Sin, the Influence of Others, and Personal Accountability
“Fathers shall not die because of their children, nor children die because of their fathers, but each one shall die for his own sin.”
2 CHRON 25:4 & DEUT 24:16
We have a lot to learn today from the verse above. Mankind is prone to put the sins of one person on others—specifically their family members—and we see this throughout all history. Throughout history it has most commonly been that of putting the parent’s sins upon the child, where children have been punished or killed because of their parents. We see here in 2 Chronicles 25:4 that Amaziah put the servants who had killed his father (the previous king) to death for their crimes, but was specifically careful to not put their family members to death, as was common to do at that time.
Today, it seems that we have the reverse problem—we are quick to put the sins of children upon their parents. Indeed, this is a widely accepted idea. It is very common for mankind to put all the responsibility of a person back upon their parents. And the world generally receives this concept for two reasons: 1) They feel it gives them an explanation and a place of fault for sin. 2) It is an idea they rejoice in because they feel it alleviates them of all accountability.
So much of our culture today accepts this. Believing it to be merciful, they fail to realize just how cruel and evil this idea is. We must realize as believers how this idea emphasizes a partial truth to an extreme that is unbiblical. This is an idea that actually contradicts the truth of Scripture (about sin and human accountability). It is a concept by which people permit themselves to walk in self infatuation and find permission for sin. This idea actually robs a person of dignity. And those who practice it are guilty of injustice.
This subject can be a point of confusion precisely because there is a duality that goes on within families and close relationships. On one side, people are knit together and family does have an effect upon the individual. At the same time, the individual is still always separate from their spouse, parents, children, or siblings.
We see that a family certainly has a large effect upon their children, yet a great many of us miss that this is not an absolute—it doesn’t stand alone. And yet many people take it to be so, pinning all responsibility here on others, and failing to realize that the individual still does exist, irregardless of their circumstances. And that person is still accountable as an individual.
Scripture teaches both the influence of others as well as personal responsibility. Regarding the first, Scripture warns us of being careful about who we have communion with (1 Cor 5:11-13, Rom 16:17, 2 John 1:10, 2 Cor 6:14, etc). This is because it has an effect on us. The terrible irony here is that we often rebuke each other for being careful about the fellowship we keep! We either say God is unjust for these rules or we’re so “high minded” about mercy that we keep people back from the right to these things. But I digress.
The other side of this, however, is that God still holds a person accountable even in spite of others. We can see this within the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Ananias lied about how much he sold his property for and tried to act as if he was giving the full amount to the church. For this sin the Holy Spirit struck him dead. And Peter did not simply pass by Sapphira and count her as faultless nor did he judge her without first seeing if she would lie also. God showed the equality of them within this sin, and judged them both. She might have been influenced by her husband, but she was also equally accountable in God’s eyes as well.
And this is where we must see the duality within these circumstances. A person certainly might be affected by others, yet a person’s sin is always their own. And as believers we need to be especially clear upon this today. Many are motivated for mercy and compassion in this world, and this is good! But many try to take mercy and compassion past where it is biblical. To their minds this is being merciful, but they fail to realize how destructive, rebellious, and wicked this actually is. More, how the desire for this actually comes from a sinful heart and not a godly one.
These ideas of "mercy" oppose the truth. It denies the truth about sin and all of mankind being accountable before God (Acts 17:30-31). Many do not know how to handle the great truth of God’s judgement and so they try to bypass it with perverse ideas of mercy. In reality, this is faithlessness to God and His Gospel. In addition to this, it does evil to others. These ideas take “mercy” to an extreme, placing one’s accountability for sin on another’s shoulders. This isn’t merciful, it’s wrong. And those who serve this work for injustice not justice.
We also fail to see how serving this idea actually serves man’s evil desires to not have remorse or accountability for their own sin. No one wants to be guilty, and we will go to great lengths to reason our way out of being at fault. The world delights in this concept of others being the fault for their sins precisely because they desire freedom from accountability at any cost—they want to escape accountability through lawlessness. This is the world’s “mercy”. And many Christians are busy serving it. Failing to see how it opposes true mercy, repentance, and holiness.
We should also see that there is no real dignity in how we are “ministering” to people if we don't actually treat them as being accountable. And this is often what people miss the most! Many think they are being merciful to remove a person’s accountability, but what a person is actually saying firstly is, "Forget God's law... No, you don’t need to trouble yourself with such things. Rest, rest, sleep yourself into hell. I know better.” And secondly, it also suggests we ourselves are more capable than the one we are releasing from accountability… It is a “mercy” born of an idea of our superiority. We “give” to others out of our “greatness”, rather than seeing people as truly equal to ourselves. In many ways this is how we try to privately pursue our ambition, the desire to be greater than others, choosing to seek our pride, rather than do good to others (Phil 2:3). This is why we “consent” to serving this idea. It looks selfless but it’s rooted in selfishness. In reality, if we don’t see people as equally responsible as we are, then we don’t think they are our equals.
Oh, there is much of this thinking today! So many think they’re kind and tender precisely for the ease with which they extend moral absolution, failing to realize it is one of the most disrespectful and demeaning things they can do to others.
The Dignity and Freedom of Personal Accountability
It is important that we realize where family does have an effect upon people. Denying this is cruel and many people have to work through precisely these matters. At the same time, we need to face the truth of where and why we are trying to hide all of our accountability or accountability for others behind familial influence. Because it feels easier. It’s a lie that makes it feel easier when others wrong us or we wrong others. When people won’t take accountability. Easier to skate past the truth about God’s judgement and our call to repentance and holiness. Often we work these things for others, not because we’re merciful as we claim, but because we’re trying to work them for ourselves and appear righteous.
People can have an effect upon others, and so God tells us to separate from those who work evil. Believers, stop getting in the way of this! Stop getting in the way of this with ideas about what people owe to those who do evil to them! Separation is a great need in the church, one we rarely grant to others because we’re too lofty in our ideas of “mercy” for oppressors.
And with this, let us see it is actually our great responsibility—and also our great dignity—to be accountable for our actions and choices, and that God most certainly will hold us accountable for what we do in this life (Eccl 12:14, Gal 6:7, Rom 2:6-8, etc).
We are all accountable for how we respond to God, whether we repent and walk in obedience to Him or not. We are accountable for how we treat God and how we treat others. What we need is not to erase this accountability but to be enabled to it. And this is exactly what Christ died for (1 Pet 2:24, Titus 2:11-14). By the working of Christ in us, we can keep God’s Word and walk in true holiness towards God and man (Matt 22:37-40).
Each person will reap what they sow. If we sow evil, we will reap it. If we sow righteousness, we will reap it (Gal 6:7). And those who refuse Christ, the way God has opened for righteousness, are those who will truly die for their own sins, not the sins of someone else.
Let us be careful of the world’s ideas! Let us be awake to what the world is telling us. And let us be aware of what we are also trying to “work” in this world, of whether it opposes Christ and the truth of the Gospel, or it joins with Him in truth. We need to be very careful today to measure all the ideas of what we think “mercy” is, and ensure they are truly defined by Christ, because each of us are accountable for our own lives, to have our minds renewed by the truth, regardless of what others around us think or teach or believe.
April 9, 2021