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How Does a Christian Witness to a Buddhist?

December 13, 2012

By a Native Missionary in Thailand

Sharing the gospel with the Issan people group in Thailand is my focus as a missionary. The good news of Christ is only good when a Buddhist understands that first he has a need, not some human merits to pay for the penalty of his sins. When I meet someone, he will introduce himself, “I am Buddhist,” and I would say, “I am a Christian.” Guess what? Our conversation immediately stops. Why shouldn't it? The person has his own religion. It guarantees that if he could not pay for the sins in this lifetime, he’ll just go to hell and pay for the rest in his next reincarnation. How does a Christian maintain the conversation with a Buddhist long enough to present him with the good news? Read on.

Native church in rural Thailand

Buddhism is a complicated religion that is filled with impossible-to-do laws, much like the Old Testament with the 613 laws. To go to heaven, a male monk must keep 227 laws and a female monk must keep 311 laws. For the general Buddhist population, they have to keep only five laws: do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not intake anything that could cause addiction, do not steal, and do not kill an animal or any form of life. The laws must be kept throughout the lifetime to have any shot at heaven. If any law is violated, there are eight levels of hell that they are subjected to. Buddhism is a religion that takes sins very seriously. The original Buddhist teaching is much like the Old Testament religion of the Jews. Believe it or not, when handled correctly, you can lead a Buddhist right into the hands of Jesus. Here's why:

Jesus set the standard on how to deal with a legalistic religion, such as Buddhism, when He encountered the rich ruler in Matthew 18. The ruler had a religion that was filled with rules and regulations. Look at how Jesus responded when the ruler asked how he could “inherit eternal life.” Notice, Jesus did not say, “Believe on Me and you shall be saved,” nor did He say, “I am the way the truth, and the life.” Jesus conversed with the man on the basis of what he (the ruler) already knew, which was the laws. The intention was to allow the law to convict him of his need for the Savior. The ruler did not keep it completely like God requires of him, because he never could.

Self-effort or merit-making could never pay for man's sin penalty. This was the very thing that Jesus told the rich ruler. God had a better plan than reincarnation. He paid for our sins through his Son, Jesus, on our behalf. That’s the good news. When the five laws of Buddhism are mentioned, a Buddhist becomes immediately convicted of his sins. Why? Because he just slapped that mosquito on his arm or that frog soup that he just ate for lunch or that antibiotic he took to kill off that flu bacteria in his body. At this point, his heart is wide open to hear the good news, because he does not want to have to go through that reincarnation all over again. This seems to be a more friendly evangelism approach with a Buddhist. So how does a Christian witness to a Buddhist? You begin with what he already knows.

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