Questions on Sin

I don't understand how the forgiveness that we give to others in the Fifth Petition differs from the forgiveness that we withhold from the impenitent in the use of the Keys. The (Kuske) Catechism describes the forgiveness of the Fifth Petition as including "anyone who sins against us," and again as "all who sin against us." In response to a similar question asked earlier, Q & A did not agree with the unconditional forgiveness that writer thought necessary. When does the impenitence of "those who trespass against us" become the deciding factor in whom we forgive? Does the new Catechism clarify this in its discussion of the Fifth Petition? Thank you!

The context of questions is always important, and that context is often missing from questions that are submitted. When there are questions about forgiving others, we need to keep a number of things in mind.

If a person has sinned against us and is impenitent, we exhibit our Christian faith by harboring no grudges or ill will against that person. We have the privilege of telling the person we personally forgive him or her for the sin committed, but we want the individual to know that God’s forgiveness is so much more important than the forgiveness we express. Repentance, of course, is paramount to enjoying forgiveness from God.

An answer to a similar question in Forward in Christ proposed this example of a conversation to an impenitent sinner: “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 may really 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. That is the forgiveness I seek for you but cannot give or announce to you at this time. That is the forgiveness you need most of all. 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.”

Even when Christians represent God and, out of concern for the sins and impenitence of others, exercise the “binding key” and retain the sins of the impenitent (John 20:23), they seek to display a Christ-like love to others and avoid any personal animosity towards those who have sinned against them and remain impenitent.

Can you please explain Hebrews 10:26? I always thought that the sacrifice of Jesus provided infinite forgiveness from sins. I heard a Lutheran say that the verse is speaking of apostasy to the faith, though am very confused by it. I am very confused by Hebrews 10:26, to the point of feeling despair because I feel like I am not good enough to go to heaven.

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27). Jesus’ work as Savior has won forgiveness for all sins. Through faith in Jesus we personally enjoy the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7).

The writer to the Hebrews speaks of people who forfeit the forgiveness of sins through impenitence. These are people who “received the knowledge of the truth.” They know from Scripture what God’s will is, but they “deliberately keep on sinning.” There is no confession of sin, no struggle against sin, no desire to stop sinning.

How different that attitude is from the child of God who struggles against temptation and sin (Romans 7:15-25). When the child of God falls into sin, he or she confesses sin, receives the forgiveness of sins through faith and resolves to wage war against sin all the more.

Like you, I feel I am not good enough to go to heaven. No, I know I am not good enough to go to heaven. Thankfully, Jesus was perfect in our place. In addition, Jesus took on himself the punishment our sins deserved. Now, through faith in Jesus God sees us as righteous and holy in his sight. Because of Jesus, we presently enjoy forgiveness of sins and peace with God. Because of Jesus, we can look forward in confidence to an eternity of joy and glory with God.

The first stanza of a popular hymn says, "I Lay My Sins on Jesus." I know of many places in Scripture where we are taught that God has laid upon Jesus the sins of the entire world, and I believe that. But, where in Scripture is it taught that we are to lay our sins on Jesus? Is it even possible for us to do that? Some have suggested that this hymn refers to repentance. But, it seems to me that we would not be able to repent if our sins had not already been laid upon Christ. What are your thoughts on this?

It would be interesting to know exactly what Horatius Bonar had in mind when this hymn was first published in 1843. Information from The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal explains that Bonar wrote the hymn (perhaps his first) for children. He acknowledged that the hymn “might be good Gospel, but that it was poor poetry.”

God certainly laid on his Son the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29). Children of God enjoy forgiveness of sins through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7). Because we continue to sin, Jesus invites us to receive forgiveness for our sins through his gospel in word and sacrament (Matthew 26:26-28; Colossians 1:13-14). The Lord invites us, people who are weary and burdened, to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28). The “rest” that he provides is forgiveness of sins.

I am content to understand that the title of the hymn speaks of Jesus living up to his name, which means “Savior.” God put my sins on Jesus. I enjoy full and free forgiveness of sins through the saving faith the Holy Spirit has worked in my heart. My comfort is knowing that if I am plagued by the memory of past sins, I can put them at the foot of the cross—laying them on Jesus, in that sense—and have full confidence that I stand in God’s grace (Romans 5:2). These are some thoughts that come to mind when I think of that hymn title.

I understand that God made marriage and sexual relations to be between husband and wife and that the church doesn’t want to accept sin. Recently my cousin’s church told her and her boyfriend that they wouldn’t baptize their child because the parents were living together. Two years went by and the church didn’t reach out until now when they said it would be a sin to have the child baptized elsewhere, and they asked my cousin if she would like to be released from the church. Why wouldn’t the church take the opportunity to encourage them to go to church, repent of their sins and have personal devotions with them vs. making them feel like the biggest sinners there are? Isn’t every sin equal? Are we going to start turning away all sinners who don’t repent right away? I just want to know why WELS churches are not using these opportunities to bring people to repentance and closer to God.

The only information I possess about this situation is what you have shared. I am not privy to more complete information on how the congregation and its leaders might have addressed the situation you described. Perhaps there is more information—confidential information—than you or I have.

When it comes to addressing sin in the lives of church members, our pastors will seek to call them to repentance through the law, and also assure penitent sinners of the gospel’s message of forgiveness. Fruits of repentance (Luke 3:8) can also be a topic of discussion between church members and their pastors.

When it comes to sin, your words do recognize that before God sinful thoughts are as serious as sinful deeds (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 3:15).

Sin is serious. Impenitence is serious. Because of that, pastors and church leaders will speak to church members about sin. What happens in people’s hearts and lives after that is beyond the control of pastors and church leaders. What pastors and church leaders can do is maintain contact with people, continue to share God’s word with them and pray that God changes their hearts. I join you in praying for a peaceful resolution to the situation you described.

I often give in to the sin of watching porn and feel bad and pray to God apologizing and get Communion, then end up falling into temptation again and repeating. I know if you ask for forgiveness but repeat it then it's not being truly repentant. I want to stop and feel super bad if I don't take Communion, but know I will sooner or later fall back into my old ways. What should I do? I don't feel right talking to my pastor about it either.

If you do not feel that you can talk to your pastor about this, I would encourage you to check out the resources, including counselors, available through Conquerors Through Christ, an agency within WELS. Conquerors through Christ website serves those affected by porn use. You may subscribe to the CtC e-Newsletter and visit  CtC on Facebook.

As with any sin, we confess our sins to God, we receive in faith God’s forgiveness of our sins and we resolve to fight all the more against sin and temptation. Your words indicate you recognize this. Your words also reflect the ongoing battle that goes on within Christians (Romans 7:15-25).

The website can provide you with practical resources to assist you in your battle against temptation. What follows is one of their FAQs:

“OK – so maybe I am addicted. Now what do I do?
1.Pray. Tell God about what you have been doing. It shouldn’t be all that hard, after all, He already knows. He’s just waiting for you to come to him so he can tell you that he loves you and has forgiven you.
2.Watch our videos and explore the web site— they summarize the steps to follow to get porn out of your life.
3.Take the hardest step—tell someone—your pastor, a trusted friend, your spouse, or a Christian counselor. This is a sin we can almost guarantee you will not be able to ‘fix’ on your own. You will need help. But the good news is there IS help available. But you must seek it out. Satan will seek to keep you isolated and weak. Don’t let him.
4.Seek ongoing support in the form of counseling and accountability. This is a battle and Satan will not let his grip on you go without a tremendous struggle.
5.Thank God for the victories and cry for mercy for any failures along the way.”

God bless all your efforts in saying “No” to sin and “Yes” to godly living (Titus 2:12).

I know that we are all born into original sin, but can an infant commit a personal (actual) sin? I ask this in light of Romans 9:11.

As you acknowledge, King David’s words do apply to all people: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The sinful nature is present when a person’s life begins. As the person’s abilities develop, so do the capabilities of sinning. Some sins might be visible to us; we might not be aware of other sins.

Romans 9:11-13 describes God reversing the birthright blessing, giving it to Jacob instead of Esau. Instead of the older brother receiving that blessing, the younger would receive it. God made that determination before the twins were born and irrespective of any actions on their part: good or bad (Romans 9:11). In other words, the children’s actions did not influence God’s decision.

Why does the sin of 'witchcraft' fall under taking God's name in vain?

Our Catechisms explain it this way: “People misuse God’s name in using witchcraft because they depend on the power of the devil. People misuse God’s name in using witchcraft because they seek the help of those who do things by the power of the devil.” (1982, 1989, 1998 Catechism) “If we practice witchcraft, are involved with the occult, or are superstitious (believing in good luck charms, etc.), we are sinning against God’s name because we are trusting in power that ultimately comes from Satan and is opposed to the power and will of God.” (2017 Catechism)

God wants people to call upon him for help. We use God’s name to do so. Witchcraft seeks help apart from God and so despises his name (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Leviticus 19:31).

Can a Christian be bisexual?

You want to distinguish between a Christian who struggles with same-sex temptations in repentance and faith, and a person who identifies as a Christian but engages in sexual activity with impenitent and unbelieving attitudes.

In the former case, the Christian struggles against sin and sometimes loses the battle (Romans 7:15-25) but confesses sins to God, receives his forgiveness in faith and resolves, with God’s help and strength, to use life to his glory. In the latter case, the person claims to be a Christian but rejects God’s word and defends his or her sinfulness. Impenitence is incompatible with saving faith (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The Bible clearly teaches that sexual activity is designed for marriage (Hebrews 13:4), between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:19-24; Exodus 20:14; Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 1:26-27). Bisexual behavior is sinful.

As with any sin, there is forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16; Hebrews 7:27; 1 John 1:9). Grateful for their forgiveness, Christians will strive to avoid sin as best they can (Romans 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:15).

A friend says that if she believes in Jesus she can live any way she wants and still go to heaven. I know one should not sin, but I can't find any Scripture that tells me that in conjunction with being saved. She has grown up in the church and is pretty knowledgeable. My go-to passage has always been "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." It doesn't add anything. I know we would not want to sin after receiving this gift, but I don't know what to tell her. It doesn't say believe and live a good life and you will be saved. She is baptized and confirmed and educated in archeology and history, which is part of her having issues with the Bible. She wants to be saved but has doubts. What do I tell her? I know she will not go out and sin just because she can, but there are others with and without faith who ask the same questions and I don't have an answer.

I commend you for your concern for your friend. A cavalier attitude toward sin is very dangerous. You might consider sharing the following Bible passages with your friend: Romans 6:1-4; 8:13-14; Ephesians 4:30; Hebrews 10:26; 2 Peter 2:20-22; and, 1 John 3:6. Those verses speak of the danger of deliberately violating God’s holy will.

Saving faith, Christian faith, is trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. Christian faith is a matter of the heart, but the Bible (especially the book of James) makes it clear that Christian faith is not confined to the head or heart but is visible in everyday life. You can remind your friend of Jesus’ words: “If you love me, keep my commands… Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:15, 23-24).

I do not show love for Jesus when I live anyway I want to—thinking that I have God’s forgiveness no matter what. No, I show love for Jesus when I fight against temptation and sin the best I can. I show love for Jesus when I recognize the high price he paid to win forgiveness for my sins and then live my life for him (2 Corinthians 5:15). God bless your efforts to share the truths of his word with your friend.

My boyfriend, a Lutheran convert, is not a virgin and I am. I’ve been struggling with this on and off for the duration of our relationship. He was very open, honest, and straightforward about his past, acknowledging his sin, his guilt, and his repentance from the very beginning of our courtship, in efforts to maintain transparency. I was surprised, and did not expect it, but I was/am appreciative of his honesty and told him so. I also explained to him that am forgiving of him and his past as modeled in the 5th petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We both value and recognize the importance of maintaining a sexually pure relationship and honoring the 6th Commandment. We have had many conversations about maintaining an appropriate level of ethical premarital activity and agree we will abstain from premarital sex. My struggle comes when I think about his past intimacy with the other women he’s slept with. I realize sex is a gift God grants to a husband and a wife, it is a union of persons, and that it should be protected from being cheapened. It really upsets me to think that if/when we get married, that it no longer has the value that it did. I’m bothered by the memories of others, and I’m insecure because of the inevitable comparison to the past. I mostly feel hurt in a way that words cannot describe. I know he loves me, and he loves God. I know he is remorseful of his transgressions and would change the past if he could. But I don’t know how to find peace and put this out of my mind.

There is no question in your words for me to address, but I can attempt to offer a brief response.

From what I read, your boyfriend has confessed his sin and received the forgiveness of sins through faith. You also have expressed a forgiving attitude toward him. I commend you for that.

Your reference to the Lord’s Prayer is good and very applicable: as we have been forgiven, so we forgive others. When God forgives, he forgets (Jeremiah 31:34). We can forgive, but the memories of others’ sins can linger in our minds. Our goal is to be more like God in forgetting the sins of others.

Without having any further information, your self-assessment of insecurity sounds plausible to me. Addressing this in a face-to-face conversation with your pastor or other trusted counselor would be the best approach. If you are not able to speak to your pastor about this, Christian Family Solutions, a WELS-affiliated ministry, offers in-person and video counseling.

What will be helpful is remembering to view your boyfriend and yourself as redeemed children of God (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 3:1). God has determined your worth: you are precious in his sight (Isaiah 43:4). God bless you and your boyfriend.

Would God take the life of a loved one to admonish the sin that another person is involved in?

Because I do not know what might lie behind your question, all I can do is respond in a general way. Your question has me think of how God worked in the lives of David and Bathsheba. God’s determination was that the child conceived and born from their adulterous relationship would die (2 Samuel 12:14-18). While God holds people personally responsible for their own sinfulness and sins (Ezekiel 18:4) and does not punish children for the sins of their parents (Ezekiel 18:20), one of the temporal consequences of David and Bathsheba’s sin was that the child born to them would die in infancy.

When I consider that action on God’s part, thoughts like these come to mind: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3). “God is not unjust” (Hebrews 6:10). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36).

One very important thing to keep in mind is that God, in the Bible, tells us why the son born to David and Bathsheba died in infancy. If we did not have that information in the Bible, we would not have known why the child died. That means that when the death of a person takes place today, we cannot pretend to speak for God when he has not spoken on the matter. So, while the Bible answers your question in the affirmative regarding God’s past actions, all we can do is maintain that possibility—in a general way—concerning God’s present and future actions.

Do we as faithful Christians have a biblical obligation to forgive our neighbor even if they do not ask for it, show no remorse, and refuse to repent? We must forgive unconditionally, as God has forgiven us unconditionally, correct?

On the basis of Scripture, our Catechism states: “The use of the keys is that special power and right which Christ gave to his church on earth: to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but to refuse forgiveness to the impenitent as long as they do not repent.” As Christians, the Lord has given us the keys to announce forgiveness to penitent sinners and to refuse forgiveness to people as long as they are impenitent (Matthew 16:19).

If someone has sinned against me and refuses to repent, I would not announce God’s forgiveness to that person (John 20:23; 1 John 1:8, 10), but I would make sure that I did not harbor any personal animosity toward that person and jeopardize my own relationship with God (1 John 1:9; 3:15; 4:20).

If that person did eventually repent and seek my forgiveness and God’s, I would be glad to give it. Failing to do so has serious implications (Matthew 6:14-15).

What is immaculate conception, and what is the WELS' view on it?

“Immaculate conception” refers to the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that Mary was conceived and born without sin.

We reject that teaching because it is not biblical. Scripture teaches that, since the fall into sin, people are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5; John 3:5-6; Ephesians 2:1). Mary herself acknowledged her need for a Savior from sin (Luke 1:46-47).

The work of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary made it possible for the sinless Son of God to enter the world as a human being without a sinful nature (Luke 1:30-35; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 7:26-27). In addition to being conceived and born without a sinful nature, Jesus lived a completely holy life in our place (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).

I have been searching through Martin Luther's writings concerning the possibility of losing one's salvation. I am having a hard time finding anything that says that one can lose the salvation bought by Christ. I am certainly not speaking of the Calvinistic idea that once God has given the free gift of salvation through His grace and mercy, one is free to do as one pleases and sin may abound without consequence. I speak of the idea that one may lose salvation by error and sin. How does one then return to a state of grace? Sinful humans sin within the first ten minutes of each new day, so how can one be assured of salvation? I am unable to find this in the writings of Martin Luther that I am familiar with. Please direct me to some materials so I may have confidence in this issue. I have been an LCMS Lutheran for 15 years now and am not finding sufficient answers. Thank you for taking the time for my question.

In volume one of What Luther Says, you can read statements like these in the “Apostasy” section:

“When the Gospel begins to assert its influence, everybody wants to become a Christian. All seems well, and everybody is pleased. But when a wind or rainstorm of temptation comes on, people fall away in droves.”

“Stand fast, then, hold on, do not flee, do not draw back. If you have begun to believe, carry it through to the end. There are many who stay with it, shed their blood and boldly stake and risk everything. There are the true disciples, and they remain constant. But ten times greater was the number of those who began to believe with us and whom our doctrine at first pleased, but not ten percent have remained faithful till now.”

“When the devil gets a man into his clutches who has been in our midst and also has the Bible, such an apostate is worse and more harmful than all the heathen, who know not Scripture.”

Through impenitence and unbelief, Christians can forfeit the salvation they once enjoyed. On the other hand, Christians do not veer out of faith and come back into it with their daily sins of weakness and their repentance. As Christians, we are living in a state of being forgiven: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2). That passage assures us that we stand in grace, that is, we live our lives as Christians trusting that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ. We are assured of salvation because we have God’s own word on it (John 3:16).

Hi, I have some questions: In your site, it is said that the law isn't a means of grace. But I read some Reformed say it is, in the sense that the law is part of the word, and that the law shows us our need of Christ. In that sense, would the Synod agree that the law is a means of grace? Also, I am struggling with a lack of faith. What should I do? Hear and read the word until faith is created in me? And I have to try to keep the law as best as I can meanwhile? Also: the confessional Lutherans say that good works do not contribute to salvation (it's evidence, a consequence of salvation) but, at the same time, say that deliberate sin extinguishes faith. But, since the demands of the law are so hard, isn't not doing good works all the time a sin? Because if I am not helping my neighbor, but doing something for myself, I am not keeping the law intentionally. Thanks.

The law of God points out our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It is through the gospel that God offers and gives us his grace, the forgiveness of sins. The means of grace is the gospel in Word and sacraments (Romans 1:16).

God creates saving faith through the means of grace, and God strengthens saving faith through the means of grace (Romans 10:17). To grow in your faith, you will want to be faithful in using God’s word and in receiving the Lord’s Supper.

You are correct in noting that our good works do not contribute to our salvation. That is very clear from Titus 3:4-7. Jesus alone is Savior.

When it comes to our sins, we confess this in the Common Service: “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity. But I am truly sorry for my sins, and trusting in my Savior Jesus Christ, I pray: Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” We confess our natural sinful condition, and we confess our sins of commission and sins of omission.

There are sins of weakness, and there are willful, deliberate sins. You are correct in observing that willful, deliberate sins can cause a person to fall from faith. Recognizing who we are by nature and what we do every day explains why there is a need for contrition and repentance each day of our lives. At the same time, there is also reason to look in faith to Jesus and his salvation each day of life.

Back in high school I made a huge mistake of having sex with one guy. I didn’t know Christ fully, but I came to Christ three years later. But the past still haunts me. I’m 23, still single and haven’t dated since then. Is it possible of bearing the consequences now for my past sin, even though I’ve gotten baptized and have been serving at church? Does God ever punish us for past sin, or is that the enemy sending those thoughts?

Satan thrives on accusing Christians of their sins (Revelation 12:10). Thankfully, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became man to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). Jesus did just that by resisting Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) and by crushing him (Genesis 3:15) through his atonement for sin and triumphant resurrection from the dead.

The comforting message of the Bible is that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus Christ was punished for your sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). God does not punish Christians for sins they commit. God may discipline his children (Hebrews 12), but his motive is love and correction not punishment.

“If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). It sounds like you have confessed the sin that remains in your memory. With that being the case, cling to the gospel message that your sins are forgiven.

When God forgives sins, he blots them out of his memory (Isaiah 43:25). The fact that you can remember your sin from the past does not mean that your sin is not forgiven. It means—in a sense—that you have a better memory than God.

I encourage you to use God’s gospel in word and sacrament faithfully to grow in the confidence and conviction that God has forgiven all your sins for Jesus’ sake. Remember your baptism. In it, God clothed you with the garments of salvation Jesus won for you by his holy life and innocent death (Galatians 3:26-27). Seek the counsel of your pastor or other trusted Christian counselor if you need further assistance in dealing with the past. God bless you!

During the general confession (non-private), do I have to bring/mention my sins mentally before God for Him to forgive them? The liturgy moves too fast and I don't have time to silently bring my sins before God. Does that matter, or are all my sins forgiven anyway?

As opposed to private confession when we might confess specific sins, the general confession in our worship services provides the opportunity to confess our sinfulness (our sinful nature) and our sins of thought, word and deed (both sins of commission and sins of omission). You are correct in observing that the pace of the liturgy does not allow for enumeration of our sins.

You and I also recognize that we cannot list all our sins before God. We may not even be aware of some of the wrong things we do and the good things we fail to do (Psalm 19:12).

Certainly, you can use the quiet time before the worship service begins to confess specific sins to God. There are helpful resources in our hymnal to assist you with that.

The wonderful news about the confession of sins is the promise that God gives in his word: “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Remember that, and keep in mind that we stand in grace before God (Romans 5:2).

Is not attending church services once a week a sin of omission?

It depends on what the reason for not attending worship services is. There are certainly legitimate and understandable reasons why people at times might not be able to worship the Lord in church: sickness, travel plans, unavoidable work schedule conflicts, etc.

It is a different situation entirely when people have the opportunity to worship the Lord in church but do not want to. In the explanation to the third commandment, our Catechism speaks of “not despising preaching and his [God’s] word.” If people are not attending worship services because they are despising God’s word, that amounts to sin.

As Christians we want to recognize that our sinful nature wants nothing to do with God or his word. Our sinful nature rebels at any opportunity to worship with fellow Christians or read the Bible on our own. On the other hand, our new self agrees with the psalmist: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).

In our daily walk of faith we strive to put down the sinful nature through repentance and to build up the new self through God’s word. Worshiping the Lord in church, receiving the Lord’s Supper, reading and studying God’s Word individually and with others will build up our new self and strengthen our desire to worship the Lord in church.

If I no longer have contact with someone I’ve wronged in the past and later in life realize I was wrong, and repent to God for it, is that enough for forgiveness and salvation? I know that it would be the loving thing to do to reach out to that person and confess, but if I choose not to contact the person and just repent to God for my sin against that person, am I still forgiven?

Forgiveness of sins comes from God. By his holy life and sacrificial death, Jesus Christ won forgiveness of sins for you. His glorious resurrection guarantees it. The message of the Bible is that “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Since forgiveness of sins comes from God, confessing sins to God is not optional for Christians. Your confession to God about the person you sinned against was important and meaningful; you enjoy God’s forgiveness.

At the same time, I would also want you to remember this instruction from the Bible: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). If you know “it would be the loving thing to do to reach out to that person and confess” but don’t, I would encourage you to make sure you are not harboring any ill will toward that person. Such attitudes are spiritually dangerous (Matthew 6:15).

As difficult as it might be to confess your sins to the person you wronged, doing so would enable that individual to offer his or her forgiveness. In addition, doing so could bring about closure to past situations. I have to wonder how long you might hang on to the memory of the past if you do not speak to the person you wronged.

I wish you well and pray for God’s peace in your life.

Is it wrong to want evil people to suffer in hell? After reading about some extremely horrific sexual atrocities committed against children by Nazis during the Holocaust, I feel so much disgust that I can’t imagine justice for the victims if the souls of the perpetrators are not in hell. I thought I read somewhere in the Bible a passage regarding angels and others rejoicing while seeing sinners in hell, but I’m not sure where it is. Does the feeling of wanting the most evil among us who hurt, abuse, and murder children to suffer in hell make me a bad person and not a Christian?

God’s will is that people enjoy forgiveness of sins and eternal life through repentance and faith in his Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God’s will is also that those who reject him receive the punishment they deserve (Mark 16:16).

Children of God understand that difference between the law and the gospel when they seek to spread the message of God’s love (John 3:16) to all people (Matthew 28:19-20) and when they ask that God punish evildoers (Psalm 35; Revelation 6:10). Martin Luther made this observation: “Therefore no one can pray the Lord’s Prayer correctly without cursing. For when he prays: ‘Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,’ he must put all the opposition to this on one pile and say: ‘Curses, maledictions, and disgrace upon every other name and every other kingdom! May they be ruined and torn apart, and may all their schemes and wisdom and plans run aground.’” (Luther’s Works, Volume 21, Page 101)

When Christians align their will with God’s in asking that evildoers be punished, they want to avoid any personal animosity on their part that might jeopardize their own forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:15; Ephesians 4:31). Christians want to let God be the Judge of people’s hearts.

As Christians, we recognize that this earthly life is a person’s only time to be brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 6:2). That is why we do what we can to spread the gospel and support the spread of the gospel. Finally, it is God’s will and ours that those who ultimately reject God receive justice from God and not love.

I am wondering if the Bible passage you have in mind is this: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Imagine the angels’ ongoing joy!

If Jesus was truly man and truly God, was he born with original sin, and if not, could he have sinned? I note that Adam was created without sin, yet he chose to sin. Jesus was born of God and Man, yet he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Could he have sinned at that time, or was it not possible for him to sin since he was also true God?

Jesus was not born with original sin. He had no sinful nature. “Flesh gives birth to flesh,” Jesus said (John 3:6). Sinful parents have sinful children. Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary,” as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. That miraculous conception enabled Jesus to become man without having a sinful nature (Luke 1:35).

When it comes to Jesus and temptation, I can point you to an article that appeared in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. The article is worth your time. Below are some thoughts from the conclusion of the article:

“On the basis of a well-meant desire to affirm the authenticity of Christ’s temptations some Christians have asserted that it was theoretically possible for Christ to have sinned. When the question is raised how it would have been possible for Christ to have sinned if he was truly God, the answer is usually that Jesus could have sinned only in his human nature, not in his divine nature. To claim that Jesus or his human nature could have sinned without God sinning requires that Jesus’ humanity had an existence separate from God. Jesus, then, is not truly God. He is just a man inhabited or possessed by God in a special way, much like a person possessed by the devil. When we limit Christ’s actions to one of his natures rather than his person, we destroy the unity of his person and end up with a Nestorian Christ, one whose two natures are just glued together like boards and which can be pulled apart. If we accept this principle, then it follows that his death was simply the death of his human nature, not the death of God’s Son, that is, the death of God. Jesus certainly could not have been tempted if he had no human nature, just as he could not die without a human nature. But both of these were acts of the person, just as all his acts for our salvation were.

“For Jesus to sin would have meant either that God sinned or that the personal union was broken. Biblical Christology allows neither of these possibilities.”

Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was perfect in our place. He did what we cannot do: he rejected temptation. Because we fail to reject temptation and avoid sin, Jesus suffered the punishment we deserved.

Jesus lived up to his name, which means “Savior,” by living a holy life in our place and suffering the punishment our sins deserved. Jesus’ active obedience (his holy life) and passive obedience (his sacrificial death) were both necessary for our salvation.

You can find the article I cited here.

Pastor, I have a question that has made me very confused and unworthy of being loved by God. I have long tried to get rid of the feelings towards the same gender, but they do not go away. I have prayed to God, but the feelings remain. I have not acted on these feelings and will never do so, but they never go away. They are a part of me, but that doesn’t mean I am not a follower of God. What should I do? I feel alone. I’m scared that I am not enough and will be left when he comes.

Facing temptation has been the human experience since the Garden of Eden. Jesus himself “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The sources of Jesus’ temptations were Satan and the world. In addition to those sources, there is a third source of temptation for every person but Jesus; people possess a sinful nature, an ally of Satan. Being exposed to temptation does not make a person guilty of sin; giving in to temptation is sinful (James 1:14-15). By not acting on the feelings you have, I understand that you recognize these truths.

The sad reality is that these sources of temptation are lifelong; they do not go away. That means the person who struggles with the temptation to abuse alcohol or the person who fights against the temptation to use pornography or the person who combats the temptation to lust after another person of the opposite sex or the same sex may have to do so for a lifetime.

This is not a hopeless reality by any means. After the apostle Paul described his struggles in fighting temptation (Romans 7:15-24), he exclaimed, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) There is forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. There is power through the gospel of Jesus Christ to live godly lives.

What I can suggest is that you speak with your pastor or other trusted Christian counselor to develop strategies in combating the temptations you face. If you are not able to speak with your pastor about this, you might consider the resources of Christian Family Solutions, a WELS-affiliated ministry. The organization offers in-person and video counseling.

Conquerors through Christ website serves those affected by porn use. You may subscribe to the CtC e-Newsletter and visit  CtC on Facebook.

You understand your situation correctly: facing the temptations you do does not mean that you are not a follower of God. Christians enjoy the forgiveness of sins, yet they struggle against temptation. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ lived perfectly in our place and that he took on himself the punishment our sins deserved. Thanks be to God for a Savior who “empathizes with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15) and “gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). God’s blessings to you.

Is it a sin to say something created personally looks stupid to you?

The Fifth Commandment forbids hurting people with our words (Matthew 5:21-22). As “stupid” is a pejorative word, telling someone that what he or she made looks stupid has great potential in hurting that person.

The Bible does instruct us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). At the same time, the Bible directs us: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). That means we will speak the truth in love tactfully.

Jesus teaches us that the words we speak are important (Matthew 12:36-37). With that in mind, King David’s words form a good prayer for us: “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Is social phobia a sin?

One definition of phobia is “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.”

When God created Adam and Eve, they were perfect in every way. Initially, the only fear they had was reverence and awe for God. Once they gave in to Satan’s temptations, however, other fears became part of their lives—including being afraid of God (Genesis 3:8-10).

Inheriting a sinful nature from them (Genesis 5:1-3; Psalm 51:6; John 3:6: Romans 5:12, 19), fear—real and exaggerated—can often surface in our lives. Phobias illustrate our natural sinful condition and demonstrate how far we have fallen from the condition of Adam and Eve at the very beginning of their lives.

Thankfully, there is help for phobias: spiritual, mental and emotional help. While receiving such help, Christians look forward to the time (Revelation 21:4) when the only fear in their lives will be reverence and awe for God.

What is the Bible's position on adultery? Is it against one of the commandments? Where are the commandments in our NIV Bibles?

God forbids adultery. That subject matter is one of the commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:5-21. Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18 specifically prohibit adultery.

Does God's word speak of judgment on a nation whose people disobey his word, as in abortion, where it has been made legal but is contrary to God's Word to murder?

The Bible provides examples of nations that experienced God’s judgment for their godlessness. The worldwide flood in Noah’s day comes to mind first; all nations were destroyed. Other examples include the northern tribes of Israel, and all the nations in Isaiah 10 – 34 that faced God’s judgment.

The Bible makes it clear that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Also, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). Psalm 2 offers an interesting picture of the relationship between God and the nations of the world and their rulers.

All this is reason why, in the context of your question, it is important for us to offer a prayer like this: “Almighty and eternal God, who created this world and all of us in it, we thank you for the blessing of our life. And we thank You that You created us wonderfully. Lead all people everywhere to see Your work in the creation of life and to consider human life as sacred. Help us to stop the wanton destruction of newly created life in the mother’s womb. Protect and defend all to whom you give life until that day when you take their life from them again. Lead people everywhere to see the sin of abortion and all other sins and to recognize that they are under your wrath and punishment because of them. And then bring them to the precious knowledge of Your Son Jesus, so that they may have eternal life in His name. We ask this so that Your will may be done on this earth and that Your kingdom may come to all people. Amen.”

Hi, I am plagued with fear of death and hell. It stems from reminders of times when I attempted to bargain with God to not allow me into heaven or have the blood of Jesus cleanse me if I committed a particular sin again. I know this was wrong in trying to use fear to help me overcome. I also bargained that the devil could stop me being saved if I committed a specific sin again. It sounds crazy but I got so trapped into the habit of this. I want to believe that I can still be saved and continue the walk with Jesus I started as a young child. I am now an adult and want to be free from this terrible doubt that assails my mind. The fear is that God gave me a free will and that I will be held to what I “vowed.” Thanks.

I want to assure you that your struggle against temptation and sin is not unique. The apostle Paul spoke for every Christian when he described the struggle between the old self and the new self (Romans 7:15-25). Paul lamented how, time and again, he failed to live according to God’s will. It got to the point where Paul asked, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Verse 24) The apostle answered his question in the next verse: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Like you, other Christians have made serious vows and promises to the Lord—and broke them. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus warned his disciples: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me” (Matthew 26:31). The apostle Peter promised, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). When Jesus then told Peter that he would disown him three times before the rooster crowed, Peter promised, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35). Peter was not alone in making that promise—”And all the other disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:35).

Peter and his fellow disciples made a serious promise to the Lord, and they broke it. How did they recover from that failure? The message of the Bible is this: “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The risen Lord assured his disciples of their forgiveness when he said to them more than once, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

You can address the “vows” you made in the past through confession and absolution. When you confess your wrong words and actions to the Lord, you can be sure that he hears and acts. Through the gospel in word and sacrament the Lord offers and gives you the forgiveness of sins. Through that same gospel the Lord speaks about delivering us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

When it comes to battling sin and temptation in the future, I encourage you to look to God and his promises. His promises never fail; he carries out what he has vowed. God provides strength for Christian living by means of his gospel in word and sacrament.

God bless you with the peace of forgiveness!

How do I know I have proper contrition? Sometimes, after I sin, I don't feel very remorseful. I am afraid that the lack of emotional guilt within me following sin means I am not contrite. What role does emotion play in contrition?

Through the law and gospel, the Holy Spirit can certainly bring about different emotions within us. There can be sorrow over sin (2 Corinthians 7:8-11) and joy in the good news of salvation (Psalm 51:12).

And yet, aren’t there times in our lives when we lack sorrow over our sins and joy in our salvation? Certainly. Unfortunately, we can grow complacent to sin; we can take the message of salvation for granted. For those attitudes, we ask for God’s forgiveness, and we know we have it through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Where I am headed in my response to you is that we do not want to base our contrition and faith on our emotions—or the level of our emotions. The certainty of our salvation is based on what Jesus Christ did by living as our perfect substitute and dying as our innocent substitute.

You and I recognize that in this life our confessions—of sin and of faith—will always be imperfect. Because of our weaknesses, we are able to identify with King David and his struggle with confessing sin (Psalm 32). Because of our weaknesses, we are able to identify with the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Our confessions might be weak, but the one to whom they are directed is strong and powerful. God’s message of forgiveness is consistent and reliable. I encourage you to focus on that rather than the emotional level of your contrition. God bless you.

Is it OK to hate Adam and Eve for ruining everyone's life?

No. We are deceiving ourselves if we think we could have brought about a different outcome in Eden.

Rather than directing a negative emotion at Adam and Eve, we have every reason to direct positive emotions of love and gratitude to God for addressing the sin of Adam and Eve, and providing a Savior in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

How does one explain to a close relative that living together without marriage is a sin? This relative is not WELS. In fact, they are Catholic.

Your concern for your relative is commendable. You certainly want to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to your relative.

You can explain that when two people of the opposite sex live together without the benefit of marriage, they put themselves into tempting situations where they can break the sixth commandment. The Bible tells Christians to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). God explains that he “will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

If a man and a woman living together without being married claim to be refraining from sexual activity, they are still in a position of causing offense to others (Matthew 18:6-7) and emboldening them to sin. In addition, their lives are not in line with what God says: that “among you, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3).

Besides speaking to your relative, continue to include him or her in your prayers. Pray that God will change hearts and attitudes and lives. God bless your conversations.

I know WELS and other confessional Lutherans don't ordain practicing homosexuals. But I wonder if confessional Lutherans would ordain persons who have homosexual temptations yet live a chaste life. What about a bisexual man who is married to a woman, yet repents daily of his homosexual thoughts and struggles against it like he does with his heterosexual lust? Is this man automatically excluded from the office of the keys because of his sinful sexual desires, even if he doesn't live them out?

The Bible does teaches that people can transgress God’s holy law by their thoughts (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 3:15). Being tempted with thoughts of breaking the fifth and sixth commandments (the content matter of those Bible passages) would not disqualify a person from serving in the public ministry. The same would be true of a person being tempted with thoughts of breaking any other commandments of God.

If not checked, sinful thoughts of course can lead to sinful actions (James 1:13-15), and some actions can disqualify a person from serving in the public ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

We can put your questions in perspective by keeping mind that God alone knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:2). No one will know our thoughts unless we share them with others. At the same time, we want to recognize that God’s will is that we have pure thoughts (Psalm 51:10; Philippians 4:8).

Your questions underscore the need for daily repentance. When we confess our sins, God responds with the message of the forgiveness of sins through his gospel (1 John 1:9). We have forgiveness because Jesus was perfect in our place (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26). He had no impure thoughts. He took our sinful thoughts and words and actions to the cross, and received the punishment those sins deserved (Isaiah 53:4-5). God’s forgiveness now provides strength and motivation to lead holy lives and to resist temptations to sin (2 Corinthians 5:15).

With the understanding that homosexuality is a sin, is being transgender and marrying the opposite gender a sin? As in, a male to female marrying a female to male; they are the opposite gender, so is it still considered sinning? And what is the reasoning behind considering transitioning to the opposite gender a sin?

The January 20, 2020 Together newsletter contained information that WELS Conference of Presidents had developed a “Statement on Human Sexuality.” The Statement contains good, biblical information on transgender issues pertaining to questions like yours. This link will take you to that Statement.

Click here to subscribe to Together newsletters to receive news and information about WELS.

Can I be forgiven for sins when i said the G--D D-M IT? I did not mean it. The words just kinda slipped out of my mouth. I read the Bible or books like Billy Graham etc. and pray every day that God will forgive me. I hope that Jesus will let me into heaven when my time comes.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ won forgiveness for all sins by his holy life and sacrificial death (1 John 2:2). Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead is proof positive that God the Father accepted Jesus’ work as the full payment for sin (Romans 4:25).

Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus Christ, people personally enjoy the forgiveness of sins Jesus has won (Romans 5:1). The Bible teaches us to confess our sinful thoughts and words and actions to God, and to receive his message of forgiveness in faith (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2).

Our thankful response for God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins is to lead lives that are pleasing to him. When we fail to do that, as in using words you did, we bring those sins to the Lord, as Jesus taught us to do in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). Our comfort is knowing and believing that Jesus was perfect in our place (Hebrews 4:15); he never uttered wrong words. In addition, God laid all our sins, including our sins of misusing his name, on his Son, Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-9).

When it comes to the end of our earthly lives, God has given us some wonderful promises. You can look up passages like these: Mark 16:16; John 3:16; 10:27-30; 11:25.

Keep the Bible at the top of your reading list. Recognize that salvation is God’s doing, from beginning to end. Keep in mind that Christian faith is a gift of God (John 15:16; Ephesians 2:8). Keep your focus on Jesus (Psalm 141:8; Hebrews 12:1-2). God bless you.

Is having erotic pictures of your wife a sin?

God designed sexual relations to take place between a man and a woman in marriage. What is sinful is having impure thoughts about a person who is not one’s spouse (Matthew 5:28). Those thoughts can result from pictures and images.

When it comes to our thoughts, Scripture offers this directive: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Is competing in mixed martial arts, such as the UFC, a sin?

As this is a topic the Bible does not address specifically, it will not be surprising to know that Christians will likely arrive at different conclusions. Conscience (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8) will guide Christians in their attitudes toward an activity mentioned in your question.

Certainly, there can be sinful attitudes involved if a person’s desire is simply to inflict pain on someone else, but then that could also be said about other contact sports—even football.

1 Corinthians 10:31 provides guidance for Christians as they face everyday choices in life: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

I'm having a difficult time with a potential issue regarding those leading a worship service, including the pastoral office. Hypothetically, if a worship leader (layperson - singing or playing) is actively playing a role in a congregation, but a member/multiple members know that the leader is involved in a continual sin (examples: living with someone outside of marriage, addiction issues) unbeknownst to other church leadership, how does one act? If I'm helping to lead the service as well, do I use Matthew 18 and talk to them first, then with others? Do I move swiftly to church leadership to address the issue? I've had conflicting advice given on this (yes - leaders in worship are held to the same standard as pastors, and no - we are all sinners, so let it go). I don't like feeling like a tattle-tale, but I also don't like feeling smug like a Pharisee either. It has given me anxiety for a long time, and I'd like some clarification on this from a WELS leader. Thanks.

Matthew 18:15-20 provides direction for addressing sin in the lives of fellow Christians. That direction includes speaking to a fellow Christian individually and then widening the number of people involved if there is continued impenitence.

With your hypothetical situation, you would want to speak to the worship leader first—individually and privately. You would bring in others to assist you if there were continued impenitence.

We do not help fellow Christians if we fail to offer rebuke in Christian love when they sin. In fact, we help them greatly when we do speak to them—in humility and with gentleness—about their sins. The book of James ends on this note: “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

As you and I would want a fellow Christian to rebuke us about our sins, so we want to have a similar attitude toward a fellow Christian who is “involved in a continual sin,” as you described the situation. God grant you wisdom, love and strength.

Was it sinful for America's founding fathers to rebel against England and wage war?

Yours is a short question that requires a long answer and probably too long of an answer for this forum.

In short, not all the actions of the colonists can be lumped together into a category of “right” or “wrong.”  There was mob violence in some areas that was clearly sinful disobedience.  In other places there were well-established and recognized colonial governments that objected to what they saw as illegitimate interference in their jurisdiction.  It is well documented that Lutherans who lived in this country at that time were divided in their loyalties.

While we may not be able to examine clearly and accurately the motives of people in the past, we can examine our own attitudes toward the governing authorities that God has established in our lives (Romans 13).  To those authorities, we owe taxes, revenue, respect and honor (Romans 13:7).

If a Christian dies during a sinful act, will they receive God's forgiveness by their faith and have eternity in heaven?

Christians are sinners/saints until life on earth comes to an end. Then, they are no longer sinners but only saints in God’s eyes. Until life’s end Christians possess a sinful nature, they wage war against Satan and his evil forces, and they remain vigilant to all that is evil in this world.

In spite of their best intentions and efforts, Christians sin. We distinguish between sins of weakness which do not cause us to lose our faith (Romans 7:15-25) and deliberate sins that can drive saving faith from the heart (Hebrews 10:26-27). Because of this distinction, the response to your question could go in different directions.

The comfort you and I have is that Christians stand in God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:2). We are wrapped in God’s forgiving love. When we stumble into sin out of weakness, we confess our sins to God. But even then our confession does not earn forgiveness from God. Forgiveness is God’s free gift. “Forgiven” is our daily status as Christians. If earthly life ends without the opportunity to confess sins of weakness, we still stand in God’s grace and can look forward to standing in his presence.

God of course is the judge of people’s hearts (Hebrews 4:13). His pronouncement of what is in people’s hearts at the end of life is entirely accurate. It is finally Christian faith that saves and unbelief that condemns (Mark 16:16).

Your question is a reminder to take sin seriously—because of the high cost that was involved to forgive our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19) and the deadly nature of sin (Romans 6:23). Your question is a reminder to say “no” to sin and “yes” to godly living (Titus 2:12).

Hello, Pastor, I have a question about Romans 7:14-25. I believe that Paul is here writing about himself as a mature believer in his struggle against sin. My question is, is it the case that the sins Paul kept committing were unintentional ones? I have heard that view put forth by some people but I doesn't seem to square with the text so far as I can tell. It doesn't always ring true to experience either. Thanks, Pastor.

In Romans 7:14-25 the apostle Paul explained the struggle that took place between his sinful nature and his new self. Certainly, Paul’s sinful nature wanted to sin at any and every opportunity, but in this section Paul described how he fought to put down his sinful nature and instead live life God’s way. In spite of that, he fell into sin. That is not the description of intentional sins.

Paul’s joy of course is our joy: there is forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25).

I was wondering whether Lutherans distinguish between God's forgiveness as judge, on the one hand, and his fatherly forgiveness on the other? When a Christian falls into sin and goes to God for forgiveness, is this him being saved all over again? Or is it more like he is restored unto fellowship? I'd hate to think that we lose salvation or even God's good love and favor every time we sin.

If you are asking whether Christians fall out of faith each time they sin, the answer is “no.” The apostle Paul describes Christians like himself losing daily battles in the hour of temptation, yet still enjoying the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ (Romans 7).

This does not minimize the seriousness of sin, especially those sins that are deliberate and intentional. Following God’s directives, Christians take sin seriously. They avoid it as best they can, and when they are guilty of it, they confess it to God and receive the assurance of his forgiveness in faith (1 John 1:9).

The apostle’s point earlier in the epistle is that Christians “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). And it is gratitude for God’s gracious love that leads us to avoid sin and live for God (Romans 6:1-4).

What if a person believes in Jesus as their Savior from sin but that person continues to intentionally or willingly do or live in at least one sin (like being greedy, driving over the speed limit, living as a homosexual, etc.)? Do passages like Romans 8:12-13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-24, Hebrews 10:26-31, and 1 John 3:4-15 go against such thinking and living? Therefore, could a believer in Jesus as their Savior from sin go to hell if that person intentionally does or lives in at least one sin the rest of their life until death?

In the sermon on the mount Jesus taught: “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 who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). God’s will is that people repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:15).

Passages that you cited, especially 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, teach that impenitence over sin—not any one particular sin—bars people from the kingdom of God. An outward profession of faith in Christ, accompanied by willful sin and an impenitent attitude, is not a description of saving faith. The words of Christ from the sermon on the mount previously cited can be applied to people who lull themselves into spiritual apathy toward sin and yet claim an allegiance with the Lord.

Sin is serious. It is so serious that it cost the life of God’s Son. God’s will is that people who enjoy his forgiveness through faith in his Son live a new life to his glory (Romans 6:1-4).

My question is about the difference between "judging" and "rebuking." Whenever I tell someone, for example, that it is wrong to live a homosexual lifestyle, or that it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage, I always get the response,"Don't judge." Then I'll cite references from the Bible that clearly state that these actions are wrong. I'll then get the response, "The Bible also says you shouldn't judge other people." Now, I realize that Matthew 7:1 says "Do not judge." But we, as Christians, also have the responsibility to rebuke people, out of love, for their wrongdoings and lead them on a righteous path. I believe that by telling people of their wrongdoings, as a part of an effort to lead them to a righteous lifestyle, that I am doing the right thing. So what exactly does it mean to "judge"? At what point does my loving rebuke become a sinful judgment?

There are several things to consider with your question.

Rather than seeing a wide divide between judging and rebuking, there is some overlap.  Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3).  How do I know if someone has sinned?  I have to make a judgment, don’t I?  I have to compare what a person said or did with God’s word.  That is a judgment, an outward judgment, and the kind we are to make.

Jesus also said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).  Again, a judgment of the person’s action needs to be made.

It is clear that Jesus did not forbid all judging.  He forbade hypocritical judging (Matthew 7:1-5) and judging of the heart:  one’s motives and one’s thoughts.

When we do rebuke others out of love, it is not uncommon to hear that person respond by saying, “Don’t judge.  Jesus said you are not to judge.”  That inaccurate response can be a defense mechanism whereby the person being rebuked tries to blunt the message of God’s law and  uphold a view toward life that is different from God’s.

Incidentally, when people counter your rebuke with a “Don’t judge.” response, they are judging.  They are judging what you said with an inaccurate idea they have about the Bible.  Their judgment is that you are in the wrong.  You are not.

A simple answer to your question is that a loving rebuke becomes a sinful judgment if your rebuke is in any way associated with the attempt to judge another person’s heart.

You may be interested to know that I did answer a similar question in a “Light for our path” column.  This link will take you to the column.

Continue to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  Do that so others may hear the truth of God’s word, believe the truth through the power of the Holy Spirit and then live the truth.

Why do some pastors in the WELS excommunicate their own for living together before marriage and other WELS pastors accept them the way they are, even knowing what they are doing is wrong? Thank you.

Excommunication is the church’s declaration that a person’s impenitent attitude has placed himself or herself outside the kingdom of God.  This is the last step of loving discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20.

Because disciplinary circumstances vary and, perhaps even more importantly, we may not have all the information of how a pastor and a congregation are in fact addressing sin in the lives of congregational members, we do well to refrain from passing any judgment on them (Romans 14:13).

Certainly, sin calls for rebuke (Luke 17:3).  Motivated by love and concern, a congregation and its pastor will seek to call sinners to repentance so that the good news of forgiveness can be shared and then received in faith.  Appropriate fruits of repentance follow.

The proliferation of couples living together before marriage definitely presents pastors with ongoing challenges in addressing sin and interacting with the family and friends of those involved.  So, pray for pastors.  If you have a question they can answer without breaking confidentiality or departing from the guidelines of Matthew 18:15-20, do approach them.  Theirs is a weighty responsibility to warn people about sin (Ezekiel 33:7-9).

I recently read an article discussing capital punishment and if it still applies today. The article shows how Genesis 9:6, which reads “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind," has abiding authority even today. The author claims that this command by God demonstrates the sacredness of human life. My question is the following: does this mean that God does, in fact, view some sins as worse than others?

All sin is worthy of God’s condemnation (Romans 6:23; Galatians 3:10).  The Bible makes it clear that sinful thoughts are violations of God’s holy law as are sinful actions (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 3:15).  God’s allowance for harsh punishment of those who break the fifth commandment by murder—even today (Romans 13:4)—illustrates his will that people not end others’ time of grace.  God alone will do that:  directly or indirectly through the government.  God desires that all “be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Are there unforgivable sins, and how do I forgive myself?

The Bible speaks of an unforgivable sin.  It is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:22-32).  That sin amounts to a permanent and malicious rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work.  That sin is unforgivable because that permanent and malicious rejection of the Holy Spirit cuts off people from the Spirit, who alone can connect people to the forgiveness Jesus Christ won by his holy life and sacrificial death.

How can you forgive yourself?  You take to heart what God himself says about your sins.  “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  If God has forgiven you your sins, you have every reason to forgive yourself.

Perhaps the memory and shame of your sins is what is troubling you.  Remembering specific sins can certainly keep Christians humble and reliant on the grace of God in Christ, but don’t think that in any way your forgiveness is affected by your memory of personal sins.  God gives you his word—through his word and sacrament—that he has forgiven all your sins.
So, I would encourage you to think daily of your baptism.  In that “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), God made you his child and wrapped you in the forgiveness of sins Jesus Christ won (Galatians 3:26-27).  I would encourage you to turn to God’s word daily and the Lord’s Supper often to be all the more strengthened in the faith that your sins are forgiven.  Finally, do speak to your pastor.  He will be glad to speak the news of God’s forgiveness to you and help you to forgive yourself.  God bless you.

If God knew mankind would sin, wasn't he setting mankind up for failure by placing the tree in the garden? Couldn't God have made mankind without sin since he is perfect? If God created everything, didn't he also create sin?

God certainly could have prevented sin from corrupting his creation, but he does not reveal in the Bible why he did not choose that course of action. What God did reveal in Scripture is the following:

God created everything, and at the end of the sixth day of creation he pronounced everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31). All was perfect in God’s creation. Sin was absent. At some point thereafter angels rebelled against God and were cast into hell (2 Peter 2:4). Through Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned against God (Genesis 3). Sin clearly came into the world through people’s actions (Romans 5:12). God is removed from wrongdoing of any kind; he is holy (James 1:13; Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3). God certainly knew that sin would infect and corrupt his creation. In eternity he formulated his plan to rescue the world (Revelation 13:8), and in time he carried out his plan in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.

When it comes to our questions of God that the Bible does not answer, we do best to adopt the attitude of the apostle Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

Can you sin if you don't choose whatever sin it is? In a recent interview on TV, someone made the comment that "It can only be a sin if you choose it."

For starters, sin is not limited to things that people do or do not do (sins of commission or sins of omission).  Sin is our natural condition  (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12, 18-19).

Sin is not limited to those thoughts, words or actions that people “choose” to do.  Consider the apostle Paul’s struggles with his sinful nature (Romans 7:7-25).  According to his new self, Paul wanted to distance himself from sin.  Time and again, though, the old self won out and Paul fell into sin.  Sin takes place when people break God’s law (1 John 3:4), no matter what led to their breaking of it.

Then there are our “hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12):  those sins of which we may not even be aware until someone—or God through the Bible—points them out to us.

We are all accountable for our sins.  We cannot blame others for our sins.  While we might have weaknesses for a particular sin, that does not excuse us from falling into that sin.  Being aware of that weakness alerts us to be ever more vigilant in that area of life in resisting sin and living life God’s way.

The good news of the Bible is that Jesus lived up to his name (“…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”).  (Matthew 1:21)  In Jesus we have full and free forgiveness for all our sins (Ephesians 1:7)!

Our God created everything. Did God create sin, or is sin a contradictory of good that is by chance?

God created everything, and at the end of the sixth day of creation he pronounced everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  All was perfect in God’s creation.  Sin was absent.

At some point thereafter angels rebelled against God and were cast into hell (2 Peter 2:4).  Through Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned against God (Genesis 3).  Sin clearly came into the world through people’s actions (Romans 5:12).  God is removed from wrongdoing of any kind; he is holy (James 1:13; Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3).

God certainly knew that sin would infect and corrupt his creation.  In eternity he formulated his plan to rescue the world (Revelation 13:8), and in time he carried out his plan in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.  “To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.” (Jude 1:25)

When we sin, do we always have to make an actual confession for that to be forgiven or do we just have to have faith that Jesus forgives us through faith in him (of course I'm not trying to provide an argument for license of sinning). And what happens when we sin, but we forget that we sin, yet we still keep faith in Jesus Christ? Would we be forgiven? And lastly the unforgivable sin? Is that any sin that we forget/don't confess (while still having faith in Jesus Christ), or is that the sins of the person who just doesn't have faith in Jesus Christ? Thank you and have a nice day.

You ask important questions.  Let’s review briefly what Scripture says about sin, forgiveness of sins, confessing sin, and the unforgiveable sin.

All people are guilty of sin (Psalm 14:3; Romans 3:23).  Jesus Christ came into the world to forgive the sins of all people (John 1:29; 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 John 2:2).  Through faith in Jesus Christ we personally enjoy the forgiveness Jesus won by his holy life and sacrificial death (Mark 16:16; John 5:24; Romans 5:1; 10:9).  God does not dole out his forgiveness piecemeal.  He has forgiven all our sins.

So why do we confess our sins?  Because God directs us to do that (Matthew 6:12; James 5:16).  God’s will is that we confess our sins because a denial of sin and other wrong attitudes about sin are dangerous (Hebrews 10:26; 1 John 1:6-10).  God’s promise is that he hears the penitent cries of his followers and forgives their sins (I John 1:9).

Does this mean—as you asked—that you and I need to confess every sin in order to have forgiveness for every sin?  No.  We cannot possibly list all our sins.  Sometimes we are oblivious to our own sins (Psalm 19:12).  So we confess the sins we know, we confess our sins in general, we confess that we are by nature sinful.  God’s good news is that he has forgiven all our sins.  We stand and live in his grace (Romans 5:2).

The unforgiveable sin that you asked about is mentioned in Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:29-30, and Luke 12:10.  In Matthew chapter 12 we hear of Jesus performing a miracle.  Those who witnessed the miracle wondered if Jesus was the promised Messiah.  The Pharisees’ reaction to that miracle was charging Jesus of being an ally of Satan.  In Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, he warned of “blasphemy against the Spirit” not being forgiven (Matthew 12:31).  This unforgivable sin is often defined as blasphemous, vehement rejection of Christ, against better knowledge of the truth.  The sin is unforgiveable because the person guilty of it cuts off the work of the Holy Spirit, who alone can change the heart.

So, where does this leave us?  Think of what you usually do in a worship service:  you confess your sins, you receive absolution, and in the Creed you say:  “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.”  What a gracious God we have.  “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?”  (Micah 7:18).  Let’s rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins and, when we sin, let’s confess them to the Lord, knowing and believing that he has forgiven all our sins through Jesus Christ his Son.

Was it sinful for America's founding fathers to rebel against England and wage war?

Yours is a short question that requires a long answer and probably too long of an answer for this forum.

In short, not all the actions of the colonists can be lumped together into a category of “right” or “wrong.”  There was mob violence in some areas that was clearly sinful disobedience.  In other places there were well-established and recognized colonial governments that objected to what they saw as illegitimate interference in their jurisdiction.  It is well documented that Lutherans who lived in this country at that time were divided in their loyalties.

While we may not be able to examine clearly and accurately the motives of people in the past, we can examine our own attitudes toward the governing authorities that God has established in our lives (Romans 13).  To those authorities, we owe taxes, revenue, respect and honor (Romans 13:7).

Can you sin if you don't choose whatever sin it is? In a recent interview on TV, someone made the comment that "It can only be a sin if you choose it."

For starters, sin is not limited to things that people do or do not do (sins of commission or sins of omission).  Sin is our natural condition  (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12, 18-19).

Sin is not limited to those thoughts, words or actions that people “choose” to do.  Consider the apostle Paul’s struggles with his sinful nature (Romans 7:7-25).  According to his new self, Paul wanted to distance himself from sin.  Time and again, though, the old self won out and Paul fell into sin.  Sin takes place when people break God’s law (1 John 3:4), no matter what led to their breaking of it.

Then there are our “hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12):  those sins of which we may not even be aware until someone—or God through the Bible—points them out to us.

We are all accountable for our sins.  We cannot blame others for our sins.  While we might have weaknesses for a particular sin, that does not excuse us from falling into that sin.  Being aware of that weakness alerts us to be ever more vigilant in that area of life in resisting sin and living life God’s way.

The good news of the Bible is that Jesus lived up to his name (“…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”).  (Matthew 1:21)  In Jesus we have full and free forgiveness for all our sins (Ephesians 1:7)!

I am very concerned for my salvation. I know that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us our sins, however, many years ago I committed adultery and got a divorce. I fear that breaking one of God's Ten Commandments is a sin punishable by damnation to hell. Would God forgive me for this sin?

You are correct in some of the things you say or imply: Yes, adultery is a sin against the Ten Commandments; and, yes, like any and all other sins it is punishable by damnation in hell. It seems that you understand these truths and have taken them seriously. I am thankful for that.

You are, however, not enjoying other truths clearly revealed in the Bible for us all. While you say you know that “Jesus died on the cross to forgive us our sins,” your strong feelings seem to deny that truth. On the one hand you seem to be saying, “Jesus died for me to forgive my sins,” but at the same time you ask, “Would God forgive me for this sin [adultery]?” So you end up in effect contradicting God and being tormented with a terribly burdened conscience, a guilty conscience.

I have exceedingly good news for you. Your sin of adultery (and the subsequent divorce if that is also traceable to your sins) has already been forgiven. It was forgiven 2,000 years ago when the penalty for it was paid in full by Jesus Christ. He did this for you as part of a sinful world. The problem you are wrestling with is that somehow, and for reasons I do not know, you consider yourself an exception to the rest of us forgiven sinners. But you are not. Jesus Christ is your Savior from sin and guilt and eternal damnation.

This is a truth not to be argued, debated, or doubted. It is a truth to be trusted, a promise to be received. And your and my gracious, loving God leads us to trust this good news as we hear, read, or in any other way receive the message. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So I counsel you to stop worrying about your sin, stop focusing on your burdened conscience and feeling of guilt, and go back to focusing on the objective and unchanging (and unchangeable) Word of God that declares you forgiven through Jesus Christ and his work for you.

I also strongly urge you to sit down with one of our pastors and allow him to give you counsel that will properly reflect his personal knowledge of you and allow you to ask questions and share pertinent information that is not possible in this e-mail format.

Rich blessings to you as you do this!

How would you respond to the idea that because Adam and Eve were made in God's image, so all people have God's image in them? Was God's image in Adam and Eve completely destroyed by their fall into sin, so they couldn't pass any parts of God's image on to the rest of the world?

Being created in the image of God meant that Adam and Eve were holy, they had perfect knowledge of God’s will, and their wills were entirely aligned with God’s will.  After the fall into sin, the Bible tells us Adam had a child in his likeness and image, not God’s (Genesis 5:1-3).  Since the fall into sin, human beings born of sinful people have entered this world as sinners (Psalm 51:5), enemies of God (Romans 8:7) and people whose natural will is opposed to God’s will (Romans 7:7-23).  Despite this natural sinful condition, people still have a natural knowledge of God from creation and their conscience, and they naturally know the basics of God’s law (Psalm 19:1-4; Hebrews 3:4; Romans 2:14-15).

While there are some Lutheran theologians who speak of people still being made, in a limited sense, in the image of God insofar as they have intellect and will, it is more consistent with Scripture to say that the image of God was lost through the fall into sin and is restored in Christians.

Ephesians 4:24 instructs us to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Colossians 3:10 has a similar directive:  “…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 are passages that some theologians cite to indicate that after the fall into sin people are born in the image of God in a limited sense.  When we understand the image of God especially denoting holiness and loving only that which God loves, then we see those particular passages speaking of the original condition of people, which is no longer the case because of sin.

Certainly, each person receives life from God (Acts 17:25) and each person is the object of God’s love in Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2).  Beyond those blessings is the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts through the gospel, connecting them to Jesus Christ and the salvation he won.  In Christians the image of God is being restored (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10), and it will be fully restored when Christians leave this world of sin (Psalm 17:15; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12; 1 John 3:2).

I know that sex before marriage is a sin, but where is this clearly stated in the Bible? When approached with this question previously, the only verses I could recall refer to "sexual immorality" or "adultery." Where is premarital sex defined as adultery and sexual immorality?

Instead of seeking a Bible verse that explicitly says something like, “Sex between two unmarried people is sin,” you would do better to approach the whole issue as the Bible does. God establishes marriage and then says to those being joined together in marriage that they are to be intimately united and that they also become one flesh (see Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5). Thus two things are linked to marriage: union (the intimate joining of a man and a woman as husband and wife) and becoming one flesh (sexual, physical intimacy too). To become one flesh (have sexual union) aside from this marriage bond is never allowed and never spoken of as God-pleasing. It is, however, clearly identified as wrong, as sin (see 1 Corinthians 6:15-18, for example). Any use of the gift of sex aside from the marriage bond is adultery, whether this is premarital or extramarital. God has graciously provided for the sexual desires of men and women to be satisfied only in marriage. To engage in premarital or extramarital sex, before or outside of marriage, is to sin in God’s sight. That is precisely the point of Hebrews 13:4, a verse often referred to in this kind of discussion.  “Marriage” and the marriage bed (the Greek text only has the word “bed”) go together and are to be kept pure. Using the “bed” aside from “marriage” is sin that God will judge.

The counsel given in 1 Corinthians 7:9 makes the same point. If a person has sexual urges and the sex drive (a good gift from God in itself) expresses itself within a person, that person has a God-pleasing remedy identified: to be married and thus obtain the right to be sexually active. Before or outside of marriage, sinful lust is sinful lust. Marriage partners may express the same desires for each other and there is no sin. This kind of “lust” is not sinful. (The Bible word used here is also used for legitimate and proper strong desires, even though the English word usually always carries a negative idea).

I suggest that you sit down with your pastor and seek additional clarifications if you wish more. He may also have resource material in his library that can be helpful to you as you seek to serve others who ask you about these things.

Is it a sin to get drunk or to simply be a drunkard?

Abusing alcohol is a sin (Proverbs 23:20, 31-33; Ephesians 5:18).

If a “drunkard” means someone whose lifestyle involves abusing alcohol, that too is sinful. “Drunkards” (1 Corinthians 6:10) are included in the list of sinners who will be excluded from the kingdom of God—not because of the nature of their sin but because of their impenitence.

By not having any context to your question, I do not know if the subject of alcoholism enters the picture. Alcoholism can provide an understanding of the abuse of alcohol, but it does not remove the person’s accountability for that abuse.

Does God punish us when we do something wrong?

The prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah, Jesus Christ: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53: 4-6). Jesus endured the punishment of the world’s sins as the innocent Lamb of God.

Romans 8:1-2 states: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” When the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in Jesus in our hearts, we enjoy the benefit of the Lamb of God’s work: we have peace with God through the forgiveness of sins.

When Christians sin, God does not punish them. He has already punished Jesus in their place. What God may do is exercise discipline Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:4-12). Discipline is far different from punishment. The motive behind discipline is love and it has the good of people in mind. So, no, God does not punish Christians when they do wrong.

The “Light for our path” column in the September 2018 issue of Forward in Christ will address a question that is similar to yours.

Is it a sin to live with someone of the opposite sex if you are just friends?

Sin is involved with the situation you describe. Rather than distancing themselves from temptations to engage in premarital sexual activity (1 Corinthians 6:18), people living together before marriage are putting those temptations in front of themselves every day. If people think they would be able to withstand those temptations, Scripture offers a warning (1 Corinthians 10:12).

If a man and a woman living together without being married say they are refraining from sexual activity, they are still in a position of causing offense to others (Matthew 18:6-7) and emboldening them to sin. Love for God certainly drives our desire to live godly lives. Love for others is another strong motivator.

Even if friends of the opposite sex did refrain from sexual activity in a live-in situation, they would need to ask themselves if their lives were in line with the admonition that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3). Two people of the opposite sex living together create more than a hint.

Living together before marriage may be all too common in our society today, but it does not honor marriage as God commands (Hebrews 13:4).

Are all sins equal to God? Like would stealing a package of gum be the same as murdering someone in God’s eyes?

Society and governments make distinctions when it comes to breaking established laws. In the Bible God makes it clear that the failure to keep his laws—in any way—is sin.

Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

The apostle John wrote: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).

Thankfully, we have a loving Savior who has won forgiveness for the transgressions we commit in thought, word and deed, and for the sins we commit when we fail to do the good that God commands.

When God finished creation on the sixth day, He saw that it was "very good." At this point sin had not entered the world. How is it that Satan or Adam and Eve were able to conceive of the idea to disobey God and sin if they were created perfectly? Thank you!

Adam and Eve did not conceive of the idea to disobey God and sin. That idea came from Satan. Sometime after God created everything, Satan and other angels rebelled against God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). In the form of a serpent, Satan then tempted Eve. By giving in to temptation, sin entered the world.  As perfect beings, those whom God created had the ability to sin.

The good news of the Bible is that Jesus Christ destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) by his holy life, innocent suffering and death, and glorious resurrection.

Is something a sin if it is thought about, or is it only a sin if a person actually goes through the process of committing the sin?

When we gather together for worship and confess our sins, we often use these words: “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions.” With those words, we speak biblical truths.

We, like all people, are conceived and born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3). That sinful nature produces all kinds of sinful thoughts, words and actions (Mark 7:21-22; Galatians 5:19-21).

The transgression of God’s will is not limited to words or actions. The Bible points to the thoughts and desires of our heart as the origin of sinful words and actions (James 1:14-15). God makes it clear that sinful thoughts are as wrong in his sight as sinful actions (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 3:15).

The wonderful news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ was our perfect substitute in life. He never harbored any evil thoughts. He never uttered sinful words or committed sinful actions. His life was in complete conformity with the will of his Father. More than that, Jesus then was our innocent substitute in death. On the cross, he paid for all our sins—including our sinful thoughts.

In gratitude for the gift of forgiveness, we seek to live for God (Romans 12:1). That includes striving to control our thoughts and think only those things that are pleasing to God (Philippians 4:8).

Lately I am feeling crushed by guilt over things I have done. I believe in God's forgiveness, but I just can't shake the guilt for my sins and how I have wronged others in my past. Most of all, how I have offended God. Can you help me? Thank you.

You understand God’s law very well. Any sin is an offense against God. I would like to encourage you to understand better and appreciate more in faith God’s gospel. While your sins and mine are an offense to God, God says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22). While we can have pretty good memories about the sins God has forgiven, God has a “poor memory.” He forgives and forgets (Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34). The memory of past sins can help keep us humble, but that memory can also drag us down and falsely lead us to believe that some sins remain unforgiven. The truth of the matter is that God has forgiven all our sins. If that is the case, we want to and need to forgive ourselves.

In the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe “in the forgiveness of sins.” Through faith in Jesus, we do enjoy forgiveness of sins. God has forgiven your sins. He has forgiven the guilt of your sins (Psalm 32:5). God will strengthen faith in the forgiveness of sins through his gospel in word and sacrament. As you immerse yourself more in the gospel, God will have more opportunities to deepen your faith and trust in Jesus Christ—and the forgiveness you have in him.

On a practical note, you might find value and benefit in using the order of Private Confession on page 154 in Christian Worship with your pastor or other trusted Christian friend. In addition, if you have wronged people and have not confessed your sins to them, I encourage you to go that route (James 5:16). Above all, listen to the voice of your Savior as he speaks to you through his word: “Take heart…your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus Christ lived perfectly for you. Jesus Christ suffered the penalty of your sins, in your place. Jesus Christ rose victoriously from the dead to assure you that his life and death were accepted as the full payment for your sins. God bless you.

Can you define for me what is meant by "sins of weakness," and what the difference is between them and other sins?

By “sins of weakness” we usually mean those sins of Christians that result from the sinful nature winning the battle against the new self even though we do not want to sin (Romans 7:15-25). As Christians, our new self delights in doing the will of God; our sinful nature wants nothing to do with godliness and what God says. Yet, sometimes in the hour of temptation, the sinful nature gets the upper hand. In those situations, there is no plan to sin, but weak people give in to temptation. That sin is followed by confession and repentance, trust in God’s forgiveness and the resolve not to sin again.

Sins of weakness differ from what we can call “willful sins.” Those sins take place when people know what God’s will is, but don’t care. Instead, they act against better knowledge—and perhaps conscience—and do what they want.

Regardless of how we might define and categorize sin, sin is deadly. It needs our continual attention. The price to pay for our sins was extremely high (1 Peter 1:18-19). Our desire as God’s children is now to avoid sin as best we can and live life to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). God help us to do just that.

Is a Christian's constant battle against the sinful nature a form of cross bearing and suffering?

That battle can be a form of bearing the cross, and that battle certainly involves suffering, doesn’t it?

During his ministry Jesus spoke on three separate occasions (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Luke 14:27) of the need for his followers to take up their cross and follow him. We usually understand cross bearing to mean the sufferings and persecution that result from our connection to Jesus Christ in faith. In that regard, our sinful nature certainly rebels against our new self and our connection to Jesus. It does try to stir up all kinds of trouble in our life. Part of our battle in living the Christian life is that we deny ourselves and put down the desires of our sinful nature. This is where people can see the connection between battling against the sinful nature and bearing the cross. Then, again, unbelievers have a sinful nature, and we would not describe any attempt on their part to resist the sinful nature, for whatever reason, as cross bearing.

Additionally, if cross bearing is a holy imitation of Jesus’ life, suffering as he suffered (1 Peter 2:21), there is a big difference between Jesus and us: he had no sinful nature.

While there can be questions regarding the relationship between battling the sinful nature and bearing the cross, there is no question that we need to confront our sinful nature daily through contrition and repentance. The struggle between the old self and the new self is real (Romans 7:15-25). It is constant, as you noted, but “Thanks be to God” (Romans 7:25) for forgiving all our sins, for giving us the spiritual weaponry to fight against temptation and for assuring us of our ultimate and complete victory over sin, death and hell.

Are some sins worse than others?

Since God created us to love him perfectly, and to love our neighbor as himself, any failure to love in heart, word, or action is the equivalent of shattering the whole law of God. James tells us that in the second chapter of his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:10). Every one of my sins is lawless rebellion against the God who created me to be a perfect reflection of his love in this world. Every failure to live in love is a damnable rejection of his purpose for our lives. In that sense all sin is equally evil. It is all equal evidence that we have a nature within us that is exactly the opposite of what God created us to be.

But for the believer in Christ, there’s more to the story. Because we stand forgiven and holy in God’s sight through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of his Son, every sin does not instantly make an unbeliever out of us. As we live in repentance that runs each day from the evil of our sin to the cross of our Savior, we find that “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Through faith in Christ we stand in God’s grace (Romans 5:1-2).

However, if we grow careless about sin we are inviting spiritual disaster. If, when we become aware of sin in our hearts and lives, we continue in that sin and begin to excuse and defend it, then we are in danger of allowing sin to rule in our hearts again just as it did when we were unbelievers. To persist in what we know to be sin, will soon drive the Holy Spirit and faith from our lives. Paul warns us in Romans 8:13, “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” In that sense, stubborn and willful sin is more dangerous to our faith than sins of weakness or ignorance from which we run to his cross as soon as we recognize them. That’s true even though all sin is by nature damnable in and of itself.

This sounds a bit paradoxical but here is the truth: if we treat sin as the evil it is and run to our Savior’s gracious arms, it cannot harm us. Christ has paid for them all! But if we treat sin as harmless and defend and excuse it, then we are giving that sin the power to destroy us all over again.

All of this isn’t about categories of sins (“big ones” and “little ones”), as if we could make two lists of different “types” of sins. The difference is the attitude of our hearts toward sin. Are we clinging to our sins or are we clinging to our Savior?

We are all sinful by nature. Does this mean none of us is moral? Can one person be more moral than someone else in the eyes of God?

A common definition of “moral” is “conforming to the rules of right conduct.” An appropriate question would be: “Who sets those rules of right conduct?” Is it society? Government? God?

You are correct: we are all sinful by nature (Psalm 51:5; John 3:5-6). By nature and apart from Christian faith, no one can do anything pleasing in God’s sight (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6). It does not matter if some unbelievers are more morally upright than other unbelievers. All are sinners by nature and by their own doing in God’s sight (Romans 3:23). His “rules of right conduct” demand perfection. Because God’s law is a unit, the breaking of just one of his commands is a violation of all of them (James 2:10-11).

Thankfully, Jesus was our perfect substitute in life. While we rightfully focus on the Lord’s passive obedience during the Lenten season, we do well to focus on Jesus’ active obedience in every season of life. What you and I could not do in keeping God’s law perfectly all the time, Jesus did (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).

Even now as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we do not conform to God’s “rules of right conduct.” While the sanctified lives of some Christians may outshine the lives of other Christians, it is only through the merits of Jesus Christ that any of their good deeds are acceptable to God (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13).

With this understanding, let’s continue living for him who died for us and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5:15)!

If God controlled Satan, would there be no evil?

The Bible explains that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve gave in to Satan’s temptation (Genesis 3:1-6; 1 John 3:8). The Scriptures do not say any more about the entrance of sin into the world.

God certainly could have prevented the rebellion of Satan and the evil angels and the subsequent fall of Adam and Eve into sin, but he did not do that. In the Bible God does not explain his actions, nor does he have to.

When it comes to unanswered questions that we have about God, I turn to a couple of sections of Scripture. Romans 11:33-36—“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Isaiah 55:9 – “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

What we know with certainty is that Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and won forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Through faith in Jesus those blessings are yours and mine.

Is alcohol abuse a sin? Or rather if someone suffers from alcoholism and continues to drink, are they sinning?

Yes, alcohol abuse is a sin (Proverbs 23:20, 31-33; Romans 13:13). Alcoholism can provide an explanation for drunkenness, but alcoholism does not free a person from individual responsibility of drunkenness or other sins. Alcohol abuse is still a sin.

If your second question has in mind the scenario of an alcoholic person intending to drink in moderation, wisdom and Christian common sense enter the picture. It is not wise for a person struggling with alcoholism to have temptation at arm’s length. Additionally, continued drinking by the person dealing with alcoholism can result in further harm to one’s body.

If you are looking for Christian resources in treating alcoholism, they are available from WLCFS Christian Family Solutions, an organization within WELS.

I heard the comment, "The only damnable sin is denying the work of the Holy Spirit." I'd like your input on this statement.

There are several responses I can offer. For starters, our sinful condition alone makes us worthy of God’s condemnation (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3). Without even talking about words or actions or thoughts, our natural sinful condition by itself merits damnation.

Next, any sin is worthy of God’s condemnation (Romans 6:23; Galatians 3:10). Jesus made it clear that sinful thoughts are as worthy of God’s condemnation as sinful actions (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).

In addition, impenitence over sin can lead to people receiving God’s eternal condemnation (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Finally, there is one unforgiveable sin, and that is the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:22-32). I wonder if that is the context of the comment you heard. The sin against the Holy Spirit amounts to permanent, malicious rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to Jesus in the gospel. That rejection takes place against better knowledge. The sin is unforgivable because it cuts off the person from the only way in which there is forgiveness of sins: through the work of the Holy Spirit and his gift of saving faith.

Your question is a reminder to take sin—all sins—seriously. When we take sin seriously, we confess it to God (Psalm 32:5). We confess our sins to God fully trusting in his forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:9). Then, cheered and fortified by the forgiveness of sins, we seek to distance ourselves from sin in the future (John 8:11).

Can saving faith exist alongside living in the sin of sex outside of marriage or homosexuality?

The answer to your question hinges on the person’s attitude toward sin. Let me explain.

We could be talking about a Christian who struggles against sin like the apostle Paul described in Romans 7:15-25 – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul describes a Christian who knows right from wrong, desires to do what is right in the sight of God, falls into sin, confesses that sin to God and enjoys forgiveness of sins through Christian faith, and yet struggles with that sin.

On the other hand, we could be talking about a person who professes to be a Christian, engages in the sins you listed but does not consider his or her actions to be sinful. The person might even justify or rationalize his or her actions. That attitude toward sin is dangerous. Impenitence is dangerous.

And so rather than considering whether or not saving faith can exist alongside sinful activities or actions, we need to understand that saving faith cannot exist alongside impenitence. Impenitence is incompatible with saving faith. That is the message the church gives impenitent sinners through the actions Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15-20.

The mere profession of Jesus as Savior does not guarantee admission into heaven. In the sermon on the mount Jesus addressed that mistaken idea (Matthew 7:21). People who profess Jesus as Savior and yet live impenitent lives are fooling only themselves not God. People who outwardly embrace Christianity and yet hang on to sin in impenitence risk losing the very thing they claim to have: salvation. People who identify themselves as Christians but are in reality impenitent sinners are in for a deadly surprise (Luke 13:3).

To be sure, God alone knows what is in a person’s heart (I Samuel 16:7). For that reason, God alone can judge hearts (1 Kings 8:39). What you and I can do is examine our own hearts in regard to sin, repentance, forgiveness and Christian living (2 Corinthians 13:5). What you and I can do is speak the truth in love to a fellow Christian who is caught in sin (Galatians 6:1). What you and I can do is live our Christian faith so that others may be influenced positively toward Christianity (Matthew 5:16). God enable us to do these things.

A Christian friend is trying to tell me my son is being punished with severe illness (or his recovery is being hampered) because of things he believes I've done in the past, specifically he believes I have not forgiven some people in my past who hurt me. There are so many conflicting Scripture passages about children being punished for sins of their parents. What is WELS teaching?

In the Old Testament Job had some friends who tried helping him by explaining the source of the difficulties he was experiencing in life. Their “insight” was not helpful because they were misrepresenting God by telling Job that God was punishing him for past sins.

Job’s friends were not the only people wrongly to connect the dots between earthly problems and sin. One day during Jesus’ ministry, the Lord and his disciples came upon a man who, from birth, had no eyesight. Jesus’ disciples asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The Lord answered: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3).

Job’s friends and Jesus’ disciples needed to understand how God does and does not operate. God does not punish his children for their sins. He has already punished his Son Jesus in their place. Might the Lord chastise or discipline Christians? Yes, but the motive is entirely different from punishment. When God disciplines, he acts out of love and for the good of his children (Hebrews 12:7-11).

God’s words about “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5) refer to people outside the faith. When there is persistent unbelief from one generation to the next, God can certainly bring down judgment on people in this life for their sins.

I take it that your friend’s assertion that you have failed to forgive others is unfounded. Considering that, I would encourage you to ignore his interpretation of your son’s illness. God bless you and your family.

Do you have to confess your sins out loud to a pastor to be forgiven? (Even if the sin is humiliating?)

No. Private confession of sins to one’s pastor is optional but not mandatory. What is important is confessing one’s sins to God (Matthew 6:12).

The Bible’s wonderful message is that “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Is our salvation in jeopardy if we do not make right an issue we have an opportunity to correct? I am struggling with whether or not I am truly forgiven for some things. I do believe in Christ's redemptive work on the cross and I am truly sorry for all my sins including the ones that I don't even know about. For example, let's say I have stolen something from someone and I am truly sorry for having done so. Do I need to give back in order to truly be forgiven?

Your question addresses the topic of fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8). Such fruits are tangible evidence of what is professed to be in the heart. With that in mind, when a person confesses sins to God, outward actions will line up with that confession. Something is wrong when that is not the case.

Let me give an example. Suppose I rob a bank, tell God, “I’m sorry,” but then keep the money. What are you led to think about my repentance? It looks like my repentance is superficial, doesn’t it? It looks like my repentance consists simply of words that lack meaning. If I am sorry for the wrong I have committed, I will take actions that are appropriate to the sin. In that case, I would need to return the money and face the earthly consequences of my sin. Any earthly consequences would not negate God’s forgiveness.

Salvation is in jeopardy when people simply go through the motions of Christianity. Jesus spoke of that in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:21-23).

Your faith is rightly centered in Jesus Christ. He lived and died in your place. He rose from the dead to guarantee your salvation (Romans 4:25). Keep looking to him for your complete forgiveness of sins. When you do not follow God’s will, confess that to the Lord and receive the news of his forgiveness in faith (1 John 1:9). As a fruit of repentance, restore—if possible—whatever sin has ruined. God bless you!