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The Doctrine of Individual Accountability

Original Free Will Baptists fundamentally believe that our Sovereign God has bestowed upon each person the dignity and privilege of free will. It is the gift of a loving Father who wants genuine devotion and love from His children. No human parent can force or buy real love or obedience from their children, and our Heavenly Father knows that even with all His power, our love and allegiance must come freely from our hearts.

Sin came into the world through the free will of one man, Adam, but it remains in the world through the free will of each of us. God’s desire is to have a restored relationship with every person through His Son Jesus Christ, who has come to redeem and restore that broken relationship. Yet God asks us to use our free will to receive His grace. This basic tenet of our faith drives us to share the Gospel with all peoples. Our belief that each living individual has the free will to accept, or reject, a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ is a fundamental reason we share our personal witness, and work cooperatively to teach, minister and share the Gospel with the world. Free will gives life to individual opportunity and so requires an individual response. That response, in turn brings individual responsibility and finally individual accountability for our choice.

Our culture has conditioned us to think of accountability as negative. Today, accountability often means someone is being assigned blame, guilt or judgement for wrongdoing. In times of tragedy, misjustice or human error we quickly hear demands for “accountability”. But the idea of accounting can just as easily be a positive. A successful business is proved when the books are opened and accounted. The Apostle John tells us that a successful life will be proved when the Book of Life is opened and our names are accounted for there (Revelation 20:15). The Apostle Paul, instructing the Roman church on unity and forbearance, points out that each of us, both righteous and unrighteous will stand before God and give an accounting of how we lived our lives (Romans 14:12).

Most of us are familiar with the games of baseball and softball. A batter stands at the plate and waits for the pitch. They may have spent hours in backyards with Mom or Dad learning to hit, been practicing for years, and been mentored by the best coaches. They may have parents shouting instructions from the stands, teammates yelling encouragement or opponents screaming taunts. But, as the ball comes across the plate, it is after all the batter alone whose hands are on the bat. The decision of if, how and when to swing rests with them alone. It must come from their heart, mind and will and afterward their free will to choose will have resulted in a hit, a miss or a missed opportunity. The outcome is never hidden or unclear. Only the batter may know what he or she meant to do, wanted to do, or wished they had done but everyone in the park can see clearly what they chose to do.

This is the essence of individual accountability for us as hearers of the Gospel. We have received the good news of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross and of our Heavenly Father’s offer of grace and salvation to any who accept. The Holy Spirit convicts and calls the sinner to repentance and daily instructs and guides the believer. Parents and family may model Christlikeness for us, fellow believers may encourage us, ministers and teachers may instruct us, but when confronted with the decision to trust Christ as Savior it must be the result of our individual hearts, minds and free will. Every subsequent choice we make as believers is also then the result of our individual God given free will. And since we alone have the final say in our choices, we alone bear the responsibility for those choices and we alone will be accountable to God for them.

In baseball batters get three strikes, but some pitches are considered to be outside a fair hitting area for the batter. These “balls” are accounted as gifts of grace to the batter and too many award the batter with a free “walk” to first base. Without a fair chance to hit the ball, the batter is not held accountable. Our Heavenly Father understands that in this fallen world, where His creation has been spoiled by sin, some persons never get a fair opportunity to understand and respond to the Gospel. Whether because of brevity of life or intellectual disadvantage, some people, though they may hear the Gospel, can never consider their need, or God’s plan for their salvation. For those persons God lovingly removes their individual accountability and instead awards them the gift of grace.

For the rest of us though, we will all have an accounting of our life as we stand in judgement (II Corinthians 5:10). Just like a coach reviews a batter’s success or failure at the end of a game and then determines their future role, so will God review our use of our free will and determine our place in eternity. For each act of righteousness there will be joy and for each choice of disobedience there will be sorrow, but above all, one action alone of our free will shall determine our place in eternity. and that act is our choice to accept or reject Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. When the Holy Spirit confronts us with the Gospel, no one else can make our choice for us and no one else will be accountable for our decision. It will have been our individual opportunity; our individual responsibility and we will be individually accountable.

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