Avoiding the Blame Game
For mature audiences only

Most teenagers want to be thought of as older—to be given the privileges of an adult. “Maturity” to you might mean unsupervised driving, increased freedom and generally more independence.

Let’s address something that will actually make you more mature. It will show that you are growing up. Since it goes against a strong pull of our human nature, this is a pull that even many “grown-ups” have a hard time resisting. This tendency is much more amplified, though, in those who are immature. Fighting this tendency is part of growing up. Those who never get a handle on it don’t really mature as they should.

First, let’s see it on display with our first parents—who had to answer for taking of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s reply was: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12).

Adam tried to deflect the blame for his sin.

When God questioned the woman, she replied: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:13).

Both of them tried to shift the blame. Eve said in essence, The devil made me do it. Adam even tried to blame God!

What misguided thinking! “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:13-15).

Have you ever blamed God? God made me this way, we might reason. What choice did I have? The truth is that we are guilty when we sin. We cannot pin it on our “personality” or on “hormones” or on some uncontrollable “chemical imbalance.”

A similar error is to think we’re victims of circumstance. Adam’s excuse, for example, really made it seem like all these things just happened to him.

Baby Toys

“What happens if you go through life focusing on what you don’t have? If you focus on what other people aren’t doing for you? If you never take responsibility for yourself? What happens is that you never mature,” Joel Hilliker wrote in Biblical Manhood. “You become stuck thinking like a child. In some form, you forfeit responsibility for your life to someone else.” He then quoted 1 Corinthians 13:11—about growing out of childhood. It reads: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Even as a teenager, you probably know what it is like to have “put something away” from your younger years. Maybe a toy you used to play with that has no more appeal. Maybe a television show you watched when little that you would be a little embarrassed about if someone spread a rumor that you still watched it.

If you want to be treated like a grown-up, then this blame-shifting must be “put away.”

Mr. Hilliker continues: “The man who believes society owes him a comfortable living is still thinking like a child. The man who grouses about how unfair the world is, and who says riches and privilege are just a matter of luck, is still thinking like a child. The man whose failures are always someone else’s fault is stuck in childish thinking. The man with no ambition, who is content to live off his parents’ largesse or a government handout, kicking back and relaxing rather than applying himself and building character, still speaks and understands as a child. The man who is more focused on what the world should do for him than on what he can contribute to those around him is not yet thinking like a man.”

Go through life accepting responsibility for your actions, and you will grow. Go through life shifting the blame and acting like a victim, and you’ll stunt your growth. In fact, you may never really “grow up.”

Blaming Goats

“To be constantly seeking for a scapegoat—a way to shift the blame for his own actions—is man’s natural inclination, which Satan incites,” reads Lesson 37 of the 1958 version of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course. “All the heathen religions are based on this principle. Satan’s perversion is: ‘Always blame someone else, never clean up yourself’—where the source of the trouble resides.”

Even the way we approach cleaning up physically reveals our thinking on this subject. We can think, I didn’t even make this mess, as we do the dishes. We may even think something similar as we clean our own rooms: I don’t really know how I could have gotten it this dirty; this just happened.

The correspondence course continues: “Satan would like to deceive everyone into believing he is being unjustly used as a scapegoat. Satan claims God isn’t fair.” We know from the meaning of the Day of Atonement that Satan is pictured by the escape-goat (not a falsely accused scapegoat). Though Christ died for our sins—that is, He is willing to take the penalty for our guilt in our sins—the devil will eventually bear his own guilt: He will eventually be punished for his part in our sins.

“This principle is not the same as the placing of the sins of a truly converted Christian on Jesus Christ to be washed away by His blood. A Christian does not try to shift the blame; he freely admits his own guilt—something Satan has never done! And Jesus Christ freely pays the penalty for the sinner, provided the ex-sinner earnestly repents and zealously seeks to avoid sinning in the future. Jesus Christ is no scapegoat!” (ibid).

To grow, and come under that loving sacrifice Christ made, means we have to accept our part in our mistakes. Don’t blame them on a scapegoat. Don’t act like a victim of circumstance. Don’t make excuses for why you had no other choice.

That’s another aspect of shifting the blame: making excuses for what we’ve done. But God essentially tells us to own our actions.

Burden Bearers

“But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden” (Galatians 6:4-5).

There’s a rejoicing, a satisfaction, in bearing your own burden. This is what you did, what you caused, and what you earned.

Verse 7 reads: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In other words, don’t fool yourself. We reap what we sow. That’s why we are admonished to bear our own burdens. Don’t excuse yourself—shuffling the burden off yourself. Don’t blame others—putting the burden on them (“throwing them under the bus,” as we might say today).

Even more so: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (verse 2). If anything, help others with their burdens. Admitting blame for some wrongdoing ensures that burden doesn’t unfairly end up on someone else.

The Bible consistently communicates this message. We are responsible for what we do. We are also going to be judged and rewarded accordingly—not on what our friends did, or what our parents did, but on the fruits of our lives. The Bible does not advocate a “victim mentality.”

Romans 14:10-12 read: “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Often we get far too concerned and self-righteous about what others are doing and how off they might be. There’s coming a time when we won’t be pointing fingers or answering for anyone else’s actions. We will face God and be rewarded according to our works!

Verse 13 continues: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” We certainly can judge whether someone is doing right or wrong, but this is telling us not to ignore dealing with ourselves while only passing sentence on what others are doing. Don’t cast blame on others or condemn them—when there is enough blame to bear ourselves!

Champion Mindset

You can apply this principle even to physical tasks: homework, sports, performing arts, etc. Think of how you react when something goes wrong or you make a mistake, big or small. Where do you put the blame?

In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin discusses how great performers differ from average or poor ones. Here is what he writes about how they evaluate their own performances: “If you were pushing yourself appropriately and have evaluated yourself rigorously, then you will have identified errors that you made. A critical part of self-evaluation is deciding what caused the errors. Average performers believe their errors were caused by factors outside their control: My opponent got lucky; the task was too hard; I just don’t have any natural ability for this.”

Think about those very common excuses! Those are average performers.

Colvin continues: “Top performers, by contrast, believe they are responsible for their errors. Note that this is not just a difference of personality or attitude. Recall that the best performers have set highly specific, technique-based goals and strategies for themselves; they have thought through exactly how they intend to achieve what they want. So when something doesn’t work, they can relate the failure to specific elements of their performance that may have misfired. Research on champion golfers, for example, has uncovered precisely this pattern. They’re much less likely than average golfers to blame their problems on the weather, the course, or chance factors. Instead they focus relentlessly on their own performance.”

Champions ask: What did I do wrong?

When you find your fault in the process, then a realistic solution can present itself. If you’re convinced of your own rightness, you’ll never even want to change—in other words, you won’t grow (much less grow up). All this applies physically and spiritually.

Judgy Trees

Christ made this quite simple: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). His disciples knew to pick grapes from vines and figs from fig trees, not from thorns or thistles. Christ also said good trees bring forth good fruits, but a bad tree simply cannot (verses 17-19). “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (verse 20).

Later He stated plainly: “the tree is known by his fruit” (Matthew 12:33). You can say, I don’t want anyone to judge me, but the fruits of your decisions will judge you. The fruits of your choices will judge you—simple as that. When a fig tree produces figs, it can’t blame the apple tree for that!

The book of Matthew also includes the famous parable of the talents, where a master gives his servants some money. You probably know the story and the increased honor given to those who doubled their talents, but do you recognize the blame-shifting of the one servant who didn’t do anything with the money? “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Matthew 25:24-25).

His money was then taken from him; as the master said, he could have at least gotten some interest out of putting it in the bank. Instead, he just made excuses. It was too hard. It was too scary. He blamed the circumstances­—and even the one who gave him the money—for somehow not being fair.

But the positive side of this parable—as with the tree and fruit metaphor—is to produce with the resources provided you, and God will entrust you with more responsibility. In other words, you’ll be treated more like a grown-up.

People Pleasing

You’re also probably aware of how the Israelites made and worshiped a golden calf while Moses was up on Mount Sinai for a long time. Did you know that Moses basically made them drink their own mistake? (see Exodus 32:20). Then Moses asked Aaron about it. Aaron had led Israel into this great sin, and Aaron replied: “[T]hou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (verses 22-24).

Aaron blamed the people and even the fire for the golden calf—downplaying his responsibility.

It’s easy to blame a group of people. King Saul did the same thing. In 1 Samuel 15, he boasted to Samuel, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (verse 13). If Saul was like a child who insists he has done his homework, then Samuel was like the teacher who points to the half-blank worksheet. Saul insisted, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord” (verse 20). Samuel continued to show how the task wasn’t completed, so next Saul blamed the people (verse 21). After Samuel passed God’s sentence on the weak king, Saul continued to blame the people, saying: “I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (verse 24).

Consider the kinds of excuses or blame-shifting we’ve seen so far. We can blame the weakness of a group of people, as Saul and Aaron did (maybe a team, a dorm, a family or a class). We can blame the fire that forged the golden calf, as Aaron did—blaming circumstances. We can blame the one giving the assignment—insisting they are “unfair.” Or we can blame the level of the task—it was too hard.

Wise Up

Now consider the wisdom on this subject in Proverbs: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Don’t try to cover your sin. Instead, God says accept the blame and move past it. Acknowledging mistakes is the first step to forsaking them. If you shift the blame, you’ll keep making those mistakes. If you think your problems are someone else’s fault, you will never change.

Proverbs 20:6 reads: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” Faithful here means truthful. It’s easy to find someone who will give a glowing review of what they’ve done, who papers over any wrongdoing. But someone who gives a truthfully accurate account of their actions? That’s rare!

“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits” (Proverbs 16:2). We tend to give ourselves a free pass on anything we do, but God determines whether our actions are right. He even knows our motives—what we meant by our actions. Proverbs 24:12 shows us that. The New English Translation renders it: “If you say, ‘But we did not know about this,’ won’t the one who evaluates hearts discern it? Won’t [He] repay each person according to his deeds?”

God is our Judge, and He knows our hearts. He has all the evidence: our actions plus our hidden intentions. That’s fair. Even we can be deceived by our own hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Our actions can deceive even us, but God knows our intentions and rewards us accordingly and fairly!

When You’re Not to Blame

Being mature doesn’t mean just accepting the blame for anything and everything. Part of a truthful evaluation is understanding where the blame lies—for example, what exactly is the devil’s part?

Satan the devil is the author of finding a “scapegoat” and shifting the blame. He will go into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3) convinced he’s the one who has been wronged! Presently he has been cast down to this Earth, and what is he doing? Revelation 12:10 says, “… the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” He’s trying to put certain blame on you, and sometimes that’s not the truth.

That passage in Revelation shows this accuser wants you to take the blame for things you are not responsible for.

On a national level, consider the reparations being demanded from our current Caucasian generation for the atrocities of its ancestors against minority races. That is about as logical as me blaming a Japanese toddler for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ezekiel 18:18-20 say the punishment of sin goes on the sinner. Sure, there are sins that have generational consequences. But God says He won’t punish a son just for having a father who cruelly oppressed others (verse 19) and that “the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (verse 20).

On a personal level, consider divorce. It is the knee-jerk reaction of children of divorce to blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. This is more likely a broadcast they’re getting from Satan the devil! If you are holding onto that—taking the blame for the failure of your parents’ marriage—please let that go. You can only own your mistakes. You can’t own the devil’s. You can’t own your great-great-great-grandparents’ mistakes. And you can’t own your divorced parents’ mistakes!

We commonly talk about how young people can’t get into God’s Kingdom on their parents’ righteousness; but conversely, God won’t keep our young people out because of their parents’ mistakes!

Satan would have you shift the blame for your mistakes, and the same wicked being would have you suffer the blame for others’ mistakes! God’s way is just.

Now if you suffer because someone else blames you for something you didn’t do, there is a way to handle that—just like the innocent Jesus Christ did, who paid the penalty for our sins.

Peter wrote that if you endure grief “wrongfully,” then that is thankworthy (1 Peter 2:19). “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (verse 20). “Acceptable” here means pleasing. Even that verse shows how important it is to accept responsibility—to clean up your own mess. But if someone blames you, and you didn’t do anything wrong (and you take it patiently), then that is pleasing to God because that was Jesus Christ’s example: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (verses 21-24).

Now there are biblical examples of people who were not in the wrong and who gave a proper defense of their actions—when it was appropriate. But God is observing our attitude and how patiently we suffer these kinds of things.

Your Responsibility

Consider again the idea of your parents’ successes or failures. Back when Israel first wanted a king, they received the blame-shifting Saul as king because they blamed their problems on the Prophet Samuel’s sons (see 1 Samuel 8:1-5). As righteous as Samuel was, his sons were evil. One of those sons’ names was Joel. You can see from the Old Testament genealogies that Joel had a son named Heman, who became one of David’s chief musical aids—who prophesied with his harp! (see 1 Chronicles 6:33; 25:1). He became a powerful asset to David’s throne—following his grandfather’s success—in spite of his evil father’s failure! And, as for the generation that followed Heman, 1 Chronicles 25:5 says he had 14 sons and three daughters—all of whom were trained musicians who performed at the temple. That implies they had musical ability (rather than just getting the gig on Daddy’s reputation). Heman looked to his grandfather, forsook his father’s evil legacy, and started a new one with his own children!

Ezekiel 14 makes a similar point: In these last days, men like Noah, Daniel and Job would only be able to “deliver but their own souls by their righteousness” (verse 14). The addition that follows is sobering: “… they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate” (verse 16). This warning is repeated in verses 18 and 20.

As our Ezekiel book states: “Even great spiritual leaders like Noah, Daniel and Job can’t save us. God wants to know what you individually will do. Can you follow Christ? He wants you to always look to Him. … We are living in a prophetic time when God is revealing our individual dedication.”

We’re not guaranteed success just because of our parents. Samuel’s sons weren’t. Right now, your parents are basically your ride to services. At some point, you will have to get yourself to God’s Sabbath services. Your future is based on your choices.

We do know, positively, that there will be “sons and daughters” who choose wisely. “Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it” (verse 22).

Take Ownership

Plenty of verses tell us God renders unto us according to our deeds. He rewards us according to our works. That is fair. We have to grow up and live life knowing we’ll be held accountable for what we do.

The last chapter of the Bible includes this lesson. Revelation 22:12 reads: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

If you want to grow up, then put away childish things. Put away blame-shifting. Be mature, and own your actions!