As children, we all had a tendency to excuse our own bad behaviors, or to project or shift blame when we were caught doing something we shouldn’t have been doing. It’s only with maturity that we become willing to accept responsibility for our own actions. As a mentor and friend, the late Dr. Edwin Louis Cole, used to say, “Maturity is not based on age, but on the willingness to accept responsibility.”
I believe it is a lifelong challenge to decide which choices we will make and what our character will be when we are confronted with our own frailty. We all make mistakes, but what do we do after that mistake has been brought to light? If we are honest with God and with ourselves, we can grow in maturity in those moments. Or, like children, we can try to shift blame to someone or something else.
In my early years of ministry, I was intrigued with the meaning and correlation of the following scriptures:
Jeremiah 31: 29-30: “In those days they shall say no more: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
Ezekiel 18:2: “What do you mean when you use this proverb . . . ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?”
For the sake of brevity, I won’t attempt to go line upon line explaining all the surrounding verses that provide the context for these scriptures, though I would encourage you to take the time to read the full chapters.
That being said, I think Ezekiel 18:19-20 gives a good paraphrase of the point being made:
“Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live . . . The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
In other words, we cannot justify, rationalize, excuse or project our own actions or sins upon others. The choices I make cannot be justified because of my parents, or my childhood circumstances, or my past. I cannot change my past, but the decisions I make each day determine my future. Yes, I may have had some challenging and difficult times growing up. Yes, society may try to tell us that we can’t help who we are because we’ve come from a dysfunctional family or difficult circumstances. Yes, there may have been sour grapes along the way, yet the decisions I make each day cannot be excused by the past. As a new creature in Christ, I’m not bound by the actions of others. Regardless of past relationships orcircumstances, we are all responsible for our own actions.
When I was in the fitness business, there was a quote often used: “Success requires no apologies and failure permits no alibis.” The quote is from author Napoleon Hill. His words can be applied to just about any facet of our life’s journey. Regardless of my heritage, where I was born, my parents, background, or any other circumstance in life, I do not have to be limited by them. The choices are mine. And Scripture reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
So, no longer should we let the sour grapes in our lives cause us to have our teeth set on edge. May we move away from making excuses and projecting our frustrations on others. Life is too precious and short to be wasted away. In the complexity of the world we live in, may we emulate the characteristics of the Kingdom of God and let our light shine in such a way that others may see Christ and bring glory to the Father in Heaven.”