Who is responsible for me? Who takes the blame when I goof something up, and whose responsibility is it to make sure that I have everything I need to be successful? This question has a lot of traction in the current political climate, but is a timeless question that every Christian must answer about their walk with Christ. How much responsibility to the other people in my life and periphery bear concerning how I respond to God?
In my first post on this issue I brought up the big concern surfaced when a Facebook status I wrote brought a huge reaction among my friends. (Go read the first post to get a synopsis of the issue) Where is the intersection of my responsibility for myself and the responsibility of my friends, family members, acquaintances, and associates for helping me?
While the second part of the question can be a little murkier, the first part is not. Without putting too fine a point on it, allow me to state a theological truth about our spiritual lives:
I, and I alone, am responsible for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him.
We might be tempted to pick up our current cultural preference to blame others when we fall short of the glory of God, but God will not have it. As a culture we seemingly are incredibly good at shifting the blame onto others. When kids shoot up a school our first thought is to blame the violent video games they are playing rather than blame their own choices. When a politician fails morally we tend to push aside their own culpability in their actions to the corruption of power. Naturally Hollywood stars in America get a free pass, because of course stardom causes lunacy.
This is nothing new. People have been passing the buck for millennia! In Genesis 3, right after the fall, no one was willing to take the fall for sin. (ba-dum, CHA!) When God asked Adam why he knew he was naked, Adam replied in Genesis 3:12, “The woman You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” He passed the buck. “It was all HER fault that I sinned, God! Don’t blame me!” When God turned to the woman and asked her what happened, she passed the blame along as well in Genesis 3:13 by saying, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Basically her answer was, “It wasn’t my fault, God! I was deceived, so I am not at fault. It was all the serpent’s fault!”
Notice, though, that God punishes not only the serpent (in Genesis 3:14-15), but also the woman (in Genesis 3:16) and Adam (in Genesis 3:17-19). No one got off the hook because someone else talked them into it! Neither Adam nor Eve were excused for their sin because they were influenced by someone else. God held them accountable for their own responsibility in choosing to disobey Him. Adam could have told Eve no. Eve could have told the serpent to take a hike. (or a crawl I suppose) Since they gave in, God held them accountable for their own actions.
He reiterates this same concept in Ezekiel 18:4-20, where He reminds the people that each person is responsible for themselves before Him.
4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
5 “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness,
6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period—
7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,
8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man,
9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully—he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord GOD.
10 “Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood and who does any of these things to a brother
11 (though he himself did not do any of these things), that is, he even eats at the mountain shrines, and defiles his neighbor’s wife,
12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols and commits abomination,
13 he lends money on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
14 “Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father’s sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise.
15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife,
16 or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,
17 he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live.
18 “As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.
19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.
20 “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
God is pretty clear in Ezekiel that we are each accountable for our own actions. When a friend puts a temptation in my way (like, say, something random like posting their bra color on Facebook) it is still my responsibility if I sin. I can’t get away with it because someone else put me up to it. Likewise I can’t say “well, my dad drank too much and beat me so I drink too much and abuse my own children. It’s his fault I am like this.” No, the Bible very clearly says that I am responsible for myself and my own behavior, thoughts, and inclinations.
So how does this affect my life with Christ? First and foremost it means that I must take ownership of my choices as a Christian. I can’t blame the women in my life who dress in a way that I find provocative for what my mind dwells on; if I lust after them in my heart, I have sinned against God without help from anyone. (Matthew 5:28) Even if a person goads me into it, for me to hate them or speak angrily of them is sin that I am accountable for. (Matthew 5:22) Within the same sermon that Jesus makes these statements in, He also points out that when I cause myself to sin I need to deal swiftly with that and remove the source of temptation in my own life. (Matthew 5:29-30)
It is me that makes me sin, not someone else. I must not give into the temptation to blame others for my own choices, instead owning them and recognizing that there is always a way not to sin if I will only choose it. (1 Cor 10:13). I also have to realize that when I do sin (and as a fallen Christian I will; cf. Romans 7:14-25) that God’s stunning grace allows me to confess my sin and receive restoration (1 John 1:9).
Secondly, understanding that I am accountable for my own sin should make me take a long, hard look at my life of discipleship. If I am not following Christ well or being the person He wants me to be, I can blame no one for my condition. He will not allow me to blame my spouse for my shallow spiritual life, or my job, or my parents. It’s my choice, so I can choose to take my walk with Him seriously and follow Him. Only I can obey the commands of Hebrews 12:1-2 for my life:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…
To put a pretty fine point on it, with my status update on Facebook the other day I could never tell any of the ladies posting their bra color that they were making me sin. They couldn’t! Only I can choose for me to sin. Only I am responsible for my own personal commitment to Christ and for walking in His grace. Only I can choose to resist the temptation to indulge my flesh, whatever the area is. Allow me to say it again: I, and I alone, am responsible for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him.
The same holds true for each of us. Just because your spouse is not following Christ in a given area (or at all) does not give you the right to follow suit, no matter how hard it might be to pursue holiness by yourself. Just because your dad was (or is) an alcoholic does not give you a free pass to be one. When your peers pressure you to take drugs it does not mean that you’re excused. When your boyfriend pressures you into sex it does not mean that you’re off scot free. When your friends buy a new car and you feel pressure to keep up, whatever their involvement the decision is yours alone.
I, and I alone, am responsible for for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him. Where would your spiritual life be in a week, a month, or a year if you truly and completely adopted this attitude, allowing the Holy Spirit in grace to give you the strength to walk with Christ and please Him with your decisions?
In the final post, the question we will address is what my responsibility for others and their walk with Christ is. While I know that I am 100% responsible for me, does that relieve me of any responsibility toward others? Not at all, as we will explore.