A Reprobate Mind

How do we understand those who struggle with immoral attractions, who would rather be more natural in their inclinations? Or who feel compelled to self-identify as something other than they are? Or who fantasize about unspeakable wickedness? It does seem as if we’re not all deliberately choosing the attractions and tendencies over which we struggle, that we seem to be born with them, and Christians are not immune from the fight. How then can we condemn such behavior?

God tells us He gives us over to a reprobate mind, to do things which are harmful to ourselves and others, because we’ve not kept God central in our world view. (Ro 1:28) However, many of us struggle with such behavior who are not morally bankrupt; we may indeed be struggling quietly, doing our best to walk with God in spite of how we feel, and may not be able to identify anything we’ve done to create this condition. What hope do we have when we find ourselves struggling like this?

Perhaps the things we do instinctively, apart from our conscious will, spring from our sub-conscious, from beliefs and thinking patterns programmed into us from infancy through various combinations of trauma, societal training and cultural influences. How have these millions of signals, most of which we didn’t chose, impacted us?

It may also be that we inherit moral tendencies through our ancestry (De 23:2), and perhaps even from those in our current culture (3-4), or even from mankind in general (Ro 5:19), as part of a single, living human organism. (Ep 4:25) We don’t fully understand how we’re influenced by the thoughts and actions of others, but we don’t actually need to understand the why and how in order to be healed.

God has told us that knowing the truth makes us free (Jn 8:31-32), that acknowledging the truth sets us free from spiritual slavery and bondage. (1Ti 2:25-26) Truth is the weapon of our warfare in this struggle; there is no bondage or instinct too strong for God to heal, if we’re willing to pursue and receive the truth. (Ep 3:20)

Every one of us struggles with sinful tendencies and attractions which seem beyond our control; we can deny and resist them, but we can’t simply turn them off altogether and feel differently without divine healing. Rather than presuming “God made me this way” whenever we have an instinctive reaction that’s contrary to moral law, perhaps we should offer up these instincts to God and ask Him to help us re-program both our conscious and sub-conscious minds.

Consistently and prayerfully exposing our minds and hearts to truth and asking God to work it down into the deepest recesses of our being, this is the way to cleansing and freedom. (Ps 119:9) It may not be a quick fix, any more than our initial programming happened overnight; the web of lies may be extremely deep and complex. One thing we know is that God knows us better than we know ourselves (Ps 139:1-4), and He has given His very best to set us free. (Tit 2:14) If we want to be healed and pursue Him for it, He’s on our side and will be with us every step of the way. (He 13:5-6)

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Confess Your Faults

A common misconception is that God wants us to be transparent before others, open about our sins and brokenness, perhaps confusing this with humility. The reality is that we should be wise, careful who we trust with our inner selves. (Mt7:6) Few are worthy of our trust (Jn 2:24), so we must guide our affairs with discretion. (Ps 112:5) Our motive in speaking truth should seldom be about ourselves; we should be moved in love to edify others. (Ep 4:29)

Even so, when we get ourselves in a spiritual rut, such that we’re consistently off path and unable to recover ourselves, God tells us to confess our faults to those in close spiritual community, praying for each other that we might be healed. (Ja 5:16) God has designed spiritual community around this purpose; God heals some sinful patterns only as dear brothers and sisters pray for us. This endears us to one another in love, and shows us we need Christ in each other to overcome, to live as we should for Him.

Yet, even in such close relationships, God doesn’t encourage us to confess all of our individual sins to each other: He says we’re to confess our faults, which are not entirely the same as sins. The Greek for sins is hamartias, the idea of missing the mark, relating to discrete acts of Torah violation. (1Jn 3:4) However, the word translated faults is paraptomata, to fall beside or near something, connoting a repeating, persistent pattern of iniquity rather than a single act.

Most all of our modern English translations have the Greek hamartias in this text, and thus translate it as sinstrespasses, offenses, etc. This is because three of the four oldest Greek New Testament (GNT) manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus, from the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., the Egyptian Text) contain this reading, compared to all other surviving (Majority Text) manuscript witnesses of James. Textual critics typically presume older manuscripts are more accurate, ignoring the fact that the greatest corruptions to the GNT were introduced purposefully (by Marcion) well before the 4th century. Further, they ignore the fact that no plausible explanation for the existence of the Majority Text has yet been proposed, if it isn’t grounded in the autographs themselves.

The Egyptian hamartias, aside from having an inferior historical claim to legitimacy, is problematic from a practical perspective. The command to confess our sins, applies to every single instance of each and every kind of sin, obligating us all to confess all of our sins to each other, which is not possible: even if this is all we ever do, we’re continuing to commit individual sins faster than we can possibly confess them, so the more earnestly we attempt to obey such a command, the farther behind we will fall in our obedience to it.

A second problem relates to what it means to be healed of a sin which hasn’t been imputed to us. (Ro 4:8) What’s in view here cannot be forgiveness, for this has already been done in full, once for each believer, by Christ Himself. (Col 2:13) Rather, this is the healing of a spiritual wound or malady (Pr 18:14) in an ongoing sinful context. If we need others to pray for our healing from each specific historical act of Torah violation in order to be healed, then we shall never be healed of the vast majority of our sins, so we must remain forever crippled in them. This cannot be our Lord’s intent; it’s the kind of perversion we expect from those corrupting the word.

In comparison, confessing our faults — patterns of sin we observe in ourselves, which remain stubbornly persistent even though we’re struggling to obey – is perfectly reasonable. In resisting sin we become aware of such patterns of iniquity, rooted deeply within, where we’re unable to obey God even as we’re doing our best. It’s perfectly natural then to involve godly brothers and sisters, asking them to pray for us in specific ways so that we might overcome and walk in obedience. We’re healed as the lies at the root of our sinful patterns are exposed and replaced with truth. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Confession of specific sins should only be as public as the offence (Mt 18:15a), and pursued, not for personal healing, but as a means of promoting reconciliation and restoration of trust. (b) Confession of faults should only be with trusted allies in the faith for sanctification and growth in personal holiness.

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