8/3/16 Rudy 42
Contrary to the impressions given by some street evangelists who seem to go looking for an argument, in my experience most people that I talk to on the street are friendly and want be seen as good, decent people, no matter what their religious background or beliefs. If they are busy and preoccupied or simply don’t want to talk about religion with a stranger, they usually respond with a courteous way of putting off the conversation, but a surprising percentage are open and candid about their beliefs, even more so as I gain more experience in starting such conversations in a winsome manner.
People like Rudy, 42, whom I met today while he was enjoying his day off and having lunch on a park bench. I had asked what he believes about life after death, which began a long conversation about the Gospel. Rudy had grown up in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, but a week in jail and a deal with God had set him on a straight and narrow path of avoiding the streets, being responsible on his job and taking care of his 7 year old daughter.
What was the “deal” he made with God? Rudy does not attend church nor read the Bible. His “deal” with God was basically one of repentance for sin and daily prayers to God as best as he knew Him. He made me think of the “disciples” Paul met in Ephesus in Acts 19. They had received John’s baptism as a sign of their repentance for sin, but knew nothing of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. They had repented but not believed, because they didn’t know whom to believe in. Rudy was friendly, open to talking about God, and believes himself to be a good person who has repented of his sins and is cleaning up his life as best as he can.
I think most people are like that – usually courteous, decent, and law-abiding. So why does Paul say, in Romans 3, that “there is no one who seeks God” and “There is no one who does good, not even one.”? Why such a negative view of humanity if people seem to be generally good? This is a big topic with many facets, but one reason I believe is because although unbelievers don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling within, they do have God’s law written on their hearts. They have a conscience that helps hold them accountable, and they want to believe themselves to be “good”.
The problem comes with wanting their own definition of what it means to be “good” rather than seeking to follow God’s definition. Rudy has not been seeking God, so his definition of “good” is a worldly standard rather than a biblical one. It includes courtesy, responsibility, being nice – but it falls short of obedience to God’s specific commands. After sharing the Gospel – which Rudy received very positively – I told him what Jesus told His disciples in John 14: “If you love me, keep my commands.” To keep Jesus’ commands we must know them. If we are serious we will read the Bible and seek the help of other believers and a local church in order to know them and keep them. People may be generally nice. They may be kind and courteous. They may be positive and fun-loving. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are “good”.