Sermon delivered December 4, 2004 by Steve Bauer

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version RSV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Nicodemus Meets Charles Darwin

Some years ago my family and I took a short trip to Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island. down on the south Georgia coast. We were in a museum on Jekyll Island displaying artifacts and other information about the history of Jekyll Island. Central to that museum was the theme of the slave trade; how Jekyll Island had played a major role in the slave trade. And they had some photographs of newspaper articles and ads from that period of time about two hundred years ago. There was one that caught my attention, and advertizement that read as follows:

 "Ten Dollars Reward. Ran away about three weeks ago from Jekyll Island, a
  Negro man named Tom, about 56 years old.  Five feet, four or five inches high.  Has
  large whiskers, and is very artful. (as incrafty artful).  He took with him a small fishing
  canoe boat.  The fellow was well known and particularly remarkable for his being lame
  and disabled at the right arm on account of a shot in the shoulder which he received
  sometime after his legal death and burial about the year 1804.  But not withstanding was
  found again, whereby the coroner was disappointed, having to return the fees.  He was
  afterward drowned, appeared again, and is again vanished. In the hope that he might once
  more reappear, the above reward is offered and will be paid upon his being apprehended,
  dug or fished up, and delivered to the above island to so-and-so, his owner."

Have you every felt like your old man of sin is like crafty Tom? He seems to die and disappear, but then he reappears from the proverbial grave. Can the old man of sin be put down permanently? Or is he to be like Tom, faking his demise only to appearing again?

Scholarly disciples of Charles Darwin would have us believe that indeed our Tom, ourold man of sin cannot be gotten rid of. In the past two decades the discipline of evolutionary psychology arose and there has been quite a bit of populist publishing from this perspective.. For the evolutionary psychologist, based on Darwinian thought, you are not really free. Every thing you do is determined by your genes.

In fact, as this movement began in the 197s, there was a book published called The Selfish Gene and out of this idea is the belief that absolutely every thing you do is ultimately not controlled by reaon and choice and thinking, but it is gene driven. And it's purpose is to make you behave in a way to make sure your genes get passed on to the next generation and so forth. The whole purpose in life in this Darwinist model is to pass on one's genes. And thus they believe if we take our current behaviors and we analyze them in the light of how does this behavior give me of getting a better chance of passing on my genes, they came up with a fancy little story to explain this. And this explains why we do what we do. For example: Altruism, being generous and unselfish with others is thought to be really driven by genetics because altruism is believed to have started with your next of kin. So, I scratch your back, you scratch my back; I help you with your troubles, you help me with mine, and we are both better to get our genes passed on through because we protec ourselves from tragedy kind of things, you see. So altruism is not really altruism, it has an ulterior motive.

In the mid-1980's Robert Write had a cover article on Time magazine. On the cover of Time, in big bold letters, with a pair of wedding rings splitting apart, it said, "Infidelity, it may be in our genes." And the article went on to say that from a genetic standpoint, we have a better chance of our genes passing on and on if we have children with multiple partners so that we will have different combinations of genes. "And so," it went on, "evolution designed us to have one or two children with a partner and when the youngest child is about four years old we are designed to break up, find a new partner to combine with and do it all over again in the hopes that one of those offspring will have a better combination to keep the gene flow moving."

There are other explanations along this line that would not be appropriate from the pulpit, but I think you get the idea.

In yet another study published in the mid '80s also in several science journals gave the conclusion that infanticide, the killing or murder of an infant is not a sign of some pathological sickness, but rather is an evolutionary adaptation to help us pass on our DNA. This was based on a study of certain kinds of monkeys in Africa. An alpha male will kill offspring of the previous alpha male on the theory that he is clearing the way for his offspring so his genes can pass on.

A female will kill her early-born baby so that, they say, she can come into estrus and attract the alpha male and have a baby by him and have a higher social standing because if she can have a baby by him, etc. and therefore, with his care, etc. the new baby will have a better chance of survival than the old baby. And so, infanticide actually helps her have a better chance of passing her genes on. And since we evolved from the apes this trait has evolved into us and we sometimes find humans committing infanticide as well.

A final example, just to show the populist level of this. Again, in the 1980s in the South Bend Tribune, a small-time newspaper, not unlike the Chattanooga Times Free Press, had a little article which I have clipped out in my file at home, where a study was done on guppies from which they drew conclusions about human courtship. The profound conclusion is that in courtship based on this study of guppies we discovered the grand truth that the more aggressive male is more likely to win the female. It sounds fishy to me.

In short, in every behavior they come up with this creative story-telling to tell us "You're not in charge of your life, your genes run the show." The genes are the almighty ruler and you cannot fight them. They cannot be resisted.

If we take this to its logical conclusion, I can't really fight my Irish temper that I got from my father and my Irish grandfather, because it's in my genes. Or in my case I should say German. I can't change the tendency toward lust and sexual impurity because I was born that way. I can't change my sexual orientation that I claim to have because it's in my genes. It's who I am. I can't change my alcohol addiction because it's in my genes to do it. From pedophiles to thieves, to attention deficit disorder, to obesity, we blame it on the genes and thus are no longer responsible. I can't change, I was born that way. It's in my genes. Such are the contemporary results of the evolutionary philosophy launched by Darwin a hundred and fifty or so years ago. But I would propose to you that this deterministic belief is even older than Darwin.

Please take your Bibles and turn to the book of John 3:1-8. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night He didn't want to be seen. and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The King James says: "Born again."

Jesus clearly states the condition of the entrance into the kingdom of God. Mere compliance with rules and regulations and expectations is not good enough. Some well- discipline people can put on a good pretense of being a Christian. Do you agree? But they are not born again. And, according to Christ unless there is new birth, unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God no matter how polished his behavior is, no matter how cultured he is, no matter how well he refines himself, he or she must be born again.

What was Nicodemus' response to this news? Because it is here in verse four that Nicodemus meets Charles Darwin. Nicodemus says to Him, John 3:4: How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers womb and be born? What is he ultimately saying here? Is he not essentially saying, "Look, I am born, I'm an old man. I can't go back and be something different. I am what I am." The same message the evolutionary psychologists are telling him. "I am what I am. I was born that way. I can't change. How can I change? Since I was born this way."

Today we find the same cynicism against real change and real recovery, even among God's people. How many times do we hear stories of the new member who is passionate and on fire while all the cynical old-timers, "They'll get over it." The wife or husband will become cynical and think the spouse is unable to change a bad habit. Parents give up on their children. "He'll always be that way. He'll never change." Teachers give up on students. Children give up on parents. And we abandon our hopes and dreams and say, "They were born that way. They can't change."

And, folks, I think sometimes we start communicating this message and we take away their hope of growth and change because we assign a label to them, and instead of encouraging them that they can make a step forward, we re-enforce to them, "You're a stubborn mule. You're never going to change." And we help trap them in their own place.

What is Christ's answer to this cynicism? Folks, maybe the hardest one is "I can't change." We're tough on ourselves, aren't we? Now it is true there are some genetic things I can't change. My skin color, my hair color; oh I can change my hair color if I keep going to the salon, but if I stop the hair will grow back. The dye only lasts so long. I can't change the genetics for my aging processes and those kind of things. What we are doing is dealing with the moral, intellectual, character side of man. And the mistake, we say, is that character has been genetically encoded. And therefore, I'm stuck to be who I am.

What is Jesus' answer? John 3:5, Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of the water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh [That's the genetic stuff.] and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I say to you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Jesus says, "This new birth does not happen according to the laws of nature." It does not happen according to the laws of self-help and psychology. It happens through a mysterious means that you cannot quantify, measure and put in a box. He said, "It's like the wind." Now, today with our sophistication we know a little more about what produces the wind, but you cannot see the wind. You can see the dust in the wind, you can see the leaves in the wind, you can see the trees in the wind, but you don't see the wind itself. You only see the results of the wind. And the wind starts up in a way apart from my abilities to control and manipulate it. And new-birth starts as a work of the Spirit in the heart which I cannot start, but which I can resist. It happens through a supernatural means that is beyond the scope of scientific enquiry and psychological analysis. It is not subject to natural law like genetics.

Desire of Ages, page 671, by E.G. White, says "Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the third person of the God Head, Who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature." We receive a new nature from outside our genes, from outside ourselves through the agency of the Spirit. "Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary (that's our genes) and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church."

Folks, I have with good news for you today. The God Who made the genes is the same God Who can overrule the sinful corruption of those genes. The God Who created the genes can give us power to live according to His Spirit and His Lord instead of according to the impulses of our genes.

Certainly we would expect the maker of the genes to be more powerful than the genes he made. And even though those genes have been corrupted by sin, and I inherit sinful tendencies from my parents and my great grandparents, the power of God to resist those influences and make right choices, is more powerful than those genes. May I walk with a Spiritual limp? But I can walk. I can manage through God's glory and live by an alternate nature than the one I inherited. Not because I see it. Not because I feel it. But because supernatural something happens to my heart. And I believe what God says.

There is some powerful testimony in the Bible as to the power of God to change radical conditions. Turn with my to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. [Notice this vice list here] neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is a pretty spicy list isn't it? He has everything from adultery to homosexuality, to drunkenness, robbery, thievery, etc. He says these folks are not entering the kingdom of God. That is bad news, isn't it. Now let's look at the good news. Verse 11: And such were Some of the Corinthian members, folks were former homosexuals, former thieves, former adulterers. But the good news is "such were" Past tense. Some of you will change. Real change. I wonder how it happened. It happens through the indwelling of Christ through His Spirit. But to be indwelt by Christ you must dwell in Christ. Folks, visiting Christ is not sufficient. You must abide in Christ. Not just visit Him. Now I am a man of like passion as you. And I will freely admit that I have times in my life where my experience, or poor choices, bring convergences, and abiding in Christ can wear a little thin. And when my abiding in Christ, Tom starts to come back to life, right? The key is not to fight Tom. The key is to abide in Christ and if you get thinned out, deal with it as fast as you, see that you get back deep in Christ.

He was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home. He got into alcohol consumption while attending an SDA boarding academy. By the time he graduated from a Seventh-day Adventist college, he was addicted to his alcohol. He eventually lost his marriage, his career. He was always broke and unreliable. His whole purpose in life was to get another drink. His sister was one of my church members, and I went to visit him. I explained to him that the substance abuser is addicted to feeling good. And the reason he drinks his alcohol is that he's trying to feel good. He's trying to blunt pain and feel better. He doesn't want to feel average, he wants to feel great.

That, folks is a microcosm of sin. Nine times out of ten, my experience is a person's besetting sin is the destructive habit they turn to is to help themselves feel better, her it's sexual abuse, or substance abuse, or bungie jumping, or intensity addiction, or whatever it is, he will turn to it again and again, precisely because we're not feeling good and we want to feel good. That's where Satan gets us. All sin, in my opinion, is pleasure oriented. We want to get rid of pain AND feel good. And that's why it's so powerful. Alcoholism is just a microcosm in one form of this phenomenon. Yours is something else. We all have it.

I explained to him that if he were going to save his life, because his liver was at minimum function, he had esophageal varices (varicose veins in the throat) that were near bursting and he would belled to death into his own stomach. I explained to him that if he were going to live, he would have to be willing to suffer for Jesus and feel some pain until he learned how to rely on Christ instead of alcohol. And that the flesh would scream and hoot and holler, because it doesn't like feeling bad. And that he would have to learn how to live by faith in what God says instead of making choices by how he felt. And that God gives power to make choice according to Spirit instead of according to feel.

A member of mine took him to detox. After three hours, in her car, with no drinking, when he was tested, his blood alcohol after three hours without a drink was .455%. And he showed no visible signs of inebriation. That's how resistant and acclimated he was to alcohol.

And you say, "Can God deliver a man like that?" Suffice it to say, he had his ups and downs, but the last I knew, this man has been seven years alcohol-free. He's helping plant a new church in northern New England. He's a layman, teaching Sabbath School. He even preaches sometimes.

Now, can he back-slide? Absolutely. You see, folks, If we're going to have God be more powerful than the genes, we must abide in Christ through His Spirit. Visiting Christ is insufficient. We must abide in Christ. And I know, these last two weeks I've had a convergence in my life that has really made abiding in Christ rough. It has stretched me, but I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel and we can get back on track.

These things happen to us, folks, but we have to have the commitment to follow and get back to abiding in Christ daily, hourly, moment by moment and we need to make some choices about that which would dilute that abiding in Christ and undermine its effectiveness.

And so as we enter a new year, and as we think about those New Year's resolutions, let's remember Nicodemus and Charles Darwin. And let's seek to abide in Christ and in His Spirit through His Word, that new-birth will be more than a theory, it will be a life lived, not by choices based the clamoring of feelings or flesh, but a life lived by faith in what God says, in spite of what I see and what I feel. God bless us to this end.

  Hymn of Praise: #122, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  Scripture: John 3:1-8
  Hymn of Response: #302, Deeper Yet

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