In our quest for spiritual maturity; in our desire to grow in Christ, I believe there are many obstacles to overcome and there are many significant issues to tackle. We have shared some of those already in this series. However, I firmly believe that there is one issue, one word in fact, which lies at the heart of Christian maturity; one foundation stone which is the key in building a strong faith and the key to our long-term effectiveness in the kingdom of God. That word is RESPONSIBILITY. Responsibility is the key to maturity and the bedrock of a fruitful Christian life. Some may argue and say that Jesus is the foundation of a fruitful Christian life, but I want to be bold enough to suggest that Jesus is not the key to maturity. It is possible to have Jesus in your heart and be born again and still not be mature in Christ and still not be living a victorious, abundant Christian life. If you doubt that statement, just look around. There are thousands of defeated, depressed, self-absorbed, powerless Christians right across this nation and they are all saved – they all have Jesus in their hearts. The reason they are defeated and beaten up is simply because they have not taken responsibility for their life, regardless of how hard it is, they have not made the right choices. If having Jesus in your life was the key to maturity, then we would all be instantly mature the moment we accepted His gift of salvation. That is clearly not the case.
I want to warn you up front that some of the things I say in this sermon may not resonate with your theology or your understanding of God. That’s OK. All I ask is that you allow the Holy Spirit to show you the truth and if the words I speak are truth, then He will anoint them and they may very well change your whole life right here and now. If anything I say is not truth and not from God, then He will take that away and protect you from error. I trust the Holy Spirit in you more than I trust my theology or your theology and so I know you will hear God’s voice today if you do not harden heart and if you open up to Him now.
Responsibility is the key to maturity. What do I mean by that? Well, how about we go right back to when we were children for that is where this truth is seen so clearly. Every parent knows the challenges which face them as they try to train their children to take responsibility for their actions. I can see it now: little Billy is running through the house in hot pursuit of his sister; as they fly around the corner you intercept them. You look at Sally and say, “You know you are not allowed to run in the house.” She immediately points to Billy and protests, “But Billy made me do it – he was chasing me.” Your attempts to explain that someone can’t chase you if you don’t run away, appear futile. Sally is convinced it’s all Billy’s fault. You turn to Billy and he is indignant. “It’s not my fault! If she hadn’t run away I wouldn’t have had to chase her.”
How many thousand times have parents sat with their children as they have pointed the finger to everyone except themselves. This is part of growing up – a particularly hard part, I might add. Sadly, it is just part of our fallen nature to pass the buck when we are in a bind or things are not going well. It is really hard work training our children to take responsibility for their actions and reactions and not to allow anyone to force them to behave in a way that in unacceptable. It has been this way almost from the beginning. Remember the Garden of Eden? What a picture we have there. Just after the forbidden fruit was tasted, God asks Adam, “What have you done?” Adam immediately points to Eve and says, “She made me do it.” When it was Eve’s turn to explain she blamed the serpent. Refusing to take responsibility for our actions is part of our fallen DNA. The most obvious sign of immaturity is the failure to take responsibility for our life.
I wish I could say that this is something we all grow out of – like nappies and teething rings. Sadly however, that is not always the case. There are millions adults in the world (and in the Church) who are still pointing the finger anywhere but in the mirror. As we get older and smarter, we just get more people to blame. When we were kids we only had our brothers and sisters and friends to blame. As we move into our teenage years we start to blame the teachers and the school and our parents, for things that don’t go our way. Then we really ‘grow up’ and learn to blame the Government and the Church or our latest Pastor who failed to meet our needs. Then if we can’t find someone with skin on to pass the buck to, we blame Satan and say we are “under spiritual attack” from the enemy. More often than not our only enemy is the person in the mirror who made some bad choices and doesn’t want to face the consequences.
I am not suggesting that Satan is not active, but I happen to believe that uninvited and unprovoked attacks are nowhere near as common as people claim. The vast majority of times we are ‘under attack’ it is the result of our own choices. Satan gets so much credit for our stupidity and bad choices. He will gladly come through the door when we open it – but we seem unable to take responsibility for opening the door in the first place. Now of course the really brave ones even blame God – trying to convince themselves that God is testing their faith in some super-spiritual way when more often than not they are simply reaping what they have sown. Everywhere we look we see and hear supposedly mature adults blaming anyone they can for the consequences of their own choices – refusing to take responsibility for their actions and reactions.
There are countless situations in life where we have a choice to take responsibility for our life or relinquish responsibility and become a victim. That choice faces every human being every day of their life – we can choose to be the victor or the victim. We can maintain control of our thoughts, words, deeds and life or we can relinquish that control to someone else. There is not a child alive who has not tried to blame a brother or sister or friend for something they have done. Then as they get into their teenage years there are more people to shift the blame to and our schools and teachers become great scapegoats. If we are struggling academically it is because of bad teaching. The fact that we clown around in class, don’t listen and never study seems to slip our mind. Teenagers also begin to shift the blame to parents for their attitudes and behaviour. They hear some pop psychologist tell them that they are a product of their environment and the way they were parented and so they begin to actually convince themselves that it is their parent’s fault that they behave the way they do.
The really hard part is that there is a small element of truth in all these excuses, that is what seems to make them credible. Teachers, schools, peer groups and parents will all have an influence on a child and will shape them to an extent. However, and it is a very big HOWEVER, from a very early age, a child has the ability to choose how much influence other people have over them and if we teach our children nothing else we must teach them to make their own choices. As hard as that is sometimes, they must choose how they behave, what they think and how they live. They must learn that all choices have consequences. The great thing about growing up is that there are lots of pressures, issues and problems which get left behind. Thankfully, learning to use the toilet is something most of us master in the early years of life and then it becomes second nature. So too with eating and reading and writing and all sorts of things that are a normal part of growing up. I wish I could say the same about responsibility. It would be so nice if everybody learned to take responsibility for their own life when they were a child.
The fact is, millions of people don’t and they enter adult life looking like they are mature but acting like a child in regard to personal responsibility. There would not be a day that goes by when I don’t see or hear someone passing the buck to someone else for the state of the world or the condition of their own lives. Just turn on the news or current affairs programs and you will find people trying to find someone else to blame for their sorry lot in life. Now the hard truth is there are many things that happen to us in life which are not our choice and not our desire. Other people are certainly responsible for things they say and do to us directly and indirectly. There are companies right now facing collapse in this nation because of economic or market forces over which they had no control. None of those businesses are to blame for that and yet they must wear the consequences and make choices as to how they respond in times of adversity.
I remember many years ago how devastating currency fluctuations could be when I ran a Multi-national company in Sydney. I was importing 90% of our products from the U.S. and we lost lots of money when the Aussie dollar fell. I remember in one month the dollar fell just 3 cents against the U.S. dollar and that effectively wiped $87,000 off our bottom line that month! And we were only a small company. However, I also remember that I had a choice how I responded. I could rant and rave and scream at the government for their policies and plead for leniency from our creditors in paying our bills and try and shift the responsibility as far and as wide as I could … or … I could decide to take responsibility for my reaction to this crisis and make some pro-active, positive choices. I am pleased I chose the latter because by the end of that year we had lost over $200,000 due to exchange rate fluctuations, yet we still posted a record profit. Had I done what many business leaders were doing at that time and thrown my hands up in the air and cried, “Unfair!” …. I believe the company may well have gone under in six months. The company didn’t fold under the pressure – it is still operating today and it has five times the turnover it had when I left. That happened because someone took responsibility for a situation they didn’t create.
So of course things happen to us which are totally outside our control – really bad things sometimes: the death of a loved one, terminal illness, financial ruin, slander … to name just a few. But it is always our choice how we respond to those things. We can relinquish our responsibility and let other people or circumstances control our lives, or we can be mature and take full personal responsibility for what happens next. I have always told my children that even when they may not be responsible for things that happen to them, they must take full responsibility for what happens next. Their response is totally their responsibility. Sadly, this is not a lesson we all learn well as children for there are still so many adults who spend much of their lives reacting and choosing to be a victim and not a victor. We think that the injustice or cruelty of something which happens to us in some way justifies an immature, irresponsible reaction on our part. Not so.
Look at Jesus. Things happened to Jesus that would cause the strongest of us to run screaming and yet not once did He lose control of Himself or the situation. Not once did He react to anyone. Not once did He allow someone else’s actions to dictate His response. He took responsibility for His responses and He never faulted in this regard. Remember His trial and the ridiculous false accusations that came against Him? He remained totally in control. He never defended Himself, though the charges were false. He knew that He could get out of that situation or convict Himself totally with the words of His mouth, so He chose those words carefully so as to achieve His desired outcome, which surprisingly to all around, was the cross.
So friends, I want to exhort you to take responsibility for your lives and when things come against you that you have not asked for or caused in any way, take charge of the situation and take full responsibility for your response. Now I am not sure which is the harder word, what I have just said or what I am about to say. I will you be the judge. There is no doubt that it’s really tough to remain focused and in control and responsible when stuff happens to us that we don’t expect, didn’t cause and for which we are not responsible. But I would suggest it may be even more difficult for some of us to face the consequences of our own actions and be responsible for the solution. I would like to suggest that the vast majority of struggles we have as human beings are not in the first category I mentioned – they are not things which come against us from ‘out there.’ I would suggest that most of the issues we struggle with are the direct or indirect result of our own action or inaction. When that is the case, we need to be discerning enough to see the link between our own choices and the consequences we face. We then need to be mature enough to take responsibility for getting out of that mess the best way we can by making different choices.
For example, there are many lonely and hurting people in the world and in the Church who are simply reaping what they sow. There are thousands of people who have pushed others away or treated them badly or taken them for granted and eventually that kind of behaviour takes its toll and they wake up one day with no close friends; their family are no longer there for them and they are truly alone. That is sad, but sadder still is to hear them pass the responsibility for their condition to everyone else who have supposedly treated them so badly. There are marriages all over the nation on the brink of collapse and tragically many of them are Christian marriages. Some of those marriages collapse because of the devastating actions of one of the partners and the other is seen as the innocent party. There really is no such thing ultimately, but clearly there are marriages where one person becomes the victim and the other the perpetrator. In that case the victim may not share the same level of responsibility for the situation, but they are still responsible for their actions and their reactions. There are many other marriages crumbling however, because both people act in ways which drive them apart.
Year in and year out, their personal choices bear fruit and the consequences take over. The seeds which have been sown many years before and watered every day through their moods, attitudes and actions, finally bear fruit and it’s all over. I have sat with people in that situation many times and the first thing most of them do as they try to rise above the pain and devastation is to blame their spouse, or their mother in law, or the bank, or their boss at work or someone else. Whereas their first response should be to decide what they are going to do to improve this situation by making better choices.
You get passed over for a promotion at work: you have a choice, wallow in self-pity, jealousy, anger and cry ‘unfair’ or take charge of your life and decide what you can do about your attitude, work or commitment to convince them to consider you next time. You find yourself going under financially: what do you do? Scream at the banks? Why? They are just doing their job, a job you are were happy for them to do when things were going well. Do you scream at the politicians because of the effect their policies have on your ability to earn money? Well you can do that if you like, but do you really want to admit that some person you have probably not even met has got control of your life? When you pass the buck of responsibility to them, you are giving them charge over you. Sometimes things happen which are totally outside our control and place financial pressure on us and we can only take responsibility for our reaction to that.
However, I would have to say that the vast majority of people who find themselves in financial quicksand only have themselves to blame. We make uninformed, impulsive or irresponsible financial decisions which eventually bring the inevitable consequences and yet we still point the finger at someone else. Worse than that, we cry out to God and ask Him to fix it and get us through this trial, this test, this time of hardship, or if we are really brave, we even call it a spiritual attack. God loves us so much and often He does lots of things to help lessen the consequences of our bad choices. But the bottom line is this: There are consequences which even God cannot or will not fix. He has given us the freedom to live our lives the way we want to and when our choices land us in hot water, more often than not even God cannot get us out – He can only walk with us through those self-inflicted consequences.
Cause and effect: if you keep walking across a busy highway with your eyes closed, eventually you will end up dead. It would be ridiculous for you to consider that to be a test or trial or an attack of the enemy and expect God to bail you out. Walking into the path of traffic with your eyes closed is a deliberate, clear choice and it brings disastrous consequences. It’s an extreme example, I know, but the principle still applies to hundreds of choices you and I make every year. We live in a cause and effect world friends. We will reap what we sow and even God will not be able to undo that. If we make better choices we will live better lives. Be responsible for your actions and your reactions and you will see your life starting to come together in lots of ways.
Do you want to know a sentence that causes me to break out in a sweat almost every time I hear it? Here it is: “I am under a spiritual attack.” Or words to that effect. When people explain their struggles in terms of Satan’s activity in their life, I get very nervous and I pray that after this sermon, you will too. Do I believe in Satan? Absolutely. Do I believe the powers of darkness can come against us through no fault of our own and without us opening the door in any way? Yes, I do. Do I believe that such unprovoked, unexpected, uninvited attacks are the normal activity of Satan in the Church and in your life and mine? Absolutely not. I believe that the majority of stuff that comes against us from the powers of darkness is avoidable and preventable if we would just grow up and take charge of our lives and stop opening the door to God’s enemy through our bad choices, our disobedience and our sin. I really wish Satan did not exist, not just because he is not a very nice creature and we could well do without him, but because if Satan did not exist we would all be forced to look in the mirror when things go wrong and take responsibility for the consequences which follow our choices.
Yes, there are times when Satan brings unexpected sickness into our lives and our family’s lives, but there are many other times when sickness is simply the result of poor diet, no exercise, not enough sleep and a ridiculously high stress level – all things which can drastically affect our health and wholeness and all things over which we have full control. Satan gets blamed for so much stuff in our lives. There seems to be a demon for every bad choice we make. How convenient is that? I firmly believe that we can be substantially (not totally) free from the attack of the powers of darkness if we would just make the right choices and not open the door to him.
Friends, it is for freedom that Christ has set you free (Galatians 5:1) and in that freedom you can chose life or death, prosperity or ruin, the riches of heaven or the rotting fruits of this earth. If you have the slightest inclination to grow in Christ; if Christian maturity is a goal of yours in any way; then take responsibility for your life and make the right choices. Jesus died to give you an abundant life – a life of blessing and power and fruitfulness and victory – but He cannot make that happen for you. You have to choose for it to happen. You have to take responsibility for your actions and your reactions. When things are not working out for you; when the pressure is rising and you are not coping – don’t point to the government, don’t point to the banks, don’t point to your creditors, don’t blame the weather or your boss or your workmates, don’t shift the responsibility to your wife or husband, don’t look at your parents or your childhood, don’t blame the Church or your Pastor and don’t pass the buck to Satan or God either.
There is only one place to look when life is not working out the way you would like: in the mirror. YOU are the only person who can take responsibility for your life – nobody else can do that – not even God. Of course there will be circumstances over which you have no control. There will be situations arise in your life that are really horrible and that you never saw coming. But in every situation and in every circumstance of life, you remain in control of your response, your reaction and your attitude.
Friends, in Jesus name, here this: as a Christian, you have the life-changing presence of God within you to empower those right choices, but they are still your choices. God is there for you in every situation. This is far more than the power of positive thinking – we literally have the Holy Spirit of God to empower our choices. But it is still our choice how we act and react; it is still our choice whether we are the victim or the victor. The key to maturity is responsibility. If you want to truly grow in Christ, you must do as Jesus did and take charge of every situation – regardless of how fair it is – and make the right choices as you ask, and continue asking, “How then shall I live?