Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Personal Responsibility

Recently I talked a bit about the current trend towards having an "accountability partner." I took a rather negative view of the whole thing.

This time I want to deal with something else: responsibility.

For me, being "held accountable" and being "responsible" for an action or attitude has never been a positive thing. In my past either one was always used as a bludgeon to shame me into not being "good enough." (For somebody from New England, especially New York City, I've noticed that's considered "encouragement." To a depressed child who never really felt good about himself anyhow, though, "do better" always seemed to come out as "your best isn't good enough." But that's still another topic of another post.)

I suppose other people have taken that same outlook on the term, because today the word "responsibility" only applies to someone else, never to oneself. Each one of us is a "victim" of something that wasn't our choice. It could be childhood abuse. It could be chemical imbalances. It could be drugs, alcohol, or tobacco taken by mothers during pregnancy.

Even some Christians have an "out" in the theology of John Calvin, who supported the notion of the "elect." To simplify the whole package now referred to as Calvinism, God pre-chose certain people to come to Him, and others He did not. Those He chose were predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son. They were also called, justified, and glorified. Those who weren't chosen … well, I guess they don't get in on the offer.

The sticky part of that whole concept is that there is Biblical support for it. What I wrote up there is essentially a paraphrase of Romans 8:29-30, though I suggest you check out the surrounding text. (In fact, it dovetails into a tricky little bit of Romans 8:28, where it talks about all things working together for those who are called according to His purpose.)

So how can God be fair if He not only knows ahead of time who will and who won't turn to Him, but chooses them? Well, that's where the counterpoint to Calvinism, called Arminianism after Jacobus Arminius, comes in. Arminius stressed the aspect of free will. After all, God wouldn't be "fair" without it. Well, that didn't set well with some folks, so John Wesley took a stab at trying to unite the two concepts. Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, in his book Calvary Chapel Distinctives, admits that the Bible teaches both, and that he cannot unravel the paradox, so he teaches predestination when the text shows that, and he teaches free will when the text goes that way.

Consider †his: God holds us responsible for our choice to accept the free gift of His Son's sacrifice for our sins, even though He knows already whether we will or not.

I refuse to accept the sum total of Calvin's, Arminius', or Wesley's treatment of the whole thing. I won't accept any of those labels (which is yet another topic to come). I do know this, though: none of us will be able to use predestination as an excuse to bypass God's justice. John 3:18 says that we are all already condemned if we have not accepted the free gift of God's grace. That's predestined, if you like. Is it our choice? Let's be honest. Yes, we choose to sin. Yes, we're under a curse on a cursed planet in a cursed universe. Jesus showed that we're without excuse, because He, though not born under the curse, lived a sinless life. God promises us a way to escape any temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), even when the temptation is caused by chemical imbalances, childhood abuse, genetics, or whatever.

We still choose to sin.

We are still responsible for that choice.

We are still responsible for the choice we make about Jesus' sacrifice in our place.

What choices are you going to make today?
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