Oddball exceptions notwithstanding, everyone wants a good deal. So I have on occasion fashioned my witnessing and contending for the faith around the idea of "a good deal." It's not always effective, but then no approach of which I'm aware bats a thousand. Even so, I believe it has a solid biblical basis, despite my having been accused of demeaning spiritual things by using "such a crass concept."
"What do you mean, 'What's my deal?'" complained the cult member at my door. It bothered him that I was implying he was there to sell me something, and that such a line of questioning reduced the spiritual significance of his mission to something "commercial." Undeterred by his objection, I pointed out that he and his friend may not have been selling vacuum cleaners or Girl Scout cookies, but they did ring my doorbell for the purpose of getting me to "buy" what they were "selling"—and I simply wanted to know what the deal was.
It's interesting how seldom those who are trying to sell you something tell you exactly what you want to know when you want to know it. (I call it the "Amway revelation," which those of you who have been approached to become distributors will recognize.) Well, after being subjected to a burst of religious platitudes to throw off my direct line of questioning, I managed to get the conversation back on the track I wanted to discuss.
"It seems obvious that you guys are here for the sole purpose of enriching my life spiritually. True?" They both nodded agreeably. "Well, I'm very much interested in spiritual enrichment. But I don't want you to waste your time or mine. So I'd like to hear what you have to offer... but only if you're willing to answer my questions as simply and directly as you can." They both agreed, and I invited them in for an "enrichment" Q&A session.
"When I asked you about your deal, I assumed that you came to my door to tell me some things that would help me in this life and prepare me for the life to come." They nodded. "I do already have some beliefs about that, but I'm interested in hearing what you believe—to see if your deal is better than mine, so to speak." The two gave each other a what's-with-this-guy look and weren't quite sure where to begin. So I got them started.
"What must I do to get to heaven? Do I have to join your organization to get there?" After some hemming-and-hawing on their part and my chiding reminder that "direct answers" was the agreed condition for this discussion, they decided to do their best (within their trained approach) to answer my questions. Their response went something like this:
"Our organization was raised up by God because all the world's religions became corrupt and devoid of Jehovah's truth. Therefore, if you want to know the truth of what God requires, our organization alone has that truth."
"That's exactly what I want to know," I replied enthusiastically. "What's your deal?"
Again, straightforwardness is not part of their training so I had to interrupt them continually, restating in more concise terms what they told me. I like to do that, by the way, because it often puts in a different light what they have been programmed to present—a view they haven't considered. It also seemed to avoid knee-jerk defensive reactions on their part. After inducing them to articulate some of the key teachings of their cult, I summed up their deal:
"So, if I've got this right, I need to join your organization because it's the only way I can learn Jehovah's will. Then if I faithfully carry out His will in obedience to the instructions of the organization for the rest of my life, I'll be rewarded with everlasting life on earth, because there's almost no chance of being for all eternity with Jesus in heaven [which is reserved for and already filled by a special class of people and limited to 144,000]. If I do enough good to pass the test, God will resurrect me on earth for another test of good works and obedience which lasts 1,000 years. If I make it through that okay and at the end Jehovah deems me worthy, I will live on a renewed earth in a perfect human condition—that is, as long as I don't rebel against God throughout eternity. Right?"
Although I had added a few things they had failed to confide, they admitted that my recap was "fairly accurate." "That's not what I'd call a good deal," I concluded. Before they could respond, I began expounding upon the far better deal I had accepted.
"Before creation began, Jehovah foreknew that humanity would disobey Him (1 Pt 1:18-20; 2 Tim:1:9), breaking fellowship with Him. The penalty for sin which His absolute justice required is death—eternal separation from Him (Rom:6:23); yet His divine love and mercy provided a way for eternal reconciliation (Rom:5:11; 2 Cor:5:18). God himself became a man, Christ Jesus, who lived a sinless life and then died a sacrificial death, paying the full debt owed by sinful humanity. God our only Savior (Isa:43:11) raised Jesus our only Savior (Acts:4:12; Titus:2:13) from the dead, and God's Word tells me that the only way I can spend eternity with Him is to believe His death, burial and resurrection paid the complete penalty for my sins—past, present and future. Christ alone could, and did, save me, a salvation I received not by works but by grace through faith alone, according to God's perfect plan."
There was a momentary silence as the younger of the two Jehovah's Witnesses seemed to be giving thoughtful consideration to my words, while the elder gave an anxious pause before hurriedly collecting his things. I could see our session was coming to an abrupt end so I kept sowing what I hoped might produce future fruit. "Your deal is not only bad, it's hopeless. Sinful man can contribute nothing toward his salvation. The only payment God will accept for sin is death, either ours for our own sin, or the sinless Lamb of God's substitutionary death on our behalf. Only He can save us, and He has done it fully and perfectly!"
I have a grudging admiration for Jehovah's Witnesses' zeal, and a grieving heart over their damnable deal.
Lest someone misunderstand me, I believe the foremost reason one should become a Christian is because biblical Christianity is the absolute truth. It is God's deal; everything it declares is true (Ps:119:160; Jn:17:17); and it is utterly good for us—the best. Compared to what God has revealed, man's religious endeavors and dictates are always futile—and too often a form of spiritual racketeering.
At an ExCatholics For Christ conference at which I acted as administrator, I was asked to speak with a young man who, as a recent convert to Catholicism, was considering becoming a priest. He was brought to the conference by some deeply concerned evangelical friends who hoped that something he heard there might dissuade him from his affair with Rome. The constant demands of my job afforded me only a very brief amount of time with him, and I wanted to get to the gist of why he converted to Catholicism. He, however, wanted to discuss that which gave him confidence regarding his conversion: early church history.
After listening to him for as long as I could under very pressing circumstances, I interrupted, "Look, although I'm not particularly interested in church history, I wouldn't mind discussing that with you if and when we had more time. I'm sorry, but right now I'm under the gun. In view of that, just tell me briefly the deal you got by becoming a Catholic."
"What are you talking about? What deal?!!" was his indignant reply.
"I was told that you were a Protestant before becoming a Catholic. I assume you converted because you found a better deal in the Church of Rome. So, what's your deal now?" Unflappable and unmovable at the beginning of our discussion, the young man was now uptight, wanting no part of that line of questioning, which he indicated was demeaning and beneath contempt. Yet he didn't stomp off. Therefore, I answered my own question for him.
"I was a Roman Catholic for more than 30 years. I became a Catholic through infant baptism. That baptism removed my sin and started me on the way to heaven. Some years later, when I committed a mortal sin, I was condemned to hell for it. Then the sacraments came to my aid. Confession got me back on the ladder to heaven, communion helped me climb it, but every time I sinned grievously I fell off, plummeting toward hell. Absolution from the priest broke my fall and the liturgy got me on the ascent again. My life was plummet, assent, plummet, assent, plummet, assent. As thankful as I was for confession, I still knew I had to personally pay for my sins, either here on earth or in purgatory in order to get to heaven. How long would I have to suffer in order to be purged of all my sins? No one could tell me.
"Would I make it to heaven? Well, yes—if...if I did not die with a mortal sin on my soul. But no one could be assured of that. Not even Pope John Paul II. Even for him, the so-called vicar of Christ, God's chief representative on earth, to think so would be verging on the mortal sin of presumption. Nevertheless, as a devout Catholic I did all that I could to stack the odds in my favor: Masses, confessions, communions, rosaries, novenas, stations of the cross, eucharistic hours, scapulars, medals, holy water, indulgences, acts of mercy, sufferings, appeals to Mary, prayers for help from the saints, etc., etc.
"My hope was in the Church, its sacraments and rituals. But it wasn't hope at all, it was bondage to a manmade religion. It was a bad deal!"
The young convert to Rome didn't see it that way. I pray he will.
I don't know if the young man really understood the gospel (Eph:2:8-9; Rom:4:5) before his conversion to Catholicism; it seems doubtful. Then again, I've often wondered why those who claim to know the gospel and trust in God's Word have such a penchant for extrabiblical deals. The church's ravenous appetite for the lies of psychotherapy is a disheartening example.
The Bible is emphatic that it contains all that one needs for a life that is fruitful and fully pleasing to God (Ps:119:9; 2 Pt 1:3; Heb:4:12; 2 Tim:3:16-17; James:1:18, etc.). Every drop of its water of truth is crystal clear, thoroughly cleansing, perfectly refreshing (Ps:34:8). Yet more and more of Christ's own are drinking from cesspools, waters polluted with the anti-Christian theories of Freud, Jung, Fromm, Maslow, Ellis, Rogers, et al., and ladled out by professional Christian therapists highly sought after for their psychological counsel.
Just before his death more than a decade ago, J. Vernon McGee met with Dave Hunt and me. He was terribly grieved as he shared that his "Through the Bible," once the most popular program on Christian radio, was being displaced around the country by shows hosted by psychologists and psychiatrists, and fraught with psychobabble. Today, Christian psychotherapists and most marriage and family counselors are the "hirelings" (Jn:10:13) of Christendom, feeding the sheep a toxic mixture of biblical teachings laced with destructive myths such as psychic determinism, codependency, self-love and all the other selfisms, repressed memories, the Freudian unconscious, occult techniques of visualization and hypnosis, inner healing, inner child and multiple personalities, birth order, 12 steps, the four temperaments, personality testing, satanic ritual abuse, grievance counseling, generational curses, and left brain/right brain, as well as being contributors to the nationwide problem of overprescribed drugs.
If something has extraordinary popularity among evangelicals, it's practically a given that it has heavy doses of the "fleshly wisdom" (2 Cor:1:12) of psychotherapy, from Focus on the Family to Promise Keepers to the Women of Faith conferences (the latter founded by Steve Arterburn of New Life [psychotherapeutic] clinics, and cosponsored by his clinics and Remuda Ranch, a treatment center for women with "psychological" disorders; more on this in a future Q&A). The sheep are being sheared both financially and spiritually as too many of their shepherds—those who claim to be committed to God's Word—stand idly by, watching a very bad deal take place.
"Be vigilant"(1 Pt 5:8), ye shepherds, exhort those whom God has placed in your care to drink from the pure water of His Word.
The world knows nothing of what it so desperately needs: true love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal:5:22-23). Nothing extrabiblical can supply, supplement or surpass God's deal. TBC