Rights and Duties: Two Sides of One Coin

How many times have we heard someone shout "that's against my rights" or " Hey, I know my rights." The political climate we live in talks a lot about who has a right and how these rights come up from either their humanity or legislation. A human right might be the right to be free whilst a governmental right is the one to vote in elections. With all rights we should ask about their origin and legitimacy.

But one key aspect of rights that legal theorists have spoken about is how every right is inextricably linked to a duty or responsibility. They use a particular analogy; that rights and duties are like two sides of one coin. And that although they are distinct, rights and duties are connected. In studying this we can see how God also establishes this in His Word.

The Rights and Duties Relation

We should expound the concept that rights and duties are interconnected in a practical sense. We can think of our rights as a bubble around us that is protected by the law. Even human rights are usually protected by legislation even if their origin is not from the legislature. The duty of others then is not to violate that right and break the bubble of the other person; even in the name of their right.

This is something that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke understood when they said we all go after what is good and have a right to personal property. We can't just invade others' rights because of our own. We have a duty in relation to other people's rights. But that standard also has an implication towards the self. We ourselves cannot negate our own rights by violating them. An example of this would be that we have the right to live freely. We can violate those rights by being involved with and committing criminal activity, whereby we surrender our rights to freedom.

Grace and Sin Parallel

Just like in the natural, God also has a Kingdom that grants legal rights to its citizens. What allows us to access these rights is grace. Grace gives us access to what man had lost; communion with God, knowledge of His will, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do the will of God. Grace seems all good and as the license to many special privileges, but read what Paul says:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase By no means! Rom. 6:1-2

Paul also shows us that the rights we have by grace, like forgiveness and the restoration of God's will for man does not mean we can abuse the rights. We have a duty to live in a way worthy of the calling of God. This goes back to Adam in Genesis. Adam had many rights in the garden: he could eat from all the trees, he had access to God, and he could live in paradise forever. But there was also a responsibility to tend the garden and not eat of one tree.


In the present age, many people fight for their rights without remembering that each right is not unlimited and a license to do what we like. This is the same relationship we see with grace. When we break our duties and responsibilities, by either violating someone else's right or jeopardizing our own, we instantaneously forfeit our rights.

That means that in our social life and especially under the rights we have by grace we should live in a responsible way. In the words of the great Uncle Ben

"With great power, comes great responsibility."