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Man’s Responsibility

by André Schwartz last modified Aug 01, 2014 11:00 AM
A seemingly contradictory doctrine (Part 2) – let’s go BBB

With the first delivery on “A seemingly contradictory doctrine”, we saw that the Bible clearly teaches that God is totally in control – even of “chance” and statistics. He is sovereign and has decreed all that has happened and will happen. All this is for His own glory. But His decrees do not just work out impersonally, but also involve us personally.

It would be easy to think that because God is sovereign and has decreed all that comes to pass, that we cannot be held responsible for anything we do – after all, God has decreed what we would do. But this is not so! Just as much as the Bible teaches Divine sovereignty, it also teaches human responsibility. You see, Romans 9 (God’s sovereignty) is not complete without Romans 10 (human responsibility):

For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Rom 10:11-13, emphasis mine).

An example of this reality of human responsibility is King Saul (1 Samuel 13‑15). Because of disobedience he lost his kingdom that “could” last forever: “the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.” But God later said of Saul, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.”

We are clearly not pawns in the hands of a deterministic and fatalistic universe. All commands in the Old and New Testaments are proofs of the reality of human responsibility from God’s perspective.

Some texts put the truths of God’s complete sovereignty and man’s responsibility right next to each other. When Jesus was crucified, men were responsible for putting Christ to death even though He was “being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). According to Acts 4, those who turned against Jesus simply did what was predestined to occur (Acts 4:27‑28). Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ is another example of this mystery: “Truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22) When Jesus answered Pilate, this very same mystery is before us: “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

God is the divine Potter who has “power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for dishonour,” according to His own purpose (Romans 9:21). And God is omniscient. Even when He “changes His mind” (as in Jeremiah 18:8‑10), it is because He had decreed it from eternity. In His omniscience He also knew the Jews would not turn back from their sins; indeed He had even hardened their hearts (Isaiah 63:17). But when He appeals to Judah it was no sham (Jeremiah 18:11). It was a valid offer. Isaiah 63:15‑64:12 and 65:1‑2 also combines the two themes of God’s control and man’s responsibility.

A very practical passage in the New Testament is Philippians 2:12-13. In this passage we see a perfect balance of these two truths. Paul is talking about the outworking of the Christian life. He emphasizes the aspect of human responsibility in this process:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (v 12).

He also emphasizes God’s sovereign control:

“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (v 13).

You see, God is controlling and man is responsible. Neither of these two verses should be quoted without the other because the Bible keeps both truths in perfect balance.

So, you see, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty does not give us the liberty to sit back and do nothing, or even worse, to just go and live in sin – we are responsible for all our actions. If you are a Christian, you have the responsibility to live like one. Do you? If you are not yet a child of God, you are fully responsible for your actions; all of them. Why not surrender to God’s mercy?