One website submission confesses to a double life–professing to be a Christian but knowingly continuing to sin. This person has more recently come back to God but wonders how God can forgive such intentional sin and the sense of self-condemnation? Even with special counseling and prayer, doubts have come: What if it’s not true? What if God is not real? This individual feels like “I’m drowning in doubt” but does not want to go to hell. “Please help me.”
SOME THOUGHTS IN REPLY:
Your submission–your confession–is deeply touching and, unfortunately, typical of too many professing Christians. Nonetheless, I am moved that you have candidly exposed the deeper layers of your character. That, itself, suggests that you are seeking God with a broken heart. For the sake of some structure, let me itemize some responses to your situation that is undoubtedly relevant to the lives of many others as well.
- First, while you’re undoubtedly aware, you are by no means the only person raised in a church, thinking that you are a Christian but living a different and sin-filled life. A guilty conscience can endure only so much. When coupled with painful experiences, it makes sense that you would remove yourself from church and Bible reading. Even so, God has apparently continued to work on you and in you. That’s one important thing to remember about God: He does not give up on us.
- It was so great to hear you say that you had come back to God more recently. Yet you just couldn’t fathom how God could accept you. This, too, is understandable. Knowing what we do about ourselves and human relationships, it seems that no one could truly accept us for knowingly offending them in a persistent fashion. But that’s one characteristic that separates God from us. God can forgive and He has affirmed that he does forgive, regardless of our past, if we genuinely seek him in repentance and trust in His grace.
- Paul reminds us that “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
- In Ephesians, Paul reminds them that they “were dead” in their sins in which they “formally walked.” He confesses that “we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh… even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he has loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph 2:1-5).
- While God is definitely aware of our past—sinful as it was—the encouraging message expressed by the writer of Hebrews is that “today” is what is most important. “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb 3:15 and 4:7; quoting from Psalm 95). The bigger question is what we decide to do from TODAY on. God is more than willing to forgive.
- You are undoubtedly wise in seeking counseling, assuming that it is counseling done in the context of God’s revelation and grace. It’s also critical that you continue praying, asking for God’s grace not only to forgive but also to enable you to live a more victorious Christian life. This does not mean that you will achieve sinlessness in this life, but it does mean that you can live a transformed life without God’s condemnation (Rom 8).
- The doubts that you express are not unusual. To be honest, I sometimes fleetingly wonder, what if it’s not true? What if God is not real? But then I am reminded of how many things contribute to confirming God’s existence and His goodness. And I am aware that the alternative explanations to “everything that is” are woefully inadequate, even much more so than a Christian point of view and way of life.
- I hope and pray that you will be able to find, by God’s grace, a more positive attraction to God than the desire to escape hell, as motivating as that might be. While Jesus certainly talked about hell, His resounding message was this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). That’s the good news of the gospel of Jesus! I hope you can find some encouragement in all of this. A life of following Jesus is not easy, but it is worth it!
–Dr. Rich Knopp, Program Director, Room For Doubt; Professor of Philosophy & Christian Apologetics, Lincoln Christian University.
Additional Resources on Morality for Teaching or Group Discussion
- Can An Atheist Be Moral? [2:24]. From One Minute Apologist.
- Responses to “There Are No Objective Moral Truths” [28:00]. From Cold-Case Christianity Podcast.
- Responses to “Moral Truths Are a Product of Culture”