As I am writing this piece, the coronavirus is a global pandemic. Fear is running rampant, there is no more toilet paper. Not sure why such a panic over toilet paper, but what I am sure about is moving to another state during a worldwide crisis is a terrible idea.
I can’t blame the decision to move on the new church, and I can’t even blame God for calling me here. Both of those are somewhat true, but the decision to move was mine to make (well, my wife and me). God called me but did not force control my mind and drag me across the country like a file on a computer screen. He certainly has the power to do so, but God did not do that. I have a free will, and with that freedom to choose I decided to follow Jesus.
Free will is important. Why? Because without the ability of choice, love is not possible. Love is a choice, not an emotion or action. It is a state of the heart that shapes our emotion and actions. God wants us to choose to love him, without fear or coercion. This means we decide to love God not to escape Hell, but because of who he is. Think about it, do you want someone to love you for you, or what you can do for them, what you have, or because they fear you? Those last things are not from a heart rooted in love, but fear and selfishness.
The problem with free will, though it is an amazing gift, is that a person gets to make decisions for themselves. As much as we want a person to choose to love us, follow us, or work with us that decision rests solely with them. The question then becomes, what is my responsibility to my fellow man? They must choose for themselves, so should I even bother interacting with them?
Ezekiel 33:1-2—The Lord’s message came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, ‘Suppose I bring a sword against the land, and the people of the land take one man from their borders and make him a watchman.’”
The prophet Ezekiel had a conversation with God, that is most of the book that bears the prophet’s name in the Bible, his conversations with God. It is a rough book to read because God speaks of coming destruction and sends Ezekiel to share a word of warning to the rest of the Hebrews.
In the passage, God is saying Ezekiel is the watchman. He stands in the watchtower, keeping an eye out for any danger that might approach his fellow citizens. Should something come about, Ezekiel has the responsibility in his own freedom to share warning with everyone so all can be saved.
As believers in Christ, or even as basic human beings, having knowledge about truth is a great responsibility. Each of us has the freedom to decide what to do with that knowledge. We know “for God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This is good news that needs to be shared. At the same time, we know “The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” (John 3:18) The choice is our own, but choice has consequences and it is irresponsible for us to not share that knowledge.
Ezekiel 33:3-5—He sees the sword coming against the land, blows the trumpet, and warns the people, but there is one who hears the sound of the trumpet yet does not heed the warning. Then the sword comes and sweeps him away. He will be responsible for his own death. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, so he is responsible for himself. If he had heeded the warning, he would have saved his life.
So, I have told my family member, co-worker, dog sitter, and cable guy all about Jesus, then about Hell and the Rapture. I have even asked them “do you know where you will go when you die?” But they hear you with no decision and the smart comment, “the funeral home.” What do I do now? Nothing except love them and keeping showing them Jesus.
In 2019, the US President requested $27.8 billion for drug prevention efforts. Drug addiction is a serious problem in our country. We tell our kids, “don’t do drugs,” and have cartoon animals tell them to “don’t do drugs.” Now this is a very black and white analysis, however regardless of the reasons why, that initial decision to place a drug into their body rests with the addict. Despite all the efforts to the contrary, and all the negative effects on the self and loved ones, the addicted exercised free choice to go against what is right.
The addict cannot change without two things. One of those things is outside help. Their brains are forever altered by chemical substance, wired to the addiction. God can help them through divine intervention, but often its through professionals, programs, and perseverance. Second, the addict must want to be helped. Their will has to align with the will to change.
This is the tragedy of free will in God’s love story with us. He gave his one and only Son to save us from self-destruction. The gift of salvation is available freely to all through faith, but it is a decision each individual person must make. No matter how good the preaching, how clear (or old) the bible translation, worship style, and amount of love invested in a person, they may still choose destruction. There is nothing we can do, as bad as it hurts, to alter this decision. Does this mean we give up at some point? Never.
Ezekiel 33:6—But suppose the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people. Then the sword comes and takes one of their lives. He is swept away for his iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for that person’s death.
The person needing warned receives no warning, so they die. No one ever tells them that God loves them and has a better way for living, so they make harmful choices for themselves and others. According to Ezekiel, the watchman is at fault.
They are supposed to sound the alarm, let those who could be in danger know that they are indeed in danger. Everyone has free will and cannot be forced into decisions. This includes you and me when we are in the watchtower! Why do pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church leaders make a big deal about inviting people to church? So, the trumpet can be sounded in lives! Inviting someone to church is the very least way we can do that.
written by Jason Barnett. Jason is the pastor at Greensburg Church of the Nazarene, in Greensburg, KY. You can LISTEN to his sermons via The Dirt Path Sermon Podcast. FOLLOW him on twitter and The Dirt Path Facebook page. Also checkout his weekly podcast, Mumblings in a Mud Puddle.