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Sin or Disease?

Sin or Disease?

He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Luke 20:16

Modern medicine teaches that addictive tendencies are roughly 50% genetic and 50% environment. We have this genetic predisposition that shapes our personal traits, but then our experiences in life further mold us into who we are today.

I’ve heard Christians object to a genetic cause, insisting that addiction is simply a sinful choice. Those who believe this way reject addiction as a genetic disease, mainly on the grounds that if it’s a disease, this seems to let the addict off the hook. It’s a choice and it’s a sin. If he’s born this way, then the addict can’t help it.

I would insist however, that our very nature is diseased with self-destructive tendencies. Since the fall, in the garden, we’re all born with appetites, desires, and behaviors that cause us to follow our way, rebelling against God’s. The fact that this is partly genetic doesn’t mean it’s not self-destructive or sinful.

In today’s passage, Jesus told the parable of a landowner who rented his vineyard out to tenants while he was away. In his absence, he sent emissaries to collect payment, but the tenants beat them, turning them away. Finally, the landowner sent his beloved son, whom the tenants killed, thinking they would then inherit the land. In the end, the tenant’s pathologic behavior brought about their own destruction.

God is the landowner in the story, and whether we like it or not, we’re the tenants. It’s our nature to rebel against God, going our way instead of his. We may object and say that it’s not our fault that we’re born this way, but that doesn’t make our self-destructive behavior any less self-destructive.

We’re all afflicted with the disease of a sinful nature that desires our way instead of God’s. This manifests differently in everyone. Some of us struggle with drugs, while others wrestle with greed, lust, gluttony, pride, vanity, or the desire for power. The fact that we’re born with these tendencies doesn’t mean the behavior that stems from them isn’t wrong.

We may not be responsible for our genetic predispositions, but God holds us responsible for our behavior. He’s allowed us to be born, afflicted with self-destructive desires, but he’s also given us the freedom, in Christ, to daily follow ourselves or him. Our disease doesn’t have to determine our destiny. In following ourselves, we find misery and pain. In following God, we find freedom, life, and healing.

3 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    The layers within this debate is cause for some serious head scratching. At a point that I was agonizing over my tobacco use I was told flat out that my addiction to nicotine won’t effect my eternal destination. It did nothing for the struggle within me on that issue but it has left an impact on me that it is probably widely believed that active addiction to other chemicals is a strait trip to hell. Or how about addiction to pornography, or food, or work? What about OCD?

    It floors me that church leaders and the rest of us are so comfortable categorizing sins. I get that the Bible is black and white on quite a bit and that there is quite a bit of gray but I would hate to be the guy that preaches hellfire and brimstone about choosing to be a degenerate user of chemicals who then has to officiate funerals of those who lose their battle.

    People like to let themselves off the hook and claim to be sharing a convicting message when it’s clearly condemnation. I get it, nobody should condone the destructive behavior of another but this recovering addict would like to see more people acting less certain that they know how God really thinks about it being a disease or a choice.

    • Scott says:

      It’s always easy to pick on those specific sins with which I don’t struggle. Good thoughts brother.

      • Joe says:

        We all do it and it’s confusing. I obviously have some work to do on this subject and in being able to let anyone believe whatever they want to without taking it personally. There are few subjects that are sorer than this one for me and nobody that I am more frustrated with about it than myself. I appreciate your perspectives and insights. Thanks for sharing them.

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