Continuing with this theme (being without excuse for sin) we can consider the significance of the content of Ezekiel 18. God sent the prophet to address an inaccurate perspective expressed in a proverb, “The father’s have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This essentially expresses the idea that children are suffering for not simply because of the sins of their fathers. This misconception amounted to an accusation upon God and His system of justice. Ezekiel proceeds to indicate that the moral character and choices of one person (father or son) does not establish (cause) the moral character, choices and accountability of another person (father or son). Consequently, the claim that one’s moral character and accountability is based on that which someone else had done is unfounded and aggressively denied by God. He clearly proclaims, “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). We learn in this passage that it is possible to overcome environmental influence regardless of what the source, including parental, which is likely the most powerful of all influences (good or bad).
The principle established in this passage of Scripture must be held firmly in mind as we develop a doctrine of sin. Any doctrine that offers people an excuse for their sinful choices, behavior and character is not Biblical. Any system of thought that blames someone else for the choices, behavior and character of any other particular person, is not Biblical. Each person is accountable for the sin they produce.
Influence and Cause
It is important to clarify the difference between the effect of an influence and that of a cause. Influence is that which encourages us to act or react a certain way. However, we have the power to yield to or resist an influence. Our resulting moral accountability and character comes as a result of our chosen (carefully or carelessly) response to an influence. On the other hand, a cause produces action regardless of willful, moral cooperation.
Illustrate Influence and Cause
If someone were to communicate a vast amount of information about the hateful and horrible things some else had said and done regarding you and your family, such information acts as an influence on your decisions regarding the person of whom they speak. If you choose to get into their house, waiting for them to come through the door at which time you shoot them, you are accountable for the shooting regardless of the fact that someone else gave you information that inspired such behavior.
Conversely, if someone knocked you unconscious, dragged you into someone’s house, put your finger on the trigger of a gun, pulling the trigger with your finger, this goes beyond influence and enters the realm of causation. In such a bizarre scenario, the unconscious individual whose finger was used to pull the trigger is not guilty of a crime, the one actually causing the gun to be fired is morally accountable and guilty for the action.