The Human Genome Project has spiked widespread awareness of genes. In recent years, many claim to have identified specific genes or groups of genes that govern human behaviour, much in the way a light switch controls a circuit.

Headline news

As a result we now have headlines regularly appearing about a bad driver gene, a fat gene, friends gene, generosity gene, happiness gene, infidelity gene, liberal gene, paedophilia gene, psychopath gene, religion gene, smother mother gene, suicide gene, gay gene and a violent media consumption gene!!

After some media buzz about a genetic component to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one British paper asked “Are some children just born bad?”, suggesting that “previous thinking was flawed and some children, through no fault of the parents, are simply bad seeds.”

Which is all very misleading.

As a British geneticist recently pointed out, most human traits are influenced by lots of genes. So, to suggest that each element of human behaviour is governed by a single gene is just not true. After all, it’s now known that there are more than 50 different genes associated with our height!

And we are only beginning to learn about epigenetics, the system within our cells that governs whether, when, and how a gene will be used. It threatens to upend the nonsense, simply because our genes are not the only thing that govern our behaviour.

Do we have an excuse?

In the end, genes just don’t offer an escape from a personal responsibility for our own actions. We cannot ignore the fact that, given the chance, we all have a tendency to do bad things. The Bible says just that:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)

“People are tempted when they are drawn away and trapped by their own evil desire.” (James 1:14 GNB)

In other words, our human nature – dictated by our genes – certainly governs our behaviour; we all have evil desires of one sort or another.

But that does not give us an excuse to do anything we like, saying “we were born that way”.

Winning the battle

Another New Testament writer, Paul, wrote about his struggle to resist the temptations he had to do things God didn’t want him to do, or which threatened to stop him doing the things he knew God wanted him to do. He described it as “a law” acting inside him, telling him to do the wrong things:

“When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:21-24 NIV)

Paul is not alone in having to fight regular ‘battles’ in that ‘war’! Fortunately, Paul also tells us that God does not expect us to fight such battles knowing we cannot win, as we read in his letter to the Corinthians:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

So, whatever bad things our genes might encourage us to do – like some of those things that hit the headlines – it’s still up to us to behave in ways that God approves. We cannot simply blame our genes and say “I was born that way” when we behave badly!

It’s up to us to distinguish ‘right from wrong’, with the help of the Bible, then behave accordingly, if we really want to live like a Christian.