Someone very dear to me recently confessed his belief in Jesus. He has been thinking about death over the last few months, talking to us about his assets and, on this occasion, the plans he has in mind for his funeral. He has no major health issues, but he’s in his mid-80’s and has slowed down quite a bit this spring. I am sure that thoughts about what is to follow this life are frequently on his mind. He’s mentioned to a couple of family members that he doesn’t feel he is right with God. He’s been reminding most of us what a good person he has been throughout his life.
I had been praying for an opportunity to talk about Jesus one more time with him. I have given him books, things I have written, and talked about Jesus several times, but he never responded to my words, most often he would just change the subject. Each time I visited, I waited, hoping for some indication he wanted to talk about it. This particular Saturday, he began to talk about what he wanted at his funeral. He told us he wanted his granddaughters to speak rather than a preacher because he had never attended church and didn’t want someone he didn’t know to speak. He began assuring us that he had been a good person. I knew the opportunity I had been waiting for was here. My heart started racing, I panicked a little, then my mouth opened and out came the words. I don’t remember what they were exactly. I remember telling him I didn’t want to make him mad, but there is only one way to God and that was Jesus. I know I tried to quickly explain how only Jesus can make us good enough to stand before God. I waited for him to say something along the lines of “you can believe that but I don’t.”
Then he looked me in the eyes and said “I believe that.”
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
And that was it. He believed and now we knew for sure. I can’t express how happy I was. A great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
On the drive home, guess who showed up. Satan. “You don’t know that he believes. Anyone can say they believe. You’ll see. There will be no evidence for you to know 100% that he believes. He’s a stubborn, proud man. You know in your heart he didn’t really mean it. You’ll know he didn’t mean it when you don’t see any evidence of a change.” On and on his attacks went.
No, he said he believed and I believe him. He would never have said that a year ago. There were several conversations about Jesus that he didn’t respond to at all. He had some bad experiences with overly-zealous and self-righteous Christians throughout his life so he had never wanted to hear anything about Jesus. But not this time. This time he listened and responded, “I believe that.”
But Satan had done his job. I began to doubt. I began to think of the things I needed to see to prove he truly believed.
Then guess who showed up. The Holy Spirit.
As an evangelical Christian, I get very caught up in looking for evidence that professing Christians really have accepted Jesus’s gift of salvation, but God used this conversion to remind me about grace. That it is a gift, free of charge. No payment required – payment has already been made. He brought to my mind the thief on the cross.
Luke 23 (NIV) – 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
That’s it. “…this man has done nothing wrong. …Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
If Jesus had been sitting in my spot on June 22, 2019, He would have said the same thing to this man. “I believe that.”
“…[then] you will be with me in paradise.”
Romans 3:10 (NLT) – As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.”
Sure, evidence brings a degree of assurance, but even with evidence, we cannot be 100% sure of the condition of someone’s heart. I noticed an article during a recent Google search about the “ludicrous belief” of Christians that a rotten, evil person can end up in heaven while a truly good person will end up in hell. They don’t understand how that can possibly be true. They don’t understand that there’s only one way to meet God’s standard of righteousness and it’s not by being a “good” person. I didn’t think this man would ever come to understand that. But he has. And he is not one to say something he doesn’t mean. I envision him sitting in his chair at home pondering this new realization and I know God will use those moments to draw him closer. I pray he will find peace as each day passes.
Luke 15:24 (NIV) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
What happened on June 22, 2019 is something I have prayed for for a very long time. Isn’t it predictable that Satan would show up immediately afterwards to ruin the day? To take away my joy by creating doubts in my mind? But I won’t let him. This was a moment that calls for celebration. And that is what I am doing.
I don’t deny that some will confess without meaning it. They confess thinking it will shut us up. That has happened several times as I talked to others about Jesus. But as I pray, God continues to give me peace that this was a sincere repentance.
I’ll keep planting seeds. That’s what I’m called to do. The joy we get when a lost one is found cannot be matched with any experience life can offer! How humbling to be chosen to play a part in building His kingdom! A wretched sinner like me chosen to work in this world for our Father, the Creator of the universe. Humbling.