Opportunities to witness, the book of Romans, and Roman Catholics

Having turned off the Isuzu Crosswind, I stepped out and walked up the stairs to the front door of the house, Bible in hand. Darkness had settled over the Orient, and thankfully the tropical heat had relented. This particular neighborhood in Metro Manila was peaceful and quiet. I had just driven about half an hour from our house in Antipolo City, in the low mountains east of Manila. I drove down the mountain, past multitudes of colorful jeepneys, noisy trikes, and crossing pedestrians, and arrived at the house. But I forgot that Filipinos usually eat supper around 7:00 p.m. or later. I had already eaten with my family at home. My Filipino host, who had been attending our Wednesday night class on the Canons of Dordt, warmly welcomed me and three other Filipino brethren into his house and invited us to eat supper with them. “Kain muna tayo!” (“Let’s eat first!”). Of course, we obliged, and I enjoyed a second supper of delicious Filipino food. Living in the same house with my host were his brother, his brother’s wife and children, and his aged mother. Also present that night were his sister from Los Angeles and his other brother from Toronto. These last two were the reason I was asked to come that night. They are still Roman Catholic, and my host requested that I bring the gospel to them.

What should I say to these people?

Opportunities for witness come to us constantly, do they not? The apostle Paul exhorts us to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:5-6). When the time comes, the opportunity for witness, how can we redeem that time? What should we say? How should we approach this?

It depends on the situation.

Sometimes the opportunity for witness comes when our neighbor has suffered a loss, hardship, or tragedy. Perhaps your coworker recently lost his wife. They did not attend church very much. They preferred the pleasures of this world. But now she is gone, and he suffers the pain of bereavement. He feels the truth of life without God, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit!” But he remembers you. Yes, he remembers your hope! He saw that hope manifested in the past when you suffered loss. He knows that you are a Christian because your conversation has been honest among the Gentiles, your light has been shining before men. So he comes and asks how you can have such hope in the midst of such great loss. Suddenly, the opportunity to witness faces you. What should you say to this man? How should you approach this? The gospel of the resurrection of Christ comes to mind, does it not, and the hope of life everlasting? The words of Romans 8:28 might be fitting: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

At other times the opportunity comes when our neighbor has committed a sin against us, or near us. Maybe your employee has been watching pornography on one of the computers owned by your company. The manager notices the Internet history of that computer. Someone was viewing pornographic websites. He is outraged. He discovers the perpetrator and drags him before you, in the spirit of certain scribes and Pharisees who brought a woman before Jesus. He says to you in so many words, “Master, this guy was taken in pornography, in the very act. Company policy says he should be fired. What should we do to him?” Suddenly, the opportunity to witness faces you. What should you say to the accuser? What should you say to the sinner? How should you approach this? The gospel of forgiveness comes to mind, does it not? The words of Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

On still other occasions, the neighbor may be interested in religious conversation with you, and the opportunity comes. Maybe he is an agnostic, one who says he does not know whether there is a God or not. He believes in science. He believes in reason. He believes in proving things, but not with the Word of God. He cannot prove that there is a God. But he cannot prove either that there is no God. Therefore, he tells you, he is an agnostic. He thinks truth is relative to each individual. There is no absolute truth, or if there is, we cannot know it. As far as we are concerned, truth is relative. He thinks all religions have some good and some bad, and we Christians should not try to convert people, but celebrate the good in other religions. He thinks everyone should be allowed to choose his own sexual orientation and to marry whichever gender he chooses. Suddenly, he asks what you think. The opportunity to witness faces you. How should you approach such a man? What can you really say? Perhaps you are at a loss for words with such a person. But perhaps the words of Scripture come to mind, when God Himself says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” (Is. 46:9). And, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

What should we say in these moments? We should simply say what the Lord has already said in the Bible. We should carry the Word of God in our hearts wherever we go. For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword.

But what should be our focus? We should focus on the gospel. We might want to focus on intellectual arguments at times. We may be inclined to focus on moral failures or social evils at other times. We might even be disinclined to focus on anything at all because we fear mockery or rejection, or we are skeptical about the receptivity of our neighbors. But our focus should always be on the gospel. Christ has called us ordained ministers to preach the gospel in all the world. And He calls all of us to hold forth the word of life to our neighbors through personal witnessing.

Many opportunities to witness come to us as missionaries in the Philippines. Last summer, as mentioned above, a Filipino brother asked me to come to his house and preach the gospel to his family, particularly his sister who was visiting from L.A. and his brother from Toronto. They are still Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics are taught a false gospel, another gospel which is no gospel, a gospel of salvation by masses and prayers to the saints and other works. Roman Catholics, if they understand what their church teaches, should live in fear of purgatory and hell. What, then, should I say to these people? How should I approach this opportunity to witness?

The situation and audience, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit, led me to choose the book of Romans and the heart of the gospel.

The book of Romans is a beautiful portion of Scripture. Paul wrote in the first chapter, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:15-17).

Paul then proves that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But then we learn the heart of the gospel. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). And “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). For “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And

whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified…. If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us (Rom. 8:30-37).

Supper was finished. Our host invited us into the living room and introduced me more fully. Then he gave me the floor. Briefly, I summarized the grand truths of the book of Romans, focusing on the heart of the gospel, that we are justified freely through faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, and that we know that all things work for our good because God foreknew us and predestinated us to glory. I issued the call of the gospel and explained our reasonable service to God not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds.

After a short time of questions and answers, one of the three Filipino brothers who had accompanied me invited the family to attend our worship services at Provident Christian Church. He encouraged the two Roman Catholics from overseas to attend the Protestant Reformed Church nearest to their homes in Los Angeles and Toron to. Will the Lord use this for the salvation of these souls? That is the desire of our hearts. But we also trust that as many as are ordained to eternal life will believe.

Our host gave me a small gift of appreciation, and we parted ways. I climbed back into our Isuzu Crosswind, fired up the diesel engine, and headed back up the mountain to Antipolo City. I joined the throng of jeepneys, trikes, cars, trucks, and pedestrians once again. What a privilege to be one of the Lord’s witnesses among the millions here in the Philippines!

You too, believing reader, are a witness of God in this world. Count it a great privilege! May the Lord give you opportunities to hold forth the Word of life. Redeem those opportunities and focus on the gospel. Speak the words that God has already spoken in Scripture. Fear not what man might say to you, but rejoice that you are witnesses of the living Lord. Know that He will be with you and bless you when you let your light shine before men.