In recent weeks I’ve heard a few people make the comment, “I was born this way,” or “This is just who I am” when explaining their behavior – mostly their bad behavior. Obviously in our culture today, “born this way” has significant overtones resonating in the LGBT community. Today I want to talk about the way we are born, what is innate about us, and what God calls us to given these realities.
First let me say that I think we are born this way. That’s not to say I know one way or another whether your behavior is innate or not; I’m a liberal arts major not a scientist. But I know what scripture says so let’s take a look:
King David writes in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
John writes in 1 John 1:10, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
And we all remember Paul telling us in Romans 3:23, ”For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
In our theology as Christians we concede that sin entered the world through man and was “imputed” or transferred to every man ever born. In other words, everyone is born sinful. But what exactly does that mean?
From the Calvinist perspective it means we are all “depraved” and perverted in our actions, unable to do the right thing in our fallen state. I think that’s an harsh way to put it but pretty accurate. I prefer a little softer language that says the same thing. As fallen creatures we crave in our inner most being – in our sinful nature – to do things that rebel against our creator. That’s why Paul talks about the war in our “members” or body with part of us wanting to do what God calls us to and the other part fighting against that!
I love Paul’s honesty in Romans 7 15-24, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
He continues, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!”
So yes, we are born this way – sinful, disobedient to God’s laws, struggling and fighting against ourselves and our sin nature to not do what we don’t want to do but finding we do it anyway. Ugh.
The question, then, is can we do anything about our sinful nature and should we even care about doing anything about our sinful nature if, indeed, we were born this way? As a Christian the answer is a resounding, “Of course you should do something about it!” But what and how?
I’m blessed that I have friends in just about every spectrum of social, economic, and political camp you can imagine. I have gay friends that are convinced they were born that way. I have angry friends that mistreat others who believe they are products of their environment and cannot change. I have non-believing friends that act more charitably and gracefully than many Christians who were just born gentle and caring creatures. I have friends who have cheated on their spouse, unable to control themselves because they had an innate need for sex with more than one partner (which, by the way, the scientific research bears out). And I have friends that were involved in “alternative” lifestyles of some sort (sex, drugs, rock-n-roll) but somehow reversed how they were born and came around to a mainstream lifestyle. I even have atheist friends who found Christ even though they were adamant no such thing could or would ever happen. So what does it all mean?
Here’s what I teach based on scripture: on our own and in our own strength and discipline we cannot possibly fight our impulses. If you have a same-sex attraction you will act on it; if you “identify” as an opposite gender you will act on it; if you are unsatisfied with one sexual partner you will act on it; if you feel you need to lie, cheat, steal, etc… you will act on it. If you need to protect yourself by controlling others you will act on it. If you cannot control your anger you will act on that anger and abuse others. If you crave perverted things you will act on them. In short, without some type of intervening force in your life you will act on your innate impulses even if you are like Paul and don’t want to.
Now today we don’t like to call those things sin because it’s unpleasant, politically incorrect, and just down right Blank-Phobic (you fill in the blank) and intolerant. But here’s your news flash – you don’t get to define sin for yourself or others; only God gets to define sin and friends we’re all sinning whether you accept that or not.
So how do we not act on our impulses? First, you have to agree that you don’t have the right to act on every impulse you have! Your motto cannot be, “If it feels good do it!” Instead you have to HATE that impulse and recognize that you don’t want to rebel against God! Then you must rely on the power of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to fight that impulse because again, you have no ability to fight in on your own. But that’s why we’re told we are “new creations” when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior – as new creations we can indeed fight those impulses through the power of Jesus!
I have a friend who is an alcoholic with whom I spent about a year counseling. He is a genius – literally – extremely smart and well versed in scripture. He is a guy that so wants to do what God wants him to, but he has one problem: he doesn’t hate his sin. In fact, he LOVES drinking. He actually doesn’t want Jesus to help him with his impulses to drink because he doesn’t mind the consequences of his actions. Do you know anyone like that? Is it possible for Jesus to heal that? Of course not. And that’s the crux of things.
In our “All is permissible” society today people love their sin and society embraces sin as okay, attacking those who would call anything sin. Billy Graham has a great line when he says, “Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone – except God.” And that’s the problem.
If I am intellectually honest, I can’t speak for anyone else’s condition but my own. I know that I have things about me that feel innate and are rebellion against God. I also know that I have chosen to follow Jesus Christ so I have to call sin what it is – sin – and fight alongside the Holy Spirit not to act on it even though I fail daily. I know I also have to go to God and confess when I rebel against Him and seek His forgiveness which He always gives because He loves me, cares for me, and made me knowing full well what a miserable failure I would be at all this.
However, if my friends are intellectually honest with themselves they know deep down that when they embrace their impulses they’re doing the wrong thing. That’s why you all feel so guilty, shameful, unhappy, unfulfilled, and empty all the time. You’re trying to fill that void in your soul with your impulses instead of the only thing that can fill it – Jesus Christ!
Were you born this way? Yes, we are all born sinners in rebellion against God, selfishly choosing to satisfy our desires by acting on our ungodly impulses. Should we live this way? Only if you want to be unfulfilled for the rest of your life, trying to meet a need God put in your heart for Him but instead trying to meet that need with sin.
Many of my evangelical friends approach this topic from the eternity standpoint, arguing that if you don’t turn from your ways you’re choosing hell over God. I get that and it’s correct. But my point is more practical in my mind: Do you really want to live out your days on this earth like this, a complete slave to your impulses, or would you rather be filled with the love, caring, blessings, and provision that God has for you since the beginning of time that He’s wanted to give to you since He knew your name? The choice seems like a no-brainer…no matter how you were born.
I think it is unhelpful to assign by default evil tendencies that you deem them that way. It dissects a real person into little issues that you can define and deny. We can refuse to treat a person shamefully if we insist on seeing people as they are, but never as issues.
Hi – As Christians we actually don’t assign those things, God does, which is the point. People struggle with God because He has absolutes when it comes to sin and morality that honestly we just don’t like. I always joke that if I wrote the Bible it would read quite differently! But the fact is as Christians we are sinful as God defines it. We may not feel that way about ourselves if we don’t believe in sin but it doesn’t make it less true in God’s eyes, who is the one who counts. Lastly, from the Christian perspective it’s not about dissecting people, it’s about making people be honest with themselves so they can find Jesus and then be found “not guilty” through Jesus’ act of love on the cross. Difficult concepts, I know, but no less true because they’re hard.