[written and published Feb. ’15; edited Aug. ’17] Summary: The principle of creature responsibility is one of the most important bible principles to comprehend. After Adam’s disobedience, God placed mankind on probation, testing him in different ways to see if man could be obedient to His will. This probationary period lasted up to the crucifixion of Christ on the cross. At that point mankind was declared disobedient and lost by God, and the probation period ended. God had proven man’s utter depravity. When we understand human responsibility and how God tested man, we gain invaluable insights to understanding the entire Old Testament and gospels. Adam was tested by God with one command: then Israel, serving as the test-case for all mankind, was tested with ten commands (the Mosaic law). The coming of the promised Messiah to Israel was God’s last test of mankind. Sad as it is, the proper understanding of this principle and these related events, along with God’s various ways in which He tested man’s fallen condition, seems to be entirely missing from contemporary theological teachings today.
This is the biblical principle: Responsibility attaches itself to every creature that can be conscious of a relationship with God, the Creator. Whenever there is awareness of this relationship, there is obligation in it to God. The Creator expects obedience in the creature, and therefore looks for the production of this fruit or result.
God placed the first man in the garden of Eden. He was there, not in a state of perfection, but in a state of innocence. Adam was given one commandment to obey – “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” This was a testing of Adam. The Creator gave the creature one commandment and He was looking for obedience. Adam’s responsibility was to obey. It should have been his pleasure and delight. This is the biblical principle of human responsibility. God brings forth the first creation and places man in it under responsibility. Adam was the responsible man.
We know what happened. Adam believed the devil’s lies and thought God was holding something back from him. Lust comes in and he eats the forbidden fruit, bringing both sin and death into the world (Rom. 5:12). The consequences of Adam’s one act of disobedience were profound and far-reaching – “…death spread to all men…by one man’s offence many died…for the judgment came from one offence resulting in condemnation…death reigned through the one…judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation…many were made sinners…” (Rom. 5:12-19) In Adam, all men are now fallen and made sinners.
God chased man out of the garden and would not allow him access to the tree of life. When this happened, man was placed on probation – God had yet to declare man as lost. This period of probation would last from when man was evicted from paradise to the cross – God would continue to test man’s responsibility, looking for obedience to His will from the creature.
Fast forward to the time of the nation of Israel being delivered out of Egypt. I refer to this as the beginning of the Jewish dispensation – a period of time when God, in some measure, acknowledges Israel as His people and as a chosen nation unto Himself. This encompasses the time from Israel being redeemed out of Egypt to the presentation of Messiah to the nation. It includes all God’s ways and dealings with this people.
The Jewish dispensation looks something like this: Israel is delivered through the Red Sea on dry ground and brought on eagle’s wings to Mt. Sinai. The law was given to them, along with priesthood and tabernacle. The glory and presence of Jehovah would dwell in their midst. They would be brought into the land, and have judges, prophets, and kings. Under God’s direction their worship would transition from a tabernacle to a glorious temple. The nation would be divided into two houses and kingdoms – Israel in the north with ten tribes; Judah in the south with two. By the Assyrian God would scatter the northern kingdom into the world. By the Babylonian, God would allow a remnant of the southern kingdom to be led away captive. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the Gentiles are given world power and dominion. Eventually God would orchestrate the return to the city of an even smaller remnant of Judah. They rebuild the city walls and temple, and begin again the animal sacrifices of the law. Malachi prophesies that Elijah will be sent before the great and terrible day of the Lord, and the word of God falls silent, the revelation stops (Mal.4:5). The stage is set for the presentation of Messiah.
The Baptist shows up as the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of Jehovah, make His paths straight.” (Matt. 3:1-3) For those of faith and associated with the Jewish remnant, the baptist is Elijah (Matt. 11:7-15). Messiah is presented to Israel (Luke 4:17-21), but He is soon rejected (Luke 4:22-29). Israel would not have Him as King (John 19:14-22). They crucified Him and put Him to death. The Spirit would later testify to Israel of a risen Messiah, but the leaders and nation would reject this as well (Acts 7:51). God fully sets Israel aside and turns to the Gentiles. Soon after, God would bring in the Roman army and destroy the city and temple a second time (Luke 21:5-6). This brought a certain end to the Jewish dispensation. The Jews were either killed with the sword or led away captive into all nations (Luke 21:20-24). The practice of the law, and for that matter, the practice of Judaism, was unceremoniously ended by these historical events.
The Jewish dispensation involved many different things in the ways of God toward Israel. It ranged from deliverance through judgments out of Egypt to Emmanuel coming in goodness and grace. Yet the common element that defines this dispensation, running the entire time from beginning to end, is man on probation and God testing Israel in the principle of human responsibility. It is God testing man in Adam, now as a fallen sinner. It is God testing man in the flesh, looking for the fruit of obedience. As chosen by God, Israel was highly favored above all other nations on the face of the earth. As God’s choice they would serve as the test case representing all mankind.
In the Jewish dispensation, God’s testing of Israel would take on two specific forms: one by the giving of the law, the other by the presentation of Messiah (John 1:17). The testing by the law comes to an end with the Babylonian captivity. Israel’s apostasy from the law with all their idolatry brought on these circumstances. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. The presence and glory of God leaves the temple, the city, and the earth. God’s throne, the ark of the covenant, was lost forever. The law cannot be practiced without the presence, glory, and throne of Jehovah in the midst of Israel. I know you want to say that it can be practiced, and that Israel continued to practice it when they rebuilt the temple. Yet without the things that were missing, things that never were recovered, nor could they be, the practice of the law simply becomes hollow rituals associated with the weak and beggarly elements of the world (Gal. 4:9-11, Col. 2:8). There isn’t any greater proof of these realities than the fact that from this time forward Israel was always under servitude to their Gentile overlords.“The times of the Gentiles” had begun. If God still acknowledged Israel as His people, why would He leave them under the thumb of the Gentiles?
The founding principle of the law is human responsibility – do this and live (Gal. 3:12, Rom. 10:5). God had given man in innocence one command. When man is now a sinner God gives him ten commandments. In summary the commandments represent the perfect measure of what man in the flesh ought to be in his relationships – with God and with his neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). This was man’s responsibility. God would use the law to test Israel. Could they do the law?
But we know the history of Israel – they made the golden calf before the tablets of stone made it down the mountain. The law was broken, and this in its first command. Apostasy enters in. It is not full blown apostasy yet, but here it comes in and takes root. Israel had already left their first place. It would be a steady decline and failure from this point to their captivity. Yes, they had occasional reprieves such as David, but the evil had entered in, and it would grow and ripen in its rebellion and idolatry. Elijah was the prophet who lived in the time of the apostasy of the northern kingdom, while Jerimiah prophesied when Judah fell. Israel had failed miserably in their responsibility. They could not do the law.
God’s purpose for bringing a remnant back from Babylon was for one final testing of the principle. All the arrangements, the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the construction of a new temple, were for the presentation of the Messiah of prophecy to Israel. “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” (Matt. 21:37)
The prophet Isaiah speaks of Israel as a vineyard planted by the Lord:
“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. 2 He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. 4 What more could have been done to My vineyardthat I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? 5 And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.” 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.”
Israel had failed in her responsibilities. Even though God did so much for Israel, privileging her in so many ways, when He looked for fruit, He found nothing that was pleasing to Him. Israel did not obey Jehovah. They did not produce righteousness through the law. When God came among them, showing works of goodness and mercy, going throughout all Israel to undo the misery of their sin, they would not receive Him (John 1:11). They said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. (Matt. 21:38-39) Israel failed their final test.
The entire Jewish dispensation was based on the responsibility of the Jews in being obedient to God. Therefore it was based on what man could do in obedience; the dispensation had nothing to do with the sovereign work of God other than God beginning it by delivering Israel out of Egypt. The entire dispensation was a testing of the Jews in the flesh by God. He was looking for fruit, but never found any. They could not produce any fruit in human/creature responsibility pleasing to God. The Jewish dispensation represents the testing of man in Adam, and whether by human effort and works man could please God. Could he produce human righteousness by the law as a fruit unto God? He gave Israel every advantage possible. However, God’s testing in the Jewish dispensation proved that the idea of good still residing in man was totally false. It was impossible for man, even under the best conditions, to produce any pleasing fruit.
Also then, by testing Israel God shows that the Jews could not have the kingdom of God through human responsibility (Matt. 21:43). They could not have the kingdom through their disobedience to the law. They could not have the kingdom by rejecting their own King who was sent to them (John 8:42-47). He came to them as the Jewish Messiah according to the very promises and prophecies given to them. Yet they would not have Him as King. The Jewish dispensation had failed, not because of sovereign grace or God’s workmanship failing – impossible. The dispensation fails because the basis of the law and the Messianic kingdom, at that time, were settled on and propped up upon the principle of human responsibility.
18 “Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.”
Israel was the fig tree; the Jews were the test case representing mankind. The testing was complete. Man would no longer be on probation. Man in Adam was now cursed and condemned. Man in the flesh could not have a relationship with a holy God. The utter depravity of man was proven by God. Without the law and lawless, or with the law and committing transgressions, it didn’t matter. Jew or Gentile – all charged to be hopelessly under the dominion of sin (Rom. 3:9).
“There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
These verses, all quoted from the law and Old Testament, clearly shows how God sees what man really is – man was proven utterly depraved. Even when goodness and reconciliation came to them, they only hated Him (John 15:22-25). This is the truth about man’s responsibility. When it is looked at, there is always failure. God’s testimony of the history of man in Scripture proves this. And the sad truth is this testimony never changes. When God tested responsibility, He never found any fruit. The tree was cursed – man in Adam is condemned. The world is judged (John 12:31). The testing of responsibility was finished. God had come to the end of the world (Heb. 9:26). He had come to the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). Man in the flesh could never please God (Rom. 8:8).
The understanding of the development of this principle is critical for rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). It is an understanding that is paramount to the sound doctrine of theological systems. God has proven man’s depravity. It isn’t in doubt any longer, regardless of what any man may think or say contrary to this. It is God’s testimony concerning man. It is a testimony we are obligated to believe. Realizing man’s depravity changes many understandings in theology and doctrine. The consequences and implications are far reaching and extraordinary. God used Israel as a test case representing all mankind. How interesting is that?
Utter depravity has been proven. Therefore a man must be born again or quickened (John 3:3). He will then come to a knowledge of his position as a sinner before God. The Holy Spirit was sent to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). The unbeliever will be drawn to faith in Christ (John 6:44). By faith in Christ the man is no longer in Adam, in the flesh, but now in a new state and position. He is in the second Adam and in Christ, and in the Spirit (Rom. 8:8-9, Gal. 3:26-27). This is an entirely new nature, and is one that can have a relationship with God (Eph. 4:23-24, Col. 3:10-11).
But being born of God by faith in Christ has no basis or root in human responsibility or human obedience – it is not a human work. It doesn’t have any connection with human choice – not of the human will. It is God’s sovereign choice of you, and it is God working. The believer is born of God (John 1:13). As a new creation, the believer is the sovereign work of God, with the Spirit acting as God’s direct agent (Eph. 2:10, John 3:8). We are God’s workmanship; we are God’s new creation (II Cor. 5:17); we are created by God new, in Christ Jesus; “Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…” (II Cor. 5:18) We are not born of human responsibility, but all things are of God! We are not born by “doing” anything, even our faith. That is given to us by God to complete His work of justification (Eph. 2:8). Actually, the final step is the seal of the Spirit after we believe in Christ (Eph. 1:13, Gal. 4:6).
God has finished His testing of human responsibility. Man in Adam has been proven a sinner, utterly depraved and completely lost. God will not repeat the testing. This understanding should end all Judaizing, all Arminian, and all Pelagiustic thoughts, doctrine, or influences. The entire Old Testament and most of the gospels is God proving man’s position in Adam. Yet we fail to see this testing by God and its significance. God doesn’t just say man is depraved. Certainly His word and testimony on the matter should be enough. But God goes much farther than this. He spends thousands of years testing man and proving what man is in the flesh. Judaism, God’s earthly religion, given as the law to the Jews, was testing man in Adam. The coming of Messiah further tested them. When He was rejected as King of Israel, the testing was completed and the unequivocal verdict was in – utter depravity. Man is completely lost. Man is without hope. Man is without strength, without power, and without any resources. Man cannot save himself. Man’s will is not free. Sin is his master. God has patiently proven this all to be true.
This is what I believe most theologians are missing in their systems. They do not acknowledge the principle of human responsibility and do not understand that God Himself has thoroughly tested man. They look at Israel and wonder what if…and what could have been…and why was the outcome so disastrous? It results in pointing fingers at the Jews, often in a prejudicial way. What we now can understand is that the results would have been exactly the same whether God chose Egyptians, Babylonians, or Canaanites to be His most privileged people. The results of the testing would have been the same. That is why what was proven was more than the Jews being utterly depraved, but that the entire world in the first Adam was condemned. Although highly favored by God, Israel was nothing different from the rest of the world (Rom. 3:9-19). It is the Arminian leaven that blinds people to this truth. It is the evil Judaizing leaven that has you believing the results could have been different. It will have you believing a different group of people would have done better (Rom. 3:9). It is the Pelagiustic leaven that has you questioning why Israel were so thick-headed and spiritually blind.
When we take up Judaized, Arminian, or Pelagiustic doctrines and influences, we are denying all that God has meticulously proven through thousands of years of testing. These three are basically the same – humanism – man exalting himself by what he does and achieves, by human intellect and will. This is the insidious evil and corrupting leaven that infests the whole of Christendom today (Matt. 13:33). You do not need to look at anything else, anywhere else. This is the corrupting evil. It was in the garden. It started there at the beginning. It was in the lies of the devil by which Adam lusted – “…you will be like God…” Man exalts himself – at Babel, in Judaism, in Gentile civil power. He exalts himself in Christendom, the corporate body represented by Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. Man has a history of always failing in human responsibility. It is the testimony of scripture. It is the testimony of God.
If the evil leaven keeps you from seeing the principle of human responsibility being tested by God, and the proving of the total depravity of man by this testing, the same leaven will blind you to the ruin and failure of the professing church on the earth. The leaven wants to protect the works and doings of man in Christendom. It will blind you to the failure of the dispensation, a pattern that was repeated in the Jewish dispensation previous to this one. According to God’s testimony in His word, Christendom has failed. Christendom is in ruin. I speak here as a warning to all true believers, but specifically to Christian leaders and ministers – these carry the greater responsibility as teachers (James 3:1).