243. Not Counting Their Trespasses

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott – 

Good News?

As I have chronicled in these posts, God has personally started to walk me through encounters that continually challenge my perception of who He is.  I am on a journey of discovering the true nature of God as love and as a result I find myself questioning and often rejecting the established doctrines and theological positions of the modern-day evangelical church.

God has shown me that I (and the church, and the world) have been badly deceived by ‘do-it-yourself’ religion. Nowhere does this deception show up more clearly than in our approach to evangelism.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19).

This is the message of reconciliation at the heart of the gospel we are called to preach. And the word translated ‘world’ is actually the Greek word ‘kosmos‘, which is even wider than we might have thought. Yet when I looked closely at how we have done evangelism, even here at Freedom, I uncovered a fear-based system which originates from a wrong perception of God as angry, vindictive and cruel.

Religion has hijacked the gospel, made ‘escaping hell’ its focus and used the threat of eternal damnation to scare people into the kingdom. “Good news! (But first, the bad news…)”. My own conversion experience was like that. I heard sermons about hell and judgment week after week and decided I needed ‘fire insurance’.

Hell? Not going there…

For most Christians, hell is a given, an unquestioned doctrine. Hell fits their doctrinal system. God is love but He is also just. He must punish sin. Hell is the punishment for sin. Simple.

Or is it?

I knew it would take a while to address this issue properly, and I resisted broaching the question of ‘hell’ for some time, as if it were some kind of ‘no-go’ area, but God would not let me be. It just kept resurfacing, both in my encounters and as I prepared the ‘new versus old’ teaching module in the Engaging God programme. It is a concept that is generally accepted in most (if not all) religions and in wider society, but I knew deep down that something in what I had been taught was not consistent with the Father’s love.

Think again

This is where we come back to the scripture from 2 Corinthians which says that God is not counting their trespasses against anyone:

Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19).

The whole cosmos has already been reconciled and no-one’s trespasses are counted against them. So from God’s perspective what need is there for a ‘hell’?

And, despite the limitations of the translations we use which I touched on in the last post, there are plenty of other familiar passages which might prompt us to think again too:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
Who is the us that Christ died for, a select few or everyone?
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all… (2 Cor 5:14).

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom 5:10).
God is not angry, even with those who may feel like His enemies.

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
In each part of this statement, all refers to the same people… all, as Peter confirms:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18).

Angry forever?

Pitying and merciful is the Lord; lenient and full of mercy. Not unto the end shall He be provoked to anger, nor into the eon (age) will He cherish wrath. Not according to our lawless deeds did He deal with us; nor according to our sins did He recompense to us (Psa 103:8-10, Septuagint).

“I shall not punish you into the eon (age), nor shall I be provoked to anger with you perpetually” (Isaiah 57:16)

“I will heal their apostasy (unbelief), I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4).

My own experiences of God are characterised by love, grace and mercy, not anger and fear. God does not stay angry forever, so why would He punish people forever? His love is more powerful than all our sin put together. It is far stronger than the lies and deception designed to keep us separated from Him:

“Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).

Rather than meaning torment and punishment, in this passage fire is a depiction of passion and unrelenting love: God’s love is a flame that can never be quenched or extinguished and He is unrelenting in pursuing us for relationship.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).

How can God punish people if He is love? The two are incompatible. He cannot and He does not. God’s justice is always restorative.

Perpetual Conscious Torment

The idea of ‘hell’ as a place of perpetual torment is so prevalent in the world’s religions and cultures that if you mention ‘hell’, most people have a pretty clear image of what you are talking about: it probably includes fire, demons with pitchforks and people in torment. This image has been propagated by literature through the ages and more recently by films and TV shows but it was not the view of the early church.

The writings of the Old Testament and Jewish literature throw up various different views of the afterlife, including annihilation or sleep until judgment, but eternal torment after death was not a Hebrew concept at all. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment. The concept of an infernal ‘hell’ developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic [Greek] period” (i.e. beginning in the fourth century B.C.).

There are even some people today who teach that at the resurrection, God will give unbelievers new bodies specifically designed to withstand eternal torture. What kind of a god is that? Is that really the God who was perfectly revealed in Jesus?

But what about…?

By now, you may be thinking of passages of scripture, even of Jesus’ own teaching, which seem to contradict what I am saying. What about the sheep and the goats, or the rich man and Lazarus, or the outer darkness where their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? I promise we will look closely at each of those passages (and others) in coming posts.

Jesus never warned anyone about ‘hell’, nor did Paul or any of the other New Testament writers, nor did God tell Adam that he and his descendants would go to ‘hell’ as a result of the fall. There is no word for ‘hell’ in the Greek or Hebrew language. It is not a biblical concept at all.

Four separate words have been translated into the single English word ‘hell’ and in reality each word has a different meaning:

  • Sheol (Hebrew) grave or place of dead
  • Hades (Greek) unseen world, grave, underworld
  • Tartarus (Greek) prison for angels
  • Gehenna (Greek) name of a valley outside Jerusalem used as a fiery rubbish dump.
  • In English, the word ‘hell’ comes from Proto-Germanic ‘haljo’, whose root ‘halija’ means ‘a concealed or covered place’.
  • The Norse god Hel is Loki’s daughter, and in that mythology she rules over the evil dead.

Yet our most popular English translations are full of the word – including some you might be surprised at:

The Message=56
King James Version (Authorised Version)=54
New King James=32
New Living Translation=19
New Century Version=15
English Standard Version=14
New International Version=14
Amplified Bible=13
New American Standard=13

On each occasion that the translators have used the word ‘hell’ in these versions, they have only done so because they already believed the passage was about ‘hell’. Instead of translating what was there, they have read back into the text their preconceived notions of what it meant. Other versions do not include the word at all:

LXX (Septuagint)=0
Young’s Literal=0
Concordant Literal=0
Complete Jewish Bible=0
World English Bible=0

Orthodoxy

The religious institution and its supporters will insist that if you question the doctrine of ‘hell’, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church. It is not so. Orthodoxy is a myth, and it is high time to rethink this subject.

Because if God is love, if God is good, if God is not angry, if God does not require appeasement or sacrifice, if God does not punish us then what is the purpose of ‘hell’?

Does ‘hell’ as we know it even exist?

We will look at this again.

Note: In these posts I can help you clear away some of your false preconceptions and assumptions (if you are willing) but I am not going to attempt to convince you to see things the way I do; if you really want to know where people go after they die, you will need to ask God to show you.

Free resources on the topic of ‘hell’

These publications and websites raise issues we believe God is drawing to our attention today. The fact that they are listed here should not be taken to imply that we agree with all the doctrinal positions, conclusions or opinions of the authors.

Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts

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242. Enjoy The Ride!

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

God is Love. He really is! Having a relationship with Him does not involve trying to please or appease Him. He loves us unconditionally, and there is nothing we can do that would cause Him to love us more (or less). He is Love.

Our view of God has become so distorted that many people, not only outside the church but even within it, believe He is angry with us and only keeps us in line through fear. They are getting Him confused with some other god. Love that is forced, coerced or demanded is not love at all.

“Heresy!”

Ironically, this deep truth that God is love is often seen as heretical by members of the religious institution because they hold to a warped theological image. If anyone dares to challenge doctrinal assumptions and presumptions it always provokes accusation. I have been told myself that I am ‘on the slippery slope away from orthodoxy’ as if that is something I should avoid at all costs. The implication is that backsliding and a complete loss of faith are the inevitable result.

I am not so sure. I believe that God is challenging our preconceived, pre-programmed ideas about Him. Those preconceptions and programming are largely a consequence of our place (and century) of birth, our family traditions and other sociological factors. In another time or place the received truth about God passed along to us would have been different anyway.

All roads lead to…?

God does not want our knowledge of Him to be conditional upon when or where we were born, or the religious tradition we were first introduced to. I do not believe He wants something so important to be based on that sort of accident. Regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of them) He is reaching out, looking to engage every single one of us in a personal relationship. To that end He pours out His Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17).

‘Does that mean,’ said Mack, ‘that all roads lead to you?’
‘Not at all.’ Jesus smiled as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.’ (William Paul YoungThe Shack).

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is an interesting concept in itself. The word is defined as ‘an authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine or practice’. With our 20000+ denominations you can easily see how rare ‘generally accepted’ might be! So whose orthodoxy is it that we are in danger of slipping away from? Roman Catholic orthodoxy? Anglican or Presbyterian orthodoxy? Reformed, evangelical or charismatic orthodoxy? Or even Orthodox orthodoxy (take your choice of Greek or Russian)? We cannot slip away from most of those since we never actually subscribed to them in the first place.

Almost all of us, if we are honest, believe something different today to what we believed 10, 20, or 50 years ago. God never changes, but through fresh revelation He is continually unveiling aspects of Himself we have never seen before. We call this ‘progressive revelation’. Any ‘orthodoxy’ can only be a snapshot of someone’s view of God at a particular point in time, which perhaps explains how many versions of it there are.

But The Bible Clearly Says…

Every scripture we read today is a translation into English (or one of dozens of other modern languages) and they all reflect the translator’s particular viewpoint or understanding (those compiled by committee no less than those by individuals).

The Passion Translation and Mirror Bible state their viewpoints front and centre. The translators of the King James version had to adhere to a set of rules drawn up on the King’s behalf by the soon-to-be Archbishop, Richard Bancroft. For example, they were explicitly prohibited from translating ‘ekklesia’ (church) as ‘community’, ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’, most likely in case people realised it was supposed to have a legislative, governmental role. There is no such thing as an objective, definitive translation (even if you do call it ‘Authorised’).

Those who are able to read the original languages fare little better. We do not have complete manuscripts and where more than one version exists it is clear that alterations to the text have occurred.

Canon of Scripture

Proponents of protestant evangelical orthodoxy would have us believe it is very different from its Roman Catholic counterpart, but in reality much of its theology stems directly from the councils, doctrines and creeds established by the early Roman Catholic and Latin Church.

The very concept of a ‘canon of scripture’ was only introduced in 397 AD at the Council of Carthage. Carthage was the one school (out of six) in the ancient Christian world which held to an angry, retributive view of God, possibly because it was also the only one where Latin, not Greek, was the language in common use. Augustine was from Carthage, and he had no understanding of the Greek in which the gospels and letters were written; if he had, he would never have developed such a distorted view of God.

The Council delegates bartered over what books were to be included. Perhaps they forgot that Jesus warned His disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, of political and religious spirits, but their eventual selection was more politically than divinely motivated. So although all scripture is ‘God-inspired’ (1 Tim 3:16), we may well have differing views about what Paul meant not only by the word translated ‘inspired’ but also by ‘scripture’.

Fear and control

The Emperor Constantine united church and state for his own political ends. Almost 1300 years later King James directed the Bible translators to translate in a way that would ensure there was no conflict between church and state and would maintain his control over all sections of society. In fact, much of the history of the Western church can be summarised as the exercise of fear in order to control people, and the notion of ‘orthodoxy’ is still being used in the same way today, to defend and protect entrenched positions and to suppress valid questions and ideas.

Fairy tales

It is very healthy to doubt what you believe, rather than just accepting it as the truth. There is far more to God than any theology or doctrine can contain. I agree with this statement I heard quoted by Brad Jersak “When doubts appear in me it means that I have outgrown my incomplete idea of God, my imperfect knowledge of Him” (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom: Doubts).

It is only through experience that the nature of God can be known. It can only be subjective, and that is not a bad thing. People will warn us that without something objective to rely on (usually they mean the Bible) we will end up believing fairy tales. Well, I suggest we have been believing fairy tales already and God now wants us to come to the knowledge of the Truth (a person, not a doctrine). Love will always be our plumb line.

Mind-quakes

Many of my experiences have revealed God’s love at a new level I would never have believed possible. They have challenged and unravelled most of my theology and doctrine and I am not looking for new ones; nor am I asking you to do anything but to be open to engage God’s love for yourself and see where that takes you. Where it has taken me is into an experiential relationship in which heaven has opened up.  I have come to know ‘the breadth and length and height and depth’ of that love (Eph 3:18) and how ardently He desires everyone to experience it for themselves. Even death is not enough to stop Him loving us.

My encounters with God created cognitive dissonance within me (that is, they caused me mental stress and discomfort as I tried to hold on to two or more mutually exclusive and contradictory views, ideas or values). I had a choice: I could fight to hold on to what I had thought to be true or I could allow the Truth – Jesus – to renew my mind. I chose the second, and it was not easy. It wobbled my head. It felt like ‘mind-quakes’. Explosions of truth shook loose the belief systems I had.

Conversation

God spoke to me a lot during the process. He told me, “Reveal the Truth, unveil for people your testimony of who I am… Son, reveal Me, the true Me. Let the Joshua generation know the true Me unfettered by the old orders of the theology of intellectual information”.

One day, God said, “Let me show you My mind”. I am not going to describe it visually, but it was like being in the midst of a conversation between Father, Son and Spirit that is continual and is all ‘now’.  I got just a brief glimpse of God’s reality, and saw that He was connected to everyone that had ever lived, is living or will live, all at once (that is 108 billion and counting). He was connected to everyone in the ‘now’, knowing every choice and every decision made every microsecond. His loving desire was to bring good out of every choice, to redeem even the most stupid decisions of every person (and we all make them). This love is not limited to a select group of people but is extended to everyone at all times and in all places.

It was a living experience of what Paul described in Romans 8:28, that ‘the love of God causes everything to mutually contribute to our advantage’ (Mirror Bible). Our view of God influences how we see ourselves and the world that we live in, and this experience changed that for me. Our view of everything has to be aligned with Love. His love won’t relent. God desires us to know Him (Love) by personal experience so we can know ourselves as His children and bring His kingdom of love to the world.

The real slippery slope

I love Chuck Crisco’s acronym for ‘heretic’ (I have tweaked it just a little):

Happy Enlightened Righteous Exploring Truth In Christ.

On those terms, I’m willing to be called one. So for myself, I have joyfully stepped off the slippery slope that for 1800 years has been taking us away from a relational, loving God towards a false image of Him horribly distorted by religion.

I encourage you to do the same: to discover for yourself the true nature and character of God who is Love.

I joyfully jump onto the slope that goes from the pinnacle of modern theology and doctrine back to the beliefs of the apostles and early church fathers who were relationally discipled by Jesus and His disciples in love.

I encourage you to jump onto the same slope – and enjoy the ride!

Soundtrack: You Won’t Relent (Jesus Culture) via YouTube

This blog post is adapted from Mike’s teaching in the ‘Engaging God‘ subscription programme. Find out more…

Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts
Resources from others

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Learn how to access God through Jesus who is the Way, Truth and Life, in the realms of heaven and within your own spirit and heart; and how to take up your responsibility as a mature son [daughter] in God’s kingdom.

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241. You Have Not Desired

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott   

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Modern evangelical religion sees the Father punishing and forsaking his own Son on the cross. Yet the early Church Fathers (who were discipled by those that Jesus discipled in love) did not believe that God punished Jesus. The cross is not about abandonment but quite the opposite: healing and reconciliation.

Relationship sees the death of Jesus as the communion, oneness and togetherness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit breaking into our separation.  It sees the love of God breaking into our alienation and darkness with light. The purpose of Jesus’ death is to find us, to establish relationship with us, in our sin, in our death, in our bondage; and to recreate us or to make us alive, to bring us from death into life. That has been His desire all along.

If God is ‘not counting their trespasses against them’ then there is no reason for Him to punish anyone. And fear of punishment is absolutely not the way Perfect Love operates in any case: instead, His kindness leads us to repentance:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4 NIV).

What is wrong with this picture?

So if we look at the Old Testament law and the sacrificial system and see an angry God needing appeasement, something is very wrong with this picture.

Cain and Abel were the first people we know of who brought God an offering:

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions (Gen 4:3-4).

God had not asked them for anything. So I wonder who told them that God required offerings or sacrifices. I would suggest that it was the same satanic DIY religion whose lies inspired Adam and Eve to make coverings and hide in the bushes.

Since then, and throughout mankind’s history, making sacrifices (including child sacrifices) to appease angry do-it-yourself gods has been integral to religion. Sacrifices are made to ensure fertility, bountiful harvests, security and victory. Abraham was told to leave his idol-making family behind but he didn’t (Gen 12:1). Jacob’s wife Rachel stole her family idols when she was leaving home (Gen 31:19). Israel sacrificed to idols while they were in Egypt, and even took them with them into the wilderness (Acts 7:43), where they got Aaron to make a golden calf (Ex 32:1-4).

Delight in sacrifice?

It was anger at the sight of the golden calf that caused Moses to break the original tablets God had given him (Ex 32:28), God’s own handiwork which according to the original Hebrew were actually sapphire cubes of heavenly revelation.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Moses wrote the law from His own interpretation on the replacement tablets he cut out of stone. He gave the sacrificial law to stop Israel sacrificing (including child sacrifice) to idols such as the golden calf, Baal, Molech and countless others. God allowed Moses to introduce the law to limit sacrifices that could be made, not to endorse them. He neither wanted nor needed the sacrifice of animals to appease His wrath.

At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands… as it is written in the book of the prophets, “It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship” (Acts 7:41-43).

God really did not want their sacrifices.

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices (Jer 7:22).

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure” (Heb 10:5-6).

King David, even after committing murder and adultery, knew that appeasement was not what God required:

For You do not delight in sacrifice,
otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God,
You will not despise

(Psa 51:16-17).

Justice, not sacrifices

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats… Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (Isa 1:11, 16-17).

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings… But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-22, 24).

“…and to love one’s neighbour as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:33-34).

A change of heart, righteousness or justice could only come from relationship with God, not out of the self-righteousness associated with our own DIY religion, or with the Law. In fact the Law only served to demonstrate to those who were under it that they could not have a relationship with God through their own DIY efforts.

A living sacrifice

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul is not writing here about trying to appease God by serving Him. It is very easy to slip back into the mindset that we need to do something to make us more acceptable to Him. Political and religious spirits constantly seek to subvert the gospel. Jesus warned his disciples about this:

“Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15).

So let us consider, are we in any way still living a DIY religious lifestyle?

  • Are we praying and reading our Bibles more out of fear than faith?
  • Are we doing good works to earn forgiveness, or brownie points?
  • Are we paying our tithes and giving our offerings out of obligation?
  • Are we sacrificing our children on the idol of ministry?

There’s nothing I could do
That would ever make You
Love me more
There’s nothing I could do
That would ever make You
Love me less
(Outrageous Love by Jonathan David Helser and Ed Cash).

Nothing we can do could possibly make Him love us any more than He already does. Nothing we can do can make Him love us any less. He loves us consistently, perfectly, passionately. Once we recognise this fact, the idol of ‘GOD’ as the distant, angry, punishing deity begins to be demolished in our lives.

What if?

  • What if God was ACTUALLY good?
  • What if God was ONLY good?
  • What if God was ALWAYS good?
  • What if there was NO dark side to God – at all?
  • What if God was FOR us, not against us?
  • What if God doesn’t allow evil, but rather seeks to DISALLOW it by applying His curative energies to both victim and offender?
  • What if God cares deeply, tenderly and intensely for the wellbeing of everyone at all times and in all places?

A.W. Tozer famously said that “by a secret law of the soul, we grow to resemble our image of God.” We become like who we behold; so we need to know the true God if we are to be like Him and represent Him on the earth.

Once again, let me say, I am not trying to invent or convert anyone to a new theology or belief system but I am encouraging us all to meet God face to face and find out what He is really like. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with me about these things, why not ask God for personal revelation and let Him reveal Himself as the Truth?

SoundTrack: Outrageous Love by Jonathan and Melissa Helser via YouTube

This blog post is adapted from Mike’s teaching in the ‘Engaging God‘ subscription programme. Find out more…

Recommended article
Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts

Engaging God

Our popular interactive modular programme developed by Mike Parsons now has a new, simpler subscription process – to find out more and get started today*, click here…

Learn how to access God through Jesus who is the Way, Truth and Life, in the realms of heaven and within your own spirit and heart; and how to take up your responsibility as a mature son [daughter] in God’s kingdom.

eg free trial eg homepage 2019

Choose monthlyquarterly or annual options for your automatic recurring subscription payments via credit or debit card, and try Engaging God free for 2 weeks – no payment will be made until after 14 days, during which you can easily cancel if you wish.

*Technology permitting: automated process on completion of online registration form and payment plan setup. Terms and conditions apply.