My Take: Martin Luther King, Jr. on Personal Responsiblity

I have read a couple of biographies about Martin Luther King, Jr.  While I don’t agree with many things he did in the latter part of his life and every philosophy he had, early on he had many things right on and I could whole heartedly agree with.  He fought for equal rights for black Americans and he did it in a way that worked.  The peaceful protests and marches that he inspired were both patriotic and appropriate in a way that allowed others to see and identify with a point of view that may not have seen before.  If he had employed the tactics of violence and looting that are occurring around the nation in the last month – the movement would have been set back decades in my opinion. 

One of the best things about the movement, early on was the argument about personal accountability.  Reverend King often argued for Black Americans to be given a chance and freedom to make their own way in society, not impeded or helped, but just given the right and freedom to do so under the law.  He wanted blacks to be able achieve their dreams as Americans by their own merit.  Here is a portion of what he said in one of his sermons from July 26, 1953 preached in Atlanta, GA.  

“One of the most common tendencies of human nature is that of placing responsibility on some external agency for sins we have committed or mistakes we have made. We are forever attempting to find some scapegoat on which we cast responsibility for our actions. Herein lies the tragic misuse of much of our modern psychology, particularly what is known as depth psychology or psychoanalysis. This school of thought affirms that many of our conscious actions are due to unconscious motives…

…Another external agency on which we readily cast responsibility for our actions is heredity. There are those who would affirm that one is completely determined by heredity. How easy it is to say, “I would have been better if I had had better hereditary circumstances.”

We are not responsible for the environment we are born in, neither are we responsible for our hereditary circumstances. But there is a third factor for which we are responsible namely, the personal response which we make to these circumstances…

…And so the challenge which confronts all of us is to respond to our circumstances with strength and courage rather than with weakness and despair. Who in all history can serve as a better example for us at this point than our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ? There was nothing so comfortable and advantageous about His environmental and hereditary circumstances. He was born in a stable and raised on a carpenter’s bench. His mother and father were not members of the upper crust of Jewish society. They did not enjoy the power of the aristocratic Pharisee or the prestige of the cosmopolitan Sadducee. Jesus was born in plain unpretentious circumstances. But Jesus had within himself a power of personal response which was destined to transform his circumstances. This same Jesus who was born in an ox stable, rose up to be the strongest and tallest oak in the great forest of history.”[i]

That message is not a Martin Luther King, Jr. originated philosophy – IT IS BIBLE TRUTH.  No one is responsible for your sin other than you.  No one is responsible for my sin other than me.  We are all accountable to God.   Romans 14:12  “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”  Each of us are responsible for our actions even in the face of wrong doing – we are still responsible before God – we are not excused to sin.  

As Believers, we need to make sure that we treat all men honorably and respectfully.  More than that, God says we are to love our neighbors.  Love leaves no room for prejudice.  Love no rooms for hate.  Even though you or your race may have been wronged in the past or even in the present and your rights may have been violated recently or may be in the future – as Christians we are to love our neighbor.  Mark 12:31 “…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” 

Don’t forget the Golden Rule (Which is a Bible command from Christ Himself) Matthew 7:12 “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

In this generation of unrest – not only the philosophies of God’s Word are important, but a belief in Christ as Savior is utterly vital. 

The answer to our nation’s present dilemma is not the government.  Government is run by men and men are often corrupt.  The answer to our civil problems is not socialism – it has never worked and never will because man’s heart is dark and evil.  The answer to the world’s problem is not reparations – because man is not responsible for his father’s sins (Deuteronomy 24:16).  

No, the answer to our nation’s unrest is simply, Jesus Christ.  Acts 4:12  “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”  When we trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior by repentance and faith – He saves us from our sin.  As we walk and grow with Him we draw close to Him.  As we all walk and grow with Him, we all draw closer together.  John 12:32  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. 

I’m so glad that through my years of my ministry I have very close friends with dear folks from all over the world, from many nations, languages and races.  I have dear friends that are Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Puerto Ricans, El Salvadorans, Filipino, and Japanese.  I have had friends that were Dominican, Indonesian, Chinese, Taiwanese, Peruvian, Cuban, Mexican, Chilean, Trinbagonian, Egyptian, Burmese and more.  There is only one thing that could ever give us unity and commonality amongst such a vast group of people – it is THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE SAINTS – through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Do you know Him.  I hope that you will place your faith in Him along as your Lord and Savior.  That is the message that this world needs and we need to keep proclaiming it. 

By Pastor Mark A. Sage


[i] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/accepting-responsibility-your-actions