Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 17, 1961
NUMBER 15, PAGE 3,15b

Are You An Habitual Criminal?

J. D. Tant, Portales, New Mexico

Such a lesson as this may not be happily received by all, but it is based upon an almost universal need, and should be considered whether you agree with the conclusions or not. Our defense for taking the time for such a lesson is found in Titus 3:1, as Paul says, "Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready unto every good work...."

Your reaction to the title question was probably a firm denial. You look upon yourself as an uptight citizen, certainly not a common crook or thug. But the definition of the words "habitual" and "criminal" may change your conception of yourself if strictly applied. "Criminal" is defined as "one who has committed an offense punishable by law." "Habitual" is described as "pertaining to, constituting, on resulting in from habit; usual, ordinary, inveterate." Therefore, on the basis of these definitions, many who are called Christians are actually habitual criminals — those whose usual and ordinary practice is to commit an offense punishable by law — as we intend to point out in this lesson.

The Lord holds us responsible for the lives of others. The command "Thou shalt not kill" is familiar to all of us. Cain was his brother's keeper, whether he wanted to be or not.

Yet we find approximately 40,000 persons killed each year in automobile accidents. This is more, per year, than were killed during the Korean conflict. It is my contention that most of these deaths could be technically described as manslaughter. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol made a survey of the causes of traffic deaths. The survey revealed that 85% of the deaths were due to human failures. Speeding was listed as the greatest single factor. Following this cause, in order, were failure to observe the rules of the road, drinking while driving, and ignorance of safe driving practices. From this we can see that lawlessness was the basis of the three greatest causes of highway deaths.

Why is it that people act this way? Why such a disregard for human life and civil law? Fundamentally, I believe it can be traced to what has been called a "split morality." Many drivers are moral and upright in business, social, family and community relationships, but when they get behind the wheel of a car, lose all sense of decency. The prevailing attitude then becomes "How much can I get away with without getting caught?"

There is also a split morality of the public at large. Great concern is expressed over the tragic slaying of an innocent child by some lawless individual. But general apathy is shown if the same child is killed in an automobile accident which was likewise caused by lawlessness; for such is common-place, and accepted.

Furthermore, it seems that our basic selfishness shows up more behind the wheel of a car. The driver often thinks primarily of self, and is not willing to yield the right of way to another. We should apply the exhortation of Paul, as he told the Philippians to do "nothing through faction or through vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others." (Phil. 2:3-4)

Is there any defense given for such practices? Some stand on the fact that "The officers allow so much leeway over the speed limit." There is no comfort in this. The police give the benefit of the doubt to the motorist to allow for mechanical errors. We are driving imperfect machines, and that is taken into consideration. But this does not change the law. A fellow once told me that he was justified in speeding because a technicality in the state law made it difficult to enforce. He was referring to Texas laws, where a technicality sometimes enables a motorist to "beat the rap" if he can prove he had his car under control, even though exceeding the speed limit. But I have noticed the signs that greet travelers in the state. The signs are marked "Maximum Legal Speed Limit." If that be true, then we violate the law when we exceed the posted limit whether the law can be easily enforced or not.

We might compare such a case to Texas laws concerning murder and manslaughter. It is against the law to shoot another person except in self defense. But if Joe shoots John because John is running around with Joe's wife, conviction is difficult, foil the courts oftentimes will not bring such an individual to trial. Does this make such killing legal? Will God excuse us just as the courts may do? Certainly not!

We must remember that "Thou shalt not kill" applies to drivers as well as to anybody else. A person who kills with his car while breaking the law is just as guilty of manslaughter as if he had pulled the trigger of a gun.

We must also strive to put off selfishness when someone inconveniences us while on the highway. Instead of being so concerned about our rights, we should "overcome evil with good," rather than letting the evil overcome us.

The Bible clearly points out that when we break man's law, we have broken the law of God. "Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God.

And law-breakers could hardly qualify as the "light of the world," and the "salt of the earth." Do we suppose that men will be caused to glorify God as the result of our disobeying civil law which does not conflict with God's law? Could we qualify as ensamples "to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity?" (1 Tim. 4:12 )

It would be well for us to remember the word of Christ in Matthew 7:13: "Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby." Certainly the way to Hell is easy and comfortable, and many are travelling this road in their fine, air-conditioned automobiles. Their fuel is supplied when they speed, litter the highways, run stop-signs, and otherwise show their contempt of God's laws by their failure to heed God-ordained civil law.

Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment .... Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience' sake." (Rom. 13:1-5) We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that our sin in such matters is small and insignificant. James points out that "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Not if thou dost not commit adultery, but killest, thou art become a transgressor of the law." (James 2:10-11) And who can deny that "Let every soul be in subjection...." is a part of the law? When we transgress it, we stand condemned.

We do further disservice when we, by our actions, encourage our children and others to disregard and disrespect law and authority. Matthew 18:5-6 shows it will not go well with us when we cause little children to stumble.