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In the Church, leaders often try to place the burden of convicting the world of sin onto the shoulders of human beings. This is utterly ridiculous. We humans are incapable of illuminating souls with truth. The Holy Spirit says that the task of educating others about who our glorious Makers are and what They want is His job, not ours. Jesus spells this is out quite clearly in John 16:8:
“When the Helper comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
But of course we don’t believe Jesus. Instead we get stuck on passages like the Great Commission and some isolated comments made by the apostle Paul:
“But how can people call on Him if they have not believed in Him? How can they believe in Him if they have not heard His message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News?” (Rom. 10:14)
We read passages like this and we say: “See? It’s on us to preach the Gospel and if we’re silent, souls will end up in Hell.” Baloney. As much as we’d love to think that God just can’t possibly work without us, He is quite capable of getting His own agenda done without and in spite of our glorious help.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
The Great Commission has been turned into The Great Guilt Trip by many Christian leaders today because they always quote it out of context and then they lie their faces off about what Jesus actually meant. When Jesus carefully selected His inner circle of disciples, He intentionally chose men who would flourish as evangelists. He then personally trained them in evangelism for three years before He traumatized them by dying on a cross. Three days later, He resurrected from the grave. Talk about drawing attention to Himself. But mobs of gawking people trying to get a glimpse of the dead Man walking make it impossible to have a focused conversation. So when Jesus wanted to give His boys some last instructions before His ascension into Heaven, He instructed them to meet Him on a mountain where He spoke to them in private. And it was in this private meeting between Jesus and His eleven disciples that He gave the famous Great Commission.
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:16-20)
As always, when we ignore context, we end up preaching false truths. Today the Great Commission is constantly being taught as a specific command to all believers. Yet as the text clearly indicates, this was really a command directed to eleven trained evangelists who had been equipped by God with the zeal and personalities they would need to thrive in their individual callings. If Jesus had been talking to eleven shy wallflowers, He would have said something else. God never intended us all to be world traveling evangelists. He doesn’t want us all to be outgoing, social types who enjoy boldly marching up to a stranger in the supermarket and striking up a conversation about spiritual matters. He likes variety and He gives us all different leading in life. There are a million ways to “shine your light.”
Now let’s talk about Paul. In his epistles, Paul demonstrates a very poor understanding of who Yahweh is, and he also makes it quite clear that he personally rejects the Divinity of Christ. Instead, Paul presents Christ as a mere human who got a super promotion from Yahweh for services rendered on earth. Paul says Christ’s reign over the world is only temporary, and that once He finishes conquering His enemies, Christ will step down off the throne and bow down to the great Yahweh. Such irreverent rot makes it impossible to accept the assumption that Paul was a legitimate Christian (see The Great Offense of Paul: Rejecting the Divinity of Christ). On the contrary, Paul comes across as an arrogant Christian poser who found it pleasing to promote himself as a great ruler in the Church. His great zeal for spreading the Gospel to parts unknown was likely nothing more than an effort to expand the reaches of his own influence.
In Philippians 3:5, Paul boasts of having functioned as a Pharisee before his supposed conversion to Christianity. Pharisees were used to being looked up to and admired as spiritual icons in Jewish society. Once you understand that Paul was already viewed as some great spiritual role model by his fellow Jews, it’s no surprise that the first Jewish Christian apostles were so quick to accept him into their group and then rush to promote him as some great leader in the Church. And once Paul realized how easily he could build a kingdom for himself among those who he once treated as his enemies, why would his massive ego not take the bait? It’s not like the Pharisees really cared about God. Jesus made it clear that all they really cared about was self-promotion. So switching from pseudo-Judaism to pseudo-Christianity would have required no spiritual strain to a hardened rebel like Paul. Pharisees talked a great story about honoring Yahweh while they inwardly defied Him, and Paul continued to talk a great story about pleasing Yahweh after he claimed to be a Christian–he just adjusted his language to include respect for Christ. But start paying more attention when you read, and you’ll discover that Paul does not teach that Christ is equal to Yahweh, nor does he tire of emphasizing Christ’s humanity. Paul promotes only one God: Yahweh. Christ is merely the human Messiah who mediates between us and the one real God. This is why Paul says:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind: the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all people. (1 Tim. 2:6)
Pharisees were used to looking down on the common Jews as inferior. They were also used to bossing Yahweh around and deciding for Him who He would and wouldn’t approve of. Given this, it’s hardly surprising that Paul declares that Yahweh depends on humans to spread the Good News about His Messiah. It’s interesting to note that Paul is speaking specifically of Yahweh and not Christ in Romans 10:14. This becomes clear when we back up a verse and find him quoting a passage from the Old Testament which specifically uses Yahweh’s Covenant Name:
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Yahweh is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the Name of Yahweh will be saved.” [Joel 2:32] (Rom. 10:12-13)
The Church has intentionally removed references to Yahweh from New Testament manuscripts, and this leads to a lot of misinterpretations of the text. When Christians today read “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved,” they think of Jesus. But no, Paul is quoting Joel 2:32 here. Look it up and you’ll find that the LORD in that passage is written in all caps. In another misguided effort to “help” you, Bible translators have removed the 6,000 occurrences of Yahweh’s Covenant Name from the Old Testament and replaced it with the generic titles of LORD and GOD. They write these titles in all caps to signify when they are functioning as substitutions for Yahweh’s Covenant Name. This works great for promoters of the Trinity Doctrine who want you to view your Gods as one mysterious blob. But no, our Creators are not one blob, They are three separate and distinct Deities and all of our attempts to downplay distinctions between Them in biblical manuscripts doesn’t change who They are. So then, let’s read this passage in Romans as Paul meant it:
But before people can ask Yahweh for help, they must believe in Him; and before they can believe in Yahweh, they must hear about Him; and for them to hear about Yahweh, someone must tell them; and before someone can go and tell them, that person must be sent. It is written, “How beautiful are the feet of him who comes to bring good news!” [Isa. 52:7] But not all the Jews accepted the good news. Isaiah said, “Yahweh, who believed what we told them?” [Isa. 53:1] So faith comes from hearing the Good News, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (Rom. 10:14-17)
To Paul, the logic goes like this: long ago, Yahweh said He would send a Messiah who would establish a New Covenant between Yahweh and men. Now Yahweh has done what He said, so it’s time to tell the world about Yahweh and this great thing He has done. Paul is really just pushing conversion to Yahweh as the one true God–this is something he’s always done, even back when he was pretending to be a true adherent of Judaism. But you see, a true convert to Judaism cares deeply about pleasing Yahweh in his heart. This wasn’t the Pharisees–they just faked concern for Yahweh. But while their internal attitude was “We’ve already decided that we’re perfect in God’s sight, so He’ll just have to agree with us,” on the outside they put on great shows of false humility. Paul does the same, waxing on about how hard he’s toiled to spread the Good News that Yahweh has established a new, simpler Covenant with humans. Certainly Christ is a key player in setting up that Covenant, but to Paul, Christ is not the end goal. Christ is just Someone we kiss up to as a way of getting approved of by Yahweh. But we don’t go so far as to revere Christ as God–Paul’s been faking monotheism far too long to promote that blasphemous message. So he preaches that we need to really respect and admire and imitate Christ, but we certainly don’t go so far as to worship Him as Yahweh’s equal. Even if Christ sort of seems to be equal to Yahweh now, Paul says that illusion is only temporary.
After that the end will come, when Christ will turn the Kingdom over to Yahweh the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until He humbles all His enemies beneath His feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:24-26)
There you have it: Christ is just a temporary Kingdom Manager–but Yahweh is the Big Boss who Christ will one day turn everything over to.
For Christ must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For Yahweh “has put everything under his feet” [Ps. 8:6]. Now when it says that “everything” has been put under Him, it is clear that this does not include Yahweh Himself, who put everything under Christ. And when everything is subject to Christ, then Christ Himself will be made subject to Yahweh who put everything under Christ, so that Yahweh may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:25-28)
So this Christ bashing Christian poser is who you’re letting push you around about the subject of witnessing. Paul says Yahweh can’t possibly manage to get the news of His Covenant circulated without the help of us humans. Well, of course Paul would say this. Paul is an arrogant rebel.
Ezekiel is another book that our misguided leaders turn to for help in fueling the lie that God holds us personally responsible for the salvation of others. Ezekiel was a priest turned prophet and Yahweh used some particularly harsh language with him.
“Ezekiel, if you hear a word from My mouth, you must warn them for Me. Suppose I say to the wicked: ‘Wicked people, you will surely die,’ but you don’t speak to warn the wicked to stop doing evil. Then they will die because they were sinners, but I will punish you for their deaths. But if you warn the wicked to stop doing evil and they do not stop, they will die because they were sinners. But you will have saved your life.” (Eze. 33:7-9)
Here Yahweh is giving specific instructions to a specific individual. He is not giving a general command to all believers. It’s more than a little absurd to try and argue that this passage applies to Christians. First of all, no one had even heard of Christ at this point in time. Secondly, Ezekiel was a prophet who Yahweh was going to put through some very hellish assignments, such as having his wife killed, having his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and having to lie on his side in the dirt for over a year without being able to turn over. God knows our temperaments and He knows what methods best motivate us. Some of us need threats, others of us need positive pep talks. In Ezekiel’s case, Yahweh clearly felt some terrifying threats right in the beginning of Ezekiel’s career would help keep the prophet focused.
We humans are very tempted to run away like the rebellious Jonah when God comes at us with a particularly upsetting assignment. Ezekiel had all kinds of these assignments, yet he remained faithful, no doubt in part because of Yahweh’s well-timed warnings.
A prophet’s job is to speak for God. He must speak exactly what he hears without making any personal edits. God says some very nasty things through the mouths of His prophets and His tone is often rude and sarcastic. The temptation to soften God’s tone and language is very strong for any prophet—especially if their audience is full of burly looking men who could easily beat them up. In this passage, Yahweh warns Ezekiel that he’d better not even think about altering any of His messages. And he’d better tell Yahweh’s messages to everyone Yahweh points out.
Today leaders use this passage from Ezekiel to try and argue that if you know your granny isn’t saved and you don’t jam the Gospel message down her throat at least once, then God is going to hold you personally responsible when your granny dies and ends up roasting in Hell. He’ll do the same for every unsaved person you know: your neighbor, your coworker, your relatives, your friends. In other words, God blames you for the rebellion of others. Well, no, He doesn’t.
The only thing Yahweh threatens to punish Ezekiel for in Ezekiel 33 is the prophet’s own rebellion. He isn’t holding Ezekiel accountable for other people’s soul choices.
“Suppose I say to the wicked: ‘Wicked people, you will surely die,’ but you don’t speak to warn the wicked to stop doing evil. Then they will die because they were sinners, but I will punish you for their deaths.” (Eze. 33:8)
In this first scenario, Yahweh comes up with an ultimatum for spiritual rebels: stop rebelling or God will kill you. He tells Ezekiel to pass the warning along, but Ezekiel refuses. It’s easy to picture why: do you want to march up to some gang of criminals and say, “God says you’d all better repent right now and stop breaking the law or He’ll kill you”? Suppose you stay home and don’t say anything. So the criminals keep on being criminals and God suddenly kills them. But then God gets mad at you and says, “For all you know, they would have repented. I gave you a direct order, and you refused to do it. It’s like you didn’t want them to repent. I’ve punished them for their defiance of Me, but now I’m going to punish you for defying Me as well.” This is what Yahweh is saying. He’d be mad at Ezekiel for disobeying a clear directive from Yahweh.
But suppose Ezekiel is a good little prophet and he does pass on God’s warning to the rebellious people. Well, the rebels will still be struck down for refusing to repent, but Ezekiel won’t have to fear being punished along with them because he will have obeyed Yahweh.
“But if you warn the wicked to stop doing evil and they do not stop, they will die because they were sinners. But you will have saved your life.” (Eze. 33:9)
It’s important to realize that these are the days of the Old Covenant–a Covenant in which salvation was not granted ahead of time. Suppose you started off obeying Yahweh, but then you turned away and decided to defy Him. When He convicted you, you refused to repent. Well, then if Yahweh got fed up and killed you in your rebellious state, you’d end up in Hell. This was the way the Old Covenant worked, which was why it was extremely dangerous for a guy like Ezekiel to fuss around with obeying Yahweh. In this passage, Yahweh reminds the prophet that obedience and rebellion are matters of eternal life and death. Ezekiel must stay faithful. If he dares to defy Yahweh by refusing to do what Yahweh tells him to do, he runs the risk of landing on the wrong side of eternity.
At this point in history, God is very angry with His chosen people and Israel is going through a season of harsh discipline. God’s patience with her blatant defiance is gone, and He’s telling Ezekiel right up front that’s He’s not going to take any attitude from him. Either Ezekiel does exactly what God tells him to do, or he’s going to end up on the wrong side of eternity. This is very serious language. As a priest, Ezekiel would be well educated on God’s Law, which was full of terrifying threats that Israel would be cut off and destroyed if she chose rebellion instead of obedience.
We can’t take a private conversation between Yahweh and Ezekiel and generalize it to all believers. If we do this, then we might as well say that Yahweh’s command to Abraham applies to us as well and we should all start sacrificing our children on rocks. Or why don’t we rip Noah’s conversation with God out of context and start building a fleet of arks? Context is critical in understanding the Bible correctly and we must always look to the Holy Spirit to guide our interpretation for us. Anytime we come away thinking that God has said He can’t function without us, or that He punishes souls for the sins of others, we’ve got a problem. Under both Covenants, individuals have always been judged for their own soul choices. This means that I’m not going to be punished by God for the fact that you didn’t witness to me when He told you to. I’m not going to be thrown into Hell because of your disobedience. I’ll end up in Hell because of my own disobedience and then you’ll have consequences for your disobedience. We each answer to God for ourselves, not for anyone else.
The Holy Spirit is the One responsible for making sure every soul understands what they must do to get in a right relationship with God. He calls each of us to participate in His work at different times and in different ways. When He does, we are responsible for doing as He asks, nothing more. God does not charge anyone with the task of sharing the Gospel with every single soul on the planet, because this is humanly impossible for any one person to do. God has intentionally hidden thousands of people in deep jungles, barren deserts and other inaccessible places so that no one can say that they’ve witnessed to the whole world, even if they’ve plastered truth all over the internet.
If God Himself doesn’t take full responsibility for illuminating souls and giving each one of us a fair chance to come, then there is no way the job will ever get done. It is not our job to save people, and we are incapable of making souls understand spiritual truths. We are only held accountable for how our souls respond to our Makers. When the Holy Spirit asks you to do something, He wants you to really care about what He wants and try to follow through on His instructions. Sometimes you’ll feel like you totally botched it, but the actions aren’t what counts–it’s how your soul responded to God’s convictions. You either really wanted to please Him or you didn’t.
YOU & GOD
Ripping some random verse out of the Bible does not constitute “hearing from God” in life. God does speak through the Bible, but so do demons, and demons are who Christians are listening to when they read verses like the ones we’ve discussed and then conclude that they are spiritual failures. When God wants us to do something for Him, He will give us the resources we need. The task might not always feel easy or be something we prefer, but it will be doable.
The Church today is filled with bad shepherds who want to use guilt and fear to manipulate you into doing what they want. To become immune to their tricks, you need to develop confidence in God’s willingness to lead you and in His ability to clearly communicate to you. God is your Shepherd, and He is leading you personally in life. He isn’t just leading your leaders. He isn’t just talking to these anointed blowhards who are always trying to talk down to you in life. So the next time you start stressing that you’re not doing enough for God, who do you need to talk to? Your pastor? Some elder? Your midweek Bible class teacher? Your friend who is always being applauded for her good deeds? No. When you are worried about your standing with God, you need to talk to God, not to other people. You need to go direct. Don’t be like the wife who sneaks off and asks her neighbor if her husband is mad at her about something. Triangulation gets us nowhere. Other people can’t read God’s mind, and as a general rule, God isn’t going to talk to other people about what He’s doing with you. Instead, He’s going to tell them that your relationship with Him is none of their business, because it isn’t.
So does it matter if your pastor thinks you’re a slacker? No, what matters is what God thinks, and God is the only One who can tell you what He thinks. Maybe the folks in your home group are giving you attitude because you opted not to come along on “let’s feed the homeless” Friday. Well, what is God telling you? If He wants you to go, He knows how to make that clear to you. If the whole idea sounds repulsive, obviously God’s not telling you to go. Don’t be dragging yourself through a bunch of holy busywork just to impress humans whose opinions of you are meaningless. You need to live for the approval of God, and if other Christians don’t like the direction God is leading you in, it’s too bad for them.
A Christian who is lecturing you about what a slacker you are not to share the Good News with others is not speaking for God. Someone standing behind a pulpit saying that God wants us all to be zealous evangelists is also not speaking for God. When the Holy Spirit speaks to you through the mouths of others, you will feel inspired and encouraged about your walk with God. Any message that makes you feel beat down, discouraged, ashamed, failing and hopeless is not coming from God. The Holy Spirit is never going to say to you “Wow, you’re such a disappointment to Me.” If He has a problem with you, He will be clear and specific about it, but He will also point out a doable solution. God isn’t going to tell you that you’re flawed because He gave you a temperament that struggles to witness. God likes the way that He put you together. There are no “better” temperaments. God likes variety. He wants His kingdom to have a nice crop of wallflowers in it.
Don’t let Satan sell you the lie that serving God is supposed to be a miserable experience. On the contrary, when we are in alignment with God, we will find that serving Him is often quite joyful and fun. God will give you many tasks to do that fit the personality He gave you. Sometimes He will stretch you, but not always. As a general rule, He isn’t going to send shy temperaments to go knocking on the doors of strangers and passing out tracts in the neighborhood. He’ll send one of His other kids for that—someone who will find the task fun and easy.
God just isn’t in the flaming hurry that other Christians want Him to be when it comes to equipping you for ministry. If you let Him have His way with you, then He will mature you in His own unique order. Helping the church brothers evangelize the local neighborhood might not be on God’s priority list for you right now. It might never be on His list for you. Remember that the Holy Spirit is quite capable of illuminating souls without our help. To serve God well, we must wait for Him to tell us what He wants and trust that He knows how to communicate His will to us in a way that we can understand.
Understanding Why God Calls Us to Serve Him
How to Avoid Witnessing Burnout: It’s Not Your Job to Save the World
Assessing God’s Pleasure with You: Three Useless Tests
Living to Spread the Gospel
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests