We are residents of a world that refuses to take any responsibility. “The devil made me do it. My spouse made me do it. It’s my boss’s fault.” On and on it goes; where it stops, no one knows. One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in recent years is a movie called Rocketman. The lead character’s standard line when something goes wrong is, “It wasn’t me.”
For some reason, God’s people think when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ they are going to be able to blame their parents, the church, their pastor, or their circumstances for their lack of maturity. By the life-styles, choices and actions of most believers, I am convinced that people think they will be able to pass the buck when it comes to personal responsibility.
What percentage of responsibility for my spiritual development is the Holy Spirit’s and what part is mine? The Scriptures say, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” If that’s true, do I do anything? If the Christian life is about living “in Christ”, does that relieve me from personal responsibility?
One of the key principles in developing doctrine is to remember that the doctrines and teachings of Scripture balance each other. For instance, you have grace and judgment. You have election and the free will of man. They are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. In knowing this, we avoid extremes (and even heresy).
The people who figured out the balance between my personal responsibility and God’s did not own a bigger Bible than I own; they just studied it. They also applied it. In Second Peter, chapter one and verse three, we read, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (NIV). Paul says that God has freely given us all things. We have limitless resources available to us through the Holy Spirit. Paul said we overwhelmingly conquer through Jesus Christ. That being the case, why are so many believers failing in the Christian life? Why are we settling for less than God’s best? Is it that God is not working as hard for some as He is for others? Are the missionaries taking up all His time and energy? I don’t think so. Every indication, implication, and instruction in Scripture says just the opposite. God has given us, through His Son, victory over the world, flesh and the devil. I don’t have to walk in defeat. I can walk in victory by abiding in Christ’s victory.
Okay, but there’s still a problem. What am I supposed to do besides abide? That seems like I’m just supposed to sit in a hammock and wait on God to overwhelm me. Not at all. With the commandment to abide you also discover the commandments to act. Again, two sides of the same coin. The Master’s commandments regarding obedience and discipline are not optional. They are imperatives.
Jude said, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (emphases mine). Paul told us to put on the whole armor of God. God isn’t going to dress us every morning. We’re old enough to get dressed ourselves. He provides the armor, but we have to put it on.
James said, “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” I have to submit and resist. The devil is not going to run because I go to church, or even because I’m sincere. He won’t run because I’m a Bible toting Baptist. He runs when I submit and when I resist. I have to do something. Jesus conquered the devil, but I have to act on what has been done on my behalf.
In Philippians, chapter three, beginning with verse twelve, we read, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV). Christ took hold. I take hold. I am to strain toward and press on. For what? For what is mine in Christ Jesus. The work of Christ is a finished work, but I have to appropriate it, apply it, and abide in it. I don’t get it by osmosis. It comes through discipline and obedience. It comes from standing in and standing on the promises.
Many churches still have altars. In the old days and in days of revival) the altars were filled with people and with tears. In times when God’s Spirit moves in, we realize there’s something we need to do. Now there’s nothing magical about a trip to the altar. In fact, it’s easier to go to the altar than to put yourself on the cross. You don’t grow by walking to the altar, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s what you do after you leave the altar that counts. You can wear a path out to the altar, but if you don’t change your mind and your lifestyle through obedience and discipline, it won’t mean much.
Read Hebrews 11, the Hall of Fame of Faith. Those poor people. They didn’t have Bibles, cassette tapes, religious TV, contemporary Christian music, no radio Bible teachers, no study helps, none of the “advantages” we have. But they had something we don’t have. They had power with God. They were able to subdue kingdoms, work righteousness, obtain promises, and shut the mouths of lions. They lived in a supernatural realm that makes our Christian experience look anemic. What worked for them will work for us. Faith acts on the promises of God. Faith obeys God. Surrender to the purpose of God. There’s nothing new –only the need for a new generation to walk in the old truth.
God has given me everything I need to live the abundant Christian life, but I have to want it. There must be in my heart a hunger and thirsting for righteousness. There must be an appetite for the things of God. There must be a passion to obey. Hudson Taylor, when asked why God used him, said, “God had looked long for a man weak enough, and He found me.” God’s looking for people He can use – but they have to be looking for God.
(copyright, Michael C. Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.