What follows is extreme, unsatisfying and disturbing. When considering human behavior, it is common to search for a cause. This is one of the grand pursuits of psychology, secular and religious. Proceeding, allow me to suggest a distinction between a cause, an influence and a reason. In addition, in what follows, I will limit our consideration to the specific human behavior known as sin.
An influence is that to which one must respond. It does not determine nor force a particular outcome without such a response. An influence is not causative in nature. Every day we are bombarded by a wide range of influences. Some are good and some are bad. A bad influence does not determine that the one exposed to such influence will do that which is bad. In the same way, a good influence does not determine that the one exposed to such influence will do that which is good. In response to an influence, one must choose a response. Such a response requires the employment of moral faculties. The response must be chosen and for that which is chosen, one is morally responsible and accountable. To emphasize the strength of my opening statement, many, at this point will ask, “But what causes a person to choose what he or she chooses?” This question is often prompted by ignorance of the nature of moral agency. There is a very strong tendency to view everything through the realm of physical law or a law of causation. The very nature of moral agency and moral law is that it is a realm sufficiently void of causative factors. Surely, there are moral influences and there are reasons why people make the moral choice they make, but it ceases to be a moral choice once it enters the realm of causation. Philosophers who are uncomfortable with such thought, largely determinists and, more specifically, compatibilists, have created a meaningless phrase, “causal influence.” This is related to my opening statement, it is common for people to search for a cause.
A cause makes something happen. It is an ingredient that determines the course or the outcome. When we look for the cause of a person’s behavior, we are looking for that which made him / her do what he / she did. This is a denial of moral agency, moral choice and moral accountability – with which many people are simply uncomfortable.
A reason is not a cause but refers to factors that were influential in the choice a person makes. Possibly sounding contradictory, one’s reason might be unreasonable. When it comes to the issue of reason, the bottom-line is preference. A person makes a choice based on the idea that he / she prefers one thing more than another. Such preference is not the cause of one’s choice as the process of arriving at one’s preference is itself, a moral process. When we enter the realm of preference, we are beginning to consider ideas related to love. What one prefers or loves might not be the most reasonable thing to prefer or love. Emotional factors and character issues (the amount of selfishness one has embraced) are integral ingredients in the process of establishing preferences. However, each step along the way involves many levels and degrees of choice. This process can be tedious and intellectually focused or it can be careless and emotionally driven. At some point, we arrive at our preferences and the choices we make reflect what preferences we have chosen (carefully or carelessly). Regardless of what one might say, those who choose to complicate their lives and ruin relationships with drugs or alcohol prefer this over pleasing God (or spouse, or parents, etc.) Specifically, when it comes to the issue of sin (that which I stated I would ultimately consider), it is unreasonable to exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Ro.1:25), but that is what many people choose to do. Prior to making this statement from Ro.1:25, the apostle Paul declares, “…they are without excuse” (Ro.1:20). The phrase “without excuse” is from the word anapologētos that infers unreasonable, without legitimate reason. If we are without excuse, this indicates that there can be no cause, for if one’s behavior is caused by a force beyond one’s control, there is a good excuse for doing as one did.
This line of thought actually surfaces in another passage in which people have often sought to provide the cause of human sin as Paul simply states, “…death spread to all men, because all sinned…” Though it is common for Christian teachers to locate the cause of human sin in a choice Adam made, notice that Paul does not state why all sinned, he simple states that all sinned. Why? Because they chose to do so. Though knowing God, they did not honor Him as God (Ro.1:21). Though having truth, they chose to suppress it (Ro.1:20). Something other than truth, knowledge of God and honoring God as God was selfishly and foolishly preferred. What caused such behavior? Nothing, it was a moral choice for which one is morally accountable and is without excuse. Notice the important language Paul uses in this regard – “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Ro.1:22, 23, 25). This language expresses the moral process of producing sin.
The answer, unsatisfying to most, regarding why people sin is, though there are many reasons behind a person’s choice, a person chooses to do what he / she chooses to do because he / she chooses to do it. There is no cause. This has been referred to as the incipiency of the will as a noumenal concept.
Preferring the idea of cause to escape moral accountability, Christian theologians have attempted to locate such ideas in Scripture and secular psychologists, sociologists and philosophers have attempted to find deterministic cause in a variety of options (environmental, chemical, genetic, etc.). Welcome to the human race. “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” Choose carefully.
 From a Biblical perspective, we are told, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil.2:3-4). This is very fundamental moral instruction. We are morally responsible for establishing the perspective from which we make further moral choices.