Are we free moral agents?
We all know that genetics and environments play a part in what we do, but does it truly prevent us from the ability to control our own actions? According to the Bible, sin is genetically inheritable, passed down from Adam and Eve. Although this couple were genetically flawless, it seems the physical act of rebellion against Yahweh (this name essentially meaning "causer" or "causing to become") then formed rebellious tendencies within their genetics which would eventually pass on to their offspring. So, originally, they were genetically inclined to cooperate with Yahweh and his intentions for life, but like the Devil, they had become "satans" (which means resisters and is not only applied to the Satan, which was the first to resist Yahweh). And, according to the scriptures, this is why we struggle with doing good rather than bad, which Paul expressed when he said, "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."
The consequence of our stance on free moral agency
is a very significant issue with regard to what we believe in life. For example, I find myself often stunned by atheistic evolutionists because of how many of them do not fully grasp the consequence of that stance. Believing in women's choice to destroy their own fetus through surgical methods impossible in natural environments, protecting endangered species and even supporting equal opportunity programs are in complete opposition to evolutionary theory. What is the consequence of a godless evolution-based world? It means that justice, equality, ethics are completely unreasonable and unnatural. Evolution is suppose to be about superior genetics (natural eugenics), self-serving forcefulness and the extinction of anything that can't tough it out. If you believe in a godless world formed by evolution, really, it is illogical of you to have a problem with rape, because it is merely the act of males seeking to optimize their genetic success (from an animalistic point of view). And believing in evolutionary theory is to believe that weaker creatures losing their spot in history leads to genetic refinement which ultimately led to us, thus racism, speciesism and sexism is suppose to be all fine and good concepts in the dog-eat-dog world of evolutionary theory. It's important to be intellectually honest with ourselves and break down concepts to really understand the full implications of believing a certain way.
Now, getting back to free moral agency for the more spiritually-inclined, let's keep in mind that while genetics and environment are powerful forces in one's life, there is a consequence to believing we are stuck on moral train tracks. If we are destined to be good or bad, it is unreasonable for us to be judged for being good or bad, because it was decided for us and not by us. Thus, this simply cannot be so. If it were so, it means nothing in the Bible makes sense and there would be no point in God giving it to humankind. Justice only makes sense in a world where you could have chosen to do something good but instead chose to do something bad. So, although inherited sin makes the task to behave in a good way rather than a bad way more effortful, we must be free moral agents in order to be judged.
What does it mean to be a free moral agent?
To answer that question let's consider another question: Who is authorized to tell me what to do? Sometimes that can be a confusing question to answer, because the Bible provides many examples of situations that suggest one way and then other examples to balance them out. A lot of critics of the Bible like to claim there are many contradictions, but they aren't contradictions, they are angles and aspects that when combined can help us reach a balanced worldview. For example, the Apostle Paul expressed the need for people to respect and honor "those taking the lead" in organized spiritual forums, but there are many contrasting scriptures to this concept, including Paul himself.
Jesus stated that no one was to be called rabbi (which means "teacher") and pointed out that we are all spiritual brothers and sisters on an equal position with each other. Now, Jesus is more important than Paul, so if we were to listen to anyone, it should be him more than Paul, but does that mean we should disregard what Paul said? No, we can use both statements to arrive at a more balanced way of interpreting God's intentions for us.
We can take another example of Paul and what he did. At one point the early Christians in Jerusalem convened to discuss some rules, but they mostly saw it as a bad idea to go beyond the rules Jesus already set, and kept it a small list. Jesus was not a rule maker, he moved people to think in principles rather than rules and he supported the reduction of rules in favor of utilizing a mental filter in which we ask ourselves, How does God feel about this and is this loving to my fellow human? Jesus stance is a simple and clear one: "Love is the law's fulfillment." So, his disciples, knowing this, sought to limit their rule making and said, "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
But what did Paul do?
After being a participant of this order or decree set by the elders and apostles in Jerusalem he went off to share Jesus' message with the Greeks and he flatly taught them the opposite of what they had decided. He taught them to disregard the command to not eat food if it had possibly been sacrificed to an idol, but why? Paul wrote to the Romans: "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."
The religious council said one thing, and although Paul believed that organized religion was a good thing and that the elders were to be honored for their efforts, he taught the opposite of what they commanded. He did this because he realized something, these men had not fully grasped what it meant to be under Christ's law rather than the Mosaic law, and because they were merely sticking to traditions that would not help Christians move forward in Jesus' teachings, he had to reject their orders.
Are we thinking like a Pharisee?
Religious organization serves much value, because in organizing we humans do a better job of helping the world learn about the Bible's valuable message and how to apply scriptural principles in our lives. But a common theme in organized religion and really any organization is power and rank. Jesus, however, though constantly speaking of God's kingdom discouraged the ideas of ranks and law/rule making. He was king, and he acknowledged anyone fondly that recognized his authority, but he wielded his authority in a very uncommon way. Rather than order others to serve him, the king, he washed their feet and referred to himself as a "minister" (which only meant servant and didn't have the same holiness tone that it has today) to his disciples.
Furthermore, despite being king of the whole universe (this authority given to him by his father Yahweh for the price of dying for humankind's sins), when a man requested that Jesus manage a legal matter between two brothers over the issue of sharing an inheritance, Jesus asked who assigned him to such a responsibility. His point was that he had one job to do, and he never assumed more authority than what he was given for a particular job. We should all imitate this example.
Religious groups have a tendency to assume the authority to create rules. Well, it is fine and logical to organize and facilitate efforts with some parameters in place to keep things orderly, timely and effective. However, never would any Christian want to find themselves thinking like a Pharisee, in trying to create rules and obligations for others that are not already explained in the Bible. In fact, Paul's example with the food shows that we should be careful to even try and impose old testament laws on anyone today, because Christ's law overshadows those laws and replaces them. We are not under the Mosaic law anymore, and we should never be under any other law except for Christ's law.
Lastly, when we think that we have authority to tell others what is good or bad, we need to keep in mind that it is each individual person's obligation to "perceive God's will" and that if we try to get others to do what we think is right we are forcefully violating their free moral agency. God is the creator of free moral agency, so we would not wish to work against him in seeking to dictate to others our own viewpoints of good and bad. It is fine and crucial for a Christian to discuss God's word, but how one lives according to the law of love is something only that free moral agent can concluded. We all answer to God for our own decisions, but when we seek to impose our own ideals on others, we answer for that too.
In the end of the day, accurately learning the Bible's key messages is all that matters. Humans are just humans, read your Bible, try to comprehend what it is telling you and apply it as best you can. I am writing articles in the hopes to show people how very interesting the Bible is, the most interesting story ever written, reality. That said, I'm nobody's spiritual guide, just a guy that reads the Bible.
Enjoy intellectual honesty with your cup of coffee,