Tag Archives: Hell

Talking to a JW at Coffee Time (1 of 3): The Resurrection and Eternal Punishment

A few weeks ago, when I was reading my Bible at Coffee Time, a man came up to me expressing his joy to see me reading the Scriptures. I instantly asked him, “What church are you from?” He told me that he was a former Catholic who converted to become a Jehovah’s Witness. He gave me a tract and used my open Bible to point me to some passages in the Psalms. I invited him to sit down and he proceeded to share more.

He told me about the wicked and the righteous and asked, “But who are the righteous?” I quickly interjected, “That is a very good question. One of the clearest descriptions of what it means to be righteous is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.” I showed him Matthew 5:48, in which Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How to become righteous became our topic of conversation. He kept wanting to talk about the end times and the evil of this world, but, by the grace if God, I kept bringing us back to this topic: “how can a sinner become righteous?” We must be careful not to jump from trail to trail without ever making progress on any one of them. Sometimes this calls for a boldness to say something like, “Actually, I don’t mind talking about Y, but before we move on, can we spend some more time talking about X? I think we left that issue unresolved.”  

I opened up Ephesians 2:8-9 and we studied these verses. We spent quite a bit of time on how to be made acceptable to God. He insisted that we are not only saved by our faith in the work of Christ, but that our works contribute to gaining a right standing with God. I argued from the Scriptures that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. Though agreeing with me at first, he soon learned that he does NOT really believe that.

Before he left, I took him to the place Jesus claims to be Jehovah when he says, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He did not agree that this was a claim to Diety, but our time had run out. We exchanged numbers to meet again. Accordingly. we met this morning for about two and a half hours. Much was said so I will limit this post to a summary of the first main topic we discussed: the resurrection and eternal punishment. I plan to do part two and three of this talk in two separate posts (on Watch Tower literature and the Divinity of Jesus).

The Resurrection and Punishment: Would a Loving God Punish People Forever?

Upon arriving he started talking about God’s plan to be with man. I agreed with him (furthermore, I endorse his approach as a great starting point for sharing the Gospel). He explained much of Genesis 3 with precision. He taught accurately about death, that is, until I heard him say, “death is like sleep.” Before our meeting, I had just read a Watch Tower tract that said “the dead are not conscious” so I was curious to know his stance on the resurrection of the dead and the eternal condition of those who are NOT righteous.

He took me to Ecclesiastes 9:5, which says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no knowledge, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” The dead have no knowledge – point taken. The OT description of Sheol is the place of the dead.

Be that as it may, the Scriptures also teach that there is a point at which dead are raised. I took him to John 5:28-29, where Jesus teaches that, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” I argued that all people will be resurrected – some to life, others to judgment. He eventually agreed, but what does the “resurrection of judgment” mean?

We went to Daniel 12:2. It is written, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” I argued that at the resurrection the dead awake, and are not put to death, but to everlasting shame (they do not arise from sleep to go back to sleep). Whatever else can be said, it is an eternal condition of conscious shame. He would not agree, but argued that dying is “punishment enough.” He then stepped away from the text and asked me pointedly, “When disciplining your child, would you take you child’s hand and put it on the burner of an oven to be burned?” I responded, “No.” He replied, “Would a loving God make someone burn forever? I said, “A Holy God would punish people eternally for sin. For they are sinning against God and He is Holy. In fact, He is infinitely Holy, so the punishment of those who sin against Him will be infinite.” I qualified this and talked about fire as a metaphor for real punishment. I also talked about the infinite nature of God’s holiness and our need to perceive God not only as a parent, but as a Judge.

He continued to tell me that it is impossible for a loving God to punish people forever. I told him, “I don’t want to believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment . . . it is a sad doctrine. It does not tickle me. I do not find pleasure in it. It is hard; but it is true, therefore I must believe it. Jesus taught it. I must subject myself to the Scriptures.”

I took him to Matthew 25:41-46. Verse 46 says, “And [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The New World Translation says, “eternal cutting off.” This is a terrible translation that should be cut off itself (and replaced with “punishment”). Whatever the case, unless you play hermeneutical gymnastics you cannot escape the doctrine of eternal punishment in this passage. Even if you did call it “cutting off,” it keeps happening and it is an unpleasant experience to say the least. The punishment is as eternal as the life. The life is as eternal as the punishment. Both are unending. If the punishment is not conscious, why would the life be? interpreters need to be consistent here.

I asked him about the devil and his angels that enter into the eternal fire in Matthew 25:41. He responded, “That means they are consumed by the fire – destroyed. They are no more.” He continued to argue that fire completely destroys things. I responded by reminding him that this is not always the case. I referred him to the burning bush (Ex. 4) which, though it kept burning, was not consumed. My example did not satisfy him. I tried telling him that literal fire is not necessarily Jesus’ main point – his main point is that hell is a bad unending condition (to say the least).

He would not agree. I showed him Revelation 14:10-11 which teaches that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image.” He wanted to talk about the beast, but I would not let the conversation go that way for long. I asked him, “how can they have NO REST if they are destroyed?” He was silent. I said, “they have no rest day or night because they are awake and being tormented continually.” Again, he could not believe this because of his twisted concept concerning how it is that “God is love.”

Ironically, he took me to Revelation 20:10 which actually says that the devil, the beast and the false prophet will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” When he read it, he stopped in his tracks and said, “Oh, yes, you will see this one the same way.” I said, “Tim (fake name), it says ‘forever and ever,’ how else can you interpret that? It is clear. I don’t know what else to say to you? I just don’t know what to say?” He said, “I don’t know what to say either.”

We simply could not agree on this doctrine. I realized that his view of God and Scripture is totally dominated by the systemic theology and teachings of the Watch Tower society rather than a natural reading of Scriptures. (The Watch Tower organization became our next topic of conversation.) Even when confronted with the truth that the punishment of the devil, the beast and the false prophet “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10), he refused to believe that “forever and ever” really meant forever and ever.

One explanation for his unbelief is the very passage he read aloud to me in our conversation: “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Oh that he would see the light and live! 

May the Lord remove his blindfold. And may the Lord forever remind us that salvation is all of grace.

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A Great Friday Morning with Luis: The Gospel Goes Forth

I was a blessed man this morning. I was delighted to have fellowship in the Gospel of Christ with my dear brother Luis.  Originally from Columbia, he is a member of Church Iglesia Bautista Castellana (Keele and Dundas). He is currently working four days a week and has Fridays off (so we could go out!). A relatively new Christian, he wanted me to go out with him to help him learn about street evangelism (not that I have all the answers . . . but, he is humble enough to learn from even me). His church has recently started an English ministry (basically a young English congregation within a Spanish church) and really wants this ministry (church) to faithfully spread the Gospel in the church neighbourhood. He passionately wants the Lord to save all kinds of peoples and to bring them into his fold to live for His glory. He wants to lead by example and set the tone, not only for a Gospel loving and Gospel believing church, but ALSO, for a Gospel spreading church (meaning orally speaking the Gospel to people). As the Word increased in Acts, may it increase in the Keele-Dundas region!

Rejection

We had great fellowship over the Word (2 Cor 2.12-6.13) and in prayer. Eventually, we hit the streets. We went to the corner and tried talking to a young man. But, he did not want to talk with us. He told us that he was a thief and that as God forgave that man on the cross, so he was forgiven. He told us that as long as you are sincerely sorry for the bad you have done, and ask God for forgiveness, you are forgiven. I wanted to reason with him and tell him what the Bible says about these things, but he wanted none of it.

Handing out a French Tract

We moved on and hit the bus stops at Keele and Dundas. We met a man who was French and did not speak English – I think he was a tourist in Toronto. Thank you to Nick Hill – I had a 2 Ways to Live tract in French. I was able to give him one. He was very thankful for it.

I Guess this is Why We are Not to Talk about Religion and Politics

We walked down Dundas and met a lady having a smoke outside of her workplace. We approached her giving her a penny with the 10 commandments. She gave it back, but we had a good little talk. She said she was Anglican but had not been to church in years.

I asked her about death, “What do you believe will happen to you?” She said, “I’ll go into the ground and that’s it.” I told her that God has spoken on what happens at death. I told her how Jesus came and taught very clearly on heaven and hell.

Referring to Matthew 25 I told her, “The righteous will go into eternal life but the unrighteous into everlasting punishment.” She responded, “We”ll very few people are righteous; basically your telling me that 95 % of the people are going downstairs?” I said, “Actually, no one is righteous.” She replied, “No, there are some good people, not many, but there are some.” I said, “Well, here, let me read to you a few verses from the Bible about this.” With a smile, she said, “Oh my goodness, I haven’t read the Bible in years.” I said, “Well, this will be good for you – it is just a couple of sentences – I will read from Romans 3:10.”

I read Romans 3:10-12. She was listening with curious attentiveness.  In response to the Word of God in 3.12a, she said, “people aren’t worthless.” I said, “Well, you are right, but you are must understand what the Scriptures say about man elsewhere. In other portions of the Bible we learn that man is precious, for he is created in the image of God.” She said, “So there are contradictions.” I said, “No, there are what are called apparent contradictions.” In the spirit of ‘that’s enough for me,’ she replied, “Oh, the differences and disagreements – I guess this is why we are not to talk about religion and politics. I better go back into work.”

I said, “I have one thing for you to consider before you go, please just think about this one thing: People could gossip about you and say different things, but if I want to know the truth, I will come to you. I can find out the truth. You can find out the truth about the way of life and how to be made acceptable to God for Judgment Day. Jesus came and spoke about these things. Do you have a Bible?” She said, “yes.” I continued, “I encourage you to read a Gospel, John is a good one to read. You can find out what Jesus said about these things. You do not know me. You just met me – what if I was lying to you. You need to read Jesus and find out for yourself. But thank you for taking the time to let us speak with you. Thank you.” “Your welcome” she replied. That was it. May the Lord work in her heart – may He cause her to care about her soul and may He breathe life into her.

An Elderly Muslim Man

Later on we met another man out on the street. He was sitting on the ledge of a huge flower pot. He was an elderly Muslim who was friendly to Christians. He had strong and impassioned opinions about many things, some that I fully agree with . . . others that I do not (for they were contrary to Scripture). We talked for a very very long time – it was a great chat (more listening on my side, but that is great . . . listening is very important). We were able to share some Scripture with him (Mark 14.60-64, for he does not think Jesus is the Son of God or equal with God; and Ephesians 2.8-9, for he thought salvation is by works). Furthermore, we were able to clearly explain the Gospel to him – our sin and guilt, the substitutionary life and death on our behalf and his resurrection! He told us to come back and see him again (right there – where he works). May the Lord cause His Word to stay in his heart and work in conjunction with the Spirit to make him born again.

A message for those who read this post:

What a great Friday morning! If you read this post, first I say, “thank you.” Now I say this: “Believe the Gospel afresh today and in due time Preach it!” May the Lord help you. If you are a Christian, remember this: you do not justify yourself in your evangelism (nor are you less acceptable due to faithlessness in evangelism). The Father accepts you. Your standing with God has been sealed by the work of Christ, and by God’s grace, your corresponding faith in Christ. Thus, in light of that FREE GOSPEL what great reason to spread it!!!!! What a Gospel! Behold your God! What Glory! What a Gospel! What good reason do we have to be silent? Lord help us.

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 Dialogue about Judgment Day

I approached a lady at the bus stop this morning, giving her a coin with the 10 commandments and telling her that I am from the church down the road. I explained to her that I am “out spreading the Gospel.” She didn’t look  to be overly thrilled about the idea of talking with me about God. Whatever the case, throughout our conversation she kept interacting with me in a manner that proved that she was really listening and thinking about what I was sharing. Furthermore, she shared what she thought.

I asked her if she had ever broke the 10 commandments. With a smile she said, “We all have.” I said, “Well, yes, that’s true. I have broken all ten commandments, but the fact that I have broken them should not somehow make you feel any better.” I asked if she thought that God would accept her if she was to die today. She was quite. She thought about it and then said, “I don’t know how to answer your question. I do not know. God will decide.” This is the second most common answer that I come across on the streets of Rexdale. The majority of people I meet are confident that God will accept them. Some are not sure, but believe that we cannot know until Judgment Day. Even less believe that God will reject them.

I told her that we can know. I went on to share the Gospel with her, starting in Genesis 1-3. While I was teaching about the holiness of God and the fact that he cannot tolerate wrong, I quoted Paul from Romans saying, “the wages of sin is death.” Interestingly she responded, “but the gift of God is eternal life.” I said, “Ah, so you know this.” I forget how the conversation turned at this point, but it became clear again that she did not believe that we can know how we stand before God until Judgment Day.

By the grace of God, I had an idea. She had the classifieds in her hands. So I said, “see here (pointing at one of the ad’s), we know that (pointing at the name at the bottom of the ad) Charles is selling something. He is selling a Ford (pointing at the title of the ad) and here are all the details (pointing at the middle section). We can know what he is selling because he has spoken about it. She seemed to get my point. I went on, “God has spoken in his Word about the Judgment. In Matthew 25 Jesus said that unrighteous go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” I said, “Do you believe that you deserve eternal punishment? She said, “I don’t know, do you?” I do not know if she was asking if I deserve eternal punishment or if I think that she deserves eternal punishment. Whatever the case, I said, “Yes, I deserve eternal punishment and so does everyone else. Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. It is real. And it is where the unrighteous go.”

Then I said, “The question is, ‘Who are the righteous and the unrighteous?'” She shared with me that even religious leaders sin. I could not agree more. I opened up my Bible to Romans 3 and read to her a part of verse 10, which says, “There is no one righteous, no no one.” And then I shared a portion of verse 12: “not one does good, not even one.” At this point the bus was coming, so I gave her the NT with a copy of the Gospel which I have as an insert in the Bible. I encouraged her to read the insert. May the Lord help her to see that she is not righteous and that like me, she must turn to Christ for the forgiveness of sins and for justification. Oh that she may be concerned about her sin and oh that she may fear the judgment – and then, may she cry out for mercy (before it is too late!). May we take seriously our call to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23b). Not that we save people – but may the Lord grant us grace to spread His Word and plead with fellow sinners to be reconciled to God – this is “snatching.”

The Privatization of Religion in Canada

John C. and I were out at the bus stops at Islington and Elmhurst yesterday. I approached an elderly man, offering him the 10 commandment coin. He refused. I explained to him that we are out on the streets spreading the Gospel, and asked if we could talk for a bit while he waited for his bus. He agreed and started to talk about war. Later, I realized that he misunderstood me, for he originally thought I was asking him to teach me. He argued that we need a pope in Israel.

I asked, “Oh, are you Catholic?” “Yes,” he replied. I inquired about whether or not he thought God would accept him or reject him if he were to die. He was not happy with my question, and responded, “why are you talking to me?” “Because Jesus commands me to preach the Gospel.”  He looked disgusted. Pulling out my little Bible, I said, “Here, I will show you where Jesus commands this.” He said, “No, don’t read that to me.” I said, “You don’t want to hear the Bible?” He insisted that I not read from the Bible on the streets. He said that such a thing is to be done in the church. The he said, “What you need to do is go to South East Asia and preach there.” I don’t doubt that South East Asia has great need for the Gospel, but so does Toronto!

I tried to persuade him that the Scriptures teach that we are to spread the Word everywhere and that even Jesus taught on the beaches and mountains. He did not want to hear it. I transitioned back to my original question: “if you were to die today, do you believe that God would accept you reject you?” He said, “If he was sleeping.” I said, “What if he is not sleeping?” With a jot of humour he replied, “Then we’ll get drunk. Eat, drink, and tomorrow we . . . (he could not remember the end of the phrase, but eventually went on) . . . work.” If my memory is correct, I think John C. said, “die,” in order to help the man (“… tomorrow we die”).

I thought, “what a great time to go to 1 Corinthians 15.” I said, “The Bible speaks of this idea. Let me show you what the Bible says about this.” I really wanted to go to 1 Corinthians 15 (for Paul approves of this mindset ONLY IF there is no resurrection from the dead . . . BUT there is a resurrection from the dead). Again, he did not want to hear from the Bible. He said, “Don’t read it. You should do that in private! It is to be done in secret. That is to be done in the church – not out here.” I said, “That is not what the Bible says. The Bible says that I am commanded to preach everywhere.”

I considered how old he is and that he may not have any contact with people who know and preach the Gospel. I was sincerely concerned for his eternal destiny. Without anger, but in gentleness and boldness, by the grace of God, I told him, “You will go to hell if you do not respond to this.” He turned from me, took a few steps away, and looked down the street awaiting the bus. He was still within about five feet of me (certainly within an ear shot).  With sincere concern for his soul, I felt compelled to speak. By the grace of God, with sternness I spoke thus: “I will speak for no more than one minute before I go, but I have something to say: salvation has come near to you today; you will be judged; before it is too late, you need to turn to God and trust in the work that Christ did and not your own works; I hope to see you again.”

You never know how the Lord will use this call. God is mighty to save. And what about the privatization of religion in Canada? This man was simply saying out loud what many Canadians hold deep in their hearts. The reason for this is simple – people love peace more than truth. The problem with this love affair is that they fail to learn where true peace is found.  How do we as Christians respond to this tenet which is so prevalent in our culture? Well, God is not silent on this issue – may his voice have an effectual force on his church in Canada: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20, emphasis mine).

Church in Canada: arise, let us hear the call of Christ our Captain!

A Meeting with a Crazy Man

On Thursday night, Daniel S. and I went out to the corner of 16th and Woodbine (in Markham) before the children’s outreach. We looked to the Lord for grace, reading from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. We asked the Lord to help us to be men of sincerity as we spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Though the Lord opened doors for us outside of the Tim Horton’s as well as at the plaza, he also ordained a very interesting dialogue with a man at the bus stop. Praise the Lord for the buses in Markham – they do not come as quickly as the buses in Rexdale! More time to converse!

I approached him and offered him a free coin with the 10 commandments on it – to which he declined. In a polite manner he told me that he did not want to talk about religion. With sincerity, I responded “why?” He said, “I do not believe in religions.” I assured him that I too do not believe that any man can work his way to heaven. 

As we talked he said, “I believe God is in me.” He shared how everything is God. I appealed to the sky and to the world of created things suggesting that surely there is a creator. I asked him how all things came into existence. He was not sure, but he did not seem to want to discuss intelligent design.

After this little discussion on the created world, I proceeded to ask him some point blank questions. “Have you ever lied?” He said, “no.” “Have you ever wanted something that someone else had? Have you ever been envious . . . ?”  He replied, “no, never; I do not care for a bigger house or what other people have.” I explained what Jesus taught about lust in Matthew 5:27-28, and then asked him, “have you ever had sexual thoughts toward a woman who is not your wife?” He was silent, but only for a moment. He said, “no,” and went on to explain how he looks at women without lusting. I asked him if he had ever sinned or done wrong and he said “no.”

He told us that he knows right from wrong because of his basic instinct. He also stated that he always obeys this instinct. When he said this, I was thinking of Romans 2:14-15, which confirms the truth that man has a conscience that bear witness to what is right and wrong. However, I did not refer to this passage, but simply asked him if he ever makes mistakes. He said, “yes.” I said, “what if you are mistaken about some of your basic instincts?” He said, “no, they are right.”

The topic of heaven and hell came up and he said, “heaven and hell are here.” I assured him, “this is not hell – this is mercy; we are not getting what we deserve.” Even so, he did not agree. He described how everything is God and that he (J—) was at least 1000 years old. Accordingly, I take it that he believes in reincarnation. I forget the exact number, but it was at least 1000 years. I was shocked, for I have never heard anyone make such a claim. He went on to tell us that he is crazy. Daniel and I smiled; we did not know what to say. What he was saying certainly sounded crazy, but he did not seem to have an mental problems; nor did he seem to convey that idea. Rather, he seemed to delight in being different and having his own way of life, thought and belief, which make him “crazy.”  One major problem with his way is his persistence in thinking that whatever he believes is true. Such a notion shows that he is trying t play God. He is trying to de-god God and create his own reality.

I would have liked more time to try to show him that one’s subjective belief does not render things true. Rather truth exists outside of us whether we believe it or not; and somethings we believe simply are not true. Whatever the case, the bus was coming so I only had time to share two verses with him; I felt it wise to leave him with the very words of God which I had read in my Bible reading that morning: 1) “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8); and 2) “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). He spoke a few more words as he left to go on the bus; he seemed thankful for our talk and gave us a friendly good-bye.

Encountering Islam

This morning Medo and I met a young Muslim man who was from Afghanistan. He was a Sunni Muslim. He was cold to us at first, but then warmed up after we conversed about Islam. He told us that he does not like it when people approach him and try to win him to their religion, but that he was ok with us. Possibly he did not understand that my desire was that he turn to Christ. Thus, I proceeded to tell him that I have no problem with the principle of proselytizing, granted no one is called to convert by force. 

A side note: Neglecting to talk about God, sin and death, heaven and hell helps solidify the eternal punishment of millions. Many do not want to talk for fear of debate and disagreement. They love peace more than truth. Unfortunately, their lack of love for truth inhibits them from knowing what true peace really is (peace with God). This makes me think of the famous phrase: “Ignorance is bliss.” Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance has not taken the time to ponder what true bliss really is.  One may say “Not talking about religion is peace.” I say, ” The principle of “not-talking-about-religion” (more precisely, Jesus Christ) for the purpose of peace, fails to find out where true peace is truly found.   

Back to our talk with the young Muslim man: After giving a mini defense for proselytization, I sought to help him think through a serious problem with Islamic doctrine, namely, how to have your sins washed away.  We talked about the law of God given to Moses. He confessed to breaking the law. We then talked about God’s justice and his righteous judgment. Naturally, we were led to talk about one massive difference between Islam and Biblical Christianity – how to recieve the forgiveness of sins.

We tried to help him see that if someone were to kill his parents, there is no place for pardon apart from punishment. He agreed. If a man killed his parents, the murderer must be punished. Then we tried to apply the illustration to Islam to help him see that confession of sin and banking on God’s mercy do not adequately satisfy the just demands of a just and holy God. He did not seem to understand my argument (I think). Possibly I was unclear (or maybe he understood me, it was hard to tell). Whatever the case, I thank God for the opportunity to tell him about the holiness and justice of God and that Christ came to suffer for our sins in order to satisfy the just demands of our just God, who must execute judgment on all sin (either on the sinner OR on own his Son, Jesus Christ).

He works in the area, so I am confident I will see him again.