Nature or nurture?
That is the question often argued by psychiatrists concerning the predominate influence in shaping personality and creating behaviors. Those that argue, “nature,” would have us believe that we behave in certain ways primarily because of genetics, and we cannot help but be who we are. Those that argue, “nurture,” argue that we behave as we do primarily because of our environment, including factors such as diet, the way we were raised, and our culture.
Theologically, the question also has some bearing. For instance, in relation to the subject of sin – do men sin because they are born sinful, or because they have been influenced by their environment to sin? Or is there some other factor at work?
There are many who would argue that we inherit our sinful nature, and we sin primarily because of that inherited nature. Advocates of this view point to the poetical wording of Psalm 51:5, as David laments his own sinful behavior: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” However, other less poetical passages categorically state that children do not inherit either sin nor guilt.
Concerning guilt, God states unequivocally, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20; NKJV) In the rest of this same chapter, God speak at length about how a wicked man might have a righteous son, and a righteous man might have a wicked son.
In a similar fashion, Jesus famously said concerning very young children, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:4) It seems hard to imagine such a turn of phrase being used of those that were irredeemably depraved.
Sin is not something we are born with, but is instead something that we learn to do. Sin is, in the Bible, always an action. It is a behavior, not an inherited trait. For instance, the Bible says, “Whoever commits sin, commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness;” that is, it is the breaking of God’s law. (1 John 3:4) We also read, “To him who knows to do good, but does not do it, it is sin;” that is sin is a failure to comply with God’s commands. (James 4:17)
We might notice that in the prophecy concerning the virgin birth of Christ, we also read, “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.” (Isaiah 7:16; NKJV) God is telling us that young children do not know how to make a proper choice, and therefore cannot sin. They must learn such things.
So it would seem the Bible comes down on the nurture side of the argument. Indeed, we are taught in God’s word, “train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it;” as well as, “fathers, bring your children up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.” (Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4)
Except, perhaps not fully.
Because there is a third alternative.
Remember again that Ezekiel 18 speaks of righteous men having wicked sons, and wicked men having righteous sons. Consider Adam and Eve, who most certainly, in the garden, did not have a sinful nature, nor had they been taught to sin. Rather they were presented with a choice. An argument on either side of that choice was made. God presented the rule and the consequences. Satan argued God was lying. Eve, and then Adam, chose to sin, with neither nature nor nurture involved. (cf. Genesis 3)
Notice again that, concerning the Christ child, God spoke of Him “choosing the good.” Likewise, men, who know better, can choose to do evil. Judas Iscariot had the same training as the other of the twelve apostles. He heard the same teaching from Jesus, had the same opportunities, yet still chose to ignore that training for the sake of money.
The Bible speaks quite clearly of individuals from the same family being on different sides of the Spiritual battle, one fighting for Christ, the other against (cf. Matthew 10:21).
All of which speaks to the third possibility. In the end, you cannot blame your sin on either your genetics nor your environment. Sin, like righteousness, is always a personal choice, and we must take responsibility for our own decisions and actions.
If you are ready to learn more about God’s will for you, and how to live pleasing to Him in Christ, the church of Christ invites you to worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.