My child, listen and be wise. Keep your heart on the right course. - Proverbs 23:19
The dawn of the twenty-first century has seen another dawn—the first rough draft of the complete human genome. The genetic code, we are learning, determines our physical shape, the number of our fingers, the color of our eyes, our capacity for languages, and our ability to store information and recall it. While we are only on the fringes of discovering the wonders of this aspect of our creation, there are those who have already decided that some of our genes determine our behavioral tendencies. That has led them to conclude that man is not responsible for his actions—he is simply an unfortunate repository of genes which determine his behavior and map out his destiny.
Whatever influence our genetic makeup has on our behavior, it certainly does not negate the clear biblical teaching that we are responsible people, to whom God has clearly outlined acceptable behaviors for which we are ultimately accountable. So Proverbs says, “My child, listen and be wise. Keep your heart on the right course” (Prov. 23:19). Proverbs is not denying that we have behavioral tendencies, but it is affirming that we have behavioral responsibilities.
Preachers used to talk about “besetting sins,” based on an expression found in Hebrews 12:1 in the King James Version of the Bible: “Let us lay aside . . . the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:1, KJV). The preachers were referring to the habitual sins that people find particularly hard to overcome. In more recent times, under the influence of psychology, the tendency is to talk about “addictive behavior.” This can show up in many forms. Proverbs, while not using this term, certainly speaks about it when it insists: “Do not carouse with drunkards and gluttons” (23:20); “Too much sleep clothes a person with rags” (23:21); and “A prostitute is a deep pit; an adulterous woman is treacherous” (23:27-28). Drunkenness, gluttony, laziness, and sexual aberrations may be described either as “besetting sins” or as “addictive behavior”—either way, they are wrong.
Being a captive to a besetting sin or being bound by an addictive behavior is frightening—it leads to “anguish,” “sorrow,” and “unnecessary bruises” (23:29). But there is hope. The man who responds to God’s invitation, “O my son, give me your heart” (23:26), and is careful to “get the truth, . . . wisdom, discipline, and discernment” (23:23), will find the iron bands of addictive behavior and besetting sin snapped. God promises that he can give a man the power to do what is right even when his natural inclination is wrong. And whatever a man’s genes may say, that is what his God declares.
For Further Study: Proverbs 23:19-35