Monday, November 05, 2007

The Responsibility of Man

The Scriptures, New and Old Testament alike, are replete with admonitions, commandments, exhortations, directions, requirements, laws, and dictates from God to man that openly and unquestionably reveal than man has a responsibility before God. Now everyone believes a saved man is responsible to God, the question is does a lost man have a responsibility toward God or does his sinful condition render him totally dead and unable to be accountable at all? Is the sin of Adam the only act a sinner must answer for or are there acts of his own volition for which he is responsible toward God?

Let me focus on one particular letter from the Apostle Paul, a piece of doctrinal literature that many feel is the single most complete theological treatise in all the New Testament. It is the book of Romans which is a masterpiece of doctrinal revelation especially concerning the lostness of man and the gospel itself. Let us begin with the first chapter in which God gives us a tiny but illuminating glimpse into God’s interaction between Himself and lost man.

Rom.1:19 - Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it unto them.

This teaching shows us that although fallen man is redemptively dead in his sins, he still has a residual knowledge of God and can discern the existence of a true God. He cannot “know” this God except through Christ, but he can sense His existence. And this knowledge is a residual gift that God had given originally to Adam, but even after Adam fell and before he was clothed with animal skins, Adam still knew the voice of God, only this time Adam was afraid and had lost his relationship he once had.

Rom.1:21 - Because that when they knew God they glorified Him not as God,
Rom.1:28 - And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge…

These sinners recognized the existence of the true God but because they desired the pleasures of their own sin they rejected the true God and created their own false god. They made idols of their own hands and they also worshiped the material creation rather than the Creator. And then God makes a statement that draws us further into the mystery concerning God’s non-redemptive relationship with man.

Rom.1:24 - Wherefore God also gave them up…
Rom.1:26 - For this cause God gave them up…
Rom.1:28 - …God gave them over…

We see here that God reserves the sovereign right to give sinners up which means before He did, He was drawing and wooing them to come to Himself. God cannot give up what He had never worked with to bring them to repentance and redemption. God is actively pursuing sinners and Jesus Himself said that if He would be raised He would draw all men unto Himself. These verses teach that God was drawing them by His Spirit but their open rebellion and rejection became so serious that God stopped drawing them and cut them off forever. We as ambassadors of the gospel cannot act as if man has no responsibility before God and that his sins have no effect, no, the sinner must be warned that chronic rejection runs the risk that God will no longer draw him.

Rom.1:32 - Who knowing the judgment of God…

These sinners although lost, still had a knowledge of God’s judgment and even when they knew they deserved death, still chose to have pleasure in their sins. Do not be fooled, sinners still are responsible before God.

Rom.3:23 - For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Here the Apostle Paul says that although sin is passed through the loins of Adam to everyone who is born, all are responsible before God for their own sins. Dead men can not commit sins, so Paul’s use of the phrase “dead in trespasses and sins” refers to a spiritual condition. But sinners are still responsible and answerable to God for their actions. Even God’s institution of government assumes that man, in a fallen state, can obey the moral and civil laws legislated by an earthly government. Man, even in that same fallen state, can obey some of God’s laws. Not all sinners commit adultery or murder, but they are still fallen and spiritually dead.

Men are sinners yet still have a choice, and Paul states that some men so arrogantly disobey God that God restricts His Spirit without which no man can come to Christ, but that decision God makes is a result of the decisions some men have made. It seals the damnation of those souls even before they are physically dead. So God does take the seriousness and cumulative nature of man’s sins into some account, and within the wisdom of His own counsel alone He may decide to “give them up”.

This brings up an interesting and important issue. If men are responsible for their sins, and if those sins can impact the plan of God for them personally, then it is unbiblical to teach that sinners are completely dead with no moral or spiritual conscience. Man is lost and unredeemed because of his sins, but he can still know the existence of God and he can even hear the gospel, hear the Spirit’s witness of its exclusive truth, and reject it. The teaching that man is absolutely dead leads to a very unbiblical and eternally dangerous practice. This teaching removes the Scriptural mandate we have to warn sinners of their responsibility before God and that continued sin without seeking redemption is perilous.

Do not write off the lost world as unaccountable before God, benignly going about their business and unable to know the Creator and reject Him. The world has made their own idols in the face of God Almighty, although at different levels of knowledge, but with knowledge nonetheless. They must be warned of the seriousness of their condition and the seriousness of God’s gospel offer. Man is responsible before God and although Adam’s transgression has birthed us as sinners, we have chosen to build upon Adam’s initial rebellion with our own personalized transgressions. And with that, every man stands utterly responsible before the Creator God with a conscience, a knowledge of God, and a God given choice to repent and believe the gospel or reject Christ forever. To teach that man has no interaction with God and cannot know God even before redemption is soothing a sinner’s conscience and removing the urgency of his condition. And to further teach that unless God decides to call someone he cannot even become aware of his situation goes against the clear teachings of Scripture and again soothes the conscience even if that wasn't the intention. One of the reasons that Christ Himself said the Holy Spirit came was to convince the world of sin, and that includes all sinners.

All sinners must be confronted lovingly but clearly with the responsibility they have before a God of justice and redemption.

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