The Responsibility of My Soul
“My soul is continually in my hand.” (Psalms 119:109)
The most serious responsibility ever entrusted to a human being is the possession of his soul.
“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) This was said by Him “who gave himself a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:6)
A human being, possessing an immortal soul, is a more enticing target to the devil, than a small child carrying The Star of the Season—the most valuable diamond in the world, last sold for sixteen and one-half million dollars—would be to a professional jewelry thief.
The value of a human soul is incalculable. It cannot be reckoned. There are billions upon billions of human souls, all created by God, but each and every one is worth more than everything else in the world. Again the question: What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? The answer is simply that there is nothing so valuable as one’s soul. Nothing at all. It is beyond the price of exchange.
Most human beings do not value their soul as they should, but are instead incredibly careless. This neglect of the soul is beyond irresponsible, beyond criminal, beyond comprehension. It defies credulity. And so the souls of men become easy pickings for the enemy of mankind. And Satan’s appetite for human souls is insatiable. “Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure.” (Isaiah 5:14)
Once the human soul is created, it exists forever (Psalms 22:26). The human body waxes old and comes down to the grave, but the soul is not subject to aging. It is one of the things which is eternal. If the human soul is sinful, it cannot enter heaven, for it would defile that holy place (Revelation 21:27). There is only one other place—hell. There “their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:44) This place is to be avoided at all costs—even the cost of a hand, a foot, or an eye. Yet many make light of such a place, without realizing what they are saying or doing.
But it is not merely the careless souls that Satan seeks; he wants them all. He revels in the challenge of ensnaring the wary, the conscientious. He is not daunted by men or women who have long walked with God; he tempted the Son of God Himself when Jesus walked the earth in fashion as a man. Satan fashions the most ingenious snares for the human soul; he offers the most enticing baits.
One of the most subtle of these traps is a feeling of helpless inadequacy. This disposition is commonly referred to in our day as an inferiority complex. The dictionary definition of this phrase is a persistent sense of inadequacy or a tendency to self-diminishment. At first glance, this appears as humility, a lack of pride, and it seems virtuous. But behind the apparent virtue is a desire to avoid the heavy and weighty responsibility of the soul’s welfare by transferring that welfare to someone else. It is this voluntary humility that is so dangerous and deceitful. We have been warned: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” (Colossians 2:18-19)
God knows that a given human being is indeed inadequate to the keeping of his soul. He knows that “it is not in man… to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23) He designed the inner man to have a constant Companion, a Guide, a Comforter, which should abide with us forever (John 14:16). Only in partnership with the Holy Ghost can the soul of man can be kept safely. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) Yea, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
There is something about this inferiority complex—this false humility—that keeps us from “holding the Head” as we should. That fatal characteristic cuts us off from the great benefit which flows from the Head, so that we do not receive the spiritual “nourishment ministered,” and are not “knit together” with other saints of God’s choosing. We are hindered to the extent that we do not grow and increase, but instead must battle hard to keep what we may have obtained, and generally will stagnate, decrease, and decline. In short, we are not blessed if we are not walking by living, active faith in God. We feel inadequate to believe and trust, and this inferiority complex fulfils itself. We struggle on our own, whereas we were meant to thrive by laboring together with God.
Men attempt to fill this great need of companionship and guidance by turning to other men who seem to be doing better. That which God only can fill they attempt to satisfy by riding on the coattails of the spiritual, or at least those whom they think are spiritual. Truly spiritual people perceive the situation at once, for they became truly spiritual by doing business with God themselves. They know by experience that no soul is safe, nor does an experience of salvation actually work, except by a human soul being hidden in Christ in God.
This whole situation is outlined in the parable of the ten virgins, as related in Matthew 25:1-13. Five took no oil, but the other five saw to it that they bought and had the oil they would need. When the crisis came and the five foolish realized they did not have what they would need, they said to the wise, “Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.” (Matthew 25:8) This is what commonly occurs today. Many realize they are not prepared, that they need help; but instead of applying to those that sell, and buy for themselves, they try to get from man what they need. But the truth is still the truth: “My soul is continually in my hand.”
I was talking with a young man who suffered from an inferiority complex of this kind, and had recently attached himself to a cult-like group because he felt he was not saved. This young man had tried to live a saved life for a number of years, but never felt satisfied between himself and God. Whatever he had obtained from God, he soon threw away by doubting and “a persistent sense of inadequacy or tendency to self-diminishment.” There were forces in his background that subconsciously focused him on looking to men, rather than to God. He prayed and prayed, fasted and fasted, did all he knew to do as persistently as he could imagine. He read his Bible more carefully and conscientiously than many devout Christians, studied religious writings fervently, and longed and yearned for soul satisfaction—without finding it. What he didn’t do was really exercise believing faith in God, which would have brought a real settled peace and possession to his own soul between him and God (Hebrews 11:6). The doing is meant to bring us to believing God. It is quite possible that the means to the end (doing) can fail to bring us to the end (believing).
The young man had visited everywhere he could find people who seemed to have something. While overlooking the quiet and satisfying lives of many who did walk with God and were blessed, he finally found something hot and fervent. He then had “men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” (Jude 1:16) Determining to get what they had, he entered into a course of discipleship and process of their design that he believed would finally result in soul satisfaction and blessing. But he was not holding the Head (the Author of salvation) as he should, and the blessing evaded him. Furthermore, he was only dimly conscious that adherence to this group and its standards was separating him from people that did have a walk with God. The promising process was not knitting him together with God’s people at all. But he clung to his mentors. Indeed, a man-fear spirit had seized upon him, and he was ensnared. He was afraid even to talk with someone else without the presence of these people to whom he had entrusted his soul. The inspired writer said, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe. Many seek the ruler’s favour; but every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD.” (Proverbs 29:25-26)
The saddest part of the experience of this most earnest, fervent man—this most ensnared young man—who longs for soul satisfaction, is that, in spite of whole-hearted fervent “seeking of the rulers’ favor,” he has obtained no blessing of the Lord. As the Bible says, however, he has obtained judgment, a most fair and righteous judgment, from the God of heaven, the Creator of his soul. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) The Lord is not unsympathetic to the needs and desires of the young man, but God has designed a way—the way—that is perfect and right. If we want what God has, we must come God’s way. He will not give His glory to another. But, oh, how willing and able He is to satisfy the need of the heart when we come in the way that He has devised and provided! For “the blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22)
God has delivered the responsibility of one’s soul into the hands of each possessor, and it can never be truly transferred to another, despite all our attempts. In talking with this young man and his mentors, one of them quoted 1 Corinthians 14:32: “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” This was advanced as supposed proof that their method of instruction, discipline, and oversight was justified and taught in the Bible. If the verse read, “And the spirits are subject to the prophets,” then they would have a better chance of proving their point. (However, such a perversion of the scriptures would not blend with other texts such as 1 John 2:27.) But the scriptures does not read that (all) the spirits are subject to the prophets, but that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. In others words, when God uses a person as a prophet, He also allows that individual control over his prophesying sufficient that he can speak or not speak as is good in a general assembly. This interpretation is in complete accord with the burden of the apostle’s thoughts to the Corinthian congregation in 1 Corinthians 14.
Another group of people, who regularly discipline and control their people as seems good to them, like to recite the excuse Cain gave to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) Their reasoning is that this murderer tried to excuse himself from the responsibility of keeping his brother, so it is righteous and proper for us to “keep” each other, therefore, “I am my brother’s keeper.” Under this false reasoning, they devised endless rules for all—all for the supposed purpose of spiritually keeping each other. One who escaped this false standard observed that we were not adequate to keep each other. As the Word says, “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper.” (Psalms 121:4-5)
Men have no salvation to give to men. Each born-again human being has a personal salvation, given of God, that no other human being can bestow or take away. The salvation of a given human soul is an intensively personal relationship between God and that soul. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:44-45)
In the end of all things, no other man or group of men will give account of a given soul’s standing before God. “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:11-12) Notice how intensely personal this is. God draws a soul to Him. God personally fulfils His Word in washing and cleansing this same soul that comes to Him. God personally inserts this soul in the Vine. The soul personally bears fruit unto God. And in the end, each of us bows to God and confesses to God. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
God puts each of us in different places in His church when He saves us, “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) Each of us are given gifts according to our Savior’s will, that we may be “meet for the Master’s use,” (2 Timothy 2:21) “thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:17) But each of us is equal in God’s sight by virtue of the fact that each is personally, individually saved by God Himself. This equality is very important. No branch in the Vine is more important or less important than any other branch. “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you.” (Matthew 20:25-26) The reason that children of God do not exercise dominion over others or exercise authority upon other children of God is because of the common salvation—it puts them on an equal footing before God. And, other than the authority that comes from living holy lives (John 12:48; 1 Corinthians 6:2), they do not exercise authority or dominion over unsaved people, either. The only advantage the saved have over the unsaved is that they have received the grace of God which is freely given. All are offered the same grace, and all have the privilege of doing business with God and receiving what others have received. As Brother Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34)
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) This does not mean that they give account for your soul; it means they give account for their own soul. The scope of the watchman’s responsibility is shown in Ezekiel 33:1-9. The watchman is to receive the Word of God at the mouth of God and to warn the people. If he does not do this, he bears a responsibility for what happens to the people. “If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8) But once he warns the people of what God says, his responsibility, the rulership of his watchman office, is concluded. Then the responsibility is upon the hearer. “Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Ezekiel 33:9) Notice that the watchman is not to go beyond the role of him who watches and warns. He cannot and should not attempt to make the people do right; he cannot save them—they have their own responsibility. The watchman has an important function, but if the people look to the watchman and trust him to be responsible for them, he has gone beyond the God-appointed role and taken too much upon himself. In that case, he will end up usurping the place of the Holy Ghost in each person’s life and will be held accountable by God for that trespass.
If this were not enough on this point, we read in Ezekiel 18:20, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” A father is charged with certain responsibilities of his son, and he is accountable to God for those responsibilities. But it is equally plain that there is a place between God and the son into which the father cannot enter—that is between the son’s soul and his Maker. The son might say to the father, “You are older and wiser than I, and God has chosen you to be my parent—you answer to God for me,” but God will not accept the substitution. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) Just one—the man Christ Jesus.
It is blasphemous and profane for other men to enter into this position of mediation between a soul and God. It is a grievous sin, and God views it in that way when watchman take too much upon them and attempt to midwife the salvation of a soul by stepping (even cautiously) into that exclusive place between that soul and God. To twist Hebrews 13:17 into that kind of relationship is to distort it from the true watchman’s authorized scope.
We observe another example of the watchman’s role in Acts 8:18-24. Here Peter deals with Simon, a professor of God’s salvation, who was baptized and attended services with others in Samaria who were saved. Peter tells him the truth of his condition and warns him solemnly. This is the watchman’s function; this is what God required Peter to do. But does the man of God go beyond this? No. We see no barring of Simon from the services of the saved. Even though the poor unsaved man is told, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” (Acts 8:21) Even though he is told, “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” (Acts 8:23) So what is the poor unsaved professor of salvation advised to do? “Submit yourself to our discipleship until we can pray and get you right with God”? No! “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and [you] pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” (Acts 8:22)
In John 10:1-5, Jesus speaks of the uniquely personal relationship of each of His sheep and Himself. He says, “They know his [the Shepherd’s] voice.” And, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Revelations 2:17) Have you gotten the white stone that Jesus has for you—a stone in which your new name is written, a stone “which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it”? Not Brother Peter, nor Brother John, nor Brother James, nor Brother Paul—no man knows except he that receives it!
A man stands by faith in God, in God’s provisions, in God’s Mediator. He obtains standing grace by that same faith—believing faith, even to the salvation of his soul. Beware of the substitute. Beware of the well-meaning attempts to substitute. Beware of the fear of man—it brings a snare to your soul.
Beware of those who would claim a monopoly over the way of salvation. “Every man on earth can come directly to the Author of salvation through Jesus Christ, and be saved independent of all men or angels.”1 If God has agents on earth who can control who gets saved and who doesn’t, then a basis for inequality is already laid before an individual even gets saved. But listen to the words of Peter: “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3) Then he stresses the point all the more, saying, “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) Notice again the equality between the apostle and “all of you.” He was to be subject to them (or rather, to the Lord in them), and they were to be subject to him (that is, the Lord in him). Now the basis for this kind of relationship in the saved is laid in how God saves souls. He saves them so that there are no big I’s and little you’s. All the truly saved understand that no one else saved them, but God. No one else keeps them saved, but God. “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” (Psalms 49:7) No matter how useful or helpful someone else is to a given soul, they cannot save that soul or keep him saved. Paul, a spiritual father to others, said, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) Again, this wonderfully-gifted man said, “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:5)
[Daniel S. Warner; Salvation: Present, Perfect, Now or Never]
Another brother spoke of this, saying, “Now listen: If you are doing right things because some man teaches these right things, you will likely do wrong things if this same teacher teaches wrong things. You are not to do right things because man teaches these things, but because God has written these right things in your heart. If you are not doing them from a righteous principle in your heart, you are not living saintly.”2 It is this righteous principle in your heart that is the gift of God. Only God can give this. You cannot get it by yourself; you must get it from Him only who gives it. Others cannot give it to you. It only comes from God.
[Charles E. Orr; The Rule of a Saintly Life]
Those who dominate others to guide them are deceived. They do not understand God’s process of salvation as they should. Nor do they have a salvation to give you that is worth having. If you follow their instruction and accept the domination of their yoke, you will end up with something other than the inward principle of righteousness that God puts in believers who are connected to the life that is the Vine. You will end up with another Jesus, another spirit, another gospel. And yet you will still have to answer without this other Jesus, spirit, and gospel to Him who created your soul. Just you and God, before the judgment bar. No one else can answer for you in that day. Just you and God, your history together: His dealings with you and your response to those dealings.
Many try to duck the responsibility of their own soul by committing that responsibility to others, but in the end, “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” What a solemn thought. How utterly impossible to evade! How inexcusable! How unavoidable! “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
It is your privilege, at this time of your probation, to reason all of this away—to bend and warp the responsibilities of pastors, teachers, etc., to somehow attempt to lessen your solemn responsibility before God for the welfare and eternal destination of your soul. You may choose not to believe the truth expressed here; you may choose to put your faith in the efforts of others to save your soul. That is one of the ways you may choose to take at this time. You now have the privilege of being a man-pleaser, instead of “doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:6) But there is a reaping ahead. You will answer for this choice, for you cannot evade the responsibility of your own soul.
As one who has obtained mercy to be faithful, I plead with you to come to God in God’s way. Nothing else will do. All other ground is sinking sand. Cannot God help you to find the promises He has for you? Cannot He change you and help you to stay changed? Is not His grace sufficient for your need? What He has done for others, He will do for you.
There is only one response that will do, but the choice is yours.