How to Become an Unbeliever in 3 Easy Steps
How do you turn a believer into an unbeliever? How do you extinguish the flame of faith?
These questions have been on my mind lately because I have seen people reject that which is good and shipwreck their faith. Perhaps you have seen this too.
What causes someone to walk away from the Lord?
I can understand how dead religion keeps people from meeting him in the first place. Religion kills grace and presents a distorted and unattractive image of the Father.
But religion can’t be blamed for those who have walked out of the so-called grace camp. Those who leave are well aware of the dangers of religion.
Why do some who have feasted at the table of grace walk away? What seduces them from the secure place of their Father’s love?
These are important questions because I don’t want to walk away. I don’t want to be seduced.
But if it happens to others it could happen to me and it could happen to you – if we’re not careful.
We are to encourage and strengthen one another in the faith (1 Th 3:2). How do we fail to do that? How do we discourage and undermine faith? We do it three ways:
1. Ask bad questions
The strength of any relationship can be measured by its tolerance for questions. Grace declares that God can handle all your questions. There is no question that can stump your Father.
But there are good questions and bad questions.
A good question is one that leads to a new understanding of God’s grace and goodness; a bad question is one that distracts you from Jesus.
A good question encourages you to trust in God; a bad one encourages you to trust in self (Jer 17:5-8).
A bad question leads you away from Wisdom, distracts you from Truth, and keeps you from finding the Answer. A bad question can curse that which is good, including your relationship with God.
Where do bad questions come from? Religion is not to blame, for religion tolerates no questions, either good or bad. Philosophy, in contrast, loves questions, but says the answers are found by drawing on reason, logic, and your own limited understanding. This is fruit off the wrong tree.
There is nothing wrong with reason and logic, but if you think an infinite God can be contained within the finite box of your mind you’re fooling yourself.
We are to walk in step with the Spirit, but philosophy would have you walk after the flesh. “Look into your mind,” says the philosopher, “and what do you see?”
But faith is about what you don’t see. Faith concerns matters which are greater than what you can conceive or understand.
I have read theology books that were full of bad questions. What made them bad? They engaged my mind but didn’t resonate with my spirit. They didn’t teach me anything about Jesus.
It is good to discuss the things of God, but questions that engage the flesh often lead to strife and confusion (2 Tim 2:23). In the Garden of Eden the serpent appealed to reason by asking a bad question and the result was misunderstanding and disaster.
I love asking questions but I have learned to beware of any question that is sold with the line, “Here’s a question to make you think.” There’s nothing wrong with thinking but some truths are greater than we can know.
When it comes to receiving spiritual revelation, the mind is the caboose, not the locomotive. Truth, with a capital T, comes only by revelation.
Philosophy is a useful tool but it won’t help you learn about God. Jesus is the way and Jesus is not beholden to your logic and reason. Substitute a spiritual journey for a philosophical one – one marked by a reliance on your own understanding – and you’ll undermine faith in God.
You will have taken the first step to unbelief.
2. Cultivate an appetite for ambiguity
The serpent asked a bad question – “Did God really say… ?” and the result was ambiguity.
Did he say? I don’t remember. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he said it but didn’t mean for us to do it. Perhaps he was testing us.
Ambiguity is the enemy of faith because it undermines certainty and faith is being certain (Heb. 11:1). To the degree that you are uncertain, you are not walking in faith. If you are in two minds about who God is and what he has said, you will not experience his grace (Jas 1:6-7).
How do we cultivate ambiguity? By asking questions nobody can answer. Talk at length about the ancient past or the distant future. Get obsessed with heaven, hell, and the after-life. Emphasize the teachings of early church fathers over the teachings of the New Testament. Honor uncertainty over conviction.
Where does ambiguity come from? Again, religion is not to blame for religion prefers dogma and orthodoxy. Philosophy, in contrast, trades in the market for ideas, and the more the better.
Philosophy will have you fall in love with an idea instead of a Person. (Christian philosophy specializes in the idea of God which can be distinguished from God himself.) But trust in an idea and you’ll be unstable, tossed and turned by every new teaching that comes along (Eph 4:14).
In the turmoil you may comfort yourself with the thought that “I’m a learner,” but really you are a prisoner of empty philosophy (Col 2:8). Because your faith is misplaced, every new teaching will only reinforce your deception.
It’s fun to debate ideas and it’s healthy to entertain contrary notions. It’s how we learn. But if we are always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the Truth, something is wrong (2 Tim 3:7). As someone once said, “Don’t be so certain of your uncertainties that you reject Truth.”
The gospel is unambiguous. It is the singular message that reveals one Truth, one Way, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Eph 4:4-6, Gal 1:9).
3. Glorify doubt
The only way to cope with bad questions and ambiguity is to embrace doubt as a virtue. “It’s in doubting that we grow,” says the philosopher. But doubt is not always a stepping stone to growth. Doubt is a door that leads to faith or unbelief.
Both religion and philosophy are fueled by doubt. Religion requires doubt to sell its work-based insurance products. “Are you saved? Are you sure? Have you confessed all your sins? Are you confident that Jesus won’t blot out your name?”
By sowing uncertainty the religious doubt-dealer can capture a market in which to push his faithless goods. And by promoting doubt the philosopher can stay in the business of inventing and trading ideas, even ideas about God and his grace.
Doubts are a fact of life, but doubt should never define your life. Doubt will take you out of the game, kill your dreams, and crush your creativity.
You were born to fly but doubt will keep you grounded like a dumb, doubting duck.
Choosing to live in a place of doubt is like spending your life at the airport. You may be packed and ready to fly but you won’t go anywhere. God gives us grace to conquer doubts and rise above our circumstances. His grace will help you soar in life, but only if you believe it.
My friend Ed Elliott has said, “It used to be ‘feed your faith and starve your doubts,’ but there are some today that seem more interested in feeding doubt and starving your faith.” They turn God’s exclamation marks into question marks.
Contrary to what you may have heard, doubt is not a healthy aspect of any relationship. Doubt will undermine your marriage.
It’s the same with your relationship with God. His love and your doubt cannot coexist. Either you will walk through the door of doubt into the resting place of trust, or you will keep the door closed, like an unbeliever. I’m not saying you will lose your salvation – your faith in Christ may fail but he remains faithful. Yet there are still consequences for straying.
One step back to faith
Ask questions that go nowhere, cultivate an appetite for ambiguity, and glorify doubt, and you will surely erode the confidence on which you once stood. If this describes your life, allow me to remind you about Jesus. Jesus is the Answer behind every good question, the Conviction that settles all ambiguity, and the Certainty to end all doubts.
Jesus is still the Good News!
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Great article. Thank you. I just finished reading Michael Brown’s book and felt like I was reading a legal brief. As an attorney I have read many. I am only too familiar with the practice of taking one word or phrase and blowing it up and tweaking it to make it say something that can be used to prove your own point. Although this article does not address that issue directly, it really does.
I have taken those steps many times in my life. Now I’m in 70 years old and don’t really know where I am spiritually. All I know is that my salvation is secure because God will ultimately save everybody. That’s all I have to hang on to right now… 🙂
Yes God will save everyone that trusts in his salvation, Jesus.
John Swanson – great question. You asked if Jesus is the only way to God.
Short answer – yes. How can we know? Well…
(1) Jesus claimed to be God (and the only way to heaven).
(2) Jesus performed miracles (revealing the power of God).
(3) Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies perfectly (which is impossible, unless He is God).
(4) Jesus rose from the dead (proving He is God).
These proofs (and others) are what separates Jesus from every other belief system, and is why He’s the only way to heaven.
Hope that helps, my friend.
Same as what the pastor at the church I attend says. Been attending 27 years. Never joined.
One Paul Ellis said “Who know if universalism is true (all go to heaven) — no one has been there and back to tell us. All we know is that the message of the gospel is nothing like universalism which promotes a vague hope for tomorrow and homilies of uncertainty. The gospel of grace inspires confidence, hope, and action today.”
Just thought I’d mention this, though not entirely relevant, but address something in Roshan’s post above: we have many contemporaries who claim to have been to heaven and back (and I personally have no reason to disbelieve them). You could learn quite a bit about heaven by hearing what they’ve seen and experienced there. Search Youtube for “heaven and back” or “Been to heaven”. I’d say it’s well worth the few minutes each video takes (notably the late DGS Dhinakaran, who went several times–check out his interview with Benny Hinn). Please forgive me if this is off-topic, just thought some might be seriously encouraged.
Benny Hinn? Seriously?
If you would look at little deeper, you would find that the “near death experience” is often culturally biased. A Hindu, upon returning from a NDE, speaks of meeting Hindu deities most common to their region or village. A Muslim often speaks of meeting the prophet. A Christian often speaks of meeting Jesus. Common to all NDEs is meeting recently lost relatives and friends.
Sometimes God is so good and caring that what I read in the Bible is exactly what I need. That has been true and I have been set free from the “Left Behind” and “rapture”-based mythology. I want to say God is amazing in all cultures. But the Gospel is not bound. It is wide and expansive but really it’s personal and sometimes unclear. It is freedom from religion. And if grace we questioned a bit, it would do us no harm. I find the answers so compelling in grace that I fail to trust some reasonable caution. I don’t recommend this because it’s taxing to see what you believe frustrated by poor choices. I think this offer of grace is very exciting, yet I don’t take it as seriously as say Jesus. Who is Jesus? What is he like? And what can I now do? The question of my life was often: what “should” I do. The thrill of this message is rather what I “can” do.
Rather than being left in an oracle of religious perfectionism, I am free to be…well…free.
Long ago said, and still bears repeating: our goodness falls catastrophically short of God’s, but the real issue is who’s righteousness we’re wearing: ours or His.
To Nathan S and others: Very, very late reply, and still basically off-topic, so apologies for that. Actually, I mentioned heaven visits only in reply to Roshaneaso’s comment above mine, which quoted “no one’s been to heaven and back to tell us”. That’s why I mentioned DGS Dhinakaran (not Benny Hinn–Hinn was only the interviewer, and DGS appeared on his show). DGS has been to heaven multiple times, by his own admission, and none of them was an NDE. He just went there and back, that’s it. When the Apostle Paul went, he wasn’t sure whether it was in the body or out of the body, but in DGS’s case he has a clear description of what happened each time. Actually, sceptics would do well to just spend ten minutes (or more) watching the clips in question, then coming to a conclusion, rather than jumping to it based on who the interviewer was. In addition, the search terms I mentioned will yield many results–several others have had the privilege; only actually watching the clips in question will enable one to make any sort of judgement. Blessings.
Amen, just Jesus Himself – the real, live Person.
Love does not require any of these things you’re obsessed about. Sounds more like religion than Jesus. I’ve pretty much given up on this kind of religious thinking. I just want to learn how to love people more, especially my enemies.
Loving people is not something you learn.It only happens when you get closer to love.
Love only happens when you get closer to love (?)
I have no idea what that means, but I do know that religious talk is cheap. Jesus talk is cheap. Love is only real when it goes beyond talk to sustained action: showing kindness to one’s enemy, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, freeing the slaves, showing grace in tangible ways, showing compassion in tangible ways, etc… these are the kinds of things Jesus did, and he asks us (above all) to be loving, like him. This is real love. Religious love is, in reality, often just a lot of pious sounding platitudes and moralisms, words but no action in one’s life.
“Loving people is not something you learn”.
Nonsense. Loving people is something you learn from others who are loving people, and something you can learn from nature as well. You can learn love from holy books and from secular books. You can learn real love from parents and friends and mentors and from people who are simply showing YOU love, whether they be religious people, or secular people, or somewhere in between. If you’re truly saying that non-religious people can’t truly love others, then I would say you’ve been living a very sheltered existence. Love is not limited to a religious tribe, as the story of the secular Samaritan shows quite well.
After many years in higher education, professional ministry, and pursued academia, I really appreciate this post. These words are very clearly full of Grace, from Grace alone. Every believing college or seminary student needs to read these words without qualification and re-read annually. This is a simple message from a believing brother that should reach the masses.
Ill save this one…
Intriguing perspective! I’m going to mull these ideas over for the rest of the day I’m sure. Thanks for a great post!
And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always]. (Colossians 3:15 AMP)
Great post. I always like questions but it is good to differentiate between good and bad questions.
there is never a bad question. there may be agendas masquerading as questions, but those are not questions. An honest questions is ALWAYS a good question.
I provide some examples of bad questions in my previous post.
Paul, in your last post, those “bad questions” are what I would call “loaded questions”. They are not pure questions, but are statements of religious (or other) agenda — in question format. So I guess we agree. There is never a bad question, assuming the question is sincere and without ulterior motive.
Great post. The opposite of love is not hate it is doubt, just try and live in a relationship where there is doubt.Now imagine how God feels when you say you love him but doubt who he says he is love and security.
Interesting point-of-view, but there is a problem that many churches usually do not understand when a believer starts exploring aspects of their faith that their church does not agree with. Classic example is when one attending an evangelical church starts adopting more progressive (or emergent) ideas and questioning why his fellow evangelicals do not hold them. Such churches almost always regard someone on that journey as “falling away”, when that’s not really their call, let alone whether it’s correct or not.
Not surprisingly, attempts to understand then tends to drive the explorer completely away.
From my own walk with the Lord, I found by being established in a truth is the cure for doubt. At a time in my life, I wasn’t really sure If God truly loved me all the time. If I messed up, I started to doubt if God loved me. Then when I started to understand what grace was. Truth came and grace came together establishing me in who Jesus was to me and to the whole world.
good one Paul,also try to avoid that floating question why.I am in a situation now where I am getting bombarded with doubt, so pray for me brothers and sisters
i’m praying for you earl! 🙂
i find that the Holy Spirit often leads me to a greater understanding when i ask a “how” question instead of a “why”… 😉
love this post paul… and the timing is perfect, as i have been thinking about some of the same things 🙂
The headline could be misleading to some people. Theologically speaking we can’t go from being a “believer” to an “unbeliever”. Everything we are (position-wise and relation-wise) is all due to us being “in Christ”. Great article nonetheless.
Just curious, what would you call someone who says “I no longer believe”?
I’m not Luke, but the statement “I no longer believe” could mean a myriad of things, from I no longer believe in religion, to I no longer believe that religion is a proxy for Christ, etc.. Best to ask that person what they mean, because everyone will have a different path.
Someone might be completely sold out to the love of Jesus, but gave up on most of the inherited religious trappings and theological ideas — ideas that others might consider essential to faith. Alas, that’s what I mean when I say “I no longer believe”. I have come to believe that Jesus came to destroy religion and all of its trappings, not pile it on higher and deeper.
I am talking about people who have said, “I no longer believe Jesus is my Savior or the Son of God,” or “I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God.” These are comments I’ve heard from folk who once identified themselves as lovers of grace and haters of religion.
Is Jesus the only way to God?
He said he was so I guess you must either take him at his word, as I do, or doubt him or doubt John who recorded his words or doubt the copyists who reproduced them or doubt the Bible translators – lots of opportunities for doubt, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Does one need to know that Jesus is the only way to God in order to arrive at God?
Paul, I love this simple godly wisdom, amen, He said He was!
@John Swanson, any faith tradition that requires a knowledge of Judeo-Xn history as prerequisite to “salvation” is missing the universal nature of God’s love (e.g., most Reformed traditions, etc.). After you strip away all other metaphors, Jesus’ foundational identification is that of universal, omniscient, unconditional Love, not some kind of temporal-historical-dualistic love. Limiting God’s love to a knowledge of specific religious history is more akin to the thousands of tribal-local gods of Hinduism, so prevalent among the villages of India. They only way to interpret the “only way” passages, is to understand that he was talking about True Love as the only way, and that He is the perfect embodiment of True Love. The “only way” is not limited to a religious history lesson. The “only way” is Love. And Love has been available to all beings throughout all times and places. If you read Bonhoeffer’s Letters in the last months of his life (from a Nazi prison), it’s pretty clear he was coming to this same conclusion. To assume that one’s accident of birthplace determines one’s eternal destiny is terribly ethnocentric understanding of Love.
God began ethnocentricly. Has he changed?
Yes, exactly Carl, it’s all about love and that’s why God hates religion. He said “you run the whole world to make one convert and then you make him twice as much a son of hell than you are”.
If others and THE ONE that come across our way don’t experience love… we better stop all endeavor and activities TILL THEY DO!
Someone recently involved with New Age philosophies told me I was dogmatic… it really makes me check my ways… still trying to argue my way through?
Thanks and blessings!
According to the Bible, the moment we believe (trust in Jesus), we are born again. My question to Paul (in response to his question to me) is this – How does one become “unborn”? (It’s impossible)
A true, born again follower of Christ will never say, “I no longer believe”. As Bob George once said, there are many “professors” of Christ, but far fewer “possessors” of Christ. Biblically speaking, the person who says “I no longer believe” was never a believer in the first place (see 1 John 2:19). God bless everyone…
That means that I am NOT a true believer because I have said that many times in my life.
I don’t want this discussion to turn into a debate about eternal security, and who’s in and who’s not, but I will say this. When a person who has been bearing fruit for Jesus for decades suddenly renounces their faith, it is very convenient for the rest of us to write them off and rewrite their story and tell ourselves that they were never saved. I want to suggest another possibility. A Christian can go through such a bad patch that they can become deceived. Nothing has changed as far as their status with God is concerned. They haven’t become unborn, unadopted children. But as a result of walking the path outlined above, they are now speaking the language of the unbeliever. If this was not a possibility, why would Paul write, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2Ti 2:13)?
That’s me — bad patched ..
Paul, I totally agree with your last post (regarding eternal security)…no need to turn it into a debate. God bless you, brother.
Paul, just to be clear, I agree with everything you stated about eternal security, being deceived, bearing fruit, and Christians who go through a rough period where they can become deceived. Very well stated.
I’d say it’s someone who never believed to begin with. A believer cannot unbelieve in Christ, as that was written on their new heart. For clarification, a believer is a born again child of God. It’s an identity that cannot be taken away. To say that a believer can become an unbeliever is to deny what Christ accomplished. Doubts do not make a believer and unbeliever, anymore than wearing a pizza as a hat will make a human no more. They’ll have blurred vision from the dripping sauce, but the pure water of the Gospel will will clear their sight.
I agree with you Luke we cannot fall into unbelief if we believe and really believe that all we are and do is by the grace of God, if this is the case the we could only fall into nothing a void, and I would personally never want to be there. I believe the unbelief is a result of some incorrect belief related to works , for example sacrifice for reward, showing kindness to enemies, helping the poor , mission work, not that these are all excellent things. But if not done through love but believing they will result in spiritual growth or love . Spiritual growth can only come from communion with God, these good practices should be a natural result.An easy burden .From this there can be no falling away .
Chris, I think we agree on this. Love is the effect (not the cause) of spirituality: kindness, sacrifice for others, empathy, grace, etc.. Love is the greatest metaphor of Spirit. In times of his greatest clarity, Paul admits this, as well (Faith, Hope, Love — but the core is Love). John ends the conversation without any duality at all (God IS Love). The interesting thing about Love is that as soon as you try to limit it, or control it, or pin it down to some religious-theological definition, it moves beyond our ideas, it gets bigger and more powerful and more awesome, beyond anything we could imagine. Rinse, repeat.
As for spiritual growth “only” resulting from communion with God, I would suggest that anyone sacrificing their own personal interests in order to serve the poor, reduce human suffering, rescue endangered children, feed the hungry, care for those least able to care for themselves (etc…) — these selfless servants ARE communing with God, whether or not they have a theology of God or even consider themselves religious. I know that may be hard for you to accept.
This is the arrogance of Christianity and cheap grace. To assume that a “confession” is more powerful than a lifetime of service. I would rather be among non-religious servants of the poor and the oppressed than a community of rich westerners who have all the right theology and right ecclesiology and meet faithfully every Sunday and Thursday evening, and congratulate themselves on being saved …. but in fact rarely serve anyone but themselves. Frankly, I don’t even care any more about “my eternal salvation” — it’s really a very arrogant place to be.
Hi Carl, whether or not someone realizes it or acknowledges it, Jesus is THE source of truly limitless and unconditional love. That would probably sound arrogant to someone who would like to deny it, but it actually gives Him the credit instead of myself.
@LJP “Jesus is unconditional love”
I have faith that that is true. I have hope that that is true. But parroting words about love is not love, even with the best intentions. Love can be talked about, expressed as a belief, institutionalized as a creed, confessed as an ideal. But real love is action. Real love is like the story of the Samaritan.
All the religious people with all the right answers and all the God-talk of unconditional love and correct theology — ignored the hurting person. It was the non-religious guy — with no confession, no creed, no faith, and no lofty spiritual theology rap — who helped the other person. Jesus said THIS was the person in God’s will.
This story does not “give credit” to a person — it’s a story of true Godly love in action. Religion parrots things like “Jesus is the only way” but then passes the guy in the ditch. I spent 30 years deep into religion, but mostly just passed the guy in the ditch. I had all the right religious and theological answers. Now I don’t care about any of that. I just want to grow in my love for other people. If people see Jesus in that attitude and the work that follows, that’s good. But I’m done with “evangelicalism” and “outreach” and “proselytizing” and “one way religious tribalism”.
Frankly, I think that kind of religion is dying. I think younger people can see right through it, and are leaving traditional church communities faster than ever.
Carl, it sounds like the absence of love in hypocritical religion makes your stomach turn. I can’t disagree with that, but does doing good works produce a relationship with Jesus or does a relationship with Jesus produce good works? The dead religion you describe is not a living relationship with the Person of Jesus. Being connected with the Source of true love produces acts of true love.
As important as that is, the eternal is even more important. I identify with hurting people because I’ve experienced some hurt of my own, but even the worst pain is limited to this lifetime. The confession of accepting Jesus as our Savior effects our eternity. The way a person lives after making that confession has to do with what they believe about their relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, the majority of us have not been believing right concerning our relationship with Jesus, but that is changing. Blessings
Mr. Ellis, I am just beginning to blog (like, right as I am typing, I am in the middle of my FIRST) and it is mostly because every time I read your posts I think, “How can I tell our parents this stuff?” You see, I am a children’s pastor for a church that has just begun the Grace journey. For the first year we soaked it all in, but now we are all trying to figure out how to do this stuff with our kids.
My reason for sharing with you, is that I would love to take this article and really look at how it applies to parenting our children. I truly believe that we, as parents can make our children unbelievers for all the reasons you stated above. May I share this article on my blog and quote you?
Noelle Davis New Day Church KC Children’s Ministry Coordinator
Feel free. As a father, I encourage my children to ask questions and I tell them “there are no bad questions” in order to encourage them to have the confidence to ask more. And as a scientist I would tell my PhD students to doubt their findings and doubt their colleagues findings and to be generally skeptical. There are settings where silly questions and doubt are helpful for learning. So please don’t think I am preaching a law that forbids bad questions and doubt. Everything in the article above pertains to relationships. Bad questions and doubt do not strengthen our marriages or our relationship with God. I don’t want my children or anyone to doubt their Father’s love for them.
Oh man, what a spot on post. I remember telling my dad when I was a naive 16, “I don’t want faith, I want to know!”. Then in college I was a philosophy major. Now, during a crisis of faith, I do what I’ve always done . . . Ask a lot of questions! I’ve looked into messianic judaism, Easter Orthodoxy, Seventh Day Adventist, etc., etc. The truth is, I see logic and reason in all there history and apologetics! I’ve gotten so mixed up by asking questions that I just ended up in unbelief. All my faith just vanished. God showed me how 2 Timothy 3:7 applies to me. Then Isaiah 50: 10,11 was given to me. It seems I might be learning relationship for the first time. I’ve wrecked my mind so much, I’ve given up and can only trust God will remain faithful.
Thank you. A good rule to go with is to doubt your doubt and NOT your faith.
The moment we dictate which questions are good and/or bad we become no better then most of the evangelical religious cults that are out there. If grace runs the risk of people “abusing” it then it must run the risk of so-called “dangerous” questions.
My church doesn’t allow questions. Don’t question the pastor. Don’t question God. I was sold the legalistic religious God my whole life. It wasn’t until I started questioning that God that he showed me that that wasn’t Him at all. I never was even allowed to read books outside of our church’s book store. I never would have found Paul Ellis otherwise if I had not questioned.
Out of all your posts this the only one that made that twinge of religious fear come back to my heart. It feels like a step backward. Just show Jesus like you have been.
Only a law-minded person would interpret New Testament exhortations as laws to be obeyed. As implied above, there are two ways to get this wrong: (1) deny all questions (that’s typically the religious response), or (2) encourage questions that seem right to men but lead to death (typically the way of philosophy). This isn’t about law but life. Eat bad food and you’ll die. If you want to eat bad food that’s your choice – there’s no law for those under grace. But if you wish to avoid strife and trouble, you’ll follow Paul’s advice to Timothy and have nothing to do with ignorant and unlearned questions (2 Tim 2:23).
I see what you are saying. I love your writing so much! They have freed me in many ways. This post just seemed like a “carrot and stick” teaching that I’m used to. I apologize if I came across strongly. I’m still learning the ways of grace. It’s been a great prices of unlearning as well.
Everybody dies with some finished business. I am near the end of life. I hope God will straighten things out with me and everybody else after death.
John Swanson: It’s very easy. (That is hard for many to accept.)
Just say 3 words: “Jesus, forgive me.”
If you wish to, you can add things like (at any time):
“I accept and receive your free gift of salvation.”
“Reveal yourself to me.”
“Fill me with your Holy Spirit.”
“Holy Spirit, please lead me into all truth.”
“Lord Jesus, I welcome you into my heart. Please be the Lord of my life. You are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
I assure you, if sincerely meant, the above alone will seal your salvation permanently. God is good. That good.
As someone who has become an unbeliever myself, all I can say is that my journey has changed, and although it is now different than yours, that doesn’t invalidate your journey at all.
Truth, with a capital T, comes only by revelation.
You are a true student of Nee.
Loved the article.
Great post Paul! I find that so many Churches today, even big Churches in their desire to be relevant are preaching a gospel that does not impart the life of Christ. If it isn’t imparting life, it is moving people away from Christ. In doing so it is undermining faith. Jesus said in John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” It behoves those of us who preach grace to make sure we are revealing Christ to the people at every opportunity. Thanks.
Since nobody can come to any agreement about Jesus and what is necessary, I think I will just bail out of Christianity him forget the whole thing. If Jesus is going to save me, he will do it on his own without any help from anybody or from me.
I’ve replied to your earlier comment. Do check it out. P. S.: Salvation, has nothing, zilch, zero, to do with the intellect.
Great article on the effect of How we deal with Doubt and the danger of letting it more define what we believe over what God already clearly said.
A Believer might for a time believe, think and act LIKE an Unbeliever but it doesn’t make us one, which is actually the good news.
Just like sinning doesn’t make us a sinner. It’s not what we do that changes our identity but what God did.
A Believer never changes in nature just like God doesn’t. We are one. It’s our mind that needs to be renewed daily – focusing on holiness and rigtheousness in Christ – so we don’t believe, think and act contraheary to our new nature.
Don’t let some doubt rob you of the joy and confidence you have in God’s Love and His word.
‘… Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ – Philippians 4:8
A “believer” (by accident of birth) may not have ever heard of Jesus, or be conversant with the Judeo-Xn texts. A “believer” is anyone who loves others unconditionally, like Jesus, like the Samaritan (who was clearly not in anyone’s religious in-group). I no longer have “doubt” about the primacy and transcendence of love, but gave up long ago on claims of J/X exclusivity to that love. I’ve found no greater story of love than the cross, but that love is not limited to those who know the old J/X story. Christ’s love, the truly universal love embedded into the very fabric of creation, and has been, and remains, available to any person, of any tribe, of any historical period. Those saints may not have the tribal dialog you want to hear, they may hope for a somewhat different brand of ideals, their faith may even be in a different ‘image of god’ than you’re used to worshiping. It doesn’t matter. Knowledge will fail. Love is all that matters.
Jesus Christ paid for your sins with His blood, so you (and anyone else) can receive salvation as a free gift. If you believe this, your salvation is settled.
This is the reason for “the Great Commission”. If preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth is not really needed, then Jesus was needlessly sending His followers in to great –and mortal– danger by giving them this commission.
Charles, the vast majority of souls throughout history had never heard of “the cross.” Because they followed different religions (or no religion), did they not have access to Christ’s love? Because of an accident of birth, were they unable to receive “salvation?” It’s a very important question which is deserving of deep and thoughtful consideration. Most fundamentalists I’ve met rarely wrestle with the philosophical, metaphysical, and theological implications of this critical issue.
C Legg:… It’s useful to consider the case of a man, in the book of Acts, called Cornelius. Though he didn’t know Christ (as Saviour), his prayers and charitable acts came up before God as a fragrant incense, and God dispatched one of the top Christian Apostles of the day (Peter) to his house to minister to him personally. That is what happens when a person truly seeks God. (” You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13- NIV).
Today (since Jesus’ death and resurrection), we live in an age of abundant Grace. I have found that even just 3 simple words “God forgive me” can lead to salvation. (This is from a testimony I heard.) However, it seems (from the Bible at least) that one day all will stand before a judgement seat. The Righteous Judge, who is on the throne, will judge righteously. He will judge each one, individually, and not collectively. I cannot guess what he will say to the man from Japan who lived in 333 AD. Or the man from what is now Puerto Viejo in Atacama who lived in 629 AD. There is no way of second guessing or determining in advance what the Righteous Judge will say, or whether that will match up with our own expectations of fairness and impartiality. If we do not agree with him, surely at that time we can bring up our objections. We can talk of accidents of birth, unfortunate geopositioning, etc. I am sure he will listen carefully before he replies.
Meanwhile, believing in the Christian narrative means believing that Jesus is the ONLY way. That is why, to a true Christian, spreading the Gospel is of the utmost urgency and priority.
One can choose not to believe. That option is always open to whoever wishes.
Thank you, Charles. All of this is what I call “carrot and stick” religion — more concerned about a personal future afterlife reward than helping suffering people here and now. It’s focused on MY rewards, rather than the suffering of others. It’s telling how most Christianity today hypnotically lulls people into thinking “it’s all about Jesus” when in fact it’s all about the fear of hell and the focus on one’s personal ticket to heaven.
Spreading the gospel is, indeed, of “the utmost urgency and priority.” But the gospel is not about converting people to a belief system. That’s religion. That’s a dead end. It’s actually so simple a little child can understand it. It’s not about getting another person to make some “profession of faith.” Remember what Tozer said, “if someone can talk you into Christianity, someone can talk you out of it.”
Charles, it’s about loving unconditionally. That’s the Jesus Way. I suggest that you’ve replaced Jesus with religion (belief v. non-belief, threats of judgment and eternity in hell, “becoming a Christian,” saying the magic words…). You’re focused on getting yourself to heaven, your fear of hell, and your desire to be “right.” What you call “spreading the Gospel” is little more than convincing other people that they, too, need to focus on getting themselves into heaven by having the “right belief system” and saying the magic words. You’ve turned Jesus into the Divine Insurance Salesman — God in our own image.
You bring up some very important issues that everyone sidesteps and will avoid debate on watching the walking dead gives me all the answers.
Dear C Legg, I find myself completely and totally misunderstood. I have no religion. I have only Jesus. And I want only Jesus for others. Is this so bad? Love is over all and above all. Unconditional, perfectly forgiving. That is grace. We have it in Jesus. I have no rewards, for I have earned nothing. While rejoicing in the grace freely given me, my desire is for everyone else to enjoy the supernatural benefits of the same same divine grace that I have so freely been given. I will never –and indeed cannot– replace Jesus with religion or anything else. Where exactly did you get that?
As for magic words, there are none. But even the simplest prayer, even if expressed in just 3 words, is heard and answered by the awesome Majesty in heaven. That is our assurance, and thence comes our salvation. There is no fear, no threats, just goodness and love, goodness and mercy, enveloping us, covering us, welcoming us into His loving arms, and eternal joy in His presence.
If you do not know this God, I invite you to call upon Him today.
“But even the simplest prayer, even if expressed in just 3 words, is heard and answered by the awesome Majesty in heaven.”
Charles, are the love and prayers of a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist “heard and answered by the awesome Majesty in heaven?” Can a Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist “enjoy the supernatural benefits and divine grace” that you enjoy? Are Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists denied access to “His loving arms, and eternal joy in His presence?” (how one answers this question can reveal the difference between Love and religion).
No!!! God loves Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists as much as experienced Christians [John 3:16]. It’s just that they chose (for know) to separate themselves from Jesus. If God never loved them, there wouldn’t be any stories of former Hindus/Muslims/Buddhists who come to Jesus.
I don’t understand how you can go from believer to unbeliever yet not lose your salvation
Solomon was a wise king for the Lord yet later falled into apostasy. Peter (a disciple) denied that he was with Jesus three times.
In all the “warning passages” on believer-to-unbeliever (2 Peter, 1 John, Hebrews), a bull-crappy message pressures. When a believer desides to retire their faith, they gave up the fight against the worldly powers.
I believe that it is possible for such people to keep their salvation because Jesus talks about eternal security [John 10]. It’s just that we shouldn’t quickly judge people who gave up — only God knows the difference between actual belief followed by unbelief (Peter) versus unbelief in the first place (Judas).
This pertains to me exactly . I have been doubting alot lately but I have now repented. I have always been someone who didn’t believe the good promises I have low self esteem I guess and have been a very insecure person not only with salvation and God but with jobs people and everything. I even have considered if I should be alive. Thanks for writing this Paul it helps me tremendously.God bless
The whole question about questioning is attitude. Only God knows men’s hearts and will decide. Is a question to show you are more right or to learn? (don’t answer only God knows the answer, since only he can see inside the mind and see the motives). Are we willing to let God be in control of the universe and follow the words of truth of are we more interested in proving our own arguments? Learning only comes with a humble attitude, like a child. God knows your attitude and He wants to give to ALL man, but will all men let him. He knows all our hearts and we will find out who is right at the very end. So it is a good thing to ask questions to learn and not to argue.
Awesome post Paul! As a studier of apologetics, I ran into questions that pressure me to doubt.
The thing about apologetics is that it’s like a detective story. Although we may not directly see, we have evidence that makes a case for the Bible (or even at least Jesus’s death/resurrection). I’ve seen arguments that take the case and show why the resurrection is real. I know that there are over 5000 manuscripts on the NT, with some of them appearing within decades of the original print.
But with all the evidence, ultimately, it ends with FAITH. We believe because the chance that it is right is high. But some (like me) strangle ourselves with questions that foster doubt.
Unbelievers aren’t saved, and “How to become an unbeliever” implies they were a believer. Are you saying one who was once a saved believer can give up their salvation by becoming an unbelievers?
No, but there is such a thing as an unbelieving believer. It is possible to walk after the flesh, go astray, and shipwreck your faith. The article above explains how it happens.