Genetic Predispositions (Part 2) August 24 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

In Part 1 (July 27), we discussed how research has been conducted into associations between our genetic makeup and various predispositions or “propensities.” Read back through that blog for a little more background, if you haven’t already. We also discussed how scientists are claiming that many weaknesses stem from “genetic predispositions.” As Christians, we should not be surprised by this. The Bible has already told us (thousands of years ahead of current science) that, through Adam, we are all genetically predisposed to sin (Romans 5:12-21).

Paul acknowledged the weakness of his own flesh (Romans 7:10-12), and Jesus highlighted to the disciples the continuing battle between the flesh and the spirit (Matthew 26:41). Peter warned that these are serious battles, when he urged believers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). There is a spiritual war going on within us, which we can all acknowledge, because we have lost some of those flesh vs. spirit battles. But herein also lies the hope that the world’s philosophies cannot offer.

Consider Jesus’ disciples. From what we know of them, they had very different personalities from one another. If there is a predisposition for impulsiveness, Peter had it (e.g. John 13:36-37, where Peter declared “I will lay down my life for You,” after which Jesus spoke of how Peter would deny Him). If there is an inclination toward skepticism, Thomas had it (John 20:24-27). If there is a propensity toward weakness of faith, Philip had it (John 14:9 – “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip?”)

But Jesus gave all the disciples the same commands. There are many commands that Jesus gave to the disciples, but here are some examples:

  • If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15).
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)
  • Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you ….” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Given your outspoken nature, I’m going to excuse you for what comes out of your mouth.” When Jesus said “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” (Matthew 15:11) he was speaking to Peter just like everyone else. Peter could not excuse his propensity for loose lips with “that’s just the way I am.”

And so it is with us today. We come from many different backgrounds, and have different genetic makeups. Some of us have come from difficult family environments, destitute circumstances, no knowledge of the Bible, seemingly without hope. Yet God’s Word speaks to all of us in the same way. We may, in fact, have weaknesses in certain areas that make it more challenging for us to obey, whether that be from our upbringing, our environment, or our genetics. Some of us, like Peter, may even have denied the Lord for a time. But as we respond to the Lord, He molds us and shapes us into what He wants us to be. He is able to use us in ways we never imagined possible, with the credit going to Him.

As we look at Peter, with his impulsive “speak first, ask questions later” approach, God took his weakness and molded him into a vibrant instrument for His glory. He took this impulsive man who attacked the high priest’s slave (John 18:10) and turned him into a humble but powerful spokesperson for the Lord. You can see that lessons about his mouth had registered when he wrote: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, or was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…” (1 Peter 2:21-23). He had become an example of and a spokesperson for controlling his tongue and humbly serving God and others.  Were the disciples without hope because science had not yet discovered their genetic predispositions? Of course not! Nor are we without hope today, with or without scientific research on genetics.

The lesson for us is this. We are not doomed by our genetics to a life of discouragement or despair. Our walk with Jesus is not limited by our weaknesses. Instead, we can take those weaknesses or circumstances of life, whatever they are, and through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, continue to serve, encourage, and build up the body of Christ, giving glory to God for what He has done. This is summed up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31:

“… but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus ….”

When we see someone who has overcome a difficult childhood to be a vibrant servant of God, we rejoice and give God the glory. When we see someone who has been transformed from a life of crime or addiction to a life of loving and serving others, we give praise to the Lord. If there are weaknesses that have been overcome, whether genetic or otherwise, this is a source of thanksgiving and giving credit to our Creator. In this sense, a genetic predisposition or weakness can be an asset, because in having victory over it, the world can even more clearly see God’s work in us. Paul acknowledged this when he wrote, concerning his “thorn in the flesh”:

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

There will be many scientific discoveries about genetics in the years to come. Some of these may be related to health, while others may be associated with certain propensities we have as humans. There is no conflict with the Scriptures here. These discoveries will just be confirming what the Word of God has been telling us for centuries – that we have weaknesses and propensities. We knew this all along. What we need to remember, though, is that God wants to display His strength through our weakness. While there may be discoveries and medications that can be used to improve human health, the truths of God’s Word and our relationship to Him are the only true “cures” for our human weaknesses.

The Scriptures also give us practical guidance on how to have victory despite whatever weaknesses we may have or how difficult the circumstances may be. If we are concerned that we have some sort of genetic predisposition, the solution is not to dwell on that predisposition, but on the same commands that the disciples had, and that have been preserved in the Bible for us to read today. We’ll look into some examples of that next time.

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Steve Smith