Is it really true that guilt is the result of one's personal choice and is not the result of our birth as children of Adam? Does the Bible teach that sin and guilt and condemnation come from choice, not from the fact that we are born into the human family beset with the inherited results of sin?
It is a knowledge of God's law that makes us sinners in God's sight. We sin when we know what God's will is and choose not to obey God.
What caused sin for the Jews of Christ's day?
"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin....If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father." John 15:22,24
It was when the light (Jesus) came to them that they were counted guilty of sin. Because of their knowledge of Jesus and what He had done, they were responsible for the way they related to Him.
Jesus is telling the people of His day that sin is not counted as guilt when there is no opportunity to know the truth. The Pharisees were certainly born with the same fallen natures with which we are born, but this did not automatically make them sinners. Jesus is making sin and guilt dependent on knowledge and understanding. What changes evil and sins of ignorance into personal sin and guilt is light available and understood. When we understand God's will and choose to disobey, we are guilty sinners in the sight of God.
Notice again that knowledge and sin and tied closely together. If we do not know what is right, the concept of sin is nonexistent.
Definition A (sin as nature) places sin in the drawing and enticing of our fallen nature, while Definition B (sin as choice) places sin in the choice to yield to the drawing and enticing process. The drawing or pull of the fallen nature is temptation, not sin.
A very clear and simple illustration of this text is the following: "The sin of evilspeaking begins with the cherishing of evil thoughts....An impure thought tolerated, an unholy desire cherished, and the soul is contaminated, its integrity compromised....His own consent must first be gained; the soul must purpose the sinful act before passion can dominate over reason or iniquity triumph over conscience." Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 177
It is not the impure thought or unholy desire itself that makes us sinners. These are part of our fallen natures, which we inherit and can do nothing to prevent. It is the cherishing and tolerating of these pulls of the fallen nature that constitute sin.
Another statement is just as clear. "If light comes, and that light is set aside or rejected, then comes condemnation and the frown of God; but before the light comes, there is no sin, for there is no light for them to reject." Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 116. "There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt, and no other is defiled by their influence." Review and Herald, March 27, 1888.
We are not sinners because we have these thoughts and feelings as a result of inheriting a fallen nature. We are only contaminated with guilt when we choose to cherish these thoughts.
How does God deal with sins of ignorance?
"The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Acts 17:30
All of us have participated in wrong things when we didn't know they were wrong. We have all broken God's law ignorantly. God, in His great mercy, does not hold us guilty for this. He does not have to forgive us for these sins of ignorance, but He chooses to wink at or overlook these, because our hearts were not in rebellion against Him.
Conclusion: The concept of sin and guilt and condemnation applies to chosen rebellion against God, just as in the Garden of Eden. God does not hold us responsible for inheriting bad equipment. He is interested in the state of our mind and attitude, not in the defects of our nature. Sin is all about rebellion and choices, not about inheritance and equipment.
There are two concepts that do not work well together--inevitability and responsibility. If sin is inevitable--because of inheriting a fallen nature--then I am not responsible for it. It is someone else's fault and problem. However, if sin is my own choice, then I alone am responsible, and must deal with it directly, rather than casting blame on someone else.
Sin and guilt reside only within those higher faculties of the mind responsible for choosing evil, not in the lower nature which suffers the effects of natural law and are a part of the earth's cycle of sin. Sin, at its root, is self-love. Thus sin is always determined by our motives, in the choice to put self first. Sin is the choice to separate from God by putting self first. Sin is the choice to cherish evil. Sin is the choice to remain ignorant of God's will. Sin is the choice to be careless of our abilities and responsibilities.