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Is Sin From Nature or Nurture?


Why do people do bad things?

This is an important question because knowing the crux of any problem will help us to resolve it. There are two schools of thought:


The “nurture” argument is basically that the reason people do bad things is because they are motivated extrinsically. People are basically good, but when they encounter bad teaching and behavior, being curious or naïve they choose to follow bad examples. Their bad behaviors become habitual and the cycle is repeated when they influence others. So the reason people do bad things is because they have been given the wrong information and watched the wrong examples.

In this school of thought, the solution to bad behavior is to reform the individual to their original innocents by reeducating them. The expectation is that when a person learns good behavior by having it taught and modeled, they will return to their basic goodness and behave as the good person that they are instead of the bad person that they are not.


The “nature” argument is basically that the reason people do bad things is because they are motivated intrinsically. People are basically bad, and when they encounter good teaching and behavior, they choose to be defiant. This bad behavior becomes habitual and the cycle repeats whenever someone is exposed to good teaching and behavior. So the reason people do bad things is because they are bad people.

In this school of thought, the solution to bad behavior is to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. The expectation is that when people encounter harsh consequences to their bad behavior and pleasure for good behavior, with enough coercion, they will modify their behavior. They will behave as the good person they are not instead of the bad person that they are.

The rub

Obviously both of these schools of thought cannot be true because their premises contradict one another. Nurture points the blame to our environment, while nature points the blame at us! Thus, the latter is far less popular. When I ask an average American whether people are basically good or basically bad, their answer, 99 out of 100 is that we are all basically good. To admit that people are basically bad would mean that we are all bad and no wants to admit to that.

But what does the Bible say about bad behavior being sourced intrinsically? Jesus explains it in Mark 7:20-23 James explains it in James 1:14-15

What does it say about being born sinners? David references this in Psalm 51:5

Job rhetorically asks if it is possible for any human to be pure in Job15:14

Paul masterfully describes how a good environment actually triggers our bad behavior in Romans 7:9-11, Romans 8:7, and 1Corinthians 2:14

So if it is true that our nature is our problem, are we really solving our problem by modifying behavior instead of modifying nature?

There’s a proverbial fly in the ointment.

Behaving against our nature doesn’t solve the problem, it only masks it. This is why people in good marriages cheat, why kids with good upbringings get into drugs, and why disciplined athletes choose to take illegal substances to win. At the end of the day, we’re still the same. So what’s the real solution?


Jesus had a heart to heart with a guy with good behavior. His name was Nicodemus and he was a Pharisee. He lived his life as close to Rabbinical teaching as possible and Jesus cut right to the heart of the matter. “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). When Nicodemus questioned this idea Jesus rebuked him for not knowing it already (John 3:10). That’s because this has always been the solution for our sinful plight (Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Behavior is the byproduct of our values. Bad people value bad things and therefore pursue bad. Good people value good things and therefore pursue good (1John 3:7-10).

A bad nature needs harsh consequences in order to turn from evil, but a good nature avoids evil out of a desire for God’s loving pleasure (Psalm 32:8-9).

So how do we become born again?

This is a spiritual transformation done under the hand of Almighty God. When someone trusts in what Jesus did on the cross and agrees that he is the Lord of all (Romans 10:9-10) God will save them by causing them to be born again (John 1:13).

Have you placed your trust in the cross of Jesus Christ? In other words, have you accepted Jesus’ death as his gift from God to take the punishment you deserve? Do you believe he rose from the dead in victory over sin and death? If you have, then God will transform you into a person with a new nature.

Have you been transformed?