“How do I have faith? Am I supposed to believe in something that is unbelievable?” Those were questions Eugene asked at the point of spiritual capitulation. Let me back up and explain. It all started more than 25 years ago.
Eugene is the son of Romanian immigrants to the United States. His origins are reflected in his heavily accented, but otherwise flawless, English.
Eugene attended his first Jews for Jesus Bible studies back in the 1980’s. He became well known for such questions as, “How do you know anything in the Bible is true?” Or, “These Bible stories could be fables, couldn’t they?”
But there was always a sense that Eugene genuinely wanted to know if God was real. Several of our missionary staff patiently worked with him to answer his objections. And though he seemed reluctant to believe what he insisted was implausible, he continued attending our Bible studies.
During my decades of ministry in Southern California, I’ve taught a variety of Bible study series. Eugene attended many of those. Occasionally, I’d ask one of our missionary staff to meet with Eugene and attempt to work through his most current objection.
In the winter of 2012, it seemed that something had changed. Eugene’s attitude about the Bible had shifted. Archeological support for Biblical locations, artifacts and events had helped him trust in the truth of the Bible. The description of the human nature as selfish, self-centered and self-reliant echoed Eugene’s observations about humanity in general and his own heart in particular. He informed us that he no longer agreed with the rabbinic objections to the Deity and Messiahship of Jesus. I kept my surprise to myself, but wondered how to pray for Eugene.
One evening during a Bible study he asked, “How can anyone believe in a God he has not seen?” I responded, “Faith is a gift of God. Have you ever asked God to give you that gift?” Eugene was perplexed. “That is too simple!” he retorted. His own philosophical reasoning is all that he had to guide him. And, in his academic humility, Eugene did not want to be so “arrogant” as to declare that he had found the truth and was ready to believe in it. This is a fairly common post-modern challenge, particularly with European Jewish people.
I asked Eugene if he believed that there is objective truth, that is, truth that stands apart from a human majority vote. For example, I asked if he could believe Jesus when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Eugene accepted that as true, but he wondered how that truth applied to his life. It seemed just “too simple” for him to say, “I believe in Jesus.”
After the Bible study, I suggested that he ask God to give him the gift of faith. He looked skeptical but said that he would pray that God would give him faith to believe.
On Tuesday night, May 15, I showed up as usual for our small group Bible study. Strangely, and for the first time in my entire career, only one person showed up. It was Eugene. My colleague, Stan Meyer, was also present. I decided to do a Bible study for one man: Eugene.
I picked up the conversation where we had left off with the theme, “Faith is a gift of God.” Together we read Matthew 16:13-17. In that account, Simon Peter reports to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus informs Peter that he had spoken accurately, but not because he “figured it out,” but that it was “revealed by My Father who is in heaven.”
In the same way, I told Eugene, God would give him the faith to believe all that is true—it is the result of a supernatural encounter with the Spirit of God.
Something had changed in Eugene’s mind, his understanding, and in his attitude, in his heart. For the first time, he told me that he had been attending Grace Community Church for nearly ten years. The Bible teaching there had helped him find confidence in the Word of God.
That night, Eugene was ready to pray, asking God to do His supernatural work in his heart. We prayed to Jesus the “Lord,” the Savior for sin and the risen Messiah. We asked God to bless Eugene with faith that would acknowledge the gift of salvation. At the end of the Bible study, he reminded me of Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the grave, you will be saved.” That was Eugenes’s way of saying that he understood the spiritual import of all that had just happened.
I’m comforted to report that two weeks later, Eugene came to the Bible study along with the rest of the small group. He acknowledges that something spiritually dramatic had taken place in his life. While he does not talk like a typical white North American evangelical, he has clearly come to a new understanding and an awareness that God has given him faith to believe. Whereas he used to say, “It just seems too easy,” Eugene now understands the enormity of this beautiful gift.
Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the original Jews for Jesus missionary staff. He is also our director of development. Find out more about Tuvya here.
Bonus article: We contacted a couple more staff who have been ministered to Eugene over the years to see if they had anything to add that might encourage you to pray and witness to those who do not seem to be responding the way you’d like. You’ll find their comments here.