The Foundation of Responsibility

The Foundation of Responsibility

Mankind, in their fallen state, has forgotten their first responsibility. They know that responsibilities exist in today’s fast-paced, non-stop society, and they choose whether to fulfill, neglect, or ignore them. Nevertheless, too many people fail to comprehend the foundation on which all responsibilities and moral actions are based; too many people have forgotten their primary obligations.

The Westminster Divines rightly began the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) with this question, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” [1] They did not seek to cover the specific issues or topics in peoples’ everyday lives, but the foundation from which all those issues and topics can be covered. They started man’s purpose and his responsibilities to his Creator.

What are those responsibilities, and how can we know them? Can we discern them on our own? Could fallen man perceive his purpose and responsibilities in himself? No, for as John Calvin states, “man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have [sic] previously contemplated the face of God.” [2] To truly understand our purpose, we must turn to God’s revealed will and the answer is in the WLC, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” [3]

How do we meet this great expectation? The answer is simple: through a true obedience to God that results in good works.

True Obedience

When discussing the topic of our true obedience, it is always important to note God’s immutable nature. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19). For of Himself, He says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6, cf. Psalm 102:27). Since He does not change, and it is from Him that we receive our moral guidelines, then that standard has never changed and never will.

The moral standard on which our obedience is based has been inscribed on the hearts of everyone. Paul, when presenting his argument that all have sinned, states this point clearly, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15). As Calvin notes:

“The very thing contained in the two tablets are, in a manner, dictated to us by the internal law, which … is in a manner written and stamped on every heart. For conscience, instead of allowing, us to stifle our perceptions, and sleep on without interruption, acts as an inward witness and monitor, reminds us of what we owe to God, points out the distinction between good and evil, and thereby convicts us of departure from duty.” [4]

Besides this internal witness, we have the commandments of God that Jesus summarizes, “You should love the Lord your God with all Your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend on all the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, cf. Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). God demands nothing less than obedience of every man, woman, and child to his moral commandments, and no one has any excuse.

From the beginning, God has demanded obedience and given responsibilities to man. Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful, to multiply, to have dominion over the whole creation, to work, and not to eat of one tree in the garden (Genesis 1:28-31, 2:15). Or how many commands were given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? And what of Israel, when they left Egypt and afterwards? Did God not declare that He would accept nothing but obedience when discussing the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28)? Were the curses not seen in the times of the judges, the kings, and even today? And what is to be made of Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

And what does the apostle John say? “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments…for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 2:3; 5:3). The Lord commands and the people are supposed to obey, that is the responsibilities of man (1 Samual 15:22).

Anyone who wishes to know God, he must seek to be obedient to God’s commands because that is what has always been required of man. The foundation of our every responsibility traces back to obedience, and true obedience to God will result in good works.

As the WLS states, our highest purpose in life is to glory God. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul states, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” But one can only do this when they know Him and have faith in Him (Romans 14:23, Ephesians 2:8-10). No one can perform a God-glorifying work of themselves; no one can be obedient without God first working a change of heart in a person. Only after God has regenerated a man and that man believed in Jesus will there be any resultant good works.

What Are Good Works?

Good works are defined in the Heidelberg Catechism as “Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.” [5] In accordance with this, a work or action must meet three criteria to be considered “good”:

  1. The work must be done with the right intent or motive, which is derivative of faith in God.
  2. The work must meet the standard of God’s word as discussed above.
  3. The work must be done for the purpose of glorifying God.

If any of these are missing, then the action cannot be considered “good.”

The first prerequisite relates to intent or motives which must be born out of faith. Romans 14:23 states that, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” The actions we take must align with our true faith and be done in faith. Because of this prerequisite, we know that nothing an unbeliever does can be considered a good work, no matter how it may appear. An unbeliever does not have the required faith, “for not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). As Calvin notes, “everything which man thinks, designs, and performs, before he is reconciled to God by faith, is cursed, and not only of no avail for justification, but merits certain damnation.” [6] As Hebrews 11:6 states, “without faith it is impossible to please him.”

The second prerequisite is beyond all doubt. God, as stated earlier, has given mankind his moral standards and demands that they be obeyed. Second Timothy 3:16-17, in discussing the revealed word, states that the man of God is trained in righteousness and equipped for every good work by the Scriptures. In God’s word, we learn His commandments which we are to obey. In them, we are given direction. To those who believe, they are wisdom and life, but to natural, worldly man, they are foolish, mere principles to restrict one from fulfilling personal desires (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3).

The last prerequisite of a good work deals directly with one’s purpose. At no time will a fallen, depraved man ever seek to glorify God in his actions. That would be foolishness to him. Man is selfish and performs actions for the desires of his own heart, like the Pharisees who prayed out loud on the streets to be seen and praised (Matthew 6:5, cf. 23:1-26), or Simon the magician, who wanted the Holy Spirit for the power he would receive (Acts 8:9-24)

Believers are called to be holy, and part of the holy life involves seeking to become more like Christ every day. Just as everything Christ did was meant to glorify the Father (John 17:1-5), so too a believer should do everything to glorify God, whether at church, at work, at home, or anywhere he may find himself. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The foundation of our responsibilities to God is found on obedience to the one true God. But owing Him obedience is not like the relationship between an individual and a government. Our obedience comes from our thankfulness to Him for what He has done and for what He will do in and through us. We have a relationship with Him as a father and a son or daughter (Romans 8:15), and we know that there are good works that God will cause us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).

Since our chief responsibility is to glorify God, we should continue to strengthen the relationship we have with Him throughout our lives. This is done through the study of the word (2 Timothy 2:15), prayer, fasting, discipline (Joel:2:12-14), and fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Let every Christian, man, woman, and child, remember that their lives are meant to glorify God through a true obedience that leads to good works.

Soli Deo Gloria

  1. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 1 ↩︎

  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Tran. Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishing (Peabody, MA: 2008), 1.1.2. ↩︎

  3. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 1 ↩︎

  4. Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.1 ↩︎

  5. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 91 ↩︎

  6. Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.4 ↩︎