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Posted: November 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Responsibility and rights

One of the great maladies of our society today is our insistence on rights but our neglect of responsibility. We expect to have the right to do whatever we want when we want but then we think of responsibility only in terms of others.

For example, we want the right to decide how we treat our bodies and we may smoke our entire lives (despite the clear warnings of the dangers of the use of tobacco products). We, however, insist on the right to decide for ourselves regarding their use, but then, when the consequences come, suddenly it is the responsibility of the tobacco companies to pay for our (dare I say it?) stupidity.

That’s one example. The list could go on and on. Hot coffee from McDonald’s, irresponsible actions, a lawsuit and all the responsibility falls on McDonald’s. Apparently it is our right to act mindlessly without the worry of consequences, and if the consequences come, well, that is someone else’s responsibility to make it right. Same concept of prime-sub mortgages, a massive government bail-out, and a celebration by one of those companies rewarding their top executives who insisted upon their rights without responsibility to a $400,000 plus visit to a spa, thanks to the tax-payers of these great United States.

The church is not immune. This same insistence of rights with the rabid resistance to responsibility is the bane of Western Christianity today. So many professed believers treat their faith like they treat the spare tire in their wheel compartments: we know it is there for emergency purposes; we just hope we’ll never have to use it.

Now I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I can pretty well predict that neither our nation nor our witness can survive this "rights without responsibility" philosophy. Our first president, George Washington seemed to understand this. He said, "Of all the habits that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would men claim the tributes of patriotism who would work to destroy these great pillars of human happiness." He (as did all our founding fathers) recognized that freedom (rights) cannot exist without restraint (responsibility).

Freedom is never truly free. Someone, somewhere has to pay the price to purchase the freedom we enjoy. This is true nationally and it is true spiritually. Nationally, the roles of honor remind us of the sacrifices made; of the responsibility of men and women took to ensure us today of the rights we enjoy. In my humble opinion, to decry human injustices around the world while at the same time refusing to take responsibility to do something about it is the height of hypocrisy. Human rights will never be won unless some are willing to take responsibility to win them.

Spiritually the freedom that Christ brings is only possible because of the sacrifice Christ made. Freedom is never truly free. In the case of salvation (that is, the forgiveness of our sins and the impartation of Christ’s righteousness upon those who accept him as their personal savior) is free to us (see Ephesians 2:8-9) but the cost was the shed blood of Christ upon the cross.

It is time we, both as a nation and as the church, wake up and smell the coffee. It is time we recognize that our rights are in serious jeopardy unless we once again assume the responsibility those rights bring. The Rev. William Gohard reminds us, "Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but the power to do as we ought."

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016 or at john.pearrell@gatewaycommunity.org For more information visit www.gatewaycommunity.org

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