By Cornell Ngare
“Salvation belongs to the LORD.” Psalm 3:8a
Some words are easier said than believed, and the words above are no exception. Do we really believe that salvation belongs to the LORD, and entirely so? I am not sure I always do. What happened last week is just one of many awakening reminders. I was at the park, hanging out with a couple of friends when this young man, probably in his early twenties, approached us. He looked fairly decent. Although his clothes were dirty, he was not haggard. I was aware of all the stories of con-men faking distress and seeking handouts from unsuspecting people. As a matter of fact, one had just passed by and I did not talk to him. I am not sure why this particular man was different. Probably because he spoke in impeccable English, with surprisingly too many vocabularies.
“Sir, if you don’t mind, I would just like to snatch a few minutes of your time and have a short discourse with you…”
He went on about how his mother had come to Nairobi, seeking medical treatment. He had come to visit her at the hospital a few months back… *incoherent details*… Now he was stranded in Nairobi and needed money to get back home, to Kisumu. It is the classic con-men story that I had heard and ignored a dozen times before. My friend, seated next to me, asked the young man if we could pray for him. He agreed, and I was asked to pray. My plan was to pray for him and then dismiss him empty-handed. However, when I finished the prayer, something changed inside me. I found myself asking the young man, “This Jesus that we have just prayed to, do you know him?” The young man responded quickly, “Of course, I do. I know Jesus Christ.” I prodded further, seeing a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel, “What exactly do you know about him?” What followed was an impressive Gospel presentation from the young man. Lastly, I asked him if what he had just explained was a reality in his life, if he believed it, if he was born again. He replied in the affirmative.
After this, I was thoroughly convinced and quite pleased with myself. I had not been ashamed of the Gospel. I was so glad that I even gave the young man some money to help him out. Coincidentally, he remarked that what I had given him was just the amount he needed to afford the bus ticket to Kisumu! That he didn’t need any more money now. He even removed other notes from his pocket, counted the total before my eyes and sure enough, it was the required amount for a Kisumu bus fare! I dismissed him by praying for the journey that lay ahead, and thanked God for providing for the young man right before our very eyes. It was a miracle! After he left, I distinctly recall talking to my friends about the encounter. It was a testimony worth sharing, especially since I had on the same T-shirt I was wearing on the day I was ashamed of the Gospel the previous week!
Three days later, I was talking to my friend, the one I was with at the park, who’d witnessed the whole encounter. He told me that he had been at the same park two days after the encounter, and guess who he had ran into? The same young man! Peddling the same old story! I could not believe my ears. But then again, I think I could.
You see, the whole encounter had taught me a great lesson. No, it wasn’t that I shouldn’t trust those con-men again. The lesson I am referring to is different and much more terrifying. It is found in Matthew 7:21-23;
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The young man knew the Gospel. He could say it backwards without missing a word. He could recite it like a Sunday School rhyme. He knew all the right phrases and punchlines about the Christian faith. Yet, he was unmoved by the Gospel that he so eloquently recited back to me. Apparently, “the Christian card” was just one of his classic con strategies. He had mastered the very phraseology and approach that get to people like me. He had swindled me (and many others) with the Gospel.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, boldly proclaims that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. He qualifies this statement by defining the Gospel, saying that The Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). This is a comforting verse. It re-assures me that I do not have to spice up the Gospel, market, sentimentalize or in any way modify the Gospel to make it effective. The power of the Gospel is in the person of the Gospel. That means that this power is dependent on the will of God. The Gospel is able to save, but the Gospel does not “always” save. Not everyone who hears the Gospel gets converted. That does not mean that the Gospel is powerless. It simply means that it was not God’s will for the person to be converted at such a time.
No one puts this point across more clearly than Christ himself:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:44]
All our evangelism tricks, strategies and tactics ought to focus on getting the Gospel heard. We are not to focus on getting it received. As preachers of the Gospel, our job is to see that they get it, not that they like it. Our job is to preach conversion, not to conjure conversions. Even then, we must remember that our lifestyles do matter. The fruit matters. Not necessarily for evangelism, but for assurance and evidence of our own salvation. The young man at the park had the right message, but he was not one with the message. He was unmoved by the Gospel. He is therefore a warning to the rest of us who claim to know and believe the Gospel.
The story ought to remind us that we are not just saved from hell, we are not just saved for heaven; we are saved unto holiness.
Are you holy?
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [Hebrews 12:14]
Yet, even after this encounter, I am still thankful to God. He had used this con to answer the prayer that I had made the previous week, the prayer not to be ashamed of the Gospel. Providence is indeed a mysterious thing.
For the fame of His name,