This morning as I was talking with my pastor, I remembered something a captain once said to me when I was in the US Army. He said this:
You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.
His point was that you can give others the power to do things on your behalf–especially in the military–but, no matter who does something wrong or right, the final responsibility always lies with the one delegating authority. His particular case-in-point was a military operation that had gone SNAFU. (For you civilians, that’s “Situation Normal: All Fouled Up.”) Because that operation is probably still a secret 26 years later, I can’t tell you the specifics, but true to my captain’s saying, the blame for the mistakes in that operation all fell on the commander who coordinated it. In common parlance, “Blame rolls uphill.”
But as I told my pastor about that saying, I got to thinking about how Jesus delegated authority to all believers to act in His name–to heal and prophesy, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, to do all manner of things as we exercise the gifts of the Spirit. (Mark 16:15-18, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11) So the authority for these things comes upon us from Jesus. Further, the authority to speak the gospel and make disciples has been given to us. In fact, we have a great deal of authority in this world over spiritual and material things.
But the responsibility still rests with Jesus. The responsibility for our sins has fallen upon His shoulders. The responsibility for our salvation became His. The responsibility for bringing us to new life is His. The responsibility for bringing us the Holy Spirit by which we have our authority, that is Jesus’, too.
And every time we misuse our position as Christians, as co-heirs with Christ–i.e. every time we judge (which we do not have authority to do), every time we condemn (which we do not have authority to do), every time we depart from the Word of God and write our own rules for being Christians (which we do not have authority to do)–then the responsibility falls back upon Jesus Himself. WE don’t take the blame, HE does! Remember? Blame rolls uphill.
Given the authority we have in the name of Jesus to work in the Spirit, to share the gospel, to drive evil from our lives and the lives of others, we should exercise that authority with Spirit-led wisdom and with all love for God. But we do not have authority to change the message of the gospel, to hurt others in Jesus’ name, to mislead people with a non-gospel message, to judge or condemn others for their sins. Yes, we must fight Satan tooth and nail, and we have been given the authority and the gifts and weapons to do so. But the responsibility–and the battle itself–belongs to the Lord. He has already defeated sin and death on the Cross, and one day He will return to judge all humanity and to finish off Satan for good. In the meantime, everything you or I say or do reflects upon our heavenly Commander, the one who gave us the authority to use His name, Jesus Christ.
When we DO exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit with love, when we DO make disciples for Christ, when we DO share the Word of God with authority and power, then God is glorified. You see, blame isn’t the only thing that rolls uphill: glory does, too.
In Jesus’ name, we have been given great authority, but Jesus Christ is still responsible for our actions. Will we allow blame for our continued sinfulness to fall upon Him, or will we bring Him glory and honor and praise through our faithfulness and love for God? That responsibility is ours alone. What will we do?