The Miracle and Meaning of DNA, Part 3 April 29 2017

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

In Part 1 of this three-part DNA series we began looking at the implications of DNA testing with respect to the physical part of the person.  We provided some background on DNA and introduced three aspects of DNA for which to explore biblical truths: health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We covered the first part of ancestry in Part 2, and will finish up ancestry and stewardship here.

In Part 2, we addressed the possible surprises of learning about your ancestry. Perhaps there was a notorious criminal or someone who cheated the rest of the family out of their inheritance. Perhaps someone in your family history achieved something “great.” We do not need to be either prideful or ashamed of our lineage because God does not favor or reject us based on our lineage or someone else's accomplishments or sins. We are individually accountable to Him.

We ended Part 2 by recognizing that, while cultures may have long-established prejudices, God says that believers are all part of the same spiritual family.  No ancestry, nationality, race, gender, or age stands in the way of our having fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and the church should be the ultimate example of this principle in action.

What About So-Called “Inherited Problems?"

We have seen in this age of technology that DNA testing is able to reveal our racial/ethnic background quite accurately. While there is nothing wrong with learning about our genetic background, it can introduce questions that may be temptations in our thought life.

Upon learning (or confirming) our ethnic heritage, we could use this information as an excuse for various sins. For example, some ethnicities make claims to (or are stereotyped as) having a propensity to anger. We use phrases like the “Irish temper,” or “how to argue like an Italian.” Or we attach euphemisms like “intense” or “passionate” to various cultures. There is a temptation with sins like anger to erroneously excuse them away by tying them to a genetic trait, passed down through ancestry.

Most of us realize that we don’t need to be Irish to be capable of anger; and certainly not all Irishmen are habitually angry. Anger is a temptation that all of us have because of our sinful nature. Each one of us is perfectly capable of demonstrating anger, no matter our ethnicity or culture.  But we cannot justifiably use heritage as an excuse and dismiss it with “that’s just the way I was built.”

It may sound surprising, but God's Word has already told us about genetics and sin. The Bible is clear about several things:
  1. Everyone is born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, 5:12-14). It was passed down from Adam (Romans 5:12,19). We all have gone astray; we all go our own way (Isaiah 53:5-6). Our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  Apart from the Lord, we are all equally bound by our sin. But there is never a time that we can say “my culture, my heritage, my family environment, or some other person forced me to sin.” Nor does someone’s sin nature “rub off” on others. We all are born with a propensity toward sin. And even as believers we all have sins and temptations that we struggle with.
  2. Calling our disobedience what it really is – “sin” - is actually a source of great hope. Trying to excuse away our sin actually makes things more complicated than they need to be. If the Bible calls something a sin, it means that we are to turn away from it and pursue the new life that God has given us. As believers, attributing our wrongdoing to a disease, to a genetic “flaw,” to another person, or to the circumstances of my heritage is basically saying that “God’s power is not sufficient to help me choose righteousness.”  If we recognize it as sin, it means that, by God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be victorious despite our circumstances (even if those circumstances were brought about, in part, by actions of our forefathers).  There are still times that we may fall, but God has provided the way for our fellowship with Him to be restored quickly and with great hope.  I John 1:9 is very straightforward and simple: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  3. Nothing can interfere with our personal relationship with God and the peace and joy that He provides.  In other words, we are not somehow doomed to a miserable, sinful life because of what our ancestors did.  As we saw in Part 1 of the DNA blog, “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

Ezekiel Chapter 18 is a beautiful illustration of this.  The people of Israel had a popular  proverb that said “The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge.”  In other words, they were saying that the inclinations of the current generation were dictated by the actions of their ancestors. In verse 3, the Lord’s makes it very clear “’As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.’”

Then the Lord goes on to give examples of how a righteous father does not guarantee a righteous son. Conversely, a miserable, sinful father does not doom his son to the same fate, even when the son has observed all the evils the father may have committed. We will deal with “observed behavior” in a future blog post.  

This is all summed up in verse 20:  “The person who sins will die.  The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity, the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. “  In other words, we are not doomed to repeat our ancestors’ unrighteous ways. Nor does having righteous ancestors provide any guarantee that the current generation will follow suit. We will also deal with “generational sin” in a future post.

Both of these show the truth of individual relationship and responsibility before the Lord. Even if DNA tests were to somehow show that we have certain propensities (such as anger), God gives us the same commands as He does to everyone else.  He does not say that the Irish or any other group gets a break on anger.  

This is a great hope, because God is saying that, by His grace you can have victory even in those areas of life where you may have greater temptation to sin than someone else.  And perhaps to the believing Irishman He would say “even though you may have been labeled as an angry man, I am in the business of turning you into the kind, tender-hearted, forgiving person that I wrote about in Ephesians 4:32.” While this is a great hope, it is also a solemn reminder of our individual accountability to God.


This leads us to the biblical reminder to be good stewards of what we have, irrespective of family heritage or the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves.  I Corinthians 4:2 says “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  Romans 12:6 reminds us that “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly.”  The emphasis of these verses is not so much on what gifts we have, but on putting them to work, no matter how conspicuous or inconspicuous they may be.  Trying to imagine “what could have been” were it not for our circumstances or family heritage will only distract us from from being that good steward of whatever He has for us today.  God does not hold us responsible for what our ancestors did, but He does expect us to be faithful stewards of our thoughts, speech, and actions for today.

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Steve Smith