God has profoundly blessed me with bringing people into my life who enjoy discussing spiritual things, a.k.a. theology. That isn't that easy to find these days and I know it is a God thing they are in my life. I have very close Christian girlfriends who know God's Word and continually astound me with their insights. You should hear some of our discussions! And God has brought into my life many people with seminary degrees. They are my go-to people when I need clarity; my mentors who are eager to discuss spiritual things with me.
David Kendall is one such friend. David is a minister, formally trained, has his degree from seminary, very intelligent, and is just one of the nicest people you will ever meet! He has a heart for discipleship. I haven't known David that long, but we instantly connected. I think I liked him so much because we share the same discipleship vision and he is always willing to discuss God and His nature with me. He is genuine and humble and has a servant's heart. I highly respect him.
I wrote a post on not recognizing sin in our lives and thus grieving God. Surprisingly that post had more 'reads' than anything I have written. It apparently resonated with a lot of people.
David read it and emailed me what he thought about it. I was so blown away by the truth he speaks and I asked him if I could share his thoughts with you. He gave me his permission.
Read my original post first, Grieving God. (link here)
Then read David's thoughts below looking up the Scripture he refers to.
Then digest it. Meditate on it.
Then have a conversation with God.
First of all, great post, Carolyn! Excellent thoughts and way to penetrate right to the heart of the issue!
These are very rambling thoughts below, mostly just my initial responses as I think about your post. I tried to put them into general comments / observations and then more specifically give answers (as I see them) to some of the GREAT questions you posed.
General Thoughts & Responses
That was a great idea to speak of the sin generically, because so many people have hang-ups in talking about specific sins that they immediately object to any further discussion or reflection because they think it is off limits (“You can’t talk negatively about that!”) and they just “hang up the phone” on listening to anything else you have to say.
Your examples about an affair and embezzlement are apropos. Would we expect God to aid us in our evil endeavor and avoid detection, or would a loving God confront us and cause us to come to terms with our transgression and all the people it is hurting? I think the answer is obvious, but so many people have largely decided to let go of that vision of God as fair and just and righteous. What if we were on the other side? If we were an employer and an employee was embezzling, would we want to know? I think we would, even if it was unpleasant to learn! As you said, we want it both ways; we want God to be just to others, but lenient to us. Doesn’t work that way.
It is as if we have said, and voices on blogs and even in our churches will say things very close to this, emphasizing God’s friendship at the expense of His goodness and holiness: “God, I like you as a friend, but I don’t want to relate to you as a father.” I want to live in your house and enjoy your blessings, but I don’t want to do anything you say that I don’t already want to do. So I would like to reconstruct the relationship into one that suits me, namely you do whatever I ask and be okay with whatever I do, and I will define the relationship for us.” [And this is the mild view of what is out there; many more in society are much more adamant they want nothing to do with God. I’m speaking in the above example of something closer to what society would call a “Christian.”]
If a child came to us and wanted to reconstitute the relationship like this, we would first laugh . . and then cry . . and then immediately set about to help the child understand that, first, they are in no position to negotiate or barter, and secondly, this approach if I gave it to you as a parent is the definition of hate. If I hate you, I would let you do exactly as you say. I would withhold all my knowledge, experience, wisdom, and maturity and let you do everything your appetite leads you to do. I would expect nothing of you except what you want to do. I would yield to your every desire.
And that is what many people want and expect of God. “God, I want to see you as friend and maybe occasionally ‘Savior,’ but I don’t want to see you as Lord. I want to see you as a provider (when I want it), but not as Father with rules and requirements.” To paraphrase C.S. Lewis on another topic, God has not left that path open to us; He did not intend to. He is Lord, not us. It is He who dictates terms, not His fallible, impotent creatures. Thus, the critical importance of understanding Jesus’ ministry as fulfilling and embodying the New Covenant that comes on the heels of the Old Covenant.
I think this society too has failed to reckon with the consequences of people’s sins, like you said.
We have ravaged homes and relationships, and then we have ravaged neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, government, and all the rest. Crime, addiction, gambling, pornography, greed, lust, abuse etc., etc. Most people today want to say “It’s my choice.” But of course our choices have big impacts on others. We see that in our society.
As I see these things, I recognize, in addition to the need to see the situation as it is, that I need God’s help in bridging into people’s lives so they know I want to do more than just bash them over the head with truth.
In terms of your bigger questions, and I see these as quite challenging and maybe something all of us in the Body of Christ need to work towards “deciding on” if we are going to have a unified message to the world.
Question: How do they not know it is sin? Surely some part of their thoughts and heart and soul is telling them it is sin and they are ignoring that voice. Or are they truly ignorant?
Answer: I think it is different in every case. Per Romans, there is clearly a knowledge of God imprinted upon each conscience. [I believe David is referring to Romans 1:18-32 here. The theological term for this knowledge of God is General Revelation.] People know that taking someone’s life or property without cause is wrong. People don’t like to be ruled by an unjust ruler. These are human instincts, hard-wired realities. For those taught in a Christian home or setting, they obviously have been given knowledge about God and His standard. Now it may not make sense about why they have to obey those things or they may feel no compunction to do so, or if they do in some way “want” to, they know instinctively that they are powerless to do it (a kid knows how hard it is to share what they have with another child).
Others simply do not know much of anything about God.
Will they be punished? Yes, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says that Jesus “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” That’s a blanket statement. It doesn’t say those that heard the Christian message, it just says those who do not obey it and do not know God. Paul says that God commands people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and he was speaking to pagan people in Athens. Obviously we as the Church have to take that Gospel out so people can hear it. But people are judged nonetheless: those without knowledge by their conscience (Romans 2:15), and those with knowledge by their failure to keep it (Romans 2:12). So people will perish either apart from the law or under the law (Romans 2:12).
Question: “How do they not know God?”
Answer: Again I think there are many answers. Creation points to the reality of God. But many have rejected that knowledge and taught others to do so as well. I think of the scientists and intellectual “luminaries” in high places telling people that God is bogus and evolution is all there is and all the rest. People believe those lying voices and knowledge of God is abandoned. Then, unfortunately, there are church people who have portrayed a wrong view of God or failed to live up to their words (myself included), and that discredits the Gospel presentation. So people are still wrong to reject God because of an abhorrent human example, but that failure in testimony at least explains their rejection. Then there is our failure to take the Gospel to every people group and present it. We have sinned in that.
So there are multiple reasons why people do not know God. Some of it is the problem of the people who have rejected it. People have also been led astray by false teaching. And a large part is the Church’s failure to either (a) live consistently according to what we profess and (b) obey the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations at whatever costs.
Question: What is God's reaction to all of this? Will He have mercy on them because of their ignorance? Or judge them because they really did know it was sin or because there is no excuse for their ignorance?
Answer: The Bible says that God will have mercy on whom He wants to have mercy (Romans 9:15). He reveals Himself to whom He chooses to reveal Himself. Scripture does indicate that those who do not know and don’t do the will of God will be beaten with few blows, while those who know and do not do it will be beaten with many blows (Luke 12:47-48). Most theologians believe there is a different “works” judgment depending on the light of revelation we had. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). How God sorts that out is not fully known, but we know in the eternal state that there will be two ultimate destinations, but people will receive rewards or punishments for things they have specifically done.
Question: Does this in any way affect their salvation?
Answer: It is up to no one to judge another’s person salvation. God alone sees that ultimate reality. But I think if people are not operating with any regards to holiness, it begs the question as to the real nature of their relationship with God. I believe 1 John makes this point very explicitly. John’s writing there is full of “If . . . then” statements, like “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1:6-7).
So when we come across a person who professes faith in God but seems to have little regard for His holiness in personal living, it seems our first role is to help them understand the full nature of a relationship with God. In that, we / they may determine that a person really hasn’t made that decision to let Jesus be the Lord and Savior of his / her life. Or they may find that they had insufficient understanding of what that relationship entailed, there was personal sin blocking development, etc.
I don’t treat it as a non-issue where we say “Well, they prayed a prayer and say they have accepted Jesus,” so that’s good. Paul constantly mentioned how his goal was not just to convert people but to ensure they were established in the faith and growing to full maturity in Christ, as they ought (Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28; etc.).
Question: How does this affect their lives here on earth?
Answer: As you say, immensely. Your view of God determines everything about your life here and in the age to come.
I like how you concluded the post with a summons to think personally about questions of how we treat sin and God’s holiness in our lives. Do we pay God’s holiness little mind? Do we think because we are “saved” that we don’t have to deal with issues of personal sin in our lives? Do we presume on the grace of God and just do the things other people are doing without assessing of how it will impact upon our relationship with God? Do we serve an idol or the living God?
Again, I do think that many people are suffering from a lack of understanding of the Old Testament and how it shows God living in covenant with people. You don’t really understand the New Testament without some understanding of this reality. I want to see people grow there, not so they can become more legalistic, but so they grasp the full amazing wonder of God and see His design.
I hope David's words and insights bless you.
Thank you David for your heart to further His kingdom!