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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

previously published in July 2005

Nietzsche once said, “Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.”  Freedom is not the absence of rules and regulations, but the capacity to exercise choice in deciding whose guidelines and principles to follow.  As a graduating senior at Princeton University, I have witnessed the consequences of misunderstanding this relationship between freedom and responsibility, both in myself as well as in the lives of other students and friends around me.  It is my hope and prayer that this testimony would foster a God-centered acceptance of our individual freedom so that we may be men and women “who will stand for the right though the heavens fall” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 57).

When I first came to college, I was just as excited as any other freshmen.  On freshmen move-in day, 1000 eager eighteen-year-olds said goodbyes to their parents, who drove away with heavy hearts while their children rejoiced in their new-found “freedom.”  As I explored campus that night with my new friends, I saw what “freedom” meant to most of the students –drinking without restraint and partying without curfews.

Growing up, my parents had taught me to make decisions for myself.  While they instructed me in the ways of God and always gave their advice, they instilled in me the belief that, like Daniel, you have to purpose in your own heart the decisions you will make before the situations arise.  I had decided never to drink alcohol long before I came to college, and so when I was presented with the opportunities, it was easy to say no.  It did not interest me in the least, and so it wasn’t even a temptation.  It’s amazing how strong will power becomes when you practice it.  Once you make up your mind that you don’t want something, it becomes true. 
It’s also amazing how clouded your judgment becomes when you don’t purpose in your heart beforehand.  Because I didn’t party or drink, my friends and I spent time together in other ways.  Since we couldn’t always come up with creative ideas, we often resorted to watching movies.  Unfortunately, this became my personal mode of temptation.

Time management is one of the most important things you learn in college.  You alone are responsible for juggling time for various activities and tasks.  In addition to the normal course load, I was the president of three organizations, held two part-time jobs, was actively involved in two fellowships, had responsibilities at church, and loved hanging out with my friends.  After a busy day of classes, meetings, and work, I needed to wind down. So I would go to my friend’s dorm, and we would watch a movie. 

I always thought that as long as I had high standards for the kind of movies I watched, that it was a harmless way to have fun.  However, I realized that I was watching too many too late at night for it to be harmless.  It’s true that anything and everything can be a stumbling block, and when you find yourself justifying certain choices that you’re making, it’s time to stop and be honest with yourself.  Dodging blame and responsibility is sure a sign that you are doing something wrong. 

Every time I chose to watch a movie instead of doing something constructive, I made that choice much harder to resist the next time.  And that loss of control meant I lost my power to choose.  Deep inside, I wanted to spend my time more wisely, but I allowed myself to yield to temptation.  I had lost my freedom to choose what I really wanted.  And when the negative consequences hit, such as getting sick for staying up late, missing morning classes and handing in hastily-done papers, it was difficult to accept the fact that I alone was responsible.  Accepting responsibility meant changing the way I behaved, and that took much kneeling and surrendering—two very difficult things to do.  And yet, God very patiently helped me regain my freedom.

God alone restores our power to make decisions. He gives us free will to make daily decisions that will either strengthen or weaken this power.  Ironically, yielding to temptation is actually yielding your ability to choose while yielding to God gives you freedom.  If there is something in your life for which you are making justifications and excuses instead of taking responsibility, stop before you lose all control.  Make the decision today to resist the temptations that you might face tomorrow.  And while it is true that responsibility is the price of freedom, it is also the prize of freedom. So I encourage all of you (including myself) to embrace this responsibility. After all, Christ paid the price on the cross so that we may have this freedom.


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