Category: What does the Bible say about personal responsibility?


Part of growing up is taking responsibility for oneself. We start as infants with no personal responsibility whatsoever—everything that we need done is done for us. As we progress through the various stages of childhood, we take on more and more responsibility. We learn to tie our own shoes, clean our own rooms, and turn in our own homework. We learn that responsibility has its rewards—and irresponsibility has other, less-than-desirable effects. In many ways, the difference between a child and a man is his willingness to take personal responsibility for his actions. As Paul says, “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

The Bible teaches the concept of personal responsibility: “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them” (Ezekiel 18:20). Personal responsibility is closely related to the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7–8). “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done” (Isaiah 3:10–11).

The commands of the Old Testament were attached to blessings for obedience and penalties for disobedience; in other words, the Law emphasized the responsibility of individuals to respond in morally appropriate ways to God’s revealed truth. God clearly defined right and wrong, and His people were expected to do what was right. This has been the case ever since the Garden of Eden, when Adam was given a specific command and expected to obey it. Later, Adam’s son Cain was warned by God that he would be held personally responsible for his actions (Genesis 4:7).

Achan was held responsible for his sin at Jericho (Joshua 7:14–15). Jonah was held responsible for his choice to run from the Lord (Jonah 1:7–8). The Levites were held responsible for the care of the tabernacle (Numbers 18:5). The deacons of the early church took personal responsibility for meeting some practical needs of the church (Acts 6:3). Paul was given the responsibility to blaze a gospel trail to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2).

The Bible expects us to take personal responsibility in all areas of life. Able-bodied people should work for their food. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Men are to take responsibility for providing for their households (1 Timothy 5:8).

At times, people try to avoid personal responsibility, usually through blame-shifting. Adam tried to blame Eve for his sin (Genesis 3:12). Cain tried to dodge responsibility (Genesis 4:9). Pilate attempted to absolve his guilt in the matter of the crucifixion of Christ: “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’” (Matthew 27:24). Ultimately, attempts to pass the buck are futile. “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

Each one of us has the personal responsibility to “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15) and then to glorify the Lord with good works (Ephesians 2:10). “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Those who choose to reject the truth of God “are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). We cannot evade our personal responsibility to exercise faith in Christ.

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In one movie adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s book “War and Peace,” the narrator declares, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” What responsibilities do Christians have when they see their country heading in an ungodly direction? Let’s look at seven ways believers can stand up and take action. 


1. Choose wise leadership.

In this nation, we have the opportunity to select many of the people who will be in authority over us. Unfortunately, a number of Americans never exercise their right to vote. They rationalize that they don’t know the nominees, that none of the candidates are godly, or that one ballot can’t make a difference. But believers have a responsibility to investigate each contender and cast an intelligent vote.

  • What qualities should we look for when selecting a leader (Ex. 18:21-22)?
  • Do you educate yourself each election and exercise your right to vote? Why or why not?

2. Submit to authority.

God ordained the institution of human government, and He gives leaders their positions of power
(Dan. 2:21).

  • What are the consequences of failing to subject ourselves to human authorities (Rom. 13:1-2)
  • What does submission to government include (Rom. 13:6-7)?

The early church existed during the time of the emperor Nero, one of the cruelest and most ruthless persecutors of Jews and Christians. Under his rule, believers were fed to lions, crucified upside down, and burned alive.

  • Given the historical context, describe how believers might have responded to the instructions in 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Nero eventually committed suicide; the Roman Empire is no more. But Christianity thrives around the world. Our duty is to be obedient to the laws of our land and trust God to bring any change that is necessary.

However, civil disobedience—disregarding laws based on conscience—is appropriate on two occasions. We should not obey the state when it requires us to do something that God forbids or when it prohibits us from doing something He commands. (See Acts 4:19-20.)

  • Under what specific types of circumstances do you think you would disobey the laws of this land?

3. Cry out to God on behalf of our authorities.

When a country’s leaders are making unrighteous or unwise decisions, the most powerful thing Christians can do is to intercede. Ask the Lord to influence ungodly leaders and put righteous people in places of authority.

  • What is one result of praying for those in leadership (1 Tim. 2:1-3)?

Our problem is that we do far more complaining and accusing than praying. Many believers are apathetic and unwilling to invest time interceding for our land.

  • Explain why the following statement is unbiblical: “My prayers won’t make any difference” (Matt. 7:7).
  • Evaluate your own life. When was the last time you spent time praying for the President, your representatives and senators, or the Supreme Court judges?

4. Communicate with our authorities.

We have a responsibility to communicate what we believe to our leaders. Many people in this country have never contacted their congressional representatives. Perhaps they think, What is one letter, call, or email going to do? Maybe not much on its own. But when elected officials get multitudes of letters on the same topic, they will take notice.

  • What happens to a city (or state or nation) when godly citizens exert influence (Prov. 11:11)?

Contact information for representatives and senators is available at www.congress.org.

5. To cooperate with authorities for the good of the land.

As punishment for their idolatry, God’s people were exiled to Babylon, a foreign country.

  • What were the Lord’s instructions (Jer. 29:7)?
  • Wherever a Christian settles, that locality should be better off because he or she is there. How can you help your neighborhood or city prosper economically, socially, or spiritually?

6. Commend godly leadership.

Authorities who rightly take an unpopular stand need our support. One way to do this is to write an encouraging letter and let them know you are praying for them.

  • First Thessalonians 5:11-14 tells believers how to interact with others in the church. What from this passage could also apply to encouraging civic leaders?

Believers should honor those who hold offices of great responsibility—and do so in a godly way.

7. To condemn unwise, immoral acts and laws.

Even while we show respect for the position of our leaders, we should speak against ungodly and unwise policies.

  • How did Jesus illustrate that His followers should be a preserving moral force in their culture
    (Matt. 5:13-16)?
  • What attitude should a believer take when speaking the truth (Eph. 4:15)? Why do you think this is often difficult in the political arena?

Just as salt must leave the shaker to flavor food, believers need to speak up about social and political issues to make a difference.

Closing: If we as Christians are unwilling to exercise our civic responsibilities, we will reap a dreadful harvest of ungodly leaders, unrighteous laws, and ultimately, the judgment of God on our land. Responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. Don’t simply pursue spiritual and material prosperity for yourself and your family; fulfill your divine obligation as an inhabitant of this great land.

Prayer: Father, thank You for the clear instructions in Your Word that guide every area of my life. Show me how to take an active role as a citizen of America. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

“They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them…. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29,31).

That is a strange parable, or illustration, that our Lord gave about the rich man and the poor man and their places and conditions after having passed from this life! How much speculative teaching has been read into or made out of it! And yet, in truth, the Lord was not propounding a doctrine of life after death. Anything in that connection was quite incidental.

What He was really touching, as the context shows, is the matter of responsibility. Whenever He came into touch with the existing traditional religious system this was the issue which He deliberately raised and pressed. If the after-this-life factor does have a place in the above story – and it certainly does – it is this factor of responsibility which dominates the situation.

The rich man represents those who:

1. have had every facility and possibility of obtaining a wealth of the things of God:

2. have accumulated all that information, or a great deal of it:

3. have, by reason of it, come to a place of spiritual complacency, smugness, and contentment, or even pride and superiority:

4. have not grown spiritually although so well provided for:

5. have failed to realize that every bit of spiritual provision is a trust; it must not stay with them, but must enrich the needy always at the gate, as represented by the beggar – the sufferer, the suppliant, the hungry.

There is no need to spend many words in order to try to make the Lord’s meaning clear. It just amounts to this:

A. Have we available to us those Divine resources, those riches of Christ, those ministries – personal or printed – which are intended by God to make us spiritually wealthy and of Christly stature?

B. If so, are they just THINGS to us, ‘teachings’, subjects, themes, ‘lines of truth’, Christian tradition, interesting and informative treatises, etc? How much are we REALLY ‘growing thereby’?

C. What is the interest value to the Lord Who gave them? Do they stop at us, or is ‘our profiting’ the gain of others? Not the passing on of truth as such, but the value of our life with the Lord.

The Lord has been strong, almost severe in His warning that a very big responsibility lies at the door of everyone who is in touch with His Divine resources, and that what has issued from them will find us out in eternity.

John 5:30—I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

The secret of happiness lies not in doing what we want to do but in doing what we ought to do!

Happiness never comes to the person who dodges responsibility.  Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”  There is nothing in the world that helps a man overcome his difficulties, survive his disasters, and stay healthy and happy like the joy of a life’s task worthy of his full dedication.

Righteous responsibility is a mark of spiritual maturity.  We don’t serve the Lord by feeling or emotion, but by duty and devotion.  There is no happiness without righteous responsibility.

Producing or Consuming?

Responsibility comes by degrees with advancing maturity.  In the natural realm, maturity can be measured by whether we are producing more than we consume.  When children are small, all they know how to do is consume.  As they mature they begin to become responsible and productive through simple tasks like carrying out the trash and cleaning up their rooms.

Then comes the day when you say something radical like, “It’s time for you to get a job!”  They look at you, pained and puzzled, and say something profound like, “Me?  Go to work?  Get serious!”

After they recover from the shock, they get a job that covers some of their consumption.  Eventually they will be able to pay their own way.  And by the grace of God, someday they’ll be able to support not only themselves but also a wife and children.

Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual maturity works much the same way.  We must grow to a point where we produce more than we consume.  The church is flooded with spiritually immature creatures who come to church, take in the delicious Word of God, absorb the beautiful music, enjoy the delightful fellowship—and then go swiftly out the door to do absolutely nothing.  They don’t witness to the lost.  They don’t pray.  They don’t give.  They could sing in the choir, but they won’t.  They could serve, but they won’t.

When we’re in this condition, we don’t rise to our righteous responsibility.  The time has come, after years of consuming, to start being productive for the kingdom.  It’s time to put our hands to the plow, to become fruitful servants in the Lord’s vineyard.  Life is God’s gift to us.  What we do with it is our gift to Him.  What are we doing with our lives?  Are we growing toward maturity by being productive?  Or are we stalled in a consumer mode?

Source:  Being Happy in an Unhappy World