Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PMIn just over a month, 36 days to be exact I will be releasing my first book entitled, “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude”  Over the next several weeks I will be sharing some excerpts from the book.  I hope you will enjoy these little previews and help me to spread the word about the release of the book.  As I shared last week, all the profits from the first months sales will go to support the Haiti Missions Fund at First Baptist Church, Metropolis.  My prayer is that we will sell 5,000 copies of the book during the first month, which would raise around $10,000 for missions projects in Haiti.  To help me reach this goal I would appreciate it if you would share this excerpt with your Twitter and Facebook friends.  

Here is a short excerpt from the first chapter the book dealing with the first beatitude:

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(Matthew 5:3)

A few years ago, I had the privilege of helping coach my son’s eighth-grade football team. Honestly, we didn’t win many games, but that was more of a reflection of my inability to coach than it was on the kids’ ability to play. We had a unique group of boys on the team, and each one of them blessed me greatly. But the kid I will never forget played quarterback for us during the last three or four games of the season. He didn’t get started with the team until after the beginning of the season, and we went through several quarterbacks before Ryan finally got the chance to play, but when his day finally arrived, Ryan was up for the task. We ended up winning a couple of games with him at the helm.

What made Ryan such a pleasure to coach and to have on the team was his willingness to take personal responsibility for his mistakes. The first time I noticed this trait was during his first game after he had just gotten sacked for a crucial third-down loss. Most quarterbacks would get up and start blaming the offensive line for not giving them enough protection, but Ryan wasn’t like most QBs. Instead of casting the blame on someone else, Ryan ran right over to the sideline where I was talking to the offensive line and said, “Sorry guys, that one was my fault. I should have gotten rid of the ball sooner. I won’t let you down the next time.”

Six worn-out linemen stared at me in utter shock when they heard what Ryan said. No quarterback had ever apologized to them for messing up. They were used to other guys pointing the finger and blaming them for making the mistake. Ryan became their leader that day, and they began to really care about giving him the best protection they could muster on every play. His attitude of taking personal responsibility served as motivation for them to play harder.

         Most of us would say we look up to those who take personal responsibility for their Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.23.20 PMmistakes, but the truth of the matter is that we rarely ever exemplify this quality ourselves. In fact, to an outside observer, it would appear that our culture thrives on passing the blame to someone else. In the political arena, the Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. In the workplace, management blames the union and the union blames management. Over the years, I’ve counseled with hundreds of married couples, and they almost always begin our conversation by blaming each other: he says he doesn’t cut the grass because she doesn’t cook, and she says she doesn’t cook because he doesn’t like to go shopping. The other day, I came across a news story about a fifty-six-year-old maintenance supervisor who is suing a popular fast-food chain because he blames them for making him fat.[1]

The truth of the matter is that in each of these cases, the problem boils down to a refusal to take personal responsibility for behavior. This is the first and most fundamental gospel-shaped attitude that must exhibited in order to develop a Christlike character. Returning to the formula we developed in the introduction, we can add “poor in spirit” as the first gospel-shaped attitude, along with “take personal responsibility for sin” as the specific action that results from this attitude.

 

A Gospel-Shaped + Christ-Honoring = Christlike
Attitude Actions Character
Cultivated over time Exhibited over time  
     
1. Poor in spirit Take personal responsibility for sin; turn to God for mercy

 

 

 

 

What Does It Mean to Be Poor in Spirit?

I doubt anyone would begin a conversation about what it means to be blessed with a discussion of the importance of taking responsibility for sin. But this is exactly what Jesus did when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3) A. W. Pink defined being “poor of spirit” as “the negative side of faith. It is that realization of one’s utter worthlessness that precedes a laying hold of Christ by faith.”[2] In other words, being poor in spirit is an attitude that must be present in our lives before we can come to Christ and receive forgiveness. In some ways, we might think of it as the bad news about our sin, which prepares us to receive the “good news” of the gospel. Being poor in spirit, therefore, is the first step toward being reconciled with God. This first gospel-centered attitude describes “a fundamental trait that is found in every regenerated soul. The one who is poor in spirit is nothing in his own eyes, and feels that his proper place is in the dust before God.”[3]

There are two words in New Testament Greek translated as “poor.” The first refers to being impoverished but still having enough means to survive. But this is not the word Jesus uses here in the beatitude. The word Jesus uses is ptokas, which refers to someone who was utterly destitute, having no means of earning a living apart from begging on the streets. This is the strongest word in the Greek language to describe poverty and was reserved for the “indigent, the unfortunate, the hungry—those who are in need of the basic necessities of life.”[4] John MacArthur notes that this word was used to describe “a beggar, desperately ashamed even to allow his identity to be known.”[5] By choosing such a strong word, Jesus effectively strips away all of our human pride and self-reliance. He is indicating that not only are we “poor” in the sense of lack, but more importantly, we have no means whatsoever upon which to rely. In other words, Jesus begins His discussion of what it means to be blessed by saying we must become utterly destitute. To be blessed, we must become beggars, but we also notice that Jesus further clarified His meaning: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”


[1] “Ailing Man Sues Fast-Food Firms,” Fox News (July 24, 2002).

            [2] Arthur W. Pink, The Beatitudes, (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001), 13.

[3] Ibid. 43–44.

[4] Raniero Cantalamessa, Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness, trans. Marsha Daigle-Williamson (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009), 2.

[5] John MacArthur, The Beatitudes: The Only Way to Happiness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 59.

 

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