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Will A Christian Turned Atheist Go To Hell?

For more on this subject, you might also like these articles.

For more about the above video, keep reading. 

Let me set up this discussion with a hypothetical scenario. 
Have you ever heard preachers say, “If a person doesn’t obey the Bible, they may not be saved, even if they claim to have faith.”
But then at a funeral, the same preacher may say, “The deceased person was saved because they claimed to have faith, even though they didn’t obey the Bible.”
I noticed this inconsistency when I was in high school when one of my close friends passed away.
So which is it? Do we have to obey the Bible until we die to be saved, or is it enough to have faith?
Well, I’m confident that the Bible teaches that once someone is made alive in Christ, born again, and becomes a believer, they have eternal life that can never be lost or returned.
That means a Christian who becomes an atheist will still have eternal life. They are still saved even if they fall into unbelief and disobedience.
Now, I know many of you that might be a new idea. However, it’s not an idea I invented, but instead a concept that the Bible teaches quite consistently. So I thought I would take a minute to answer a few obvious questions that the video raises.
Some opponents of this idea will say that a “true” believer will never stop believing.
But the Bible doesn’t distinguish between “true” belief and belief. 
Secondly, the Bible speaks of saved people who stopped believing for a time. 
John the Baptist, who was already eternally saved, questioned whether Jesus was the one in the last moments of his life.
Even some of the apostles, who were already saved, stopped believing for a time. A great example is Thomas. If you want to learn more about that, I have a book that I’ve just recently finished on Thomas it’s available on Amazon, here: THOMAS: HERO OF THE FAITH
If the apostles and John the Baptist could stop believing, then it can happen to modern believers. 
Beyond this, the writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 3 that a believer can come to the point where they stop believing and even abandon God. When you read Hebrews chapter 3, and I hope you will, you will see that he clarifies a number of times that he is talking to born again, saved, eternal life wielding, Christians. In verse one he says “therefore holy brethren partakers of the heavenly calling… that’s who he is talking to. Then in verse 12 he reveals that these brethren, Christians, are able to become unbelievers. He says “beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God but exhort one another daily while it is called today lest any of you be hardened through the deceptiveness of sin. “ He tell us that the reason why some Christians stop believing is because of a hardening caused by sin. Christians who choose to live in sin become subject to deception. That reeks havoc on their ability to believe. Doesn’t that fit with what you’ve seen Happen to some of your fellow Christians? I know I’ve seen it. Despite all this, never in Hebrews or the rest of the Bible does it say that a person who has received eternal life can ever lose it. In fact, second Timothy two tells us that even if our faith fails Jesus remains faithful.
If belief means obedience, then eternal life could only be given after a person lived an obedient life. 
Instead, he said that eternal life is given immediately when someone believes in Jesus, not after they have obeyed. We can see this in versus like John 1:12, 3:15, 16, 36, 5:24, 6:29, 35, 40, 47, 7:38, 8:24, 11:24-26, 20:30-31. In each of these, the Bible tells us that eternal life is the present possession of the one who has believed. That means that the person who becomes a born-again Christian has eternal life now, currently, in their present state. So the person who believes in Jesus will live forever. It’s very simple statement it’s exactly what Jesus is saying. If you Believe in Jesus, you will live forever no matter what, even if you stop believing at some point.
If eternal life is given when one first believes, then obedience is not required for salvation.  If receiving eternal life required a life of obedience then Jesus could only give eternal life at the end of someone’s life when they proved that they could be obedient. But that’s not what the Bible tells us.
It sounds good on the surface, but there are a few of problems with this claim. It is true that Someone’s belief in Christ can blossom into good works. In fact, that’s what we hope happens with all Christians. We hope that they add good works to their faith. We hope that they not only believe but obey Christ. So if someone is doing good works in obeying Christ it’s likely they are doing that because they have believed in him. We have to be careful here though, we can’t use good works as proof that someone has believed since it’s possible for a believer to disobey Christ. We find that in second Timothy two, first Corinthian‘s three, and a number of other places.
There is another problem with this concept still. We can’t use obedience to Christ as proof of faith since Current actions are most likely based on current beliefs. Therefore, current inaction can only be based on current disbelief but is not necessarily based previous disbelief.
You can’t prove that someone never believed in the past by how they act in the present. There was a time that I believed it was ok to drink only coca cola all the time. I acted on that belief while I still believed it. However, I no longer drink Coke all the time. Can you infer from my current actions what I used to believe? Obviously not. The only thing that you might be able to make a guess on is what I currently believe that I shouldn’t drink Coca-Cola. Even then, I could be acting against what I believe. The point is, trying to use obedience to Christ as proof of faith is a flawed method.
Eternal life is not given after a life of belief, but at the first moment, one believes.
Therefore, present disobedience cannot demonstrate a lack of belief in the past.  
The Bible character, Lot’s last mention in the Bible is one in which he’s living in debauchery. Yet the Bible indicates he was saved. (2 Peter 2:7-9)
By the end of his life, King Saul was disobedient to God and committed suicide. Yet he was saved (1 Sam 28:19)
Solomon, who wrote a lot of the Bible, finished his life unrepentant and disobedience to God. Yet the Bible indicates he was saved. (1 Chron 28:6)
Others will say if you don’t obey Christ you didn’t really believe. 
But that doesn’t fit with what Jesus said. 
Some will say that obedience to Christ is the proof that someone believes (or has faith). 
Some will say, that the person who doesn’t obey until the end of their life proves they were never really saved. 
That’s not what the Bible says. 
There are lots of crystal clear verses from the Bible that tell us we must have faith in Christ alone to be saved, and once we are saved, we can never become unsaved again. 
There are a handful of verses that get used to confuse believers into thinking they can lose their salvation if they don’t behave. 
Here’s what I’m proposing you do, look first at the verses that are very clear. There are scads of them. A Great place to start is the Gospel of John. In fact it’s my opinion that you should stop reading any other book of the Bible until you are extremely familiar with the Gospel of John. John is the only book in the Bible written to unbelievers to show them what they have to believe to have eternal life.
The bottom line is if you believe in Jesus for eternal life you have it. No matter what happens after that point you still have it.
An atheists current unbelief doesn’t negate salvation received earlier in life.
A believer’s future unbelief or misbehavior can’t dissolve, destroy, or derail their deliverance from Hell. 
Even if the Christian strays that can’t sabotage, subdue, or stop salvation. 
For more on this subject, you might also like these articles.

But I do believe in Zeus!

I got this question from an Atheist friend recently. I thought it was a really good question and worth an official response. 

Question: “You don’t believe in Zeus, I’m assuming. Why do you think he was created, why did people believe in him, and why don’t they anymore?” 

Answer: Actually, I do believe in Zeus. So you assume incorrectly. Let me explain.  

Paul said:

“the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20) 

What he’s saying here is that though the worshipers of the pantheon claim to be sacrificing and praying to gods, they are actually praying and sacrificing to demons whether they know or not. 

In a second letter to the same audience Paul called Satan:

“The god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

As to why people believed in gods, I’m convinced there was reasonable evidence that “gods existed.” However, those that posed as gods were actually demons seeking worship from humans. 

It’s in that sense that I do believe in Zeus and the other gods. I just think they were liars about their true identity. 

After all, Jesus said this about the most famous fallen angel, 

“the devil…  was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) 

About this Paul said, 

“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

So what I imagine was happing was demons had some ability to reveal themselves to humanity, and they revealed themselves as powerful beings worthy of worship.

John, who was dictating Jesus’ words to a church at Pergamos said, 

“I know where you live—where Satan has his throne… where Satan lives.” (Revelation 2:13)

Twice he identifies Pergamos as a place where Satan is present, lives, and has a throne. What is he talking about? For that, we’d have to know a little history. 

John Barry notes:

“The throne of Satan [is] Probably a reference to the altar to Zeus, located at the top of Pergamum’s acropolis, and which hailed him as savior. [1]

Craig Keener says:

It was a “famous giant altar of Zeus (120 by 112 feet) overlook[ing] the city on its citadel.”  [2]

So it seems that Zeus is equated with Satan, assuming that’s what Jesus meant by “Satan’s throne.” 

What’s more, the mythological gods seemed hungry for worship. They required a lot of their worshipers. Sacrifices and lavish praise were required if the gods were to do anything. This seems to fit with what we know about Satan in his interactions with Jesus. Satan makes this offer to Jesus:

“All this I will give you,” [the kingdoms of the Earth] he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9)

I’d even add that the mythological gods of various ancient cultures demonstrated similar characteristics to demons. It’s widely known that the mythological gods could sometimes act nobly but often demonstrated more base and depraved appetites. The gods of pagan mythology were not moral role models. In fact, they were purported to act in ways that would not make them good citizens. Most of mythology was violent and pornographic. They were as likely to use their power to take advantage of and abuse human worshipers as they were to help. This fits with what we know of demonic intentions as well. 

One of Jesus’ most famous followers, Peter, once said:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

You may think, Is it reasonable to believe that demons throughout the world could be working together in a unified way to gain worship? Sure. Jesus said they stand unified together:

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined… If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26)

What’s more, there is evidence in the Bible that certain demons were in charge of specific areas. In a conversation with the prophet Daniel, the angel Gabriel explains to him why it took him so long to arrive. He says:

“But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” (Daniel 10:13)

The “prince of the Persian kingdom” is a demon who held some authority over the Persian kingdom. What that role entailed we don’t know, but part of his duties apparently included warding off and fighting against intruders like the angel Gabriel. He fought against Gabriel and even stopped his advance for 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief angels (called princes) came to his rescue. 

What this tells us is that demons had regions that they were responsible for and had jurisdiction and authority over. 

That leads me to believe the following: when a person worshiped “Zeus” at a temple in Corinth, they were not necessarily worshiping the same demon as they would be if they traveled to Athens and worshiped in the Athenian temple of Zeus. I put this idea together from the above verse and the way that Greek pantheism worked. 

In a lecture series on Greek Religion, Dr. Robert Garland [3] pointed out that when someone offered sacrifices in Greek religion, he was required to identify not only which specific god but also a specific temple to which that god belonged in order to make an effective request. 

So one could not simply make a sacrifice and pray, “Zeus, bring rain for my crops.” Instead, they would be expected to make a sacrifice and be specific who they are praying to. They would say something more like this, “Zeus, who has a temple in Corinth, bring rains.” Or “Zeus who has a temple in Athens…” [3] We generally think of Zeus as a single entity who is worshiped throughout the world. Garland explains that that is not really how the ancients saw it. 

I believe this fits in with what we know about demonic forces. Demons are not omnipresent, as demonstrated by many of the verses already discussed. Instead, demons could only be in one place at one time. Therefore, if someone prayed to Zeus in Athens, and someone was praying to Zeus in Corinth at the same time, they were likely speaking to two different demons who represented themselves as the chief god of the region. 

So that’s what I mean when I say I believe in Zeus and the other gods. I’m convinced that every entity from Baal of Peor to Zeus of Corinth were actually demons masquerading as gods. To me, this makes much more sense than just saying, “they didn’t exist.” I’m convinced that they did exist and had some power to reveal themselves and demonstrate authority in the physical realm. They just happened to be lying about their true identity. 

The second part of your question was: Why don’t people believe in the pantheistic gods anymore. 

Western people don’t believe in them because of Jesus. Monotheism offered a better explanation of the world than pantheism did. Jesus was the chief champion of monotheism and set the stage for a huge swath of the world to move toward monotheism. 

I would add, though, that a portion of the world still engages in polytheistic idol worship. So it’s not completely dead. In different regions and times, the names of gods may vary, but the concept still applies.  


[1] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Re 2:13.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Re 2:13.

[3] Robert Garland, The Other Side Of History: Daily Life In The Ancient World (Great Courses)

Stoning for picking up sticks? Really?

Question: What’s up with the stoning for picking up sticks in Numbers 15?
Answer: Good question. Seems severe right? The previous and following paragraphs in Numbers 15 give a pretty good indication as to what’s going on. Let’s first look at the story so we have a good understanding of the situation. 

While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day.Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

God wanted his people to keep the law and take it very seriously. Not just for the sake of behavior, but because what was at stake. 
They were about to enter the promised land where they would be surrounded by other people groups who would lead them away from the Lord. There were big consequences. The things that the surrounding nations were into was horrendous. Child sacrifice was among the sacrifice schedule for the nations around them. 
What you’ll notice is that there are two scenarios that are presented right before this story. 
If someone sins unintentionally… (vs 22)
If someone sins defiantly… (vs 27)

What we find is that the punishment for someone who sins unintentionally could be lenient. They could be forgiven. However, if someone intentionally sinned in defiance of God’s law; If they did it knowingly and willingly, THAT WAS A BIG DEAL. They were to be cut off from the people. 
So, was it a big deal that the guy picked up firewood on the Sabbath… well it wouldn’t be except that God had strictly prohibited people from performing their own work on the Sabbath. It was one of the main ten laws. This guy knew about the rule. Based on where this story appears, the author is giving us an example of someone who sinned defiantly. This guy had decided that the law given by God was not important to him. 
Here’s what one of the verses right before the story says:

But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel.

So the matter is not just breaking the law, but what a broken law meant. The person who intentionally ignores God’s laws is saying something about God through his actions. He’s saying, in effect, that God is wrong about his instructions. He’s saying that God is not good. He’s leading the way for mutiny and rebellion. 
If he’d blatantly ignore one law, and did it publicly, it’s easy to see how others might follow his lead. Now, once they entered the land, there would be tremendous pressure to give up on the laws of God. The laws of God were the people’s protection against the enemies they would be surrounded by. If they didn’t follow God’s laws, they would be vomited out of the land. If they rebelled against God they would lose their protection. God didn’t want that to happen, so he showed them how serious he was about them keeping the law. 
So, the stakes are super high at this point in the story. 
What’s interesting about the story is that stoning the guy was not prescribed by the explicit law. You’ll notice that when he does it, they don’t know what to do. They wait for God to tell them how to proceed. 
There is comfort in knowing that it was God’s decision, not the people’s. That’s because God could look at the man’s heart. Who knows, maybe he had plans that would lead hundreds or even thousands astray if he was left to his own decisions. Maybe he was planning to make child sacrifices to Molech. Who knows? Well, God did. 
So, it’s truly a unique story. There’s no indication (that I’m aware of) that prescribes death for picking up sticks outside of this situation. This is a story that describes but does not prescribe this outcome. 


About Predestination

Question: what’s you’re position on Predestination? Do you believe God sovereignly chose the eternal destinies of all people? Do all men have the ability and freedom to believe? Or both? I believe the Bible says both are true somehow.

Answer: I’m confident that being all knowing is not the same thing as being all controlling.

Despite what it means, (which I don’t think it is clear) what is clear to me is that Jesus told me and anyone who hears, to believe in him for everlasting life. Regardless of elect, and destiny, it seems to me that we have an incumbent responsibility to consider the evidence and have an open mind about him. Trying to spin things into some complex version of future-seeing voodoo seems damaging to the simple message of grace. 

Why try to make it so hard and complicated? Jesus said, “Believe.” Whether he predestined me to believe or not, does not remove the responsibility that he presses us with. 

Predestination may be a heavenly mechanism, but belief is our earthly responsibility. 

It’s like this: My wife tells me to take the car and pick up a gallon of milk. My responsibilities are simple. Do I need to know how a dairy farm works, and how the internal combustion engine on my car works, and how the cash register at the store works? No. I don’t have to understand all the mechanisms that are in play for me to fulfill my duty and responsibility. 

In the same way, I don’t have to understand predestination in order to believe in Jesus.

It’s fun and edifying to learn and grow in knowledge. I spend a lot of my time reading the Bible in English and Greek because I’m in love with learning, and in love with the words God gave to mankind. However, there are lots of things I don’t understand. When I’m faced with verses that are beyond my cognitive grasp I have a choice. I could spend all my time arguing and bickering with people about what it means, which would draw me away from the task of evangelism and discipleship. Or, I could say, “I don’t get it, but that’s fine.” and keep doing evangelism and discipleship. 

When the confusing mechanistic concepts begin to cause divisions among believers (especially when they are non-essential issues) that makes my stomach turn.

God’s ways are beyond our understanding. Predestination falls squarely in the realm of “God’s ways.” There is no instruction from the verses about predestination that I spend all my time trying to understand. In fact, that seems incredibly wasteful. 

What’s essential is that people believe in Jesus for salvation. What’s not essential, that I or others understand how predestination works. Let’s focus on what matters, for the time is short.

Can I commit the unforgivable sin?

Question: Is it possible for a Believer to Commit the unforgivable sin?

Answer: The unforgivable sin is widely misunderstood. Let’s explore. 

I had a Bible professor who said something very profound once… well I’m sure she said profound things all the time, but I remember this one. A student was trying to prove a point; he only had one verse to back up his claim, and it was a pretty cryptic verse at that. She said:

“We don’t build good theology on of one verse, especially when it’s not clear what the verse means.”

I’ve often thought back to this concept when someone is trying to make a case for some theological idea, and basing it on one or two verses. 

If you’ve hung around much, you’ll know that I am a big proponent of Once Saved Always Saved. I’ve gotten a lot of attention for posts like these:

In these articles, I make the case that even if a person believes in Jesus for salvation but then stop believing, they are still saved. If you’re not familiar with this concept, I’d encourage you to read the above articles.

When the Once Saved Always Saved discussion comes up it’s very common for someone to claim that the unforgivable sin proves that a person can lose their salvation.

But does the unforgivable sin prove that one can lose their salvation?

Well to start with, Jesus wasn’t talking to people who had salvation when he mentioned the unforgivable sin. Instead he was talking to the Pharisees who were in the process of rejecting him. So, even if we completely understood what the unforgivable sin is it still couldn’t be used to prove that salvation could be lost, since Jesus never ever ever ever mentions that a saved person is in danger of committing an unforgivable sin. He only talked about the unforgivable sin to unbelievers. That’s a huge red flag.

To believers John said things like this:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)


Notice in this context, when he’s talking to those who have believed he says that ALL unrighteousness can be cleansed. So, whatever the unforgivable sin is, it’s something that only those who have never believed can do. It’s apparently not something that a person who has believed in Jesus can do.
Now let’s take a look at what Jesus said about the unforgivable sin. In speaking to unbelieving Pharisees he said:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,  but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:29-30)

Is that clear? Not to me. It raises all kinds of questions, doesn’t it? Matthew records the same mention in his Gospel. 

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32)

That’s it! That’s the entirety of what is said about the unpardonable sin. We have some context and two mentions of it in the entirety of scripture. Is that enough to build a robust theology on? In my opinion, no.

So what do we know about it? Well, not much. It’s not clear exactly what the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is. It has to do with denying the source of Jesus’ miracles. It has to do with denying that the Spirit is authenticating Jesus.

So, if that’s all we knew about it, we would have to say the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit could only take place while Jesus was on Earth performing miracles. 

It would mean that people today are not even able to commit the unforgivable sin.

One of my favorite statements from a Biblical Scholar on the unforgivable sin comes from Louis Barbieri. Here’s what he says: 

They were about to attribute incorrectly to Satan the power of the Holy Spirit exercised through Jesus and thus to commit the blasphemy against the Spirit. This specific sin cannot be reproduced today, for it required Jesus’ presence on earth with His performing miracles through the Spirit’s power. [1]

Beyond this, Jesus brushed the fear of the unforgivable sin away for anyone who believes in him. He showed that the unforgivable sin and believing in Jesus are mutually exclusive. That’s important. If someone ever believes in Jesus for salvation at any point in their life, they can never commit an unforgivable sin. That’s because Jesus said:


“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-29)

So for any who have believed in Jesus for salvation, there is an absolute promise of eternal life. The person who has that life will never lose it. They will never do anything that can get them snatched out of the hand of God. There is no unforgivable sin for the person who has believed in Jesus.

I tend to try to lean on the dozens of verses that are explicit and clear concerning the absolute nature of salvation. The verses about the unforgivable sin are not clear and there are only two of them. The verses about salvation are clear and there are a multitude of them. 
The fact is, we’re not absolutely sure what Jesus meant when he talked about the unforgivable sin. Logically, if Jesus says, 

“ I give them eternal life and they will never perish…” 

I take that as an absolute and explicit promise. If even a few perish when Jesus said they would not, that means that Jesus was either lying or wrong. So, whatever the unforgivable sin is, it must be something that is impossible for someone to do who has already believed in Jesus. Otherwise, Jesus would have had to say, 

“I give them eternal life and they will never perish unless they do the unforgivable sin.” 

But he didn’t say that. He said it very simple and plain so that we could not misunderstand it. I trust the words of Jesus more than I trust our best guess at what the unforgivable sin is. It may even be something that impossible for anyone in the modern world to do.
Something to think about:

Why do people cling to two unclear verses about the unforgivable sin and reject dozens of clear verses about salvation? 

I think it’s because telling someone else that they are going to Hell offers a certain thrill. It’s a grievous thrill, but it’s a thrill none the less. The sin of legalism and judgmentalism is attractive to the self-righteous. There are many who believe themselves to be righteous, and they want to point at others who are less righteous and tell them they are going to go to Hell.

It simply does not fit with the character of Jesus. He spent his ministry offering people a way out of Hell.

Let me leave you with this. Jesus said:

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:28-29)


[1] Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 47.

Did God command genocide?

Question: Did God command genocide in the Old Testament?
Answer: Nope. Here’s why:
Israel was only instructed to annihilate the Canaanites who remained in Israel
Deuteronomy 7:1-2 says

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you, and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.

Notice the words, “drives out before you many nations.”In Exodus 23 he says it this way.

“I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.  And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you.”


God explained that he would drive out the people of Canaan. Notice that the verses don’t tell the Israelites to pursue the Canaanites to foreign lands as they run, but instead to focus on those who are in “the land you are entering to possess.” So if there were Canaanites who had already fled due to God’s efforts to drive them out, Israel was not to be concerned with them. 
However, against whatever Canaanites remained Israel was to wage a total war of annihilation. To a large extent they did wage that war, but it was confined to the land that they possessed. They couldn’t annihilate Canaanites in lands they didn’t control. 
Leviticus 18 says that the land “vomited out the nation that was before you.”
So God explains it by saying, the land vomited the Canaanites out. So once again this is an image of migration. Therefore, the peoples that the Israelites faced were those who refused to leave, but it is reasonable to think that many people were displaced and became refugees in other surrounding regions. That is always the result of war.  
Notice what else Deuteronomy 7 says, 

“The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once,”

If the Canaanites were allowed to leave the region, and the Israelites were only conquering them little by little, you can imagine that there would be a mass migration over many years. 
So the people of Canaan had plenty of time to flee and save themselves. 
what’s more:
Canaanites had the option of becoming part of the nation of Israel. If they denounced their gods, became circumcised, and began to follow the Jewish law, then they could integrate into Jewish society. 
So, no, I would say that the conquest of the land was far from genocide. In fact, the people who were there had a lot of opportunities to save themselves, and it seems that God had done quite a lot to make sure they could save themselves. Those who were killed in the Hebrew conquest were those who were stubborn and didn’t believe God’s judgment against them. 

Why was Israel expected to follow the law?

Question: Why was Israel under the law? And why don’t we follow the law today?

Answer: There are a few reasons. Let’s take a look.

Deuteronomy 11 answers the questions of why:

“Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 11:8-9)

You’ll notice two things he says here. They need to observe the law so that they can (1) possess the land and (2) keep the land (or live long in the land). I’d encourage you to go and read Deuteronomy 11 in its entirety since it gives much more information than this.

The passage goes on to say that:

“It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” (Deuteronomy 11:12)

Leviticus 18:28 says:

“And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:28)

Keeping the law would ensure that they do not “defile the land.” So the stakes were set. If the people wanted to possess and keep the land, they needed to obey the law. God pointed out this tract of land is special to him. He allows a lot of stuff to happen in other places that he does not allow to happen in the land of Israel.

There is an answer to your second question in this verse. You asked why we don’t observe the law today. Part of the answer is because the law was designed for those “living in the land.” The law is a good model for all nations to follow, but it was specifically given for those who lived in the land. There are other reasons for the law as well, but this is one of them.

There’s more though. In Isaiah 49:7:

You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor… I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:3, 7)

In this, we find another purpose of the people living in the land. The nation of Israel was supposed to be a light to the whole world. They were supposed to shine out the light of salvation. They were supposed to evangelize every nation. However, they couldn’t do that if they were worshiping other gods and living in complete disobedience to God’s law.

There’s more still. Toward the end of Deuteronomy God gives the people a vision of what they can expect if they follow the law. Not only will they be able to keep the land, but they will be abundanly blessed.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God…
The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you…
…if you keep the commands… all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground… The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. (Deuteronomy 28:1-13)

I’ve abbreviated the above passage, so I’d encourage you to go and read Deuteronomy 28 in its entirety to get the full picture.
So here is the summary of what could be expected if Israel kept the law.

(1) Possess the land
(2) Keep the land
(3) Have wealth and prosperity
(4) Be the main world power
(5) Evangelize the nations

That’s not the end of the story though. The law benefits, not only Israel, but all people. Even people who don’t live under the law can see in it, a powerful truth. Paul tackles the very question your asking in Galatians. He says:

“Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people.” (Galatians 3:19)

In another place he says this:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19)”

So as it stands here are the reasons that the law was given.

(1) Be held accountable to God
(2) Be unable to claim they are righteous
(3) Realize they are sinners (and need a savior)

Now let me wrap up with explaining why we don’t follow the law today.

Why don’t we follow the law today?

Well we actually do. At least parts of it. We don’t follow the ceremonial law. I mean, we don’t worry about animals that are clean and unclean. We don’t do ceremonial washings, and things like that.

However, for the most part we follow the moral law given by God. Think of the ten commandments, A big part of the law.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not make for yourself an image…
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…
5. Honor your father and your mother…
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not give false testimony…
10. You shall not covet… (Exodus 20)Personally, I can say that I have broken a few of these laws. Generally speaking, however, I try to keep them. They set a good moral standard. Just about everyone in a modern western society agrees that these are good rules. Most every Christian would agree that these OT laws are valuable and set a good moral standard. Most Christians try to keep them.

The Question, I think you’re trying to ask is:
Why don’t we keep the ceremonial laws anymore?

That was actually a big question that the early church had to face. It’s covered in the first chapters of the book of Acts. The early church noticed that God seemed interested in bringing gentiles (non-Jews) into the fold. There were some difficulties with this since Jews were not to fraternize with gentiles.

In the 10th chapter of Acts, we see the breaking point. God directs a gentile to call for Peter (who was is a Jew and a leader of the early church). Before the message got to Peter, God gave Peter a vision in which he declared all animals and people clean (instead of some being unclean). In this, we get a view to the big change. After this point, the church worked hard to bring gentiles into their numbers, despite the fact that they were not going to follow the Jewish law. I’d encourage you to read Acts 10 and the following chapters.

The very early church and the Jewish religion looked very similar with one stark difference. The church believed Jesus was the Messiah and the Jews not in the church did not. As time went on, the church grew less Jewish. They were free to live outside of the Jewish ceremonial law. Through prophecies and counsels of the early church leaders, they determined that the law did not need to be followed to have salvation.

Paul said it this way:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So, while the moral law is good for discipleship and moral living, it does not provide a way to be saved. Salvation comes by faith in Christ.