“That’s how I was raised.” “The streets is all I know.” “I was abused as a child.” “My father wasn’t in the home.” “My parents did drugs.” “Gangs run my neighborhood.”
How many times have we heard these and similar statements as excuses for bad behavior? Are these excuses acceptable? Are we all just doomed to be products of our bad environment here on this evil earth? Is it unrealistic for us to resist the peer pressure and groupthink around us? Many in society would have us think so, but God in his word tells us differently.
Granted, there are times when God expects his people to reach out to others and be a positive, godly influence in the lives of those who are lost. However, he also informs us that ultimately everyone is responsible for their own personal decisions no matter what environment they come from even if they have the worst parents in the world, grew up in the worst neighborhood in the world, or somehow find themselves in the worst church in the world.
The road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, it’s also paved with bad peer pressure and groupthink. God pointed out personal responsibility in the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed God and Eve, then Eve blamed the serpent. The Lord stated to each one their own sin, then punished each of them accordingly.
When God established Mosaic law, he included this personal responsibility clause: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin,” Deuteronomy 24:16.
But as the years progressed, Israel started it’s own tradition of blaming and punishing family members for the sin or crime of another family member. God used Ezekiel to call them on the carpet for it–
2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. …
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. Ezekiel 18
If you read this whole chapter, the Lord goes into detail about if a child has a father who is the worst scoundrel ever, but the child is repulsed by the father’s actions and decides to be righteous, then he will live. And if a righteous father has a rebellious son full of all kinds of evil, the son will be the only one punished for his own evils. Therefore, a child can be raised in the midst of evil parents and still become righteous and good parents can raise children in good homes who still turn out to be evil children.
When the New Testament was established, the personal responsibility clause was folded into the law of Christ. We see this in the letters to the seven churches. Thyatira, for instance, was full of fornicators, a prominent false teacher, and adulterers, but there were some who rejected such false doctrines and didn’t participate in the “depths of Satan” (Rev. 2:24). Then there was Sardis, which was spiritually dead, but had the reputation of being alive. A few people in that congregation did not “defile their garments” like most of the others did (Rev. 3:4). God commended the nonconformists.
These examples reveal that God is always looking for a few good nonconformists who realize we don’t have to be the product of our bad environments, but can rise above any dark environment–even if it has an evil majority–to be the lights of the world he calls us to be.