10/5/12 Tony, about 30
A major criticism among non-Christians about Christianity is their perception that one can sin all they want, then simply decide to believe in God and be saved with no consequences. Related to that would be the idea that people are sent to hell simply for not believing in God. Both perceptions wrongly portray God as being grossly unfair, either for ignoring justice or for being far too picky. At the grocery store this evening I asked a man named Tony, case of beer in his hands, about his beliefs. "Oh, I know I'm going to hell" he said. "Do you think there is any hope for you?" I asked, trying to follow the the Biblical mandate to show God's law to the proud and grace to the humble. But despite his initial statement that he believes he will go to hell, Tony was far from being humble. His show of humility faded quickly as he recited a list of excuses for his "mistakes", a list of all the good things he does, and the accusation that God is unjust for sending people to hell just for not believing in Him. "There must be more to it than just believing in God, it just doesn't seem right", Tony said, so I answered: "I understand its only natural that you want to earn your way and to get what you deserve, to get what's coming to you." Tony agreed enthusiastically, thinking of course that he deserves heaven for being a pretty good person despite his unbelief. At this point, I started using the Ten Commandments as the standard to show Tony that what he really deserves is the punishment of hell, not just for unbelief but for his rebellion against God's laws. I talked about how Jesus' standard is even more severe, calling selfish anger as bad as murder and lust of the eyes as bad as adultery. I think the problem is that Tony has a cheap idea of what it means to believe. He wants to believe in Jesus as his Savior but not his Lord. A Jesus one need not obey. But Paul wrote in Romans 1 of "the obedience that comes from faith". This faith that saves is the faith that works.