The Liberian night swirled around us with all of its smells. Mosquitoes were buzzing around us, but by now I had just about tuned them out. The conversation inside the house had ceased and as the men inside listened to us, they were also praying for Paul Zawolo that the Holy Spirit would enlighten his eyes and make him a new creation in Christ.
I continued, “Paul, you know that if I were to ask you just one more question, we would be able to determine that you have broken at least six of the Ten Commandments.” Paul simply nodded as he continued to look down at his feet.
Me: “Paul, James 2:10 tells us the truth about our breaking the laws of God, ‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.’ Therefore, according to the Bible, it does not matter whether you have broken five of them or just one and kept the other nine. It is like taking a rope with ten knots tied in it. You are hanging off the edge of a cliff onto the end of the rope that is your only lifeline. Which one of those ten knots do you want me to take a knife and sever?”
Paul: “None of them, otherwise I will die!”
Me: “That rope is like the law of God. It was given to us as a measuring stick to show that we cannot hope to attain such a level of goodness. The children of Israel could not keep them, I cannot keep them, and you cannot keep them. So, considering our verse in James, the truth is that you, Paul Zawolo from Loma County, have broken every one of God’s laws. Therefore, you are guilty and deserve to be thrown into hell forever!
I continued, “God gave you the standard and not only have you not kept that standard, you are not able to keep that standard because everything about you enjoys your sin. Your very nature hates God and His standard of holiness. This is why you seek to change the Word of God to suit your own standards.”
For the last few minutes, Paul had kept his eyes downward and refused to meet my gaze. After telling him that he deserved to go to hell, the light came on and he realized that he was going to lose everything for eternity. The truth was just too much.
He began to shake his head and finally asked, “Then there is nothing I can do to get to heaven is there? God will not accept me because I broke all His laws!”
He looked up briefly to see that I was nodding my head in agreement. At that point and continuing to shake his head in despair, he began to mutter, “Not good! No hope! Not good! No hope! I was wrong, but nobody ever told me!”
It was to this point that I had been trying to arrive. I wanted him to understand his hopeless, helpless condition before God. He needed to know that the wrath of God abides on all people who have not placed their faith in Christ alone. Letting the Word of God sink in and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work, I just watched and waited.
Paul: “Pastor, I am going to hell! There is no hope for me. I have broken all of God’s laws! Why didn’t anybody ever tell me? I have even been preaching parts of the Bible and have been telling others something that is not true!”
He paused in reflection and after some silence that seemed like an eternity, he looked back up to my face and said, “There must be an answer to the problem otherwise you would not have come all the way to my country! Is there any hope so that I do not have to suffer God’s punishment for my sins?”
Already amazed at a response which was far from typical when I had shared the biblical truths of law and grace with others in England and America, I replied, “Yes, I did come here from England because there is so much more to the story.”
Paul: “Please tell me what it is before it is too late for me!”
Not really needing the encouragement to share the rest of the gospel message, I gladly explained in detail the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I told him that the Savior had to come to this earth because it was foreordained that He was to be the spotless Lamb of God. He came to a sin-cursed world because the wrath of God would one day be poured out in full upon humanity because of their desire to remain in wickedness and because they loved their sin more than the Creator. Romans 6:23, I said, reminds us of the awful punishment that is rightly coming and due to all sinners, “For the wages of sin is death…”
Paul: “I realize that I am a sinner and cannot come to Christ by my own works, so what do I need to do in order to be right with God?”
Me: “Paul, the Bible says that whosoever comes to Christ will never be rejected. When we are brought by the Holy Spirit to the point where we recognize our need of a Savior, we can only realize this when we are fully aware that we are doomed to hell forever because of our sin. Therefore, in order to become a new creation in Christ, a person must place their faith in Christ alone. Each individual has the responsibility to cry out to God for mercy for forgiveness and repent of their sins. Each person must see themselves as God does and then see the holiness of God as having been mocked.”
Paul continued to stand in silence just watching me with careful attention in the dim porch light. I continued, “There is hope in what has already been accomplished on the cross of Calvary for each and every person who ever places their faith in Christ for their eternal salvation. The hope that is sure is when salvation comes to our soul that the old things are done away with, we become a new creation in Christ, and we will never have to worry about suffering the wrath of God for our sins for our fellowship is always with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ according to First John.
I paused allowing the words of Scripture to sink in to his own thoughts and then said, “Paul, the road to the cross is narrow and few find it! The only decision you can make is to plead to God for mercy that He will take you, forgive you of your sins, and make you one of His beloved adopted children! Paul, what will you do with Christ?”
As I finished, a response I was not expecting burst forth from Paul but it was not directed at me. Kicking off his sandals, he fell to his knees in the dirt and began to plead with God for mercy. I must admit that a momentary flash of pride struck me as I stood watching him begin to pray. What should I do, after all, I had a good pair of trousers on and didn’t want to get them dirty! That thought process was quickly arrested as the Holy Spirit smote my heart for such a misarranged set of priorities and without a second thought, I fell to my knees also.
Pouring out his heart, he confessed his sins including for the unbelief in his heart. He confessed to His Creator that he had trusted in his own strength to get himself to heaven and asked God to save Him from the hell that he deserved.
From inside the house, I could voices rejoicing in hearing Paul pray before the God of heaven. I also knew that there was other rejoicing taking place that we could not hear because of one more sinner who had repented!
Tears were falling from my own eyes as Paul paused and then began to thank the Lord. He rejoiced that I had shared the truth with him, that I had cared enough to tell him he was going to hell and then that God had allowed the pastor from England to go to Liberia.
After he concluded his own time of prayer, I spent some time struggling to pray aloud as I rejoiced with him in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of God that would redeem either one of us from the power and penalty of sin and set our feet upon the Solid Rock. It was during the course of that very special time that my heart changed about Liberia in many, many ways.
(…to be continued…)