Volume 10, Issue 2: Doctrine 101
Man is Responsible - Part 1
The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has some of the highest humidity of any city on the East Coast during the summer months. For the incoming class of midshipmen (Plebes) at the Naval Academy, the humidity is a particularly unwelcome "shipmate" during their first summer of indoctrination.
In an effort to prepare them morally, mentally, and physically, the Plebes are frequently exposed to rigorous physical exercise (with due concern being provided that it's not overly demanding for the level of humidity). This training often occurs just before noon meal formation when the Plebes are expected to look their best for visitors and for inspecting officers.
At noon meal formations, the midshipmen may be inspected by a Marine Major, with a crisply pressed uniform, closely shaven head, and penetrating, unsympathetic eyes, without the slightest hint of moisture on his person. Conversely, the Plebes, at rigid attention, would, like the Wicked Witch of the West, look to all the world as though they were melting in a pool of their own sweat. And then the Major would chance upon some hapless Plebe and, with a piercing gaze, ask, "Are you sweating?" The fearful Plebe would croak back with as much chutzpah as he could muster, "YES, SIR!" To which the Major would respond, "Well . . . knock it off! That's an order!"
To many Christians, this is the same kind of absurdity that they imagine when someone suggests that God commands men to repent and believe, but that men are unable to do so in and of themselves. "How can God hold men responsible for something that they do not have the ability to do?" they ask. This, they assert, would make God out to be unfair or unjust; a sadist who delights in watching men try to do the impossible. And because such a god does not coincide with their imagination, he could not be God, Who would "never" require men to do something that they can't.
I would readily agree with them that God is no sadist. However, is it true that the Bible teaches that God never requires men to do what they are unable to do? Or another way of stating it, are men responsible for what God has ordained them to be? Let's look at some examples.
In 2 Samuel 24:1, it reads, "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah." Yet nine verses later after the deed had been done, David `s conscience caused him to repent of his sin in numbering the people. And then in verses 12 and 13, the seer Gad was sent to David by God to declare God's punishment for David's sin:
Go and say unto David, "Thus says the Lord, I offer you three things; choose you one of them, that I may do it unto you." So Gad came to David, and told him and said unto him, "Shall seven years of famine come unto you in thy land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue thee? Or will there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me."
So even though it was God who moved David to give the order, God still held David responsible.
God had ordained for Jesus to be put to death by ungodly men at the instigation of the Jews, "Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). Yet God held those same Jews responsible for their evil deed: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36; cf Acts 3:14,15; 4:10; 7:52). In fact, that whole generation was condemned. "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; . . . that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation" (Matt. 23:34_36).
God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But the Scriptures teach that it is impossible for men to repent in their state of sinfulness: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14, Heb. 11:6). Unrepentant sinners are condemned to eternal damnation: "I tell you, nay: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5). God holds men responsible for their inability. Yet God is not unjust so as to condemn the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), nor does He take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). God is righteous in all His acts (Judg. 5:11).
Since the Scriptures demonstrate that God does hold men responsible for their actions despite their inability, then the Church needs to re-evaluate its position on this issue. The Bible testifies that salvation "is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. . . . Therefore he has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens" (Rom. 9:15, 18). Yet someone is bound to ask, "How can God hold men responsible for their inability since no one can resist His will?" "Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, `Why have you made me thus?'" (Rom. 9:20).
God is not on trial before us. Rather it is we who are ever under the scrutiny of a righteous and holy God, our Creator, Who is far more demanding and just than any Marine Major conducting a noon meal inspection of Plebes at the Naval Academy.