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I Am Responsible

There have been two somewhat recent news stories that illustrate an ever-growing, disturbing trend. That trend is the disappearance of responsibility, being accountable or answerable for actions within one’s control.

The first story we heard brought to the fore once again the controversial trial of a young man, who in June 2013 killed three people while driving drunk. His blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit. When justly brought to the court of law, he gave an unheard of defense.

Affluenza. Not responsible.

Affluenza is a fictional condition. It refers to one who is raised in such a privileged culture of affluence, he does not understand the consequences of his actions and is therefore not responsible.

As if this young man’s use of “affluenza” as a defense wasn’t unbelievable enough, in December 2015 his mother helped him to flee to Mexico after a video surfaced of him clearly violating his probation by drinking alcohol at a party with some friends.

The second, more recent story you may have noticed was of a Stanford college student, who brutally sexually assaulted a drunk, unconscious, young woman next to a dumpster in an alley. The father of the accused, responding to his son’s guilty verdict and lenient sentence of 6 months in jail, wrote a letter defending his son. The way he described his son seems terrifyingly bold.

Victim. Not responsible.

He described his son as a victim of “the culture of alcohol consumption and partying. This culture was modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team [of which he was a part] and played a role in the events…” He continued by saying that his son’s guilty verdict has shattered his life, adding that his son can’t even enjoy his favorite food, steak anymore. All this, his father claimed, is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” Defending him even further, his father said, “He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions [sexual assault] on the night of Jan 17th 2015.”[1] How is sexual assault not violent? As I said above, terrifyingly bold.

What do these two stories have in common? Not only irresponsibility and sin on the part of the two young men, but also parents who feel that their children are not accountable for their sins. These stories are just two that are a part of a growing trend we are observing in society—irresponsibility. Parents, at the bidding of their children, are willingly giving them over to the modern day Moloch[2] of sexual promiscuity and alcoholism. But the point of bringing up these two news stories is not so that we can look out at this horrifying trend in broader society and dwell on the sins of others. Rather, we must look in. We must examine our own hearts and root out anything from “out there” that has made its way “in here.” Let us remind ourselves of our calling while we sojourn on this earth—responsible living before God, to whom we will give answer in the final judgment.

How do we live responsibly before God? As young people, though sheltered by the church and covenant homes, we are growing up in an affluent culture of sexual promiscuity and alcoholism. But this is not an excuse for us to live irresponsibly or act as if we are not accountable for our own actions. As young Christians we are accountable to God and must live responsibly before him, the one to whom we will give answer. Before we delve into a couple of specific ways we can put into practice in order to live responsibly before God, we should consider the general pattern of life we must live. First, we realize that we are totally depraved sinners, who are capable of and often fall into the same sins (manifested in many different ways) as the individuals described above. Second, we realize that we are responsible for these sins. We confess, “I am accountable for my actions.” Our actions are subject to the law of God, the standard of perfect love for God and the neighbor. Third, looking into the mirror of the law of God and realizing that we have failed to uphold the law to the standard it requires, we confess our sins before God. In this confession we acknowledge our responsibility for our sins. Fourth, with tears in our eyes we realize that Christ’s perfect righteousness has accounted for our irresponsibility. Our debt of sin has been paid! Fifth, we rest assured in the promise of his mercy, and in joy we respond in praise to our Redeemer, having even greater cause to live a godly, responsible life of sanctification.

What then are some more specific ways we can practice, aiming toward a life of responsibility before God? The first way is through spiritual discipline. Before we examine spiritual discipline in any detail, we must realize that discipline is not merely a human response to our life of sin, confession, and thankfulness for redemption. The ability to discipline ourselves is itself a gift from God. As fallen human beings, who are by nature irresponsible, spiritual discipline does not come easily. We may wonder how we can possibly live disciplined lives like Jesus, our ultimate example. The answer is that we cannot attain his level of discipline. We can only arrive at a small beginning of the godly discipline he showed while in the flesh and that only because of grace. German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “the call to discipleship is a gift of grace.”[3] As children of God, we sit at the foot of the cross of our Savior, redeemed and justified by his merciful grace. With that undeserved gift we are enabled to live daily in the shadow of the cross as responsible, disciples of Christ. Not only is our salvation a gift of grace, but also our ability to respond in thankfulness by living godly, disciplined lives.

So how do we begin to live spiritually disciplined lives? If we are to be disciples of Christ, we need to start with what he said. If we are going to discipline ourselves in the way that he has showed us by his example, we need to read about it in the Bible. This is done in catechism classes, bible studies, Sunday worship, and especially personal devotions. In our personal devotions we must not just read scripture, we must immerse ourselves in it. We must meditate on it so that we can remember it, carrying it with us through the day. Author and pastor Donald Whitney stresses the importance of not just reading, but of meditation on scripture, comparing our spiritual health to a tree.

The tree of your spiritual life thrives best with meditation because it helps you absorb the water of God’s Word (Ephesians 5:26). Merely hearing or reading the Bible, for example, can be like a short rainfall on hard ground. Regardless of the amount or intensity of the rain, most runs off and little sinks in. Meditation opens the soil of the soul and lets the water of God’s Word percolate in deeply. The result is an extraordinary fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity.[4]

Another way we live spiritually disciplined and responsible lives is through humility. When we meditate on scripture, we look into the mirror and realize how far we have fallen short of what is required. At the same time we realize that we are guilty of the same sins as the irresponsible individuals we mentioned above. Christ gave his life for us, yet day after day we deny any association with him by way of our sins, sometimes even with cursing and swearing as the apostle Peter (Mark 14:71). What is even more humbling is the fact that we sin against knowledge. We have been assured by the Holy Spirit of our salvation through Christ’s suffering and death, yet with this knowledge we still deny him daily. In the way of humility, we learn to crucify our flesh, deny ourselves, and take up our cross and follow Christ’s perfect example.

Spiritual discipline and humility share a common requirement. They must be practiced now. There is no time to wait. We cannot push off spiritual maturity for another day “when I’m ready” or “when I have time.” We must discipline ourselves and practice humility now. Many of us may be blessed with marriage and children in the not so distant future. With these blessings comes huge responsibility. As fathers and mothers we are called to lead our families in the way of godliness. If we do not practice humility and spiritual discipline, how do we expect our children to act? We will give account someday not only for how we lived in the knowledge of salvation, but also for the example our life was to our children. In the end our only hope of being able to accomplish any of this is by clinging to the cross. Day after day we must ask in prayer for the strength that we cannot provide. That strength alone is what can enable us to live godly, responsible lives before the one to whom we are accountable.

 

[1] Quotations taken from https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2852614-Letter-from-Brock-Turner-s-Father.html

[2] Remember Moloch, or Molech in the Old Testament, the god of the Ammonites, in the worship of whom Israel made their children to pass through fire. See Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; 1 Kings 11:7; Jer. 32:35.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995), 51.

[4] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 45.