The Theology of Taking Responsibility.

In my article on 10 Simple Things to Improve Your Life the first “thing” I advised was to take responsibility. There is a theology behind this Personal Responsibility ethos: The God given mandate to exercise dominion over what He has given us.

But this ethos is often obscured in our current Christian culture behind the slogan of wanting to “do God’s will” or a belief that being faithful only means waiting for God to make all the moves – a belief that we have little or no part to play. “Everything happens for a reason” people will rationalize, generally implying that God is the only agent at work behind all events. A person contracts lung cancer, and brushes the existential questions aside, with “Everything happens for a reason” implying a reason outside of himself. When I hear this in my office (or in church services, meetings, or casual conversation) I want to shout back, “Yes, the reason is you made bad decisions. It’s time to take responsibility and make wise decisions.” (I don’t actually do this, or when I do I don’t shout and I use much greater self-control than is implied here ;-)

What looks like Christian virtue (Seeking God’s Will) can become a vice; a disguise for laziness, passivity, and even cowardice. This is deterministic Calvinism run amok; an over-reliance on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to explain all events in our lives – and excuse ourselves from responsibility. And its misuse has Real World, negative consequences in people’s lives (failed marriages, poor health, children not parented, careers lost or not advanced). Many of us have come to believe that passivity is the same thing as faithfulness. Waiting on the Lord has come to mean, “I don’t need to do anything.” We say “Let go and let God” as though we have no actions, choices, or changes of our own to make. God is sovereign, and in His sovereignty He has declared us responsible for our own lives. If my criticism seems too harsh, look at what Jesus says about this kind of passivity:

“But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” [1]

God has given us dominion over our lives and wants us to do something with them. To be sure, we are to place our life dominions under His (I Corinthians 11), but still we are the stewards and God wants a return on His investment in us. He wants us to initiate action, and He wants us to develop the maturity that requires taking responsibility. In Genesis we find,

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [2]

At the beginning of creation God declared that mankind had dominion over everything on the earth. It was ours to do something with. Adam and Eve, of course failed in governing this dominion, ceding it over to Lucifer in a sinful act and the rest is literally history. We have been plagued ever since with the sin of Adam: being passive, and not caring for, tending to, or developing what God has given us. We have also been chafing under the dominion of an utterly evil being. By Adam and Eve’s actions, the whole of humanity was placed under the dominion of Lucifer. There was nothing we could do about it on our own. We needed someone to come in and win back the domain and take us out from under the dominion of our enemy.

Enter Jesus. God placed Him into that domain, to conquer it from the inside out. Jesus was both inside and outside of that dominion all at the same time. He was physically born into humanity but his Spirit remained divine, and outside the jurisdiction of the enemy. Jesus did everything by God’s authority. Jesus was given dominion of certain things (us) as His ministry progressed, and he was quite active at protecting what had been given to Him by the Father. After the resurrection He was given All Authority (Matthew 28:18), and the first thing He did with that authority was to exercise dominion and to extend it out to us with the Great commission. He set about expanding his domain through the work of the church; “Go out into all the world and make disciples of them.”

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, Satan recognized the threat to his system, and he tempted Jesus with a short-cut to regain the dominion that had been lost.

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ” [3]

It was, of course, a cheap trick and a lie, because if Jesus had taken Satan up on the offer, Satan would still hold dominion and Jesus would have been caught up in it as well. Our salvation would be lost to us. By biding His time and regaining the dominion by God’s rules, Jesus won the whole thing back. That is why the New Testament Christian writers say things like this:

“He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” [4] - The Apostle Paul

If you witness the life of Jesus, you will see him exercising the principle of dominion. Jesus is responsible and takes responsibility. And He gives it. We are responsible for much of our own success or failure. And while Jesus will be there to redeem us when we mess up again, He does not make our decisions and choices for us. He wants us to do that and to be just like He was during his earthly ministry.

Jesus was never passive about his choices and never projected blame, made excuses, or simply waited for someone else to do it. He was never careless. He never waited when action was called for. He was never fearful or anxious with the weight of the responsibility, always trusting in His Father, to fulfill the promises of His ministry. If we are to be like Christ, we, too, must live by these same active, courageous, responsibility-taking character traits. We must sow and watch God provide the harvest.

“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [5] - The Apostle Paul.

Go sow bountifully. Take responsibility for what God has given you in your life.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Matthew 25:26–27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Genesis 1:26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Matthew 4:8–10). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ephesians 1:20–23). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[5] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (2 Co 9:6–7). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.