Depravity, Sin, Guilt – an Illustration

‘Human beings display a tendency toward self-indulgence, evil and sin, a state in which one finds it easier to disobey than to obey God. Guilt is not based on having such a tendency nor does the tendency cause one to sin. This tendency is related to the strong influence of “fleshly” desire but, before one is guilty of sin, one must yield to this influence. The increase of this influence can be seen as physical depravity. Physical depravity is involuntary and, therefore, has no moral character. In a passage that addresses human struggle with this tendency, the apostle Paul states, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Ro.6:16).

            An Illustration

Following is a lengthy illustration to help us see that causation cannot produce moral guilt. One’s accountability must be based in a voluntary response, albeit to a significant influence (or not).

Many years ago I traveled a particular road on my way to my job. The road bordered a housing development on one side and a stretch of wooded land on the other, which bordered a highway. The speed limit on this particular road was 25 mph due to its proximity to the development. However, it would have been very easy and felt quite comfortable to travel 40 mph on this road. Though I had a strong tendency to drive faster than 25 mph, I consciously chose to adhere to the prescribed speed – something I was capable of doing (or capable of violating). My own impulse was an influence to drive faster but it did not cause me to do so. Consequently, had I driven past a police officer (the law), he would have had no legitimate reason to stop and fine me. If, however, I had given into my urge, increased my speed to 40 mph and driven past a police officer, he would have been justified in stopping and fining me.

Continuing with this scenario, let’s consider an added influence beyond that of my own urges. Imagine a driver behind me who wants to travel 40 mph while I am observing the 25 mph speed limit. Though some might respond to this influence by slowing down to irritate the person on their bumper, I could have reacted to the influence exerted by such a fellow traveler by increasing my speed. Of course, this influence does not cause me to go faster but, combined with my own urge to drive faster, there is greater pressure to do so. If I maintain the 25 mph speed and drive past a police officer, he would have had no legitimate reason to stop and fine me. If, however, I had given into the influence of the driver behind me, increased my speed to 40 mph and driven past a police officer, he would have been justified in stopping and fining me. This is due to the fact that I voluntarily yielded to the influence and am, therefore, guilty.

Let’s take it one step further. Imagine that the driver became so impatient that he put his front bumper against my rear bumper and began pushing my car down the road at 40 mph. At this point, I am no longer under an influence to which I respond voluntarily but am under strict causation. The fact that I am violating the speed limit is due to no willing cooperation on my part. This fact changes everything. If we were to pass a police officer under this condition, understanding the reality of the situation, he would have no legitimate reason for fining me for speeding but, rather, the one who is causing me to travel at this speed is the guilty party.

“The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (Eze.18:20)’

source: Mick Wolfe (comprehensium).


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