Radical Grace

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy it when we try to “church it up” and play nice when life gets messy.  The God we serve specializes in messy!  Jesus makes “church people” uncomfortable in the Gospels with His radical message of grace.  We feel like people have to clean themselves up before they are worthy of God’s love or forgiveness.  Or, if we want to church it up, we say that they have to allow God to clean them up because that sounds like we’re not doing anything and God’s doing everything, passing that off for grace.  We supposedly know if we have grace because we’re doing enough work. Wait, what?

Well, that’s not how God works.  His radical grace is not offered in response to our promise to clean ourselves up or our efforts to do so, but instead is offered because of His great love for us because of the perfect faithfulness of Christ.  This is perhaps most clearly seen in the episode of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, a passage I got to proclaim from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago.  Please, if you have some time, listen to the way Jesus treats people in sin:

http://westgreenway.com/Sermons/MP3/11-08-21.mp3

No commendation, but no condemnation.  Jesus offers radical grace, grace so overwhelming that our minds have a hard time with it.  We live in a culture and in a time when the motto “you get what you pay for” is practically our mantra.  We look skeptically at anyone who offers us something for free, assuming it has a “hook” in it or some ulterior motive.  But the message of Jesus is a grace so big and so consuming that it encompasses the worst we have to offer.  It offends those who believe that we must act a certain way to prove to others that we have God’s grace, but Jesus makes a specialty of offending people who focus on style over substance.

We like to make the old “bait and switch” in theological circles; we begin by proclaiming to people that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23).  That’s all well and good until someone doesn’t conform to our expectations of what their Christian walk should be; then we start questioning whether they were really saved to begin with.  In so doing, we rob people of the joy of unconditional love from God that He has promised them:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)

God doesn’t love us or accept us because we clean ourselves up.  He loves us because Christ, the one who is perfect, obeyed in our place so that we who are wretched and poor and destitute can be made clean by His sacrifice on our behalf.  His sacrifice is so big that even those who we don’t see God working on them from the outside, if they have trusted Christ then we know that He is working on them on the inside, in His timing and in His way.  And yeah, that crazy and radical love should change us from the inside out.  But making it a requirement of that love is turning God’s plan on its head and making it performance based instead of grace based.

For me, I can’t handle performance-based love.  Telling me that if God loved me enough to die for me, and if I were converted to Christ, and if eternal life dwelt within me, then I must act a certain way in a certain timeframe or I never experienced God’s love, makes the whole thing a contract.  If you do this, I will do that.  God’s love looks like this:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

It is, to “church it up” a little, an unconditional covenant.  God said that by faith and not by works we are saved. (Eph 2:8-9) That is an unconditional promise.  And even if we louse it up badly, He loves us and seeks our restoration. (the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 comes to mind)  That’s unconditional love, and in that environment our faith can be nurtured and grown to the place where we can see God not only in our hearts but in our lives.

So which is it in your life? Have you experienced performance-based spirituality, or grace-based spirituality? How have they affected your vision of who God is, who you are, and how they interrelate?

Dead Right

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We have a saying in the motorcycle world: it’s quite possible to be “dead right.”  I ride in Phoenix and the drivers here are not so much aggressive as thoughtless and unaware of their surroundings.  Demanding the right-of-way and taking the attitude that I will just take what belongs to me is a great way to wind up as a statistic.  In other words, there is “right” and then there is “dead right.”  Every decision on a motorcycle has to be made through the grid of whether or not the rider is willing to be “dead right.”  You might have the right to do something, but will asserting that right be beneficial or will it lead to death?

This is very similar to the way that Paul viewed his ministry.  In the midst of a discussion on his rights as an Apostle of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, he says this: “Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 9:12)  He knew that using his rights would lead to hindrance of the gospel, which he couldn’t stand.  He would rather be wronged than be “dead right”!

How often I have seen people willing to be “dead right” in their relationships and in their decisions regarding life.  I get to see the tragic wrecks of “dead right” decisions all the time, and frankly it breaks my heart to see.  Where have I seen it?

  1. Parents who have a “right” to enjoy their leisure time any way they please exposing their kids to neglect, to harm emotionally or psychologically, or to unhealthy habits like alcoholism or similar habits.
  2. Spouses who demand their spousal rights.  This might be a husband who demands his wife submit to him regardless of his decisions, or a wife who demands sexual response from her husband at difficult times.  It might be a spouse who demands a spotlessly kept house or a perfect financial record.
  3. Friends who demand that those around them walk perfectly with Christ and cannot show them grace when they are wrong.  They must always be proven right in every discussion of doctrine or practice.
  4. Bosses who have inordinate expectations and employees who take advantage of company policies.
  5. Christians who demand their rights to one matter of conscience or another (drinking is a common one, as is movies with questionable content) as their “liberty in Christ” when around others.

All of these, and many more, may be “rights” that we possess, but that does not make them right to use.  We, too, can be “dead right” in our demands on others.

How about you?  Where have you been in danger of being “dead right” in the past?  How has God grown you out of that?

Self Awareness

Dastardly Whiplash In teaching through the Gospels at Southwestern College this semester I have really been reminded again about the legalism of the Pharisees.  Jesus has absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for their approach to God by following their rules or for their insistence that everyone else do the same.  Jesus has no problems dropping a “Jesus Booyah” on these guys!

13      “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14      [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16      “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
23      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
24      “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
26      “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28      “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:13-16, 23-28)

 
What a scathing rebuke! 
 
Two thoughts come to mind this Thanksgiving eve as I look through Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees:
 

  1. The Pharisees certainly didn’t consider themselves hypocrites, actors who played a part.  They certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness; they were the righteous ones who God would certainly approve of!  They had the right pedigree as children of Abraham and the right piety as followers of the law.  In other words, they weren’t at all self-aware.  They didn’t know what their needs were and for the most part considered themselves to be in God’s good graces.
  2. If I were a Pharisee, how would I have heard Jesus’ rebuke?  Would I have taken it as it was intended, to shake me out of my lethargy and complacency?  Or would I reject the rebuke and stay comfortably within my self-delusional existence?

We tend to look at the Pharisees in the Gospels and paint them as bad guys in spaghetti westerns.  However, we see some of them come to faith in Christ (John 12:42 comes to mind) and many of them, like Saul of Tarsus, genuinely thought that they were serving God with their wrong-headed insistence on following the rules.  I think that I tend to think of their hypocrisy like they had a nice exterior but inside they have turmoil because they are fakers.  The picture that the Gospels paints for us, though, is more that they sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.

Re-read that last sentence.  They sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.  Doesn’t that sound like a lot of Christian’s perception of Christianity?  As long as I am doctrinally correct and have no overt sin in my life I am good to go in God’s eyes. 

Eh…not so much according to Jesus.  He, in love, gets under the Pharisee’s skin for putting their own image and their own religion and their own preferences above what God wants for them.  He does not mind calling them out or ruffling their feathers because they need to hear what He is saying. 

When is the last time that you took an honest look at yourself and asked God to show you the ways that, even though you THINK that you’re doing well, you’ve replaced worship of Him with legalism.  Have you ever asked God to rebuke you and show you where you’ve left your love for Him and replaced it with comfortable rules?

This Thanksgiving I am not only thankful that Jesus died for my sins, but I am also thankful that He loves me enough to get me out of my comfort zone.  I am thankful that He loves me so much that He is willing to condemn the legalism in my life, even when that legalism is comfortable and especially when I think I am doing well.

How about you”?  Is there anything this Thanksgiving that is not typical that you are thankful to God for?  Is there a difficult situation, a temptation He has asked you to break from, or a sin that He loves you enough to kick you in the shins over right now?  And more importantly, are you willing this Thanksgiving to thank Him for doing it?

Whose Responsibility? (Part 3-My Responsibility For Others)

One of the hardest parts of living an authentic and transparent life of following Christ is living within community.  It sometimes seems like we are in a catch-22 when it comes to living with other Christians.  We have liberty in Christ but can’t use that liberty for fear of offending someone or putting a foot wrong.  Authentic Christian discipleship can very, very quickly devolve into Christian legalism and fear-mongering if we are not careful.

So how much responsibility do we bear for other people’s walk with God?  And how do we live in a community of Christians where everyone has different comfort levels with particular practices that aren’t necessarily sin but could delve into sin?  I think that this discussion, at least as much as any other if not more, is the most difficult part of having a truly biblical family of fellow believers in Christ around us.

To get the context for this discussion, you really need to read part 1 and part 2 of this series before reading this post.  You must understand the brouhaha  that sparked this discussion, and especially our individual responsibility for our own holiness before God, to understand how the last part of this puzzle fits together.

Probably the most significant biblical texts dealing with the issue of my responsibility toward others are found in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 and Romans 14:1-18.  While other texts might speak to the issue obliquely, Paul gets right to the heart of the matter of matters of conscience in these texts.  There is no better place to start a discussion of our responsibility for others in a biblical sense.

I think that this issue might have been such a big deal to Paul for a couple of reasons.  First I think his background made this issue large.  He started life as Saul the Pharisee, the king of legalism! (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14)  He knew how to put a fence around the law, which was a very Jewish practice. (see this explanation from a Jewish source)  Also, his congregations seem to be made up of diverse groups of Jews and Gentiles, young and old, slave and free.  These differences would be magnified in the church and would cause division and dissension then just like they do now!  So Paul addresses this issue in a very straightforward way.

23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake;
26 FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS.
27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;
29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?
30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;
33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

Paul’s overriding ethic in 1 Cor 10 is concern for others.  In verse 23 he is clear that in issues of conscience he is open to others’ needs, in that nothing by itself is unclean.  The particular issue in Corinth was meat, particularly the truth that some meat sold in the meat market was from animals that were sacrificed in the pagan temples of Corinth.  No doubt some of the believers there were bothered by that idolatry and therefore avoided that meat.  In verse 28 Paul says that he abstains when he knows there is someone with him who it would bother.  This isn’t for his own conscience (verse 30), but for the sake of others (verse 29).

The other side of the coin is also presented here.  In verse 27 Paul does not cause offense with his conscience to others either!  If an unbeliever offers him meat sacrificed to idols unknowingly, he realizes that it is not a spiritual issue (verses 25 and 26) and partakes with thankfulness.  It would have been a grave insult to turn down a host’s offering, so Paul does not make a big deal of it.  He makes the important issues important (like thankfulness to God and the ability of his friends to live holy lives according to their own consciences) rather than the unimportant issues (like meat).  He restrains his own desires for their benefit! 

Note the significant issue though: this sword cuts both ways.  Even if it bothers him that he could have a leg of lamb because it is clean, still if it bothers his host he will abstain.  Likewise he may be a little concerned about the source of the roast beast before him, but if his host offers it he will gratefully accept it.  This is NOT a one-way deal!  Instead, Paul thinks of others before himself.  This is the same ethic that he prescribes for believers in Romans 14:1-23:

1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11 For it is written,
“AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME,
AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore ado not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

This is a long passage but the basic message is pretty clear.  First we must be firmly convinced in our own mind as to what is acceptable to ourselves in matters of conscience and what is not.  Whether we decide that a matter of conscience is acceptable or not for our own lives is an issue between us and God.

That said, we also have a responsibility for others in this arena.  Verse 3 is the key!  When our conscience is weaker than someone else’s, we must not judge them for participating.  Likewise, if our conscience allows something that a friend’s conscience does not then we must not treat them with contempt for their more sensitive conscience.  Rather, Paul explains in verses 15-21, it is better to love them and restrain ourselves in their presence so as not to tear them down.

It’s important to see these issues in real life, so let’s consider a couple of situations.  I know some people who love the Harry Potter books, and others who believe that they are a gateway to ungodliness and witchcraft.  First Paul says that each must be firmly convinced that what they are doing (or not doing) is right before God.  Then he says that the one who is a fan mustn’t look down their nose at the one who is a muggle.  The one who doesn’t like the books mustn’t pass judgment on the fan, either. 

This same ethic applies to all types of matters of conscience.  Just a few of the more common ones include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Entertainment choices (movies, TV, books, etc. that are not overtly sinful)
  • Choice of occupation
  • Clothing preferences
  • Music
  • Smoking (yes, smoking…it won’t send you to hell I promise, though it may make you smell like you’ve been there), though this one is more complicated by the nicotine addiction factor

So what’s the bottom line?  My responsibility is to live a holy life before God first and foremost.  In matters of conscience I first and foremost have to check my heart and make sure that whatever I do I feel good about before Christ.  Then I must check my own liberty around others to make sure that I am taking every reasonable precaution to keep from putting stumbling blocks in their way.  Some of the ways that I find myself on both sides of this issue:

  1. I have a very sensitive conscience when it comes to sexual purity.  I get defiled easily!  I can’t watch movies with ANY nudity in them, so I avoid them.  I have friends with no such compunction, though, so we agree not to see those movies when we go together.  And when they go without me I do not stand in judgment over them.  They stand before Christ, and just because I couldn’t do it doesn’t mean they can’t!
  2. I have a very strong conscience when it comes to violence.  I love martial arts and am quite a gun nut.  I love firearms!  However, this is a touchy subject so it is one I am usually quiet about around other Christians.  I don’t want them to stumble, so I don’t share too much before I know that their conscience can handle it.  And for those bothered by firearms I work very hard to allow them to live out their conscience.
  3. With alcohol I am middle of the road.  I come from a family that struggles with alcohol so I have to watch my consumption, but I enjoy a glass of wine every so often.  However, I know a lot of people struggle with this and have more than a few friends who have battled alcoholism.  Needless to say I don’t drink around them!  Likewise I don’t talk about alcohol with them either, because it might be too much for them to bear.
  4. In the fantasy book genre our home is divided.  I am a huge fan of Robert Jordan, Tolkien, David Eddings, and other writers of fantasy.  My kids love the books too!  Laura, though, has a harder time with it.  So in our home she gets to set the standard.  If she is okay with a book then it can stay, and we all agree to respect one another’s consciences. (see this post on Halloween for another issue we have worked through)

I would encourage you to look through Paul’s lens on matters of conscience with respect to others.  Realize that you have liberty if your conscience allows but a responsibility to respect the weaker consciences of those around you.  Life is filled with give and take, so make sure that you’re willing to give for their sakes and be ready to make requests to take for yours.  If we do that in love with one another, looking out for each other without judgment or condemnation, then we will have the Christian community that makes a HUGE impact on our world.

Ladies, allow me to boil this down a little farther for you.  There are a few issues that are major, up-front issues in our society, including sex.  You’re not as visual as men for the most part, so know that and know that they are.  The way you dress is very hard for our weaker consciences to handle.  So when in doubt, please do us a favor and be cautious. (this brings us full circle to the Facebook bra color thing…)  Likewise, fellas, the ladies need us to choose not to ride roughshod over their consciences when they are offended.

Whose Responsibility? (Part 2-My Responsibility to Me)

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.