Let me tell you about a Gospel conversation I had recently that left an impression on my heart.
Tim was a very polite guy.
He was cordial and respectful. He listened carefully and was obviously raised well by his parents. He was well dressed and was very articulate. Tim was also very religious.
I start off every conversation with the same question I ask everyone, “If it applies, what are two reasons you stopped going to church?” Tim answered that he goes to Catholic mass every week.
So I asked him my second question, “Coming from a Catholic perspective, what would you say the Gospel is?” He said it was the Bible. When I asked him what the “good news” of the Gospel was, he said that it was the possibility to live a better life and to go to Heaven.
So I asked him a third question, and I let him know that I ask this question in order to really get to the heart of what someone believes about how they are going to Heaven. I asked him, “If you were to die tonight, and were to stand before God, and He were to ask you why should I let you into Heaven? What would you say?” He thought about it for a few seconds and said, “I don’t think I’d say anything. I would expect the Lord to know whether I deserve Heaven or not.”
So that began a 40 minute conversation. Back and forth we talked about the differences between what we were saying. I asked if I could share the Gospel with him, he agreed and listened as carefully as he could.
Overall I was incredibly thankful for the conversation, I thought it well really well. We smiled at each other and listened to each other respectfully. But what was obvious to both of us is that we clearly believed in two different salvations. He stated that he needed to take the mass every Sunday in order to, not only stay within the possibility of being saved, but to achieve salvation. He clearly understood the fact that his religion was performance-based and that mine was an instantaneous salvation.
At the end of our conversation, I gave him a tract and encouraged him to read some verses from Scripture. I also said what I always say, that death is around the corner for all of us, and that we must trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. Then, we shook hands and he walked off.
And then something happened.
As he began walking away, holding the tract in his hand, all of a sudden, he clenched his fist and destroyed the tract. I was shocked. Our conversation was among the most respectful I may have ever had. I knew he was frustrated with the idea that our salvation doesn’t depend on us at all, and I could tell that he was super uncomfortable with it throughout our conversation, but I never expected that level of anger from him.
As I thought through our conversation over the last few months, I am reminded of so many truths from Scripture.
I was reminded to be gentle and kind in the way I talk
This has been impressed on me very much over the past few years. I tell people that they deserve to go to Hell for eternity. I tell them that they are desperately sinful and cannot save themselves. I tell people they could die tonight and face God in judgment, and that they stand no chance should it occur. It would be foolish, and downright evil, to say those things with anger in my heart, or even with a smile on my face. Passion and persuasion are necessary, but that can so easily turn into irritation and impatience. Something about our conversation reminded me of the importance of listening well and practicing patience and gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25) when I preach the Gospel to the lost.
I was reminded that the Gospel offends
As sinful and imperfect as I am, I do believe that the Lord was able to help me be gentle with Tim. And yet he walked away with anger. I am certain that he was angry at what I was saying rather than the way I said it. We have to be so careful about how we say things, but we have to be equally careful about what we say. It is pointless to share good news without the bad. And it is pointless to talk about salvation without saying what we need saving from. No matter how you say it, if you preach the real Gospel, more often than not you will offend even the most respectful and cordial of people (1 Cor. 1:18). There’s no reason to avoid it, so embrace it because that’s the only way to truly love.
I was reminded about the power of false religion
People love their false religions. It is a list of dos and don’ts that is manageable. Sometimes I wish that there were fewer gray areas in the Christian life. Because it’s so easy to swing too far on the pendulum in so many areas. We must remember that God is not concerned with check lists; He is concerned with the heart. And in our flesh we hate that. We want lists, procedures, and clear, delineated lines that will help us think that we are doing okay. Human beings love false religion because it gives them a sense of pride and power that, ultimately, steals the glory from the Creator and places it on the creation. The minute you tell someone that they are infinitely more sinful that they could ever imagine, and that they are as desperate as the tax collector (Luke 18:13), they close their ears and close their hearts to the truth they know so well deep inside.
I imagined the scene of Stephen’s martyrdom
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him…But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. Acts 7:54, 57
I had a hard time picturing this scene. How could a crowd turn so violent so quickly? How could they justify such violence? And it was something about that clenched fist that made me realize how badly we hate the Gospel in our flesh. Thankfully, Tim was mad at what I said and not the way I said it, but sadly, had the circumstances been right and the culture been different, I think Tim would have gladly hit me with a stone.
Conversations like these validate the Gospel. I left saddened for Tim, but encouraged to continue to boldly declare the Gospel, gently and lovingly, but without compromise. So many people around us, like Tim, hate the Gospel and want it silenced, but are in a desperate situation without it. I pray that we are all encouraged to boldly declare the Good News to anyone who will listen.