“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” –Ezekiel 3:18
Yesterday afternoon my roommate and I went to the pool to lay out while we studied, and I brought my dog along. Ellie is pretty sweet and cuddly, so she tends to be the kind of dog that attracts people, and this afternoon was no different. As Rachel and I sat there reading, two teenagers swimming in the pool began to migrate in our direction. Eventually one of them got out of the pool and began talking to me about how much she liked my dog, asking what kind of dog it was and how she would love to get one too. I kid you not, when this girl opened her mouth, she sounded exactly like Paris Hilton. And of course her best friend was no different…it was like chilling at the pool with Paris and Nicole. They were lathered up in tanning oil as they floated on little inflatable chairs sharing a cigarette and inserting the word “like” about 5 times per sentence. They asked Rachel and me if we were in school, and when we said we were in “seminary,” they looked at us blankly. I’m pretty sure they’d never heard the word before.
But, as unintentionally entertaining as these girls were, they were also super sweet, and we eventually struck up a conversation. They were both 18, just out of high school and not yet in college but they had big dreams. When they finally got around to asking what seminary was, Rachel and I explained that we’d both be working for a church one day, so that launched us into a discussion about religion. One of the girls had actually been to our church a couple times and liked it. The other girl didn’t go to church, but she said she believed in God and thought that was good enough. Rachel and I both listened, and talked about the reasons why we like our church and how it was different from a lot of other churches. This conversation went on for awhile, but eventually they had to leave, and that was the end of it.
Even though I really enjoyed talking to them, and was glad I could encourage them to check out our church, I ended the conversation wondering if I had totally sold out. When the one girl said that she believed in God and thought that was enough, neither I nor Rachel protested. We just sat there and listened. Was our response the right, or the wrong one? On the one hand, what she said was completely false, but on the other hand, I hadn’t really earned the right to be heard. I am a firm believer in establishing a relationship with someone as part of ministering to them, so that they know you’re not merely trying to convert them, but that you actually care about them. In this instance, I figured I could come back to the pool and get to know the girls better, and keep the conversation going. I comforted myself with that, put it in God’s hands, and left it at that. But is that the right response?
Well today I was reading through Ezekiel, and God smacked me upside the head, big time. I read the above verse, and felt some major conviction. While I am not responsible for changing someone, I am definitely responsible for getting the word out there, rather than backing down like a wuss. And when I do back down, God holds me responsible. That’s exactly what he told Ezekiel, and I think that message still holds true today.
But the question remains, when do we intiate, and when do we wait? We all know the Christians who leave Gospel tracks in the bathrooms at restaurants, and go around knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel. I never want to be that Christian, because it seems so disingenuous, like it’s nothing more than a numbers game. But at the same time, we have this inconvenient passage in Ezekiel hanging over our heads. Every time we back down from sharing the Gospel, that person’s blood is on our hands. Is that what this passage is saying?
I actually happen to think there is a balance here–there is a time to be bold, and a time to be patient, but it all depends on the leading of the Holy Spirit. But the reason I think this passage is particularly helpful is that it woke me up to a disturbing trend in myself, and I wonder if others struggle with it too. I am, for all intents and purposes, a Calvinist, and I have always rested soundly in the knowledge that God is in control, and that He will save whomever He wants to save, that I don’t have to place that burden on my shoulders. But as a result of this doctrine, I have become lazy. I have let friends and family live their lives without me ever having shared the Gospel with them, because I was able to walk away thinking that even if I hadn’t shared the Gospel, they are in God’s hands so He’ll take care of them with or without me. This is actually a typical mentality of hyper-calvinists, and is one of the chief reasons why men like Charles Spurgeon have condemned hyper-calvinists in the last couple hundred years, so I was mildly mortified when i noticed it in myself. Yet that is perhaps the greatest danger in calvinism–it has the potential to take all the responsibility off of us.
The Ezekiel passage, however, reminds us that that kind of thinking is thoroughly unscriptural. While God is in control, and salvation lies in His hands and His grace alone, we are held responsible as well. There is an enigmatic balance between God’s will and our responsibility in Scripture…it’s tough to reconcile, but both elements are there. Yet aside from making sure our theology is firmly balanced, this passage is important for another reason. It reminds us that God did not give us a message for our own sake, but for the sake of the whole world. He blessed us so that we might be a blessing to others. To go through our day without mentioning Christ to those who are perishing, and all the while comforting ourselves with the fact that God is in control, is to use the Gospel in an unnatural way–using it selfishly. By not sharing the Gospel, we are not only robbing God of the glory that is rightfully His, but we are also putting the full burden of loving others in God’s hands. When we choose to not share the Good News and instead rely on God to do it, we actively choose not to love them. It is as though we are saying, “God loves them, so I don’t have to.” Sharing the Gospel is one of the ways, if not the greatest way, that we fulfill the command to love our neighbors, so when we opt not to share, we choose to disobey God.
Now this doesn’t mean we should go stand on street corners and preach hell fire and damanation, but we should probably be doing more than we are right now. If we truly believe that the Creator of the Universe became Man and sent His son to die for us, then this knowledge demands far more than a neutral response . You can either reject God’s existence and do nothing, or accept it and never be the same, but there is no middle ground. I think I have been inhabiting that middle ground for awhile now, so I pray that God will give me the courage and wisdom to be prudent but bold. If I say I love my neighbor, but don’t tell them the greatest news to ever hit the planet, then I am lying to myself. That is not love.