Can I be saved if I do not see myself as wicked?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I've just read the article Does God hate... at Got Questions Ministries. It says that nowhere in the bible does it say that "God hates sin but loves the sinner", and yet isn’t that what Christians and religious people in general are supposed to do? I'd be loathe to think there's one rule for "God" and another for humans. Another problem I have is with who you'd regard as the "wicked". In that passage it says that "God is angry with the wicked every day". But you need to be made aware there are countless individuals who are not Christians but are most certainly not "wicked". I myself am not a "born again" Christian. But I'm essentially a very moral person who also happens to hate wickedness. One doesn’t necessarily have to be "born again" in order to hate wickedness. I'm very suspicious about some of the truth claims of Christianity unfortunately. I as an honest man am only interested in truth and nothing else. So it begs the question as to what is meant by the "wicked" because wicked is certainly not what I am. Thank you very much. (From Europe).

Answer: Greetings friend. I shall be happy to respond to your queries today. All your points are well taken, and I appreciate that you carefully read the article you mentioned. Many people just complain about God in general, but you are asking some informed questions in the name of truth which is refreshing. For this reason, in particular, I pray that I might provide some worthy responses. Please note, however, that my answers will all be informed by the highest truth, biblical truth, one of the tests of which is discomfort (Jeremiah 5:14). That notwithstanding, let us begin.

You cited the phrase "God hates sin but loves the sinner" as a godly dynamic that Christians are supposed to emulate. Many people are surprised to discover that this phrase is not in the Bible, because well… isn’t that how God supposedly works? Yes and no. But isn’t that also how Christians are supposed to behave? Certainly! Here’s your first problem. You object that God might have one rule for love and hate while we humans have another... but that’s exactly true. You see, God has a problem that we humans do not have: He is holy; we are not. So, in his overarching purposes (where his holiness is not assaulted), he shows his love by sending his Son to die for us (John 3:16). But where his holiness is challenged (where life plays out), he hates, because he must hate, the wicked (Psalm 11:5). 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”
(Psalm 11:5, TNIV)

If these two verses were in true logical opposition, then we would have to throw out the whole Bible. But they are both true — and they are both true at the same time. In John 3:16, (as is his prerogative, being God) he exercises his love toward the whole world. In Psalm 11:5, (as is his prerogative, being God) he exercises his hate toward the wicked.

There is an unfortunate popular complaint about God that a God of love would never allow the atrocities that happened in the world, would never send people to hell, would never hate, etc…. Those are the mere ramblings of an uninformed people; they are not biblically true, and they are not empirically true. Here’s what’s true: God exists; the world is a mess; we need to sort that out. The problem is that people-at-large are spoiled. They are immature and self-centered rather than God-centered. They want all of the good (but none of the bad) that God can offer. I ask, what world do they live in? Even a mediocre parent understands that children need to experience both happy moments and sad moments as part of their reality training. How much more would the Father of the universe to this? It would be irresponsible for God, who knows that we have to pass through an evil world for a season, not to warn us about wickedness — and not to deal with it personally… and make no mistake... God takes wickedness personally (Habakkuk 1:13).

The fact that God hates is not a problem; it is a function of his holiness, and his holiness is an essential part of his character (Leviticus 11:44). This is the part that usually trips people up (and I think you are suffering from a little of this). People who insist that God should act outside of his nature are postulating a too-small god — one whose nature they sort of made up, rather than assenting to the nature that God has revealed about himself. This is a special kind of arrogance, and it is the false premise that underpins most of the questions that challenge God’s behavior.

The biblically revealed God is infinite in all his aspects. He is infinitely loving and infinitely holy. People often see these in conflict because the god that underpins their question is more like a god from the ancient pantheons. Such gods were just people, only bigger. They were flawed and capricious — which is a fearful combination! But our true God is purposeful in his assertions, direct in his behaviors and consistent forever (Malachi 3:6). Therefore, he insists upon using his own definitions of love and holiness as opposed to those definitions offered by people of shifting sensibilities. Furthermore, he will be clear about which of his creatures belong in which category. The true God, the biblical God, is exacting about this. What you see as an insult, I see as reassuring. This is because I know my category and you do not… but more on that later.

At this point, we have a classic divide concerning “isn’t that what Christians and religious people in general are supposed to do?” True Christians are people of the Book. The Bible is our counsel — God’s very voice… and it is still God’s voice when what it says is unpopular. Religious people, on the other hand, are merely people of religious habits who may or may not give some measure of credence to God’s word. As such, these people generally understand humanity has humanists do, that people are basically good; they just behave badly sometimes. The Bible is draconian by comparison. God’s view is that, not only are people basically bad (Romans 3:23)… people are basically dead (Ephesians 2:1) — that’s how bad they are!

The main outfall is that humanists and religionists see people as fixable where God does not. God sees people as redeemable — but being redeemed is a whole different thing than being fixed; it carries the necessity that people see themselves as unworthy rather than as the “perfect” children of irresponsible parents who simply can’t do anything wrong in spite of continual evidence to the contrary. For a person to be redeemed, it is necessary that he sees himself as having been wicked (Luke 18:13).

I’ve only known you for a few minutes, but let me affirm that I would love to have you as a neighbor and a friend. You are moral, caring, thoughtful and accomplished. As such, you would be a great addition to any community. Furthermore, if the common notions of heaven were true, that people would be judged by God for entrance to heaven based on your earthly performance and honorable thoughts, you’d be a strong candidate. In fact, I would recommend you wholeheartedly! But this is not how entrance into heaven works. Only God’s children get in.

You have mentioned the term “born again” in a way that tells me that you do not understand the essential difference between being born again and in being a morally good person (John 3:3). There may or may not be a difference in social conscience or in behavior between the two, but there is absolutely a category difference between them. Am I saying that God considers category over behavior when evaluating a person’s eternal destiny? That is exactly what I’m saying. Candidates for heaven must answer one question, “Are you a child of God?” It’s yes or no. It is not, “I am better than Fred and Jack, as good as John… but unfortunately, worse than Mother Teresa — but on average, worthy.” Again, if that were the method, I’d vote you in! But, I do not get a vote. Fortunately though, today I get a voice.

You have a sensibility toward godly issues and some knowledge of the Bible, but I can tell you do not believe that it is God’s word. We need to fix that (which is a topic for another day). But until then, it is important to understand that what the Bible actually says is often in direct opposition to the popular notion of what the Bible says. And the topic of how one enters heaven is the most critical of those. I am going to paste in a Bible passage where Jesus talks about the surprises that await those who thought that they could get into heaven by doing good works — even for godly works done in God’s name. They have neglected the essential work of believing in Jesus Christ.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven [see John 6:28-29 below]. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
(Matthew 7:21–23, ESV, emphasis mine)

“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29, ESV)

Now, here’s the issue. You are not a person who behaves wickedly. In fact, I see you as a person of conscience and caring. Therefore, neither you nor I nor any reasonable person would see you as wicked. The problem is that for entrance to heaven… God does not see you at all! Did you notice in Matthew 7 that God actually disavowed all those persons who were making a run him under their own steam? Accessing heaven is not a function of goodness versus wickedness. It is a function of saved versus lost  —and that is a category issue, not a behavioral one. Sure, there is a behavior involved. To become “unlost” one must be found — and this takes positive action by the seeker. But the seeker does not get to choose which actions are acceptable to God (John 6:28–29). As I said before, I admire your morality, but I get no vote… nor do the countless of our fellows who are listening to pseudo-Christian counsel rather than to the voice God himself. Read the Bible. It is truly God’s word. Test it out for yourself.

There will always be a difference between God’s declared standards and what we see in the physical world. This is why it is so difficult to get a handle on what the Bible means by wicked. Who are these people? The wicked are people whose behaviors match the conditions of their hearts in as much as they do not see themselves under the rule of God and therefore act accordingly. Now, many people like yourself, who are not declaratively under the rule of God, behave as if they are — and no reasonable person would call such people wicked because behavior displays the heart.

Unfortunately, the opposite condition exists, too, where many people who claim to be born again Christians behave with no apparent conscience towards God — worse than many well-behaving atheists; if these are truly born again (and no other persons can know this truly), then their category will get them to heaven. I know — this never feels fair to the-well-behaved-but-not-saved, but it is a salvific fact (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are all, the saved and the unsaved alike, volitional beings while we remain on this earth, and we all may choose idiocy over moderation at any moment. This may change a newspaper’s headlines, but it does not change a person’s category.

I always feel bad when a person like you who can “out-Christian the Christian,” runs into a professing child of God who acts like a child of hell. God will fix that kind of thing eventually (Hebrews 2:8), but for now, we’re quite stuck with that phenomenon. Let me plead as one reasonable man to another, do not let a substandard actions of a few change an objective truth. The Bible reveals salvation as categorical, not behavioral — although good behavior is expected as a result of (but never as a cause of) salvation. As for you, you are likely in the category of the lost, but you are not denominatively wicked. As such, you would be the classic case of a “good person” who would not be allowed into heaven.

In closing, the Christian worldview is the only worldview where the empirical truly matches its official statements. I too spent a lot of my life suspicious of the Christian norms — especially as I began to observe the “hypocrites” of the world. A real revelation for me was when I began to study the Bible and found it populated with protagonists that…well… I would not want for neighbors. Many were flawed — and I mean overtly so — as liars, cheats and murderers to name just a few! God does not soften his reporting on humanity in the Bible. We are a troubled race.

But what the Bible teaches matches the empirical evidence of humanity, that we are also wonderful — almost godlike on the earth. This fits the biblical model perfectly, and no other worldview does this. The Bible teaches that humanity was perfect at the beginning, but that it fell through sin and degraded into what we see today. But within each person still has that regal child-of-a-king aspect trying to breakthrough. It shows in our intellect, in our morality and in our accomplishments. Please keep that in mind when the occasional Christian clunker comes into view.

Please visit this link to my piece on salvation. Since this is more comprehensive than most, it will give a thinking-man like yourself some perspective. I will also link you back to the Got Questions Ministries salvation page, as it has many informative articles. You have some misunderstandings about the things that God has done and how that works itself out in the world; I would hate to jeopardize your eternity by not encouraging you to examine the facts for yourself — and from the original source, the Bible (Psalm 119:140).

I have really enjoyed our time together. I will pray for your journey.

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