Which is it? Nature or nurture? Which has the greatest shaping influence in our lives? Psychologists line up on both sides of the debate, with some arguing in favor of genetic makeup, while others lean towards our family and cultural environment. Interestingly, the Bible has something to say in all of this.
Scripture tells us that we are either in Adam, or we are in Christ. (Rom 5:12-21). One is a nature dominated by sin (Adam). One is a nature dominated by the Spirit (Christ), and as Romans 8:6 puts it, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” So is the Word telling us to force ourselves to focus our thinking on the ways of the Spirit? Not quite. As Jesus rather bluntly told Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This rebirth that Jesus speaks of is not something we can do ourselves. It is wholly dependent upon the gracious work of God’s Spirit (Ezek 36:26). So Biblically speaking, “nature” is the dominate influence in person’s life, as it leads to and makes possible a life of faith.
But does that mean the Bible views “nurture” as unimportant? Far from it! In fact, our environmental influences are tremendously important in our Christian growth. They help shape us as followers of Christ. So what are the shaping influences in your life? Whether you know it or not, we are all being shaped…so let me offer some guidance on where to turn.
One of the predominate shaping influences in the Christian life is the public and private ministry of the Word. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed for His disciples, and for us, that God would sanctify us in His Word, proclaiming that His Word is truth. This ministry of the Word refers to our private devotional life, but it speaks to more than that. It includes the public ministry of the Word. That means preaching.
As a preacher, that brings me a measure of concern, and encouragement. I am reminded of the weightiness of preaching, because I am not merely speaking my mind…I am proclaiming the Word of the Living God (1 Thess 2:13), and I am deeply aware of the warnings in Scripture directed towards teachers of the Word. Yet at the same time, I find great comfort. It is not my word that shapes you, but God’s Word.
The Bible tells me these truths, but my experience confirms them. It is evident for all to see that we are shaped by the LONG TERM ministry of the Word. As we sit under preaching that is faithful to the Word, that is God-glorifying, Christ-centered, and gospel-driven…we can’t help but be shaped. And that shaping takes place in ways small and large. It takes place week by week and year by year. So I ask you again, what are the shaping influences in your life? Is the public ministry of the Word one of them? If so, is that public ministry of the Word a ministry that is focused on the glory of God, or the glory of man?
Brothers and sisters, the answer to the nature versus nurture question is BOTH. We must have a new nature. We must be born again. With that new nature, we then have the joyful blessing of being shaped by God into something beautiful, and lasting. Whether you know it or not…whether you like it or not…you ARE being shaped. Pay attention to those influences in your life, so that over time your shape looks more and more like Jesus.