You may have heard the debate around nature vs nurture – the discussion around whether human behavior and personality are more influenced by our innate, biological nature or by the environment we are nurtured in. This topic has been discussed by philosophers, scientists and theologians for centuries. As Christians, it’s important we understand what the Bible has to say on this issue.
The nature vs nurture discussion involves some key questions:
- Are people born with certain inherent traits and tendencies (nature), or are we blank slates entirely shaped by our experiences (nurture)?
- How much of who we are is predetermined and how much is shaped by our upbringing and surroundings?
- To what extent can our environments transform us?
- How much free will and choice do we have over who we become?
This is a complex issue with evidence on both sides. Modern research suggests human behavior is influenced by both nature and nurture. However, as Christians, we want to see what light the Bible sheds on this debate.
The Bible indicates that:
- God forms each person and knits them together in the womb, suggesting humans have innate God-given traits.
- Sin has corrupted human nature, predisposing all people towards sinful desires and actions.
- Our fallen nature must be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Our characters are also shaped powerfully by our upbringing, influences and life experiences.
- We have a responsibility before God to steward our thoughts, behaviors and habits.
Let’s explore what the Bible teaches on how nature and nurture intersect to form human identity and behavior.
God Gives Each Person Unique Gifts and Abilities
The Bible teaches that human life originates from God. He intricately fashions and forms each person in the womb:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16 NKJV)
God doesn’t mass produce humanity – he personally crafts each human being. Even before birth, God grants people unique gifts, talents and personalities:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5 NKJV)
The Bible uses the metaphor of the human body having different but equally valuable parts to illustrate how God bestows varied gifts and talents to each person:
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them… (Romans 12:4-6 NKJV)
These verses suggest that innate differences in human gifts and temperaments have their origins in God. Our biological nature is part of God’s sovereign design.
Fallen Human Nature Tend Towards Sin
However, the Bible also teaches that sin has corrupted human nature. Since the Fall, all people are predisposed towards selfishness, rebellion and independence from God. We tend to use even good gifts from God for sinful purposes:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:1-3 NKJV)
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (Romans 7:18-19 NKJV)
From birth, the tendency of human nature is towards self-absorption, independence from God and sin. Our nurture and upbringing will shape us, but cannot fundamentally transform this sinful nature.
Our Fallen Nature Can Only Be Transformed by The Holy Spirit
The Bible is clear that human nature is corrupted and oriented away from God. No amount of moral training or behavior modification can fix this – we require a new nature:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV)
This rebirth is accomplished by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. When we place our faith in Christ, the Spirit begins the lifelong process of transforming our character and desires to align with God:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
The Bible teaches that our fallen nature is redeemed and transformed by the power of the Spirit. Our biological nature doesn’t have the final say over our identity or destiny.
Our Character Is Shaped by Our Upbringing and Experiences
While Scripture emphasizes the innate sinfulness of human nature, it also teaches that our character is profoundly shaped by our upbringing, surroundings and developmental experiences, for better or worse.
For example, Moses’ early childhood in Pharaoh’s household influenced him powerfully:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. (Hebrews 11:23-24 NKJV)
Timothy’s sincere faith didn’t just come from his biological nature, but was shaped by the faith of his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice:
I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:5 NKJV)
The habits and training of our youth impact our character as adults. That’s why Solomon urges parents:
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6 NKJV)
While nature matters, the Bible urges us to steward the power of nurture. Our surroundings and developmental experiences profoundly shape us over time, for better or worse.
We Have a Choice in Who We Become
Finally, the Bible is clear that while forces outside our control influence us, we ultimately have a choice in our moral direction. When Joshua challenges Israel to fear the Lord, he makes clear the decision lies with them:
“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15 NKJV)
We see this choice reflected when Moses urges Israel:
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live (Deuteronomy 30:19 NKJV)
While external influences impact us, God ultimately holds us accountable for the moral choices we make. Our nature does not determine our destiny – by God’s grace, we can choose life, growth and righteousness.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
The Bible suggests human nature and identity are shaped by both innate factors and environmental influences. While our fallen nature tends towards sin, our characters are also profoundly impacted by nurture and upbringing. However, we have the free will to choose our moral direction. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be transformed to align with Christ.
- God forms each person with unique gifts and temperaments. Our biological nature originates from God.
- Human nature has been corrupted by sin and is bent away from God.
- Our fallen nature can only be redeemed and transformed by the Holy Spirit.
- Our upbringing and experiences significantly shape our character over time.
- While influences outside our control impact us, we have free will to choose our moral direction.
- Our destiny is not determined by our nature – by God’s grace we can be transformed.
The Bible suggests a nuanced interplay between nature and nurture. As Christians, we reject deterministic views of human identity. Through the Spirit, we are not bound by genetic predispositions, personality traits, or developmental limitations. God can transform anyone to reflect Christ’s image. Our nature does not determine our destiny.