Questions on Christian Living

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I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I'm worried that I don't actually have the Holy Spirit? How do I know? Can you suggest some Scripture passages that would give me comfort when I am unsure?

From the information you provided with your question, I take it that you not only “know” that Jesus died for your sins but that the Holy Spirit has led you to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Knowledge of Jesus is one thing, but Spirit-worked faith is what brings into our lives all the blessings Jesus won by his holy life and sacrificial death.

When God brought you to saving faith, he did so through his Holy Spirit, “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:6). The Holy Spirit now dwells in you. Twice in his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul asked a question that reminds Christians that the Holy Spirit lives in them. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

The same apostle reminds us that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit signifies God’s ownership of us: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possessions—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Other passages that assure Christians like you that “you have the Holy Spirit” are:

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).

“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

“Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 John 3:24).

You have the right idea with your question: looking to Scripture to find reassurance of God’s love for you and his presence in your life. God bless your remembrance of passages like these.

Answered by James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Pope is a contributing editor to Forward in Christ magazine. He writes the monthly “Light for our path” question and answer column.

Is gambling always sinful? What about gambling as entertainment when safeguards are in place?

When asking your question you clarified that you do gamble but limit the frequency of the activity, limit the amount of money put at risk, and maintain fiscal responsibility in your giving to the Lord. You want to view gambling as an acceptable form of entertainment that offers at least relatively harmless excitement, but you are really not sure if this is right.

Since gambling has become so pervasive in our culture, Christians increasingly wrestle with questions like yours. It’s a question that won’t go away.

Always sinful? No.

The main reason we don’t classify gambling as sin is that we don’t have the right to label something sinful if the Bible doesn’t. Gambling was well known in Bible times and a widespread obsession in ancient Rome, yet God’s Word contains no prohibition of the practice.

A second factor is that there is no universal definition of what gambling is. To make a sweeping statement that “gambling is wrong” could condemn all risk taking and games of chance that conceivably would include investing in the stock market, involvement in the insurance industry, or playing penny-ante parlor games.

Often sinful? Yes.

Historically Christianity has strongly opposed most gambling practices because they are hard to reconcile with timeless biblical principles for God-pleasing lifestyles. Here’s a partial list of issues that surface when gambling is considered:

  • The Bible condemns and warns against greed, the love of money, and “get rich quick” mindsets (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10; Proverbs 13:11; Ecclesiastes 5:10). These attitudes often accompany gambling, and temptations to sin quickly surface in that environment.
  • The Bible repeatedly calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (as in Romans 13:9,10), yet most forms of gambling invite us to get something at the expense of those who must ultimately lose. Even when my neighbor seems willing to lose what he has, should I seek to take advantage of that?
  • Romans 14:19-21 instructs us     to avoid the use of otherwise    permissible activities when we    might lead others to sin or harm another’s faith. Isn’t this worth thinking about in our country where there are an estimated 8 million pathological and problem gamblers and where 60 percent of adults have gambled within the past year? Do we ultimately feed an industry that preys on so many?
  • We are called to be faithful stewards, or managers, of all God’s blessings all the time (Psalm 24:1; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Luke 12:35-48). While gambling is only one in a long list of potential time and money wasters, the question needs to be asked: Is this a wise use of resources God has given, even when moderation is shown? Do we fail to support our churches and yet spend money on gambling?

Personally sinful? Yes or no.

After identifying pertinent issues and inviting self-examination, we entrust the matter to the conscience of the individual brother or sister, who is called to apply the Bible principles in his or her own life. Generally speaking, churches used to condemn gambling more quickly and comprehensively than they do now. Such is the power of culture. For the conscientious believer, however, the internal struggle to know and do what is wise, loving, and beneficial will continue. Your question is evidence of that.

Sometimes Christians might apply one principle somewhat differently than others. Let’s be quick to listen to their explanation and loving when we offer input. What we really want most is that believers grow spiritually and seek to do what shows love for their neighbor and respect for our gracious Lord.

What is the WELS stance on joining Boy Scouts and why?

The Boy Scouts are among the most respected organizations in this country, and the skills, activities, and companionship which they offer could be a benefit to any child. Yet for more than 70 years the Wisconsin Synod has warned its members that their children should not participate in the Scouting program.

Our basic objection to Scouting was that the required promise and law contain religious elements which imply that the Scout can do his duty to God regardless of what religion he belongs to. This contradicts the clear statements of Scripture that no one can perform works pleasing to God without faith in Christ.

Over the years the wording of the Scout Law and its explanation have become vaguer and less offensive, but the religious principles have been maintained. All members of the Scouts must accept the Scout Oath and Law, but they may interpret them in their own way. For example, an atheist boy who refused to promise to do his duty to God was denied membership, but when he took the oath with the understanding that “god” was not a personal being, he was permitted to join. This is certainly a very offensive interpretation of the concept of “duty to God.”

Recognition of the religious basis of Scouting is not limited to the WELS. Advocates of strong separation of church and state have objected to the promotion of Scouting in public schools because of its religious requirements.

Because the religious requirements of Scouting remain unchanged, our WELS congregations cannot make use of the Scouting organizations. We have a better option in the Lutheran Pioneers, which provide many of the same benefits as Scouting, without the objectionable religious requirements.

The religious principles of Scouting remain unchanged, but there has been one notable development. The increased vagueness of the Scouting literature and the fact that some Scout troops may make little use of the religious features make it more difficult for pastors and teachers to convincingly demonstrate from the Scout Handbook the false religious principles which underlie Scouting. This makes it more difficult to convince parents that their children should not belong to the Scouts. The Girl Scouts are a separate organization, but the same principles and observations apply to that group also.

Are WELS girls able to participate in the Girl Scout program as it currently stands as an organization? Please give doctrinal position. Thank you.

The Girl Scouts organization is not an option for WELS girls as long as the Girl Scouts’ Promise and Law are the foundation of the organization.  The website of the Girl Scouts currently states:  “Everything in Girl Scouting is based on the Girl Scout Promise and Law.  The Girl Scout Law includes many of the principles and values common to most faiths.  Thus, while a secular organization, Girl Scouts has, since the movement began, encouraged girls to take spiritual journeys via their faiths’ religious recognitions.”

As the Girl Scouts organization allows members to define “God” however they want, it is a group that puts all religions on equal footing and maintains that girls are able to do their duty to the God of their understanding.

This now becomes a first commandment issue (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7).  There is only one God:  the God of the Bible who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There is only one Savior, Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Only Christians are able to do things that are pleasing to God (John 15:5; Romans 14:23).  We will want to belong to organizations that give clear testimony to the truths of the Bible.  Scouting is not one of those organizations.  The Lutheran Girl Pioneers program, of course, is one in which we can encourage WELS girls to participate.

I was recently diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. My doctor says I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and prescribed anxiety drugs, but so far I have refused to take them. I feel that my faith is very weak for giving into these fears and anxieties. What does God say about the use of these drugs?

God’s Word does not speak directly to the topic of taking medication to alleviate anxiety. What it does do, however, is speak in terms of “principles” that guide in making such decisions about medication. Applicable principles would be to love God (Matthew 22:37-38) and to love others (Matthew 22:39). If your anxiety interferes with your ability to demonstrate love for God and for others it is commendable to find a solution.

We are also to be mindful that we are stewards over our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) so you would want to only do things that help and not hurt your body. As such we are to care for our bodies, which requires eating the right foods, drinking the right fluids, and even taking the right medicines.

While we might be tempted to think that by taking medicine we are failing to exercise trust in God, there is a different way to look at it. One of your greatest blessings is God’s gift of life. It is a blessing entrusted to each of us to care for in a manner that glorifies God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Sometimes such care is as benign as bandaging a small physical wound, dressing warmly on a cool day, or walking in the fresh air and sunlight. Sometimes being a good steward of our bodies involves consenting to major surgery or taking medication to help us heal and feel better.

In a world of sin there is no avoiding its consequences. Bodies are imperfect. They are frail and vulnerable. In our imperfection we provide the best care we can. We never do this apart from God’s providence. We trust in his promise to work all things for our good. We trust that the effectiveness of our actions is still subject to God’s will for our lives.

So, on the one hand you repair wounds and take medicine as a responsible steward of God’s blessing of life. On the other hand, you do such things trusting in his love, his promises, and his providence.

Finally, always desire to grow in faith but never forget to celebrate the faith that you already have. Your faith has you turning to fellow Christians via this Web site to seek out God’s counsel and direction. For now God’s response to your concerns is not what you expected or wanted, but you know he is the one who has the answers. Even if, for a time, you must suffer, lean on your faith which instructs you that there is a purpose, even in the hardship (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Taking anti-anxiety medication is one way you care for your body. Celebrate God’s blessing of medicine that assists you in this act of stewardship and service to him and rejoice in your faith, which holds you in his arms.

What happens on judgment day to a believer who constantly criticizes others, blames everyone else for his problems, and refuses to forgive others by always bringing up their past wrongdoing?

I cannot say definitively what will happen on the Last Day to this constantly critical person because I cannot look into his heart. He may be a weak or immature believer reminiscent of the Corinthians with their habitually bad behavior (see 1 Corinthians 1:11; 3:1-3). Or he may be an unbeliever whose profession of faith is empty. But I can say that we all have to deal with critical people, even in the church, and important issues need to be identified and addressed whenever that happens.

I appreciate the fact that you are asking the question and expressing concern. It is not normal for believers to be so characteristically or chronically critical of others. We should not ignore, much less excuse, such behavior or take it lightly.

TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY

You describe a faultfinding lifestyle trait. This is disturbing. All of us have bad moments, are subject to bad moods, and can be critical at times. But the Bible describes a child of God as one whose dominant lifestyle is governed by the new man rather than the old. We’re not talking about ethical perfection, but we are talking about a discernible habitual pattern of godly attitudes and actions, fueled and maintained by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. Constant depreciation of others and an unforgiving attitude are not compatible with true faith (as James 3:9-12 and Matthew 18:21-35 illustrate well). So we take this situation seriously.

Even if faith remains, denigrating others is not living a life “worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1). There may well be serious psychological and social issues to be addressed. Most often, as the old adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” Low self-esteem and insecurity are frequently involved, and miserable people tend to prefer—or seek to create—miserable companions. Even if it’s more of a superficial matter of lacking social skills like diplomacy and tact, this is serious stuff for the Christian community, since we represent our Lord when we interact with others.

TAKE TIME TO SERVE

We are to be agents of change not just identifiers of bad behavior. I am to speak straightforwardly with the critic, confront unacceptable speech, and hold professing believers in particular to biblical norms. Our Lord’s clear counsel in Matthew 18:15-20 applies to this kind of situation as it does with any other departure from the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Within the church this always involves a compassionate use of law and gospel to expose sin and underscore the grace of God for sinners. Enlist the help of fellow believers who know the person and his behavior patterns. The primary goal is to serve the person’s spiritual as well as emotional needs. A companion blessing of serving the critic’s needs is that it keeps us from growing bitter or becoming enablers of bad behavior through silence.

Be patient in your loving testimony to the critic. Change may not be apparent overnight. Ingrained behavior patterns are notoriously difficult to amend even if the person is repentant and growing spiritually. Expect fruits of faith, but be realistic in your expectations as you entrust the person to God’s Word and Spirit, and continue your testimony to him and intercessions to God on his behalf.

What is considered justifiable anger? When sin is involved, is justifiable anger only reserved for positions in authority? Can you please give me Scripture to reference? For example, when a child is abused by their parent, is their anger justified?

The Bible does not label all anger as being sinful.  Jesus had justifiable or righteous anger when synagogue worshipers refused to answer his question whether or not it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath day by healing an individual (Mark 3:1-6) and when he cleansed the temple courts of money changers and merchandisers (John 2:15-17; Mark 11:15-16).

Christians too, not just those in authority, can have righteous anger when others set aside God’s commands:  when they hurt and abuse others, when they mock God and his word, when they sin.

God’s concern though is that a person’s righteous anger might turn into sinful anger, so he says:  “In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…” (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26, 31).  As sinful human beings, our anger over other people’s sins might lead us to seek revenge, get even or wish evil on them.  God expressly forbids those thoughts, emotions and actions (Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:9).

The bottom line is that we can walk a fine line with anger.  The sins of others might rightly arouse our anger.  We can express our displeasure of and concern for people’s sins.  We might even seek justice.  We will pray that those who have angered us will confess their sins and then enjoy God’s forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.  Ultimately we leave matters in the hands of God.

Should we forgive others for all sins they may commit against us? If they show no remorse or repentance, are we still to offer our forgiveness?

The topic of forgiveness is prominent in Scripture. Thanks for highlighting this subject with your question.

Forgive fully and unconditionally

A number of passages indicate we are to forgive unconditionally, whether or not others express repentance, show remorse, or offer any apology. Please read these thoughtfully. Matthew 6:14,15 instructs us to forgive human beings with no explicit mention whether or not they are believers or are repentant. Mark 11:25 and Luke 11:4 call us to pardon “anyone” and “everyone” without distinction. Seeking pardon for his crucifiers, Jesus mentioned their lack of comprehension (Luke 23:34), but contrition or regret are not in the picture. The Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer likewise provides no explicit or implicit condition of repentance linked to pardoning our debtors. We have ample evidence to say believers are to forgive fully, unconditionally.

I suspect your question may stem from passages that focus on our forgiving fellow believers who express repentance. Luke 17:4 as well as Christ’s powerful parable in Matthew 18:21-35 explicitly address forgiveness among Christians. Contrition and repentance always play a role here. You might also be thinking of our high privilege to forgive or not forgive sinners in administering “the keys” in ways that reflect prior repentance or impenitence (see Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:21-23). This tells us much about how we are to communicate with fellow sinners as God’s representatives on earth, but nothing removes from us the sacred, personal obligation to forgive unconditionally.

Communicate forgiveness wisely and lovingly

Our culture makes a big deal about victims forgiving criminals who wronged them. Remorse is sought from the guilty, and when those victimized express forgiveness, they are praised. The greater needs of the guilty, namely, godly repentance and divine forgiveness, are typically ignored. That’s a shame. It’s wonderful when sinners forgive other sinners, but God’s forgiving sinners is far greater. This is the message we are fully qualified to share with the world. So as we forgive others personally and unconditionally, we do well to think about how we communicate this to those who sin against us.

How might we offer clarifications as we affirm our full forgiveness to others? Especially to those who have wronged us yet have given no evidence of contrition before God or reliance on Jesus as their sin-bearer, we may say:

I fully and freely forgive you, sinner to sinner. I hold no grudge against you, seek no retaliation, and will keep no record of wrongs. I have no desire or need for this. My Lord Jesus is my ultimate Protector, and he will satisfy justice in the end. Vengeance is his to give, not mine.

But please understand that this actually may mean very little for your long-term well-being. If and as long as you do not repent before God of your sin, you do not enjoy the forgiveness Christ earned for you. You forfeit personal benefit of his pardon. You have my forgiveness, given cheerfully in love. But just like me, a sinner like you, you need the personal enjoyment of Christ’s forgiveness, which is also freely given. I am willing to do anything I can to help you enjoy this.

Our responsibility is to forgive others fully, unconditionally. As we communicate this, let us also speak wisely as well as lovingly so that we will best serve our neighbor.

Is is sinful to drink alcohol?

An appropriate starting place is to allow Scripture to determine whether drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin or if it is something neither commanded nor forbidden, that is, a matter of Christian freedom.

This particular point is not difficult to determine. There is no prohibition in the Bible that declares drinking a sin in and of itself. It would be spiritual arrogance and rank legalism to declare something sinful when the Bible has not done so. And there are quite a few passages that speak of a proper and pleasing use of alcoholic beverages. Whether it be general passages like Proverbs 9:1-5, or Isaiah 55:1, or examples like Christ’s miracle in Cana (John 2:1-11), or Christ’s use of wine in the Last Supper and while instituting the Lord’s Supper, or Paul’s fatherly advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), the legitimate and proper use of alcoholic drinks is clearly established. It is a matter of Christian freedom, and we have no right to bind another’s conscience on this point.

It is precisely because it is a matter of Christian freedom, neither right nor wrong in itself, that Paul’s words in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 come into the picture here. The freedom to drink wine, for example, implies the freedom to refrain from doing so when it best serves our Christian purposes. In all matters of Christian freedom we need to ask if our doing something (or not doing something) is wise and beneficial, or potentially a cause for a weaker brother or sister to stumble spiritually (that is, to spiritually “offend” another believer). It may also become a point of Christian confession, something that needs to be done or not done to establish or testify to the truth of Scripture.

Jesus gave up EVERYTHING for us. Jesus also asked his disciples to give up EVERYTHING, even their families and they did. What does that mean for those that are "believers" that don't give EVERYTHING? Jesus himself said, for those that don't give EVERYTHING cannot be my disciple. I don't know a single WELS believer or anyone from any denomination that has done this.

I understand your question to be referencing Luke 14:33 – “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  If that verse were simply isolated and pulled out of context, it would look like we all need to live ascetic lives in order to be disciples of Christ.  However, the words at the beginning of the verse (“In the same way,”) instruct us to understand this verse in light of the verses that precede.

In the verses that precede, Jesus spoke to people about the difference between following him physically and following him in faith.  Following him in faith means putting him first and being ready to give up whatever interferes with that course of action.  In the preceding verses Jesus spoke of loving family members less than they love him (“hating” them in that sense).  He spoke of suffering in his name (carrying the cross).  He used the illustrations of a building project and a military campaign to highlight the high cost of following him.

With that background, Jesus gave the instruction in the verse you referenced.  When understood in context, it is not a command to live a life of poverty.  Scripture rather instructs us to use our possessions to support the work of the church (2 Corinthians 9:7 ), to provide for the needs of our family (1 Timothy 5:8), to pay taxes and support the government (Romans 13), and to help those in need (1 John 3:17).  When understood in context, Jesus’ instruction is a call to follow him in faith without being sidetracked by anything or anyone in this world.  With that understanding, now you do know believers who can be associated with this Bible passage!

Is it OK for women to attend the voters' meeting, as long as they do not take the floor? I have read over and over 1Timothy 2:11-15, and have read Genesis 3:16. It does state that the man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of man, hence I would say that having women at a meeting would be completely acceptable, given the woman does not take the floor to speak. But as long as she speaks to her husband, brother, etc., her voice and opinion could be made to the council/ board/ general meeting. I have searched and searched Scripture, and have yet to find anything prohibiting women from attending the meetings.

Because your question addresses a matter of adiaphoron—a specific subject matter on which the Bible is silent—our congregations have varying practices in this regard.  Our congregations apply the broad principles of the Scripture passages you referenced to twenty-first-century church structure, which is admittedly more complex than the structure of the first-century church.  The applications that are implemented range from holding open forums where all members are invited to hear board and committee reports and ask questions, to enabling women to attend voters’ meetings—to observe the proceedings only or to speak.  We do well to remember that while voting is an authoritative action, so may also be the debate leading up to a vote.  Christian men and women will want to live within their God-given roles in settings like these.

You mentioned you have read and re-read Scripture passages that lend application to this subject matter.  That is what we want to do individually and as a family of believers.  I can direct you to a couple of Bible study resources that congregations can use as they address questions such as yours.  The first is A Bible Study on Man and Woman in God’s World.  The second is Heirs Together of God’s Gracious Gift.  God help us all to work together as brothers and sisters in the faith for the good of God’s kingdom and the glory of his name.

A middle-age unmarried man and woman recently moved into the neighborhood and expressed interest in joining our church. Would they be welcome to join a WELS congregation and allowed to receive Holy Communion? Thank you.

It would be good if you could put your pastor in contact with these individuals.  Your pastor will be able to talk with this man and woman about issues related to this situation of living together without the benefit of marriage (Matthew 18:6-7; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Ephesians 5:3; Hebrews 13:4).  Where sin is confessed, he will gladly announce God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus his Son.  God willing, the individuals will then resolve their living arrangements so that church membership can be established.  And church membership—as you indicated—furnishes the privilege of receiving the Lord’s Supper.

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