Yesterday I took a stroll down to where one of our local religious groups was gathering. This particular group has, thus far, rejected what we have been teaching. They are clinging to a blend of traditional heathen beliefs and practices combined with a strict allegiance to the ten commandments. Since we are not telling people to stop eating pig and to stop working on Saturdays, they have declared us false prophets of the last days (though not to our faces.) And they have told people who are coming to hear our teaching that they will go to hell for it. I’ve been eagerly looking for an opportunity to talk with this group over the last few months so I went down to try and start a dialogue. It turned into a four hour conversation.
The group I was talking to started with about a dozen, but was three or four times that by the end. Over the course of the conversation I was able to share the truth of the gospel and contrast God’s love and grace against their claims. Despite the contrary nature of the conversation, everyone remained cordial. I kept saying, “I’m really sorry, but that is not what the Bible says,” or “I’m afraid for you because I don’t want you to go to hell.” Much of what I was saying was new to them. Here are a few examples:
While illustrating what God has accomplished for us, I compared the consequence of our sin (death) to a monetary debt. I said that, if someone else pays our financial debt, it is finished. In the same way, Jesus has taken the consequence for our sin and so no condemnation remains. To this, Lipson said that since Jesus paid our debt, we have to pay him back for it. This opened the door for a great discussion about God’s grace. I read Ephesians 2:8 and John 3:16 to the group and explained that God does not require any compensation for His grace.
As some of the vocal individuals defended their view of the law, one pointed to Matthew 5:17 arguing that Jesus Himself claimed that He came to reaffirm and strengthen the Law of Moses. I explained that Matthew 5:17 is absolutely true, but they are misunderstanding it–Jesus came to fulfill the law. He did so by living by the law and fulfilling the requirements of the law–which we cannot do. I read Romans 8:4 to show this fact: Jesus accomplished obedience to the law on our behalf since we are unable to, thus fulfilling the requirement of the law for us. And then I read Romans 10:4 explaining that Jesus fulfilled and therefore completed what the law requires for those who believe so that we are no longer under the law (Romans 6:14).
As the discussion continued, I think they felt shell-shocked. As I already wrote, I think most of what I was saying was new to them. All of their “proof texts” came from the Old Testament and the gospels–nothing after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I was reading to them from the epistles, I think they were stunned by what the Bible says and grasping for something to hold on to.
In the group, there were only about six or seven men who were actually speaking. Some of them seemed hard as stone and some seemed like their confidence was wavering as I read passage after passage. For all the rest, I have no idea what they were thinking. My hope and prayer throughout the conversation was that God’s word would pierce through their confusion and unbelief.
To conclude I read Galatians 2:15-21 and told them that I think they are doing exactly what Paul warns against–they are nullifying Christ’s sacrifice and seeking a righteousness of their own. I begged them to read through this on their own and consider it for themselves. Amazingly after all this, one of the leaders said, “we need to set a time for you to come down and teach us.” At that point, it was my turn to be dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that was his reaction. But truthfully, I don’t know how sincere the invitation was. It could have been only a face-saving measure. We’ll have to see what happens.
We are very thankful that God provided this opportunity and that it went so well. I’m thankful for His grace and guidance to me to be able to bear the onslaught and stand firmly on His word. And now we are praying and asking you to pray with us. Pray that God’s word will do its work in their hearts and minds. Pray that God will shake their confidence and give them a desire to know His truth. Pray for more opportunities with this group and pray for wisdom for us as we pursue them.