After reading Prof. Christensen’s article on How Will You Measure Your Life?, I’m compelled to share one of the key elements in the article on the marginal cost of sinning and create the chart below to help you see.
When I decided to move to Adelaide in 2003, I decided to take a year off corporate life and studied Applied Economics so I know about the concept of diminishing returns and marginal cost. In my current research at the School of Marketing, one of the elements of my research is the impact of seeing a single advertisement when you are in the right frame of mind to make a purchase – one exposure is typically all that is needed for the consumer to decide. The impact of the next exposures have diminishing returns.
So who would have thought that sinning also follows a similar pattern?
In the article, Prof. Christensen mentions about his strong faith and his refusal to play basketball on Sundays when he was studying in Oxford University. Even when the championship game was on Sunday, he refused to play and gave in to the “just this once” principle.
Although the marginal cost of doing something wrong seems so deceitfully low, the moment that you give in, you are dragged further below, as you rationalise your action and start the pattern of “I’ll stop after this one!” as you go further and further downwards. I remember when I was a young boy of taking some money out of the till from my parents’ shop to buy books (I was quite a bookworm when I was a wee lad!). The first time I gave in to that sin, my heart raced, I was terrified in case I was discovered and I thought of the punishment that I could have got. The subsequent ones felt easier – I had let myself fall into temptation with the diminishing marginal cost to my conscience and honour. The moment I committed that first one, I had let myself on the slippery slope. It’s a similar story to whatever sin that we have committed – the first one feels the hardest, the most expensive cost to bear – and subsequent ones feel easier as we rationalise our actions until our conscience is numbed and we start losing our love of God.
I wish I had followed Prof. Christensen’s example – of sticking to the Biblical principles and not allowing myself to be lured down. I can still make that commitment everyday, of climbing up again and rebuilding my conscience in every aspect of my life, with God’s help. So the next time you (and I) are tempted to do something (‘just this once!’), remember, the first one carries the biggest marginal cost to your conscience and cause you to fall the greatest!
In his article Prof. Christensen writes, “In many ways that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed. The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.”
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” Revelations 2:5 (NKJV)