Tag Archives: Catholic

Talking with a Catholic on Day 12: I’ve Never Heard that Before

Arthur and I had just finished talking to a Muslim man at the corner of Don Mills and Eglington. We didn’t know who to approach, but prayed for wisdom, and even for the Lord to bring someone to us.

We walked north to Don Mills and Wexford, stood there and continued to pray. Not much was happening, but about 20 feet behind the bus shelter there stood a young woman. Obviously the thought crossed our mind, “Should we approach her?” but we thought it unwise. Even so, about 5 minutes later she came to the bus shelter. God answers prayer! What follows is an abbreviated summary of our conversation. (P is for me; and N is for the young woman).

P: Hi, my name is Paul and this is my friend Arthur. We’re out talking to people about the Gospel today. Do you have a religious background?

N: Yes, Roman Catholic.

P:  We talk to Catholics often. And an important issue that often comes up deals with how someone receives the forgiveness of sins.

N: Okay.

P: So, let me ask you a question. Now, (smiling) I hope you live a nice long life, and I hope you don’t die any time soon, but just think about this for a moment: what if you died, even today; what do you think God would do with you? Do you think he’d reject you or accept you?

N: Maybe I’d go to purgatory; you know, to get cleansed.

P: Did you know there’s no mention of purgatory in the Bible?

N: No? Really?

P: I don’t know how it got into Church tradition, but it’s not in the Bible. In fact, in Matthew 25 (I opened my Bible there), Jesus says that one day he will judge the world. And all people will stand before him. And their sentence will either be eternal punishment or eternal life. Here, let me show you (turning the Bible to show her the passage), right there, the underlined part, in verse 46, Jesus says “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” He didn’t teach purgatory.

N: I didn’t know that.

P: Did you know that the Bible also teaches that the way to receive forgiveness for your sins is not by being a good person and keeping the sacraments?

N: No.

P: Here (giving her my Bible that I’d opened to Ephesians 2), I want you to read this passage for yourself. See right there, where it has the 8 and 9; yes, please read those verses. (She read them silently).

N: Okay.

P: Do you understand what it says about forgiveness of sins? I know the word forgiveness isn’t mentioned, but when Paul speaks of being saved, he means being saved from God’s punishment for our sins.

N: It’s a gift.

P: (With a big smile) Yes, it’s absolutely free; like a Christmas gift! See (pointing to the phrase), it says, “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works.”

N: I’ve never heard that before.

P: No? Well, the Bible teaches this in so many places. If we had time, I could show you passage after passage. One of the main reasons why Jesus came was to work for us. You see, though you seem like a really nice person, the truth is, in God’s eyes, he knows that you’re like me and everyone else. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners. And therefore we’re guilty before God. And there is no way for us to remove the guilt. We are helpless. But God is loving and that’s why he sent Jesus to be our substitute. Do you know what a substitute is?

N: Yes.

P: Jesus came and lived the perfect life for us. He never sinned. And he died in our place; he was punished for our sins. And he rose from the dead and he is alive. He is calling all people to believe in him and to trust in his work. (Pulling out a Two Ways to Live booklet) Here is a booklet. I really encourage you to read it. It summarizes the whole message of the Bible and explain why Jesus came.

N: (With a sense of assurance and sincerity) I will read it.

Arthur really encouraged  her to visit our church and that was it. The bus came and off she went. May the Lord pursue her.

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Day 2: “I Can’t Change”

Day two of our summer evangelism was a great day! There were four of us this time and we all had a number of good talks and handed out lots of great literature! Praise be to God who alone can open people’s hearts to be attentive! Here is one little story.

Joseph and I had talked to a young Catholic man for quite a while. We explained the gospel of God’s grace over and over, reinforcing that the only way of getting our guilt removed is by the work of Christ and confidence in Him alone. He had mentioned that our good works help gain us God’s acceptance. So, I had my little Bible out, reading him passage after passage. We were in Romans, Ephesians, John and James. By God’s grace, he seemed to understand the Biblical teaching on how to receive the forgiveness of sins. Here is a summary of where the conversation went: (P stands for me; and J stands for the other man).

P: So, what about you? If you died today, do you think God would accept you?

J: Well … (thinking), yes; I think I’d be okay.”

P: Why do you think that?

J: I believe in God, and I’ve confessed my sins and try to live well.

P: You believe that even after everything I just shared from the Bible?

J: I can’t change my religion.

P: Even if it doesn’t agree with the Bible?

J: I can’t change; I grew up with this way. I’m Catholic and my parents are. I just can’t.

P: Do you believe the Bible is God’s Word?

J: Yes, but I can’t change. I grew up with this.

P: Yes, but what if it’s wrong? The Catholic church has some things right, but when it comes to how to receive the forgiveness of sins it teaches what is contrary to Scripture.

J: I can’t change.

P: Really? So your parents along with the Catholic Church are the authorities that govern what you believe? And you’ll side with them over the Bible even when the Bible clearly teaches how to receive forgiveness in a way contrary to Catholicism?

J: Yes.

P:  Well, thanks for taking the time to let us speak with you. I just want to give you one last Scripture to think about as we leave. (I opened to Acts 17:10-11 and showing it to him, I read the Word, explaining parts of it as I went).  The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. This is the kind of spirit that pleases the Lord; examining Scripture to find the truth. The Berean’s authority was Scripture and not Jewish traditions. That is what you need to do, submit yourself to the authority of God and His Word. Thank you for time. (I left him with some good literature with our info).

May God have mercy on him; and may God help all of us to be more like the Bereans!

Day 1: Summer Evangelism

Today marked the beginning of our 10 weeks of summer evangelism! Ewan lead four of us in some street evangelism at U of T. We started our time in 2 Timothy 2 and prayer. It was great to be reminded that “the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim 2:9).

Arthur (who came with us) and I approached a number of people. I was surprised by the number of people who did not want to talk; I had heard that campus evangelism was more ripe for this stuff … maybe it had something to do with the crazy hot weather. Even so, the Lord provided 3 meaningful conversations that I’ll briefly recap.

Catholic

I approached a young man on a bench. He was kind enough to let me sit down and chat with him for a while about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. Though friendly, he wasn’t very talkative. It was tough to  discern his interest level. When I paused to ask him questions and learn his thoughts he was rather silent. Who knows the way the Lord’ll use the word. I gave him 2 Ways to Live to read.

Atheist

The next conversation we had lasted a long time. We talked to a retired teacher passionate about socialism. Very friendly, but yes, quite zealous for socialism; he was out on the streets selling socialist literature (stuff on Marxism and Darwinism). I told him that I’d like to study more politics, but that I study theology and religion. I asked him about his thoughts on God. He told me he was an atheist. This lead to a long discussion about the existence of God, creation vs. evolution, sin, the nature of man, the problem with our world, God’s hatred of evil, Jesus Christ and his salvific work, judgement, morality, presuppositions and even more!

At some point in our conversation, he mentioned that his daughter is a Christian. He told me about her and her husband’s beliefs (which he learned through their conversations with him). I thought, “this man has been prayed for a lot; though he seems so lost and so certain of his atheism, I must seek by God’s grace to speak the truth in love for as long as he allows.”

At the end of our long conversation I had to tell him that he is suppressing the truth about God is unrighteousness (Rom 1). I’m not sure if he really understood what I meant, for he shook my hand and seemed very thankful for the exchange.

Atheist

I approached another young man sitting under a tree. He was friendly and allowed me to sit and chat. He was visiting from China, told me he had adopted his atheism from his parents and pretty much told me that he didn’t really care about anything else. I tried to engage with him from a number of angles, but he wouldn’t bite at anything; I wanted an actual conversation! Eventually I told him, ” Imagine that it’s all true? That there is a God; He’s real and we are all rebels not wanting to follow him, but that judgement comes and the only way to receive forgiveness for your sins is by Jesus?” He replied, “I don’t have a good imagination.” I was silent for about 15-20 seconds, sitting there is utter awkwardness. I thanked him for the time, gave him the 2 Ways to Live tract and journeyed on.

And how do I feel at the end of the day? Humbled. I wish I would have said this and I wish I would have said that … yes, my mind goes on. I should have prayed more before hand. I should have approached more people; I was shying away from potential opportunities. I should have … I should have … I should have … I should stop thinking about so many should have’s!

What I must remember is that God is good and he uses initiative evangelism; our labour is not in vain. His Gospel is not bound; who knows what it’s doing in their hearts right now! Reasoning with people with gentleness and respect is powerful. May the Lord cause His word to increase and may the number of disciples multiply greatly!

Please pray for us today. We hit Don Mills and Lawrence this afternoon.

Business Surveys and Faith Alone in Christ Alone

Steve K joined me for evangelism this afternoon … oh how sweet it is to fellowship in the Gosel this way! I love praying with brothers! I love studying the Word with brothers! And oh how I love spreading the Gospel with brothers!  

Nearing the end of the afternoon with an itch

We were nearing the end of our afternoon, yet hadn’t really been able to get to the Cross with anyone … some good talks (“speaking the truth in the love”) but not getting  to the heart of the Gospel with unbelievers. Of course, that’s okay, but I had the itch … we prayed … and …

A Business Survey worth taking

There was a young man doing business surveys at Don Mills and Lawrence. I approached him and learned that he was researching the area to collect data. I told him that Steve and I were out seeking to talk to people too, but that we were from a local church. He asked about the church, told me he was Catholic, and by God’s grace we were were on the road to the Cross.

Would God accept you or reject you?

At the outset I told him what Catholics “typically” believe … at least what I have learned from Catholics I have talked to. I highlighted areas of agreement (with me, a Protestant); but but we quickly moved to one really MAJOR of dispute: how to receive the forgiveness of sins? I set the positions before him and asked him: “If you were to die today, do you believe that God would accept you or reject you?” He said,”He’d accept me.” “What’s the main reason why you think He’d accept you?” He replied, “Well, I’ve been a pretty good person and lived a pretty good life; I’d like to think or I hope He would [accept me].”

The righteous standards of Jesus Christ … and the sobering reality

I asked him if he knew about Matthew. He wasn’t exactly familiar with it, so I explained to him who Matthew was and that he wrote one of the Gospels. We went right to his record of the words of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. We considered the righteous standards concerning lust, anger and love for enemies (Mt 5) to name of few. His response?

We need to stive to be righteous

He said, “We need to strive to be righteous, well, not strive but, to live this way that He is commanding.” I agreed, “yes, it’s good to be good,” and added, “but that’s not what Jesus is teaching us to do.” God gave me the grace to tell him: “Jesus did not come for the righteous, but sinners (Mt 9:13), people who realize they need Him; it’s the sick who need a doctor.” He seemed to be listening attentively. 

I went on to talk about the nature of guilt: “What if your parents were murdered and the murder was in court confessing to the judge: ‘I am sorry for what I have done. I have no excuse. But I am sorry for what I’ve done; I’ll never do it again. Please forgive me judge.'”

He interjected immediately, “No, he needs to go to jail.” “Exactly,” I responded, “he’s guilty. But what if the murderer offered to shuvle your driveway the rest of your life … and pay you one million dollars?” He replied, “That wouldn’t change it; he broke the law – the law doesn’t change.” He got the point: you cannot undo guilt by good works – the guilt remains. He mentioned that he was thankful for the analogy. Praise God!

Faith alone in Christ alone  

At this point, the Lord gave me the grace to tell him two things of utmost importance:

1) “‘It is by grace you have been saved through faith … it is the gift of God, not by works,’ and do you know why? Because it says next, ‘least anyone should boast.’ God’s way is that no one will have bragging rights in heaven. It is by faith alone in Christ alone so that God gets all the glory.” The point was taken. He understood. But will he believe? May the Lord convict and convince! 

2) “I just met you, I know your friendly, but I don’t need to know you well to know that your a sinner (we’d already talked about Christ’s righteous standards = God /perfection). You need to trust in Christ and what he’s done, being punished in your place for your sins and living the perfect life on your behalf, for the forgiveness of sins.

I gave him a copy of The Essential Jesus. He seemed happy to receive it. It’s tough to know how things really go, that is, when dealing with a businessman who wants your business, BUT, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) and faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).  So, take a survey and redeem it to the glory of God … you never know how the “God of all grace” (1 Per 5:10) might use it.

Back to the Bus Stops – An Hour with Steve F.

Georgie and I returned from our honeymoon this past Sunday (by the way, I love being married to Georgie!).  Upon returning we’ve been busy moving into our new place. So now, after about a month of silence, I am online again and ready to blog!

After feeling convicted for shying away from some evangelistic opportunities (and possible promptings) this past month, I felt burdened to hit the bus stops today. After spending time in the Word (2 Kings 6:8-19 and Phil. 1:29) and prayer, Steve F and I hit the bus stops at Islington and Elmhurst for about an hour this afternoon. What follows is a very brief summary/recap of two conversations we had:

A Catholic Trusting in his Works

Steve and I approached a guy at the bus stop. I told him we were from the church down the road and that we were out sharing the Gospel. I asked him if we could speak with him briefly while he waited for his bus. He was cool with that, but he reassured me that he too was a Christian for he was Catholic.

Then I proceeded to talk to him about Jesus as the only way to God. He then informed me that he is NOT really a devout Catholic but that his parents are more Catholic than he. I cut to the chase and asked if he thought God would accept him or reject him if he were to die today. He was convinced that God would accept him. He said he was a good person. He also mentioned that he had never murdered anyone or did anything really evil.

I told him that what ultimately matters on Judgement Day is the standards of the Judge. I said, “God standards are what matter. Jesus talked about these standards.” I opened up my little NT to Matthew and read Matthew 5:27-28 on Jesus’ standards concerning adultery and lusting. The bus came so I gave him the NT and really encouraged him to read the tract inserted.

Talking to an Agnostic with No Religious Background

We approached this young man (we will call him V) the same way as we did the Catholic. He did not seem to be excited about talking, but he definitely listened and seem to get more interested the more we conversed. I quoted from John 14:6 and told him that Jesus must be either the Lord, a lunatic or a liar. He agreed to these logical possibilities. I asked him, “Have you ever read from the Bible?” “No,” he replied. Then I said, “Do you have any religious background?” Again, he responded, “No.” I asked, “Do your parents have a religious background?” He said, “Buddhist.” Then he told us that he was basically agnostic.

Steve proceeded to explain the law of God. He asked V if he had ever lied, stolen, dishonoured his parents. If my memory is correct, V confessed to breaking these laws. After going through the law, Steve asked him how this all relates to his worldview as an agnostic.

On that topic the conversation swung back to me. I did not want V to think that he was somehow exempt from the law of God and it’s just demands simply by being agnostic. Thus, I decided to show him that his worldview is self-refuting and thus problematic. I said, “I am not trying to be rude with you here, I just want you to consider how being agnostic is self-refuting. Think about this: you are certain that you cannot be certain about things.” He said, “I guess you can put it that way.” I said, “I do not know exactly how your agnosticism fleshes out compared to other agnostics, but is true that you believe that we cannot know anything for sure?” He agreed (that we cannot know anything for sure). I said, “Listen closely, this position is self-refuting, it does not hold – you are saying that you are absolutely sure that you cannot be sure about anything.” I spelled this out slowly for I wanted him to see that he really is sure about something, namely, that you cannot be sure about anything. I am not sure if he has ever had anyone attack the very foundation of his worldview like this, but I hope the Lord uses it to shake his confidence in agnosticism and to drive Him to the Scriptures and to Christ.

We gave him a NT and encouraged him to read it and to read the Gospel insert as well. His bus came and he seemed to be slightly sad to leave. I told him that my contact info is on the literature we gave him. Then he left.

Praise God for giving Steve F and I the grace to go and spread His Word. May He keep us humble and may His Word bear fruit and multiply.

Approaches to Evangelism, the Real Jesus and One Very Important Question – Do You Deserve to Go to Hell?

Not too long ago, I was out doing some bus stop evangelism with a friend of mine. He was unsure about my evangelistic approach. Now, keep in mind, this was the first time he had come out with me and his uneasiness occurred during the very first conversation we had that day. He was doubtful that it was really best for me to keep talking about God’s standards (righteousness, sin and justice) after the man had already indicated that he has sinned and was simply hoping that he will be okay on Judgment Day. Now, this man (who I was evangelizing) was a nominal Catholic who believed in God, Jesus, the Bible and so on.

So, as my friend and I talked (immediately after the first conversation) the question became this: why not transition the conversation to talk about the love of God that is centered in Jesus (that is, as soon as the man confessed he had sinned)? Why stay on the topic of Jesus’ teaching on righteousness, sin and judgment?

We Must Take a Quick Detour

I have a few things to say before I answer that question. This detour may seem long, BUT it is relevant, intentional and possibly even necessary if I am to avoid being massively misunderstood. Here I go.

Thoughts on Approaches

Let me say this at the outset: I do NOT think it would have been wrong to transition to talk about the love of God that is centered in Jesus. In fact, this would take us to the Cross upon which we could discuss not only love, but also sin, holiness, justice, mercy, wrath, righteousness, grace, faith, life, etc. I am convinced that we must be gracious with each other when it comes to HOW we get to the Gospel and HOW we seek to attempt to make it clear. There are not only many doors into the house of evangelism, but even into the dining room of the Gospel – there is so much to feast on!  However, we must be suspect of those who tell us the exact order or way we need to eat.

Most people have a general understanding that we should have appetizers, then soup/salad, main course, desert, etc. . . . but, would it be wrong to have desert first, that is, to talk of the glories of the new earth before the main course – explaining how to get there? I don’t think so. Now, if that person decided to eat desert first all the time, and not only that, but thought it was the only way to eat and told others they must do the same, then we have a problem. Indeed, we must be gracious with each other when it comes to HOW we get to the Gospel and HOW we seek to attempt to make it clear.

Though I am convinced that it is necessary to speak clearly and firmly of God’s righteous standards, His holiness, His justice, His wrath, judgment and hell, we must be careful NOT to go beyond Scripture when coming to conclusions about the ORDER and METHOD of HOW to evangelize. Indeed, we find descriptions of how to evangelize in the Bible, but these descriptions offer principles that we are to use. Principles can be applied in various ways. Now the command to evangelize is clear (Acts 1.8), but HOW this fleshes out may be different – consider how Paul evangelized the Jews in contrast to the Gentiles. He preached the Gospel to both BUT from different starting points (compare how he spoke to Jewish Galatians in Antioch at Pisidia in contrast the Gentile Galatians in Lystra – see Acts 13.13-14.18). In fact, Luke’s record of Paul’s evangelistic efforts in Acts teach us the very principle that the we need to become all things to people (cf 1 Cor 9.19-23). In other words, upon learning more about a person (especially his/her worldview), we ought to interact and preach the Gospel accordingly. I will save this worldview stuff for another post, for though it is important and deserves attention, it will take us off the intended track of this post – we are already on a detour!

What we do NOT find in the Bible is a course on how to do evangelism. By the way, I am not against such courses – in fact, I think they can be a great benefit to the church! I mean that. That being said, as much as I love Ray Comfort and the positive influence he is having on many individuals and churches, we must remember that “The Way of the Master” is more broad than working from the question, “Do you think you are a good person?” or “Do you know the ten commandments?” These are great questions to ask, and I highly recommend them in evangelism, BUT, it is not the ONLY WAY to talk about Jesus. Furthermore, might I add another note to all of my friends who like Matthius Media’s brilliant, insightful and sound evangelistic literature: working through redemptive history is NOT the only way (though it is great!). Hopefully, we can have ongoing dialogue with people to the extent that they can make more sense of who Jesus is and what He has done in light of the context of His coming (i.e., redemptive history), but let us think about the nature of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark was written primarily to Gentiles (cf. Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 182-83). Mark’s focus is on the identity of the person of Jesus Christ. Of course, his references to the OT point the reader (hearer) back to OT context, but the focus is Jesus as the Son of God (Christ/King/Messiah). Though the hard-heartedness of his disciples and antagonists is highlighted throughout his Gospel presentation, Mark does not start out talking about sin, law and judgment. And even though his Gospel starts off within the framework of God’s promise to Israel as the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Mark 1.2-3), by Mark 1.9 the focus is on Jesus for the rest of the book. That being said, I think it is great to talk about sin, law and judgment AND to explain much of redemptive history before focusing on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, HOWEVER, these are not the only ways to evangelize – just read Mark (which is a Gospel presentation seeking to convince the reader [hearer] that Jesus is the Son of God). You may respond to me and say – “Yes, but Mark is the 41st book of 66; Mark comes to us in a historical context and AFTER the law.” That is a reasonable objection. However, do you really think that everyone who heard Mark had a working knowledge of the first 39 books? There is good reason to believe that Mark has both kind of readers (hearers) in mind.

Back on Track

Now, we are finally back on track. I hope the detour did not weary you. We were talking about the conversation I had with my friend. He was uneasy about my evangelistic approach. The question where we left off at was this: Why stay on the topic of Jesus’ teaching on righteousness, sin and judgment?

Well, this often depends on who is setting the course of the conversation. Sometimes, I am interacting with their good questions and objections (which alters the course of conversation). But, sometimes I tend to set the course. In this case, I set the course and we had already talked about God the Judge and whether or not he thought God would accept him. He thought God would, but he was not overly confident, just hopeful. I thought it would be good to talk about the standards of righteousness found in Matthew 5 (perfection). He admitted that he was not perfect, and said he was hoping that God would accept him. I stayed on the topic of God’s righteous standards. I thought it wise to explain more about these perfect standards so that he could see that he has no chance (of being accepted). You see, here is one major problem: he was not convinced that he was guilty to the extent that God would actually reject him. The bus soon came and I handed him a NT with a Gospel tract. I encouraged him to read it.

So, why did I stay on the topic of God’s righteous standards? I wanted this man to see that he is not only a sinner, meaning imperfect, but a SINNER, meaning a person who deserves God’s rejection (hell). This is a BIG difference. I have already stated that going to God’s love at this point would not be wrong. However, I think in this instance (if I was reading the man correctly), it would not be best. I think talk of God’s love would be made more sensible after fleshing out God’s righteous standards, sin, justice and judgment a little more. But, my friend thought different. I am thankful he told me.

So, he was concerned with my approach. I became concerned with his concern. For, the truth is – it is good and fitting to share the Gospel in a manner in which we talk about law, sin, Jesus’ teaching on righteousness and judgment before John 3.16 (especially when we plan to give Gospel tracts at the end of the conversation anyhow). Again, not that this is the only way, but it is a good way. Granted, these talks are not easy and can be uncomfortable, but what kind of surgery is comfortable?

Some Thoughts on Comfortable Evangelism

In evangelism we sometimes have to open up the heart. May the Lord help us. May he make us bold. If you are striving for comfortable methods of evangelism, I am concerned that you actually may be more concerned about your own comfort than you really are the condemned people you seek to reach (maybe not, but maybe . . . it would be good for us to examine our hearts on our selectiveness in our evangelistic endeavors). This is a whole other topic, but for now, let me make one qualification – this does not mean we should seek uncomfortable situations thinking that makes us more spiritual. It is good to evangelize wherever we are, whenever we can (and this will mean in comfortable and uncomfortable situations). Who is your Lord? I think when it comes to evangelism we sometimes try to be God. We will determine when we speak. We will determine who we speak to. May the Lord help us to really see the sinfulness in this type of lordship; and may such abhorrence quicken us to the Cross and repentance. I simply do not see the Biblical principle in the NT to seek for comfortable ways to evangelize – in fact, the NT evangelists seemed to go through much discomfort in their Gospel work.  Whatever the case, the post is already taking too many twists and turns – straightforward I go!

Back on Track – Do You Deserve to Go to Hell?

So, as my friend and I discussed this issue (of approaches), he used it as a chance to do more evangelism (which was great!). He asked a young lady who was standing nearby what she thought. Suddenly, we were have a three way conversation! He briefly explained to her the conversation we were having and asked her how she plans to get to heaven. With great confidence she said, “By faith in Jesus Christ.” In fact she may have said “Only by faith in Jesus Christ.” We were all silent (really, it was kind of an odd moment). We stayed silent for a bit. She must have wondered what was going on. I asked her if she goes to a church in the area and she does. It was silent again for a second. Then I asked her, “Do you believe you deserve to go to hell?” She said “No.” Again, we were all silent. Then I said, “Then what have you been saved from?” She thought for a bit and then replied, “I don’t know.” Again, we were silent (really silent). We all stood there contemplating. I did not know what to say. I don’t think the other two did either. Soon the bus came and she left.

My friend said to me, “I see your point.” Though he is still uncomfortable with the approach I used in the first conversation, he saw this point: people can “believe” in Jesus, but not really think they are all that bad. This is what we call “false faith.” For when we speak of faith, we are speaking of where one’s confidence is placed. What are they ultimately banking on to gain God’s acceptance? Is it their works? Is it Jesus plus works? Or, is it Jesus alone? And if they say Jesus alone, are they really relying on His righteousness alone? Do they know Him as “The Lord Our Righteousness”? If people do not have at least a vague idea of what they are saved from – are they really saved?

Well, what do we make of the young lady we spoke to? Can she really be a Christian? I think it is doubtful, but I must be careful here. Let me explain. It is possible for Christians to doubt the goodness of God. It is possible for Christians to doubt the justice of God. Now, I am about to say something wherein some may disagree so brace yourself: I think it is also possible for Christians, in seasons of darkness, to struggle to believe that God is just to punish them eternally. Such a struggle of faith signals serious spiritual sickness (weakness of faith) and hopefully it is only for a time, but it does not necessarily follow that “so and so” is not a Christian. Hopefully, this fight of faith is eventually won and the believer comes out of such darkness – believing God is good, and that His Word is true concerning His infinite Holiness, the exceedingly sinfulness of our sin and the justice of God in eternal condemnation.

With all that being said, why do I say that it is doubtful that the young lady was a Christan. Well, she did not believe that she deserved hell. She was certain of that. She did not appear to be wrestling with the goodness and justice of God on this issue. Furthermore, she honestly did not know what Jesus saved her from. So why does she believe? Herein is the question that would help discern whether or not she knows the real Jesus. Though this can be an insightful question, I am not sure if she could give the answer, for the purposes of man’s heart are deep waters (Prov. 20.5). I am not saying she can’t, I’m just saying that she may not really know (in light of our heart’s deceitfulness).

If she doesn’t really think she is all that bad, then it is highly unlikely that she is truly banking all of her trust in the righteousness of Christ on her behalf. Even if she thinks she is, she likely isn’t. Some people simply think they are sinners, in the sense that they are imperfect. This is distinctly different than being convinced they are SINNERS, meaning they deserve to be rejected by God (hell). This distinction is more important than the church has often realized. I argue that it is the difference of heaven and hell. Until people see that they are sinful to the extent that God will utterly reject them, what is it they want saved from? Now I know that the awareness of our sin is something we grow in as Christians, but even at the point of conversion (though this process looks quite different for different people) is there not an initial understanding of being saved from hell? This question is not rhetorical . . . if you have read this blog this far (thank you for your endurance), please let me know what you think. I would like to think that I am teachable here.

I think the heart is so deceitful (Jer 17.9) that even under the best preaching there exists professing believers who really do not believe that they deserve to go to hell. In fact, they may have never really believed they deserve to go to hell because they really don’t think (and never have thought) they are really that bad. Sure, they have been awakened to the fact that they are sinful (as in – not perfect). God has opened their eyes to see that Jesus is the Savior . . . even that there is only one way to get forgiveness of sins. They have been told that Jesus is the One who forgives and that they are to go to him freely – thus, they do (sort of). However, they see themselves as sinners, not SINNERS. They know they have failed on the moral test and that Jesus can give them the points they missed (in other words, He can make up for their bad – He died  for those sins). They failed bad and got 30 (or 40, 50, 60, etc.) out of 100. They know they need Jesus. They need Jesus to make up for the other 70 (or 60, 50, 40 etc.). BUT, deep down in their heart of hearts, they do not believe they are so sinful that God would be just to punish them eternally.

These people are in our churches. They are nice. They may be theologically sound. They help you when you need help. As there are good Muslims, kind Hindu’s, moral atheists, there are good and friendly “Christian” people. They read their Bibles daily, pray often and are faithful at church. They really are nice. They may even be generous financially. You would be as shocked as they would be to find that their faith is actually not fully rooted in Christ alone. In their heart of hearts they never were fully convinced that they were wicked (that is, really bad). They are convinced that they are sinners and that they need God’s forgiveness and mercy, but to think they have NOTHING good to bring to God . . . they may not voice this, but they do not believe that.

I have met some of these people (I think . . . and by the way, I sincerely hope I am wrong in my judgment). I will keep the church anonymous and the individuals too. Not too long ago, I ministered to a few professing Christians who go to a sound church with good teaching. By God’s grace he gave me the boldness to ask them some heart penetrating questions. Nothing in their moral lives told me I should be suspect. I had been asking many professing Christians questions about their conversion, faith and confidence of assurance. The heart is deceitful above all things – who are we kidding to assume all the professing Christians in our churches are really Christians? After much dialogue the one stated firmly that she would not consider herself to be a wretch. She thought that that term should be used for the bad people, “like murderers.” I will not tell the whole story, but it was a very telling comment. If you heard the whole story, you would learn that she was saying, “I am not perfect, but I am not a bad person.” I am not sure what she thinks of when she sings amazing grace, but my heart melts to think that she does not consider herself a SINNER. The other also did not believe she was a bad person – just imperfect. Not a SINNER, just a sinner.

Another Jesus

Imperfect Christians put their faith in Christ – but is this the real Jesus? They know that they must turn to Him. However, they do not put their faith fully in Christ. Whether they know it or not, they do not really believe that they need to. They really do believe that something they did helps make them fit for heaven (at least in a ver y small measure . . . though they know that salvation is not by works). Thus, I am convinced they have put their faith in another Jesus. They sit on pews in Baptist, Pentecostal, United, Presbyterian, Anglican, Mennonite, and Brethren churches (to name a few . . . some of these “Christians” actually don’t attend church). May the Lord help us to spread the Gospel even to these. And may we evangelize them as fellows sinners, pleading with them to realize their sinfulness and to put fullness of faith in Jesus Christ.

A great example of this problem is demonstrated in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee knew he was imperfect. He knew he needed God’s grace (at least in a small measure) – that is likely one reason why he prays.  He acknowledges God; in fact, he thanks God. He is a very religious man who fasts, gives and evidently prays. To think that he does not realize some sort of minimal need for God would be a butchering of the text.  However, deep in his heart, he is quite happy about the good he has done. He is self-righteous. I would doubt that he consider himself to be self-righteous. No, he considers himself to be righteous (there is a difference). He is happy that he is better than the tax collector. This is like the Protestant (or Catholic) Christian today who looks to Jesus and prays thanking God for how good he is doing in his Bible readings and in abstaining from various sorts of evil (etc. etc.), however, deep down he is quite glad that he is not like others (the filthy sinners). However, the tax collector has absolutely nothing to offer God. He has come to grips with his sin. He has nothing to appeal to in order to gain God’s ear (just faith in His abundant mercy). He knows that he deserves rejection. He cannot look to heaven – He cries, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (see Luke 18.9-14). According to the way I have used the terms sinner and SINNER in this post, the tax collector considered himself to be a SINNER.

Wow, this was a long post. If you got this far, thank you for your endurance (very impressive!). It is my prayer that the Lord will use this reading (at least in some measure) for your good. And if you comment – may that be for my good. Also, a little note on how things went with my friend. We discussed our differences , sought to better understand each other, prayed and hugged. Brotherly love – I love it!

A Personal Note

I deserve the fierce wrath of God forever. I certainly deserve to go to hell. My ongoing love affairs with the world, my spiritual pride, my lack of love for God and others, my impure heart and mind, my love of self, and a host of idols not to mention a long list of other intensely offensive sins all sentence me to everlasting punishment. However, Jesus became sin for me that, in Him, I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5. 21). May I devote my life to the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2.20). I will never see the wrath I deserve! I am also thankful that I came to Jesus because the Father chose me (John 6.44). He gave me eyes that see Him (and consequently my sin as well). Only by His grace do I see that I deserve to go to hell. We must remember this as we prayerfully spread the Gospel to others.

I write this post as a SINNER saved by GRACE – GRACE that is GREATER than all my SIN. Amen.

Bus Stop Evangelism: Reflections from John C.

John C. is a friend of mine from Grace Fellowship Church and a recent graduate from Humber College. I have been delighted to have him co-labour with me in the Gospel this summer. He put his graphic design skills to good use by designing the really cool flier which we distributed for our summer kids program (by the way, some totally un-churched people have been attending our church as a result of God’s blessing on that door-to-door work! Praise the Lord!). I am very thankful for his friendship and his servant heart. His reflections show his refreshing transparency and they serve to both encourage and challenge us to spread the Word. Please read his reflections – for your good.

Reflections from John C.  

On Tuesday August 4th I had the opportunity to go out with Paul to do some bus stop evangelism. This was definitely a new experience for me. In the short few hours that we were out God showed me a lot. In my limited experience I have seen that evangelism is not only a great opportunity to share the gospel with others, but that it simultaneously reveals a lot about our own hearts and the securities we try to rely on. Caring about what the world thinks is surely a stumbling block for effective evangelism. By God’s grace he revealed how much I fear the opinion of man. However, keeping in perspective the grave future of those who do not hear and accept the call of Christ really helped me to understand my purpose as a messenger of Christ. During the two hours we were out, many people either refused to talk to us or they rejected what we said. Their rejection was caused by their refusal to part with their own works righteousness. Thankfully, by God’s grace, there was one young man in particular that seemed very interested in talking about Christ. Like many kids his age (early teens) he had lots of questions. For example, he was unsure of how one could know the Bible was true, and whether or not Jesus was real. It was such an encouragement when he let the bus pass so he could continue to talk with us. Through the conversation it became clear that this message of the Gospel was much different from what his Catholic mother had taught him. There is so much confusion surrounding Christianity, especially considering the fact that much of the world perceives Roman Catholicism to be Christianity.

This brief encounter was a great example of how Satan twists truth in order to turn entire nations away from God through false religion. This sad reality emphasises the need for us, as believers, to go out and tell all people about Christ – and in doing so, reveal the lies that so many people put their hope in. Praise God for his grace in our lives, and for the work of evangelism in the city of Toronto!