It was after midnight on Saturday, but I didn’t feel tired. The conversation around the dinner table continued long past the meal but it was so engaging that I lost track of time. I was there at the invitation of Christian friends, supporters of Jews for Jesus who were hoping I would witness to an Orthodox Jewish couple they had befriended. After several hours of discussing Scripture, history and apologetics, the Jewish husband posed a question. Maybe I was more tired than I thought because I did not recognize it as the trick question it was.
O.K., David,” he began. “If I do what you are asking, if I give up Judaism and become a Christian, then what do I get in return?” How would you have answered that question? Feel free to write and let me know.* We might publish selections from some of the best answers in a future edition of this newsletter or in our RealTime publication.
I will tell you that I am not happy with the way I answered, and it got me thinking. Maybe it will stimulate your thinking as well. I told David (yes, we share the same name): “First of all I wouldn’t say that I am asking you to give up Judaism in order to become a Christian. I am not asking you to trade one religion for another. I am inviting you to receive the Jewish Messiah Jesus as your Lord and Savior.”
“Fine. So what do I get?” he pressed.
“You get forgiveness of all your sins,” I told him.
“I already have that,” he said.
“You get a personal relationship with God.”
“I have that,” he said again.
“You get the assurance of spending forever with God in heaven.”
“I have that too.” He was smiling now like a cat that had just caught the mouse. “So really David, you’re not offering me anything I don’t already have in Judaism.” GOTCHA!
I had been tricked. I had attempted to answer sincerely what was clearly an insincere question—insincere because David wasn’t looking for an answer. He was already convinced that Christ could offer him nothing. Of course he knew that I disagreed with his belief that he could have all of those things outside of Jesus. But as far as he was concerned, he had all that he needed or wanted from the Jewish religion. His question was not really a question at all.
Jesus was often confronted with insincere questions and He never fell into the trap that I did that evening. Religious leaders asked by what authority He conducted His ministry (Matthew 21:23). They asked Him if it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:17). They even asked a far-fetched question about whom, in the afterlife, would be the husband of a woman who had been married seven times in this life (Matthew 22:23-27). They asked if the crowd should stone to death a woman caught in adultery (John 8:5). Each of these questions was insincere because those who asked didn’t really want information concerning these issues. They wanted to trick Jesus, to put Him in a position where any answer He gave would present them with an opportunity to discredit Him. Like the proverbial “have you stopped beating your wife,” the purpose behind these questions was not to seek the truth but to set a trap.
Jesus never answered these kinds of questions in the way they had been posed. He either answered with a question of his own or he challenged the underlying presuppositions and exposed the dishonesty of the questioners. I wish I had been able to do the same with my Orthodox Jewish friend. So why did I fall into his trap around the dinner table that evening? I’d like to say it was simply because I was tired. But as I analyze my response, I believe that I have unconsciously allowed myself to be impacted by our prevailing culture.
We live in a world that is driven by rabid consumerism that distorts and degrades our system of values and our understanding of spiritual things. Our society places a premium on pursuing the greatest degree of personal comfort and benefit possible. Hence the question, “What do I get,” motivates many people’s choices today, not only in the physical realm, but in the spiritual realm as well.
Studies in comparative religion are no longer just a means to further one’s knowledge. Comparing religions has become a kind of cost/benefit analysis that many people use as they look to get the best spiritual deal for themselves in this life and in the life to come (if they believe in that sort of thing).
Followers of Jesus need to understand that the gospel message is counter-intuitive to the mindset of our present-day culture. When we fail to realize this we miss the mark in our efforts to make Christ known. Jesus told us that, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Another prevailing idea in our culture can likewise undermine our explanation of the gospel, and that is the post-modern tendency to see truth as relative. Experts in reaching postmoderns with the gospel have advised us to avoid absolute truth claims because it may alienate those who are searching for answers but reject the idea of absolutes. If we follow this advice we find ourselves facing the same problem as with the consumerist mindset. The gospel becomes subject to a cost/benefit analysis along with all the other religious ideas being proffered. Will it work for me? What do I get? We know that truth is not relative, but we may be tempted to be too delicate about the issue when talking to those who see it differently.
Absolute truth is a reality, in fact The Reality. It exists without reference to or dependence upon those who may or may not believe. It would exist whether or not anyone benefited by it because truth does not exist to benefit people. It simply exists. Jesus said He is the Truth. That is not to say there is no benefit to following after Jesus. Jesus said He is the way to the Father, to life more abundant, to having the light of life, to living forever. But most people are not willing to trade temporal and material pleasures for these more lofty realities.
“What do I get?” is not the question that someone searching for the truth asks. The gospel shatters the preconceived ideas of the me-first spirituality prevalent in our culture of consumerism and post-modern relativism. The gospel doesn’t address the question of what we get. It points to the reality of what we need, and the grace that is our only hope to meet that need. The gospel doesn’t provide a self-indulgent spiritual fix but calls us to turn from our sin to the only One who can truly save. It calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.
In light of these realities we should give very careful answers when asked the kind of questions that lead people away from truth. It may be appropriate to reply with another question, like Jesus did. I think I would have done better by my friend David had I asked him, “What are you willing to give up to get to the truth?”
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