Great Questions from a Conservative Jew

I was down at the Rexdale Mall with Medo on Saturday. There was young man slowly shuffling in my direction as he looked out the advertisements outside of the mall. I offered him a free penny with the 10 commandments on it. With a smile, I asked him “Can you name any of the 10 commandments? This is the trivia question of the day.” He was intrigued by the coin and responded, telling me that he knew some of them (which he named), but that he could not name all ten. I asked him, “Do you have a Christian background?” He said, “Jewish.” I was very interested and asked if he was Orthodox or Conservative (I forgot to mention “Reformed” as another option). He said that he would identify more so with the Conservative Jews. I remember from my world religions class (years ago) that “conservative” does not mean conservative in the same way that Christians use the term. From my limited study of Judaism, I learned that some Jews (either Conservative or Reformed – I forget which one) do not even believe in a Creator God. Accordingly, I asked him, “Do you believe in the Creator God?” He said, “Yes.” I told him that I love the Scriptures, and shared how I had read from the book of Judges that morning.

I asked him if he had ever broken the law: “Have you ever lied, dishonoured your parents or stole anything?” He responded, “I have lied and dishonoured my parents, but I don’t think I have ever stolen anything.”

After we had been talking for a little while, I told him, “I hope this does not happen to you, but, if you were to die today, do you believe that God would accept you or reject you.” He responded by telling me that that is a question that he does not like to think about too much. He basically told me that God is perfect and he will judge correctly, so there is nothing we can do to change this. I agreed with him that God is perfect and that he will judge correctly, but I asked him how he thought God would judge him personally. He was not sure at first, but then stated that he does not deserve eternal punishment.

I responded by appealing to the holiness and justice of God. I only referred to passages from the OT (for a while), which seemed to function as authoritative to him. He continued to submit his own logic and reasoning to the OT Scriptures which I shared. I told him that God is the judge and that his law displays his holiness and his righteous standards. We considered what Word of God through Habakkuk, that God’s eyes are too pure to look on evil and that he cannot tolerate wrong (1:13). We considered how the angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in the vision found in Isaiah 6. We also remembered God’s righteous judgment at the time of Noah as well as Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, and his righteous judgments in Isaiah. He agreed with me and conceded that these passages teach the holiness, righteousness and justice of God. This discussion culminated in pondering Eden. I shared that God cast them out of his presence in the Garden of Eden because of their sin. He hated their sin and cast them out because he is holy.

I explained to him that if he lied to me about his name (which he had told me) “I could brush it off, for I know what it’s like to lie; but God is pure and holy. He is different. He has no darkness in him.” He cannot tolerate lies. A lie is extremely evil to God.

I explained to him that I too have broken God’s law, especially the first commandment – not to have any gods. I explained to him what that commandment really means (putting God first always, etc.). I shared with him how this sin (of having other gods) was the sin which God rebuked Israel for through Jeremiah. I paraphrased Jeremiah 2:12-13, which says, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this: be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I explained how they (and we too) try to find life in “other things” (career, love life, material things, etc.) rather than in God. He understood me and seemed to agree with what I was saying. So, we came back to the law.  

I told him that since he has lied, as he had confessed, he is guilty before God. I assured him that good works do not undo sin and guilt. I quoted the words of Isaiah (which I later read to him from the Scriptures), “all our righteous deeds are like filthy garments” (Isaiah 64:6).

He asked me, “If God is holy and judges all sin and if there is no way to undo sin, what can be done [to get rid of sin/fix the problem]”? I took him to Isaiah 52:12-53 and let him look at the Scriptures as I read selected portions of that passage in the open air (I love doing that!). As I pondered the power of Isaiah 53:5, I read it to him aloud from the page of my Bible: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” I told him, “This is referring to Jesus. He was the one who was despised and rejected by men (52:3); He was the one who suffered for our transgressions (53:5).”

He responded by telling me that he has a Christian friend who told him about Christianity. I asked him what kind of Christian. He told me that he was saying similar things to what I was teaching. He then went on to ask how it can be that people who are stained by sin can be made perfect because of what someone else does. I told him, “That is a great question.” I said, “Because this is God’s way. God is the owner of everything. This is the way God chose to redeem people.”

He asked me, “But how is it that people can be redeemed? Are they made perfect?” I said, “That is a great question. You are asking great questions; this is very refreshing. I do this often . . . talking with people about God and Jesus, and I do not normally encounter these great questions. I appreciate your logic and your reasoning – you reason well.” I told him that there is a very important distinction that he needs to understand in order to know the answer to his question. I told him that there are two facets to consider when thinking about whether or not a Christian is perfect. First, there is the Christian’s judicial standing before God (justification), and secondly, there is his Christian experience of living life as a believer (sanctification). I explained to him that God declares a sinner to be perfectly righteous if he has completely rooted and grounded all of his confidence in the perfectly righteous life of Christ on his behalf. If my memory is correct, I think I also spoke of Christ’s substitutionary suffering on our behalf, and our need to need to have faith in the sufficiency of his work to pay for our sins. This person’s judicial standing is righteous, not guilty.

He asked, “Is that person perfect?” I said, “That is a good question. The answer is yes in the sense that God really considers him righteous in the courtroom sense – this is the Good News – you can be counted righteous for the work someone else has done!” I said, “However, there is the other side – the life that the believer lives now.” I explained that I am not perfect and that perfection is impossible in light of how sinful we really are. I said, “Christians cannot be perfect now, for the Bible says that anyone is claims to be without sin makes God a liar” (1 John 1:10). (In retrospect, I wish I would have also talked to him about the beginning point of sanctification, which is regeneration and the end point, glorification [resurrection body, etc.], which really is perfection!)

I explained how the Christian will grow in holiness and gain a certain degree of victory of certain sins by the help of Jesus. He was very interested in the concept of battling sin. He asked, “Is it sin for me to have the inclination to sin if I do not give in but restrain myself? Is that still sin?” I said, “I do not know.”(In retrospect, I would say that that is still sin, but at the time, I was unsure how to answer him, for it seemed a little awkward to tell him that his decision to obey his conscience was still sinful). I told him, “I am not sure if I can answer your question in a way that will fully satisfy you, but I can tell you what the Bible says about this, which will help you better understand the biblical position.” He wanted to learn more. I quoted Psalm 51:5 (“I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”). I explained to him that we are all born with sinful inclinations and impulses. I told him about the teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 5, briefly stating that Adam is the representative of all of mankind. Thus, we he sinned we all sinned. I said, “Adam and Eve were the only people with a fee will who experienced life without inclinations to sin.” Our will has a measure of freedom (in other words – we are not robots), but ultimately we are in bondage in our sin (bondage of the will to sin).

He wanted to know how sin can be obliterated (that is, in one’s life). I quoted from Romans 8:13 (“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live”) and explained that God commands Christians to, by his strength (Spirit), put sin to death. I testified to him that though I still sin in many ways, God has really helped me to overcome certain sins in a big way (and I thank God for his grace in these areas!).

By that time, we had talked for a long time and he had to go. I gave him a New Testament with my contact info and the church info as well as a presentation of the Gospel (from this blog), which is an insert in the NT Bibles which I hand out to those I speak with. I was greatly encouraged by his great questions, his attentiveness, and his apparent sincerity. May the Lord help him to see that, like me, he is not good and that Christ is his only hope.

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7 responses to “Great Questions from a Conservative Jew

  1. Thanks Paul, this is really encouraging to read. Last night God gave me the opportunity to share the Gospel and about God and Jesus and Bible with a team mate of mine that I carpool with. It was really great but I realize after reading your post although I can share the Gospel and share it from scripute, I don’t have nearly as much scripture at my fingertips when sharing the Good News. I thought the scriptures you brought to light for this Jewish man were very thoughtfully chosen to speak to his needs. Do you have a list of scripture verses that you might be able to share that you find most helpful to have memorized or at least “at the ready” for when you are sharing the Gospel? I’d love to take a list like that and put it to memory. Thanks for your blog! I’ve been exploring past content and have been finding it really encouraging and helpful.

    Seth (in Ottawa)

    • Paul McDonald

      Thanks Seth, I am glad to hear of your opportunity to share the Gospel with your friend. As for Scripture at my fingertips . . . I do not have a list that I have sought to memorize specifically for evangelism (or evangelism to Jews . . . he is one of the first Jewish people I have preached the Gospel to). Also, just so you know, sometimes I simply paraphrase and summarize verses (for it is hard to remember the exact translation). However, what I do most often (depending on the situation . . . how much time we have) is actually pull out my miniature pocket sized Bible (contains all 66 books) and show them the passage, moving my finger along the words for them as I read aloud. This is my favourite way of teaching the Bible in evangelism (for various reasons). Sometimes I just hand it to them and ask them to read (not aloud). Then I will ask them about what they just read, and the conversation continues about God’s Word. Some people have never read the Bible! I think this is a great way to introduce people to the Word. Furthermore, you never know how the Lord will speak to someone through His Word. I also give them a copy of the NT, with a sticker on the inside which tells them to contact me if they want a copy of the full Bible for free. ESV NT’s are currently selling for 79 cents! you can get 100 for $70 at a variety of Christian bookstores who sell stuff by Crossway.

      Now, back to the list of Scriptures. I know of Scriptures simply from my own reading and study. Many passages just come to me as I speak to people (passages that I have read and studied in the past . . . or that morning). However, there are certain verses (passages, sections) that seem to be especially helpful which I often use.

      So here is a list of verses (or passages/sections) that I often refer to (not necessarily memorized, but I can atleast paraphrase it accurately):

      Genesis 1-3 (this section of Scripture is monumental in helping people understand God’s desire for man to enjoy Him and be with him (peace, joy, life) . . . and also his holiness and justice not tolerating their sin . . . and also his grace, love and mercy in his plan of redemption – not destorying them but giving mankind hope); Genesis 12:1-3 is very important because it is God’s promise of “blessing” (salvation) for the world – the rest of the Bible is mainly an unfolding of how God keeps these promises to restore perfect fellowship with man again (cf. Rev 21:1-4); Habukkuk 1:13a (great little verse on the holiness and justice of God); Ex. 20 – the 10 commandments (on the holiness and justice of God); Isaiah 64:6 – teaches against works oriented righteousness; Isaiah 52:13-53:12 for preaching substitution to Jews (or anyone); Jeremiah 17:9 -on the sinful and deceitful nature of our hearts; Psalm 51:5 – shows we are born in sin (this helps explain why we sin).

      These are the main texts I gravitate to in the OT (but every conversation is different and calls for different answers to their questions and often incomplete conceptions of God and His Gospel).

      When it comes to the NT, the list could be endless so i must be selective, but some good texts to know (at least be able to paraphrase OR simply to go to and read) are:
      John 3:1-5; 3:16-18; 3:36; 6:29; 10:10; 14:6; Mark 1:15; 7:14-23; Matthew 5-7 (esp. 5:27-28, 48); Luke 18:9-14; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 1:16-17; 3:10-18; 3:23; 5:8, 12, 18-19; 6:23; Gal 5:1; Eph 2:8-9; James 2:10; 1 John 1:5 and Rev 21:1-4. I must add this – it is important to know the context of the verses we use. Studying books of the Bible and large chunks of Scripture significantly helps us use micro portions accurately. Furthermore, it is great to give a few sentences of the explanation of the context of a verse when you share it (this helps them to learn how to handle the Word).

      I hope this helps; I know you were simply asking for a list, but I must share one more thing I have learned: it is great to simply share with people what your pastor was preaching on, or what you have been learning in your daily reading – it is amazing how such topics can serve as great avenues for Gospel dialogue (you can start off by saying, “You know, I was reading this morning in a book in the Bible called . . .”

      I hope this helps – and thanks again for your encouragement. Please let me know of any verses you think could be added to the list.

  2. Hey Paul,

    That guy’s question about why one man could take the penalty for sin is ultimately a mystery, but he probably would accept that Adam was the first man and that sin came from Adam to the human race, its an opportunity to use Romans 5? as a means of showing that Christ is the new Adam.

    It is just how God did things, you gave the right answer, maybe this little extra comparison would be convincing to a Jew who may already believe the reasonableness of Adam being the head of the human race. If he can buy Adam, why not Jesus?

    • Ben, thanks for your advice. You are right. Romans 5 would have been a great place to go. I will keep this in mind. In fact, I was preaching the Gospel from Romans 5 to a young man on Saturday – largely because it was fresh due to your comment. Thanks brother.

  3. OK LOL nevermind. I was a little too hasty. I see you did that. Good work Paul!

    *walks away with tail between legs*

  4. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply so thoroughly. I’m going to put your wisdom and helpful comments and verses to good use. Thanks again for the blog! I’m still reading and being encouraged and built up by every post. I’ll have to visit Grace Fellowship next time I’m in TO.

    Peace,

    Seth

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