EVIL

 

SATAN

If there was no sin in heaven, how did Satan fall?

                This is an easy question if you approach it straight on.  "Nobody killed anyone at my church." That statement is true. Nobody has ever killed anyone at my church, but that doesn't mean nobody CAN kill anyone at my church. They simply choose not to.  When we say "there was no sin in heaven," it doesn't mean that "nobody was able to sin." It means "nobody chose to sin in heaven." None of the angels chose to rebel against God, probably because they had a pretty awesome deal being with Him and there's very little to be tempted by in heaven. I doubt there was anything to steal that wasn't already shared. There was no one to kill because angels do not die. But one angel, Lucifer (or "Satan" which is a title that means "enemy" or "adversary"), decided that he would try to be worshiped like God was. That was a real desire in his heart.

                Satan fell because he wanted what God had, but wasn't worthy of it. Everything was perfect because that's how it started out, but he broke that perfection and then became the enemy of God. He took a third of the angels with him, though the other angels that remain with God are still "perfect" (which, in this case, is a term of morality).

 

If the devil rebelled against God and became a fallen angel and was sent to hell, does that make him the first "person" in hell, or did hell exist without Satan?  Was it possible for people to exist in hell before Satan did?
                When Satan rebelled against God, he was cast down to the earth (as described in Revelation 12 which gives a vivid image of Satan as a dragon who makes war against those who follow Christ). 
                Hell was prepared for Satan and the angels who fell with him (Matthew 25:41). It's full consummation will be realized in the end times, when God judges all creation and each receives his own eternal destiny. At that time, those who don't follow Christ as their Lord will depart from God's presence and join the devil who also is separated from heaven (Revelation 20:10-15). 
                People did not exist in hell before Satan did because it was created for him. Not only that, but hell doesn't really exist in its full and final form, so it's still something of a future event. Right now there is a place apart from heaven where people are separated from God, but that's not their eternal destiny. It's a precursor to what's to come.

 

How much control does Satan have over our lives?

                Technically, none.   He does not control you. You make your own decisions.  

                Satan is a tempter and deceiver, nothing more. He has no more control over a person than what is given to him by the pattern of their lives: what they expose themselves to and indulge in and celebrate and are entertained by. Even demon possession does not occur unless demonic influences (sin, mysticism, superstitions) are unrepented of.

                If you submit yourself to God and resist the devil, he'll flee from you (James 4:7). That means keeping your thoughts on godly things (Philippians 4:8-9) and not exposing yourself to bad influences (Matthew 6:22-23), which includes even the movies we watch and the music we listen to.  It's like being "filled with the Spirit," which means our actions are good and godly. That doesn't come suddenly without cause. It happens from keeping our thoughts on Scripture, our speech prayerful, and our actions blameless in loving service to God's people.   What you fill yourself up with is what you will be full of, and that is what will control you. So whatever it is going to be--whether it is sinfulness or godliness--that decision is yours.

 

Can Satan fake spiritual gifts in people?  In believers?

                A spiritual gift is just something you are good at which is effective in helping the Church.  God makes people, and He gives them those abilities. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Satan has creative power to endow people with gifts. He cannot make someone a good teacher, a generous giver, or a dynamic speaker. He is not God's counterpart in any equal sense. He is just an angel who defected from his holy position.

                Satan tempts and deceives believers (and unbelievers) into using what they have and do for unholy purposes. That doesn't mean he fakes any gifts in them. It means he tries to make them abuse their abilities to pursue pointless, meaningless, or wicked ways.  Satan can fake miracles, since angels are able to supernaturally affect the world to some degree, but that doesn't mean he is instilling any particular gift inside someone.

 

Do people sell their souls to the devil?  If so, can Jesus save them?

                "Selling your soul to the devil" is an expression, meaning you've given your life to something as your authority instead of God.  Typically this can be money, sex, or power, or whatever else people would rather have than the lordship of Christ guiding their lives. Everybody has done that (Romans 3:23). We all started out that way. And, yes, Jesus can save us from it; it's precisely why He came to live and die and live again for us.

 

Does Satan play tricks on Christians more during important holidays like Good Friday?

                 Nothing in the Bible is said about Satan's use of our calendar. But I think you hit a really good point in your question. Plenty of people decide to go to church on Easter and on Christmas. These are, after all, religious holidays so it's not uncommon for a person to want to acknowledge their upbringing by participating in the festivities by attending a service. In that time, I think Satan might perhaps feel threatened as though some might truly encounter the gospel and turn toward Christ, so I wouldn't be surprised if he bolstered his efforts against people who are not spiritually solid in his camp. But again, the Bible doesn't say a word for or against the idea that the devil operates differently around holidays. 

SIN

What is indwelling sin?  What's the difference between "struggling" with sin and "being enslaved" to sin?

                Indwelling sin is not a biblical concept. Sin is not a person; it does not dwell as a spirit dwells. The Holy Spirit is indwelling for believers. That means He is actively involved in influencing us. Sin is not a person that has a will do that. Sin is the label we use to indicate something that is not of God.

                The difference between struggling with sin (believers) and being enslaved to sin (unbelievers) is that believers are able to properly act without sin. Unbelievers are not.  Believers are able to love God and love their neighbors, which are two actions that simultaneously take place--whenever you're doing one, you are doing the other (If you try to love your neighbor without a love for God, it is not the kind of neighborly love that you're supposed to be doing). A believer is able to operate in godliness, and is then called to overcome the sin that he was living in previously. That's the struggle. It's growing out of the wrong ideas, ill motives, and ungodly actions that we used to have.  An unbeliever has not the love for God (that's what makes him an unbeliever), which means he cannot properly love his neighbor. That means any action he takes is not a godly one, no matter how nice his motives seem, since they are not done for the glory of God.

 

If we go back to the basic (very basic) meaning of sin, isn't it: separation from God? Whatever we do that separates us from God is a sin. I think sometimes Christians focus too much on the moral side of sins. There's a whole spectrum besides morality.

                No, the basic meaning of sin is actually "to miss the mark." The word "sin" originated as an archery term, where you failed to hit the target--either by great or small degree.  So whatever misses the mark and is even just slightly off-target from what God instructs us to do is sin. That's why moralism fails. It puts on the mask of good deeds, but ignores or rather rejects the glory of God. 
                Separation from God is an outcome of sin, not the definition of it. By taking the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were not directly separating themselves from God. They were really just disobeying His command. Because of that, separation occurred. It was a consequence.

 

At what point is an act considered a sin?

                Sin is in the motive, not the action. For instance, killing is not evil--murder is.   An act is considered sin when the motive violates our call to fully love God obediently and each other sincerely. When the intent is not situated in righteous values, but is selfish or prideful or greedy, etc. that's when it's sin.  Motives are invisible, though, while actions are not. That's why God is the ultimate judge of our sinfulness, because He knows our motives.

 

Where did sin come from?  How did sin happen if Satan was created without sin?

                The best way to understand sin (in this question) is by substituting it with the word "disobedience."  Where did disobedience come from? Where did the first inclination to disobey come from if even Satan was created without disobedience?  Yes, Satan was created without disobedience, but he did have the freedom to choose to obey or disobey. Disobedience doesn't "come from" somewhere. It is a way of describing the choice Satan (or people) make. It's not its own force or will. 

                When we say that human beings are born sinful, that doesn't mean they are already-disobedient to God as if they had already committed crimes against Him. That's not exactly right. It means they are born with disobedient wills--their own wills are no longer congruent with God's, and they are naturally inclined to follow theirs instead of His. No baby is born guilty of any particular wrong deed, but the baby is still born sinful--disobedient by nature, though he is not yet old enough to understand how to disobey.

 

Are all sins equally wrong?

                Sin is wrong, regardless of what sin it is, so some people say that all sins are equally wrong in essence--they are all ungodly, or whatever they might say to put all sin in the same category of wrongness.  But not all sins are equally wrong in magnitude/severity. This is actually a very natural thought for us, even instinctively. If someone makes fun of your hairstyle, that wouldn't be on the same scale as a someone who tortures and murders for pleasure. Both are wrong, one is more severe.  Equal in essence, different in degree.

You have good biblical grounding for that conclusion based on the following:

1) When God sets up the Law for Israel, especially in the book of Leviticus, He gives different punishments for different crimes--each punishment fitting the severity of the crime.

2) Jesus speaks of the "Unforgiveable Sin" in Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:23-25, and in other gospels as well. The identification of an unforgivable sin would imply one more grievous than the others.

3) Jesus identifies that the people who turned Jesus in to Pilate have committed a GREATER sin than Pilate did. See John 19:11.

4) Luke 12:47-48 is what I think the clearest indication that God dispenses punishment in different measure, according to the intent of the heart. If that is true, then not all sins are equally wrong in the sense of how much punishment they deserve.

                There's more to say, but I think the point is made.

 

A sin is a sin, right--no matter how big or small?  Why don't we act this way?  Why do churches put more negative focus on certain ones, especially if it's "taboo" to this world?

                Churches do this because God does this.  He also treats different sins in different ways, even though they are all sin. 

                Let me speak in metaphor: Dog poo is dog poo no matter if it's big or small, but I think we react differently to GIANT piles of dog poo than we would to a small speck of it.  The point of the metaphor is that the two can be the same essence, but a difference in magnitude and severity. In fact, I'd be horrified if you reacted the same way to raping children as you would to stealing a gumball from a supermarket. While they are equal in essence (meaning, they are both sin), do you really think they are equal in magnitude and severity?
                Even Jesus makes distinctions. In Matthew 7, he talks about how we wrongfully condemn people in judgment. He says it's like we're pulling specks from their eyes while we have planks in our own. That, right there, is a distinction he makes between the magnitude and severity of sin. Some sins are more intense and far-reaching than others.  Luke 12:47-48 is also a place where Jesus indicates that punishment varies in degrees for different crimes, which is a pretty clear-cut conclusion that God takes some sins more seriously than others. Even throughout the laws in Leviticus, not all the punishments are the same for crimes.
 We also can't forget that throughout Leviticus, different punishments are given for different crimes--some crimes merit the death penalty, while others only require monetary retribution.  That shows how God himself punishes different crimes with different degrees. 
                Now, just to understand things in balance: It's reasonable for the church to react differently to different sins based on their severity. But the approach to a sinful person is always to be done with firm love. Even though each person will require different methods of discipline or accountability or rebuke, they're always to be handled with the spirit to restore unto godliness. In that way, the church's response to sin is also equal in essence (meaning, always in love), though also differing in magnitude and severity to properly fit the situation.

 

 

UNFORGIVEABLE SIN

If I used to be guilty of the unforgiveable sin, but then I repent, can I be forgiven?

                Unrepentance is not a single action. It is a condition of the heart. A person who takes a long time in life before eventually coming to repentance is not unrepentant, he's just later in coming to faith than some other people.  "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" (which I oversimplify to "unrepentance") is such a stubborn condition of the heart that even when the Holy Spirit is obvious and compelling to a person, that person will refuse to repent. It's not something that happens in a certain instance, but is a condition that describes that person's life. It is and always will be true.  For any who repent, they are not unrepentant. Any who embrace the Holy Spirit are not guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (by refusing His work to bring them to repentance and saving faith).

 

Does the unforgiveable sin apply to humans, where a human should not forgive another human?

                No. Forgiveness literally means to "put the issue away." To no longer hold it against the offender.

                Humans cannot forgive another person of the Unforgiveable Sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) because no human being is the Holy Spirit. That would be like you forgiving someone for what they did to me. If I was wronged, you have no position to forgive because you are not the offended party. I am. Only I can forgive a person for what is done to me. And, of course, only God can forgive a person for sin, which is an offense toward Him.  

                Moreover, there is no unforgiveable sin between two human beings. Every sin has consequence, and sometimes that consequence is permanent, but forgiveness is an act of the heart.  As an example, a man who cheats on his wife faces consequences. She can legitimately divorce him for unfaithfulness--that is well within her right, according to Jesus (Matthew 5:32). So the consequence for the man is permanent. However, she is expected to forgive him. That doesn't mean she likes what he did or is okay with it and doesn't feel bad about it. It means that she does not seek to impart harm in him in retribution. She doesn't want to hurt him back. The divorce is not vengeful, it is just. That difference is key in understanding forgiveness and justice and how the two exist at the same time.

                Even for us, as Christians, we are forgiven of our sins. God does not intend to harm or hurt us for how we rebelled against Him and His instruction. But that doesn't mean our sins were excused. They were still paid for on the cross. Jesus died to pay that penalty, to satisfy justice, so that our evil was punished and God forgave us--that is, He put the issue away. 

                If a person sins against you, he sins against you and God too. If God is able to forgive him for what he did, so are you--after all, you are called to be godly. Put the issue away. Seek justice, but not vengeance. Don't try to harm someone back, repaying evil for evil. If you are wronged, take precautions not to let it happen again, and pray for your enemy in hope that he will learn to do better.

 

Which verse says an aware sinner who's sinning is committing the ultimate sin?

                There is no verse that says an aware sinner who's sinning is committing the ultimate sin. There's actually no term "ultimate sin" at all. While sin can vary in degrees (for instance, murder is more grievous than lying), the essence of sin is equal in quality--meaning evil, no matter how big or small, is still evil. So no sin is actually "ultimate" in comparison to any other by being more essentially evil.
                The idea you might have in mind is the "unforgivable sin" which comes up in Matthew 12:31. This is not an "ultimate sin" as if it were so wicked that God would not be able to forgive it. It is unforgivable because it denies the very means of forgiveness: namely, repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit. To blaspheme the Spirit is to reject His work in the heart that convicts one of sin and calls him to repent. Because forgiveness is distributed to those who repent, to be unrepentant is to be unforgivable.   The immediate historical context of the verse is situated where Jesus is teaching and performing great signs and wonders, and the Jewish leaders witness all of it. But instead of acknowledging God's miraculous hand at work and repenting, they instead say that Jesus is not working miracles by God, but is counterfeiting them by Satan. This displays their utmost devotion and allegiance to their own sinful motives and exposes their lack of surrender to the God of the Old Testament, whom they claim to know.

 

Does God always forgive?  Are there times when sin itself is unforgiveable?

                As God's forgiveness is applied only to those who repent, the only unforgiveable sin is that of unrepentance.***

                Repentance is changing your mind, changing your heart, changing your action. It's a complete turning away from one's sin and actively pursuing righteousness. It's where you stop doing what's wrong and start doing what's right. Both have to take place. 
For anyone who decides to stop living in sin and start living under God's instruction, that person is forgiven of all wrongdoing that's been done. Then that person (if he or she is truly repentant) will start showing a noticeable difference in his/her life--turning away from wrong and following what's right. 

                Throughout the New Testament, God has always accepted sinners and outcasts, including prostitutes and murderers. He took them and transformed them into holy people.  Alternatively, the people that Jesus consistently rejects are those that are religious (in terms of reputation and public appeal), but do not turn away from what they know to be wrong. The Rich Young Ruler is a good example of this (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus told that man exactly what he needed to do, and he chose otherwise, and Jesus makes it clear that he doesn't cut it as a follower of Christ. In most episodes, Jesus is emphatically disgusted with such people, and throughout the apostle Paul's epistles we read of staunch rejection and ejection of these types of so-called Christians who are really fake believers that poison the integrity of the Church (1 Corinthians 5 is one example of this). 

                ***[Unrepentance is a pretty simplified way of describing the "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" which is what Jesus says is the unforgiveable sin (Matthew 12:30-32).]

 

Can someone be forgiven of suicide?  Doesn't it renounce Jesus as Lord and Savior?

                The only unforgiveable sin is unrepentance (which is a VERY simplistic way of saying "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit", from Matthew 12:32).    Suicide does not renounce Jesus as Lord and Savior. I'm not really sure who thought of that, but that's a pretty popular sentiment in churches.  Suicide is certainly a poor decision, a tragic one that abandons hope. But so is depression. Just because someone doesn't kill himself doesn't mean he endured depression in any more or less of a godly manner than someone who actually does kill himself. If people lose hope in God, they're lost and in need of help--not condemnation and judgment. The sad testimony of the Church is that we've taken people who were hurting so bad that they would take their own lives, and we place the blame back on them and say that they never believed in God, rather than trying to figure out whether or not the Church had really offered as much encouragement and help that it could/should have done.

                Suicide is murder. It is a sin. And it is true that it is not characteristic of Christian behavior. But it's an overstatement to say, "If someone is REALLY a Christian, he would never commit suicide." Is that so?  Well, then, if someone is REALLY a Christian, then he would never cheat on his homework. If someone is REALLY a Christian, he would never disobey his parents. If someone is REALLY a Christian, he would never be late for Sunday service.  See what happens when we go down that trail? We start artificially drawing lines on what "real" Christians would or wouldn't do. It starts to look a whole lot like the Pharisees in the New Testament, actually. We start separating people in to "clean" and "unclean" circles, based on how spiritual they keep themselves, or how they avoid un-spiritual activities.

                I think it's important to note that perseverance is a characteristic of saving faith (Matthew 10:22 and 24:13). Perseverance, however, is a pattern, not an instance. It's observed over the course of a lifetime--not in the last 5 minutes of a person's life.
Consider a man who loses his entire family to rape and murder, discovering that those who planned and performed the wicked deed were his own friends and coworkers. Let's imagine that this man, so distraught at the image he sees of his family's broken bodies, picks up a weapon and takes his own life.  Who would be so callous and arrogant as to say that if he were a REAL Christian, he wouldn't do that? If you observe the sailors in Jonah 1:14, they also in fear and distress end up taking a life, but with much reluctance and prayer to God for mercy. And interestingly, God is merciful to them in the next verse.

                Additionally, suicide has contextual boundaries. When is it okay to give up your life? What if you're not the one that pulls the trigger?  John 15:13 says that there is no greater love than giving up your life for someone else. So is it not suicide if someone else benefits from it? If so, then would you reason that it's not suicide if you kill yourself to save your family money?  When the argument breaks down, we have to inspect suicide with a very sober and sensitive perspective. It's not an issue of "if you kill yourself, you were never a Christian." That kind of thought is lazy, arrogant, judgmental, and (in my opinion) satanic.  I think there needs to be a certain level of compassion and understanding when people kill themselves to avoid pain. Instead of judging them, we should grieve that we weren't helping them cope and heal. This is really the reason why suicide happens in the first place. But whether or not those individuals have placed their trust and hope in Christ is a completely different issue. 

                Realize that people in pain often do things without thinking--just look at people in the hospital with morphine buttons after their surgery. They don't think about whether or not it's very Christian of them to press the morphine button since morphine is a drug and they don't want to get addicted or blah blah blah. They're in pain--they press the button to end the pain--they're not considering consequences. It's possible that Christians--REAL Christians--can fall into this tragic and irreversible situation, where they choose to end their lives as an indirect solution to ending their pain.   Let's make every effort to help those who are prone to suicide--not condemn them. Let God be the judge of who belongs to Him.

 

GOD'S FORGIVENESS

How much can we ask for forgiveness without abusing God's mercy?

                That really just comes down to the motive for forgiveness. For illustrative purposes: When I sin against my wife, I ask forgiveness because I love her and regret hurting or offending her. The interest is on the object of my love. I do not ask forgiveness so that I can avoid punishment. That interest is secondary or absent. In fact, often times I may even ask forgiveness and also desire some consequence or penalty to demonstrate the sincerity of my apology. 

                You know you're abusing God's mercy when you're asking Him for forgiveness just to ease your own conscience or escape consequences. You know you're asking for God's mercy rightly when you're motive is to rectify an offense you made against the King. It comes down to who you really care about (God or yourself) that defines why you're apologizing or asking for forgiveness, and that makes it clear who you're trying to serve.

 

Does God forgive those who know what's wrong but still do it anyway?  I need assurance.

                What you've just described is unrepentance.   If you know it's wrong and choose to do it anyway, there is a submission to sin and self as your lord, not to Jesus.  God's forgiveness is applied to those who repent and surrender to Christ. This is a process that doesn't automatically remove all our sins overnight, but it does destroy the pattern of sin and our allegiance to it, as we mature and grow in faith.

                In terms of assurance, check to see if you're faithfully reading God's Word, praying, staying in daily fellowship with believers, and being a testimony of Christ to the people around you. Then see if you're consistently attending church, submitting to discipline, and maintaining a moral life.  My guess is that something in that list is not fulfilled. That's why you might wonder about your forgiveness/salvation. If those things aren't true of you, I think questioning your status before God is proper, because that list describes believers, and so it's right to be worried if it's not a correct description of you.

                If you're struggling with something, talk to you pastor (in person). Let him know so he can direct you and pray for you. The best way to solve a problem is with the help of people who love you. The best way to NOT solve it is to try and take care of it yourself. Talk to your pastor and your teacher and your accountability. Keep them informed of where you are and where you want to be, and then let them work in your heart and in your life. If you do, I'm sure you'll be brought to a point where you are sure whether you truly have come to belong to God or not.