Within the argument over who is Sovereign in this universe, either the King or the sinner, inevitably the question of divine decree versus personal responsibility comes to the forefront.
The Responsibility of Man
The sinner is, of course, totally responsible for their actions and is utterly commanded to obey God. These responsibilities include loving him with the fullness of the soul (Deuteronomy 6:5), a full repentance from sin to righteousness (Acts 17:30), a full trust in Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:8), and attributing to Christ all of the glory for salvation (Ephesians 2:9). These are the four main responsibilities which the sinner has towards Heaven; there are several hundred more.
And these are only matters of commission, of positive command, the sinner is responsible for rejecting evil (Romans 3:8), for keeping his heart pure (Psalm 24:3-4), for avoiding unrighteousness (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), for living an exemplary life (Matthew 5:3-11), for outperforming his pastors in religious knowledge and action (Matthew 5:20), for judging a person only on action and not on superficialities (Matthew 5:21-22), for committing to one person for the full intimacy of the marriage covenant (Matthew 5:27-28), for being utterly truthful (Matthew 5:33), for being totally faithful (Matthew 5:37), for being charitable beyond measure (Matthew 5:44), and above all, the sinner has the responsibility of attaining and maintaining perfection (Matthew 5:48).
If these were not enough responsibility, the prophet James introduces the idea of a sin of omission: he writes that whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:17), and that a single sin utterly condemns a person (James 2:10-12). If you have not committed adultery but have committed murder, your condemnation is just. If you have not murdered but have lied, you have stored up an infinite amount of wrath to be poured out on you on the day of wrath. If you have not lied but have failed to help a person in need, you might as well have made it a practice to break every commandment completely and repeatedly.
There is certainly no lack of responsibility for the sinner to be saved should he break any of these laws, for if we judge ourself rightly, we won't be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31). In order to be saved the sinner has the responsibility of being born again (John 3:3-7), he has the responsibility to take up his cross (to forsake his life and give it for God) and follow Christ (Matthew 10:38), he has the responsibility to sell everything he has and give it to the poor (Luke 18:22), he must confess every last one of his sins perfectly, not missing a single one (1 John 1:9), he must repent and be immersed in Christ (Acts 2:38), he must repent and believe (Mark 1:15), and he must confess his full allegiance to Christ’s saving work (Romans 10:9,13). If he does this, God will reward his diligence and welcome him into Heaven.
These are a few of the responsibilities the sinner has. If you are not convicted of your utter incapability to accomplish even a single one of your responsibilities, then I ask you to pause here and reread this first section, including the proof-texts, for Jesus tells us that it would be easier to get a one-thousand-pound seven-foot tall dromedary through a one-millimeter hole than to get you through the gates of Heaven (Mark 10:25). But, if you want to be worthy of Christ, all you have to do is perform each of these perfectly (Matthew 10:38).
The Grace of God
If it sounds impossible for the responsibility of man to lead to anything short of condemnation, then you are getting the point. Christ’s immanent followers asked him, “Who then can be saved!?” and he responded, “what is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Mark 10:26-27)
The exceeding impossibility of man’s responsibility is meant for two major purposes, first to humiliate man, and second to exalt the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, who kept every ordinance perfectly. When baptized he was fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-15), so that those who have never been baptized (including those wetted as infants) will not be turned away from Heaven’s gates for failing to be perfect. He asked from the cross, “What I did not steal, must I now restore?” (Psalm 69:5) He will never forsake himself, indeed he cannot (2 Timothy 2:13). He maintained for his entire life a pure heart and clean hands, never lifting up his soul to idols nor swearing deceitfully (Psalm 24:3-4). The responsibility of full obedience to God was demonstrated in his obedience even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11).
Mankind has a full responsibility to repent towards Heaven, and also an utter inability to do so. In the grace of Christ though, we are not without hope, for he grants to us repentance leading to the knowledge of God (2 Timothy 2:25, et al)! We have a call to faith in the Risen Son, but we are faithless and twisted generation; but our faithful God and Saviour has given to us a saving measure of faith (2 Peter 1:1, Ephesians 2:8-9).
Mankind has a full responsibility to respond towards Heaven, but as a slave to sin, dead spiritually and incapable of goodness, this responsibility is shirked and becomes yet another sin which will seal his condemnation. But thanks be to God who made him who knew no sin to be sin for our sake, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Those who are saved are not saved by the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but by the will of God (John 1:13).
It is the sin of mankind to want to attribute his greatness to his own works. The Bible speaks over and over again of God doing everything good in men (Zechariah 4:6, John 3:27, Ephesians 2:10, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Romans 8:28), of him being the absolute proprietor of everything that happens (Isaiah 45:5-7, Zechariah 5:4). Mankind is totally responsible for his own actions, being condemned under sin. Mankind is given opportunity to earn his salvation, but he is incapable of avoiding sin and performing righteousness. In both cases his personal responsibility has not provided for his salvation, but has multiplied his condemnation.
But thanks be to God who gives the victory through Jesus Christ. It is only by God’s grace that anyone is saved, that any saint reaches repentance, and that any people receives mercy (Mark 13:20, 1 Peter 2:10, 2 Peter 3:9). God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Exodus 33:19) So then it depends not on human will or exertion, rather it is in spite of human will and exertion, and it depends wholly on God, who has mercy (Romans 9:16).
What then shall we say, that we ought to sin all the more so that God’s goodness shines forth contrasted against our darkness? Heaven forbid, we have the total responsibility to seek the Lord while he may be found (John 6:44), we must repent, we must believe, we must cease from sin. But, in our complete inability to do this the Spirit will give us contrition for our sin, convict us of impending judgment, and convince us of Christ’s righteousness, so that we see we are saved by grace, not of ourselves, that we receive grace through faith given from above, not of ourselves, that it is a gift of God, not of ourselves, so that we will not boast, but attribute all of the honor and glory to the Risen and Righteous and Responsible Jesus Christ.
Human responsibility has led many a soul to Hell, but never a soul to Heaven. It is only by the grace of God that we may be saved.