Depravity, Original Sin, & Genetics

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To really understand the good news that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must first understand the bad news that is sin. Consider the idea of receiving the good news of deliverance. But to receive such news much mean you needed to be delivered from something. If you were in prison and you were to be executed in the morning, and your attorney dropped by with the information that the governor had just signed a pardon, this would be very good news, would it not? But think about it for a moment. If you received news that the governor had signed a pardon, but for some reason you did not know that you were on death row, the good news could not be received by you as really that great of news. It would just kind of bounce off, and have a much less impactful affect.

Due to the Fall, even our good deeds, our very best works, are consider but dirty rags, filthy garments, bloody cloth, and piles of crap in comparison to the righteousness of Christ that has been imparted to those who believe in and follow Him (Isaiah 64:6; Luke 18:9-30; Romans 5:15, 6:23; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; among many verses that would substantiate this view). I’m sorry if that language comes off a little strong, but God says to be holy as He is holy… and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). David even says he was brought forth in iniquity, that in sin did his mother conceive him (he is not referring to her having cheated on her husband, Jesse) and even our good deeds fall short of that impossible standard… so we desperately need the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Some passages to consider when questioning how corrupted and depraved we are from birth:

Psalm 51:5
Jeremiah 17:9
John 3:20-21
Romans 3.23
Romans 3:9-12
Romans 8:5-8

1. We have darkened minds.

Romans 8:7
1st Corinthians 2:14
Ephesians 2:3
Ephesians 4:17-18
Colossians 1:21

2. We have darkened hearts.

Romans 1:21
Ephesians 4:18-19

3. We are enslaved to sin.

John 8:34
Titus 3:3

4. We abide under futility.

Ecclesiastes 1:15-18
1st Peter 1:18

5. We are already spiritually dead.

Psalm 51:5
Ephesians 2:1-5
Colossians 2:13

In the beginning, man was created good (Genesis 1:31). Having taken of the forbidden fruit and eaten of it, he committed idolatry and tried to make himself god, he was subjected to the curse of death, pain, and futility. By one man’s transgression, sin and death spread to all men (Romans 5) and man has been henceforth born into a fragmented existence. No longer does he enjoy fellowship with his Maker or the rest of creation. Man experienced division from his Creator, his spouse, himself, his fellow man, and the creation over which he was to work. This curse spread through men by nature and not merely through an environmental influence, as all were and are born into sin. We are all stillborns, utterly devoid of spiritual good. (This does not mean that man can do no social good, but rather it is a recognition that even our righteous works are as filthy rags in God’s sight. As Romans 14:23 tells us, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.) We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

Because of the Fall, the whole of creation has been subjected to futility. The entire universe and all it contains has been fractured from its originally created state. I believe that includes DNA, the biochemical and biological makeup of humanity has been affected as well.

Have you ever seen a two year old bite when they don’t get there way? Ever seen a little kid quickly shove all their candy in their mouth if someone asked for a piece? I don’t see too many adults demonstrating those particular behaviors. Where does that seem to instinctively come from? Would you disagree that some people seem more prone to alcoholism, addiction, violence, anger, depression, etc. And that may not simply be just reactions to their environment or behaviors they’ve seen displayed?

Does that merely excuse any bents anyone may have toward certain sins? No, of course not. Is every sinful action predestined and purposed by God? I am certainly making no such claim. When we sin, regardless of genetics, age, gender, ethnicity, race, culture, society, environment, etc. we are still sinning, and we’re still responsible for our actions. It is too reductionistic though, and ignores much of scientific discovery (which helps serve to reveal God’s created order), that shows humans are more complex than simple action and reaction free-willers. We do not act and perceive the world strictly based on our brain stimuli; just “free will” responses to any and all experiences and environment. How does one explain human personality? Ever meet people with an oddly optimistic disposition, or someone who can’t seem to find a positive thing to say no matter how much seems to be going their way?

How would you explain the differences in what people find beautiful? Are our aesthetic appetites merely reflections of our experiences and environments that we’re able to express once we reach some mystical age of accountability? Are we pre-determined genetic robots, so-to-speak? Do humans simply react to all perceived experiences only according to the way their biochemical make-up has been hard-wired to allow them?

I believe we are born with the proclivity towards certain types of sin, since our hearts are little idol factories. Our environments and experiences help serve to shape and manipulate the way we express our sinful idolatry. The Bible teaches that one has only the choice between God and idolatry. For if one denies God, they are worshipping some created thing(s) of this world in the belief that one sees them only as deity, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of divinity in them. Everyone is building their identity on something and must find some way to justify their existence in order to stave off the universal fear that they have no purpose. In more traditional cultures, the sense of worth and identity comes from fulfilling duties to family and giving service to society, while in our contemporary individualistic culture, people tend to look to work or educational achievements, social status, talents, or love relationships.

I’m not saying everyone is born pre-programmed to act out specific sins, but we are predisposed to being more likely to sin in certain ways. I’m also not saying both genetic and environmental influences are equal by any means either, just that genetics does indeed serve at least a small part in it all. I believe we all have bents more toward certain types of sin and idolatry and then our society, culture, environment, experiences, and whatnot help serve to shape and grow those.

In college, I actually had a philosophy professor who used to joke that when you look in at the sweet, cute little babies in the baby ward at the hospital, they are just as depraved in their heart as any adult, and if they had the coordination and cognitive ability, some might even try to steal your car keys and leave. Basically that we’re all prone to wander, prone to sin, and as we age, we’re more clearly able to express the depravity that resides in our hearts. But like I said, I’m not making any claim that some individuals are going to grow up and rape, murder, steal, drink excessively, do hardcore drugs, beat women, verbally assault others, etc. and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. I just believe genetics and one’s biological make-up does play some kind of role or small factor in things.

So in light of the horribly extensive ramifications of sin (which I did not even begin to scratch the surface in explaining the vast personal and cosmic affects), we can better see why the gospel really is such good news. It is the news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy.

Jesus Christ is the gospel. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. The good news is revealed in His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and future return. Christ’s crucifixion is the heart of the gospel; His resurrection is the power of the gospel, and His ascension is the glory of the gospel. Christ’s death is a substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice to God for our sins. It satisfies the demands of God’s holy justice and appeases His holy wrath. It also demonstrates His mysterious love and reveals His amazing grace. Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. There is no other name by which men must be saved. At the heart of all sound doctrine is the cross of Jesus Christ and the infinite privilege that redeemed sinners have of glorifying God because of what He has accomplished. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

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Remove the bait and reveal the hook…

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There is this pervasive and deceptive myth among our culture today that porn doesn’t hurt anyone. Some even go so far as to claim that premarital sex, as long as it is consensual and “safe” is perfectly harmless as well.

I disagree with these claims. I believe porn is a huge problem. It’s a personal problem for many and a cultural problem for all. You may think that you have not been affected negatively by porn, but even if you yourself have never watched it, you have definitely been affected because it’s embedded in the surrounding culture. The staggering size of the pornography industry, its influence upon the media, and the acceleration of technology, paired with the accessibility, anonymity, and affordability of porn all contribute to its increasing impact upon the culture. Not to mention its dark links to the sexual slave trade…

It is an absolute myth, an incredibly false insinuation that porn won’t affect your relationships. The sad truth is that more and more men, and even many women, are viewing porn regularly; it cannot help but shape sexual market dynamics. And studies have shown that the tandem of porn and masturbation actually reduces the value of intercourse because it is much more physiologically satisfying than masturbation alone. Porn becomes easier to view and access, and so must women (and men).

Pornography actually deeply affects you whether you’ve ever viewed it or not, and it is helpful to understand some of its negative effects, whether you are a man or woman, struggling with watching it, outright watching it without a care, have a significant other who watches it, or you’re simply a mom or dad with a son or daughter who may potentially watch it. There is a plethora of research on the detrimental effects of pornography (and I do not think that what follows are necessarily the worst of them, and is certainly not an exhaustive list), but here are seven negative effects of porn upon men and women:

1. Porn contributes to social and psychological problems with men (and women).

It has been noted by extensive research that young men who become addicted to porn, “neglect their schoolwork, spend huge amounts of money they don’t have, become isolated from others, and often suffer depression.” Dr. William Struthers, who has a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, confirms some of these and adds more, finding that men who use porn become controlling, highly introverted, have high anxiety, narcissistic, curious, have low self-esteem, depressed, dissociative, distractible, and discontent. Ironically, while viewing porn creates momentary intensely pleasurable experiences, it ends up leading to several negative lingering psychological experiences.

2. Porn rewrites the male brain (and female brain).

Dr. Struthers elaborates that as men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on pornographic images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed… They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image. They fail to see women as the beautiful, valuable, soul-having, wonderful coequal partners they are.

In a similar vein regarding porn’s effect upon the brain, an article entitled, “The Porn Myth,” argues that pornography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: “It is Pavlovian.” An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros and enhance it, but rather dilutes it.

Porn honestly becomes like an addictive drug. It gives you a high, but it never actually delivers what you really want, or need. Because of this, statistics show that viewing porn and/or masterbation becomes an addictive behavior, used to cope with times of stress and conflict. It also leads to darker and more perverse things for those who continue to watch porn, as what used to satisfy them has become boring and is no longer stimulating enough.

3. Porn turns sex into nothing more than masturbation with some help.

Sex becomes self-serving. It becomes about your pleasure and not the self-giving, mutually reciprocating intimacy that it was designed for. We become lonely, angry, empty, discontent, and frustrated. Because all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations; and porn creates unreal, unhealthy, and unattainable expectations on sex.

4. Porn demeans and objectifies women (and men).

This occurs from hard-core to soft-core pornography. In the book ‘Pornified,’ the author quotes the research of one psychologist who has researched pornography at Texas A&M, the research states “Soft-core pornography has a very negative effect on men as well. The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.” According to the author, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships. In other words, pornography is inherently self-centered (something a man does by himself, for himself) by using another women as the means to pleasure, as yet another product to consume.

The author goes on to reference one experiment that revealed a rather shocking further effect of porn: “men and women who were exposed to large amounts of pornography were significantly less likely to want daughters than those who had not indulged in viewing porn. Who would want their own little girl to be treated that way?” Also, how does a father who habitually looks at porn relate normally and healthily to his teenage to young-20’s-year-old daughter, or her friends?

Again, it needs to be emphasized, that this is not an effect that only rests upon those who have viewed porn. The massive consumption of porn and the the size of the porn industry has hypersexualized the entire culture. Men and women are born into a pornified culture, and women are the biggest losers of this tragedy. This book continues, “By inundating girls and women with the message that their most worthy attribute is their sexual hotness and crowding out other messages, pop culture is grooming them just like an individual perpetrator would. It is slowly chipping away at their self-esteem, stripping them of a sense of themselves as whole human beings, and providing them with an identity that emphasizes sex and de-emphasizes every other human attribute.”

5. Porn squashes the beauty of a real naked woman (and men too).

“For most of human history, the erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” (Wired for Intimacy) But this unfortunate fact has been widely noted and observed by many others.

Similar to how the philosopher Plato didn’t want the artists in the city, because of how they could distort or aggrandize things to cause people to seek a hyper-reality that doesn’t exist… porn is a cheap, deceptive “art” that robs us of being able to know and appreciate true beauty.

6. Porn has a numbing effect upon reality.

It makes real sex and even the real world boring in comparison. It gives us a distorted sense of a hyper-reality, and false expectations that will never be met in the real world. It particularly anesthetizes the emotional life of a man. Pornography leaves men desensitized to both outrage and to excitement, leading to an overall diminishment of feeling and eventually to dissatisfaction with the emotional tugs of everyday life… Eventually those who watch pornography are left with a confusing mix of super-sized expectations about sex and numbed emotions about women. When a man gets bored with pornography, both his fantasy and real worlds become imbued with indifference. The real world often gets really boring because it can’t compete with hyper-real things that don’t really exist.

7. Porn lies about what it means to be male and female.

The author of “Pornified,” records how porn tells a false story about men and women. In the story of porn, women are “one-dimensional” (they never say ‘no,’ never get pregnant, and can’t wait to have sex with any man and please them in whatever way imaginable, or even unimaginable). On the other hand, the story porn tells about men is that they are “soulless, unfeeling, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. These men demonstrated zero empathy, respect, or love for the women they have sex with…”

A five second orgasm not triggered directly by your spouse, significant other, or partner, even if it is self-induced, isn’t worth all of this… is it?

There is even a new movie coming out soon, that was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, called “Don Jon.” It’s about a New Jersey guy who is dedicated to his family, friends, and church; he develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn, begins to objectify everything, and becomes very dissatisfied with sex, relationships, and life. So he embarks on a journey to find a more gratifying sex life, and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

If fullness of life could be found in sexual stimulation, or if it was just a matter of making babies, the “forget formality and just have sex” approach might temporarily satisfy cravings and cause enough conception. But God had much more in mind with romance than orgasms or even procreation, and so should we. So must we.

When people in the world are expecting less and less of each other in dating, God isn’t. So among those who are single and want to honor God’s design for marriage, we have to work harder in our “not-yet-married” relationships to preserve what marriage ought to picture and provide.

The vision of marriage we see in God’s Word (the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite, gracious, persevering love for sinners) makes it worth it to date, and date well. The world’s approach by today’s cultural standards can provide fun and sex and children and eventually even some level of commitment, but it cannot lead to the life-giving Jesus, after whom our marriages are to take their cues.

So, what about in your past and/or present dating relationships? If you go somewhere secluded and you’re all alone, do you think through how that scenario might play out beforehand? If you guys end up making out, before you make out, when is the last time you prayed, begged, and pleaded with our Father to work in the relationship to bring about His purpose and His will, for both of you to get more of Jesus through your relationship. Have you sincerely pleaded with Christ to overwhelm you guys with the joy of His Spirit instead of feelings of pleasure from hormones and flesh. I would dare to contend that the most sober mind is the mind overwhelmed in awe and humble adoration of God’s holiness and glory. We should be begging for the weight of His infinite glory to take our breath away, not some momentary assurance, fleeting pleasure, or short-lived gratification from a fellow finite human being.

So please, take the time to think some of this through. Praise God for the amazing technology we have today, and pursue pleasure in holiness. Because our relationships, and marriage are not so much about our happiness, but rather our holiness through sanctification.

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I would also like to recommend these related articles:

The New Narcotic” by Morgan Bennett, JD candidate at Pepperdine University School of Law

Pornography: The New Narcotic” by Desiring God

Sexual Sin in the Ministry” by Harry Schaumburg

I Hate Porn” by Desiring God

Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games” by Russell Moore

Porn, Pride, and Praise: An Interview with Heath Lambert” Authors on the Line

Dear men: PORN IS AN AFFAIR. Just ask my ex-wife. by Donny Pauling

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography & the Brain” by Joe Carter