Personal Life, Uncategorized

Sin is Not A Choice

It’s the words Christians fear.

I didn’t choose this, I’ve felt this way as long as I can remember.

We fear hearing those words because we don’t know how to respond. If someone did not choose their behavior, their emotions, or their way of thinking, it must be natural. And if it’s natural, how can it be sinful, since God clearly made them that way? If its natural, how can you tell them to repent of something they didn’t choose?

The natural flavor of our compulsions, inclinations, and preferences make it very difficult for Christians to argue that sin is a choice. That’s why many professing Christians are following the lead of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The APA  removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM in 1986, and now many Christians tell us that despite millenia of biblical clarity on the issue, homosexuality is not a sin but rather something to be celebrated as a natural expression of God’s creation. In other words, if God made a person that way, it can’t be wrong since everything God makes is perfect.

There’s a number of problems with that line of thinking, but let’s focus on the issue of whether certain sins can be a choice when they feel so natural.

Sin is Natural

Christians engaged in culture wars too quickly forget that sin is a natural expression of the unregenerate human condition. Certain ministries and many individuals act and talk as though there’s something unnatural about sinners wanting to affirm and celebrate sin. It’s as though traditional values and established laws are a powerful restraint to the human heart. It’s time for a reality check.

Sin is natural. You never ask a toddler when he decided that throwing himself on the floor was a productive method of getting his way. He never decided that, it just came naturally. You never ask a child when they decided lying was valid solution to getting out of trouble. They don’t decide that, it just comes naturally. Parenting is the art of instilling unnatural behavior and thinking in children, and hoping they become natural over time.

After 32 years of life, 10 years of marriage, nine years of parenting, and five years of counseling others, I’m convinced good behavior and thinking rarely become completely natural. And when they do, it’s only by God’s grace and the regenerating work of His Spirit.

So sin feels natural because it is natural.

Sin Is Not A Choice

But to say sin is natural is not to say sin happens apart from our volitional faculties. Our will is intricately involved in our sinfulness. In fact, every sin passes the checkpoint of our will before it moves out to our actions.

People tend to think of the will as a fork in the road where they can and must choose to take one path or another. That is a helpful analogy for a particular decision, but not for how the will works. The will is more like a train going down the track. There are very few meaningful decisions in life that require us to stop, get off the train and change the switch to head in another direction. We generally just tend to go along a certain path without too much thought. [1]

For example, when a woman says “yes” to a marriage proposal, it is rarely a calculated decision where she stopped and considered the alternative. Generally speaking her decision is already made by virtue of the track her desires are on. She did indeed choose to say yes, but her choice was natural based on her will.

Or think of the love a father feels for his new-born child when he holds him for the first time. That love is not a calculated decision, but rather compelled by the track his will has been on for months.

What about the tragic situation where a mother abandons her baby? Her will has been on a certain track which took her in natural direction away from what we typically think are natural mothering instincts.

Another way to say all this is that sin (or any particular decision) is not a choice, but rather a series of choices, and in some cases a lifetime of choices. That is, the choice to sin is not made in a vacuum.

In order to arrive at the decision to think or behave a certain way, there are countless questions that have either been answered, or still need to be. For example:

  1. Who rules the Universe?
  2. To whom am I accountable?
  3. What is the standard of law and morality?
  4. What brings me joy?
  5. What is most important in life?
  6. What is the reward for reigning in my desires?
  7. If I don’t look out for my happiness, then who will?

These are the kinds of questions and decisions that under-gird every sin. But that’s just the starting point.

No homeless alcoholic would tell you he woke up one day and decided to give up his high-paying job and loving family to become an alcoholic. But now, sleeping on a park bench and craving the taste of beer is as natural to them as breathing.

No spouse who commits adultery wakes up one day and decides to ruin their wonderful marriage and hurt their children.  But now, leaving their spouse and children for “the man or woman of their dreams” is completely natural.

How does someone get from A to Z? How does something so unnatural become natural?

Just Say Yes

It is so easy, you might even say it’s natural. All you have to do is start saying “yes” to your sinful desires. Say “yes” and allow those fantasies to continue. Say “yes” to the lies that you deserve better than what you have. Say “yes” to your feelings. The more you say “yes” to, the more natural sinful thinking and behavior will become.

Before you know it, you might be saying, “I don’t remember choosing to ruin my family and pursue another lifestyle” or “I don’t remember choosing to be bankrupt and losing everything” or “I don’t remember choosing to be addicted to this substance.”

The reality is you didn’t say “yes” to one big thing, you said “yes” to a million little things.

Had you been faced with today’s decision years ago, saying “yes” would have been unnatural and even abhorrent. But now, how can you deny yourself of what is so natural?

Redirection

So how can a person change?

There are those moments when God lifts the train of a person’s will off the track and places them on a new track such that they no longer have the desires of the past. But that is rare.

More often, change happens over a long period of time as a person learns to say “no” to what has become their natural instincts and say “yes” to God and His standard of righteousness. This may require stopping at every switch, getting off the train, pulling the lever, and getting back on. In other words, it’s a lot work. It’s deliberate work. It feels unnatural. But the more we follow the light of His path, the more joy and freedom we begin to feel.

Of course, it all begins with the decision to lay down your life and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

So next time you hear those dreaded words, “I didn’t choose to be this way,” don’t respond, “yes you did!” Instead, have a conversation about other choices they’ve made, perhaps starting with who they’ve decided Jesus is.

Join the Conversation

Have you experienced this in your own life? Have you been tempted by something you never thought would be a temptation? Is this even a valid way to think about these things?

 

[1] This reality has massive implications for the whole “free will” debate. But that’s another post.

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