Is each individual personally responsible to choose to accept salvation? Are we free moral agents? What about inherited depravity and infant baptism? Are we righteous because we have godly family members or because we are members of a faithful local church? What about Identity Politics, Critical Race Theory, and the "Me To" movement?
Ezekiel 18:20 – The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.
This passage teaches the principle of individual spiritual/moral responsibility.
Each person is accountable before God for His own life. No one else can be saved for us, and no one else can cause us to be lost apart from our choice and decision. Each person’s eternal destiny will be decided by his/her own personal choices and conduct.
Some people doubt or deny this. Some try to shift the blame for their conduct to other people. Some believe they can make the choice for others to obey God.
Let us consider Bible teaching about individual responsibility.
We will discuss some passages about it, then we will discuss applications.
Scriptures about Individual Responsibility
General Passages about Individual Responsibility
Ezekiel 18:20 – The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. So, a father and son are each responsible for his own wickedness or righteousness. (1 John 3:4)
Matthew 7:21-23 (24-27) – For everyone (individual), the one who enters the kingdom is determined by who does God’s will. Whether or not a person’s spiritual house stands or falls is determined by who hears and does (or does not do) what Jesus teaches. This is true for “whoever” (verse 24) or “everyone” (verse 26).
Acts 10:35 – In every nation whoever (individual) fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. This is true for everyone in every nation. There is no partiality (verse 34).
James 1:23-25 – If anyone (individual) hears God’s word and does not do it, he is like a man (individual) who observes himself in a mirror but then forgets what he saw. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues doing the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. So the one who is blessed is the individual who continues doing what the word teaches.
This is individual responsibility. Each person is responsible for his own conduct.
Individual Responsibility for Eternal Destiny
2 Corinthians 5:10 – At judgment each one (individual) will receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, good or bad. Each one being judged will be rewarded according to what he did, not what someone else did. This applies to “all.”
Romans 2:6-10 – God will render to each one according to his deeds (verse 6). Tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil (verse 9), but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good (verse 10).
Galatians 6:7,8 – Whatever a man sows (individual) that he will also reap. He who sows to the flesh will reap corruption. He who sows to the spirit will reap everlasting life. What you personally reap will be determined by how you personally lived.
Note: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked.” When people think they can shift the responsibility for their service to God to others or can avoid being punished or rewarded for how they live, they are deceived and are attempting to mock God!
Individual Responsibility in the Steps to Salvation
Individual responsibility requires each individual to personally take each of the steps that the gospel says are necessary for salvation.
Hearing the gospel
Mark 7:14 – Jesus commanded “everyone of you” to hear and understand His teaching.
Each individual must hear and understand. A person may teach others and help them learn. But no one can learn the gospel for you, and you cannot learn it for anyone else.
Mark 16:15,16 – The gospel should be preached to every creature in the whole world. “He who” (each individual) believes and is baptized will be saved. Each person to be saved must first hear, understand, believe, and be baptized. This applies to “every creature” in the whole world.
John 3:16,36 – Whoever (or “he who” – an individual) believes should have everlasting life. But he who does not believe will receive wrath, not life. The individual who seeks eternal life is the same one who must believe. If he does not believe, he will have wrath. Again, this applies to everyone in the whole world.
Hebrews 11:6 – He who (individual) comes to God must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. The one who wants to come is the one who must believe. What if he does not believe? Then he cannot possibly please God.
Faith is an individual responsibility. No one can believe for you, and you cannot believe for anyone else.
Acts 2:38 – “Every one of you” (individual) should repent and be baptized for remission of sins. Repentance is an acknowledgement of guilt and a decision to change one’s life.
No one else can decide that you will change your life, and you cannot decide for others. By nature, repentance is inherently an individual responsibility.
Romans 10:9,10 – With the heart one (an individual) believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation. You have your own heart, so you must believe in your own heart. And you have your own mouth, so you must confess Christ with your own mouth.
Matthew 10:32 – Whoever (individual) confesses Jesus, Jesus will confess him before the Father. The individual who is confessed before the Father is the one who must confess Jesus.
No one can confess Christ for you, and you cannot confess for anyone else. The conviction of your own heart must lead you to confess. Confession too is an individual responsibility.
Acts 2:38 – “Every one of you” (individual) should repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. The individual who seeks remission must repent and be baptized.
Each step to conversion is an individual responsibility. No one can learn, believe, repent, confess, or be baptized for you. And you cannot do any of these for anyone else. We can encourage one another, but each one must make up his own mind and act for himself.
Applications of Individual Responsibility
Consider areas in which people may think other people can make spiritual choices for us.
Inherited Depravity and Infant Baptism
Many denominations teach that babies inherit the guilt of sin from Adam through their parents. Many claim that parents should decide for their child that it should be baptized.
Sin is committed, not inherited.
1 John 3:4 – Sin is the transgression of God’s law.
Romans 6:16 – People become sinners when they present themselves to obey sin.
Ezekiel 18:20 – The son does not bear the guilt of the father. The wickedness of the wicked will be upon the one who commits it.
Guilt cannot be inherited. Adam’s guilt was upon Adam alone. A person is guilty of sin because of his or her individual conduct.
Scripture requires personal understanding and faith, etc., before baptism.
We have cited various passages that teach this.
Acts 2:38 – Each individual who is baptized must first repent. Both repentance and baptism are individual responsibilities.
Adults cannot decide that their children will repent and change their lives. Likewise, all the conditions that must precede baptism are individual responsibilities. Before one can be baptized he himself must first believe, repent, and confess. No one can do any of these acts in anyone else’s place. No one can make the choice for anyone else.
One reason infant baptism is wrong is that each individual is responsible before God for his own sins and for his own personal response to the gospel.
Mormon Baptism for the Dead
Mormons teach that people must be baptized by the Mormon Church; but if you die unbaptized, Mormon relatives can be baptized for you. Then after death you will have a chance to believe and repent and be saved. Mormons are supposed to study their genealogy and make sure some Mormon has been baptized for each of their dead relatives!
So, infant baptism says other people may believe in a child’s place but he should be baptized for himself. Mormonism reverses that and says a person must believe and repent for himself, but other people may be baptized in his place! Both practices contradict individual responsibility.
If people may do some of the steps in your place, why not do them all? If parents may decide for their children to be baptized, why can’t the parents just be baptized for the children? If people can be baptized for the dead, why not believe and repent for them too?
Scripture teaches that all the steps to salvation are individual responsibilities. No one can meet any of the conditions for anyone else.
Some people treat others as being good or bad based on the status of their family.
Some think that members of certain families should receive special favors.
McGarvey quotes the Talmud as follows: “All Israelites will have part in the world to come.” “Abraham sits beside the gates of hell, and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go down to hell.” (McGarvey’s commentary on Romans chapter 2)
Romans 2:9,10 – God will render tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Sometimes people think individuals of certain families should receive special favoritism: preachers or elders or other faithful Christians. Members of wealthy or influential families may think they should receive favorable treatment.
Some mistreat people who have dishonorable families.
Some families have bad reputations because a family member is a criminal, an alcoholic, or an atheist, etc. Sometimes other people treat a child or spouse like an outcast because of family reputation. “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” “Like father, like son.” So they assume a person is sinful or hopeless because of his or her family.
All such ideas violate individual responsibility.
Ezekiel 18:4,9-18 – If a righteous man has a sinful son, that son will be punished for his sins. If a sinful man has a godly son, that son will be rewarded for his godliness. Each individual is morally responsible before God.
If you come from a godly family, you should appreciate that as a great blessing. But you are not right just because others are right. Likewise, if you come from a family with an ungodly background, their influence and teaching may make it more difficult to be righteous. But you are not wrong just because others are wrong.
If you do not live right, you will be lost regardless of your good family. But if you do live right, you will be saved regardless of your evil family. Your conduct and relationship with God are your individual responsibility.
Misconceptions regarding church membership
Some seem to think God will accept them just because they are members of a sound, active congregation. They have godly leaders and good members who are actively involved in Scriptural work. So some members may think they are pleasing to God even though they are in sin.
Other people may be part of a congregation that does not practice error but many members are weak and indifferent. So some members may think, “I’m as good as the other members,” so they see no need to do better.
The Lord still teaches individual responsibility.
You must be part of a group that is Scriptural in practice, but you will be judged for your personal conduct, no matter what others do. You are personally responsible for your attendance and participation in prayer, singing, the Lord’s Supper, giving, and teaching. You are also responsible for your personal conduct apart from church work: family, job, and treatment of others.
Revelation 3:1-4 – The Sardis church had a good reputation, but God knew they were spiritually dead. He never accused them of doctrinal error, but most members were not actively working. Nevertheless, a few had not defiled their garments and would walk with the Lord in white for they were worthy (verse 4). You must individually serve God faithfully even if others in the church are negligent or indifferent.
Philippians 2:12 – The church in Philippi was basically a good church. Yet he warned that they must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Membership in a faithful congregation is essential. But if every other member is faithful to God, you will still be lost if you are not diligent or if you participate in personal sins. Or if other members are indifferent and negligent, you will still be saved if you work faithfully.
We hear about Identity Politics and Critical Race Theory but what are they?
“Cultural Marxists have extended this picture of class warfare to races, genders, and sexual orientations, attributing all inequality and injustice to the institutions and actions of the oppressor groups: whites, males, heterosexuals, and religious ‘reactionaries’ – in particular Christians….
“… As Christians, the American founders believed in free will – the responsibility of individuals for their actions and results of those actions. …
“In identity politics only collective rights matter – not individual rights. What matters is one’s membership in a ‘victim’ group or an ‘oppressor’ group… – David Horowitz, Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, pages 141-143 (former Communist)
So identity politics seriously teaches that people are good or bad depending entirely on what group they are part of including race and gender. If you are white or male or heterosexual or Christian, you are automatically an oppressor, and minority groups are automatically victims.
Critical Race Theory
This political philosophy teaches in schools and corporations that white people as a group are inherently racist oppressors and black people are victims. One author claims to have documentation for a thousand cases such as the following:
In a three-day reeducation camp, white male executives of a company “were told that ‘white male culture’ was analogous to the ‘KKK,’ ‘white supremacists,’ and ‘mass killings.’”
A middle school taught teachers “that straight, white, English-speaking, Christian males are members of the oppressor class and must atone for their privilege and ‘covert white supremacy.’”
– “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It,” Christopher F. Rufo, https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/critical-race-theory-fight/
The theory says that the way we treat people of other races individually is irrelevant. We are inherently racist if we are white regardless of our personal conduct. We are guilty as a group.
The “Me Too” movement
This concept assumes that, whenever a woman accuses a man of mistreating her, the woman is always right and the man is wrong regardless of specific evidence of individual guilt or innocence. The woman accuser is right because she is part of the victim class and the man is guilty because he is part of the oppressor class. Evidence is irrelevant.
This may sound absurd, but it is seriously believed by those who judge others as a group.
2 Corinthians 5:10 – At judgment each one (individual) will receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, good or bad. God judges us for our individual conduct.
Revelation 3:20 – I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Jesus died and made complete provision for you to receive eternal life. But He will not force you to respond.
Instead, He calls through His word for you to open the door. But whether He comes into your life depends on whether you choose to open the door. It is an individual choice.
Revelation 22:17 – The Spirit and the bride invite people to come and take of the water of life. But each individual must choose to come. No one can decide for you. The choice is yours. What will you choose?