How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?

Jeremy Wilson, inveterate forger and con man, in court

Jeremy Wilson, inveterate forger and con man, back in court

On November 19, 2015, Jeremy Wilson was released from federal prison after serving six years for impersonating an Army officer, forging a judge’s signature, and stealing a car. By that time he had racked up convictions for fraud and forgery in five states.

What did he do when he got out?

I’ll give you one guess!

Within two months, he was re-arrested.

The charges against him?

Grand larceny, criminal impersonation, possession of a forged instrument, and possession of an unlawful identification card.

And that’s putting it mildly. A month or so after his release, he had already created yet another false identity, posed as a wounded war hero, forged checks and used stolen credit cards to rack up over $40,000 in cash, leased a luxury vehicle, and rented an executive apartment in the heart of New York’s financial district, all under false pretenses. When police searched the apartment, they found over two hundred forged checks.

What a surprise!

You can read all about it here: “Man Accused of Impersonating a War Hero Has a History of Forgery,” by James C. McKinley, Jr., MSN News; and here: “Conman who posed as wounded veteran held on $1M bail after giving ‘full, video-recorded confession,’” by Shayna Jacobs, New York Daily News.

Clearly, Jeremy Wilson—if that is his real name—has settled into a regular pattern of forgery, impersonation, and deception as a way to “make his living.” It’s part of his character. Six years in the pen didn’t even make a dent.

How could such a hardened criminal get to heaven?

A criminal’s character doesn’t just magically change

Some Christians believe that the only thing necessary for such a bad apple to go to heaven is to believe in Jesus Christ. Even a hardened criminal with a lifelong history of theft, fraud, and murder could get into heaven if only, with his last breath, he expressed his faith that Jesus Christ had paid the penalty for his sins.

But that’s just an illusion.

About Christ paying the penalty for our sins, I’m sorry, but the Bible just doesn’t say that. See: “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?” And about the idea that we’re saved just by believing in Jesus, see: “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.”

The idea that someone who has spent a lifetime breaking the Ten Commandments through lying, theft, murder, adultery, and so on could suddenly be wiped clean by a mere profession of faith in Jesus is pure fantasy and illusion.

And it has no basis whatsoever in the Bible. For example, the prophet Jeremiah asks and responds to his own rhetorical question:

Can Ethiopians change their skin
or leopards their spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.
(Jeremiah 13:23)

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) expands on this Biblical reality:

A popular misconception is that the state of our life can be changed instantly, so that we become good instead of evil. This would be leading us out of hell and transporting us instantly into heaven, all by some direct mercy of the Lord. This is the misconception of people who separate charity from faith and attribute salvation to faith alone. That is, they think that the mere thought and utterance of a statement of that faith, performed with trust and confidence, will justify and save them. Many of them also think that this can happen instantaneously, either before the hour of death or as it approaches. They cannot avoid believing that the state of our life can be changed in an instant and that we can be saved by direct mercy. We shall see in the last section of this book, though, that the Lord’s mercy does not operate in this direct way, that we cannot become good instead of evil in an instant and be led out of hell and transported into heaven except by the ongoing efforts of divine providence from our infancy to the end of our lives.

And he continues:

People who hold this kind of belief have no idea whatever of what evil and good really are. They do not know that evil is the pleasure we find in the urge to act and think in violation of the divine pattern, and that goodness is the pleasure we feel when we act and think in harmony with the divine pattern. They do not realize that there are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular evil, and that there are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular good tendency. These thousands of impulses are so precisely structured and so intimately interconnected within us that no single one of them can be changed without changing all the rest at the same time.

If people are unaware of this, they can entertain the belief or the thought that an evil that seems to be all by itself can be set aside easily and that something good that also seems to be all by itself can be brought in to replace it. Since they do not know what good and evil are, they cannot help thinking that there are such things as instantaneous salvation and direct mercy. The last section of this book will show that this is not possible. (Divine Providence #279)

In other words, an evil and criminal character is a complex, densely interwoven state of mind and heart, in which we actually enjoy engaging in crime so much that it is a basic part of our character. That can’t be changed simply by uttering some magic words—even word’s expressing faith in Jesus Christ’s power to save.

Yes, Jesus Christ does have power to save. But only through a long process of changing the very structure of our character, piece by piece. And that takes a lifetime to accomplish. That’s why we have a lifetime here on earth.

How our character is formed

How do we become the person we are? How is our character formed?

Of course a significant part of it is based on our heredity, our parents, our upbringing, our environment, our schooling, our friends, and so on. All of these have a big influence on the person we become.

But not nearly as big an influence as the choices we make in response to the situations we find ourselves in.

  • Chris Gardner

    Chris Gardner

    One person born of poor parents in a tough neighborhood may see the swagger and bling of the local gangs, and choose that life.

  • Another person born of poor parents in the same tough neighborhood may struggle and work hard for years to carve out a better and more stable life.

For an inspiring example of the better choice, see the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, which dramatizes the true story of Chris Gardner’s rise from homelessness to financial success.

And related directly to Jeremy Wilson:

  • One person may be born in an average middle-class neighborhood, see the lifestyles of the rich and famous, work hard, climb the corporate ladder for many years, and achieve financial success through a solid life of work and achievement.
  • Another person may be born into the same average middle-class neighborhood, see the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but have no interest in hard work, and instead take the “fast track” of fraud, influence, white collar crime, and ill-gotten wealth.

No matter what background we come from, we have choices. And the choices we make, and the way we live our lives pursuant to those choices, will determine the kind of person we become.

  • Those who set goals for themselves and work to achieve them by using their brains and working hard every day to build a solid foundation for their success will weave a character that does not shrink from the challenges of life, but embraces them, faces them, and gains skill, experience, and confidence to achieve whatever they set their minds to.
  • Those who want a “fast track” to wealth and success will develop a lazy character that wants big payoffs without doing any real work to get them. They may use their ingenuity and even their guts, but they will develop a character that’s always looking for a shortcut, and always looking to avoid any real, constructive effort to achieve their goals.

And if the physiologists are right, these patterns of character become literally woven into the very fabric of our brains: we create nerve pathways and connections that represent the common pathways of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

What scientists say happens in our brains through habit and practice, Swedenborg, over two centuries ago, said happens also in our mind and spirit. To repeat part of the above quote from Divine Providence:

There are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular evil, and that there are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular good tendency. These thousands of impulses are so precisely structured and so intimately interconnected within us that no single one of them can be changed without changing all the rest at the same time.

And so, through our choices and the daily life we make for ourselves based on those choices, we build a complex physical and mental structure of character, consisting of thousands and even millions of individual thoughts, impulses, and habit patterns that all weave together to form a highly interconnected system in which every part reinforces every other part.

That is how our character is formed.

Once our character is formed, changing it is a long, painstaking process

And that is why our character, once formed, is such a stubborn beast.

If you have ever tried to change one of your long-standing habits, and found how ridiculously difficult it can be to stop thinking and acting the way you’re used to, and start thinking and acting in a different way, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What you may not realize is that you’re fighting against complex structures and patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that have been built up and tightly woven together over many years, and have taken on an organic life of their own.

So when we consider how criminals can go to heaven, the idea that they can just suddenly be “saved” by a mere profession of faith in Jesus is just as preposterous as saying that the brain, with its billions of nerve fibers and synapses, can be suddenly rewired into an entirely different configuration just by snapping our fingers and saying, “Hocus Pocus!”

It just doesn’t work that way.

Hard experience shows that once people have built a settled and hardened criminal life and character within themselves, most of them simply never change. The pattern of their character has been set. Most of them have no desire to change, let alone a willingness to do the hard work necessary to bring about a radical change in their character and lifestyle.

That, and not some desire on God’s part to punish us, is why there is an eternal hell. People who have chosen an evil and destructive way of life grow to love that way of life. They glory in their criminal exploits. And they have absolutely no desire to change.

And so, they continue living the same evil and criminal life in the spiritual world that they’ve lived on earth.

Unfortunately, this means they are living the kind of life that exists in hell. God doesn’t send them there. They go there of their own accord because that’s where they can at least attempt to live the kind of life they love. For more on this, see: “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

However, as long as we’re still living here on this earth, we can change our life and character, if we truly want to and choose to.

And if we make that choice, we have a long and sometimes painful pathway of self-examination, repentance, and change ahead of us. We must painstakingly unweave all those old, habitual pathways of thinking, feeling, and acting, and re-weave new pathways of healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.

It’s a long and difficult process.

But if we set our mind and heart to it, we can achieve it.

That’s because the same humanity that enabled us to choose evil and destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting also enables us to choose to change the structure of character that we have built within ourselves.

And it’s also because once we make that choice, there are places we can turn for help and support. Counselors, ministers, parents, teachers, old friends. There are many people who would love to help us turn our lives around. And even more than that, God—and for Christians, Jesus Christ—is always there to give us the strength and wisdom to fight and win our spiritual battles.

How, practically speaking, do we bring about that kind of change in ourselves?

Here are two articles to get you started:

  1. Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
  2. What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?

How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?

So how can a criminal get to heaven?

What would Jeremy Wilson have to do to break the cycle, and end out in heaven instead of hell?

First, it would take a conscious choice on his part to stop thinking, feeling, and living in the old, destructive, criminal ways. This is what the Bible calls “repentance.” It means being truly sorry for the evil life we’ve been living, and making a firm commitment to begin a new and better life.

Second, it would require following through on that choice and that repentance by spending each day avoiding and throwing out the old ways, and training himself to think, feel, and act in new and better ways. This is what is called “reformation,” in both religious and civil language. It is the process of ripping out our old character building up a new and better character and life for ourselves.

Any criminal who is willing to take these steps can leave behind his or her life of crime, and gradually, painstakingly, and often painfully build a character and a life that leads to heaven.

And if a criminal can do it, so can anyone else. It is a pathway available to every single person on this earth who has fallen into bad ways of thinking, feeling, and living.

Even if that person happens to be you.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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79 comments on “How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?
  1. Hi Lee,

    I know you have commented on this before, but I’m not sure where: What did you think of the criminal on the cross who Jesus assures will be with him in paradise that very day? This criminal seems like the quintessential example of someone who did bad things all of his life yet he is assured paradise seemingly based on a profession of faith in Jesus at the end of his life. I don’t think anyone would dispute your argument that one’s character cannot be completely changed in an instant; however, I think it is possible to begin a saving relationship with Jesus Christ in an instant such that someone could be assured of Heaven. God cannot change one’s character in an instant but He could potentially declare someone NOT GUILTY in an instant. In my evangelical circles, there is this concept of imputed righteousness that Paul talks about. Your true character reformation occurs over the rest of your life, but when you “accept Christ” you are seen as “righteous” in the eyes of God because of what Jesus did.

    I was chatting with some of my friends this week. Some were conservative evangelicals and another one somewhere in between like me. One posed the question: can two people live identical lives but believe different things about Jesus and go to different destinations when they die. I think most of agreed that, no, this was not possible. But we were picturing two people who lived very good lives yet did not believe the same things about Jesus. Then my one more evangelical friend brought up the example of the thief on the cross as an example of two people who had lived really bad lives, yet one went to heaven and the other presumably went to judgement.

    Have a great week!

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi deepthinkingdave,

      As it turns out, I recently wrote an answer on Christianity.SE on that very topic. I’ll copy it here as a new post within the next few days. If you can’t wait, you can read it at StackExchange here: “How do those who believe in a works or works + faith based salvation interpret Jesus’ words to the criminal in Luke 23:43?” (Scroll up to see the original question.)

      Edit: It took a little longer than expected, but I have now put up a greatly expanded version of my StackExchange answer as a post here: Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

      It includes an edited version of all but the first section of the StackExchange answer, and new sections to specifically address your questions about instant salvation.

      Enjoy!

      • Rohan says:

        “So you are willing to stake your faith on something that is not actually stated in the Bible? You’re willing to make something merely implied (as you think)”

        The bible implies a lot of things that we take for granted. Are you also going to say that Jesus is not God because he never literally said he was (he said “I am” which implies)?

        So are we going to pick and choose what passages in the bible are just implied concepts/parables and what must be taken literally to fit our doctrine. Of course we do. To say that we don’t is a lie.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          We’re not talking about picking and choosing. We’re talking about not a single passage in the Bible stating that we are justified by faith alone or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. The Bible simply never says these things. Not in a single verse.

        • Rohan says:

          “The Bible simply never says these things. Not in a single verse.”

          Yet again, I repeat, by that same argument I would like you to provide me a single verse in the bible where Jesus says he is God and not just implies that he is like God.

        • Lee says:

          I think we crossed messages. See below.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          A further response:

          It’s not necessary for Jesus himself to say explicitly that he is God. John testifies that Jesus is God in John 1, as I already pointed out. And in John 20:28, after the Resurrection, Thomas addresses Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” which Jesus tacitly accepts in the next verse.

          In passage after passage, Jesus refers to himself in terms that his contemporaries understood as claiming divine status, his followers experience and refer to him as a divine figure, and the text attributes divine attributes to him. The sheer weight of Bible narrative and testimony does not allow any other conclusion than that Jesus is God.

          That simply isn’t true of justification by faith alone and penal substitution, as three-quarters of Christian history without these doctrines, and two-thirds of Christians today who still don’t adhere to them, attest. Most Christians throughout history and right up to the present simply don’t see these two doctrines in the Bible. And that’s for a very simple reason: they aren’t there.

          Meanwhile, Christians throughout history and right up to the present have overwhelmingly seen Jesus as God, because that is indeed in the Bible.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          About Jesus being God, you are right that there is no passage in the Bible that explicitly and compactly says, “Jesus is God.” And although I believe that Jesus is God, I don’t think it is necessary for us to believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved. In other words, that belief is not essential to salvation, although I think of it as a basic part of being a Christian.

          For some of the Bible passages that, to me, make it quite clear that Jesus is God, see the first section (after the intro) of this article: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”

          But there’s a further difference. It’s not just that the Bible only strongly implies and gives us a clear pathway to believing that Jesus is God. It’s that there’s nothing in the Bible that contradicts it. And a careful reading of the Bible leads us quite clearly to that conclusion.

          However, there is plenty in the Bible that contradicts justification by faith alone, including the only verse in the Bible that actually uses the term “faith alone.” And there’s no reason whatsoever, based on the Bible, to believe that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

          We know when and where these two doctrines originated, and which human beings originated them. It happened 1,500 years after the Bible was written, during the Protestant Reformation. For the first 1,500 years of Christianity, all (or nearly all) Christians believed that Jesus is God in some way, but no Christians believed in salvation by faith alone, or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, because there was nothing in the Bible that would lead them to that conclusion.

          But there is plenty in the Bible to lead us to the conclusion that Jesus is indeed “God with us.”

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          I should add that the prologue of the Gospel of John makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is God come to earth:

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. (John 1:1–3, 14)

          I have now added this quote to the article “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” since it is one of the clearest. Verse 18 also says:

          No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

          However, the manuscripts are not in agreement on exactly what this verse says, so it is not quite as strong as it could be.

          Still, it would be hard to deny that John 1:1–18 presents Jesus as God made flesh and living among us.

          There are no comparable passages making it clear that we are justified by faith alone, or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. No one saw these things in the Bible for 1,500 years after it was written. We would have to charge the Bible with being terribly inept at conveying what it means if it took fifteen centuries for people to “find” those doctrines in the Bible.

          Meanwhile, during all those centuries, the vast bulk of Christians saw very clearly in the Bible that Jesus is God. There were some debates early on about exactly how he was God. (And I think that Christianity came to the wrong conclusion about this. See: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”) And it is true that some early Christian theologians in effect denied that he is God, and were branded heretics by the church as a result. But that he is God has been a part of mainstream Christian belief right from the beginning.

      • Biblesword says:

        Pride of one’s self causes us to sinfully attempt to steal God’s glory that is His alone.

  2. Rohan says:

    Dear Lee.

    Let us look at what disqualifies us:

    Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like…..

    Now who among us can rightfully stand up and say I am not guilty of any of these sins. Nor am I guilty of breaking any of the ten commandments.

    You can reply that we must continually ask for forgiveness. But doesn’t that just become an equivalent of an old testament sacrifice of animal on a regular basis.

    Didn’t Jesus come away to do away with the old law and implement the law of the spirit in our hearts and minds.

    Do you comprehend the difference between salvation and the kingdom of God.

    Do we know that when we sin we born again Christians are accountable to the holy spirit who continuously convicts of sin.

    Rejection of the holy spirit may make us lose our salvation but not specific sin.

    Why do you have trouble accepting the free gift of salvation. Why must you try in vain to earn it and feel justified by your works.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      Are you saying that Christians can continue to sin with impunity, and still be saved? Are you saying that there is no need for Christians to repent from their sins? Are you saying that there is no need for Christians to keep the Ten Commandments? Are you saying that there is no need for Christians to do good works?

      If so, you are contradicting the teachings of the Bible itself.

      Here are just a very few examples from throughout the Bible:

      From the Law of the Old Testament:

      See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

      From the Prophets of the Old Testament:

      If the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. (Ezekiel 18:21-24)

      From the Psalms:

      Happy are those
      who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
      or take the path that sinners tread,
      or sit in the seat of scoffers;
      but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
      and on his law they meditate day and night.
      They are like trees
      planted by streams of water,
      which yield their fruit in its season,
      and their leaves do not wither.
      In all that they do, they prosper.

      The wicked are not so,
      but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
      Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
      nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
      for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
      but the way of the wicked will perish.
      (Psalm 1)

      From the Gospels:

      Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

      “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

      “Which ones?” he inquired.

      Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

      “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

      Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)

      And also:

      “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

      “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

      “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

      “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

      “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

      “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

      “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

      “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

      From Paul:

      But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:5-11)

      From James:

      What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

      But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:14-26)

      And from the Book of Revelation:

      Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. . . .

      See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

      Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 21:25-27; 22:12-15)

      If you believe that mere faith, without repenting of sin and without doing good works, will gain you salvation and the kingdom of God, you are badly mistaken. If you believe that, you are completely ignoring the teachings of every book of the Bible, and the plain teachings and commandments of the Lord himself in the Gospels.

      The Bible specifically rejects salvation by faith alone. That is the teaching of Martin Luther, not Jesus Christ, Paul, James, or any other Bible writer. For more on this, please see these articles:

      Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other Protestant Reformers badly misunderstood Paul when they promulgated their invented doctrine of justification by faith alone, and their invented doctrine that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. The Bible never says—not in one single verse—that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. And it specifically denies justification by faith alone:

      You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

      When Paul said:

      For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the Law. (Romans 3:28)

      He was not saying that we are saved by faith alone (Paul never says we are saved by faith alone), but rather that it is no longer necessary for us to follow the ritual Law of Moses.

      If you believe that merely calling on Jesus’ name will save you, without repenting and following God’s commandments, then Jesus Christ himself has some words for you:

      “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father 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 deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, italics added)

      The idea that we earn salvation by our works is a fallacy. We cannot take credit for our good works any more than we can take credit for our faith. It all comes from the Lord, as Jesus said:

      I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, italics added)

      Jesus taught us that we can take no credit for our good works in another place:

      “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

      I urge you to put aside the false teachings of Luther and Calvin as they have been conveyed to you by your various Protestant preachers and teachers, and pay attention to what the Bible itself says about who is saved and who is damned. If you think that by mere faith in Jesus you can be saved, without repentance and without obeying the Lord’s commandments, you are very much mistaken.

      • Rohan says:

        Thank you Lee for your reply.

        I believe you may be mixing the old covenant with the new covenant to form a combined doctrine.

        The God of the old testament had gradually laid down the law over time which convicted us of sin. If it wasn’t for the law, we wouldn’t be guilty of sin (Paul). The law was given to us not that we may be obedient to it but that we may be condemned by it (Paul).

        The Pharisees themselves thought that they had kept the law
        But Jesus told them that even a small sin was as big as murder and therefore makes them condemned under the law.

        In fact the first half of Jesus’s ministry was to show the world what it meant to follow and act according to the law. When he told the young man to give up his wealth despite his otherwise good behavior, he actually meant to tell the man that the standard that is expected of a righteous and holy God is insurmountable by human flesh. No matter what we do, our works are like filthy rags. To be made right with God, we would need to live the life that Jesus lived but it is impossible. No saint nor Mary could be sinless like him.

        Forgiveness is only paid through righteous blood being sacrificed. That’s why animal sacrifice and good works were a poor substitute for forgiveness.

        Once Jesus was sacrificed for us. He took away our sins past, present and future. Yet we are told to not ask for forgiveness but to repent and be accountable to one another.

        But then you say shall we go on sinning. Paul says why should we do so, should we keep increasing grace.

        When we sin, we grieve the spirit who intercedes for us. We born again believers are bound by a new law and that law is not which is written on stone or tablet but on our hearts and minds. No true christian can keep sinning without being convicted by the holy spirit.

        Whilst we are forgiven, there are consequences for sin on this world that we must bear while we are still alive in our cursed fleshly bodies. Through sin we reject God’s protection and intervention in our life which leads to the spirits of disease and strife being allowed dominion over us.

        What if I told you that Lot was considered a righteous man by God in spite of him offering his own daughters to the sodomites? He was considered so for being faithful to God despite his terrible inequities. Do you not think that God wouldn’t consider us far more righteous as believers in his son who died for our inequities.

        The Lord is clear that those who prefer to live by the law will be judged by the law but those that claim mercy and righteousness through him and his sacrifice will be considered righteous.

        Saying that though works are the fruits of our faith (James) and that by which we we are to by obligation and not as an incentive.

        You may say that can Satan be saved then but I say no because it is written that he and his angels have already been judged. We haven’t been judged yet and I sure wouldn’t count on my chances of being acquitted by my works given the God standard.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          And I believe you are mixing the teachings of the New Testament with the false and fallacious teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other Protestant theologians. These are human doctrines, and not the teachings of God.

          The Bible passages I have quoted, and hundreds of others like them, speak for themselves.

          James spoke plainly and clearly when he said:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We are justified by works, and not by faith alone. That is the plain statement of the Bible. And it is the only place in the entire Bible where “faith alone” is mentioned.

          And Jesus spoke very plainly when he said:

          “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:45-46)

          No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Those who neglect to do good works will go to eternal punishment, while the righteous—those who do good works for their fellow human beings as detailed in the previous verses—will go into eternal life.

          There is no need to argue and explain that all of these passages don’t really mean what they say. They mean exactly what they say. The Bible is very clear and plain, no matter how many Protestant theologians have attempted to obfuscate it with their false and anti-Biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone.

          You are welcome to hold fast to your beliefs invented by Martin Luther and John Calvin 1,500 years after the Bible was written.

          As for me, I will remain faithful to the whole teaching of the Bible, both Old Testament and New.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          Further, you are still misunderstanding what Paul meant by “the works of the Law.”

          He did not mean doing good works, as you can see very plainly from reading Romans 2.

          Rather, he meant that we no longer have to keep the ritual and sacrificial Law of Moses, and that that Law can never save us through observing it. That’s why he regularly talks about “circumcision” when he is saying that we are not saved by observing the Law.

          Quite simply, Paul was arguing that it was not necessary for Christians to be observant Jews. You can read about the issue that was being debated in Acts 15.

          Please also read the articles I linked in my original reply. There you will see these things shown very plainly.

      • Rohan says:

        Lee, you have taken that passage from James out of context. Add in the whole context and you will see that James is not talking about salvation but what sort of faith produces fruit. Basically counterfeit faith does not bear fruit.

        Also Romans 5:5, “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

        I beg you to please re read Romans keeping in mind that when the law is referred to it is talking about the old testament law of works.

        A great free book to understand the law and faith can be found here: http://askelm.com/essentials/index.asp

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          I am not taking James out of context. You are trying to make him say something he doesn’t.

          Are you aware that Martin Luther tried to get the book of James removed from the Bible (along with several other books in the New Testament) because it contradicted his newly hatched doctrine of salvation by faith alone?

          Martin Luther, the inventor of justification by faith alone, was well aware that James contradicted his doctrine. Later Protestant theologians have tried to explain it away using arguments similar to yours, but that is mere fallacy. James is very plain: “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” He does not add the common Protestant doctrine that works are the fruit of faith, and that’s why they justify us.

          Believe me, I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of Protestant arguments as to why James doesn’t really mean what he says. But his statement still stands unperturbed:

          You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          No, Paul was not referring to the “Old Testament law of works.” He was referring to the Law of Moses concerning circumcision, sacrifice, and other ritual observances. This is made clear by the context of his various statements about salvation by faith apart from the works of the Law:

          For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. (Romans 2:28-30, italics added)

          The context clearly shows that Paul’s statement that “a person is justified by faith apart from the works prescribed by the Law” (it should be capitalized), he was referring to the ritual Law of Moses that Jews were required to observe. That is why he speaks of “circumcision” and asks whether God is a God of the Jews only, and not also of the Gentiles.

          Once again, please read Acts 15. That is where we learn about the debate Paul was engaged in, and that chapter gives us the historical context for his statements about faith vs. the Law in his letters.

          See also the follow-up of the often-quoted passage from Ephesians:

          For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

          In the very next verse, Paul says:

          For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10, italics added)

          But then pay special attention to what comes next:

          So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands . . . . (Ephesians 2:11)

          Paul immediately starts talking about “circumcision” and “uncircumcision,” and about Jews vs. Gentiles.

          Keep reading, and you will see that he says that Christ “has abolished the Law with its commandments and ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15), once again with “Law” capitalized as it should be.

          Paul simply is not talking about good works. He is talking about being an observant Jew by keeping the law of circumcision, sacrifice, and other ritual observances, about which observant Jews commonly boasted (see Luke 18:9-14), and by which they thought they could be saved.

          You are very much misunderstanding Paul if you think that he meant we don’t have to do good works. Read Romans 2. That should put the matter to rest. And read Acts 15 to see what Paul was really arguing and debating about.

      • Rohan says:

        Dear Lee

        Do you know that the reformation had as much as an impact on the Catholic church than it did for the protestant church. It is a bit rich condemning protestant theologians of the day when they were up against an evil empire run by the papal order in Rome. Should we need to go through the genocide of millions of indigenous people, murder of scientists and philosophers deemed heretics, perverted involvement with political powers, the desire to keep the bible away from the hands of the lay man, the hoarding of wealth and taxation imposed on the poor, the issue of bogus laws, the establishment of a human hierarchy that mediated access to God, etc.

        I am not saying the Catholic church is wrong but I am saying that it is the character of God to humble the powerful and raise up the weak and lowly. Similarly people like Martin Luther were inspired by God to rise up by God against the powerful Pharisees of his day. Yes he had flaws like all men do. But the Lord says that in the last days he will pour out his spirit where even the young will prophesize.

        The Catholic church in its hey day did its part in setting up the foundation for God’s word to be spread about around the world but lets not forget that they were and are just a tool used by God to carry out his will. No denomination can be considered 100% right so it its important to not be biased in our way of thinking but to embrace new learnings.

        I cannot change your point of view about works but I believe that the joy of salvation is discounted by fleshly works.

        Who amongst us can stand up and say that I am his because of our good works.

        Some of us are born in circumstances that allow us to spend a lifetime deep in intellectual thought and internal reformation but some are born in societies and families where the concept love is bastardised.

        It is not as simple as you say that we have a choice to lead a good life. Even Paul claimed that he struggled with sin and his flesh did evil even though he didn’t want to. Becoming reformed comes about through a divine intervention that replaces a heart of stone with a one lead by the spirit.

        If you look at the long list of sins that keep us out of heaven, it would not be possible to enter it.

        Can you say that you do not covet your neighbors possessions or that you did not commit idolatry (idolatry is anything that you desire more than God eg. You can make your job or children your idols).

        We all deserve to die as the law condemns us but through faith in him he promises to never forsake us and will intercede for us on the day of judgment when the others will be judged by the law.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          Certainly the Catholic Church was very corrupt. Martin Luther initially set out to reform Catholicism, not to start a new branch of Christianity. But the corruption was deep-seated, and change was not happening fast enough for Luther’s taste. So he broke from Rome and started the Protestant Reformation.

          However, two wrongs do not make a right. It wasn’t long before Protestants, too, were burning heretics at the stake, killing one another, and slaughtering Catholics as well.

          And doctrinally, two wrongs don’t make a right either. Certainly the Catholic Church had corrupted the doctrines of Christianity. But adding yet another doctrine that is contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible does not correct that doctrinal error. Instead, it makes it even worse.

          Certainly Protestantism did lead to the correction of many corruptions within Christianity as a whole.

          However, it also led to even worse doctrinal corruption of the church, first by the completely false teaching of justification by faith alone, which the Bible itself specifically denies, and then by the horrific doctrine of penal substitution, and finally by Calvin’s beastly doctrine that God predestines some people to heaven and others to hell.

          So while the Protestant Reformation did bring about needed reforms, it continued the doctrinal destruction of Christianity, to the point where the Bible and its teachings were completely abandoned in favor of human-invented doctrines.

          And indeed, what strikes me most about the fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants who come here to tell me that I’m wrong and am going to hell is that the doctrines they say I must believe in order to be saved simply aren’t found in the Bible.

          • The Bible never says we are justified by faith alone. In fact, it specifically denies it.
          • The Bible never says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. It simply isn’t there.
          • And the Bible certainly does not say that God predestined anyone to hell.

          I take it as a firm principle that no doctrine can have any claim to being essential, fundamental Christian doctrine if it is not stated clearly in the plain words of the Bible.

          Yes, I’m aware there are many secondary, non-essential Christian doctrines that aren’t stated plainly in the Bible, but need interpretation to arrive at them.

          But I believe that God, in the Bible, has taught us plainly everything we need to know for our salvation. The plain words of the Bible say what we need to know to gain eternal life.

          Unfortunately, all of the basic doctrines of both Catholicism and Protestantism fail that very basic Biblical test. Not one of them is stated in the plain words of the Bible itself. They are all derived by human “interpretation” of the Bible—and I believe by human misinterpretation of the Bible.

          So no, you are not going to convince me that we can be saved without doing good works, because that is flatly contradicted by the plain, clear, repeated words of the Bible itself. So is our need for repentance from sin. And yes, the need to have faith is also stated clearly in the Bible. Our need to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves is also clearly and plainly stated in the Bible by the Lord himself. And the Lord himself tell us that if we wish to enter life, we must keep the commandments, and we must do good deeds for those in need.

          You will never convince me that any of these are not true, because the Bible itself says them as plain as day.

          And you will never convince me that we are justified, saved, or anything elsed by faith alone, because this is contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible itself.

      • Rohan says:

        Faith alone may not be literally present in the bible but it is regularly implied through Paul’s gospel:

        Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

        Rom. 4:3, “For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

        Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

        Rom. 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

        Gal. 3:8, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”

        Gal. 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”

        Of course Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. His was the perfect sacrifice for there is no forgiveness of sin without shedding of blood. What then did Jesus come for?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          So you are willing to stake your faith on something that is not actually stated in the Bible? You’re willing to make something merely implied (as you think) in the Bible into the cornerstone of your religion? You’re willing to place human interpretations and doctrines above the plain statements of the Word of God?

          This is precisely what Jesus was talking about when he said, quoting from Isaiah 29:13:

          “‘In vain do they worship me,
          teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

          You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” (Mark 7:7-8)

          As you admit, faith alone is not literally present in the Bible. In other words, the Bible never says we are justified or saved by faith alone. That simply is not stated in the Bible.

          And yet, Luther, and all of Protestantism following him, made that doctrine the cornerstone of the church:

          Thus, “faith alone” is foundational to Protestantism, and distinguishes it from other Christian denominations. According to Martin Luther, justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls. (Source: article on Sola Fide, Wikipedia)

          Unfortunately, that doctrine is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith, and of what Paul means by “works” and “the works of the Law” in his letters.

          “Faith,” in the Bible, does not mean an intellectual belief in some tenet or dogma, as people today generally interpret it. Rather, it means faithfulness to God, and to God’s commandments, such that we live by those commandments.

          For more on this, see my article, previously linked: Faith Alone Is Not Faith.

          So the first error of Luther and of Protestantism is a complete misunderstanding of what the Bible means by faith.

          The second error of Luther and of Protestantism in interpreting Paul’s statements about salvation is not understanding the various ways that Paul, and the rest of the New Testament uses the word “works.”

          Most words in most languages have multiple meanings. Their meaning varies according to the context. And as we humans speak and write, we don’t ordinarily stop to explain which definition we’re using for each word we are using. Instead, we simply speak, or write, and let the context indicate the meaning or definition we are using for the various words.

          Paul, and the rest of the New Testament, are no exceptions to this. In regularly interpreting “works” in Paul as “good works,” Protestants are making a most basic, boneheaded error in understanding language itself.

          In fact, Paul, and the New Testament, use “works” in at least three ways, the second and third of which are closely related as used in Paul, especially:

          1. Good works, done as commanded by God, and out of love for the neighbor
          2. Hypocritical good works, done for one’s own glory and reputation
          3. The works of the Law, meaning observance of the ritual Law of Moses

          In the passages from Paul commonly quoted by Protestants, most often he is using “works” in the third meaning, whether or not he uses the word “Law” in that particular context.

          Sometimes he is using it in the second definition, which for a former Pharisee, as Paul was, is closely related to the third definition, since the hypocritical “good works” done in his culture were most commonly acts of publicly and ostentatiously making a show of scrupulously following the ritual Law of Moses.

          And sometimes he is using it in the first definition, speaking of doing good works because God commands us to do them, and out of love for God and the neighbor.

          Unfortunately, Protestant dogma has made a mash of all three, and has read Paul as if he’s always using “works” in the first definition. And in so doing, it’s made a complete mash-up of everything Paul said.

          In other words, due to very basic misunderstanding of how language in general, and the Bible in particular, uses various words, Protestantism has arrived at a completely wrong and fallacious reading of Paul. That fallacy and wrong doctrine then metastasized to its reading of the rest of the Bible, such that its false and anti-Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone falsified and corrupted its reading of the entire Bible.

          Once again, please read the three articles I linked for you, where this is all laid out very clearly.

          You, my friend, are very much mistaken in your reading and interpretation of the Bible, because you are holding to human doctrines and traditions that make the Bible’s plain teachings of no effect.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rohan,

          About Christ paying the penalty for our sins:

          Search the Scriptures.

          You will not find a single verse in the entire New Testament (nor, of course, in the Old Testament) that says Jesus paid the penalty, or the price, for our sins.

          It simply isn’t there.

          Protestant tracts are full of penal substitution theory. They continually speak of Christ paying the penalty for our sins.

          And yet, not a single Bible passage they quote actually says that.

          Isn’t that odd?

          Don’t you think that in at least one place, the Bible would actually say that Christ paid the penalty, or the price, for our sins, if that’s what it meant?

          But the fact of the matter is that it never does. Search for yourself. If you can quote a single passage in the Bible saying that Christ paid the penalty or price for our sins, then I will admit that I am wrong.

          But you won’t find it.

          Because it’s not there.

          The Bible simply never says that Christ paid the penalty, or the price, for our sins. Not in one single verse.

          If you even make the effort to search the Scriptures, you’ll likely quote to me a whole bunch of passages about Christ being the sacrifice for our sins, or perhaps Christ taking away the sins of the world. Or of Christ giving his life as a ransom for many.

          But none of these means that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. The closest the Bible gets to that is its occasional statements about Christ giving his life as a ransom for many. (See, for example, Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45.) But even if we interpret that literally (which is not a very good idea), paying a ransom is not the same thing as paying a penalty.

          Penal substitution holds that Christ suffered the penalty of God’s wrath for our sins in our place. But when someone pays a ransom to free someone else, they are paying ransom, not a penalty. Look it up in the dictionary. The two words simply don’t mean the same thing.

          And Christ sacrificing himself for us is also not paying a penalty. Reading it that way involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sacrifice in the Old Testament, which is where the imagery and metaphor of Christ’s sacrifice comes from, as is clear throughout the New Testament.

          The sacrifices in the Old Testament were not penalties paid for sin. Rather, they were offerings to God to bring the worshiper in line with God’s will. They were a recognition on the part of the worshiper, and the community, that he, or the community, had sinned, either knowingly or unknowingly, and they were an observance indicating repentance and a commitment to no longer sinning in that way. They also functioned to continually connect the people to God so that they would not mindlessly drift away from God into evil and sin.

          Some translations of the Bible wrongly use the word “penalty” in translating the Levitical code of sacrifice in the Old Testament. But that is a complete mistranslation and misinterpretation based on Protestant doctrine. Wherever such translations speak of sacrifice as a penalty, it should read as a sin or guilt offering. That is what the Hebrew actually means. The idea that in offering sacrifices, the people were somehow “paying a fine” to God was completely foreign to the ancient Hebrew mindset.

          So when Christ sacrificed himself for us, it was not paying the penalty, or price, on our behalf. Rather, it was engaging in an act that would bring sinners into right relationship with God.

          Saying exactly how he did that would make this comment far too long. The main point is that interpreting Jesus’ sacrifice as a “penalty” is an utter misunderstanding of the nature of sacrifice in the Bible. In the future, I plan to write more specific articles on this point. Meanwhile, please see these ones:

          For a short version:

          Jesus’ sacrifice was to stand between us and the power of the Devil, or hell, take the full force of the Devil’s fury and destructive power, which had been aimed at us, and defeat the Devil, or hell, so that it no longer had the overwhelming power over us that it had gained through thousands of years of human sin and evil. Christ defeated the devil, and “overcame the world,” and now has the power to save every one of us from the power of evil, hell, and the Devil if we will only turn to him, believe in him, and follow his commandments by repenting from our sins and loving and serving God and the neighbor through lives of service to our fellow human beings.

          This, in a nutshell, is what Christ accomplished for us through his sacrifice, as you will see and understand if you put out of your mind the false and error-ridden doctrines of Luther and Calvin, and read the articles linked above, and the Bible itself.

          You are currently wandering in human error. I hope these words of mine may break and shatter that error in your mind, so that you can see the truth of what the Bible actually says about sin and salvation, and that truth will make you free.

  3. Mike says:

    It really does make me laugh when websites like gotquestions say that a rapist and a murderer that never stop say they’re going to heaven. That view makes no sense.

    • Rohan says:

      According to James, there are two faiths. One is counterfeit and produces no fruit and one is genuine and produces fruit.

      If this rapist was to repent and ask for forgiveness at his last breadth, he would be justified.

      Look at Luke 18, the tax collector was more justified because he repented for his sinful life than the Pharisee who bragged about a life of good works.

      Repentance is much more important to God than our good works (which he considers ‘filthy rags’ in comparison)

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rohan,

        Not exactly. According to James, there is faith, and there is dead faith.

        Faith is faith when it is together with works.

        Faith is dead faith when it is not together with works.

        And once again, James tells us very plainly, with no fancy theological quibbling around the edges, that:

        A person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

        The idea that a rapist or murderer can erase a lifetime of evil actions and evil character through a plea for forgiveness and a profession of faith in Jesus with his last breath is ludicrous and false. At that point, he is driven solely by fear, and such “repentance” is fear-driven, not faith-driven. It will accomplish nothing.

        Yes, repentance is key. Not just faith. And repentance means no longer doing evil, sinful things.

        Repentance isn’t just saying with the lips, “I’m sorry.” Repentance means actually being sorry, which means recognizing that one’s actions have been wrong, destructive, and sinful, and committing oneself to no longer doing them. If we keep sinning, we have not repented.

        And if we stop doing evil, then obviously we must start doing good works instead. This is stated plainly and simply in the Bible many times over. Here is just one example:

        Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
        remove the evil of your doings
        from before my eyes;
        cease to do evil,
        learn to do good;

        seek justice,
        rescue the oppressed,
        defend the orphan,
        plead for the widow.
        (Isaiah 1:16-17, italics added)

        John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached repentance for the forgiveness of sin. And that means no longer sinning, but doing good works instead. See, for example, John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance from sin and doing good works instead in Luke 3:7-14. He said we must bear fruits worthy of repentance. Mere profession with the lips is not repentance.

        Of course the Pharisee wasn’t justified. He believed that he was better than other people because he kept the ritual Law of Moses. His heart was full of himself and his own “righteousness,” not full of God and God’s righteousness.

        But repentance without good works is an oxymoron. You can’t repent without ceasing to do evil and learning to do good. That’s what repentance is.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mike,

      Laugh . . . or cry.

    • I’m not sure what gotquestions says. I have read some of their stuff. I can tell you that coming from an evangelical background, that’s not technically evangelical theology either. Repentance is also required to be “born again.” However, they would say that a murderer could “accept Jesus” at the very end of his life and be instantly forgiven for whatever he has done. The idea is that Jesus paid the penalty for sin, so by accepting his payment on your behalf, you are forgiven for whatever you did. But someone who continues with such an egregious sin would not be considered “saved” in evangelical theology either.

      • Lee says:

        Hi deepthinkingdave,

        I do understand that this is what evangelicals believe. But I would point out once again that nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. And I believe there is a very good reason it never says that: because it is not, in fact, true.

        Further, the question is not really whether God forgives us for what we have done. God always forgives us, and always has. Rather, the question is whether we accept God’s forgiveness. And doing so requires more than just expressing our faith in Jesus. As you say, it also requires repentance, which is not something we do only with our lips, but also with our heart and in our actions.

        Though it is aimed at a somewhat different question, and therefore goes in a different direction than the discussion here, this article on repentance and forgiveness gives the general idea: “Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness.” See especially the final section of the article.

        • Thanks, Lee. Right, I understand your theology to mean that you are forgiven by God by default and it is a matter of accepting that forgiveness. What does “justification” mean in your theology? The evangelical pastor who taught me explained the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism in terms of how justification and sanctification are defined. For Protestants, justification is an event and sanctification is a process. For Catholics, BOTH are a process. At least that is how he explained it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi deepthinkingdave,

          Good question.

          It helps to keep in mind that the underlying meaning of the Greek word for “justify” involves righteousness. The primary meaning of the noun form is “righteous,” and the primary meaning of the verb form is “to make righteous.” From there it gains its judicial meaning of “to declare righteous,” i.e., not guilty, but innocent, meaning that the person is living a righteous rather than a sinful life.

          Unfortunately, penal substitution theory has veered way over into the realm of the judicial to the extent that it loses the original meaning of these words in the Greek text of the Bible. Though δικαιόω can be used in the judicial sense, what it really means is to actually make a person righteous, not merely to declare a person righteous whether or not that person actually is righteous. It is only on the basis of being righteous that a person can rightfully be declared righteous, or “justified.”

          Obviously none of us is righteous on our own. We are righteous only when we have the Lord’s righteousness in us. That’s a given. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

          With that understood, what “justifying” really means is to change a person from being sinful to righteous. It’s a matter of the person’s character and actions, not just a pronouncement arbitrarily made as if by a judge (even a Divine Judge) regardless of the person’s character and actions.

          Penal substitution theory requires God to continually make unjust judgments, attributing to sinners the righteousness of Christ even though they are, in fact, still sinful and not righteous. Not only is it completely non-Biblical, it’s also completely unjust, as the Bible itself declares on a number of occasions. Here is one especially clear example:

          Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)

          The Lord does not do things that the Lord detests.

          But that is precisely what penal substitution theory says that the Lord does every time a sinner is “justified.” That doctrine, in addition to never being stated in the Bible flatly contradicts the plain teachings of the Bible.

          So “justification” as used in the Bible definitely is not declaring the guilty innocent.

          Rather, it is making the guilty innocent by changing their character and actions from sinful to righteous. Only when we are no longer guilty of sin can we be declared righteous (“justified”), because only then are we actually righteous. God’s judgments always reflect the reality of the situation, not some arbitrarily “imputed” unreality when the person is actually still a sinner and still guilty.

          So to answer your question, in our theology, “justification” is the process by which a sinner becomes no longer a sinner, but a righteous person. (And once again, it is not the person’s own righteousness, but God’s righteousness in him or her that accomplishes this. And yes, I’m well aware that none of us is ever perfect. But God looks at the overall character of our heart, and does not hold occasional minor sins and lapses against us if our overall character is good.)

          And the only way that a sinner can become righteous is to do what the Bible says sinners must do: repent from their sins, which means no longer committing them, and instead love the Lord our God above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves—which means actively serving the neighbor in good and practical ways out of love for the neighbor. In other words, it involves both a change of heart and the active doing of good works in one’s life. To quote the same passage of James that I’ve been pounding on, but in a more contemporary translation:

          You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

          Another way of saying all this is that in order to be “justified,” or made righteous, a person must be reborn, as Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:1-21. For more on how this happens based on Swedenborg’s teachings, see my article: What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?

  4. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for sharing the article. It would seem possible then within Swedenborg’s theology that one could have a deathbed repentance in a relatively short period of time? Only a small amount or perhaps even one good work would suffice? When I think of a works salvation, I’m usually thinking that at the end of your life, there is going to be a tally of the good you did versus the bad you did. If your good outweighs the bad, then you go to Heaven. It sounds like your theology is similar to evangelicals in the sense that your final destination is more a matter of the status of your relationship with Jesus when you die, not necessarily the sum total of your life.

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      It’s definitely not the tally of your good works vs. your evil works. That’s not Biblical at all. I don’t know where the fundamentalists even get that idea for the purposes of arguing against it. It’s a complete red herring.

      It’s really where your life on earth, and especially your choices during it, have taken you by the time you die. And that’s not something that just happens in a moment. It’s the sum total of all the experiences, good and bad, and all the choices, good and bad, and where that pathway led.

      At every point in our life, our entire past life is still part of us. We could not repent and begin a new life if we had nothing to repent from. And the very fact that we have lived an evil, sinful life is what makes us realize—if we ever do—that we are evil and sinful, and in need of repentance and salvation. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:

      I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

      It’s not that angels don’t like righteous persons. It’s that people who think they are righteous persons are generally self-righteous persons, and not really righteous at all. None of us is. When we realize that we are sinners, and repent, that is when God can finally begin to make actual righteous persons out of us—righteous, not from anything of our own, but from God’s righteousness flowing into us and through us.

      So for the thief on the cross who repented, it was a lifetime that brought him to that point. We don’t know exactly when he repented. It was probably not on the cross itself, but before that point. Whenever he did, he came to repentance because he realized that he was a sinner, an evildoer, and that what he had done was wrong—in his words, that he (and the other criminal) were being punished justly.

      Do you know how few people convicted and imprisoned for their crimes believe that they are being punished justly? Most maintain their innocence right on through. And then, like Jeremy Wilson, they go out and commit the same crimes all over again, and land right back in prison.

      The thief on the cross had gone through a change of heart. He had recognized that his life was evil. And even if he did not have much time left, he had committed himself to no longer live in that way. The only thing we know he did from the story was to witness to the other thief, and to ask Jesus for mercy.

      But Jesus knew more than that. Jesus was able to look at his heart. And he saw the heart of a man who had truly repented from his life of crime. That is why he could say to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It was not a mere profession of the lips that saved him, but a change of heart.

      And if that happens toward the end of our life, then yes, we can reach heaven on that basis.

      Unfortunately, most “deathbed repentance” is based on simple fear. Evil, criminal types realize the jig is up, and they make one last desperate attempt to avoid facing the consequences of their actions by “believing in Jesus” at the last moment. But it is not sincere. It is simply fear taking over at the time the person faces death. And once they are in the other world, they go right back to their old evil, criminal life. That’s because they have not repented at all. They have had no change of heart.

      Back to my point about sinners coming to repentance, and this being a part of our salvation, I think that’s what Paul was somewhat confusingly talking about in his statements about sin entering through the Law. Not that the Law itself creates sin, but rather, when we realize that we are unable to keep the Law because of our own sinful (greedy and selfish) nature, and compare our sinful nature to the righteousness of the Law (as we understand it), we recognize that we are sinners in need of repentance. So the Law itself did not save us. But its existence showed us our own sinful nature by comparison, and brought us to the point of repentance.

      Back to your question, it’s not really a matter of “even one good work would suffice.” It’s a matter of the state of the heart from which that good work flows. If it comes from a humbled, repentant heart, ready to accept the Lord’s love, mercy, and salvation, and ready to love and serve our fellow human beings instead of using and abusing them, then it is a good work that is part of our salvation.

      It really is the Lord, and not our faith or our good works, that saves us. And that salvation, though it may arrive in our life through faith, in its essence is a change of heart, which changes our entire life. Faith by itself does nothing. It certainly doesn’t “justify” us—meaning make us righteous. But if it brings us to the point at which we are ready to accept Christ into our heart, and ready to let Christ change us from the inside out, then it has done its work.

      • Thanks for the response! I think I would agree with most of what you said.

      • Tony says:

        hi lee

        Does that mean if criminals like Jeremy Wilson kept on doing those bad actions even unto death and then finds out they landed themselves in hell they wouldn’t have any more chance of repentance is that right?

        • Lee says:

          If a hardened criminal continues to be a criminal right up to death, he or she would be highly unlikely to want to be anywhere else but in hell. In heaven, criminals cannot engage in the criminal activities from which they get their excitement and pleasure.

          In other words, they would have no interest whatsoever in repentance. They have already made the choice of what sort of life they want to live.

          You need to get out of you head the idea that hell is a punishment for sins committed on earth. It’s not. Hell is where people choose to go when they have chosen a life of selfishness and greed, which inevitably involves oppression and exploitation aimed at their fellow human beings. Though there is punishment in hell, that’s a mere byproduct of the life that the people who live there have freely chosen.

          For those reading in, here is an article that goes into more detail: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

  5. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for your detailed response about justification! For some reason, I can’t respond directly to it. Of course it’s up to you, but you might even want to make some of your responses on here new blog posts. I feel bad since you obviously putting in significant effort and they are getting buried amidst all these comments. From what i read, Catholics seem to agree with your view of justification. I have also thought that imputed righteousness was a strange concept: God knows that I am jerk but pretends to only see his Son?

    David

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      You’re welcome. I’ve been re-editing that comment, so you might want to take another look to get its final form. (I’m finished with it now.)

      About not being able to reply, that’s because I’ve put a limit on how deeply comments can be nested. No matter how many levels of nesting I allow, people will want to reply further, and pretty soon there will be long columns with very narrow margins, which makes the comments hard to read. So I have to set the limit somewhere.

      I haven’t closely studied Catholic doctrine on justification, but I certainly think that Catholic doctrine is closer to Swedenborgian doctrine on this point, since their view does explicitly require good works as part of the justification process.

      However, as I understand it, although the Catholic Church rejects penal substitution, it does generally accept Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement, which provides the foundation for penal substitution theory. Satisfaction theory made a decisive shift over to “justification” as a judicial event, and thus (from a Swedenborgian perspective) started the corruption of the Biblical meaning of “justification,” or “making a person righteous.” Swedenborg rejects satisfaction theory as well, because it divorces God’s judgment from reality just as penal substitution theory does, though not quite as starkly. So I presume that there are also significant differences between Catholic and Swedenborgian views of justification.

      And yes, I do spend significant time on these comments. Sooner or later the ideas of many of them probably will be incorporated into blog posts. But there’s only so much time in a day, and I have to write and edit more carefully when preparing an article for a blog post, whereas in comments I can write more quickly, and follow up with any needed additions or clarifications. So these comments are a good workshop for developing material that will very likely go into future blog posts.

      Speaking of which, I’ve already adapted, edited, and prepared for this site the answer from StackExchange on the two thieves on the cross, and will post it here as a new blog post as soon as my wife has a chance to read it over and make any needed fixes.

  6. Rob says:

    I’m with Rohan here. Grace is a stream that cools the fires of the flesh. Grace tells you that you are loved and accepted full stop. When that gets a hold of you, the things you obsess over and cling to lose their grip.

    Swedenborg is wrong.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      You might want to hear what Swedenborg says about grace before declaring that he is wrong.

      In a number of places Swedenborg speaks very beautifully (in his own analytical way) about mercy and grace. Here is the first place in his published theological writings where he talks about grace and mercy. In this quote, when he talks about “heavenly” people he’s talking about heart-centered, or more loving people, and when he talks about “spiritual” people he’s talking about head-centered, or more intellectual people.

      “He [Noah] found grace in Jehovah’s eyes” [Genesis 6:8] means that the Lord foresaw that this was the way the human race could be saved. The Lord’s mercy concerns the salvation of the whole human race and looks toward this. His grace does too, which is why the human race’s salvation is symbolized here.

      Noah symbolizes not only a new church but also the faith of that church—the faith that came of charity. So the Lord foresaw that the human race could be saved by the faith that comes of charity. This faith will be described below.

      The Bible maintains a distinction between mercy and grace, however, and that distinction depends on differences between the kinds of people who receive them. Mercy is appropriate to the heavenly, and grace, to the spiritual. The heavenly acknowledge nothing but mercy while the spiritual acknowledge hardly anything but grace. The heavenly have no idea what grace is; the spiritual scarcely know what mercy is and consider it one and the same with grace.

      These differences result from attitudes of humility in each, which are equally different. Those who are humble at heart beg the Lord for mercy, while those who are humble in their thinking seek his grace. (Secrets of Heaven #598)

      In no way does Swedenborg reject or deny our need for God’s grace and mercy. Swedenborg himself had a strong sense and conviction that he was saved by God’s grace and mercy, without which he would have been lost. It’s just that grace and mercy can’t be divorced from the wider context in which they do their saving work.

      • Rob says:

        But I have no charity, in my heart or life. If not for God’s mercy, I’m on the way to hell. I don’t even try to be good anymore; its too hard.

        I wish there was no afterlife; I wish when we die we could just rest. Why does it have to be like this?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rob,

          None of us has any charity in our heart or our life. Not on our own. Any that we have comes from God, not from ourselves.

          And all of us would be on our way to hell if it weren’t for God’s mercy. On our own, we would all rush straight into hell, driven by our self-centeredness and self-absorption.

          When you think of “God’s mercy,” think of God’s love, because that’s what the Greek and Hebrew words behind “mercy” mean. It is a particular kind of love: love for those who don’t particularly deserve or “merit” it, but whom God loves anyway. That is how God views you. God is not looking to condemn you to hell, but to pull you out of hell.

          If you do go to hell, it’s not because God sends you there for anything you lack, such as charity in your heart or life. It’s because you yourself choose and prefer hell over heaven. God is not condemning you to hell, nor will God ever condemn you to hell. Only you can do that to yourself.

          I would suggest that you not “try to be good.” Rather, do your best to be useful to your fellow human beings. Let God take care of the quality of your heart. You focus on making sure you do your job to the best of your ability, given the circumstances. Don’t use your circumstances as an excuse. Those circumstances may slow you down, but you do have some ability to be useful to your fellow human beings. Keep exercising that ability. Keep doing your job and contributing to society. God does not ask of us anything that we cannot do, with God’s help.

          And if I may push you a bit more: While you’re serving your fellow human beings, forget about your own salvation and your own “goodness.” This very focus on whether you are “good” and whether you will be “saved” is part of the self-absorption that’s got you in its grip. The Devil loves to plant worry and fear in us about our own salvation. God does use that worry and fear to get us going. However, that very fear becomes unhealthy when it becomes the primary focus of our life.

          It’s not about you, and this evil world does not revolve around you. The world simply doesn’t care about you. If you look to the world for solace, you will be sorely disappointed, and it will break your spirit.

          But God does care about you and God does love you, and God seeks to pull you out of your inward spiral of self-absorption and fear for your own salvation.

          Just do what’s in front of you, and let God worry about your heart, your goodness, and your eternal salvation. Get yourself out of your own mind and your own fears by focusing more and more on what you can do for others. As you go about your job, don’t think about how you have to do this to survive even though you don’t want to. Think about the service you are providing to the people who benefit from the work that you and your employer are doing. Think about how every time you do your job to the best of your ability, someone is benefiting from it.

          That’s what heaven is all about. It’s not about our being “good,” because we are not good. Only God is good. It’s about doing what God has put us here to do. And that is to serve our fellow human beings with concern for their needs and wellbeing.

          Focus on that, and your crippling fears and self-absorption will gradually drop away.

          And as I said before, if you can find a local counselor or confidante that you can trust, that will also be a great help to you.

  7. Jen says:

    (Yes, me again. I enjoy your website because it makes me think.)

    I am confused about all the theological debate here. If all that matters in the end is a heart of true repentence which is shown through the fruit of good works, then what does it matter HOW you believe salvation works? A person who wants an excuse to sin will look for one no matter what he believes. And if you can make it to Heaven no matter if you even believe that Jesus is God or not, then all this falls under vain quarelling and bickering. If a gang member, as you have said in the past, can make it to heaven based on following his gang moral code, or the Aztecs made it as long as they thought eating human flesh made them right with their version of god, then WHY bother arguing with someone on what exactly you believe Jesus’s death did for humanity? As long as whatever they believe leads to repentence and a desire to live a good life?

    • Rohan says:

      The non-christians will perish as they have no law while The jews will be judged by the law and will ultimately be found guilty as only Jesus could live a life that fulfilled the law.

      ◄ Romans 2:12 ►
      “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.”

      Now the argument is that if Jesus’s death on the cross was only part payment for salvation of us believers and the other half is us believers having to live by the law (as per Catholic beliefs), then there’s a certain chance we are not going to get acquitted.

      The protestant view is that we are consisdered righteous purely through believing that Jesus’s death was full payment for salvation.

      so the question is will God on a case by case basis accept a person’s belief that Jesus’s death was not enough for their salvation. And that God should judge them on their works (i.e. They partly earned their own salvation)

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rohan,

        That’s simply not what the Bible says.

        Even your quote does not say that everyone will perish. It says that those who sin under the law, or apart from the law, will perish. And if you read the rest of Romans 2, you will see that some will be held guilty and others will be acquitted depending upon their consciences. And this is explicitly applied both to Jews and to Gentiles. So you are simply wrong about this. You are flatly contradicting the very chapter from which you quote.

        And as for your statement that “Jesus’s death was full payment for salvation,” if by that you mean that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, then once again, that simply is not what the Bible says. Nowhere in the entire Bible does it say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

        I’ve already offered to admit I’m wrong if you can find a single verse in the Bible that says this. So far you have not produced any such verse. So please stop claiming that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. There is absolutely no basis in the Bible for this belief, which was invented by Martin Luther and John Calvin 1,500 years after the Bible was written.

        Jesus certainly did suffer for our sins, just as the children of chain-smokers suffer for the sins (i.e., unhealthful behavior) of their parents. Jesus did take the full weight of our sins upon him. But it was not to pay the penalty. Rather, it was to overcome our sins by overcoming the Devil and clearing a path for us to travel out of sin and away from eternal death.

        And yet again, no one “earns” salvation through their works. None of the good works we do are our own. They all come from God. We can take no credit for them whatsoever. Jesus taught this plainly when he said:

        I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

        So please stop saying that good works are about earning our way to heaven. That is simply not true, as the Bible itself plainly teaches. Once again:

        “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

        We can take no credit, and we gain no merit, through our good works. That’s not why we do good works—at least, good works that have anything to do with our salvation.

        We do not earn salvation through our good works. But if we refuse to obey God’s commandment stated throughout the Bible to do good works for our fellow human beings, we have slammed the door of our heart and hands in God’s face, and rejected God’s salvation.

        • Rohan says:

          Romans 2 (and a lot of Paul’s teaching btw) was about letting early Christians know that they no longer had to be Jews and be keepers of the law. They were under a lot of pressure to act like Jews and this was not just about the ritual laws like the Sabbath and circumcision.

          Re-read Romans 2 (especially post verse 17), and you will see that it is intended for the Jew who taught they could be saved through works not realising that we inherently commit evil but are blinded to it (like doing charity but ignoring your needy neighbour).

          Pre verse 17, Paul talks about judgment for those Jews who will be judged on works.

          But remember there is no judgment for us believers in Christ.

          John 3:18: ”
          “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

          I would encourage you to stop applying Paul’s message intended for the jews with those intended for the believer.

          Can’t you see that you who morally judge Jeremy Wilson as evil scum and needing to be put away for the benefit of society are no different to the Pharisees who wanted to stone the adultress.

          Jeremy Wilson has earthly judges and these earthly judges that condemned him were specifically appointed by God with power to do so and we are not among them. Therefore you who pass judgment, do you not open yourself to stricter judgment from God.

          Matthew 7:1-5:
          “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

          1 John 3:15
          “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”

          Can’t you see that if we were not believers and were just keepers of the law, God would see no difference between Jeremy Wilson and us.

          I mean why was there a need for Jesus to die for us if we could just live good lives and be judged accordingly. Or we could maybe just become ultra orthodox Jews and earn our way to heaven.

        • Rohan says:

          For all its worth, I could even go as far as to say that Jeremy Wilson could still be a believer before his acts and after his acts.

          I can see you may be laughing at this statement.

          But do you know anything about his personal relationship between himself and God?

          May be his batting the addiction of perjury just like one battles an addiction of pornography, alcoholism. There are even invisible addictions to wealth, etc.

          Do you who battle an addition to any of these have been able to overcome purely through choice and one’s own strength. Then why do you judge Jeremy Wilson.

          In fact I myself deserve to have my name written on this article instead of Jeremy Wilson detailing how I have let the spirit of lust triumph over me time after again. In fact I have offended God for it a hundred times and then repented for it but only to go back to my lusting afterwards.

          It is a cycle that I am determined to break and I believe I will be victorious one day. Jeremy Wilson may be just like me.

          the subconscious teaching of this article is that ‘hey we are not Jeremy wilson’.

          But brothers and sisters, just because this man sins in that open and you do not, it doesn’t make you any more righteous in the eyes of the old covenant law.

        • Rohan says:

          It is incorrect to say that Jesus broke the Sabbath because if he did, he would have sinned against God’s law which was and is still in effect and his blood would no longer be righteous for sacrifice.

          He said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

          Man was to rest in order to relax and spend time with God on the seventh day.

          So when God gave the law of the Sabbath, men went by the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law in disallowing all works on the Sabbath.

          But Jesus said no. If you have to do something that is morally required and necessary, then you can choose to just like feeding your starving body or rescuing a farm animal. What was not allowed was saying hey I would rather work and make others work for me instead of relaxing on the Sabbath.

          Therefore he was actually teaching about all of the laws laid down by God prior to his birth and how it was intended to fulfil them.

          But it’s only later on that he hinted at the new law. (On the third day I will rise again, I will rebuild this temple, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in…

          In fact he did not profess to be God and tried to hide it until his sacrifice could be complete.

          Jesus’s life was an example to the jews on how to live life because God has not forsaken them even till this day though they will not get past his judgment. (Remember the statements in the bible about first the Jew and then the gentile)

          The new covenant only applied when the holy spirit came down to believers at their baptism.

          People say oh the God of the old testament was brutal but Jesus was all love. This cannot be further from the truth. Jesus was the same God spouting the same hate against sin (not sinners), condemning hypocrites, keeping the temple holy, getting into arguments everywhere, etc.

          This is why the lord’s ministry was restricted to the jews with the odd gentile.

          Matthew 10:5
          “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”

          Matthew 15:24
          “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”

    • Rohan says:

      Also remember the law is an all encompassing way of life and not just the rituals like circumcision, etc.

      The law was progressively revealed first to Abraham, then through Moses and then through David and then through Jesus (yes Jesus until his death was a teacher of the law and hence why he restricted himself only to the jews and not the gentiles)

      Remember the young man who claimed that he kept the law by being a good man, respected his parents, etc but Jesus told him to then go and sell everything in addition if he wanted to earn his place in the kingdom. This is an example of it being impossible to surmount the law. The law demanded ritual works (love your God) and also good works (love your neighbour).

      It’s only after Jesus’s death do we see the real new covenant being revealed especially through Paul.

      Think about it, what is the difference between Christianity and every other religion in this world that came about through demonic teachings (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.)

      The answer is all of them claim that the path to achieving divine glory is by inhibiting your evil deeds and becoming a good person through your own strength. A big deceptive lie.

      But Christianity is different. No matter what we do, we are born sinful and cannot stop being sinners and who should be justly condemned to death by a just God. But through grace, mercy and love, we are redeemed if we accept Jesus’s sacrifice for us on the cross.

      The legalists will go through great lengths to play down the joy of the gospel and especially by telling people that they are still not made righteous even after they accepted Jesus’s death on the cross.

      Remember the wages of sin is death (Romans) and only the death of a righteous person can pardon a sinnner (in Leviticus, the example of the two scapegoats).

      When Jesus came to earth, he had to live the life of a person who never sinned. I.e. He had to be the perfect jew through a) not being born of human sperm because if he did, Adam’s original sin would be inputted to him and b) live 100% according to the law.

      Once he completed his mission of being the perfect jew, he could then be ready to be slaughtered for all of humanity as righteous blood in order to appease God for the inequties of mankind that he was interceding for.

      Only after his death, do we see the new covenant being preached from the book of Acts onwards.

      On judgment day, Jesus will take all of our lifetime sins and nullify it in front of God the father and the judge because we accepted his sacrifice for our sins.

      Do you know that when God took out his anger on Jesus for the sins of mankind, he condemned him to death. I.e he has god ceased to exist. But then God the father rose him up from the dead as the ‘firstborn’ (you will see this term many times in the bible).

      Wow what a God to lay down his divine life for us. What great love. No religion comes close to having a God that loves us this way.

      But here we have legalists who play down his salvation and bring in the old covenant requirement of works to further burden mankind like the pharisees did.

      If God could consider people like Lot and Abraham to be righteous in spite of their evil deeds detailed in the bible, don’t you think he would consider us righteous too since his precious son died for us.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Rohan,

        With all due respect, there is so much wrong with this that I could spend the rest of my day just pointing out all of the fallacy and Biblical error contained in this one comment.

        First, though exactly where to draw the line may be a bit fuzzy, for all practical purposes there is a clear distinction between the ritual laws of the Levitical code (commonly referred to as “the Law” or “The Law of Moses”), which was abrogated by Christ, and the moral and spiritual laws of the Ten Commandments, which Christ affirmed as still in force.

        Christians today commonly make this distinction. They believe we must obey the Ten Commandments, but that it is no longer necessary to obey the ritual and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament. You are attempting to erase a distinction that has been made throughout Christian history starting in the New Testament itself.

        Second, Jesus was not a “teacher of the law” in the traditional Jewish sense, nor did he restrict himself only to the Jews.

        At first Jesus did focus on preaching to the Jews, but as time went on he taught Gentiles as well, and instructed his disciples to do the same. Several such stories are recorded in the Gospels, such as Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, which led many Samaritans to become believers. He also healed a Roman centurion’s servant in Luke 7:1-10, on which occasion he commented that he had not found such a great faith even in Israel. You are just plain wrong about this.

        And as for being a “teacher of the law,” a number of times Jesus (or his disciples) broke and contradicted laws found in the Jewish Law such as the laws against doing any labor on the Sabbath, allowing a man to divorce his wife for any reason, and requiring people to be punished “eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” The idea that Jesus was a “good Jew” and strictly upheld the Jewish ritual and behavioral law during his lifetime simply holds no water.

        I really don’t know where you’re getting all of these fallacious and non-Biblical teachings. Who are you listening to? Whoever it is, they simply don’t know their Bible.

        I could keep going, but this should be enough to show anyone who actually does know the Bible that your whole argument falls to the ground and crumbles with even a passing knowledge of the Gospels and the rest of the Bible.

        I urge you to throw away all of the books and sermons that have been filling your head with these errant fallacies, and read the Bible with fresh eyes for yourself. You are wandering in the darkness. Even if you won’t listen to me because your mind has been so clouded by false teachers who ignore and contradict the plain teachings of the Bible, I hope and pray that one day you will wake up and see the clear truth of the Bible with eyes freed from the dark clouds of all these fallacies.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and good questions. I’m glad you enjoy our website!

      First, people of an intellectual mindset commonly enjoy a good debate about ideas, finding it invigorating and thought-provoking. And as long as the debaters are reasonably respectful, there’s no harm in it.

      I could shut down all debate here by simply not approving comments from anyone who disagrees with me. And if that’s clearly the only reason they’re here (to tell me that I’m wrong and I’m going to hell), I usually do delete their comments—especially if they are also rude, insulting, and bigoted, as fundamentalists of all stripes often are. (See our Comments Policy.)

      However, if someone comes here and leaves a comment that is reasonably respectful and raises good questions, I’ll approve it, respond, and engage in the debate. Most often the commenter’s own mind is already made up, and is not going to change. But for people reading in, the discussion can provide food for thought, point out the errors and the lack of Biblical basis of many common traditional Christian beliefs, and get people thinking about what’s really true, and why.

      I have a great faith in the truth. I don’t believe we should be afraid to hear conflicting and contrary beliefs. Engaging them and evaluating them can strengthen our own beliefs if we are genuine seekers of truth.

      Yes, our salvation depends primarily on what we do with our hands based on what’s in our heart. However, our faith and our belief system, does matter. Our beliefs inform our actions. If we believe, for example, that all non-Christians are damned to hell, then we’ll act quite differently toward them than if we believe that they, too, are children of God. Groups that believe “We’re saved and everyone else is damned” commonly engage in many outrageous acts of war, cruelty, and bigotry toward those whom they see as being on the wrong side of the salvation line.

      I do attempt to avoid “vain quarreling and bickering,” and stick to substantive issues of belief. As I said, people’s beliefs inform and guide their actions. And wrong beliefs can and do lead to wrong and damaging actions.

      About gang members and (literal) headhunters, it is true that they can get to heaven if they live by the moral codes of their culture. However, the things that gangs and headhunters do are not so good, don’t you think? If they had a better moral code, their lives would not be so destructive of the lives of others who fall afoul of their particular culture. So it is worthwhile to work to draw people out of limited and faulty beliefs, and into better ones.

      Think of faith and beliefs as a lamp. If it’s dim and flickering, there will be many stumbles and missteps. But if it’s bright and clear, we can see the path ahead of us and know which way to go even in the darkest times.

      Does that help to answer your questions?

      • Hi Lee,

        I apologize if I have asked you this before, but what is your take on Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac? Obviously you do not see it as a foreshadowing of penal substitution as most evangelicals would read it. My friends and I were talking about that passage this week. I think my one friend and I are gravitating towards the interpretation that Abraham somehow thought that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac and God intervened with the lamb.

        David

        • Lee says:

          Hi deepthinkingdave,

          I can’t do justice to this story in a comment, but here are a few thoughts:

          First, the story shows Abraham’s simple willingness to follow God and do whatever God commanded him to do. Isaac was now his sole heir, born of his elderly wife Sarah by a miracle. Presumably there was nothing and no one closer to Abraham’s heart than his son Isaac. So his willingness to sacrifice his son (human sacrifice was common in those days, so it would not have seemed outlandish to Abraham) showed that he was willing to put God and God’s commandments above even his own dearest loves and desires.

          The idea that it was “faith alone” that saved Abraham is simply preposterous, as James points out so clearly. What saved Abraham was his faithfulness to God in being willing to do what God commanded him even if it was the last thing he wanted to do. Abraham is so far from an example of “faith alone” that a person would have to be utterly blind to think such a thing. And I’m not talking about Paul. I’m talking about Protestants who have completely missed the point Paul was making.

          Another thing going on in this story is that it established that the God of the Hebrews does not desire human sacrifice. Later, the Levitical code would substitute an animal for the firstborn of every human being. The story of “the sacrifice of Isaac” is a key turning point distinguishing the Hebrews, and later Israel, from the pagan nations around them, who commonly sacrificed their children to their gods. The story of Jephtha’s daughter in Judges 11 is presented as a tragedy precisely because Jephtha’s own foolish vow required him to sacrifice his daughter, which was not something that the Israelites were required to do by their God.

          Looking deeper, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is about whether we, like Abraham, would be willing to sacrifice our most dearly held loves and desires for the sake of doing God’s will.

          We may not literally be asked to sacrifice our children. But what if one of our children has gone bad and become a criminal? When push comes to shove, will we defend our son or daughter who is engaged in criminal behavior, as many parents do, and unjustly try to get him or her off the hook? (Ethan Couch’s “affluenza” mom is a perfect example of this.) Or will we remain true to justice and divine law, and allow our son or daughter to feel the consequences of his or her criminal behavior without our interference?

          Jesus said that anyone who will not leave (and even hate) family members for his sake is not worthy of him. I don’t think he meant that we must literally hate our family members. And we hope that in most cases we don’t have to literally leave them either. But the message is that if we put family connections ahead of our relationship with God, then we have shown that we are not faithful to God, but in fact worship our family as “god” in place of God.

          There is far more to this story. But I hope these few thoughts at least give you a taste.

    • Rohan says:

      Hi Jen

      I must also add about what the significance of the faith vs works debate means.

      On the surface, it may seem irrelevant if one just believes in Jesus and tries to live a good life.

      But I say it is much deeper than than. I will try to simplify it as much as I can but please be aware that I am generalising here i.e. Stereotyping just for the purposes of putting across a difference.

      There are many dimensions to talk about it but the biggest difference I see between a pro-works religion (Catholic) and a pro-faith relationship (Protestantism) is prayer life.

      You see one who believes that they are 100% justified through Jesus’s sacrifice knows that they are righteous in God’s eyes. They can commune with God as a child to his father i.e they don’t have to approach his throne with fear but can do so boldly (Hebrews).

      Being right with God means that they no longer have to beg and plead but can command and bind.

      They can perform works greater than Jesus’s earthly ministry.

      You see when Jesus died for us, we as his righteous children were given great power and authority over disease, sickness, poverty, demonic oppression, etc. through the holy spirit. We can ask for anything in his will and will be given to is. His will for us is to be healthy and prosperous (Jeremiah).

      You want to be healed of cancer, you say cancer I command you to leave my body because my God has provisioned for me healing. Thank you Jesus for your healing.

      Then confidence that knowing you are righteous leads to righteous living. Knowing that you are justified by God transforms the way you pray and eventually the way you act.

      When they pray, they spend 95% of their time praising and worshipping him. We know that he already knows our needs and wants and so we can just thank him.

      Their prayer life is like that of Adam and Eve walking with God in the the garden.

      The Catholic though is burdened by works. He or she feels and knows that they are not yet justified by God and needs to approach his throne like a pauper.

      They are taught to beg for forgiveness when they have already been forgiven (Isiah 53), they go about like mindless robots saying the rosary, the hail marys, the ‘I believe’ a million times in vain repetitions in hope that God would eventually listen to them i.e they petition God to work when he has already provisioned it all for us. They also go about asking for saints and Mary to intercede for them not knowing that there is only one mediator between God and mankind.

      They are heavily burdened by sin i.e. Missing mass particularly the eucharist or even confession means that they have offended God and they need to get right with him again before they can live out their Christian life.

      They feel that they can do good works to appease God and not just their conscience.

      They do not know that they are already saints without some bogus canonization by men.

      They believe that prayers offered to those in purgatory are helpful for the salvation of those souls.

      Now this is just an example, not all catholics or protestants are like this. There is certainly ignorance and deception in both branches.

      But I just thought how the emphasis on righteousness through faith in protestant circles allows you to think and pray differently.

  8. Rohan says:

    Now what most Catholics play down is officially nobody can be assured of their salvation. Nobody not even mother Theresa. They emphasise that God will judge us on our faith + works.

    In fact they will tell you that we must persevere in good works to stand a chance.

    But what they fail to usually add to it is the third component of works that would disqualify from inheriting the kingdom of God: gossipers, sexually immoral, idolatry, liars, slanderers, etc. In fact hating your brother is equivalent to murder (Jesus).

    Are we to go to our deathbed riddled with fear of punishment.

    What is love then.:
    ◄ 1 John 4:18 ►
    “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”

    We are righteous in God’s eyes and if God says he loves us then we should know that we are not to fear but to go about in our lives with the full righteousness of God behind us: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising up the dead.

    We believers are told to boldly approach his throne of grace (Hebrews).

    Of course we still sin and God hates sin because it blinds us from his love and grace and importantly our subscription to his protection. When we sin, his grace increases further (Romans).

    We still need to pay the consequences of sin in our earthly lives which is a fleshly death.

    But through sin, we allow the evil one to inhibit God’s plan for our lives to be full of prosperity and blessings.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      Real faith does not involve fear that God will punish us for all of our wrongs. In fact, God does not hold our sins against us, but gives us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

      If you need to fear God’s punishment in order to stay on the strait and narrow, then perhaps that works for you. But many people have moved beyond that fear, and instead fear acting against God’s will because they do not want to dishonor God or harm their fellow human beings. That is a healthy and spiritual fear of God.

      God does not hold all our sins against us. And when we repent and turn our life over to Jesus Christ, allowing Christ into our hearts, minds, and lives, he will progressively cleanse us from our evil desires, our false thoughts, and our wrong actions. It is our willingness to let Christ make us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) that allows us to receive God’s forgiveness and message of reconciliation. When we do this, and begin new lives in Christ, our former sins are no longer remembered against us, as taught in Ezekiel:

      But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23, italics added)

      When John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples called on people to repent for the forgiveness of sins, they were saying the very same thing. When we have repented and left our sinful lives behind, our old sins will no longer be held against us. See, for example, the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. God is not vengeful and condemnatory, but loving and forgiving, if only we will “Go now and leave our life of sin” (John 8:11).

  9. Rohan says:

    And besides, what business is this of us to judge Jeremy Wilson from the article or other sinners (Corinthians 5:12)

    Romans 14:4 ►
    “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

    Why don’t you remove the plank from our own eye.

    Remember God made some people for special purposes and some for common purposes. Romans 9:21.

    Some can be destined to do wrong (Judas) in order to fulfil some purpose and some are destined to do right (Moses) similarly.

    Yes we have choices but it is through a divine intervention that we were selected to open our eyes to the truth

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      Jeremy Wilson is judging and condemning himself by his actions. Earthly judges must judge him in order to protect innocent people from his theft and fraud. And God will judge him simply by shining the light of divine truth on his actions and on his heart.

      And God does not predestine anyone to do evil. Yes, there will be people such as Judas who will do evil things, fulfill prophecy, and play their (evil) part in God’s overall plans. But those people made their own choices and did their own evil. If God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness responds by fighting against the light and twisting it into evil plans in their heart, that is not God’s fault, but the fault of the evil hearts of those who are opposed to God’s will.

  10. Thanks for the comments about Abraham. I was mostly asking if you thought that God literally commanded Abraham to kill his son and it would appear that, like me and my friend, you do not.

    • Lee says:

      Hi deepthinkingdave,

      No, I don’t think God actually commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son—although Abraham may well have thought God commanded him to do so. What God commands and what we humans hear are not always the same thing.

    • Lee says:

      And of course, you’re right that I don’t view it as a foreshadowing of penal substitution. Yes, there was a substitution of the ram caught in a thicket for Isaac. But there was no “penalty” involved in the story, so the “penal” part just isn’t there. As I’ve said in other comments here, viewing sacrifices as “penalties” is completely off the mark of how they actually functioned in ancient societies that practiced animal (and human) sacrifice.

  11. Right. Obviously, there is no talk of any penalty that Abraham had to pay in that story. As far as I remember, it was presented as a test of obedience. Do you have a link to the article you wrote on what the sacrifices DID mean in the OT? I know I read it once but I could not find it. Maybe it was just a comment.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      The funny thing is, despite all of the errors in this article, in the end it recognizes the real reason to do good works: not to merit salvation, but because of our love for God and our desire to do God’s will. That was always the greatest reason to do good works.

      All of the Protestant arguments that good works do not save us because they are about merit completely miss the point, and they completely miss the reason that the Bible commands us to do good works. We do not do good works to merit salvation. We do good works because we love God and we love our neighbor, just as Jesus commands us to do. All of the Law and the Prophets depend on the core commandments to love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves.

      If the authors of the article understood their own words, and the teachings of the Bible on this subject, they would not have fallen into all of the errors they make in the earlier part of the article.

  12. rohan says:

    Of course you have convinced yourself in that the protestant point of view is that good works are not essential because our salvation has already been earned and that good works are for merit.

    But you either ignore or fail to comprehend that the protestant point of view really is ‘God works salvation in us by justification and we work it out in sanctification ‘. i.e. Only once we are justified, can the process of sanctification begin.

    Your logic though is that failure to adequately pass the process of sanctification leads to eternal destruction. and in the case of your catholic doctrine, the process of sanctification continues in purgatory for those that at least got past some point in the sanctification barometer.

    Well Lee, good luck to you in preaching your message of attaining/maintaining righteousness. While you are it, you may also want to throw in some Buddhism stating that the cause of suffering is attachment.

    Unrelated but a lot of Catholic doctrine saddens me. You know I was deeply disappointment the other day when I watched the pope’s speech to the US congress. With audience of the world looking on, never once did he mention Jesus and his love for us, that he died for us and can provide the answer to our life’s purpose. But no, he went on and on about how we must love our brethren and doing right is our duty and that God works through us. You know the Dalai Lama could have said the same exact thing and got the same positive response he was looking for. Could he have talked about Jesus. Oh no, evangelising could offend people. Rather righteousness will draw people to God.

    Easy to see how that speech had little parallels with Paul’s speech at Mars Hill.

    Happy for you to dismiss me as a fundamentalist but hopefully your readers are note discouraged.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your blog.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rohan,

      I understand that you don’t agree with Catholic doctrine. But I am not a Catholic, and I also don’t agree with the Catholic doctrine of salvation. Unfortunately, Protestantism took the faulty Catholic doctrine and made it even worse.

      As for the rest, the Bible simply doesn’t make the fine distinction you are making between “justification” and “sanctification.”

      “Justification” simply means “being made righteous.” That’s the meaning of the original Greek word. And “sanctification” simply means “being made holy.” That’s the meaning of the original Greek word. The two are part of the same process: turning sinners into saints (holy ones), which is the same thing as turning sinners into righteous people.

      Luther and Calvin split apart what was together in the Bible in order to support their false teaching of justification by faith alone, which the Bible specifically rejects:

      You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

  13. Rob says:

    I want to add something. If God wants me to be good, then he should put my in a good world; one where I don’t feel like life is attacking me, where I feel secure. I wouldn’t be evil in such a world because I wouldn’t have to be. In our world I have to fight and struggle to keep from being hurt. I have to drag myself to work everyday though I have chronic fatigue; otherwise I’m homeless and at the mercy of the elements and other people. I can’t be good because being good will lead me to harm.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      I replied to some of this in my response to you above (here). So please read that if you haven’t already. To add to what I said in that reply:

      A “good” world would not test our soul and bring about growth of mind and heart in us. We become strong, not by relaxing and drinking in pleasures in a “good” world, but by working and struggling against the evil and injustice in our world and in our own soul.

      Yes, God could have put us in a “good” world—one with no evil. And in fact, according to Genesis, God did do that:

      God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)

      However, we humans quickly introduced evil into the world by disobeying the one prohibition God had made—and the rest, as they say, is history. We could have lived in a “very good” world, but we were not content with what God had provided for us. We had to do things our own way. On this, you might be interested in the articles: Which Tree is in the Middle of Your Garden? and: Curses or Consequences: Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?

      Ever since then, it has been our lot to struggle against the evil in the world and in our own hearts and minds. And it is precisely through that struggle that we are pulled out of the grip of evil, and become strong for good—strong not on our own, or from anything in ourselves that we can claim credit for, but strong by opening the door of our hearts and minds to God so that God can enter in and make us strong (see Revelation 3:19-21).

      It’s very true that a lot of what we go through here on earth is not at all fun. I’ve been through hell in my own life, and I would not care to repeat it. Even now I have many struggles, and I don’t particularly think of myself as “good.” But I have a job to do, and so do you. We can gripe and complain all we want about the evil, unfairness, stupidity, and injustice of life, but it won’t accomplish a @#$% thing.

      Or we can accept the fact that life here on earth often sucks, and get on with it.

      Don’t waste your time complaining about the flaws and the evils in God’s creation. It was we humans, not God, who brought those flaws and that evil into God’s perfect work. Blaming God for what we humans have done to muck up God’s work also won’t accomplish a thing.

      For more on this, see the article: If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?

      One more thing: being “good” doesn’t necessarily mean being “nice.” In fact, sometimes we have to be not nice in order to be good. Being good is about accomplishing something useful and constructive in the real world. And sometimes we have to knock heads together to do that. So once again, think less about being “good,” and think more about being useful and accomplishing something constructive with your days.

  14. Rob says:

    >>>”However, we humans quickly introduced evil into the world by disobeying the one prohibition God had made—and the rest, as they say, is history. We could have lived in a “very good” world, but we were not content with what God had provided for us.”

    You can’t say “we” if you or I weren’t there. And, if things were good and perfect (but became broken or fallen at some point) then obviously we don’t absolutely need an imperfect and harsh world to test us. Right? How can it be that we *need* a fallen world to test us when the world was originally created good and perfect? Only if a fallen world was intended to begin with can you say that said world was necessary to test us. Otherwise, the good and perfect world at the beginning was superfluous.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      Good points and good questions. A proper answer would require a whole new blog post . . . or a whole book. But here are a few thoughts and responses:

      I say “we” because Adam and Eve were not individual human beings, but figures representing the entire human race that existed at that time. And they are also used in the Bible as a figure representing all of humankind. The Hebrew word adam, after all, means “a human being,” and collectively, “humankind.” So while it is true that we personally were not there at the time, the figures of Adam and his wife Eve (which comes from the Hebrew word for “life,” and is thus also a collective term for all living human beings), as they are used in the Bible, stand for us as well. This is reflected in Paul’s statement:

      Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned . . . .” (Romans 5:12)

      Here it says that sin and (spiritual) death came into the world through one man (Adam), and spread to all because all have sinned—not, as in traditional Christian doctrine, because Adam sinned, but because all have sinned, like Adam, who represents all people.

      In other words, the sin of Adam and Eve represents the sin all of us commit, which at its root is turning away from God, and following our own rather superficial and faulty ideas of what’s right and wrong—which tend to favor our own short-term advantages as we perceive them—instead of listening to what God tells us is right and wrong.

      In other words, we all “declare independence” from God and therefore get off track. The story of Adam and Eve’s sin is a symbolic narrative in mythical form describing what every single one of us does early on in the course of our lives. And as necessary as our “individuation” process is (to use a modern psychological term) to our achievement of a sense of self and of individuality, it also involves getting pretty badly off track in various ways, and requires us to engage in a lot of emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to get ourselves to a more healthy and sound state of mind and spirit.

      I realize this doesn’t fully answer your questions or address all of your issues. But I hope it at least gives you some sense of why things are the way they are. Once we humans turn our back on God’s way and try it our own way instead, we have a long, hard road back to healing and wholeness, both physical and spiritual. And that is the state of affairs in which we find ourselves today, both due to the collective decisions and actions of humanity as a whole and due to our own individual choices and directions taken in the context of and in response to those of humanity as a whole.

  15. Rob says:

    But when was this perfect and good world God is said to have created? You said:

    “Yes, God could have put us in a “good” world—one with no evil. And in fact, according to Genesis, God did do that:” But then you said:

    “I say “we” because Adam and Eve were not individual human beings, but figures representing the entire human race that existed at that time.”

    This is confusing. How can there be a fall if Adam and Eve were symbolic? But assuming there was a fall by two primal humans, is it fair to allow me to be culpable?

    I didn’t have a choice to be saddled with a rebellious nature, as our first parents (allegedly) did; further, as Ayn Rand said, “A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.”

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rob,

      With all due respect to Ayn Rand, she had a somewhat simplistic notion of free will. We humans are not radically free. Rather, we have a zone of freedom within various biological, social, and psychological constraints. And it is precisely in the struggle to overcome “a game with loaded dice” that human free will comes into its greatest power and effect.

      Common human experience tells us that the dice are loaded against us in many ways. We are born into a world that is corrupted in many ways, and into families that have various skeletons either in or out of the closet. Ayn Rand herself had to overcome her family origins as a Russian Jew, and the disruption brought to her family due to the Bolshevik Revolution. And she went on to formulate an original and controversial philosophy that has influenced millions of people. So her own life is a fine example of human free will overcoming a game with loaded dice.

      About Adam and Eve, although I don’t believe they were individual humans, and in fact think that the idea that they are is quite ridiculous and unsupportable, in the end it doesn’t really matter whether they were individuals or represented an entire culture of human beings. Cultures can fall and become corrupted just as individuals can. Ancient Rome is famous for having had a splendid peak and then falling into corruption and ruin.

      And the reality is that whether we like it or not, we have inherited a corrupted world, in which human greed and grasping for power has vitiated what could be a far more just and beautiful human society. And each generation tends to repeat the mistakes of the previous one based on its own desire for power, possessions, and pleasure.

      For us as individuals, the closest we get to the “very good” world that God initially created is our state of complete innocence as infants. Unfortunately, not all infants are treated well, and many die. So even our infancy can be and often is tainted with evil. However, we ourselves, in our infant state, are completely innocent in that we do not do anyone any intentional harm, and we are completely dependent upon our caregivers. As we grow up, that innocence fades. By the time we are in school, we’ve engaged in a certain amount of rebellion and self-will, and teenagers are famous for wanting to do things their own way rather than their parents’ way. That’s simply part of our process of growing up and becoming our own human being. But it does involve making many foolish “mistakes of our youth.” By the time we hit adulthood, none of us can claim to be spotless and innocent in our motives and actions.

      So although we could blame it on Adam and Eve, we ourselves retrace the same trajectory in our own lives. Do we need to do this? Yes, in a sense we do because as human beings, we must establish our own identity as individuals, and that requires breaking away from parents and even from God. And unfortunately, being non-omniscient, and in fact often rather foolish as young people and young adults, doing things our own way generally involves making a lot of stupid and foolish mistakes, and sometimes acting in downright selfish and egotistical ways. This also includes becoming so self-absorbed that we become completely immersed in our own problems and more-or-less shut out the rest of the world.

      So yes, the dice are loaded, and every single one of us experiences our own individual “Fall” as represented in the story of the Fall of Humankind in Genesis 3.

      However, each of us also has the capability, due to our free will, to overcome those “loaded dice” and rebuild a new and better life through our choices and acts of will. And that is also what it is to be human, and to have free will.

  16. S says:

    I understand what you’re saying and it does make sense as I’ve done a lot of wrongs in my life and I’m paying for it no matter how much I pray or repent. It never leaves me alone now. What I’m wondering is then how did the thief next to Jesus that died on the cross and got saved at the last second for believing Jesus or was that a lie? In that case I don’t think I can ever become a total new person, just like Jesus said I would be reborn by faith, because I’ve done too many wrong things to forget and change my brain instructure now or was thar just a false hope? I might as well kill myself now and speed up the time to the hell im destined for now with no hope. Because I’m trying to be good now and it doesn’t work.

    • Lee says:

      Hi S,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      About the thief on the cross, see my article, “Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?” Clearly the thief on the cross had had a change of heart, or he wouldn’t have said what he did.

      Now about your situation, you could kill yourself if you wanted to, but I wouldn’t recommend it. We’re given a lifetime on this earth for a reason: that’s how long it takes for God to whip us into shape, assuming we’re willing to be whipped into shape. (And no, I don’t mean “whipped” literally.) It may feel like you’re not getting anywhere. But for most of us, change is gradual. It happens on a timescale of decades, not of days, weeks, or months. We have to work at it day after day, recognizing that we will sometimes backslide, but not giving up even then, getting back up, and moving forward again.

      Nobody ever said it would be easy. Nothing worth achieving in life is easy. And getting ourselves turned around and headed toward becoming a good, loving, thoughtful, wise, and kind person is one of the toughest jobs there is.

      But the results are worth it.

      Here are a few more articles that might be helpful to you:

      If you have any further questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask. And godspeed on your spiritual journey.

      • S says:

        No I’m actually so sorry for putting the question the way I did. Who am I to question such things when I cannot even answer the obvious power of god as it is. There is definitely a reason why I’ve come across you’re site so I’ll take it as a lesson. thank you for aiding a person like me by taking time to write a post and even reply to my question. Thank you.

        • Lee says:

          Hi S,

          No worries. I hope the articles here will give you some further hope and insight into your situation. God has plans for you, even if it may not seem that way to you right now.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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