PURSUING GOD

 

TRUE SAVING FAITH

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to truly believe? How do you know if you truly believe?

                Literally, "Christian" means "little Christ" or "Christ follower."  To be a Christian is to live as another Jesus Christ on the earth--teaching what he taught, living as he lived, loving as he loved.  Theologically, it means repenting of our own sin and self-seeking lives, and trusting in God's instruction and design as given in His Word.  Practically speaking, it means learning the Bible and living it out, praying to God frequently and sincerely, following the example of older and wiser believers, staying the close company of other disciples, and representing Jesus by what you say and do toward a watching world. Anything less than this is counterfeit to saving faith. The whole thing is a process we grow into, spending our whole lives doing so, and those that endure to the end are the ones that have proven visibly that their invisible faith is true and sincere.

                To "truly believe" can be seen by other people.  You can tell when someone truly loves the Lakers.  You can tell when someone truly loves Friends, the TV show.  You can tell when someone truly loves prime rib (that would be me).  You'll see a sincere loyalty that takes personal indignation at any attack made against such love.  You'll see a sincere joy to experience and share the experience of such love.  You'll see a sincere thirst to have and continue to gain more of such wonder.  You'll see a sincere aversion to anything that prevents one from staying close to such treasure.  

                If someone truly loves Jesus--if he "truly believes"--you'll know them by their fruit. It's something that people grow into. It isn't true of every believer from the first second they start believing. Like changing temperature, it takes time and is gradual--but the direction is clear on which way they're going.   Jesus takes anyone just the way they are, but He never leaves them the same way they were.

 

How do you repent?  I thought it was praying to God that you were sorry from the bottom of your heart.

                Yeah, repentance definitely does include praying a prayer that confesses sincere guilt and sorrow and regret. But if those feelings are sincere, they naturally come with the desire and resolve to act differently. To repent literally means to "change your mind" in its basest sense. That means not only turning away from something, but turning toward something else.
                Christ calls us to repent of our sin. That means the only thing left to turn to is righteousness--HIS righteousness, since we have none of our own.  So in our actual living, to repent of something means not only to pray that prayer, but to direct our lives to prevent ourselves from falling into that sin again, and taking the proper measures (accountability, prayer, discipline) to ensure we're pursuing the right track.

 

How do I know if my friends and I are truly saved?  We love, fear, and worship God, but we sin and do not always live our lives according to the Bible.  What if some of us doubt God?

                You know you're saved if you're obeying Christ in faith and love (1 John 2:3-6). In your life, you're going to experience that battle between sin and righteousness, and by examining the direction of how you live, the general pattern of which way you're life is being conformed, you'll know which one you are. Don't be confused: good works doesn't mean you're saved, but rather, being saved means good works come from you. 
                Even moments of doubt will expose one's true faith. Is it a doubt that will cause you to search God's Word for answers? Or is it a doubt that will become an excuse to stop believing?  But as you grow in knowledge, and as you continue to apply it to your life, the more your fear and uncertainty will melt away. Assurance of salvation comes from the experience of salvation. God doesn't just save you from hell, he saves you from sin! And as you experience yourself working out what he's working in you, as you find yourself loving others sacrificially and repenting and seeking prayer and accountability, the more you'll know your position as one who loves God and who is loved by God.

 

How do you give God control over your life?

                Some people start off with a sudden desire to change from worldliness to holiness, and then their lives just follow suit. But not everyone is like that.  I think giving God control over your life is a lot like switching from Coke to Diet Coke. If you've ever met someone who's really made that change, the process is always the same:

1) First, just deny yourself of Coke.

2) Drink Diet Coke instead. Of course it won't be the same as the original, so expect that and be ready to go through a certain degree of "withdrawal."

3) After a while, you'll get used to Diet Coke.

4) As long as you've remained disciplined to stick with Diet without relapsing, you'll actually find that you really start to like it better. You'll notice all the ways that the original Coke had done bad things to you: left a horrible filmy aftertaste, was too sweet, was thick and syrupy, made the stomach rumble, etc. 

5) You'll discover a craving for Diet Coke. (This, by the way, could be due to certain addicting qualities of its chemical makeup.)

                So, to apply the metaphor, it really kind of goes the same way:

1) First, deny yourself of sinful attitudes and habits. It's a decision you have to make, and nothing can force you into it, nothing can stop you from it. For instance, you're the only one that decides if you want to slander your enemy--there's no excuse like, "I can't help it" or "I had no choice." You decide. 

2) Live a life of holiness instead. Read the Bible and pray daily, stay in strong and qualitative company with other believers who share Christian values (not just friends who happen to go a church and call themselves Christian), and serve others with the abilities that God gave you. You'll experience some "withdrawal" from sinful pleasures, so expect this and be ready for it.

3) After a while, you'll get used to the habits.

4) As long as you don't relapse, you'll start noticing the difference in your value system. You'll begin to see the worth of holy living--of loving God and loving your neighbor and putting others before yourself. You'll also be able to see how your previous life of sin had negatively affected you: left an empty feeling of purposelessness at the end of the day, offered only temporary pleasures without lasting fulfillment, had you placing your value on external things like looks or money or popularity instead of believing in your inherit human worth, etc.

5) You'll discover a craving for God and God's people and godliness. (This is not a chemical addiction!)

                That's a rough outline, but really the best way to do it with more specific guidance is to stay close to your pastor and Bible study teacher and let them instruct you on how to live. Your best source of counsel is from a person, not from the internet. This should only be supplementary at best, not a substitute for a real person who cares about you, telling you how to take a step closer to God.

What can I do to really know God's love and really accept Jesus as my Savior?

                I really think your best remedy to get closer to God is as simple as applying what you learn in sermons and Bible studies. You know how you'll hear about obeying your parents or forgiving your enemies or welcoming strangers or getting to know people at church? Do that stuff! When a sermon comes your way, write down ways that you can apply the truth of the Word, and tell some people about what you're going to do, and then watch how that stuff grows in your life. See how blessing flows from following God's Word. Then you'll get a sense of how He's guiding you and growing you.
                If you just get in the habit of listening to sermons and learning, but not actively getting out of your comfort zone to DO those things, you'll get the feeling of stagnation. Always be acting against that tide and you'll stay close with Him.

 

I try to do everything to glorify God. But lately, there are some things I do just for my own happiness (I'm happy, but it's not because it's God-centered).  Is this wrong?

                You have the freedom to make decisions, choose a path, and exercise discernment. If you're choosing to remain obedient to God, thankful for all things, and considerate of your conscience and the conscience of your neighbor, then whatever you're doing is being done for God's glory.

                If you're committing sin, causing someone else to sin, or having a heart that denies the presence of God in what you think/say/do, then you're glorifying yourself.

                Happiness has nothing to do with holiness. Happiness is an emotional reaction to immediate circumstance. Holiness is a virtue of being like God in character, motive, and action. Pursue happiness and you'll find yourself making many compromises in your moral and spiritual journey. Pursue holiness and you'll find that true contentment and fulfillment (called joy, which is better than happiness) is a guaranteed result. This is why Christians can go to their deaths singing. Greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.

 

Could God have chosen some other way to take away our sins, instead of sending His only Son?  Why is bloodshed necessary?

                1) If a criminal trades places with another criminal, they both still have penalties to pay. So whoever would take away our sin would have to be sinless.
                2) If sin is an attribute of mankind (Romans 3:23), then its penalty must be paid by man. So whoever would take away our sin would have to be fully human.
                3) If all mankind is sinful and in need of salvation (Romans 3:10-12), then the worth of the atonement must be equal to or greater than all mankind. So whoever would take away our sin would have to be of virtually infinite value to be sufficient to pay the price for everyone who has ever lived and ever will live.
                4) If the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), then that is the penalty that must be paid in order to be a substitution. So whoever would take away our sin would have to die for us.
                It had to be God's Son Jesus to save us because He is the only one who is sinless (Hebrews 4:15), fully human (Romans 5:17), of infinite value (Colossians 1:15-20), and died for us (Romans 5:6,8).  It took His blood to atone for our sins because the blood is where the life is (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). Jesus had to give up His blood [life] because the penalty He had to pay was death.

 

What if you were a really strong Christian but all of a sudden started falling into sin, especially lust? What if you engaged in a lot of sexual activity even though you know it is sinning against and hurting God? Am I truly saved?

                Well, I'm not sure what would make someone a "really strong Christian" if they "started falling into sin." As far as I understand it, the strength of one's Christian faith is not how convinced he is of its trueness--but whether or not he lives it out.
                Let's say, though, that he previously did not struggle with lust, and then later on it became a serious problem in his life. The explanation for that might not always be that his faith used to be strong but now it's weak. If you look back at those previous years, did the same opportunities and temptations present themselves? Was he under the same circumstantial pressure or emotional weakness when the temptation was presented? Did he continue to carry the same fervor and desire for greater commitment to Christ?
                It's possible that the recent struggle doesn't demonstrate a fall in spiritual commitment, but might actually just expose that the commitment wasn't really as strong as it was previously thought to be. He only appeared committed before because it was easier. Junior high students, for instance, might be seen as struggling less than high schoolers, but that doesn't mean it's because their faith is stronger. It could probably be better explained by the fact that the full force of deception and temptation hasn't been unleashed on them, including the peer pressure or the urgency to try and act grown up once entering the later years in high school.
                To more simply answer the question though, a person's trust in God is always demonstrated in their obedience to Him. If he disobeys, it's because he thinks he found something that will satisfy him more than godliness. That doesn't mean he's unsaved, necessarily, but it does mean he's far from really understanding God's faithfulness. 
                Repentance is not easy though. I don't want to make it sound like once you become a Christian, all your sinful desires go away. There are urges and impulses that we deal with everyday that can sometimes be harmful and/or wrong. While we are prone to make mistakes from time to time, it's the pattern of our lives that's more indicative of where we're at with God. Look at the general pattern, not just a specific incident. Perfection is the standard, but direction is the key to knowing if you're following God, or following something else. 
                Those who continue in their faith till the end, those are the ones who are saved (Matthew 10:22; Colossians 1:22-23; Revelation 2:11).

 

Does regeneration precede faith?

                Given that faith is the means by which salvation takes place (Ephesians 2:8), and regeneration is the theological term that refers to the rebirth that takes place in salvation, I can only say that regeneration takes place when saving faith is first exercised. The event of regeneration cannot precede the means of regeneration. The two are simultaneous not because of timing, but because they are two different names for the same single thing.

How do I build a relationship with God so that I'm 100% sure I'm going to heaven? 

                Start with reading the Bible and prayer. It really is that simple. That's your vertical relationship between you and God above.  Then work on having the right relationships with people alongside you. This is your horizontal relationship, person to person. Treat people with respect and love, and if they wrong you then let it go because you know retaliation doesn't help them heal. Pray that they'd experience whatever lessons they need in order to learn not to wrong others again.

                Having a relationship with God is done by caring about what He cares for and staying in constant communication with Him. It means trusting His instruction, since He knows better than we do, and being willing to take risks to pursue him. If you're not regularly involved in a church, get involved! It's weird or scary at first because you might not know many people, but just by showing up to all their activities (Sundays, Fridays, fellowship events, retreats, etc.) you gain relationships very quickly. That'll be a really good start to understanding God, since He works primarily through His people.

 

How can one best apply the Word to his or her life? Memorize specific verses? Reflect on the reading throughout the day?

                Memorizing helps apply, but apply means to OBEY. Do what it says. The best way to do that is to make every effort to help you avoid temptation, recruit accountability to keep you encouraged and watchful and prayed for, and stay in prayer about pursuing holy righteousness over anything else.

When you read Scripture and memorize it and reflect on it, that is one of the ways to help you keep that focus on obedience as your goal. Do that, and get others to do it with you, and work as a body to keep pushing yourself to repent of sin and do what you know the Word tells you to do--whether in sermon, private reading, or any other source of biblical instruction.

 

What are some practical approaches to daily devotions?

                I think a lot of it comes down to scheduling and support. 

                Schedule your daily devotional time to come before you start your homework or before you eat breakfast or whatever is a normal priority in your day. If you start with the devotional time before your other priority, that ensures that you'll get it done just as surely as you get the other priority done.

Also, recruit support. Group up with friends who will join in the same reading schedule or do it at the same time as you or whatever. Share questions or comments about your readings and plan to take your questions to your pastor(s) if you can't find answers.

If you do those two things, it becomes a lot easier to have daily devotions without feeling like you're doing it all by yourself and it has no meaning or effect.

 

How do you humble yourself?

                Let me make a helpful distinction that someone once told me:  Humility is not thinking less of yourself.  Humility is thinking of yourself less.

                Humility is Not Thinking Less of Yourself.  Being humble isn't insulting yourself or dodging compliments. I've seen preachers and praise leaders who respond to compliments about their sermon or songs with, "Oh, it wasn't me. It was all God." I respect their intentions, but in some ways I roll my eyes and think, "If it were all God, maybe He would have done better than what you did, made less mistakes, or evoked a stronger reaction from His people or His opponents."  Being humble doesn't mean you can't receive a compliment or be thanked or affirmed for the work you do. Dismissing someone's encouragement can actually make that person feel like you're actually dismissing him/her instead.

                Humility is Thinking of Yourself Less.  Here is where I think humility is best expressed. When a person intentionally sets aside his own preferences to go help someone else, that's what it means to be humble. Talking to newcomers at church, helping set up or clean up at home or for an event, giving up something you love (like time on the internet) to go and bless someone else, purely for their own benefit and not your own.

                Humility is giving up what could be yours and giving out to make it theirs. Those who continually do that with their money, time, energy, thoughts, and efforts are never called arrogant, selfish, or proud. They're selfless, sacrificial, and submissive. That's humility.

 

While I was at a Christian retreat, I felt the emotions that everyone was feeling, but when I came back I questioned if those emotions were true.  Was I just being brainwashed, trying to fit in with everyone else?

                The tricky thing about emotions is that they only last for a moment. That means they might be impulsive and unreliable or deceiving. On the other hand, just because a feeling goes away doesn't mean it wasn't real to begin with.
                I think it best comes down to one's values. You figure out inside yourself what you truly understand to be right/wrong, good/bad, true/false. Then look back on those emotions. Did they stem from a sober perspective on each of those things? Or did they blur some of those lines? Brainwashing is happening if it's the latter. Experience is happening if it's the former.
                You're either a believer that struggles with sin, or you're an unbeliever that occasionally considers the faith. The difference really comes down to if you honestly believe Christ is your Savior, and you worship Him as Lord. The pattern of your life will determine which one is the exception and which one is the rule. If you just look at the people you choose to surround yourself with most frequently (even if you don't consider them your closest friends), you'll have a pretty good guess at who you are by examining how they are. And if you want to be something else, change your company.

 

What does it mean to fear God?

                Here it is briefly: If you're an unbeliever, it means the dread of His judgment and wrath (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31).  If you're a believer, it means reverance and awe at His character and magnitude (Hebrews 12:28-29; Deuteronomy 10:12,20-21).  Believers don't have fear of His judgment since Christ paid that on the cross for us (Romans 8:1-2), but He does discipline us like a good parent would do to properly train up a child he loves (Hebrews 12:5-11). 

 

How do I fear God?  I want to grow.  How do pastors do it?

                Fearing God comes from knowing who He is, what He does, and why He does it. That can only be known from reading His Word and seeing the operation of His power through your constant prayer and faithful obedience. There is no secret or short cut to it, unless you plan on settling for something counterfeit. You grow on God's time, not yours, according to God's will, not ours. That's not just how a pastor does it. It's how a Christian does it. :)

 

What if I am only Christian because I want to go to heaven?

                I think a lot of people would say it's wrong to be a Christian because you want to go to heaven, but I personally think that heaven is where we were originally designed to be! We were meant for a life without sin, without grief, without hatred. And if you know that Christ is the only way to get there (Acts 4:12), then it only makes sense that you would follow Christ in order to be where you need to be.
                I'm really not worried about why people become Christians, and I don't think you should be either. Our real concern should be whether or not they really ARE Christians--not just through external actions, but by the internal attitudes of their heart: by their love for Jesus, their hatred of sin, their desperation to pursue holiness, and their delight in the repentance and salvation of themselves and others. 
                Some people go to the gym because they love working out, and they always loved it even from the first time they went. Some people have to force themselves to go to the gym at first, and then they find that they love working out, and so then they love going to the gym.  I think the same is true of people following Christ. Some love reading the Bible and praying and fellowship right away. But others sometimes need to try getting into the habit before they discover the value of it and fall in love with it. If you're trying to get into the habit but find it's not easy, don't be discouraged! Just make sure you're giving it your full effort to experience it all the way, not some or most of the time. Get yourself out to every church service, make as many relationships as possible and share everything sincerely in discussion, pray and ask for prayer. You'll get it if you're serious about Christ.

 

How much of becoming a believer is up to us?  How much of evangelizing is up to us?

                You're COMPLETELY responsible for becoming a believer. 100%. If you do, you're saved. If you don't, you're not.
The Holy Spirit does play a part in this, but that part is completely unknown to us in terms of its exact procedure and methodology.
We are certain, though, that you are wholly responsible for your choice. The Spirit is not blamed for what you decide, and Satan is not blamed for what you decide.

                Evangelizing is also entirely up to you. Your confession or denial of God before men is evidential of Christ's confession or denial of you before God (Matthew 10:32-33). Every believer is empowered and commissioned to now affect everyone around them to step in the direction of righteousness (Matthew 28:19-20). Excusing one's self from his God-given purpose is an outright rebellion against Christ's lordship--that man is, evidentially, not a follower of Christ at all.

 

What is the difference between my strength and God's strength?

                Your strength is all the stuff that you can do to bring about the results that you're aiming for. It includes the physical work you do, the mental excellence of your intelligence, the artistic value of your imagination, and the social impact of your personality. These are all things that we use to serve God.
                God's strength, however, includes things like his ability to orchestrate the right circumstances, bring conviction, and urge the heart toward repentance. These are things that we want God to do.
                One of the things to keep in mind is that God works THROUGH us, not DESPITE us. We use our physical, mental, artistic, and social abilities as a service and sacrifice to God so that he would use those things to do his work in convicting and compelling the hearts of people we encounter. We do everything on our human side and ask God to do everything on the spirit side.
                We don't put confidence in our flesh--in our own strength. That's not where the miracle happens. But we offer up our strength with the right attitude and motives as a prayerful way of asking God to do his own work through us. That's why he actually gives us the power--the gifting--to serve people rightly. Every believer is endowed with different talents/skills/gifts to serve their neighbors (1 Corinthians 12), and we're all trained by the Word which enables us to do the work with the right mindset and attitude (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

 

Is it true that if you're not Christian then you don't go to heaven?

                Yes, that is true, but it's not simple.  The reality is that men and women are held accountable for their actions, whether good or bad. God is a perfect, righteous, and holy God who does not allow evil or sin in His presence. God resides in heaven--heaven is not for people; heaven is for God.  Even if a person does good things as much as he can for his whole life, that does not make him perfect, righteous, or holy. It does not make him qualify to reside with God in heaven.

                The only way that could happen is if God extended His grace to provide a means to pay for the penalty of a person's sin and install in him a righteousness that comes from God.  That's what takes place when a person comes to true and saving faith in Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, having come to die the death that every person deserves, so that the penalty is paid for those who place their trust in Him. For those persons who do so, a transformation begins to take place in their lives (which continues until they die) where they repent of sin and trust in God. Their lives begin to bear the fruit of righteousness that has no interest in self, and a perseverance that withstands the most difficult suffering. Those are the ones who overcome, and those are the ones who are Christian, and those are the ones who are invited to dwell with God in heaven for eternity. Their sin is paid for, their righteousness is from God, and they are perfected by His grace and made holy by their allegiance to God alone.

                All that is meant to clarify something about your question: Just because someone calls himself/herself a Christian does not mean he/she is. It doesn't matter what they call themselves or how many Sundays they have attended church. It matters whether or not the repentance and trust are resident in the heart. It matters if the allegiance to God is there. THEN it will bear the fruit of calling one's self a follower of Christ, and THEN it will breed a hunger and thirst for God and God's people to fellowship with them.  Those that choose to live with God in their lives are granted that for eternity. Those that choose to live apart from Him are also given what they choose.

 

Can you lose your salvation?

                The technical, theological answer is "No, you cannot lose your salvation."

                When God describes salvation to us, He gives us a pretty definitive picture of a faith that does not quit. Take the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23. A farmer scatters seeds on four different types of soil. When Jesus explains the parable, he says that the people who have zero or little or temporary interest/investment in God's Word are the unsaved. Only the one that endures till the end is saved (see Matthew 10:22), or as the parable of the sower tells us: the one that produces fruit in keeping with repentance is saved.

In Revelation, there are seven churches that Jesus speaks to in regards to their sin and their salvation. In all seven instances, he says that "he who overcomes" is the one who is saved (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26 and 3:5,12,21).

So there is an aspect to salvation that says that true saving faith is the faith that is loyal to Christ over all other things, and is strong enough to overcome any adversity.

                A more abstract concept of salvation that Bible presents to us is the idea that God has elected people for salvation. Since God operates outside of our linear perspective of time, He has chosen His people to be saved long before the world was even created (Ephesians 1:4-5). That's hard for us to understand because it tempts us to think that we had no contribution in deciding whether or not we're saved, but be careful not to fall into that faulty train of thought. God's predestination over His people does not nullify or ignore our capacity to choose. The two are both true: you chose to become a Christian, and God chose you to become a Christian. It'd take someone outside of spacetime to really understand how that could work, since we're naturally inclined to wonder which one came first (which is an argument that doesn't apply if you don't live in time!). But this is one of those moments where you get to sit back and realize that there are complexities about God that we'll never fully comprehend--which means He's not a small god that fits inside the boundaries of our finite brains.

                Now, we're also forced to deal with a very relevant question: what about those people who are really involved in church, really passionate about God, really active in missions and evangelizing, but then--after a number of years--fall away and lose interest or dismiss their belief altogether?

                Those people are precisely the kinds of soil that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 13 that eventually fall away. They're like Judas Iscariot, the apostle that betrayed Jesus. He walked with Christ for 3 years, did everything the other apostles did. He was so faithful that they trusted him to be in charge of their money (John 13:29). He was so active in ministry that when Jesus said one of his disciples would betray him, nobody asked, "Is it Judas?" Instead they ended up asking, "Is it I?" (Matthew 26:22; John 13:22). Those who get really passionately involved with church and God but eventually turn away to betray the Lord for some other pursuit in their lives are no different than Judas Iscariot. It's not that he lost his salvation; he never really had it (John 6:64)!

                There's an important balance that the Church needs to exercise about this issue. Only God knows who is really saved and who is faking the faith. We can only be certain to a limited degree since we can't measure the full motives of a man's heart.

Because of this, the Scripture will sometimes describe to us a person who was heavily involved in the faith and fell away. It makes it sound like they lost their salvation (for instance, in Hebrews 6:4-6), but that's really just the description from our human perspective. From God's perspective He already knows who is saved and who is not. So the Bible will actually have us assume that anyone who calls himself a Christian is actually a Christian until he proves that he is unrepentant. Matthew 18:13-20 is a great example of this. You're to treat your brother as a believer and confront him of his sin, and if he proves unrepentant after repeated efforts to urge him toward holiness, then the church is to treat him as an unbeliever.

                So in one sense, it seems like salvation is something that you can lose because when we look with our eyes, we see people who get involved with God and church and then later fall away. That looks like they were faithful, and then rejected the faith. But in God's eternal perspective, He knows the difference between a temporary faith and a genuine surrendered one. No one has surrendered to God if at some point in his life he decides to reject Christ's lordship. That wasn't surrender; it was a temporary cease-fire against heaven, disguised as faith and godliness, when really it was a deception and a lost opportunity for heavenly blessing.

 

Is there such a thing as a carnal Christians or a back-sliding Christians?

                Both of those terms are practical, not theological, meaning they're helpful descriptions of types of church-goers, but they're not biblical words that God used to classify believers.
                "Carnal Christian" refers to the person who claims faith in Jesus Christ but lives in sin and ungodly values. This person can exist ONLY in the midst of transformation and sanctification. Saving faith is effectual, causing change in the actions of a person's life. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:17), meaning if someone claims to have faith but is not experience a move from carnal (or sinful) living to righteous living, then that faith is not the faith of eternal life. It's a false faith, a dead one.
                "Back-sliding Christian" usually describes someone who once was very involved with God and church, but then fell into sin and no longer is as active or interested as before. This is actually indicative of a faulty faith from the beginning. Jesus described people like this when he spoke of the parable of the sower who threw seed on four different types of soil (Matthew 13:20-22). Practically speaking, we can call someone a back-sliding Christian if their behavior matches this pattern, but theologically, it's more accurate to diagnose their original "faith" more as a phase of interest and involvement, but not actual trust in God or God's instruction.

 

Is Jesus the ONLY way to go to heaven?

                Yes. Jesus is the only Savior. This is one of the greatest themes of the Bible.  John 14:6 is where Jesus plainly states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."  Acts 4:12 says about Jesus, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."  John 3:36 tells us about people who do NOT believe in Jesus, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (See also 1 John 5:11-12)  1 Timothy 2:5 clarifies that Jesus is the only bridge between heaven and earth: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."  1 Timothy 6:3-4 is where Paul states it combatively: "If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing." (See also 2 John 9-11)  Finally, Paul states how we should treat people who purport a different gospel: "But if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!"  That's really just scratching the surface, but I think it's enough to demonstrate the clarity and gravity with which God and Scripture exclaim the unique, inimitable nature of Christ who alone can save man from sin.

 

How can it be that when Jesus died, all our sins were forgiven?

                Here are two fundamental theological ideas to start with:

1) Anyone who sins deserves death (Romans 6:23), and that applies to all of us (Romans 3:23). So all of us deserve death for our sins.

2) Jesus did not sin (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; Hebrews 4:15). That means He did not deserve death.  But Jesus willingly died. At that point, He's paid a price He didn't owe. Now He'll apply that payment to anyone who repents of their sin and follows His Lordship. 

                Pretend all men and women everywhere have no money, and your life is worth $100. Because you sinned, you owe $100 or else you're destroyed, but you can't pay it.  Then comes Jesus whose life is worth $999,999,999... and He says that anyone who repents and believes in me is paid for.  His life (because He is God) is infinitely worth more than all of Creation. It is sufficient to pay for all of mankind, and is applied to those who follow Him in righteousness.

                Romans 5:18-19 states it very simply: sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and now salvation has entered the world through one man (Jesus).

                It's possible that your question might also be coming from the angle of self-inspection, wondering how God could forgive you despite the magnitude and multitude of wrong that you may have done.  If that's true, then read this very carefully: The fact that God came to offer you salvation speaks profoundly of how much He values you, loves you, and wants you to live with Him in your life for eternity--to your eternal and ultimate joy and satisfaction and fulfillment. He didn't forget you or give up on you. His attention right now is not on what you've done (as your attention may be), but He waits to see what you will do.  Every sin is covered by the shed blood of Jesus. It is that scarlet river that washes us white as snow, and no power of Hell--not the gates of Hades--can overcome His sovereign will to seek and save His people.  He will save you just as you are, and He will not leave you just as you were.

 

Do you have to be baptized to be saved?

                No.  Salvation is never obtained by any specific action. It is contingent only upon the repentance of the heart that turns to trust fully in the lordship of Christ Jesus.  Remember that there were many who came to Christ and died before ever being able to be baptized. A good example would be the thief that is next to Jesus on the cross (Lk 23:39-43).

                Baptism is the expression of repentance from one's old life and trust in Christ's new life. It is a public way of visually displaying a death and washing clean and resurrection in newness of life in Christ (Col 2:12). This is the imagery that comes from lying down in the water, being buried, and rising again.

                Baptism is commanded for believers, not to BECOME saved, but because they are ALREADY saved. In obedience to God, the believer gets baptized to send the message to the world.

                It's also my strong opinion that baptism is meant for us, as people, to have a distinguishable landmark in our life that represents the beginning of faith. Much like a wedding, which distinguishes the beginning of marriage, a baptism is a symbol of a whole new relationship. It is done once, in the beginning, and never needs to be done again.  Communion, on a related note, is like an anniversary. It is repeated and is to commemorate where the relationship began.

 

Are you still saved even if you become complacent or are on a steady downward path away from God?

                True and saving faith is, by nature, indestructible. See Matthew 10:22 or Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21. There are lots of places where Jesus reminds us that if you follow Him, you deny yourself and take up your cross (your own death sentence) and live His life in your daily context.

                To grow complacent or backslide is usually momentary and met with confession and repentance and accountability and restoration. But prolonged complacency or backsliding--if that becomes the PATTERN of one's life, instead of the exception--then that speaks more to say that the person did not truly die to themselves. One who comes to saving faith endures till the end, and holiness is the growing pattern through the course of their lives, not decline.

                If anyone claims to be a believer but remains consistently unrepentant about their sin, then even Jesus tells the church to treat them as unbelievers (Matthew 18:15-17). True repentance puts the self to death and lives the life of Christ. Death, there, while figurative is still literal in its permanency. It is not a self-denial that happens for a short time, but an irreversible change that occurs in the manner of one's values and habits--from living for self to living for God.

 

Were the Jews of the Old Testament saved even if they didn't accept Christ?

                Yes. The Jews of the Old Testament were saved by the same faith that saves us today: an understanding of the depraved and sinful state of man, a need for atonement, and faith in a Messiah.  For them, the Messiah would come in their future.  For us, the Messiah has come in our past.  We live on opposite sides of the Messiah's arrival, but our faith was grounded in the one and only Savior who calls us to repent of our sins and live a life of righteousness, loving God and our neighbor. That has always been the standard, and that will never ever change.

 

Were people saved between the times of the Old and New Testaments?

                Yes. The Old and New Testament are just sections of the Bible. They've always been saved by acknowledging God, understanding their sin, repenting and believing, placing faith in God's plan of salvation, and trusting Him in His instruction. That continues to happen today, even though we're not in any books of the Bible that are being written.

 

Was God's original intention for the creation of mankind to save us with Jesus Christ?

                Definitely. Ephesians 1:1-13 is a big discourse by Paul that mentions how God knew that not all men would choose Him, but He elected for those who would believe in Him to be saved and sanctified and reformed to the original design of holiness by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the head over everything.

 

What happens to people who have never in their lifetimes heard of Christianity (like aborigines living whole lives in a secluded village)?

                People are not judged according to whether or not they have heard of Christianity. They are judged according to whether or not they have sinned and deserve penalty.
                So on the gospel end, we know that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). There is no other name under heaven by which men are saved (Acts 4:12). Believing in Christ is the (only) means to salvation (John 3:16).
                That truth will put our own faith in our faces. Some understand this truth and use it as a means to doubt the goodness of God. They basically accuse God of unfairness in not making the gospel available to everyone, and yet still judging them for not believing it. 
                There are two errors in that: first, people are not judged for not believing the gospel. They are judged for their sin. By holding an aborigine (for example) accountable for his sin is completely independent of whether or not he believes the gospel.  Second, God does not owe salvation to man. Man owes eternal penalty to God. The gospel is not something that God is obligated to dispense--else it is not grace that we're saved by; it's obligation. 
                Other people react to the truth of God's judgment not with accusation, but with mobilization. They follow God's heart that desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and direct their efforts toward evangelism to carry out God's commissioning for them (Matthew 28:19-20). They know that without their missionary efforts, people simply are not saved (Romans 10:14-15).
                The reaction to God's justice will demonstrate a person's understanding of the gospel at its basest level: Is God holy? Is man sinful? Who owes the other? Who has wronged whom? Who has acted unfairly?

 

If God will forgive me, can't I just go and have premarital sex and then say sorry the next day and everything would be ok?

                Theoretically, yes, but it certainly brings up the question of whether or not you sincerely love God.  For instance, my wife will forgive me if I cheat on her, so can't I just cheat on her and come back and say sorry and everything will be okay? What would that say about my actual love for Christine?  Could you honestly say that you trust and obey God's instruction (which is the definition of faith), and yet abandon them or take advantage of His grace?

                It is true that God forgives the believer of all the sins of his life--past, present, and future--but it is also true of the believer that his belief is one that repents of his sin and embraces holiness. The question itself is actually geared toward repenting of holiness to embrace sin. There are mistakes that are made along the way in our lives, but to premeditate them and use God's grace as a license for sin is actually the behavior of the unsaved (Galatians 5:13-17). Especially in the realm of sexual immorality, that is the evidence of an unsaved life (Galatians 5:19-21). The result of salvation, however, is self-control (Galatians 5:22-24).

 

SPIRITUAL GROWTH

What should I do to feel God's presence more in my life?  How do you feel the presence of God truly, through your mind and soul, without ANY proof?

                If you have trouble sensing God's presence in your life, there are things that you want to check about yourself:

1) Are you confessing and repenting of any sins you're struggling with (Hebrews 10:26-27; James 5:16)?

2) Are you obey Christ's instruction and Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; John 15:10-11)?

3) Are you searching the Scriptures daily (Joshua 1:8; Matthew 22:29; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

4) Are you staying in prayer and thankfulness (Philippians 4:4-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)?

5) Are you actively serving the church, especially with those abilities you do well (Romans 12:6-8)?

6) Are you fellowshipping daily with other believers (Hebrews 10:25)?

7) Are you expressing worship vocally to God in prayer and song and speech (Colossians 3:16-17)?

8) Are you giving thanks for the growth you gain by remaining faithful through difficulty and tragedy (Hebrews 12:1-13; James 1:2-5)?

                All of these are important, and a lot of people who have been in the church for a long time end up getting good at some of them and neglecting others. These are some (probably not all) ways to try to measure your direction in seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness. If you're missing one of these elements, talk to your accountability about it for prayer and make whatever changes are necessary. 
                I think we become more aware of God's presence when we see His hand working in our lives. The more we follow His instruction and experience its wisdom, the more we'll become aware of God around us. The more we engage in true relationships with people that includes confession and discipline and accountability and prayer, the less we'll wonder where God is. He works through His people. That's why we're called His hands and feet. If He wants something done on earth, He does it through us. If we're to feel His presence, it would be no surprise to find that we'll feel Him through His people.
                I think it's unwise to try to detect God based on how you feel when singing a song. That can be counterfeited. It's better to sense God through seeing how sacrifice, humility, love, and service start springing up joy and fulfillment in your heart. Then you'll know God is with you.

 

When I worship in church, I try pretty hard to feel for God's presence around me, but often times I can't decide whether that presence is the joy I get from worship, or God's actual presence. Sometimes I don't feel anything at all but air. How do I know?

                God's presence is described in the Bible as more something to acknowledge than to feel. It's not an emotion or a sensation. It is a reality.  That's not to say that it won't evoke some kind of feeling in you when you fully realize it, but that distinction is pretty important to make so that you don't confuse feeling with reality. Even when you don't feel God there, that doesn't mean He's gone.
                I think we become more aware of God's presence when we see His hand working in our lives. The more we follow His instruction and experience its wisdom, the more we'll become aware of God around us. The more we engage in true relationships with people that includes confession and discipline and accountability and prayer, the less we'll wonder where God is. He works through His people. That's why we're called His hands and feet. If He wants something done on earth, He does it through us. If we're to feel His presence, it would be no surprise to find that we'll feel Him through His people.
                It's unwise to try to detect God based on how you feel when singing a song. That can be counterfeited. It's better to sense God through seeing how sacrifice, humility, love, and service start springing up joy and fulfillment in your heart. Then you'll know God is with you.

 

Even though the Bible tells me that God loves me, or when my parents tell me, or my friends, I feel like everything is fake. Is it possible to experience true, pure love?

                I think the most practical way to become aware of someone's love for you is to do all of the following:
                1) Spend plenty of time with that person.
                2) Communicate fully and frequently about everything that matters--including hobbies like your favorite movies to struggles like your greatest jealousies.
                3) Listen to everything that person says to you, not just the stuff that is in response to what you've said.
                4) Do stuff together that moves you toward the same goals.
                5) Avoid those things that compete with your relationship.
                If you look at that pattern, you can apply a lot of the same basic ideas to how you interact with God:
                1) Do you spend time with Him? I don't mean church activities. I mean, is he part of your thinking and a part of your decision-making? 
                2) Do you pray to him about everything you are grateful for or needing help with?
                3) Do you read the Bible with the intent to listen to Him, not just to listen to Him respond to what you ask for?
                4) Do you act out what He made you for, including exercising your gifts and building up the body?
                5) Have you removed those things that hinder your relationship with God by drawing you into sin or away from actively pursuing righteousness?
                You will only gain from a relationship an amount that reflects how much you put in. A relationship that takes very little effort and sacrifice--that is, a relationship that costs you little--will mean little. This includes not only your relationship with God, but with parents and friends, etc. It's those people whom you sacrifice for that you place value in. And hopefully (when it comes to family or friends) they will be willing to sacrifice for you because they value you too. Whether they do or don't, the cycle begins somewhere. You'll just have to decide if you're going to wait for a good relationship to happen to you, or if you're going to be willing to give it to someone.

 

What are some specific things I could do to improve my relationship with God?

                I would say build the weakest relationships that are in your life right now. If there is someone you resent or are bitter at, put your attention at forgiving that person and letting him/her know that that is what you're doing. I think the best act of forgiveness is to give that person something valuable. Give him a gift that undeniable expresses that you put thought, effort, and resources into telling them that it mattered to you.
                If there's no one that you feel negative toward, then turn your attention to the people you don't know well. There are plenty at church or work or school that need more of a Christ figure in their lives. Let your close friends know that you're making an initiative to reach out to some of the fringe members or outsiders or shy people, then get them on board to help. Invite those people out to lunch or to go watch a movie or go bowling or whatever.
                Every effort you make to love someone in a way that's totally unnatural to your own human instinct is an act of love that will help you know how God goes for the unloveables. It'll keep you knowing that you're growing outside yourself, not just doing what you're used to doing. And it'll definitely be an act of worshiping God if you do it right, since there's nothing for you to gain from it. You will, however, discover that it's those relationships that you will gain the most from. It just takes time to realize its treasure.

 

How do I love God in an unselfish way? I feel like the only reason why I want to love God is for me to feel happy and full and loved - but I know that is wrong.

            Loving God in an unselfish way means simply to be able to put aside your personal preferences when they come in conflict with His instruction. That's actually the call of anyone who calls himself a Christian--denying ourselves is the only way to truly repent and truly believe (Luke 9:23-25).
                I really like how you mentioned that the only reason why you want to love God is to feel happy and full and loved. That's NOT wrong. Not really. The reason why we respond in worship is precisely because of God's love for us. It's "in view of God's mercy" that we offer ourselves in worship (Romans 12:1-2). Just make sure you completely understand why you feel happy and full and loved with God: it should be because He calls you to a life of eternal fulfillment if you trust in His instruction, and (if you're following it) you're discovering the fruit of His Spirit in you (namely, love, joy, peace, patience, etc...Galatians 5:22-23).

 

What if I die before I become a strong believer?

                If you die before you get the chance to become a strong believer, you're still safe in the arms of God. Perfection is the standard that we all strive for. But DIRECTION is the key to know whether or not you're following Christ.

 

How important should earthly life be?

                Living on earth has temporary aspects and eternal aspects. Your bodily health and fashion are temporary characteristics. Your conduct and character have eternal consequences on those whom you interact with, and with God who rewards and punishes each man according to his motives and deeds.

                Our earthly lives, such as job and health and popularity and relationships and health, should be directed toward securing eternal benefits of blessing other people, drawing them toward Christ, and leaving a legacy that testifies the gospel. This is why Jesus instructs us to pray, "Let Your kingdom come; let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Our prayer should be that our earthly lives reflect heavenly values, and everything we have on earth (job, health, popularity, relationships, money, etc.) should be used in such a way as to reflect how we would live in heaven.

                For a more complex treatment of the issue, look at Luke 16 (The Parable of the Shrewd Manager) and see how the manager in the parable uses his temporary wealth to gain eternal friends.

 

Should we fully depend on God for money and safety?  How?

                Fully depending on God is a flexible term that needs clarification.

                If you someone thinks fully depending on God (for money and safety, for instance) means they should just wait for money to come to them and not try to earn it themselves, then that's a wrong understanding.  To fully depend on God is to work using your own body, mind, heart, and soul to accomplish His will, and knowing that all the results of that labor is a gift from God.   It's one of the strange dichotomies of Scripture, where we are to work hard for six days as if we reap from our strength, and then we rest on the seventh day to acknowledge that it all really comes from God. Yes we work, almost as if we depend on ourselves. But yes, we understand that every good and perfect gift is from God above (James 1:17), which can include earthly blessing--not just spiritual ones.
                Yes, you should fully depend on God for everything. That means you seek first God's reign and rulership in your life, and trust that He'll take care of the rest by providing for you (Matthew 6:33). This doesn't mean you're immune to financial struggle or health issues. It means, rather, that you know that the pursuit of God and godliness is of eternal value, while difficulties with money or safety are temporal. Your decisions then, will always prioritize godliness over dishonest gain, and spiritual health over physical health.

 

What is the purpose of confession?

                Confession is not done to obtain forgiveness of sins in the sense of salvation. It's not something you have to do (listing off every sin you've ever done) to check them off a list of reasons why you can't go to heaven, or something like that.  Confession is an act of love to demonstrate a change of heart. I know my parents will love me no matter as long as we live. But if I do something that hurts them, I still need to own up to it and make it right. I need to not only fix what I did, but I need to let them know that I acknowledge my wrong and extend my apologies for hurting or disappointing them, etc.
                The same is true with our familial relationship with God. When we stray from His instruction, does that relationship matter enough to us to talk to Him about it? Are we even bothered by our sin, or do we love it and/or trust it more than His will for us? Confession is turning our hearts back to God, reclaiming our allegiance to Him and pointing at our action(s) and declaring its wrongness. It's an act of love for and to God, and it's a reminder to ourselves about who we're really living for.

 

When repenting, what if we forget about some sins we have committed? Does that mean I have an unforgiven or unforgivable sin since I have not repented?

            Repentance doesn't mean naming off every single instance of every sin we commit. We repent of our sinfulness, not just our sins. Naming them off doesn't check them off a list of things to magically make them disappear from our criminal record. Repent means to "change your mind" and believe means to "be firmly persuaded." 
                Think of it like apologizing to your parents, for simplicity's sake. If you were a rebellious child for the first 10 years of your life, and you come to your parents and say, "Dad, Mom, I'm really sorry that I was so mean to my sister and so disobedient to you. I'm sorry I didn't listen when you said to turn off the computer and do my homework. I promise I'll listen to you from now on." I don't think any parent would go, "You didn't name the time when you stole candy from the market, so you're still disobedient, and you haven't really repented." God would certainly understand if your heart changed from sin to righteousness. Naming off our sins isn't so he would know what we're sorry about. He already knows anyway (Matthew 6:8). Naming them off is part of how we, as human beings, communicate our repentance. When we sincerely apologize, we naturally name what we're sorry for and why. But even if we forget to name a few instances, that doesn't mean we're not sorry for them at all. 
                Remember that there were people who were saved who never got to name off their list of sins that they wanted to repent of, like the thief on the cross in Luke 23. Jesus didn't say, "Today you will be with me in paradise if you can very quickly name off every sin you've ever committed in your 37 years of life..." The thief demonstrated repentance and faith, Christ recognized it, and the man was saved. I bet if he had time to think about it and name a few off (you know, like thievery, since he was a thief), he probably would. But that wasn't requisite to salvation since that's an issue of the mouth, not the heart.

 

Is loving someone a decision I must make every day or should love towards people come regardless of my decision to make that effort if Christ truly lives in me?

                Love is both an internal motive and an external action. It's never just one of those. The greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. Those wouldn't be commands if they only meant feelings, since we can't just conjure up feelings. That would be like me commanding you: "Be uncontrollably afraid of ice cream." You can't do that.   Looking at passages like 1 Corinthians 13 shows us the character of love. It shows how love is certainly an internal attitude that affects the decisions we make and the actions we perform. 
                As believers, we are called to have a loving attitude and perform loving actions. Even at times when one is absent (such as when we're called to forgive an enemy and we say so on the outside but don't feel it on the inside), those aren't times to simply give up but to pray for the discipline to do it right. Plenty of times will come up when we don't have the right motive, and the temptation is to say, "Why should I even try if my heart isn't in it." The solution isn't to get rid of the trying; the solution is to get the heart into it, and that happens by earnest, frequent, and patient prayer.

 

GOD'S WILL

How do you know if God is calling you to do something?  How do I know God's plan for me?

                I know what you're asking, but I think the question has a skewed angle to it. 

                God has a plan. Our job is to fit into that plan. His plan, very broadly, is to reward righteousness and punish wickedness. His plan involves using people to bring people to salvation (Matthew 28:19-20). Our whole purpose for staying on earth is to fulfill that purpose before we depart to heaven.

                As far as your personal life: you're supposed to decide how best to fit into His plan. No part of the Bible intimidates us by forcing us to wonder what job to take up or what country to live in or which individual to marry. That's the freedom in God that we have: to know that His will and plan for us is one of our internal attitudes and affections. If you seek first His righteousness, you'll be the one deciding on what job to take or what country to live in or which individual to marry SO THAT you can seek first His kingdom. If you do that, His provision will take care of you as He permits (Matthew 6:33).

                You need to have certain habits in place to know that what you're doing is allowed by God.  Listen to God by exposing yourself to how He speaks. God's Word is how He speaks.  Knowing it and having your mind transformed is how you know God's will (Romans 12:2). Read the Bible daily (by a schedule given by your pastor) and have friends to discuss it with. Pray frequently about things that are bigger than you. That habit will breed in you an instinct to know where God's leading you. The Bible and prayer, when done in conjunction, start fostering a noticeably new desire to do things that God is leading you to do.

                You'd then have to qualify for what I consider to be the three major factors of God's calling:

1) Godly Desire.  If your heart is clean before God and you're pursuing righteousness and not caught in a pattern of sin, then you're delighting yourself in the Lord. That kind of delight leads to godly desires, and those desires are what God gives you and what He grants. See Psalm 37:4 for that statement.

2) Church Confirmation.  If your church agrees that this is a godly motive and affirms that you are appropriately gifted or otherwise spiritually qualified for such a task, then the church has confirmed it. This means your pastor and your leaders and your small group members and any believer you're close to is supporting you on this. 1 Timothy 4:14 is a good example of this.  Even the early church leaders sought confirmation from the believers around them. If you think your desire is godly, seek the counsel of your accountability and church leadership (pastors, elders, committee leaders, etc.) to confirm it--and be ready for rejection too. Sometimes outsiders can see things more clearly, either perceiving ulterior motives or unforeseen obstacles and dangers and temptations. If your church and accountability confirms it, then things are looking very good.

3) Circumstantial Opportunity.  If your situation in life enables you to carry out your godly desire, then God does not seem to be preventing you from doing it. So do it! Romans 1:13 is a statement by the apostle Paul about how he had godly desire to minister, was certainly supported by the church since he was the main apostle to the Gentiles, but was circumstantially prevented from going. If God wants you to do it, He'll let you do it.  If you're stopped by some circumstance or obstacle, it might mean to wait or it might mean not to do what you're doing. That takes prayer and counsel to figure out, but at least you'll know that if God wanted you somewhere, He would make a way. And even if Satan stopped you (as he stopped Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:18), you'll find a way around it if God wants you to (just like Paul found a solution in 3:1-10). Like Paul, it might not happen the way you planned it, but you can trust that God's plan will ultimately be fulfilled.

                That's a pretty simplistic description, but I think it's pretty comprehensive too. That's the 3-part way that I examine anything that I do when I wonder if it's God's will.   If all 3 check out fine, you really have the freedom to go for it and be ready to succeed or fail with a joyful heart.*

                *Side Note: Don't think that you'll always succeed. Even the godliest men faced failures, and often times God allowed it for other hidden purposes. Even Jesus was rejected by thousands--statistically, his ministry seemed to be a failure, but in the end it was part of the plan of God, the way He works all things (even the failures and bad events that happen in our lives) to still bring about good for His people.

 

How do we really know what God wants?  How did the Bible writers know what God wants?

                The Bible actually does answer that question: Romans 12:1-2 is a really good place to hear about it. "Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will."
                So I think everything would have to go in this order:
                1) UNDERSTAND GOD'S MERCY. That means you need to know the Scriptures. The better you know them, but better you understand God's mercy. You would need to pay attention to God's holiness and righteousness, the sinfulness of man, and the plan of salvation that God alone sovereignly put into motion, unmerited by any work of man.
                2) SACRIFICE YOURSELF. Take every instinct inside you that wants to love and serve and comfort yourself, and turn that outward to love and serve and comfort everyone around you. If you play video games, play with other people who will appreciate your time and company. If you shop, shop with and for someone else. If you write, write to someone who needs to hear an encouraging word.
                3) DO NOT CONFORM, BE TRANSFORMED. This is actually the concept behind repentance. It means literally to "change your mind" which is why the apostle Paul says here to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Now what does your mind get renewed with? It was filled with understanding of God's mercy, and that is to get renewed frequently. That means keeping our heads in Scripture, learning about God and God's plan for mankind from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation) which is a huge plan of judgment and mercy.
                4) THEN YOU WILL KNOW. Basically you learn the Bible, then you love other people, then you renew yourself by learning the Bible more. Guess what happens? You'll know what God wants you to do, which means you'll know how to love other people more effectively. See the cycle?
                The writers of the Bible knew what God wanted because most of them were prophets which are people whom God spoke to directly, with an audible voice and a clear message to tell. They knew exactly what to write down. Moses wrote down what God told him (such as in Exodus 17:14), and that turned into the first five books of the Bible, commonly referred to as the Pentateuch. Jesus considered these books to be entirely reliable as God's Word (John 5:46-47). God indicated that His prophets were always right, or else they were to be put to death because they were false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). And the disciples even believed the Scripture came from Moses and the prophets and was the Word of God (Hebrews 1:1), which Jesus did not disagree with or have to correct (John 1:45).
                When you get to the New Testament, you hit the very famous passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:21. The universal testimony of the Bible's authorship is that they were instruments of God's voice. He inspired them to write exactly what He wanted them to write, and they did so with their own voices and their own thoughts and their own hands. Human authors wrote the Bible. God wrote the Bible. Both are fully true, and both are fully reliable to read from and learn what God wants for you.

 

Is it possible for Christians today to hear God's voice--like an actual audible voice?

                The short answer is that God does not speak to us in an audible voice in a conversational style. 

                Hearing God's voice was almost entirely restricted to the prophets of the Old Testament, such to the degree that the prophets had absolute authority when they spoke on behalf of God. If ever they were found to be wrong in what they said, they were to be killed (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Prophets were God's spokespersons on the earth long before Scripture was written. After some time, however, the prophets died out and there was 400 years of silence, where God didn't speak to man through any prophet until the time John the Baptist was born. He ushered in the arrival of Jesus, so no prophet was necessary during that time. He was the ultimate prophet since He was God Himself.
                After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles and their close associates were used by God to write the New Testament. It is rare in Scripture to see anyone actually hear God speak to them audibly. That was the exception, not the norm, and it happened almost exclusively to God's main men (prophets and apostles) or in times of God's judgment (Pharaoh, Ahithophel, Balaam).
                Christians possess God's Word in written form. It's inerrant in all its parts and is sufficient for all faith and practice. But one of the often-neglected resources that all Christians also possess is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dwells inside every believer and can convict us of sin and urge us toward godliness. The more a believer obeys the call of the Spirit, the more clear and recognizable that sense can become.
 
                You're in a good place if God is speaking to you through His Word and through convictions that urge you to love Him and your neighbor with selfless abandon. While there might not be a voice in your ear that speaks out loud to you, remember that you are called to live by faith, not by sight (or by sound, for that matter). God is living and active, and He still speaks to you today.

 

How can I choose a college major that I love and can glorify God with?

                God's intention for you would be to do what He's made you to do. That'll include a desire and an affinity for it.  Look at what you're good at, what you enjoy doing, and what you can use to bless God's people. Where those three things overlap, that's a viable option for your future. If you have several choices: even better.  It's less about WHAT you choose, and more about WHY and HOW you choose it. This decision will hopefully bring you more joy than it does stress if you do it right. :)