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I’ve written before about how Jesus needs to be not only our guide but our measure. We need to measure ourselves against him to see how far we’ve progressed (or not) along our journey home.
One aspect of Jesus that perpetually has me in awe is his kindness toward those he knows are condemned. He knew long before Judas Iscariot took the 30 cursed coins that he would betray him, and yet Jesus continued to treat Judas the same as he treated all his other disciples, even up to and including the moment of his arrest.
Jesus extends the same courtesy to the fallen angels. I am careful when I write this, because I know it upsets some people, but God loves the condemned and the fallen as much as he loves the blessed and the saved. Even those beyond his help he treats with courtesy. He is not scornful or dismissive of them. Jesus reflects this Godly trait by his own treatment of the condemned. We born-agains need to learn from this, and do it.
On many an occasion, I’ve heard Christians rail against those they consider condemned, or dismiss the fallen angels and demons as unworthy of any consideration other than contempt. This is not the right approach to these beings. Remember that Jesus knew them in Heaven before he came down to Earth. He knew them and interacted with them in the heavenly realms. Before they rebelled and fell, they were his peers.
Scripture tells us not to judge others. God judges, we don’t. Our job is to treat everyone as we would want to be treated, without exception, even the suspected Judases among us.
My heart breaks when I think about my loved ones who’ve rejected Jesus. I know what they’re missing now and what they may in fact miss for all eternity unless they turn back to God, and it brings me to tears. But the choice is theirs; God doesn’t force himself on anyone. He honors their free will.
Now think of God and all of his loved ones he’s lost for eternity. He doesn’t stop loving them because they’ve rejected him; he loves them the same as before. Even knowing that they can never love him back or receive his Heavenly reward that he wanted so much to give them, he still loves them. And until it’s their time, he still protects them. He gives them the reward they think they need. As Jesus says: “They have their reward.”
Again, I know this topic is difficult for some Christians, but we are not “some Christians”. We are, if genuinely born-again, the prophesied remnant, the inheritors of God’s promise to redeem his people Israel, and the bearers of his Holy Spirit during our time on Earth. As inheritors of God’s promise, we are granted enormous privileges, and with them come equally enormous responsibilities. We need to open our minds to see as God sees, as exemplified in Jesus.
If Jesus didn’t curse the fallen spirits, then neither should we.
If Jesus didn’t curse Judas Iscariot, then neither should we curse the Judases in our lives.
Love does not distinguish between good and evil when it comes to treating others as we want to be treated. Jesus says God sends his rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does this to show us what it means to treat all others (not just some, all others) as we want to be treated.
Let God do the judging, and let us get on with the loving.
Every so often, Jesus is resurrected in the entertainment industry as the latest fad. The productions are usually presented as “true to the gospel” or “based on the historical Jesus”, but there is always something slightly off about them. I’ve been born-again for nearly 21 years, and I’ve seen my fair share of these faddish entertainments come and go. The latest is a multi-season miniseries called “The Chosen”, which, according to the show’s director, is loosely based on the life of Jesus.
I have no problem with people depicting Jesus or his followers as a form of entertainment, if the depiction is true to the gospel. Jesus himself said that those who are not against him are for him. He also taught using vivid parables and whatever props were at hand (including small children) and encouraged his followers to do the same. So presenting God’s Word as a form of entertainment is a built-in feature of spreading the Good News. However (and this is a big however), from what I’ve seen and heard in “The Chosen”, the writers take liberties with the gospel that would make even Judas Iscariot blush.
Take, for instance, the character Matthew, who suffers from autism. In case this bypassed the writers of “The Chosen”, Jesus is a healer. If the actual Matthew had Asperger’s, Jesus would have healed him as a first order of business. He would have cast out the demons oppressing Matthew and there would have been no more twitching or depression for him to deal with. And we know that Matthew did not, in fact, suffer from any form of oppression because Jesus told his disciples that they were all “clean”, other than for Judas Iscariot. So depicting Matthew as demon-ridden indicates to me that this show is, well, just another faddish Jesus show at best (written by those who don’t know Jesus and don’t know the gospel) or “another gospel” at worst.
The litmus test for any representation of Jesus or the gospels is what it makes you want to do. If it makes you want to read God’s Word and grow closer to God and Jesus, then it’s likely inspired by God. If, however, it makes you want to watch more of the same show (rather than read the Bible) and get to know the actors and producers and directors of the show better (rather than get to know God and Jesus better), then the work is likely not inspired by God.
In watching the few minutes of the show that I could endure, the only thing I wanted to do was turn it off. There is something very “broad way” about “The Chosen”, but again, I can only speak for myself and my own impressions. Perhaps the show is inspiring others to draw closer to God and Jesus, or perhaps it’s only drawing them closer to whatever screen they’re watching it on.
In any case, God can work through anything, including depictions of Matthew as a demon-plagued outcast. I myself will be steering clear of “The Chosen” (I would rather spend my time hanging out with God and Jesus, reading the Bible, and teaching God’s Word), but I pray that those who do choose to watch it will be inspired to want to get to know God and Jesus better, and to pick up a Bible and read the gospel for themselves.
The Bible is a big book. I’ve written about it here and here, and I’ll probably never stop writing about it until the day I die. There are no Bibles in Heaven (which may surprise some people), but there are billions of Bibles on Earth. Sadly, most of them aren’t read.
The Bible is a big book with lots of words. Knowing that, and also knowing that most people won’t read the Bible, Jesus summed it up for us in seven simple words: TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD BE TREATED. He told us that is the Law and the prophets. It’s also the core of his gospel message: TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD BE TREATED. Whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, whether you’re sick or well, whether you’re (as Paul would say) “abased or abounding”, whether you’re hated or loved, you treat others as you would be treated. You don’t just treat Christians as you would be treated, you treat everyone as you would be treated, old and young, rich and poor, friend and foe, black, white, and everything in between.
When you do that, when you treat others as you would be treated, Jesus doesn’t just stand at the door and knock, he comes right in to live with you and brings God’s Holy Spirit with him, the same Spirit that was in the Old and New Testament prophets, and the same Spirit that was in Jesus during his time on Earth. You’ll know when God’s Holy Spirit has arrived because you’ll have no fear, the way Jesus had no fear. You’ll only have love and joy and compassion. Not once was Jesus shown to be anything but cool as a cucumber, even in his anger against the hypocrites, even when he was getting the bum’s rush from Nazareth, and even during his crucifixion. You don’t get cool like that on your own merits; that level of cool only comes from the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
So when you treat others as you would be treated, in season and out, in good days and bad, God’s Spirit will be with you, and you’ll keep your cool. You’ll stand your spiritual ground. You’ll endure to the end, which is what we’re all here for. If you don’t treat others as you would be treated, God’s Spirit won’t come to live with you, you won’t keep your cool, and you won’t endure to the end, which means you won’t get to Heaven, no matter how hard you try.
Seven simple words: TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD BE TREATED. That is the Law and the prophets and the gospel.
Do that, and you’ll live.
God’s holy angels were at the empty tomb, declaring Jesus’ resurrection, just as they had been at Jesus’ birth, declaring him the Messiah. The angels are often overlooked in the resurrection narrative, but they appear to be the first witnesses, and their job was to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen and to tell them to tell others.
Angels were a constant presence in Jesus’ life on Earth, from just before his conception to just after his resurrection. They manifested in visual form (that is, visual to humans) when they had a particularly important message to convey. And when they manifested in their heavenly form (with glistening white robes), the message was of utmost importance.
The angels who appeared at the tomb were wearing their glistening robes. We don’t know their names, but their job was to bear witness to the resurrection. Since those few precious words spoken at the empty tomb nearly 2,000 years ago, their witness has been repeated millions upon millions of times, creating a long human and angelic chain of “HE IS RISEN!” echoing through the ages.
When we declare Jesus risen – that is, that Jesus is Lord and Messiah – we stand with God’s holy angels who appeared at the tomb. We repeat their message, which was given to them directly from God: We repeat God’s words. We bear witness to the resurrection and all that it implies.
Our robes may not be glistening white (or even robes), but the words – “HE IS RISEN!” – are just as precious as they were when they came out of the mouths of the holy angels. And like God’s holy angels, we are also tasked with telling others the good news.
In doing this, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the angels and join the chain.
HE IS RISEN!
Now go and tell others.
Well, I’m officially crazy: I just baked an organic pizza for the local sea gulls.
Let me explain.
It’s almost Passover, which means it’s also almost the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate the Passover, which includes eating unleavened bread during the meal.
For the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we’re supposed to remove all yeasted products from our home. I had a frozen pizza sitting in my freezer for the past few months, so out it goes (yeast in the crust). But I couldn’t just throw it in the garbage (what a waste!) and I couldn’t give it to the birds frozen (they might complain…), so I baked it for them.
Passover begins this evening at sundown. I wrote last year about how important it is for Christians to celebrate Passover and by extension the Feast of Unleavened Bread. While it’s true we’re no longer under the Law (meaning, we don’t have to sacrifice animals to atone for our sins), God did direct his people to celebrate the Lord’s Passover for all time. It’s a directive that has as much weight as a Commandment.
In keeping the Passover, we commemorate the Hebrews’ final night in Egypt before the Exodus. On that night, the people were directed to eat a special meal in haste and to smear their doorposts with the blood of a slaughtered lamb to protect them from God, who would at midnight “pass over” them and their animals while killing every first-born among the Egyptians. The Passover also involves the reading of certain Bible passages and the singing of psalms, all to be done with shoes on and “loins girded” in expectation of a hasty departure.
Jesus urged his followers to continue keeping the Passover, but to keep it as he showed us during his final meal on Earth. The wine was to represent his blood instead of the ritual lamb’s blood, and the unleavened bread was to represent his body instead of the ritual lamb’s meat. This new Passover meal of Jesus’ blood and body was to commemorate the sacrifice that would take place the next day, with Jesus himself as the sacrificial offering. Remember that, by God’s decree, no bone was to broken in the Passover lamb, so even though the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, they left Jesus’ legs intact.
The Lord’s Passover is a bittersweet festival. As much as it celebrates God’s rescue of his people from slavery, it also commemorates the slaughter of millions of first-borns, including Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I tend to speed through the description of Jesus’ crucifixion as fast as I can when I read the gospels, just as I speed through the description of the slaughter of the firstborns. I don’t think these events should be dwelt on or even looked upon (see what happened to Lot’s wife when she turned to watch the destruction of Sodom). God’s judgement in action can be brutal for those on the receiving end. It’s enough for us to know that it does happen, and that it’s perfect.
I hope you choose to commemorate the Passover as God and Jesus directed us to do. If you still have yeasted products in your home, now’s a good time to remove them. I’m sure you can find some hungry birds who would be only too happy to take them off your hands.
You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand high and nodding in agreement. Yes, I’m guilty of trying to micromanage God on occasion, making vast and detailed plans that I expect him to follow to the letter. Of course I know I should wait for his inspiration to plan anything, but I still sometimes find myself galloping ahead at full speed and then looking over my shoulder wondering where God is and what’s taking him so long to catch up.
Well, God is right here where he’s always been, and when I do the galloping thing, he’s not going to catch up with me. He’s going to let me keep going on my own until I run out of steam, and then he’s going to very gently haul me back to the starting line and remind me again to wait for his cue and his blessing before I start my run.
Many of us find ourselves running on our own steam, wondering where God is and why he isn’t blessing our efforts. I see this especially in new Christians, just as I saw it in myself when I was first born-again. Truth be told, I was so prone to galloping off in all different directions as a newborn-again that God took away my ability to write for three years. I went from generating a dozen or so pages a day pre-rebirth to generating nothing longer than a grocery list post-rebirth. It was the strangest thing, but I didn’t fight it or question it. When the words finally came again, God gave me the funds to take a year off from work, and I wrote a book called Faith Revolution. I had to learn how to write by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit rather than the goading of the fallen spirits. I never did publish the book in its entirety, but I’ve used parts of it in this blog.
God is a great planner, and we’ve inherited that drive from him. I love making plans so much that I have to remind myself again and again to wait for God’s blessing before formulating the plans past the fantasy stage. If the plans are inspired by God, they come with God’s blessing baked in. That means you don’t have to ask for his blessing; the plans will come pre-approved and everything will fall into place. It’s only when we move ahead without God’s inspiration and therefore without God’s blessing that we fall into trouble.
Jesus did nothing without God’s inspiration. Everything he did was blessed by God because Jesus waited for God’s go-ahead before acting rather than running ahead and expecting God to bless his efforts after the fact. The one time that Jesus got ahead of himself was when he left his parents without telling them and went to Jerusalem to hang out with the temple elders. His parents were frantic, looking everywhere for him and thinking something horrible had happened to him. This is not the outcome of plans blessed by God.
Jesus never did that again to his parents, and I believe it was a very teachable moment for him about the importance of waiting for God’s signal. In fact, he learned his lesson so well that years later, when the time actually came for him to start his ministry work, his mother had to gently push him to start. The outcome was his first miracle of turning water into wine.
We need to wait for God’s inspiration and direction if we want similarly good outcomes for our efforts. It’s OK to make plans (sometimes there’s more pleasure in making plans than in actually doing them), but before you put anything into action, make sure it’s inspired by God and not just a figment of your imagination. You’ll know it’s inspired by God because it will unfold easily and without resistance. Things will just fall into place as if they were meant to be, because they are.
Your job in God’s great and perfect plan is to be ready and willing for whatever God knows you can handle. Let him know you’re waiting for his signal, and then leave the details and timing to God.
Wait on the Lord:
Be of good courage, and he will strengthen thine heart:
Wait, I say, on the Lord. (Psalm 27)
Jesus was an itinerant preacher. He didn’t have a home synagogue or church, and he clearly wasn’t interested in building one. He moved from place to place as God guided him, going where he was needed when he was needed. He preached in the wilderness, on boats, in the town square, in synagogues, in the temple – wherever God led him. If he was in danger of getting arrested in one place, he went to another. He didn’t hang around where he wasn’t welcome. He didn’t force himself on people, and he didn’t bait law enforcement.
Setting up a permanent gathering site was never part of Jesus’ teachings.
When we read in Acts about the church in various cities like Rome and Corinth, we should be aware that the mentioned church was not an actual building; it was the believers living in those cities. The church (read “believers”) met in different locations, depending on the security risk. Again – there was no one permanent gathering site, mainly because most of the church was being persecuted and the members were constantly in hiding or on the run.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. I’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately about ‘churches’ getting shut down and fined, and pastors getting arrested for violating lockdown mandates. As much as I want to sympathize with the pastors, I just cannot. Jesus taught his followers ONLY TO GO WHERE THEY ARE WELCOME. He told them if they aren’t welcome in one town, go to the next. Fleeing persecution is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus and preaching the Word – that is, part and parcel of being a Christian. And since it is part and parcel of being a Christian, you need to know how to avoid the main pitfalls of persecution, which today are being arrested, fined, or imprisoned. Because if you don’t avoid them, you won’t survive as a Christian.
Reports from all over the world indicate that we are again entering a time of widespread persecution. This means we have to be especially wise. If we’re threatened with arrest or fines for meeting in a particular place, we meet somewhere else. Remember that the early church lived under constant threat not only of arrest and imprisonment, but of torture and execution. These believers were always on the run and living in hiding. They gathered wherever they felt it was safe to do so, but they did it secretly. THEY DID IT SECRETLY. If they knew their gathering would get them arrested, they kept quiet about it or moved to a different location. They were wise, not foolish. They followed Jesus’ example of how to avoid arrest.
These ‘church buildings’ where pastors are being arrested should never have been designated as such. There is no reason to have a church building. Jesus never had one. The church is the people, not a building. The pastors and church members getting themselves arrested during the lockdowns are not heroes. They are not acting wisely or following Jesus’ example. They are acting the opposite of wise. Instead of defying local mandates, they need to adopt the methods of the early church and go underground. If the church members feel the need to meet to worship, they need to do it in secret, in houses or in a location other than the publicly known ‘church building’. Worshiping at a site where you’ve been threatened with arrest or fines for worshiping there is just plain pig-headed and not in any way reflective of the teachings of Jesus.
So this is my advice for those who are purposely getting arrested: READ SCRIPTURE. Get to know Jesus’ teachings on persecution and how to deal with it. Don’t be a sitting duck. If the early church had refused to go into hiding or flee from threats of arrest, Christianity may never have survived. Fleeing and secrecy are long-standing survival tools used by the church throughout the ages, and they need to be dusted off now and put into action. You’re not doing anyone any good if you’re sitting in a jail cell or selling everything you have to pay a fine.
So, to sum up:
1) The people – not a building – are the church.
2) Doing what you can to avoid potential arrest, fleeing, going into hiding, and worshiping in secret are all longstanding traditions of Jesus’ followers.
3) Being persecuted is part of what it means to be a Christian and shouldn’t be fought against. Instead, those who are experiencing persecution should flee to where the Word is welcome and where they are safe to worship and gather, even if only in secret. This is how, as Christians, we live to fight another day.
Jesus clearly demonstrated, through his teachings and by avoiding certain areas during his ministry years, that you are to stand your spiritual ground, not your physical ground. If Jesus didn’t have or didn’t encourage the building of permanent physical meeting sites, neither should we. Our permanent meeting site, as born-again believers, is God’s Holy Spirit, and he is anywhere we are.
No building required.
When Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, it was considered blasphemy by the religious powers-that-be. This is not surprising, given how fanatical they were not only about keeping the Sabbath, but about forcing their views on others regarding precisely how to keep it. Stiff penalties were imposed on those who violated their dictates. As a result, the Sabbath became a heavy burden of restrictions and obligations, which was the opposite of what God had intended when he handed down the Sabbath law through Moses.
A whiff of that same fanaticism can be found in some Christians today. Yes, sanctifying the Sabbath is a Commandment, but I’m firmly on the side of Jesus in believing that God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, not for his. If we love God and make him the center of our lives, spending a day only with him and his Word is pure pleasure and rejuvenation, in the same way as spending time with someone we deeply love is pleasurable and rejuvenating. There is no burden in being with those we genuinely love and who genuinely love us in return. There is no grudging sense of obligation or feeling that we’re missing out on something, or that we’d rather be somewhere else. If we love God, we look forward to the Sabbath each week, we don’t dread it.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this blog, I’m a relatively new believer. I was raised an atheist, so keeping the Sabbath was never ingrained in me as a child. I had to learn it as an adult, after I was reborn. But that learning process was slow. Initially, the Sabbath for me just meant going to church on Sunday morning and then doing whatever I pleased on Sunday afternoon, including working. I didn’t see it as a day of rest and rejuvenation or a time to spend with God. That understanding only came later when I noticed that far from being rested on Monday morning, I was still tired from the previous week’s labours. Technically, I considered the Sabbath only as a church day, and nothing more. The “day of rest” part escaped me.
As I my faith grew and I started to get to know God as my Dad (which only happened after I’d left Catholicism, three and a half years after my rebirth), I found that I wanted to spend more and more time with him and his Word. In fact, I was taking time off from my work to spend with God, as being with him and reading the Bible were such pleasures. However, as much as God wants us to put him at the center of our lives, we still need to work. The Sabbath law not only stipulates one day of rest, it also stipulates six days of labour. In taking time off from work to spend with God and his Word, I was shirking the part of the Commandment about labouring. Just like working too much, not working enough became problematic for me.
But growing in faith is a learning process for born-agains. Babies don’t come out of the womb diaper-trained and fully able to walk and talk. It takes time and lots of boo-boos. Learning about God’s Sabbath and how to keep it as Jesus taught us to keep it was a very long learning process for me, mainly because I didn’t take it seriously enough. Seriously, yes, but not seriously enough to consider exactly what Jesus meant when he said the Sabbath was made for us.
I am happy to report that I am now out of the diaper stage with regard to the Sabbath, and that the worst of the messy boo-boos appear to be behind me. The Sabbath for me is now something I look forward to all week, not something that happens every day. I labour for six days, as required, and completely rest on the seventh (I don’t even do the dishes!). Sometimes, on rare occasion, I am called to work on a seventh or an eighth day in a row, but I never purposely schedule work. If an emergency arises, I deal with it, but then I take my Sabbath afterwards. This is what Jesus taught us to do in scripture.
The result of adopting and living what I believe is the spirit of the Sabbath Commandment is that I LOVE SABBATH! It is by far my favourite time of the week, and I look forward to it the way I used to look forward to Christmas when I was a kid. In fact, I love Sabbath so much, I start it already on Saturday evening, after sunset. (I believe that is biblically sound, for you purists out there.) During Sabbath, I keep meal preparation to a minimum, and as I mentioned, I don’t do dishes or any housework at all, including making my bed. I am a completely lazy slob for a whole day, and I love it! Even just the sight of my messy bed makes me smile, because it’s a clear sign that it’s Sabbath.
As for being with God, there is no greater pleasure than spending an entire day with him without feeling like I’m shirking my work duties in some way. It took me a while to get there, but I’m now like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying his company and learning from him, rather than like Martha, running around doing all kinds of unnecessary chores that only make me tired, cranky, and frustrated.
If your day off is not a pleasure for you, if it is not restful and rejuvenating, if it is not deepening and strengthening your faith and your relationship with God and his Word, you might want to reconsider how you’re keeping your Sabbath.
Now when Monday morning rolls around, I’m ready to face the work week again. I don’t dread it; I’m ready for it, and I look forward to whatever the week may bring. This, I think, is proof not only of the importance of keeping the Sabbath, but of keeping it as God intended and as Jesus taught us.
Scripture gives us an example of the unforgivable sin in the expulsion of Satan and his followers from Heaven. We don’t (yet) know the exact story of what happened to Satan to turn him away from God, but we do know the consequences of that turning – the loss of Heaven, the fall to Earth, and the guarantee of eternal hellfire. We also know that these disembodied fallen beings are beyond redemption and that no intervention can save them. This is the darkest of all sentences: the place of no hope. In the moment before I was reborn, I was on the doorstep of that place (not inside the door, but just outside it), and I never want to be there again. Nor would I wish that on anyone.
But the fact remains that the unforgivable sin is one that Jesus tells us we still have the capacity to commit, which means we too may end up in the same place as Satan. Much has been written about the unforgivable sin, about what it might be and whether or not the writer speculating on it may already have committed it.
I admittedly don’t know much about anything, but I do know this: if you had committed the unforgivable sin, you would not be wondering whether or not you had committed it. You would know, and you would also know the end that awaits you. These facts would not be hidden from you: You would know them just as surely as I know that I’m born-again, because God himself would tell you in person, clearly and unequivocally. There would be no mystery and no doubt, any more than there is mystery and doubt when a judge renders a verdict to the accused in a court of law: The accusation and evidence are summarized, the judgement is stated, and the sentence is passed. Your judgement will be just as clear to you if you commit the unforgivable sin.
But what is that sin? We know the consequences of it, but what exactly is the sin itself? We want to know what it is for no other reason than to avoid committing it, and by avoiding committing it, avoid its consequences.
Jesus tells us that to speak against him or against God is not unforgivable. We also know that God is merciful and patient beyond anything we can imagine, and that spiritual rebirth is God extending to us a second chance to go home. These are all good things and show how much God loves us and takes into consideration our weaknesses. He does everything he can to mitigate them while still allowing us free will.
And yet even this good and patient and merciful and loving Father has a no-go zone that we dare not pass. I know, because I was at its border, and it stopped me (thank God) in my tracks. It happened a few years after my rebirth, when I was old enough spiritually to know better, but just couldn’t help myself. I’d fallen into a series of temptations that in my mind I kept dressing up as a chance to witness. The temptations continued over a span of months, dragging me deeper and deeper into its quicksand. But it wasn’t the temptation that was the unforgivable sin – it was something that happened afterwards in relation to it.
I am not at liberty to reveal what it was (that is between me and God), but I can say this much: if I had crossed over the border into the no-go zone, I would have lost my grace, like Satan, grace being the presence of God’s Spirit with you and the promise of eternal life in Heaven. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have lost my grace, because as I was riding along on my bike that day, heading for an afternoon of skating at the local arena and thinking about that thing I would do (which in my mind at the time was an honest thing to do), God said to me very clearly: “If you do it, you will lose your grace.”
I slammed on my brakes and came to a hard stop. It had not occurred to me that doing this what I thought was an honest thing could have lost me my grace. How could honesty be a bad thing? Which is when God showed me that the pain I would cause by doing what I thought was an honest thing would come back to me amplified with such ferocity that it would equate to lost grace. I could still do that thing (I still had free will), but in doing it, my grace would be irretrievably lost – irretrievable, as in lost forever. No chance of getting it back. The same state as Satan. I would have knowingly sinned against God’s Holy Spirit by purposefully doing what I had been explicitly warned by God – in person – was wrong to do, and in the process purposely causing unimaginable pain to others.
And that was the crux of it – the pain that my “honest” gesture would have caused to others and my knowingly inflicting that pain. If I had proceeded knowing the measure of pain I would have caused, God would have had no choice but to return that pain to me in the measure that I, as a reborn soul, had earned, which would have been sufficient for me to lose grace.
Even today, I shiver at how close I came to this final fallen state.
God will not let you, as his born-again child, wander unknowingly across the border into the no-go zone of the unforgivable sin. You will be warned not by vague signs or third-party notices, but by an in-person cameo appearance by God. It will be just as memorable to you as God speaking from the burning bush was for Moses. It will stop you in your tracks. And it will remain with you for the rest of your days.
The unforgivable sin is different for each of us. There is no one unforgivable sin, but all of them are premised on the same thing: purposefully and unremorsefully doing what we have been explicitly warned by God – one-on-one – not to do, with an equally explicit warning of the consequences that will follow if we proceed. The warning comes not through a third party, but directly from God through his Holy Spirit. To blaspheme and speak against God’s Holy Spirit is to do that one thing you have been warned by God explicitly and in-person and beyond a shadow of a doubt not to do.
There is no remedy for this level of informed disobedience. There is no course of appeal. Satan and his condemned followers know that.
May you never join them.
It’s a strange thing for me, as a former atheist, to hear about someone who is a self-described “former Christian”.
I cannot imagine life without Jesus and God. What I mean to say is that there is no life outside of Jesus and God. Without them, all you do is stumble from one disaster to the next, one drink to the next, one obsession to the next, never really understanding why things are the way they are or why your life is so full of pain. And so you look for an explanation by blaming others or political systems or (worst of all) yourself. Without Jesus and God, there is no real peace and no real joy, because the presence of Jesus and God, through God’s Holy Spirit, is the sole source of happiness. Jesus called this a “wellspring” surging up inside you that never runs dry.
So when I hear about people who claim to be former Christians, I can only assume they were never Christians to begin with. Because having been a born-again adult for nearly the same length of time as I was an atheist adult, I’m able to compare the two states of being, and there is no way I would give up being a Christian. There is nothing that anyone could offer me to stop being a Christian – no amount of money, and no degree of threat. And yes, I will likely be tested on this (and I pray to God that I’ll hold my spiritual ground when the time comes), but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being miserable and 10 being happy, I easily rate my born-again years as a solid 10 and my godless years, sadly, as a 1.
It’s not that there weren’t occasional flashes of something approaching happiness when I was an atheist. I found a certain measure of peace walking through the woods or along a shoreline. Sometimes I would find that same fleeting peace roaming deserted city streets at night or, oddly enough, in a library. Reading was my main escape from the omnipresent emotional pain of my atheist years, along with men, booze, travel, and learning about things (that is, learning about everything except God). I was perpetually chasing one lust after the other, one enthusiasm after the other, hoping for I don’t even know what, maybe some kind of resolution or eureka moment when “the truth” would suddenly burst into view, or someone would tenderly confirm that I had value beyond the fading desirability of my youth.
When you’re young and outwardly confident, as I was as an unbeliever, things come to you easily. People bend to you. When you mess up, they make allowances for you. You get second chances, and then third chances. I was always an exception to the rule; whatever charm I had, I worked it, and it worked well for me, or so I thought at the time. I rode the heady wave of pride, thinking I had it all figured out, thinking I could get whatever or whoever I wanted just by sheer force of will. But waves have troughs as well as crests, and all waves eventually come crashing down on a shoreline somewhere, leaving nothing behind but a bit of froth and a few bubbles.
I mention these things not because I remember my atheist years fondly (I definitely do not), but because I cannot fathom on any level that someone would consciously want to give up being born-again. Being in God’s Kingdom is exactly as Jesus says it is – the pearl of such great value that you sell everything you have to buy it, or the treasure that you hide in a field and then sell everything to buy that field so you can possess the treasure forever. Being born-again, you unhesitatingly give up everything in exchange for the presence of God’s Spirit, because there is nothing of greater value on Earth. Nothing comes close. My worst day of being a believer is still leaps and bounds better than my best day of being an unbeliever.
Do I still get sad as a Christian? Of course I do. I still have free will and emotions. People can still hurt me, and I can still do stupid things and hurt myself. But instead of running to a bottle or to other people for comfort when I get sad, or running into the woods or down to the ocean, I run to God and am healed in an instant. As an atheist, it took me days, months, or even years to get over things, and some wounds festered for decades until I was finally healed at my rebirth.
So you see, I’ve seen life from both sides – as an unbeliever and a believer. As an atheist, I was afforded all the privileges of youth, while as a believer, those privileges are long gone. But if I had all those privileges of youth as an atheist, why was I so miserable? Even more mysteriously, if I no longer have those youthful privileges as a believer, why am I so happy? Am I crazy? Certainly, there are those who knew me as an atheist and who see me now who think I’m crazy, because I’m cheerful without apparent cause. No-one can have as little as I have materially and still be happy. Right?
There was a professor in university I was inordinately fond of (to put it politely). When I was no longer his student, I wrote him a long letter, to which he responded with a few lines of pleasantries, ending with the (for me at the time) jarring question: “Are you happy?” It was an odd inquiry, given our history, and I remember being angered by it. In writing to him, I had hoped to reignite something, not discuss “happiness”, which was to me at that time a thing of little value.
That was a long time ago. I still have the letter somewhere, though I haven’t read it for years. I think if I received such a letter (or one like it) today, I would be thrilled that someone took the time to write to me, and so grateful for the extension of kindness underlying the pleasantries. As for the very pointed question at the end, I would immediately have grabbed a pen and piece of paper and scribbled in response: “Yes, yes I’m happy! Thank you so much for asking! And I hope you’re happy, too!”
These words I could never have written with any sincerity as an unbeliever, though as a believer not to write them would be a lie.
Yes, I am happy. I have been happy since the day I was born again over 20 years ago. This simple fact would have been unfathomable to me as an unbeliever. The presence of God’s Spirit makes you happy. Happiness that endures through decades is not craziness; it’s “evidence of things unseen”.
Which is why I cannot understand why someone would want to be a “former Christian”. Why would you give up the pearl of great price or the eternal treasure buried in your field? There is nothing in the world that comes close to being born-again. God’s Holy Spirit is the greatest of all treasures, which is why Jesus turned down the temptation to own “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” in exchange for giving up God. Think about it – Jesus was offered EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD and the power that goes with having everything in the world, and he turned it all down because the presence of God’s Spirit was of greater value.
We born-agains live every moment of our lives with God’s Spirit. How incomprehensibly blessed we are! “All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” still fall short in value to what each of us has inside of us here and now, and to what God has promised us if we stay the course to the end. Those who are genuinely born-again would NEVER give this up.
We need to reaffirm what it means to be a Christian.