking your good deeds could ever outweigh your sins.

6. Give up willfully indulging in sin as long as you “make up for it” later.

7. Give up the notion that penance or self-denial can pay for your sins.

8. Give up thinking that penance or self-denial curries favor with God.

9. Give up the idea that repentance and obedience belong to a certain season on the calendar. We are to walk in repentance every day.

10. Give up the concept that Christmas and Easter are Christian “high holy days.” We celebrate Christ’s incarnation and resurrection every Sunday, and should prepare ourselves all during the week. Every Sunday is a high holy day for the Christian.

11. Give up rote participation in church rituals. Search the Scriptures and see if they’re biblical first.

12. Give up thinking God concerns Himself strictly with your external behavior rather than the condition of your heart.

13. Give up “sounding a trumpet before you” with humblebrags on social media and in real life about giving things up for Lent, fasting, giving offerings, or any other good works you might do. You just lost your reward, baby.

14. Give up approaching church attendance as punching the time clock for God. The Christian’s entire life, our very beings, belong to Christ, not just a couple of hours on Sunday.

15. Give up the delusion that you’re basically a good person. You’re not.

16. Give up biblical ignorance and become a good student of God’s word.

17. Give up forsaking the assembly and become a faithful, serving member of your local church.

18. Give up thinking that everyone and everything that calls itself “Christian” actually is.

19. Give up the desire to have your itching ears scratched and long for the truth of God’s word. Even when it’s hard to hear.

20. Give up neglecting the daily study of God’s word.

21. Give up rejecting parts of the Bible you don’t agree with. We don’t sit in judgment over Scripture. Scripture sits in judgment over us.

22. Give up neglecting your prayer life.

23. Give up making excuses for failing to memorize Scripture. You can do it!

24. Give up being a non-serving member of your church.

25. Give up being a non-giving member of your church.

26. Give up thinking you’re hearing God speak to you. If you want to hear God speak to you, open your Bible and study it. God has spoken in His word and many are largely ignoring what He has already said.

27. Give up following false teachers and be a good Berean.

28. Give up being afraid to share the gospel and just do it.

29. Give up thinking you can please God apart from faith in Christ.

30. Give up basing your doctrine and beliefs on your own (or anyone else’s) opinions, experiences, and feelings, and base them on correctly handled Scripture instead.

31. Give up following your wicked and deceitful heart, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ.

32. Give up thinking you have to do big things for God in order for Him to be pleased with you and “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.”

33. Give up worrying and trust God.

34. Give up neglecting to fear God’s wrath if you don’t know Christ.

35. Give up fearing God’s wrath if you do know Christ.

36. Give up the idea that “God is love” means God is a pushover who won’t judge you.

37. Give up thinking you’ve been so bad that God could never forgive you.

38. Give up thinking you’re so good that you don’t need God to forgive you.

39. Give up refusing to forgive others when Christ has forgiven you so much.

40. Give up everything and be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and walk in His ways, all the days of your life, to the glory of God alone.

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Guest Posts

Guest Post: The Broken Definition of Brokenness

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in the “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.

The Broken Definition of Brokenness
by Teresa Lawrence

Brokenness is a popular buzzword in the professing Christian world today. It’s a word that evokes emotion and sympathy; it seems to appropriately describe our perception of ourselves as sinful people in a cursed world. We feel broken. We feel the effects of sin in the world and know this isn’t how it is supposed to be. We know this not only through our experience, but even more clearly through the revelation of scripture.

In some cases, the term is appropriate. It is true that we hurt and suffer, and that life is hard. However, words matter. If we want to communicate carefully and biblically, caution is called for. Brokenness, as a term, is being increasingly used by fuzzy writers and soft-tongued teachers to describe the problems of our lives and world, without regard to defining the term according to Scripture. “We are broken people living in a broken world,” is a mantra echoed by many in one form or another. And we tend to be quick to agree. The description seems to fit.

So, what’s wrong with it? Isn’t it true, even scriptural? What about Psalm 51:17, which says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”? What about Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11 and 21 where the Bible talks about “the brokenness of my people”?

It’s important when we are going to describe anything of a spiritual nature to study scriptural uses. The Bible uses this word in quite an interesting variety of ways. A search reveals 325 uses of variations of the word “broken” in the NASB, including 3 of “brokenness”. Here are some literal biblical ways it is used:

broken out, as in a disease on the skin

break forth, as in song

broken through, as in a wall or a barrier

broken down, as in old and worn out

literally broken, a thing that is no longer able to be functionally used, as in a pot or a ship or an arm

broken law or covenant

Then there are two other, metaphoric, uses. First, there is the broken heart (Ps. 69:20, Jer. 23:9), signifying great, uncomforted grief.  There are instances like Psalm 51 and Job 17:1 where a broken spirit is used to refer to a person at the end of his own resources, and in desperate need of God’s mercy and help. There are surprisingly few biblical references to this kind of brokenness (I found 12).

Secondly, and perhaps also surprisingly, a large percentage of the biblical uses of “broken” (I counted around 67) refer to a position to be feared rather than embraced. These refer to being under the judgment of God–the results of the justice of God against his enemies or the discipline of his own people. This is the “brokenness of my people” referred to in Jeremiah–the judgment of God on Israel because of their rebellion and hard hearts. It also refers to the act of God in regard to His enemies and the finality of their defeat, as in Proverbs 6:12,15:

“A worthless person, a wicked man,
his calamity will come suddenly;
Instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.”

(See also Psalm 60:1; Proverbs 29:1; Isaiah 65:14; and Ezekiel 32:28, among many others.)

The problem with many modern uses of broken/brokenness” is that while the biblical word is used, it is defined generally as an accurate description of us and life in our fallen world—a definition the Bible never uses. This unbiblical usage serves to emphasize our own experiences and perspectives and soften some rather unattractive realities that need to be faced about ourselves rather than softened: Sin. Rebellion. Selfishness. Pride. Hatred toward God.

This cushioning of hard truths produces consequences in our thinking. Using “brokenness” to describe our cursed condition can be a subtle way of shifting responsibility from ourselves to some other, nebulous cause (Satan, maybe?) that got us into these troubles in which we find ourselves. It softens the responsibility we ourselves have for rebelling against God. We aren’t rebels, we’re broken. We aren’t sinners, we’re broken. We readily adopt a more forgiving opinion of our own hearts, and see ourselves as victims of circumstance. Even unbelievers are comfortable taking on the “broken” identity, a fact which ought to give thoughtful Christians pause.

The term “broken” is passive. It begs the question, “Who broke us?” It implies that the fact we are broken is someone else’s fault. Somehow, someone broke us and our world and we are living with and dealing with the consequences as best we can. We can tend to see ourselves as bravely facing our problems; responsible only for being as gentle with ourselves and others as possible, to prevent further breakage. We suspend all judgment, even biblical judgment, because who are we, who are just as broken as you are, to point fingers?

We do need to be gentle with the hurting around us. We ourselves do suffer. However, when these things dominate our thinking, and we begin to describe ourselves in these terms, we are in danger of minimizing or overlooking our own sin and responsibility altogether. The fact that other people sin against us, sometimes grossly, doesn’t negate the fact that we ourselves are guilty of hurting others, and more seriously, sinning against our holy and righteous Creator.

Dear Christian, this is the subtlety of the devil. If he can convince people that to be Christian means to admit that we are merely broken and need healing, we readily settle on a distorted picture of who we really are and what we truly need. That we are hurting is easy to see and admit. But a more serious diagnosis is necessary.

The Bible describes mankind in his natural, godless, sinful state in the most unsavory of terms. We are not only wicked, we are thoroughly wicked.

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth,
and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Gen. 6:5

We are also called fools. And corrupt. 

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
Psalm 14:1

How about deceitful? And desperately sick?

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

The brokenness of the Bible comes when we realize these things are true about ourselves. We have nothing good in us and are in serious trouble with God, however uncomfortable we are in admitting this is true. This is when we arrive at the point of spiritual bankruptcy, where we are brought to understand that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). This is the brokenness David referred to in Psalm 51, to which he had come as a result of his own terrible sin. This brokenness can be defined as humility before God. David recognizes that his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah (adultery and murder), while heinous, are nothing compared to the weight of sin he has committed against God:

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge. (v. 4)

The Bible never uses the word broken to describe the world or the state of all mankind. The brokenness the Bible describes is not our problem, it is what we need. To be broken is to come to God with nothing in our hands, knowing all we have to offer Him is our sin, and asking only for His mercy.

The brokenness the Bible describes is not our problem, it is what we need.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God,
You will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

These are the brokenhearted that the Lord is near to and helps:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

This isn’t just someone who is sad or grieving. This is someone sad and grieving over their sin. We aren’t just “broken people living in a broken world”. We are proud sinners living in a rebellious and cursed world–in need of being broken. We need to be humbled, and brought to where we see our desperate need. Those who do not will face serious and lasting consequences.

A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Prov. 29:1)

Interestingly, both of these biblical uses of “broken” fit its passive voice. When God judges a person or a nation, they are broken by His decree and His might, and none can stop Him. Psalm 75:6-8 says,


But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.
For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams;
It is well mixed, and He pours out of this;
Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.”

And, just as much as the other, when a person comes to the place of a broken spirit, realizing their sin and utter lack of any resource, and their great need for mercy, this also is a work of God’s sovereignty and grace.


I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD…”  Jeremiah 24:7a

“…God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13b

Describing ourselves unbiblically as “broken” shifts our perspective just enough to cause God’s judgment to seem cruel (what kind of God sends broken people to hell?) and His salvation to be something He ought to rightfully give us (it would be unkind to do anything but help and rescue a broken person). But until we are saved, we aren’t broken—yet. We’re proud sinners who would rather work our way into God’s good graces than accept that there’s nothing we can do for ourselves.

One of two paths is available to us: either we will be broken before the Lord, and saved by His mercy, or we will be broken by the Lord, justly judged, and condemned. And while it is true that we hurt and suffer, this doesn’t reduce our responsibility. If we want to be called broken, humility or condemnation are the biblical choices.

As believers, we ought to be aware of the gradual drift away from these biblical meanings, and how this drift affects our thinking. Increasingly, brokenness has become a useful word for sidestepping the culpability that sinful people are already trying to avoid facing. We need to speak compassionately, with kindness, but without softening the hard edges of the message. It is true that we suffer. But our suffering doesn’t negate our sinfulness. The Israelites were abused horribly by the Egyptians. God had compassion on them, and brought them out of slavery, but he also judged them for their rebellion in the desert. The suffering didn’t nullify the sin. We need to be careful not to obscure the real need for salvation from our own sin and its consequences.

This world isn’t just broken. It’s lost. It’s condemned. All its wickedness and rebellion will someday be permanently broken under the mighty sword of God’s righteous judgment. Let us be humble enough to see ourselves not only as hurting people, but as sinful people who offend our gracious Creator. Let us be loving enough to tell people of their dangerous position before God–not of their “brokenness”, but of their sinfulness. Then let us tell them also of a holy, yet merciful Savior who desires that they turn to Him and be saved. Let us boldly hold out God’s powerful gospel to His enemies, extending to them the good news of peace with Him before it is too late.


Teresa has been married to her husband Adam for 23 years, and they have 8 children, ranging from ages 5 to 22. She lives in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, serves as a musician in her church orchestra, and mentors in their one on one discipleship ministry. She is passionate about knowing God and understanding the truths in His word, and loves nothing better than teaching, encouraging, and being encouraged by like-minded women. She blogs very occasionally at Your Word Is Truth.

Forgiveness, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Can unforgiveness cause you to you lose your salvation?

 

Can unforgiveness cause me to lose my salvation?

Forgiving (or refusing to forgive) others as it relates to our salvation is such an important issue. I’m so glad you asked!

Let’s break this question down a bit.

Can you lose your salvation?

The first thing we need to tackle is whether or not someone whom Christ has genuinely saved can lose her salvation – for unforgiveness or any other reason. And the answer to that question is no.

Why? The short answer is that if God saves someone, and that person can subsequently “unsave” herself, that makes her more powerful than God, which, as we know, can’t happen. You can’t save yourself, and you can’t unsave yourself. Salvation is all of God.

When God saves you, you are His new creation in Christ. You can’t “uncreate” your new spiritual life any more than you can “uncreate” your body, or a tree, or a planet. You can kill or do damage to those things, but you cannot reverse God’s creative process. To use another example, oh so relevant to today, God created you female. You can mutilate your body til kingdom come trying to appear male, but that will not change the fact that at your genetic level – the very essence of your being – you are female. And you can’t undo that because God created you that way, and you’re not more powerful than God. If you can’t even change God’s creation of your physical body, how in the world can you change God’s creation of your spiritual being?

In addition to the fact that you can’t uncreate the new creature God has created you to be, you need to remember that the moment God saves you, He forgives all your sins, past, present, and future, and robes you in the righteousness of Christ. That swear word you’re going to say next week? Already forgiven. That lie you’re going to tell five years from now? Already forgiven. And if you decide to commit the sin of refusing to forgive someone, that sin has already been forgiven too. (So since all our sins are already forgiven, we can just commit as much sin as we want and we don’t have to worry about it, right? Wrong.) We still need to confess those sins to God and be cleansed from them because they disrupt our fellowship with God, but in His accounting office, that sin debt has already been marked “paid in full”.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us plainly that if He’s got you, He’s got you:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

No one. That includes you and your sin. The power of your sin is not greater than God’s power to forgive that sin.

They will never perish. To say that a person about which Jesus Himself has said, “I give them eternal life,” can lose her salvation is to call Jesus a liar. He says that person “will never perish.” End of story.

Still not convinced that someone whom Christ has genuinely saved can’t lose her salvation? Try these passages on for size.

Now the reason it can look to us like someone can lose her salvation comes from two places: experience and misunderstanding the Bible.

Experience:
It’s happened plenty of times in the past, but in the last few weeks, we’ve seen two high profile evangelicals “walk away from the faith,”: Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson. Maybe you know someone personally – a friend, a loved one, even a pastor – who gave every appearance of being a Christian and then suddenly left Christianity, and the church, behind.

How does this compute when the Bible teaches that genuinely born again Christians cannot lose their salvation? Well, we need to remember something else the Bible teaches that’s very important:

Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is one.

Some people consciously know they’re not really saved and are just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of others. But many (my guess is “most” – these days there’s not a lot of social cachet in calling yourself a Christian) are deceived into believing they’re saved. Maybe they heard some sort of unbiblical gospel presentation and have put their faith in a decision they made in response. Maybe they just assume they’re saved because they’re good church-going people and their church doesn’t teach them otherwise. Who knows? It could be a lot of things. But we know for sure that there are many people who call themselves Christians and believe they are Christians who aren’t. Why? Because the Bible says so:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23

Many will say”…False converts are common, not few and far between. And it’s not just your average Joe or Jane in the pew, either. People who “prophesy…cast out demons…do mighty works” under the auspices of Christianity? They’re pastors, elders, deacons, Bible study teachers, seminary professors, “Christian” authors, evangelical celebrities. And Christ does not know them, because they don’t know Him. They talk the talk, and might even look like they walk the walk, but they’ve never truly believed the biblical gospel, repented of their sin, and trusted the Jesus of Scripture to save them. First John 2:18-19 puts it this way:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

People whom Jesus has genuinely saved may fall into sin for a season, but they do not fall away from the faith. Those who leave the faith were never part of it in the first place, despite appearances or their claims to the contrary. It might be difficult, but this is one of those occasions when we have to believe what Scripture says over what we can see.

Jesus also tells us in the parable of the sower that there will be be “rocky ground” folks who will appear to be Christians, but because they have no root, they “endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” Jesus follows up this parable with the parable of the wheat and tares which further drives home His point that there will be impostors in the visible church.

So even though we observe people who appear to be Christians “falling away from the faith,” through unforgiveness or any other sin, we know that what’s really happening is that a lost person got tired of pretending to be saved and went back to being a lost person. Second Peter 2:22 puts it this way:

What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

If Christ has never fundamentally changed your spiritual nature from dog or pig into a new creature in Christ, you’re still a dog or a pig. And even if you manage to clean up on the outside you’ll eventually return to the vomit of being a dog and the mud of being a pig because that’s your nature.

Misunderstood Scripture
There are passages in the Bible that, when misunderstood, when taken out of their immediate context, or when taken out of the overall context of Scripture can seem to teach that a person can lose her salvation. But as we’ve seen, there are way too many rightly handledin context passages of Scripture that refute that idea.

Can you lose your salvation by refusing to forgive someone?

You mentioned in your original question that you believe unforgiveness can cause someone to lose her salvation because, “It is so clear in so many ways in Scripture, even parables that Jesus told.” But, you did not mention any of the Scriptures you think teach this. My guess is that one of the Scriptures you’re thinking of is Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In context, we can see that these two verses come at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. In verse 12, Jesus has just taught us to pray that God would “forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors,” and He’s giving us a little addendum on this in 14-15.

Remember, even though all our sins from birth to death were forgiven at the moment of our salvation, we still need to confess our sins in prayer and ask God to cleanse us from our wrongdoing to bring us back into right fellowship with Him. But if you’re willfully in the middle of committing the sin of unforgiveness against someone, you’re still actively sinning. You haven’t turned from that sin in order to be cleansed. You’re essentially rolling around in the mud and asking God to cleanse you while you have no intention of getting out of the mud. How is that supposed to work? It doesn’t make any sense. If you want to get cleaned up (“forgiven”), you have to get out of the mud (stop committing the sin of unforgiveness – “forgive”). Otherwise, you’re asking God to restore the fellowship you’re still actively damaging with your sin.

Another passage you might be thinking of is the parable of the unforgiving servant. The takeaway from this passage is not that God will rescind the salvation of Christians who commit the sin of unforgiveness. This passage doesn’t say that and we already know that idea conflicts with what Scripture teaches about the security of the Believer.

The takeaway from this passage is that God has forgiven us a sin debt that is incomprehensible. Knowing and having experienced that forgiveness, how could we not forgive some paltry little sin another human commits against us? First John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us,” and the way He loved us was to forgive us our sin. So we also forgive because He first forgave us. And if we can giddily and unrepentantly harbor unforgiveness in our hearts against someone else, we’d better start testing ourselves against Scripture to see if we’re really in the faith. Because that kind of unforgiveness is not the fruit of a redeemed life, it’s the fruit of someone who’s unsaved.

 

No, a genuinely regenerated Christian cannot lose her salvation by committing the sin of unforgiveness. But if she is genuinely regenerated, she will repent of that sin and forgive.

Additional Resources:

Walking Away from Faith? at A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast

Am I Really Saved? A 1 John Check Up


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.