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   Studies in Contrasts - Volume 1 (12 of 13)

Volume 1

  1. Should a Christian Be Afraid of God?
  2. The Resurrection: A Matter of Reason or a Matter of Faith?
  3. Can We Learn from the Cults?
  4. Should We Be Waiting or Working As We Anticipate Christ's Return?
  5. Did Christ Come to Live or to Die for Us?
  6. Is Man Like God or Unlike God?
  7. Should a Christian Be Self-Controlled or Spirit-Controlled?
  8. Isn't the Holy Spirit All I Need to Understand the Bible?
  9. Can We Come to God Just As We Are?
  10. Is It Ever Right to Judge Others?
  11. Are We the Result of Our Parents' Choices?
  12. Does God Hold Us Responsible for Other People's Sin?
  13. Self-Esteem: Is It Right or Wrong?

Does God Hold Us Responsible for Other People's Sin?

When a lonely church member fell into immorality, there was some discussion among the congregation as to whether they had let him down by failing to show him more acceptance and love along the way. Other members of the church family, however, resented the implication of their guilt and felt that he was entirely responsible for his own sin.

What is the answer? Does the Lord hold us responsible for the sins of our nation, community, church, family, or friends? Or do we have to answer only for what we as individuals do? According to the Bible, there is both an individual and a collective responsibility.


  1. Israel answered to the Lord as a nation because of the characteristic obedience or disobedience of individuals (Psalm 78:54-72).
  2. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel associated themselves with the sins and guilt of their people when they prayed (Ezra 9:1-15; Neh. 9:2,3; Dan. 9:4,20).
  3. The whole nation of Israel suffered for the sins of an individual when Achan sinned against the Lord (Josh. 7).
  4. The Lord's letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor show how an entire church can receive the approval or disapproval of God (Rev. 2-3).


  1. From the beginning of human history, individuals were held responsible for their own sins. For example, Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), and Cain (Gen. 40. On the other hand, the obedient were rewarded for their good conduct of which Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Noah (Gen. 6:9) were examples.
  2. The prophet Ezekiel emphasized individual accountability, pointing out that every person answers for his own sin (Ezek. 18:4).
  3. The Bible repeatedly refers to salvation as an individual matter (John 3:3,5,7,15,16,18).
  4. When the Lord critiqued the seven churches of Asia Minor, He saw and recognized individual differences in the churches. Each time, He promised blessing to "those who overcome" (Rev. 2,3).
  5. In the final judgment, whether of believers at the judgment seat of Christ, or of unbelievers at the great white throne judgment, each person will be held accountable for his own choices and actions (Luke 12:35-48; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15).


We answer to God individually for individual matters and collectively for community matters. The Lord ultimately deals with us on the basis of our own choices. But to the extent that we are members of various communities, we share in the joys and sorrows the Lord gives those particular groups.


Both sides of this truth tend to rub our human nature the wrong way. When it comes to our individual accountability, our tendency is to point the finger at others, as Adam and Eve did in the first sin. On the other hand, when we are implicated in the sins of others, human nature causes us to want to be treated only as individuals without any group accountability.

The Lord, being all-knowing, all-wise, and perfectly just, knows how to combine or separate individual and group responsibility. He knows how to treat a group, while at the same time assuring that each person eventually gets the appropriate measure of justice or mercy.

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