Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Officer Said, "I Want To Be Saved."

The day did not get off to a great start. I had just received word that the financial condition of our mission was bleak. It was uncertain whether or not there would be enough funds to see our family through the month. I wept. My faith faltered. I questioned God—the same God who has sustained my family and the mission, meeting every conceivable need, through the last seven years of full-time ministry.

I was scheduled to meet with an officer in little more than an hour. The officer had contacted me several days earlier, wanting to talk to me about his disappointment over not scoring well on a recent promotional exam. Since that first conversation, I had been praying that the Lord would make our meeting more than a counseling session, more than a pep talk. I prayed that the Lord would use the meeting to allow me to present the Law and the gospel to this lawman, and that the Lord would sovereignly and graciously choose to bring the officer to repentance and faith.

My first thought, after receiving the news about our financial situation, was to contact the officer, cancel the meeting, and wallow in self-pity and fear. I felt that I needed to scramble and immediately begin to work on solving the problem. Bills needed to be paid. Groceries had to be purchased. And I had to find the money to ensure these things would happen. For a moment, I turned my back on God, intent on striking out on my own to do the things I didn’t believe the Lord would do. My attitude was not one of prayer, but of pessimism. I was being selfish, thinking only about myself and not about the unsaved officer who was on his way to my office.

When my heart quieted enough to allow me to stop and think about what I was doing, I cried out to God and asked for His forgiveness. I asked Him to help me set aside my fear so that I could serve Him, as I talked to the officer. I prayed again for the officer—praying that, for him, this would be the day of salvation.

The officer arrived on time and we sat down to talk. The officer said, “There are two reasons why I wanted to talk to you.” He began to speak about what he thought was the injustice of his rating on the promotional exam. His voice was very loud. He was animated and he spoke rapidly. He wanted some counsel regarding how he should proceed to challenge his rating. He needed to vent, and I let him. I listened quietly for several minutes.

I waited for a lull and asked the officer, “You said there were two reasons why you wanted to talk to me. You’ve mentioned one. What is the other?”

The officer said that he had read my book, “Take Up the Shield.” In the book, I write briefly about my Catholic upbringing. This gave us another point of common ground. Reading the book made him think about his relationship with God. He asked, “If I believe in God, why am I experiencing so much anxiety?”

“What would you consider more important,” I asked, “promoting to sergeant or your relationship with God?”

“My relationship with God.” He answered.

The officer shared with me that he had a Roman Catholic background. He believed the essential truths regarding the deity of Jesus Christ, the cross, the resurrection, and heaven and hell. He didn’t think one had to be a good person to go to heaven. However, he believed that entrance into heaven was contingent upon belief in Jesus Christ and doing whatever one can to obey God. He firmly believed he had a relationship with God.

I leaned forward in my seat, looked the officer in the eye, and said, “I want you to answer a question for me. It’s not going to be easy. You and I are working as patrol partners. We decide to stop a car. Within seconds, the driver opens fire on us, and I’m hit. I’m lying in the street and I’m bleeding to death. I only have three minutes to live. In minutes I will be standing before God. You know me well. You know I don’t believe in God. What are you going to tell me?”

“What am I going to tell you?” He asked.

“What are you going to tell me? I assume you don’t want me to go to hell. What are you going to tell me so that I might avoid spending eternity in hell?” I asked. “I now have only two minutes to live.”

“Well,” he stammered, “I guess I would tell you to accept Jesus.”

“Why?” I asked. “I told you I don’t believe in God. Come on! I’m bleeding out! I’m down to about a minute-and-a-half.”

The look on the officer’s face was one of frustration and confusion. “You need to ask God to forgive you. God is a loving God. If you’ll just believe in Him, everything will be okay.”

“Why do I need God’s forgiveness?” I asked.

The officer was becoming even more flustered. He continued to stumble over his words. After a few moments, I interrupted him and said, “I’m dead. I just died on the street.”

With a dejected look on his face, the officer said, “You’re dead?”

“Yes.” I said. “I died waiting for you to tell me what I must do to get right with God. I know what I just put you through was difficult.”

With a nervous chuckle, the officer nodded his head. I wanted the moment to be intense so I used a word picture he would understand—an officer shot in the line of duty and dying before his eyes.

“There’s a reason why I put you through that scenario. Since you couldn’t tell me what I must do to be right with God, is it possible that while you might know about God, the truth is that you really don’t know Him.”

He thought about it for a moment. “I guess not. I’m not sure.” He had entered my office loud and animated. His demeanor was now subdued and reflective.

“Would you consider yourself to be a good person?” I asked.

“Yes. I’m a good person.” He answered.

“Would it be all right if I asked you a few questions to see if that’s true?” I asked.

The officer was somewhat surprised that I didn’t simply accept his answer. “Sure. Go ahead.” He answered.

I asked the officer if he was familiar with the Ten Commandments. He said that he was and then named several. As is common with those within the Roman Catholic faith, the officer divided the Tenth Commandment into two—coveting your neighbor’s wife, and coveting your neighbor’s property. Catholics will do this because they have been taught that the First and Second Commandments are not two commandments, but one. This allows them to continue the religion’s traditions of praying to Mary, to the saints, and to statues and relics, without violating (in their mind and by their traditions) a specific command to not make graven images and worship them.

I asked the officer if he thought he had kept the commandments. He said that nobody is perfect, but he tries his best. I then took him through the “Good Person Test.”

After admitting to violating several of the commandments, as is customary, I said, “By your own admission…”

I didn’t even finish the sentence when the officer said, with a tone of humility, “I’m a liar. I’m a thief. I’ve used God’s name in vain. I’m an adulterer. I’m a murderer.”

While I’ve talked to many people who have readily accepted the fact that they had broken God’s Law, this was the first time I’ve had someone finish my sentence about their true, spiritual condition.

“If God were to judge you based on His Law, the Ten Commandments, would He find you innocent or guilty of breaking His Law.” I asked.

“Guilty.” He answered.

“And if God found you guilty,” I asked, “would you go to heaven or to hell?”

“I would still go to heaven.” He answered.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because God is loving and forgiving. I think God will take into consideration the good things I have done, and that I’ve tried to obey His commands, and He is going to forgive my sins.” He said.

“Let’s go to court.” I said. “You and I have spent plenty of time in court over the years. Let’s say that you and I worked a murder case together. We gathered the evidence. We identified and arrested the suspect. He confessed to committing the murder. We did a good job and we had him dead to rights.

“It’s the day of sentencing. We’re in the courtroom, sitting next to the victim’s family. The suspect is standing before the judge. The judge asks him if he has anything to say before he receives his sentence. The suspect says, ‘Yes, your honor. I just want to say I’m really sorry for killing that person. I promise I will never do it again. I know you are a forgiving judge. Please let me go.’

“The judge thinks about it for a second. He looks at the convicted murderer and says, ‘You know, you’re right. I am a forgiving judge. You’re free to go.’

“Would the judge be a good and just judge if he let the murderer go free, just because the murderer said he was sorry?” I asked. “Would he be a good judge, following the law, if he did that?”

The officer said, “No. Of course not!”

“Do you see what you’re doing?” I asked. “You’re applying a higher standard to a human court than you are to the Judge of the Universe.”

The officer nodded his head.

Aware of the officer’s Catholic background, I explained to him that he was violating the Second Commandment. He was creating a god in his imagination, one that does not judge; one that does not hold people accountable for their sins.

“When you stand before God on the Day of Judgment, He will not judge you by how you see yourself. He is going to judge you according to His perfect standard—His Law. You will be found guilty. And He’s not going to let you off the hook just because you say you are sorry. If He finds you guilty, He is going to sentence you to eternity in hell.” I said.

There was a long, pregnant pause in which the officer and I just sat looking at each other.

“Do you believe what I’m telling you?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

“Does it concern you that if you were to die today God would send you to hell as the just punishment for your sins against Him?” I asked.

Again, with a nervous chuckle, he said, “Well, yes.”

“Do you know what God did so that you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell.” I asked.

“Jesus died for our sins.” He answered.

I took the officer back to the courtroom, but now he was the person on trial. When I came to the end of the analogy, the officer said, “The man who paid the fine—that’s Jesus, isn’t it?”

I explained to the officer that saving faith is more than just an intellectual belief. The parachute analogy helped him to understand that he must not only believe in Jesus, but also trust him the same way a person puts on a parachute and trusts that it will open when they jump out of the plane.

I spent some time helping the officer understand the true nature of repentance, as well as overcoming his misunderstanding of the relationship between good works and salvation. The officer asserted that he repents often when he feels like he has done something wrong, and that he was confident that God forgives him, hears his prayers, and answers him. He was taken aback when I told him that God turns a deaf ear to the prayers of unrighteous people who have turned their back on Him (Job 27:8ff; 35:12-13; Psalm 34:15-22; 66:18; 145:19; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Isa. 1:15).

I asked the officer if his father was still alive and if he had a good relationship with his dad. He answered both questions in the affirmative.

“See if this sounds familiar to you.” I said. “You go over to your dad’s house one afternoon because you want to have an important conversation with him; and this is what you say. ‘Dad, I love you very much. But I’m an adult, now. I would really appreciate it if you would just stay out of my life. I don’t want you bugging me. I’m my own man, now, so I’m not going to listen to your counsel. And I no longer have to obey you when you tell me to do something. Oh, and another thing: I still expect you to be there for me when I need you. If I need money, I expect you to give it to me. If you don’t help me when I ask, if you don’t come running when I call you, then I’m going to be angry with you and it will probably be a long time before I speak to you again. But dad, just know that I love you.’

“So, if you were to say that to your dad, do you think he would say to himself, ‘That’s my boy. He sure does love me’? Would your dad believe that you really love him?”

“No.” The officer said.

“In fact, the thought of talking to your earthly father that way probably seems repulsive to you.” I said.

“It sure does. I would never talk to my dad that way.” He said.

“That’s because you love your dad, right?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

The next thing the officer said filled my heart with joy, because it told me that he understood what I was sharing with him. He was getting it.

“That’s what I’ve been doing with God my whole life.” He said.

“That’s right.” I said. “The kind of relationship you have with your earthly father is not the kind of relationship you have with the Heavenly Father. You know about God, but you do not know God. And you don’t love Him the way you love your dad. The Bible teaches that our love for God should be such that all of our earthly, loving relationships should seem like hatred in comparison. It’s not that we hate our friends and family members. It’s just that our love for God should be far greater than our love for people.”

“Is there any reason why you wouldn’t repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?” I asked.

“I think I might be doing that right now.” He answered.

“Do you realize that in order for you to be saved from the wrath of God you must be born again?” I asked.

The officer leaned back in his seat and smirk formed on his face. I thought it might. How a person reacts to the phrase “born again” is often a good indication as to whether or not the person is saved. A person who is truly born again will not be uncomfortable with the term, and they won’t be afraid to refer to themselves as “born again.”

I asked the officer what he thought the term meant. He said, “I always picture some crazy person being dunked in the water.”

I opened my bible to John 3 and showed it to the officer, and read verses 3 and 7, aloud. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.”’”

“Unless you are born again, you will not go to heaven.” I said. “And in order for you to be born again you must repent of your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. The promise is that you will pass from death into life. He will save you from your sin and give you the gift of eternal life. God will give you a new heart, with new desires.”

“Have your beliefs changes since you sat down in that chair?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered.

“Do you believe that if you die in your sin that God will judge you and send you to hell?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered.

“Do you want to spend eternity in hell?” I asked.

“No!” He answered. “I want to be saved!”

“Do you believe that there is nothing you can do to save yourself? Do you believe that your only hope for salvation is to turn from your sin and, by faith, put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered. “So what do I have to do?”

“Well,” I said, “the Lord may have already saved you. You may have been born again as we sat here talking.”

“Have you ever cried out to God?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Well, you said that you’ve asked God to forgive you in the past. But have you ever done that with the understanding that if He doesn’t forgive you, you will spend eternity in hell? Have you ever cried out to Him in genuine repentance and faith? Based on what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have.

“Again, the Lord may very well have saved you while you have been sitting here. No prayer will save you—not yours or anyone else’s. No church can save you—not the Roman Catholic Church or any protestant church. But I would encourage you to spend time in real prayer with God. Confess your sin to Him. Tell Him that you want to turn from your sin. Tell Him that you want to serve Him and follow Him with your whole life, having received Him as your Lord and Savior.”

“Now what do I do?” He asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What do I do next to draw closer to God? Should I read the Bible?” He asked.

I pulled my MacArthur Study Bible off my bookcase and gave it to him. We spent the next several minutes talking about the importance of being in the Word every day, as well as the importance of finding a good church where the Bible is rightly and clearly taught.

We talked about the importance of confessing the Lord Jesus Christ before men and that one of his first conversations should be with his unbelieving wife. “If you are truly born again,” I said, “You won’t be embarrassed to tell people that you are. You will want to tell other people about the God who saved you.” I said.

We closed our time together in prayer. Instead of praying for the comfort of an unsaved officer, I believe I was praying with a new brother in the Lord. As is always the case, it is the Lord who ultimately and positively knows the true condition of this officer’s heart. Time will tell if the officer’s profession of faith will bear genuine fruit.

Every indication in my finite and fallible mind is that the seeds the Lord allowed me to sow in this officer’s heart fell on good soil. “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).

I give all praise and glory to God for allowing me to watch Him work. I thank Him for allowing me, who just moments before the conversation with the officer, had been wallowing in sin, in the shallow pool of wavering faith. I am not worthy to speak His Word, let alone watch Him take a life from eternal death and despair, to eternal life and hope.
God’s Word is true. He is holy, righteous. He is the “only Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12). His lovingkindness is everlasting. His mercy endures forever. He is my Lord and Savior. And I thank Him for allowing me to be such a very small part of one of His “glory stories.”


Benjamin said...

Hear you all the time on "Way of the Master". Dropped in because Todd and you were talking about the article.

This is amazing. I've wondered how to witness to church people, catholics among them... and I've never really been sure how to proceed with the objections I know they're going to bring up.

Thanks a ton. Great article, great work... and what a wonderful savior we have that would care enough to confort you and save that officer on the same day.

EJ said...

Praise God for your boldness even during a time of wavering faith. It was a blessing to hear your comments about this experience on the radio as well as read them here.

May God bless you.

(Thanks for the work you do on WOTMR.)