I was down at the Rexdale Mall with Medo on Saturday. There was young man slowly shuffling in my direction as he looked out the advertisements outside of the mall. I offered him a free penny with the 10 commandments on it. With a smile, I asked him “Can you name any of the 10 commandments? This is the trivia question of the day.” He was intrigued by the coin and responded, telling me that he knew some of them (which he named), but that he could not name all ten. I asked him, “Do you have a Christian background?” He said, “Jewish.” I was very interested and asked if he was Orthodox or Conservative (I forgot to mention “Reformed” as another option). He said that he would identify more so with the Conservative Jews. I remember from my world religions class (years ago) that “conservative” does not mean conservative in the same way that Christians use the term. From my limited study of Judaism, I learned that some Jews (either Conservative or Reformed – I forget which one) do not even believe in a Creator God. Accordingly, I asked him, “Do you believe in the Creator God?” He said, “Yes.” I told him that I love the Scriptures, and shared how I had read from the book of Judges that morning.
I asked him if he had ever broken the law: “Have you ever lied, dishonoured your parents or stole anything?” He responded, “I have lied and dishonoured my parents, but I don’t think I have ever stolen anything.”
After we had been talking for a little while, I told him, “I hope this does not happen to you, but, if you were to die today, do you believe that God would accept you or reject you.” He responded by telling me that that is a question that he does not like to think about too much. He basically told me that God is perfect and he will judge correctly, so there is nothing we can do to change this. I agreed with him that God is perfect and that he will judge correctly, but I asked him how he thought God would judge him personally. He was not sure at first, but then stated that he does not deserve eternal punishment.
I responded by appealing to the holiness and justice of God. I only referred to passages from the OT (for a while), which seemed to function as authoritative to him. He continued to submit his own logic and reasoning to the OT Scriptures which I shared. I told him that God is the judge and that his law displays his holiness and his righteous standards. We considered what Word of God through Habakkuk, that God’s eyes are too pure to look on evil and that he cannot tolerate wrong (1:13). We considered how the angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in the vision found in Isaiah 6. We also remembered God’s righteous judgment at the time of Noah as well as Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, and his righteous judgments in Isaiah. He agreed with me and conceded that these passages teach the holiness, righteousness and justice of God. This discussion culminated in pondering Eden. I shared that God cast them out of his presence in the Garden of Eden because of their sin. He hated their sin and cast them out because he is holy.
I explained to him that if he lied to me about his name (which he had told me) “I could brush it off, for I know what it’s like to lie; but God is pure and holy. He is different. He has no darkness in him.” He cannot tolerate lies. A lie is extremely evil to God.
I explained to him that I too have broken God’s law, especially the first commandment – not to have any gods. I explained to him what that commandment really means (putting God first always, etc.). I shared with him how this sin (of having other gods) was the sin which God rebuked Israel for through Jeremiah. I paraphrased Jeremiah 2:12-13, which says, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this: be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I explained how they (and we too) try to find life in “other things” (career, love life, material things, etc.) rather than in God. He understood me and seemed to agree with what I was saying. So, we came back to the law.
I told him that since he has lied, as he had confessed, he is guilty before God. I assured him that good works do not undo sin and guilt. I quoted the words of Isaiah (which I later read to him from the Scriptures), “all our righteous deeds are like filthy garments” (Isaiah 64:6).
He asked me, “If God is holy and judges all sin and if there is no way to undo sin, what can be done [to get rid of sin/fix the problem]”? I took him to Isaiah 52:12-53 and let him look at the Scriptures as I read selected portions of that passage in the open air (I love doing that!). As I pondered the power of Isaiah 53:5, I read it to him aloud from the page of my Bible: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” I told him, “This is referring to Jesus. He was the one who was despised and rejected by men (52:3); He was the one who suffered for our transgressions (53:5).”
He responded by telling me that he has a Christian friend who told him about Christianity. I asked him what kind of Christian. He told me that he was saying similar things to what I was teaching. He then went on to ask how it can be that people who are stained by sin can be made perfect because of what someone else does. I told him, “That is a great question.” I said, “Because this is God’s way. God is the owner of everything. This is the way God chose to redeem people.”
He asked me, “But how is it that people can be redeemed? Are they made perfect?” I said, “That is a great question. You are asking great questions; this is very refreshing. I do this often . . . talking with people about God and Jesus, and I do not normally encounter these great questions. I appreciate your logic and your reasoning – you reason well.” I told him that there is a very important distinction that he needs to understand in order to know the answer to his question. I told him that there are two facets to consider when thinking about whether or not a Christian is perfect. First, there is the Christian’s judicial standing before God (justification), and secondly, there is his Christian experience of living life as a believer (sanctification). I explained to him that God declares a sinner to be perfectly righteous if he has completely rooted and grounded all of his confidence in the perfectly righteous life of Christ on his behalf. If my memory is correct, I think I also spoke of Christ’s substitutionary suffering on our behalf, and our need to need to have faith in the sufficiency of his work to pay for our sins. This person’s judicial standing is righteous, not guilty.
He asked, “Is that person perfect?” I said, “That is a good question. The answer is yes in the sense that God really considers him righteous in the courtroom sense – this is the Good News – you can be counted righteous for the work someone else has done!” I said, “However, there is the other side – the life that the believer lives now.” I explained that I am not perfect and that perfection is impossible in light of how sinful we really are. I said, “Christians cannot be perfect now, for the Bible says that anyone is claims to be without sin makes God a liar” (1 John 1:10). (In retrospect, I wish I would have also talked to him about the beginning point of sanctification, which is regeneration and the end point, glorification [resurrection body, etc.], which really is perfection!)
I explained how the Christian will grow in holiness and gain a certain degree of victory of certain sins by the help of Jesus. He was very interested in the concept of battling sin. He asked, “Is it sin for me to have the inclination to sin if I do not give in but restrain myself? Is that still sin?” I said, “I do not know.”(In retrospect, I would say that that is still sin, but at the time, I was unsure how to answer him, for it seemed a little awkward to tell him that his decision to obey his conscience was still sinful). I told him, “I am not sure if I can answer your question in a way that will fully satisfy you, but I can tell you what the Bible says about this, which will help you better understand the biblical position.” He wanted to learn more. I quoted Psalm 51:5 (“I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”). I explained to him that we are all born with sinful inclinations and impulses. I told him about the teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 5, briefly stating that Adam is the representative of all of mankind. Thus, we he sinned we all sinned. I said, “Adam and Eve were the only people with a fee will who experienced life without inclinations to sin.” Our will has a measure of freedom (in other words – we are not robots), but ultimately we are in bondage in our sin (bondage of the will to sin).
He wanted to know how sin can be obliterated (that is, in one’s life). I quoted from Romans 8:13 (“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live”) and explained that God commands Christians to, by his strength (Spirit), put sin to death. I testified to him that though I still sin in many ways, God has really helped me to overcome certain sins in a big way (and I thank God for his grace in these areas!).
By that time, we had talked for a long time and he had to go. I gave him a New Testament with my contact info and the church info as well as a presentation of the Gospel (from this blog), which is an insert in the NT Bibles which I hand out to those I speak with. I was greatly encouraged by his great questions, his attentiveness, and his apparent sincerity. May the Lord help him to see that, like me, he is not good and that Christ is his only hope.