Personal Responsibility

I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a man in Seville, Spain who requested a free Bible. Several weeks earlier, we distributed thousands of postcards as we tried to make contact with interested truth seekers. The postcards had three simple Bible–related questions. Interested respondents were encouraged to answer the questions and send the card back to us in order to receive a free copy of the New Testament. The fact that this man asked for a Bible indicated his desire to learn more about God’s word. Or so I thought.

Like most Sevillians, he gave me a warm welcome and our conversation was cordial. However, when I invited him to investigate the Scriptures with me, he responded, “Speak to my wife. She’s the one in charge of religion in my family.” As nice as he was, he apparently didn’t believe that he was personally responsible to God. In his mind, his wife was the only one in his family who would be held accountable for their religious beliefs.

Many Try to Shift the Blame

Humans have a long history of evading personal responsibility all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam cast the blame on the woman and Eve blamed Satan for having deceived her (Genesis 3:12-13).

Thousands of years later, Pontius Pilate concluded that Jesus of Nazareth had done “nothing deserving death” (Luke 23:15). However, his findings did not stop the mob from demanding that the Lord be crucified. In response, Pilate “took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves’” (Matthew 27:24). The sentiment of his words seems to be, “I’m not to blame for this man’s death. It’s YOUR responsibility!”

God Holds Each One Accountable

In contrast, the word of God clearly teaches in multiple passages that each one is responsible for his own salvation or perdition.

For example, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel reminded the Jews of his day that “a son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. The righteousness of the righteous person will be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be his own” (Ezekiel 18:20, God’s Word). We cannot inherit the sins or righteousness of others. Each one will be righteous before God because of “his own” righteousness or wicked because of “his own” wickedness.

Salvation Is a Personal Decision

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility when he says to the Christians in Philippi, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Perhaps they felt, like the man in Seville, that others were responsible for their salvation. If so, they were mistaken!

The need to hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe in Christ (John 8:24), repent (Acts 17:30), confess faith in Jesus as the Son of God (Luke 12:8; Romans 10:10), be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and persevere in the teachings of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-2) is a personal matter. No one can be “in charge” of our faithfulness to God. The responsibility is ours.

–Jerry Falk