“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,.” – Deuteronomy 30:19
This passage is often used in the context of witnessing/evangelism to offer someone who has not received Christ as Lord and Savior the promise of a better life now and eternal life after death, if he/she would only choose Christ. It often used to ‘prove’ that those who are living apart from Christ have the natural ability, in and of themselves, to choose Christ and live for Him. I have heard it a lot lately in the latter context.
And guess what? It works. Everyone wants a better life down here, and the witness/evangelist can avoid the uncomfortable topics of sin, the wrath of God, and judgment.
But is that what it really means? Let’s look at it again
The Passage in Context
Deu 30:15 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.
Deu 30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Deu 30:17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,
Deu 30:18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.
Deu 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
In context, we have God laying out, through Moses, the terms of the Covenant of Works based on the Law previously given to the Israelites, who are already God’s covenant people. The terms of the covenant are these – divine blessing and long life in the promised land for obedience, but cursing and loss of life in the promised land for disobedience to God’s Law. The rest of the story of the Israelites in the OT describes quite clearly the latter, due to Israel’s continued disobedience and idolatry. The passage was not addressed to ‘outsiders’, but to God’s chosen people!
The same is true about the other favorite “choose this day” passage, Joshua 24:15:
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
This passage, spoken by Joshua, Moses’ successor, is also directed toward children of the covenant. Both scriptures had in mind calling God’s children to a life of obedience, not converting anyone to the religion of the Israelites or invite outsiders to worship the one true God.
We evangelicals have long used these passages to invite people to Christ, often with promises of blessings for this life and the next, but omitting the harsh topics of God’s hatred of sin, divine wrath poured out against it, and eternal punishment. We think that man has the natural ability to choose Christ and find it a far easier task to offer the promise of blessings designed to ‘attract’, than address the ‘uncomfortable’ problem of sin and its consequences.
If anything, we should use them to call believers to lives of obedience, but not obedience to obtain favor with God, but obedience because of the gracious mercy of God extended to us through Christ when were by nature God hating children of wrath.
If using these passages obtains decision for Christ, what does it matter?
It matters a great deal. If they are used to attract people to Christ with promises of a better life down here, but the matter of sin is not addressed, we are being unfaithful to the genuine gospel message. In fact, what we think is great news for those to whom we witness is no good news at all!
If we are not addressing the central issue of sin, repentance and belief in Christ as having borne our just punishment, we might obtain decisions for Christ, but unless the Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes to convict of sin and grant the gift of repentance and faith, conversions are false, ‘still lost’ souls think they are now saved, and we have disgraced the Name of Christ.
If we use these passages for anything, we should use them to call believers to lives of obedience, but not obedience to obtain favor with God instead of divine curses as with the Israelites, but obedience because of the gracious mercy of God extended to us through Christ when were by nature God hating children of wrath.
Our duty is to present the truth in love, with all the ugliness of the problem of sin, and leave the ‘converting ’to God.