“I used to wear a religious pendent and a cross on the same neck, just in case one was right. I mean that sincerely, just hedging my bet. But thank God, I found Christ or He found me,” said Pr Steve Cioccolanti on 24th of April, in the New Life Community Church, Subang Jaya.
Born in a Buddhist background, Pr Steve pointed out that there many common things between this former religion and Christianity. For example, both believe in alms giving, meditating, and good works. Both believe in the sin. In fact, this former religion involves keeping 227 commandments. If you break one commandment, you are still in sin even if you meditate. Other forms of less-stringent religion today is not the true religion – they have easier paths to draw followers.
“What we are looking for when we are preaching the gospel is that we are looking for a hint of honesty. If someone is not honest, he or she cannot be saved. And we just need to wait for the opportunity for them to be honest and come to God for forgiveness,” said Pr Steve.
A survey showed that 79 percent of people of Pr Steve’s former religion thought Christian messengers are aggressive and 89 percent of them thought that the Christian message is intelligible.
“The power of God for salvation made no sense to them. We can say that they’re stubborn and we can change them. But if 90 percent of the population said that they don’t like Coca Cola, they will adjust the ingredients. In the same way, is there something we need to do differently?” said Pr Steve.
Pr Steve find that church after church is preaching only half the gospel, because we are giving solutions to a group of people who did not know a problem. If we were to visit a car mechanic or doctor, they would tell us our problem first before the solution.
“Christians say, ‘Jesus loves you’ and ‘Jesus died for you.’ And when they don’t get it, we say, ‘You are so stubborn.’ You don’t have to give Jesus a chance because it is Jesus who is giving him or her the chance.
“My question is, ‘Have you ever seen anywhere in the Bible, where Jesus walks up to someone and says, ‘I love you very much. Please give me a chance. I want to come into your heart. Just open the slightest crack of your heart and I will come in and give you love, peace, joy, and everlasting contentment. Please give me a chance,’” said Pr Steve.
Most of the time, Jesus addressed the problem first before giving solutions to the people, the solution. The reason we are telling people first of Jesus’ wonderful love is because this is usually the western way of doing things.
“But if we do it in the Bible way, we get Bible results. But if we persist in doing it in somebody else’s fashion, it may sometimes work despite the fact that you’re not following the Bible. God’s mercy is so great. But that doesn’t mean that this method is working. Saying Jesus loves you is true, but that’s not usually the starting point,” said Pr Steve.
He emphasized how his former religion is very heavy on problem. In summary, it can be explained into four parts of life – to be born, to grow old, to get sick, and to die. And the founder of this religion Buddha was actually a prince. But one day, he escaped from his palace and saw an old person, a sick person, a dead person, and a priest. He concluded that life is full of suffering. And we all agree.
Whether Jesus were to come to earth or not, we will die because of our sins. The problem is our sins, which cause people to go to hell. Does that makes sense to people practicing his former religion? Yes.
“Instead, Christians don’t blame sins, they blame Jesus. They said, ‘If you don’t believe Jesus, God will send you to hell.’ The person will say, ‘Then, I wish Jesus never came.’ Jesus is the trouble.
“Every sinner goes to hell (not because of not believing in Jesus but) because he or she is a sinner. And most religions say that every sinner deserved to be punished. God is so holy that every liar will have a part in the fire. His standard of goodness is very high. Does that make sense? Of course, it makes sense,” said Pr Steve.
Both religions talk about suffering. The people of the former religion believe in keeping the five commandments, which is a distillation of the 227 commandments for a man and 311 commandments for a woman. The first commandment is do not kill, followed by do not steal, do not commit sexual immoraility, do not lie, and do not drink any intoxicant drink.
“You would also notice that four of the first five commandments in the former religion match the sixth to the ninth commandments of Christianity. The only thing that did not match is the fifth external commandment (drink intoxicant drinks),” said Pr Steve, explaining how the founder of his former religion actually lived in the same time of Daniel the Prophet who would have spread the Word of God throughout the Persian Kingdom.
God evangelized the world, not by giving us the good news first but explaining how all have sinned according to the law. How many people have succeeded in practicing the five commandments of Pr Steve’s former religion all the time, all their life? Has one killed a cockroach before? Has one downloaded pirated movies and songs from the internet, which is stealing? Has one tell a lie before, even though it’s a white lie? And meditation will not help to eliminate the sin.
“Now, that we agree that we have the same problems, we diverge because the difference is that the founder of my former religion never give a guarantee of salvation. So, we follow a religion that gives us no guarantee and no promise of salvation 100 percent.
“But people have tried it. We’re not saying it’s bad but we’re saying it’s hard. We cannot say that this person has reached Nirvana and he has escaped suffering,” said Pr Steve.
The solution to the problem of sin is Jesus then. What makes Jesus so unique? There are four things.
Jesus is born from a virgin woman without sin. He had a unique life because He did not sin. (1 Pet 2:22, Heb 4:15, 2 Cor 5:21) Even when He was brought to the court, Pilate found nothing wrong with Him. (John 18:38) Because He has no sin from birth to death, Jesus also died a unique death of dying for the sins of the world. (1 Pet 3:18-20) After three days, he was resurrected as the Living God. (John 11:25-26)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)
The founder of Pr Steve’s former religion was born as a human being in sin. He abandoned his spouse and child and disobeyed his parents who groomed him to become a prince. In many ways, he is a noble person but we can agree that he is an imperfect man. He was born, lived, and died in karma, like an ordinary man. Hence, make no mistake because Jesus is unique. (John 12:32) Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
“Doesn’t that now make sense? Of course it does but we didn’t start from there. That’s why I decided to follow Jesus. I didn’t reject my culture. I didn’t reject being Thai. I believe that what the founder of my former religion is looking for is fulfilled in Christ.
“So, we must emphasize on the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus is a friend of sinners. he would reach out to the most vile criminal and say that even your crime can be washed by me. He would reach out to the poor and rich alike. He does not discriminate.
“And if you’re down and feel locked in a prison or if you have a problem that no one can solve, Jesus will be there with you and see you through. There is no one like Jesus,” said Pr Steve.
Once we understand the deep problem we are in – which is our sin (Rom 3:23) and the impossibility of keeping all the commandments (James 2:10) – Jesus is the answer in dying and paying for all our broken commandments, our disobedience and our sins. (Romans 6:23) Jesus did it and no one else. (1 Pet 3:18-20) Are you ready to accept Him?
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Pet 3:18-20)
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Written by Adeline Lum