By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
According to the dictionary, responsibility is “the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.” That definition immediately brings two questions to my mind. The first is, “What exactly is being responsible, answerable, and accountable?” and the second is, “What is within my power, control, or management?” In trying to answer these questions, I believe we can gain a greater understanding of what should be meant by the term ‘responsible Christian living.’
When you look up the definition for the word responsible, it again brings out the words answerable and accountable, but adds “often followed by to or for.” For the Christian, I believe before we can be fully responsible, answerable, or accountable for something, we have to be totally responsible, answerable, and accountable to something, or more accurately to Someone. Only when we are responsible to God does He give us response-ability, the ability to respond in the right way. So in my opinion the greater part of responsibility is response-ability. This ability to respond is spelled out in another part of the definition of responsible: “having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable.” We are accountable to Someone regardless of whether we accept the fact or not.
The Old Testament is about God’s desire for man to be responsible, answerable, and accountable to Him. It starts in Genesis and runs the full length of the Hebrew Scriptures. Responsibility to God began in the garden where Satan enticed mankind to exercise their will in his own power, control, and management against God. God gave man power, control, and management of his domain. This was good as long as it was carried out with responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God. As long as the responsibility to was directed properly, the responsibility for was productive and life-giving. When man redirected their responsibility, answerability, and accountability to another someone, the power, control, and management became corrupted, as well. God’s dealings with man are portrayed with vivid detail in the rest of the Old Testament, with the same outcome. When individuals or nations were responsible, answerable, and accountable to God, they were blessed and prospered. When they responded as Adam and Eve did in the garden, they encountered hardship and loss.
So what happened when Jesus came? Did His coming to earth change God’s mind on the issues of responsibility, answerability, and accountability? In Luke, chapter 2, we see a story that establishes early on in Jesus’ own life His responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God.
40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; 43 and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, 44 but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48 When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:40-52 NASB).
This pattern early established produced favor with God and men in Jesus’ life.
Let’s next look at what Jesus dealt with directly after His baptism by John. Matthew 4:1-11 tells the story.
4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;
‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him (Matthew 4:1-11).
We see here that Jesus was responsible, answerable, and accountable to God for those things He had power, control, and management over. Here we see the divine pattern set in the life of the second Adam as Jesus exercised His will and responded in God’s response-ability to the same temptations Satan used in the garden.
During His ministry we see time and again a Jesus responsible to the Father. His own words to this effect are recorded in the Gospel of John 5:19:Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” One has only to look at the gospels and examine the ministry of Jesus to come to the same conclusion. His greatest example of this was in another garden, the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36-50 again shows Jesus’ responsibility, answerability, and accountability to God. Without response-ability at Gethsemane, there would have been no crucifixion.
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” 39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” 47 While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” 49 Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 50 And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.
We see here both the weakness of men and the strength of a Man. His inner circle went to sleep on Him, but Jesus persevered in giving His will over to the will of the Father. And in doing so gave up power, control, and management to those who seized Him in order to fulfill the Father’s purpose. After what Jesus suffered, His dying words asking the Father to forgive were a response-ability only God could give.
We see not only in Jesus’ life but also in His teachings this mandate of responsible Christian living. In Jesus’ life, we see Him fulfill the law. In His sermon on the mount, we see Him set forth a raising of the bar for those called disciples. As we read and re-read Matthew chapters 5-7, we come to a better understanding of what response God wants to give us ability for. Jesus spoke above the letter of the law, calling for a Spirit-birthed response to God and to our fellow man. Our ability to respond comes by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He spoke of behavior and thinking far above what man can do in the natural.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
In condensing the law and prophets to two commands, one would think the responsibility would be less. But it actually raised the level of responsibility. and along with greater responsibility, the Holy Spirit gives greater response-ability.