Can God use people who don’t serve him?

In the church we often think God can only work through people who have devoted their lives to serving Him. Actually this is not the case at all, and when we believe this it marginalizes God to the fringe. God can do anything and work through anyone in any circumstance.

It’s pretty Biblical. In Genesis, when Joseph’s brothers realized who Joseph was and that their lives were in his hands, they were terrified because of how they had treated him. They were sure he would have them killed. But Joseph replied, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

Consider Judas Iscariot who had evil motives and intentions, and yet God used him to accomplish his greatest work ever! The same with Pharaoh in Egpyt. He had a heart that was hard toward God, yet because of that God was able to deliver Israel, show his power, and basically birth a nation. Consider Pilate who, though he did not know it, was making it possible for God to accomplish his work through Christ. On the one hand God holds individuals morally accountable for their actions, yet on the other hand without evil people doing evil things, clearly much of the good that ultimately comes about would not have happened. Consider even the Roman soldiers who tortured Christ and nailed him to the cross. They too had their part to play in redemptive history, even though we don’t know a single one of their names, and even though they were sworn enemies of God.

God is supreme over all creation. It’s a modern myth that mankind is in control of his destiny, and that what happens is ultimately up to us. To say this does not minimize the importance of human will and action. Certainly God gives us the privilege of determining certain outcomes for a while, but even the worst outcomes God can redeem and use for his purposes. Psalm 2 paints the picture of the kings and rulers of the earth gathered together and making their plans, but says that it is all in vain. Ultimately God will determine the fates of men and decide the course of history. Philip Yancey describes the will of God as a wall of water overflowing its banks and rushing down a mountainside. Rocks, trees, animals, and other things in the forest can and may redirect the water’s course, but there is no doubt that the water will reach the bottom of the mountain. It is inevitable. It will surely find a way all the way down, accommodating every possible obstacle all the while. Surely God’s will will be accomplished in our lives and in history, and we need not see any man or woman, any ruler, any political party, or any nation or culture as a threat to His will.

Job 42:2 (NIV)
2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.

I don’t know when this dawned on me — probably in some reading I was doing. But I found it a great comfort. Surely many people who call themselves Christian are not doing God’s work. And just as surely, many who make no claim to know God are doing his work unwittingly.

We live in a culture that is in many ways contemptuous of God. Dallas Willard points out that there is not a single field of study in any university anywhere in the world where knowledge of God is considered important in being an expert (excepting theology). You can go to Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford — wherever — and you can be considered the most brilliantly educated in your field: economics, history, psychology, mathematics, engineering, physics, biology, astronomy, paleontology — you name it. You can have your Ph.D in any field of study and be considered an expert without knowing one single thing about God — the arguments for whether he exists, whether he affects our lives and how, whether man has a soul (psychology doesn’t even DISCUSS this), etc. Do you think that whether man has a soul makes a difference in how we see him psychologically? Biologically? Socially? Vocationally? Emotionally? Mentally? Of course! But the issue is barely discussed and God is thus marginalized, not so much by those who despise him and rail against him as by the “conspiracy of silence” that has neutered God in modern society and rendered Him so unimportant as to not even be worthy of mention.

Thus we divide ourselves into parts that are spiritual and parts that are secular. In fact, everything we do is spiritual and the whole world is spiritual and God is in, and through, and among, and behind it all.

Acts 17:28 (NIV)
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’…

Modern man has forgotten his name, his calling, his identity, and his reason for being. God is a tool, so we think. We use his name to justify our political positions, our wars, or whatever we want to do, but pretty much leave him out in every way that matters. (Often the church is just as guilty of this as the “secular world.”) And God has allowed this for a time, just like he did with Babylon, with Assyria, with Judah, with Israel, etc., etc. But God will surely accomplish his purposes. All will see him and know him and acknowledge him. And it will be seen that actually God has never been a tool. (Read the book of Isaiah for an eye-opening lesson in a society that had forgotten God, and God’s pleadings with them to return to relationship with Him.)

Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

One day, EVERY knee will bow. Barack Obama’s, and John McCain’s. Osama Bin Laden’s. Yours and mine. Mohammed’s and Confucius’s, and Buddha’s. Adolph Hitler’s. Stephen Hawking’s. Donald Trump’s. One day, everyone will see and acknowledge God for who he is — he will reveal himself fully. In the meantime, we are allowed to believe that we have ruled God out, made him irrelevant, cast him off, or whatever. Clearly what is now will not always be.

So can God use people who don’t serve him? Without question! God has always used people who don’t serve Him. It’s an illusion that this is our world and we are calling the shots. God lets us think what we think, and quietly goes about his work, redeeming this world and drawing all people to Himself. It’s not only possible, it’s spiritual fact that ultimately EVERYBODY is serving God, whether we know it or not. Some intentionally, some unintentionally, and to be sure it will make a great deal of difference in this life and the next with which attitude we served God. But God is the Creator and we are the Created and He is accomplishing His purposes both in and through creation.

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  • Love this post, Dave! Thought of Judas and all the other players in Christ’s crucifixion as soon as I dove into the intro. Knowing He can use any circumstance for His purposes always gives me comfort. Even when life’s direction doesn’t go my way (e.g. that pesky political arena 🙂 ), I still take comfort knowing that He’s in control and all this is temporary.

    • thefallencleric

      Great contribution to my post, Tracy. Thank you!

  • Jeremiah

    This is amazing. It’s absolutely true that one day every knee will bow. You are very inspiring.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for reading my blog and for your kind words, Jerry.