Can an action actually be wrong if you were born predisposed to commit that action?
There’s a certain action that some people commit today that some people say is wrong and some other people say isn’t. Sometimes people actually say, “Well, I was born this way.” What they’re trying to get at is, “Well, it can’t be wrong. I’m acting out how I was born.” They might not say, “How I was created,” but instead “how I came into this world.” “I’m predisposed to this certain behavior.” You may know the behavior I’m talking about. It’s pride. Aren’t some people predisposed to pride? Aren’t some people seemingly born feeling prideful? If you look at a small child, do they have any problem putting themselves first when they’re given that opportunity? No, they don’t.
What we see is, often every person struggles with pride in varying amounts and in varying ways, and it’s not really an age factor. It’s not a Christian/non-Christian factor. Everyone struggles with a me-centered perspective on life and how they live. In fact, this does seem to be how we come into the world – we prioritize ourselves over other people. Does that make this right? No, it doesn’t. Does this come from within? Is pride something I feel and then act out? Is it a desire or an impulse I experience and then my actions follow? Yes it is.
Now, pride probably isn’t the type of behavior that you were expecting me to state when I started down this trail, because often what’s said is, “I have same-sex attraction. I’m gay, and that it’s okay because I was born this way.” Well, the born-this-way argument proves far too much, because, it assumes that what is natural is moral. It implies that if you were born with a certain set of desires well then no one can tell you those are wrong. But if we’re consistent, what about the person who’s born and from their earliest age has had murderous, violent impulses? Does that mean it’s okay for that person to be violent and murder other people? No. Some people really struggle with violence, and anger. Anger is something that comes out of us. No one really sits down and says, “I’m gonna choose to be angry right now. Does that make anger good because it just innately flows out of us? No.
Is pride good because we never choose to feel pride it just happens to us and we express that? No. That doesn’t mean that’s good either. In the same way, lust, heterosexual lust even, comes naturally out of us. Does that make it good? No. What we can’t do as Christians, and even as non-Christians, is have a standard that says, “What is natural is moral; if you are born a certain way then that means you can act out whatever that set of desires is that you’re claiming you are born with,” because we wouldn’t say that with people who are attracted to children, right? We wouldn’t say that with pedophiles. If you’re born and you’re attracted to young children from the earliest age you can remember does that mean it’s okay for you to act on that desire with young children? No, it doesn’t.
This type of argument and reasoning shouldn’t be compelling to the non-Christian. It shouldn’t be compelling to the Christian either. This standard cannot be consistently applied. It can’t be applied to the prideful, or the angry person, or the violent person, or the same-sex attracted person. We can’t have a standard that says, “If I have this innate desire then it must be okay.”
This leads us to consider: are our desires fallen? What I mean by fallen is: affected by sin. We need to go to scripture for this and see what scripture says about our innate desires, our innate feelings. Jeremiah 17:9 comes to mind when I think on this topic. It says that
The human heart (or another translation might say mind) is more deceitful than anything else. It’s incurably bad. Who can understand it?
There’s so much that could be said about this verse and it’s related concepts.
In a day and age where people trust to their own thinking, trust to their own feeling more than anything outside of them that’s objective, whether in scripture or in something else, this should be a very humbling verse, especially for the Christian who has the Bible as their authority. We should question the default ways we think and feel. We shouldn’t just accept them, because the Bible, which is our authority, and source of truth tells us that the very way we think about things can be deceiving to us, in that we have desires that flow out of us that incurably bad. At least, they’re incurably bad apart from Christ. Still, we have negative desires on the right side of salvation, too.
Jesus actually speaks to this same sort of thing, in Matthew 15 when He says,
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and these are the things that defile a person, for out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. These are the things that defile a person
Which things? The things that come out of the heart. Where does evil begin? In the heart. We act out our desires. Yes, actions are wrong. Those actions ultimately go back a step to an evil set of desires, though.
It’s interesting. I never thought of it this way until I was listening to a seminary lecture on the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says things like, “Well, you’ve heard it said, Don’t murder someone, but I say if you’ve been angry with your brother then you’re guilty of murder in your heart,” or “you’ve heard it said don’t commit adultery, but I say if you look at a woman to lust after her you’ve committed adultery with her in your heart.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that lust is the same as adultery, but it was pointed out to me, and this just seems so insightful, that what Jesus is getting at is that when you hate someone, when you’re that angry with them the only thing stopping you from murdering that person is probably what you care about of yourself, right? I’m going to get caught. There are consequences for me. If it was just the two of you on an island with no accountability, how would you act to that person you were really mad at? You’d probably attack them. You’d probably harm them, because violence flows out of us. Now, often we restrain it, but anger flows out us and it’s the precursor to things like murder.
What about lust? If you lust after a man or lust after a woman and there’s no accountability, there’s nothing that could ever be done to you if you acted out on this, it’s not going to harm you in any way, would you act out on it? Yeah, I think that’s what Jesus is getting out, is that the very fact that we don’t act out on these negative impulses we have often times, especially for the non-Christian, is out of self-preservation. It’s out of caring about ourself and the consequences we might experience.
The very bedrock point in Matthew 15 is that evil begins in the heart. Evil begins with a desire that comes out of us. Evil ideas, Jesus even calls them, that flow from within us to outside of us. See, evil is not an external problem. It’s not inflicted upon us. It’s not the result of a social class that you’re a part of, as if one class is better than another. It’s not a result of not knowing enough. There’s this trend today to say that “evil” is just really ignorance. Some people don’t know better. No, the issue is that we’re evil at our core and we act out of our evil desires. They come from within us.
Romans 1 comes to mind whenever we talk about impure, evil desires. I’m going to start in Romans 1:24.
Therefore, God gave them over to the desires of their heart.” (These people He’s giving over are the people who have denied the truth in unrighteousness; they have rejected the truth that God has made clear about Himself in the world.) God gives these people over to the desires of their heart to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions (passions are desires) for their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones and, likewise, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty of their error.
What is the example Paul gives here in Romans 1, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, an example of what it looked like for someone to act on their sinful desires, desires that came from their heart, came from within them? He gives the example of homosexuality. Isn’t that interesting. In a day when people are saying, “I was born this way. I was born with these same-sex attractions, so that makes it okay.” The Bible says, “Yes, people have these innate desires and attractions, and acting on them is actually the very example of living in unrighteous.” We can’t baptize our desires and say they’re good just because they’re ours, because our own desires are fallen. They’re marred by sin. They’re for evil, they’re not for good. Apart from the work of the Spirit in a person’s life.
James 1:14 speaks to this same type of thing.
Each one’s tempted when he’s lured and enticed by his own desires.
It’s the desire for things outside of ourselves, but that desire comes from within ourselves. The evil desire, it’s coming from within. It’s not a societal problem. Society doesn’t turn people bad. People are already bad. It’s not based on ignorance. It’s not a social class problem. It’s none of that. What it is, is a sin problem. We are sinful at our core. We don’t just do bad things, we desire bad things, we think bad things. Apart from Christ we are a bad thing.
Now, this isn’t some type of, “Let’s have a very negative self-image and just be very down on ourselves.” No, I think we need to be realistic, because in order to understand the magnitude and gravity and splendor of what Christ did for us, we have to first understand our own depravity that, “While we were enemies of God Christ died for us.” It’s not that we were just ignorant. No, it’s that we were actively opposing Him. We were suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, denying what had been made clear to us, worshiping the things He made instead of the person who made those things, and He still came to Earth and died for us while we were in rebellion to Him.
There are many reasons to understand the extent of our fallenness as people. For the Christian I think it should help us reason more clearly about how to address moral issues. It should not be compelling to us when people say, “Well, I was born this way, that makes it okay.” As we saw initially, there isn’t even good non-Biblical reason to accept that. Murderous impulses don’t make murder okay.
Biblically, we understand that people act on their negative impulses, and those actions are then negative and evil. That comes from within us. For the non-Christian, if you’re listening, I hope you’re at least seeing that this line of thinking is not able to be consistently applied, so it’s a bad line of thinking. We can’t say that what’s natural is moral.
What we see here is desires themselves can be sinful. How should we address same-sex attraction? How should we think about that briefly? I don’t think it’s just same-sex action that is sinful. I think same-sex attraction is also sinful. In any other area what would we call a desire for something that God condemns? Would we call that good? Would we call it neutral? No, we’d call it sinful. If I desire a woman who is not my wife in a sexual way I’m desiring something that is wrong. I’m desiring an adulterous relationship. That’s lust, so that’s sinful. In the same way, same-sex attraction is an attraction and a desire for something or someone that God says is not honoring to Him. That is a sinful desire, too.
Our actual desires can be sinful. I think pride is a great example of this. I come back to it because everyone struggles with pride. If you’re not struggling with it, you’ve just given in to it. Pride comes from without of us. It’s a natural feeling that we don’t choose, but that is nonetheless sinful, because the truth of it is is that the same-sex attracted person isn’t in a different category when it comes to this issue than anyone else.
We all have innate desires that are against what God wants, that are sinful, but the interesting thing is no one’s going around calling themselves an adulterous Christian, or a tax-evading Christian. no one says “My identity is tied to my tax-evasion, or my adultery.” So. we do have to talk specifically about homosexuality because people are calling themselves gay Christians. By that they don’t mean, “I have same-sex attraction and I try to not act on that.” What they mean is, “I’m gay and that’s part of my identity, and I’ve attached that term to the word Christian,” and that cannot be.
When we start identifying ourselves as things that are sinful to God, we have become enemies of God. When we identify with things that are in rebellion to Our Creator, we are in rebellion to Our Creator.
We have to be able to think about this issue of same-sex attraction, of pride, of desire for violence and hatred, because these are things that come from without of us, and we can’t put same-sex attraction in a different category and say it’s okay just because that’s politically correct today.
I hope this has been helpful in helping you think more clearly about this issue with consistency. Natural desires that come out of a person don’t make them good. They don’t just get white-listed because we were born that way.
We were all born with fallen desires and we all need those desires covered in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.