Obligations and responsibility

We don’t seem to hear much about responsibility and accountability these days, and we are in my opinion, far worse off because of that.  Many people in positions of authority seem to be able to say anything and get away with it without ever taking responsibility or being held to account for what they have said.  There are times when what they say is at best disingenuous or misleading and at worst a blatant lie.  This seems to be the norm, and I believe we are diminished because of it. The degree of cynicism and sometimes anger we see in people in our communities and the media in response to that is alarming.

In his book ‘12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos’, the controversial Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that we should take responsibility, tell the truth, repair what’s broken, obey rules and standards and have values and moral obligations.  You might not agree with everything Peterson says, but his suggestions seem like sound advice to me.  His suggestions aren’t rocket science, are they?  I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed.

It is perhaps no surprise that the Bible offers a solution to this malaise too – we should seek to live according to the obligations placed upon us.  That leaves little, if any, room for selfishness and instead encourages accountability, responsibility and upholding Christian values.  We have an obligation to God, and we have an obligation to each other.  We are responsible for our actions and choices, and we must be prepared to accept the implications and consequences of those – whether good or bad.  If we don’t do this, we are simply in servitude to sin, and that leads to death.  If more Christians took these obligations seriously the Church would be transformed.  Too many Christians seem to be motivated by “what’s in it for them?” rather than “how can I bring delight to God, serve others and help build his Church?”

Many years ago, a church I attended decided to organise a day out which involved a walk and a picnic.  If you do a lot of walking and rambling in groups, you will know that best practice is that you complete the walk at the speed of the slowest member.  You stick together and support one another.  Unfortunately, as soon as the walk began some members of the Church set off at such a pace that the entire group quickly became scattered and dispersed.  Those who walked slower felt disgruntled and left behind and were unsure of the way.  Those who walked faster felt disgruntled because people didn’t keep up!  It was a very powerful testament to the lack of unity that existed, with many people only being interested in their own wellbeing and choices rather than seeking to support one another.  They failed to fulfil their obligations to the people around them.

There can be no doubt that it is a struggle to take responsibility and fulfil our obligations, and the causes of that struggle are sin and rebellion.  We can actually (and all too easily) make an idol of ourselves.  Yet if we make the right choices, we are enabled to fulfil these obligations – obligations that we can’t necessarily fulfil in our own strength – in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the grace of God.  We seek to fulfil these obligations together.  Fulfilling these obligations leads to life, and freedom – free from fear.  What casts out all fear?  Perfect love, the love of God. (1 John 4:18)

It is incredible that even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we nevertheless have an Advocate in heaven (1 John 2:1), and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  I implore you to think about the significance of this.  We are God’s children and we are heirs — “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  What an encouragement to us!  Next time you encounter a brother or sister in Christ, pause for a moment and remind yourself you are dealing with a child of God and a co-heir with Christ.  That is what defines them and that is what defines us and in that we find dignity, value, and purpose.

We cannot simply ignore the struggle that we face.  Such is that struggle that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Sometimes when I watch the news and I see the brokenness in the world, or when I encounter the brokenness in me I recognise the lament, the heart cry within me – that inward groaning.  My spirit cries out “Lord, have mercy!” If we live in grace, set free by love and mindful of our spiritual inheritance then we might develop a growing awareness that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We can endeavour to fulfil these obligations by:

  • Being active as we seek to be disciples of Christ.  That would involve daily prayer, Bible study, Christian service, worship, fellowship and confession.
  • Seeking to be open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. That can involve praying for and earnestly seeking the gifts of the Spirit and that the Fruit of the Spirit might be abundantly evident in our lives.
  • Exercising genuine humility and servanthood.
  • Being awakened by grace and knowing the fullness of God’s love.
  • Being willing to be accountable to one another, taking responsibility for our actions, and telling the truth.

We are called to live in Christ; the way, the truth, and the life.  His way is the better way, his truth is absolute truth, truth that sets us free, and his life is life in all fullness.  We are loved by God, and esteemed by God.  In Isaiah 66:2 God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”  The hallmark and outworking of us seeking to uphold those obligations is an all pervasive hope in which we are able to acknowledge our current wretchedness, but mindful of what God has in store for us as his children.

With these thoughts in mind, let me bring this message to a close with these words from Hebrews:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25)

Amen

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