Monday, February 26, 2007

Spiritual Barracudas

I spent an afternoon last week visiting Ray Comfort and Mark Spence at Way of the Master headquarters. The purpose of my visit was to introduce Evangelist John Wright (Liberia) to the Way of the Master family. Ten-Four Ministries supports John’s efforts to bring the gospel to the Liberian National Police Force.

While I was talking to Ray, the subject of barracudas came up. Ray shared the story of a day on the water when his wife was reeling in a fish. When she got her catch to the side of the boat, half of her fish was gone. It had been attacked and half-eaten by a notorious, predator of the sea—the barracuda.

The barracuda is a ferocious tropical and subtropical fish that can reach 6’-long and 1’-wide in size. They are known as ambush predators, with razor-sharp teeth. I have caught barracuda off the coast of California. They often put up a very good fight, and I’ve seen firsthand how barracudas will chase helpless fish being reeled in by fishermen, right up to the boat.

Ray and I talked about how some professing Christians can look a lot like barracudas, especially when it comes to the way the barracuda chases down unsuspecting, helpless, or injured prey. They are fast, but are not as manueverable as other predatory species. “Large barracudas, when gorged, may attempt to herd a shoal of prey fish in shallow water, where they guard over them until, they are ready for another meal.”

Talking to Ray about barracudas reminded me of a recent encounter I had with a barracuda of another kind—a kind far more dangerous to human beings—a zealous, professing Christian who, based on his own words, was likely a false convert. Sadly, like the barracuda of the sea, this spiritual barracuda attacked an unbeliever with false doctrine and another gospel.

A couple of weeks ago, I taught a Way of the Master One-Day Seminar at a local church. After half-a-day of instruction and discussion, we went to the local mall. Several mentors led groups of 2-3 students in an afternoon of evangelism—giving each student the opportunity to apply that which they had learned in the class. One student, Noralyn, shared the Law and the Gospel with a young lady who would make a profession of repentance and faith right there, at the mall.

I was blessed to lead Chris and Joanne during the evangelism portion of the class. We walked outside the mall, into a courtyard, with restaurants on both sides. In front of one of the restaurants, a young man sat behind a folding table. Next to him was an empty chair. As we got closer to the table, I could see that atop the table was a stack of gospel tracts and half-sheet flyers for a church located out of the area.

(Local malls have written policies specifying the time, place, and manner for free speech exercise. Individuals and/or groups submit an application and a refundable deposit. The mall then assigns the individual or group to a specific location in the mall. Participants are allowed to distribute literature and talk to anyone who walks up to the table. But participants are not allowed to leave the table and approach mall patrons.)

The look on the young man’s face (who we will call “Jim”) was one of utter boredem. When he made eye contact with us, seeing that we were walking toward him, the change in the look on his face and his body language seemed to be saying, “Please don’t come over here and talk to me.” Our conversation would vaildate these observations.

I introduced myself to Jim as I picked up the printed information on the table. “So, do you go to this church?” I asked.

“No.” Jim said. I’m just sitting here for my cousin. He went inside the mall. He should be back any minute.

“Oh, okay.” I said. “So what are your spiritual beliefs? What do you think is going to happen to you when you die?”

Jim wasn’t sure. He had a Catholic background. He admitted that he doesn’t go to church or read the Bible. He said he doesn’t give such things much thought. It was apparent that Jim had very little concern about his spiritual condition.

Jim considered himself to be a good person, saying that he believed his good outweighed his bad. With Jim’s permission, I took him through the “Good Person” test. He admitted to breaking God’s Law, but he thought God would simply forgive him. After taking Jim into an imaginary, civil courtroom, Jim agreed that a good judge would not let a convicted criminal go, simply because the criminal said he was sorry and promised to try not to commit the crime again.

Jim acknowledged that if God were to judge Him against the Ten Commandments (God’s Law), he would be guilty of breaking God’s Law. When I asked if he would go to heaven or hell, he answered, “Purgatory.”

Jim gave no resistence when I told him that purgatory does not exist and that it is not mentioned in the Bible. His claim that he would go to purgatory was not based on any deeply held belief. It was more of a stab in the dark, an attempt to throw something against the wall and hoping that it would stick. He was trying to avoid uttering the inevitable right answer. “Purgatory” is easier to say than “hell.”

I again asked Jim, “Would you go to heaven or hell?”

“Hell.” He answered.

“Does that concern you?” I asked.

“I guess.” He answered half-heartedly.

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

After thinking about it for a moment, Jim answered, “I’m not sure.”

“Would you like to know?” I asked.

“Okay.” He answered.

I shared the gospel with Jim. When I reached the point of talking to Jim about the cross, his cousin returned to the table. The look on his face could best be described this way. “Hey, buddy, this is my table!”

“Jim, you’ve broken God’s Law. And what you deserve for sinning against God is eternal punishment in hell.” I said.

“Wait a minute!” The cousin protested. “Jesus covered all of that!”

I looked at the cousin and said, “Be patient. I’ve been talking to Jim for a few minutes now. I’m getting to that.”

Turning back to Jim, I said, “Jesus took upon Himself the punishment you deserve for everytime you have lied, stolen, committed blasphemy or adultery, and for everytime you have broken God’s Law in any way. God the Father allowed God the Son to be crushed as a full and complete payment for your sins.

“What you must do Jim is you must be born again. You must turn from your sin. It’s called repentance. And you must put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation—to save you from your sins. If you do that, the promise is that when you die and stand before God, instead of receiving what you deserve for sinning against God—eternity in hell, you will receive what you don’t deserve—his grace and mercy and eternity with Him in heaven.”

The cousin again protested. “You don’t have to worry about him. He’s been sealed by the Holy Spirit.”

“What?” I asked. I admit the cousin’s assertion caught me by surprise, especially after what I heard come out of Jim’s own mouth.

“He’s saved.” The cousin said, putting his hands on Jim’s shoulders. “He’s been sealed by the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues.”

I looked at Jim. Jim was now looking down at the table, with an embarrassed look on his face. Although Jim never elaborated on his cousin’s claim that he spoke in tongues, the smirk on Jim’s face told me that he wished his cousin had not shared his experience with speaking in tongues.

“Speaking in tongues doesn’t save anyone.” I said to the cousin.

While some Christians believe that speaking in tongues is evidence of one’s salvation, speaking in tongues is not proof of one’s salvation. Speaking in tongues is no more proof of salvation than being baptized, participating in communion, or attending church is proof of salvation. Many people are baptized, take communion, and attend church regularly who are not saved.

“I said he’s saved. He’s been sealed by the Holy Spirit.” The cousin insisted.

“I’ve just spent the last ten minutes talking to Jim.” I said. He said he isn’t sure where he will go when he dies. He admitted to breaking God’s Law and his belief that he would probably go to hell when he dies. Does that sound like a Christian to you?”

“So how many times do you have to repent?” The cousin asked. “Once you’ve repented, that’s it. You don’t have to keep repenting.” (He would later tell other small groups in the class that once a person repents they are free to commit sins such as adultery.)

It was obvious to me that the cousin was a false convert. He did not understand the biblical plan of salvation. He was offended that I would talk about the Law to Jim. He looked at repentance as a license to sin, without the fear of facing God’s judgment. He assured Jim that he was saved, even though everything Jim told me indicated that he was a lost soul who was facing God’s wrath and judgment.

Sadly, Jim was feeding off his cousin’s assertions and was now trying to argue that he was right with God (see Prov. 20:6).

Instead of engaging in what would inevitably deteriorate into a circular argument with a man who was, at the very least, apostate (see Hebrews 10:26-31), I turned my attention back to Jim. I looked him in the eye and softly said, “Jim, listen to your conscience. Be honest with yourself. You know what you said to me about yourself; and you know where you would go if you were to die today. All I ask is that you think about what I shared with you.”

I shook Jim’s hand and thanked him for talking to me.

As we walked away from the table, Chris spent another moment or two talking to the cousin. I heard the cousin use a derogatory expletive to describe a mall security officer who would not allow him to walk away from his assigned table to talk to people.

Not only are barracudas dangerous predators, but they are also the cause of many cases of food poisoning. “Ciguatera is a foodborne illness poisoning in humans caused by eating marine species whose flesh is contaminated with a toxin known as ciguatoxin, which is present in many micro-organisms . . . living in tropical waters . . . Predator species near the top of the food chain in tropical waters, such as barracuda, moray eel, parrotfish, grouper and amberjack, are most likely to cause ciguatera poisoning”

Like the bacterial-laden flesh of a barracuda, the professing Christian at the table was filling Jim’s head with lies and false hope, further poisoning his heart and his mind. “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7).

If you spend anytime sharing the gospel with strangers, you are going to run into spiritual barracudas. And if you step on the box to open-air preach, you will find that some of the vilest, angriest hecklers are spiritual barracudas—professed Christians who deny the biblical gospel message or who create a false god in their mind—a god who will not judge sin or condemn unrepentant sinners. So what should you do if you run into a spiritual barracuda?

First, don’t panic. The truth of God’s Word you are bringing to the conversation doesn’t change or lose its power when you are confronted by someone who has twisted Scripture for their own illicit purposes. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Second, don’t fall into the trap of mirroring the barracuda’s emotions. Spiritual barracudas are often sincere (although sincerely wrong) and they can become quite emotional. The reason for their negative emotional outburst is simple enough. You have exposed their false beliefs with the light of truth. Their first response is to engage their “fight or flight” mechanism to protect their false beliefs. Since their conscience is now testifying against them, and they have no biblical truth supporting their unbiblical positions, they will often resort to ad hominem attacks against your character. They will accuse you of being judgmental and legalistic. “And you will be hated by all because of My name” (Luke 21:17).

What they are hoping (at least on some level) is that you will treat them the same way. If they can make you angry and cause you to stoop to the same offensive behavior with which they are attacking you, then they can add unloving and uncaring to their list of accusations against you. Ultimately, their hope is that you will simply give up and go away. So, be loving, considerate, respectful, and maintain a calm demeanor. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:17-18).

Third, if you have a spiritual barracuda interrupting your conversation, don’t feel that you must respond to all of their objections. Stay on point—Law to the proud and grace to the humble.

Use the Law lawfully, as it was intended. Use the Law as a mirror, allowing the sinner to see themselves in light of God’s holy standard. Do not use the Law as a hammer, for no other purpose than to win an argument and/or to demean the person with whom you are speaking. Allow the Law to do its work. “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Tim. 1:8-9a).

Fourth, don’t forget about Jim. Don’t forget about the person with whom you were speaking before the spiritual barracuda attacked. Your fight is not with the spiritual barracuda. Your fight is for the person you originally engaged in conversation. And remember, the fight is spiritual. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Remember that everything you are saying to the spiritual barracuda is being heard by the person with whom you were originally speaking, as well as anyone else nearby who may be eavesdropping on the conversation. Even while the spiritual barracuda is trying his or her best to distract you and take you off message; or, as was the case in the conversation I’ve described, even while the spiritual barracuda is trying to steal the fish you are trying to reel in with the Law and the Gospel, you have got to keep fishing.

Again, before walking away from the table, I pleaded with Jim to carefully consider what I shared with him, because his eternal destination was hanging in the balance. I told Jim that I was talking to him because I cared about him and I didn’t want him to go to hell.

Spiritual Barracudas can be ferocious predators, looking to devour unwitting unbelievers with their false doctrine and false beliefs. But remember: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). So, don’t panic. Don’t mirror the spiritual barracuda’s negative emotions. Don’t argue. Don’t forget about the fish you are trying to catch. Remember the battle is spiritual. Use the Law lawfully and trust the Word of God to do its work. Stand firm in your faith and remember that it is Christ who makes you a fisher of men (see Mark 1:16-18).


Pastor Chris said...

What a great story.

I've had many encounters with people who want to argue false tangents or hold really odd beliefs.

I generally let them go and don't waste time trying to correct them.

Pastor Chris

ccanuck said...

Great story, this is who I run into more than anyone else. I find it so frustrating when people create a belief system they like rather than what it says in the Bible. I respect atheists more than people like this, at least they hold true to what they believe!


Anonymous said...

Even people saved, going to church, and I'll bet even pastors, have created a set of beliefs they won't let go of. Ask any pastor why they teach Christmas is the Lord's birthday and Easter is His resurrection, and see if you don't nearly get hauled out of the church. Christmas is a pagan holiday to their god, in which they sacrificed children in a furnace. Easter is a pagan holiday celebrating a godess of fertility. Sunday is the "Lord's" day, in which Catholics even documented the changing of the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, to being on Sunday instead. So, can you imagine why there are so many false Christians out there? I hate church. Spiritual barracudas is an understandable story and I can understand why "Jim" doesn't know what the truth is. Show me a Christian that really teaches the truth, including holy days, Sabbath and rejects the pagan holidays, and I would probably go to church, but they want perfection in their churches. Funny, my nickname in highschool was barracuda. It's what my teachers called me. I guess I am one because I lash out at Christianity because they confuse the heck out of people. Guess I better do this comment anonymous, but since you have my IP, I'm sure you know who I am. Go ahead and delete my comment. It's probably uncalled for.

Tony Miano said...


Ahhh, your "IP address?" You give me too much credit. :-)

"Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the
angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the
joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

"These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and
self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:16-23).