I was a drunk for three or four years. From about 2003 until about 2007 I got drunk or close to drunk almost every single day. My mother and father loved and followed Jesus, each of my little brothers and my little sister professed faith in Him, and I had at least a few legitimately Jesus-following friends. I bring this up because it wasn’t until God brought me to my knees in broken, humble repentance, saved me by His sheer, undeserved grace, and remade me and put me in a local church where I served and was served that I began to see the anguish that I must have caused anyone who genuinely loved me and cared about my soul.
I know, now, that it is a terrible thing to watch someone you would cut off your arm for flirt with what can kill his soul. In a time and place where humans generally think they have authority over their own bodies and hearts, a time and place where we are told you cannot say that things are sinful or evil (at least not things other people do), you’ll often be portrayed as mean-spirited if you warn someone. If you, like the Shepherd and Savior, plead with those you love (we should also plead with our own souls, of course) to please cut off even their right hands if they cause them to sin, because that is far better than being thrown into Hell.
It would take far too long to lay out why I believe salvation cannot be taken from one who is truly Christ’s, why the elect cannot be made un-elect, so I won’t. Not in this post. But what I will say is that the warnings in the New Testament are stark, and I believe they indicate that many who believe they are elect turn out not to be, and that this is proved or confirmed by their repeated sinning and rebellion. The first chapter of Peter’s second letter says “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The election that is true is the election that is confirmed. While works cannot contribute to our salvation, they accompany and are the fruit of true salvation. We cannot bear fruit in order to become living trees, but if we have been truly made living we will bear fruit.
Jesus said this in Matthew 7: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or thigs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The immediate context there is false prophets, but Jesus speaks the same truth in John 15:4-6 to His own disciples at the Last Supper. This teaching of Jesus’ is true for each of us: Our identity will be most truly revealed, our election confirmed or not, by the fruit that we bear.
So when I was living the way that I was in the mid-2000s, in rampant sin and with little or no regard for God and His goodness, I was in danger of revealing that the Holy Spirit was not truly in me to bear fruit. That the fruits of the Spirit told to us at the end of Galatians 5 (among other places in Scripture) could not be born from me, because the Spirit was not in me. And so I am certain that I caused my mother and father and siblings some anxiety, and even real pain and worry, by my continued selfish wickedness. By what that wickedness might be revealing. What it might be indicating.
It is a universal human trait to believe that sin won’t cause pain and death. Apart from the Spirit, that’s what we think; that’s the lie that convinces us each to do the deed. The first sin, and all death and evil that came through it, was brought about through Satan convincing Eve, “You will not surely die.”
Satan’s response to God’s beautiful, life-giving, soul-protecting, God-exalting Word was to tell Eve she could break it. That she and her husband could disregard it and be just fine, better even.
Satan said and says, “You will not surely die,” because Satan loves it when people die.
The worst, most agonizing, most God-blaspheming times of my life were those years when I disregarded both His authority and His breathtaking goodness and lived in rebellion and on my own terms. It all, like much sin does, delivered immediate pleasures followed by works of the flesh (“enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy”). Sins never deliver what they promise you they will.
And now I know, from my own experience as a follower of Christ who’s tried to disciple and shepherd teens, adults, and his own children, the pain that my rebellion must have caused those who loved me. Those who prayed for me and had hopes for me with an affection this world has no clue about. A love drenched in truth and self-sacrifice and courage and the glory of the Most High. A love that led my father to drive his old, battered Pontiac up to my house in Clifton and pick me up on Sundays for church after my broken, payphone-call home. A love that led the Christian men C.J. and Roy who I then befriended at that church to come pick me up on a Saturday night, without asking, and put me in a car, drive me to an evening service at a nearby church, and then took me to have dinner with them. I’ve seen that love, and I’ve been given that love by Jesus Christ. And I finally understand how deeply it can sting when those you care for with that sort of deep, abiding brotherhood rebel against the only good Abba, and chase false fathers whom you know won’t give what they promise they can. All idols, all fake gods will whisper that they can hand you happiness; and it takes being shattered by them before you realize that all along it was either Satan or your own flesh whispering through their dumb, lifeless lips.
God is so much better. God is so, so much better. The hopes He offers are real, the covenants He makes true. My plea with anyone who is wandering after sins or idols, looking to anything other than the cross and its God for meaning and ultimate joy, is that you would put your eyes back on the wondrous, marvelous, merciful, and awe-inspiring Creator and Redeemer. My years of sin almost cost me my soul, but they did cost me a great deal of joy and peace for month after month after month. In my rebellion I robbed God of glory and worship and I robbed myself of the happiness and peace true worship bring. I was left with fleeting highs and works of the flesh, and then I realized I’d blindly chased sin into a darkened pit. That I was empty handed. Because sin can’t deliver, and because liars can’t keep promises.
Satan lied to Eve. If we follow sin to its end, we will die.
But God, the pure and righteous King, most certainly did not lie. If we believe in the One He sent, though we may die, yet we will live. I know now that liars can’t keep promises, but you’d better believe God always keeps His.
To the one listening to the whispers and feeling yourself, week after week or year after year, following them to death, please turn from your sin and to Jesus Christ. Please repent and believe in the One who offers all of Himself, eternal and satisfying, to you right now. And if you know me and ever see my feet wander, please entreat me to do the same. Let us help each other confirm our elections, and help each other to rejoice in the only One with the power and goodness to always keep His promises.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”