During a recent gospel meeting that I preached, the local evangelist and I went calling on a few individuals in hopes of motivating some to faithfulness and setting up Bible studies with others who have not yet been saved. As is often the case, we struck out several times due to no one being home. On one return visit, however, we found an individual at home who welcomed us inside. We introduced ourselves which, no doubt, clued him in as to why we were there. Still, he seemed glad for our company and asked us to sit for a while. After a bit of small talk, finding some common ground, we got to the point. We began by inviting him to the meeting and then moved into a more personal conversation about his soul and his relationship with God.
The things we had to say did not come as a surprise to him because he had attended the services of a church of Christ with his parents during his youth. We asked him if he felt he was saved, and he answered, "No." We asked if he knew what would happen if he died in that condition. He said, "Yes," indicating that he would go to hell. We asked him if he could be saved without being baptized. He replied, "Not according to the Bible." With so many years having passed from the time he attended services as a boy -- he being an older man now -- we asked if he ever thought any more about being saved.
After a brief moment of silence, he replied, "I'd like to tell you something I have never told anyone before." He explained that in his home town the church held a meeting every summer. At the age of fourteen, he decided that he would be baptized during the next meeting, though he told no one. One day, a week or so before the meeting, he went to the river to fish and was sitting, enjoying the stillness. He began to hear the noise of laughter in the distance. It was coming from a boat drifting down the river toward him. As it rounded the bend, he recognized who was in it -- Shady Lane, the town drunk, and the preacher. He slipped back into the bushes and watched and listened. He couldn't believe that they were telling and laughing at dirty jokes. When they got directly in front of him, he stepped out and waved, much to the preacher's surprise, who was in the midst of guzzling a beer.
That Sunday before services, the preacher wasn't standing in his usual place in the entrance. He was out on the sidewalk greeting people. As soon as he saw the boy coming, he went to meet him. He warned him not to tell anyone about what he had seen.
Our host went on to explain that although he would have liked to have told his parents, he was afraid because his dad did not tolerate lying. "If he even thought you were lying," he said, "he would whip you, especially if it were about someone else." The story about the preacher would have probably seemed like a lie to his dad and most likely would have gotten him a whipping, so he thought. Who would have believed the preacher had been floating down the river with Shady Lane, the town drunk, drinking beer and laughing at dirty jokes?
He wasn't baptized during that meeting, and, probably close to fifty years later, he has still not been immersed. While at home, he continued to go to church because he had no choice. But when he moved out that ended too.
Who is to blame? Is it Shady, the preacher, or the boy who now distanced from the hurt by several years has still not yielded to God's will? I tried to express to him that I felt for him, and that surely what he saw must have been crushing for a young boy ready to commit himself to God. However, I tried to help him understand that God has been kind and merciful to him. He has allowed him many years to mend, come to his senses again and be saved. We encouraged him to do so that very day, but he still wasn't ready.
He said he realizes that his reason for not being saved will not excuse him, but, regardless, that was the motive at the time for his decision.
How sad indeed! A man bound for hell who knows it, but who also knows what to do to avoid it. He is right. God will not excuse him for refusing to obey the gospel (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9). The Lord did not wrong him; it was a hypocritical preacher who had an opportunity to make things right but apparently failed to.
Though there are many applications that could be made and lessons that could be taught from this story, the one that is most meaningful to me is the effect our actions have on others. Here was a boy ready to obey the gospel. He had made up his mind that when the invitation song was sung at the next meeting, he was going to walk down that aisle, be buried with Christ in baptism and have his sins washed away (see Galatians 3:27, and Acts 22:16). But he still has not done so because he was hurt so deeply by seeing the preacher, who was supposed to be a spiritual and godly man, drinking and laughing at dirty jokes. If what our friend said is true, though the preacher was not making a great effort to conceal his sins, he probably wasn't expecting anyone to be there or to notice him. Then instead of trying to make things right, he inflicted more harm by trying to conceal his sins from the congregation at the expense of the boy's soul. As a result, one is now headed for eternal destruction.
Sometimes we, too, are more apt to give in to temptation when we think no one is watching. But as this story illustrates, the potential always exists. Needless to say, nothing is hidden from the Lord (see Hebrews 4:13). Just think! Should someone see you, a Christian, living inconsistently with the teachings of the New Testament, it could cause him to fall away or never even become a Christian.
As Peter admonished, we must be careful to always keep ourselves pure and our conduct honorable before others: "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation (I Peter 2:11,12). Similarly, Jesus stated, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).
When we conduct ourselves in a pure and godly manner, we adorn the doctrine of God instead of defaming it (see Titus 2:10). By doing so, others are encouraged to become Christians--to be as we are — not discouraged. Let us, therefore, always be careful to be godly. A soul other than our own may depend on it.