A couple of weeks ago, I baked a batch of sugar cookies from scratch, lovingly decorating them for my bible study group.
I should have known to cut the recipe in half, what with the warm front we’re having and everyone trying to get ready for swimsuit season, because at the end of the evening, I still had about two dozen cookies left. These folks could learn a thing or two from me about how to put away some cookies!
Knowing that I would eat ALL of them if I took the sugar cookies home with me, I decided to text Hovik, the attractive Armenian car mechanic who lives in my apartment complex. As expected, he was all too happy to take the cookies off my hands, so I stopped by his unit on my way back to my own apartment.
He welcomed me inside – I’d never been inside his apartment before – and gave me the grand tour, starting with his self-built LED lit bar bottle display and ending with the rows and rows of hundreds of model cars lining his closet shelves. The man knows a thing or two about interior decorating. His place was beautiful, right down to the wall-to-wall backlit painting hanging over his king-sized bed.
Having dropped off the cookies and received the grand tour, I started to excuse myself. It was late and, although I trusted Hovik, I didn’t know him very well. It was time to leave. But he wasn’t ready for me to go yet. “What did you do tonight?” he asked me. “What did you bake these cookies for?”
“I was at bible study,” I said simply.
“Bible study?” he asked incredulously. “You study the bible?”
“Yeah, I do,” I told him with a shrug. “What about you? I don’t know much about Armenian religion. What is your spiritual background?”
“I’m a Christian, too,” he told me. “I’m Orthodox.”
“Okay,” I replied, nodding my head. “So, what does that mean – Orthodox? Where do you go to church in the area?”
Hovik laughed. “It means that I go to an Armenian church on Christmas and on Easter.”
“Ah, so you’re a CEO.”
Hovik looked confused, so I explained. “Christmas and Easter Only.”
He smiled slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“So, Hovik… what do you believe happens when you die? Do you believe in an afterlife?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’ll go to heaven.”
Hovik looked uncomfortable. “I mean, it’s what I was raised to believe, you know. My mom always taught me to be a good person. I’m a good guy, so I’ll go to heaven.”
He had a works-based view of salvation. My heart sank. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but we were already mid-conversation, and Hovik’s salvation was more important to me than his comfort level, so I plunged ahead.
“Hovik,” I started gently, “You know that’s not a biblical view of salvation, right?” I quoted Ephesians 2, “We are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good works so that no one can boast. Being brought into a right relationship with God is purely a gift from God when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf as payment for our sinfulness. There’s nothing you or I could do to be ‘good enough’ to earn God’s favor.”
Now Hovik looked really uncomfortable. “Well that’s not what I was raised to believe.”
“I understand that.” I paused. “Hovik, do you live up to your own standards for yourself? Do you always live according to the standards you have set for yourself?”
He squirmed. “Well, not always. But most of the time. I’m a good guy.”
“If you don’t live up to your own standards 100% of the time, what makes you think you live up to God’s standards? All of us fall short of God’s standard for holiness, and because God is perfectly just, there has to be a punishment for sin.”
Hovik looked angry now. He raised his voice a bit as he bit back, “That’s not the God I grew up learning about. God is loving. God loves everyone. He wouldn’t be vengeful just because I can’t be perfect!”
I nodded, smiling. He had led me right into my next point. “God is perfectly just, but scripture tells us that He is also perfectly loving, so He didn’t want to leave that rift between Himself and His children that was caused by sin. That’s why Jesus came to earth and died – willingly, lovingly – then rose from the dead, taking upon himself the punishment that we all deserve for our sin. So yes, there is punishment for sin because of God’s justice, but because of His love, He created a way for us to be brought back into a right relationship with Him when we believe and accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.”
Hovik’s posture was no longer warm and welcoming, so I excused myself, telling him to enjoy the cookies. When I got back to my apartment, I had a text from him:
“Soooooo. Was that a little awkward for you?”
“Nope. But I could tell it was for you. ;)”
“Well a little. I was more interested in hearing how you are instead of what pleases Jesus. But I do love the fact that you’re very passionate about it.”
In instances like this, I have to remind myself that I am only responsible for the input, not the outcome. Hovik and I are still friends – we’ve spoken since – but I feel like I have said all that I can about faith with him. I did my part. Now it’s up to the Holy Spirit… and Hovik. Like all of us, he has a decision to make – the most important decision of his life.