commentary: Freedom and Responsibility
Freedom Is Retained By Being Responsible
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 13-Feb-10; Sermon #977c; 12 minutes
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that when a culture liberalizes, there will be a corresponding rise in irresponsibility, maintains that freedom to obey God is not free. It has cost the life of Christ, as well as our own, as we become living sacrifices. When we enter into the new covenant, we solemnly pledge to respond to God, enabling us to conform to the image of God, requiring the utmost sobriety and self-discipline. Becoming responsible (a word having a similar meaning to spouse) connotes becoming dependable, loyal, and honorable. Not being responsible would be characterized as fickle, rash, undependable, whimsical, and totally untrustworthy or disloyal.
Good afternoon. It is good to be with you once again. I look forward to these times between services where I can make a comment or two about things.
After listening to Carl's sermonette yesterday, I decided that I would prepare something that would tie right into what he was saying, but taking a little bit different angle. You might recall that my as my commentary last week was ending, I made the statement that when a culture liberalizes, one of the inevitable effects is that there will be a corresponding rise of irresponsibility amongst its citizens ["Humanism's Flooding Influence (Part Five)"].
Carl Child's sermonette contained a vital lesson. Freedom—meaning our freedom from the death penalty due to our sins and our freedom to obey God—is most assuredly not free. First of all, it cost the life of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Second, it costs our lives as living sacrifices who are devoted to maintaining our responsibility to keep God's commandments and thus not be conformed to the world. Now it's very easy to become conformed to the perspectives, attitudes, and the ways of the world. However, being responsible to God and the covenant we've made with Him requires a great deal of vision, sobriety, understanding and self-discipline. This is why Paul stated in I Corinthians 9:27, "I beat my body lest I become a castaway."
According to the book The Origins of English Words by Joseph Shipley, our English verb "respond" is derived from a Greek root that means "to solemnize by promise." Interestingly, the English word "spouse" (as in marriage) is derived from exactly the same Greek root. Once you know what that root is, you can actually, visibly in English see that word within those two words—"response" and "spouse." Remember the definition—it means "to solemnize by promise."
Marriage is solemnized by a wedding ceremony before God, and the two people become spouses of each other and then they are responsible to each other. Now the adjective "solemn" means—this is really interesting—"characterized by majesty and mystery; exciting, grave or serious thought marked by gravity, seriousness and earnestness."
In Exodus 24:3—this occurred whenever Israel made the Old Covenant with God at Mount Sinai—it says they all responded with one voice to God's proposal with this declaration: "All the words the Eternal has said, we will do." Their agreement was then solemnized by blood. Thus, in a somewhat like-manner to marriage, they pledged to respond to each other according to the terms of the agreement. (The "each other" were the Israelites and God.) Similarly, when we are baptized, we enter into the New Covenant with God, which is solemnized by Christ's blood. When we do that, we are solemnly pledging by means of repentance, faith in Jesus Christ's sacrifice, and by the witness of our baptism according to the terms of the New Covenant, to respond to God by giving our lives as living sacrifices in order that, as new creations, we might be formed into the image of Jesus Christ.
Israel failed miserably—despite the vow, despite the blood. So miserably, that forty years later—and that forty years, incidentally, perhaps represents an average amount of time a person might spend converted. But out of approximately two and a half million people, only two men and their families survived to make it into the Promised Land.
I am absolutely certain that others did respond faithfully to their solemn pledge to God to keep the covenant. We have the witness that Moses and Aaron most assuredly did. Others, too, had God's Spirit, because He mentions it in the Old Testament, and they probably died in the wilderness, but they at least responded faithfully.
If you are thinking, that can give you hope that what is portrayed by Israel's experience in the wilderness, though it is sobering in its shock value, that those who did have God's spirit maintain their faithfulness to their pledge.
A person who is responsible is one who is held accountable, answerable and liable to uphold standards that are set before him. In like manner, he holds himself accountable, answerable and liable to uphold what he has promised, pledged, or obligated himself to. A person who is responsible is therefore deemed by others as being one who is able to be counted on. They are then held to be reliable, trustworthy, dependable, consistent, steadfast, resolute, determined, committed and honorable. This is what God is looking for in us. They are the kind of people who will suffer loss rather than break their pledge that they have given to another person.
On the other hand, there are those who are irresponsible. These people, too, show certain characteristics that marked them as irresponsible. For example, they are held to be capricious. These are people who are subject to whim, impulsiveness, unpredictability. They tend to make sudden changes, even though they have committed themselves to something, and they are therefore unreliable and erratic in their behavior. The irresponsible are characterized as fidgety, meaning that they are inconsistent and fickle. They blow hot and cold. Their temperament is not steady and forthright. They tend to exhibit a carefree, lighthearted spirit, as though they shouldn't be held to their word. They tend to be rash and brash to promise, and they may even be fun to be around because they may keep you laughing. But human experience shows that they also tend to fade into unreliability once the pressure is on. They are not dependable.
The root word of dependable is pend. It's the same word from which we get pennant, pendant, pendulum. Pend indicates hanging. Dependable is the opposite. A dependable person will not leave you hanging. They can be counted on. These people [the undependable] are also called "summer soldiers."
I mentioned whimsy a moment ago. People who are whimsical have flights of imagination, "castles in the sky"-kind of thing. But realities quickly bring them to Earth, and their enthusiasm fades quickly. These people have grave difficulties being loyal to men or to God.
As we approach Passover now, it's a good time to begin seriously evaluating our own record at keeping our word to God and men. Are we truly upholding our pledge to God to faithfully commit ourselves as the human clay through which He is reproducing Himself and His Son? Even God cannot create God-level character by fiat. He must, for our good, have our dependable cooperation.