Thursday, September 27, 2007

An E-Mail Law & Gospel Conversation

The following is an e-mail conversation I have had with a lady, over the last few days. I have no idea who this person is. She contacted me out of the blue, through my ministry’s website’s contact page. I’ve changed her name to protect her anonymity. The only changes I have made to her e-mails are in the areas of spelling and grammar. I’ve also changed a couple specific references to places, in order to further protect her anonymity.

I thought it would be helpful to share this conversation so you can hear the heart and mind of a false convert. Pay particular attention to the level of self-righteousness, as well as the self-deception, as “Mary” creates a god in her own imagination.

I hope that reading this dialogue will help you in your own conversations with unbelievers, regardless of their spiritual and/or religious background. Notice that I spend no time talking about her religion. My goal was to keep the conversation focused on the Law and the Gospel. As you will see, Mary didn’t like what I had to say; but I tried to speak the truth in love, anyway.

Mary: I have been told by my son, who was raised in the Catholic Church that I am going to hell because I am catholic; I worship idols, and a false God. Thinking he had gotten some misinformation from his unordained, Baptist preacher, I contacted the preacher to let him know that my son had gotten some misinformation. The preacher let me know that my son was not misinformed, and that I was, indeed, bound for hell. I was floored! I now know that this man has never been ordained or even attended a seminary or school of divinity. Do all protestant churches teach this type of garbage to their parishioners or is it just this one church? I am the one who prayed this guy back into a religion. It seems this church isn't much better than his church of Wicca. My son has even threatened to send his honor society daughter to a school in [another state] just because she doesn't like her step-mother and spends all her time in her room studying! No drinking, no drugs! Just school band and school work! She doesn't even date! She wants to go to [college] for a degree! She doesn't argue with her step-mom, she just avoids her! Somehow I feel he got all mixed up and this lunatic is trying to brainwash him. What happened to the values I tried to instill in him?

Tony: I'm a bit confused. What prompted you to contact me? Was it simply to vent? Or do you have a question?

What do you think a person must do to go to heaven?

Mary: The question was what are protestant churches teaching their parishioners? I am 61 yrs old and this is the first time I have run into this kind of thinking. First of all, our statues are considered religious art. We do not pray to them. We do not pray to Mary. We are asking Mary to pray for us. All of our art is representational.

Next, I cruise all kinds of religious websites. I subscribe to several newsletters and daily devotionals; because I love God and I thirst for His word. I am trying to find the path He wants me to walk. I lost my way for a while, when I lost my husband of 35 yrs. I know He has a purpose for me, but I don't know what that purpose is meant to be. Am I supposed to fight my son for custody of his daughter? That is what she wants. I am on soc. sec. and cannot afford attorneys and court costs, yet I am afraid that his zealotry and false ideas will turn her away from church altogether. She already refuses to attend any church with her father because she knows it hurts him. She has only lived with her father and step-mom for 6 yrs. I raised her since she was 5 1/2 mos. old. She will be 17 in January. I taught her that God didn't much care which church she attended as long as she praised and worshipped Him. I told her that Jesus said "nobody comes to the Father but through Me", meaning that unless you believed in Him you had no chance at heaven. I taught her to love everyone as she loved herself and to treat them the same way. I taught her formal prayers and to talk to the Lord as if He were sitting on the couch with her. I taught her father the same things.

I taught them and led them both by example. The only bad example I set was smoking cigarettes, and now I’ve stopped that after 46 yrs of smoking. I never drank booze. I tithed [to] the church.

Now, this ignorant preacher comes along and convinces my son that I am headed for hell because I’m catholic and for no other reason! It makes no difference to this preacher that my life was dedicated to my God and my family. I had no other outside interests! It has never mattered to me what religious affiliation other people choose to have as long as we all pray to the same God, no matter what they may call Him. Have I been wrong all these years?

Oh, yeah, the venting did help a bit!

Tony: Okay. Catholic and Protestant differences aside: what do you think a person must do to go to heaven?

Mary: I personally believe that we must walk as close to His footsteps as is humanly possible. I believe that the only way to get "even" with someone who has wronged us is to forgive them. I believe that He made us in His likeness in all colors because He is all colors. I believe that He created us to worship Him and to glorify His name. I believe that to serve Him, we must serve others first as Jesus did. I believe that each of us has the power to heal others through our prayers for them. I believe that what we send out to the world in His name is returned to us tenfold. That is the sum of my religious knowledge and beliefs. My concern is that someone is teaching my child and grandchild that only certain religions get to heaven and that I must be converted to the Baptist teachings to save my soul. I am happy with the God I have happily served for nearly 60 yrs, thank you, and I am not interested in other churches and what they preach except as it pertains to me. Do I have to be rude to get my son to believe that I am happy with my own religion and I am not interested in the teachings of his newly adopted church? Frankly, if they are teaching that all Catholics are going to hell, I really don't think I want to hear any more of their teachings. I don't want anything to do with any church that condemns other sects out of hand. There is room in this world for all kinds of beliefs and teachings. It is the intolerance that causes the wars and strife, not the beliefs. Like I told that preacher, if that is what you truly believe, then all I can do is pray for Him to open your eyes and heal your heart.

Tony: People do not go to hell for being Catholic, or for being Protestant. People go to hell because they have broken God's Law.

Would you consider yourself to be a good person?

Mary: In spite of having broken a few of the commandments in my youth and inexperience, overall, yes I consider myself a good and caring person.

Tony: Since time does not forgive sin, let me ask you a few question to see if you are, in fact a good person. Please answer honestly.

Have you ever told a lie?
Have you ever stolen anything? The value is of no consequence.
Have you ever taken God's name in vain--meaning you have used His name to express disgust or excitement, or used it in a flippant or casual way?
Have you ever committed adultery in your heart by looking at another person with impure thoughts (Matthew 5:27-28)?
Have you ever committed murder in your heart by harboring anger, resentment, bitterness, or hatred in your heart for another person (Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:15).

If you answered yes to the above questions then, like me, you are not a good person. God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, murdering, adulterer at heart. Even if you tried to assert you have only broken one of the above commandments (and we have only looked at 5 of the 10 Commandments), you would still be guilty before God. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10).

Remember, only God is good (Mark 10:18). There is not a person, past or present, accept for Jesus Christ (who was God in the flesh), who is good according to God's standard of goodness (Romans 3:10-12). This would include you and me.

When you stand before God, He will not judge you according to the standard you have set for yourself. He will judge you according to His perfect, holy Law. And having found you guilty of breaking His Law, being a good and just Judge, He will sentence you to eternity in hell, as the just punishment for your sins against Him.

Not only is God holy, righteous, and just--judging the sins of man, but He is also loving, merciful, and kind. That is why God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ--fully God and fully Man, without sin. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He went to the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment you and I deserve for breaking God's Law. Three days later, He rose from the dead, forever defeating death. He provided the only way of escape from His holy wrath.

Mary, your only hope is to repent (turn away from your sin), and place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone to save you. Jesus said that unless a person is born again, he will not see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3, 7). Your own perceived goodness cannot save you. Your church cannot save you. My church cannot save you. Good works cannot save you. You cannot cooperate in your salvation by trying to be a good person or by trying to do good works. Jesus does not need your help. A person is saved from the wrath of God, by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

I am praying that the Lord will draw you to Himself, that he will draw you to genuine repentance and faith, and that He will extend to you the free gift of eternal life.

By the way, you will notice that I have not mentioned religion--yours or any other. We are not talking about religion. We are talking about a relationship with the Only One who can save your life. If you look at the gospels, when Jesus talks about religious people, more often than not He talks about them in a negative way (Matthew 7:21-23).

Praying for you. :-)

Mary: I have used the same arguments you just used. My son uses them too. The only difference I see is that with my religion, I get to go to confession, enumerate my sins, confess, repent and ask forgiveness. I know when I walk out of the church after having done my penance that those sins have been forgiven. I don't harbor hatred or hard feelings against anyone. I did steal as a child as well as telling lies. I honored my parents even though one of them beat me till I couldn't walk every time I missed one of my chores. I don't take the Lord's name in vain. I only have one true God. I didn't commit adultery. I didn't covet. I’m happy for other people to have whatever they want. I don't happen to need it. I am happy to help those less fortunate than I am. I still say that overall, I am a good person. I don't judge people and decide they are going to hell based on my particular criteria. That is up to God, not me. You still haven't answered the original question to my satisfaction. Is it a routine thing that protestant churches teach that Catholics are hell bound without reserve?

Tony: I explained why people go to hell. It is because people break God's Law--His commandments. Regarding Roman Catholicism, I have no desire to debate you regarding your religion. Unless a person truly repents of their sin and places their trust and faith in Jesus Christ ALONE for their salvation, relying not at all on their good works or the church for their salvation, they will receive the just punishment for their sins against God, which is eternity in hell--regardless of what kind of church they attend, Catholic or Protestant.

Penance will not save you, Mary. You will never be able to do enough penance to merit forgiveness. You being satisfied with your own goodness will not save you. You say that you do not harbor hard feelings against anyone. It's obvious you do because of why you contacted me and what you've said about this other pastor. And your most recent message is filled with self-righteousness.

I'm still a bit confused as to why you chose to contact me. Be that as it may, it's been nice chatting with you; and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with you. I hope you will consider these things carefully. It would be terrible for you to one day stand before the Lord and have Him say, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23).

Mary: How sad that you believe in a powerful, wrathful, vengeful God! I was under the impression that that God was an Old Testament God. When God became Man the emphasis shifted from that vengeful God, to a kinder, gentler God. Didn’t Jesus, himself teach Love and Compassion? Wasn’t it His message that all things are possible through God? Weren’t the very nails they used to pin Him to the cross signaling forgiveness?

If protestant churches are teaching hellfire, damnation, and eternal suffering, no thanks! I much prefer the loving, compassionate, forgiving God that my church teaches.
As for that other preacher, I resent the lies he is telling about my church and my God. I believe he is a misguided, ignorant man spreading lies on a subject he knows nothing about. I wish him only forgiveness. There is no malice in that. My God will judge me by the same yardstick that I use when i judge others, namely lovingly and compassionately. Your stick doesn't leave room for love or compassion or forgiveness, and that is sad.

I contacted you and others to find out if this is a universal belief in protestant churches, and to find out just what you base your findings on. It’s too bad you never got around to answering that question. I won't be bothering you anymore.

Tony: Again, the bitterness and resentment you continue to express to me, a stranger, about the Baptist pastor shows that you are a murderer at heart. "And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).

Sadly, what you have done is created a god in your own imagination, which is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. You have created a god to suite yourself. You are right that your god is not powerful, wrathful, and vengeful. You are right that your god is only loving, compassionate, and forgiving. You are right that your god will judge you according to your yardstick you use to judge others. Your god cannot and will not exercise power, wrath, vengeance, or judgment because your god does not exist.

Since you have convinced yourself that somehow God's character and nature has changed from Old Testament times to New Testament times, let's take a look at what God says about Himself in the New Testament, since the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "He who believes in Him [the Son of God] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

John the Baptist said, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).

The Apostle Paul wrote, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world" (Romans 3:5-6)?

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience" (Colossians 3:5-6).

The writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). He also wrote, "For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:30-31).

Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, said this, "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

From the gospels to the Book of Revelation, it is clear that while God is merciful, loving, and kind; He is also holy, righteous, and just. God will not overlook the sins of people. God will not turn a blind eye to sin. God will not overlook your sin, Mary. Because God is good He must judge sin. And He will, just as His Word promises.

Mary, your issue is not with your son, or with the Baptist pastor, or with me, for that matter. Your issue is with the Word of God--with God Himself. Your argument is not with those who disagree with what you believe. Your argument is with the truth of God's Word; and it is an argument you cannot win. It doesn't matter what you believe, Mary. What matters is whether or not what you believe is true.

If what I've shared with you is not true, then it will mean nothing to you, in eternity. But if what I am telling you is true (and Scripture shows that what I am telling you is true), then eternity hangs in the balance. You will one-day stand before Almighty God, and unless you repent of your sin, and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (the Lord and Savior written about in the Scriptures--Old and New Testaments; not the Jesus you have fashioned for yourself), you will receive the just punishment for your sins against God. You will spend eternity in hell.

Mary, I tell you these things because I DON'T want you to go to hell. Repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15)--not your gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), the gospel of the Scriptures. Therein lays your only hope.

I cannot save you. Your church cannot save you. I cannot change your mind. Only God can change your mind and save you from His just and holy wrath to come. Only God can bring you to genuine repentance and faith, and extend to you the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). I truly pray that He does.

I will continue to pray for you.

1 comment:

Daniel Bartsch said...

Hi Tony, great job. I think you maybe should have answered her question (so that she doesn't think you were avoiding it)-- you could also have told her that you used to be a Catholic and can understand where she's coming from (just to build a little common ground with her). But maybe you've been down that route already with previous people and found that it doesn't work. In any event, you did a good job.