Factors that Determine "Who We Are"


I’ve been thinking of the various factors that determine who we are:

  1. Genes (DNA and RNA)
  2. Environment
  3. Choices (free-will)
  4. God’s will (destiny, fate)

Genes either determine or significantly influence our gender, race, personality, health, body details, etc.
Environment includes factors such as family, social standing, beliefs, experiences, living standards, many “likes” and “dislikes”, predjudices, etc.
Choices, free-will, has various levels of effect in our lives. The more choices we make, the more such have influence in how we are and what happens in our lives.
God’s will (destiny, fate) also significantly influences our lives. Pharoah and Moses both were born with very specific destinies. Scripture even says that God hardened Pharoah’s heart to accomplish His will.

I wonder, 1) would you add any other major category to this list, and 2) what % value would you give to each of these categories.

My initial thoughts on % value of each is:
30% Genes
30% Environment
20% Choices
10% to 90% – God’s will

You can see that I’m really conflicted about “God’s will”. For some select people this is a major factor. For others though, it seems that God’s will little influences their lives. Of course, this in itself can be seen as God’s will.



Those interested in the subject would probably enjoy a very good book by philosopher Charles Taylor called “Sources of the Self.” He is somewhat of a moral philosopher, so unsurprisingly he talks about orientation in ‘moral space’ as perhaps the greatest part of our becoming a self.
Interesting points, Sherman, and that ‘God’s will’ percentage is a toughie.


I must say, this is a fascinating topic that I have thought very little about. I’ll have a look at that book, Dave


I first noticed that you had placed “destiny, fate” parenthetically after the factor “God’s will”.
God does not interfere with free will. If He consistently did interfere, He doubtless would not permit the evil that people do to each other and to themselves. If God should interfere with free will, we would not be free-will beings at all, but a race of robots. If God’s will were always being done, Jesus would not have taught his disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Omit destiny and fate from God’s will, and you have four factors which are not determinitive but influential. They all affect us (or perhaps not, if we choose to resist them). Dependent on our response to these influences, our characters develop accordingly.


When a father corrects a child, it does not make them an automoton. Free will “wouldnt be free” because it isnt, if defined in that way, totally free, and the words “free will” arent a scriptural absolute. I prefer “man’s will” which is neither totally free or totally controlled. IMO God is an engaged and thoughtful parent who often thwarts our plans for our own good and for His own purposes. He is also a hands on “potter” who shapes us throughout our lives like clay being formed upon the wheel- occasionally squashing us and starting over should the vessel be too flawed to fire in the kiln that will set its shape- also according to God’s purpose. the mind of man makes a plan, the Lord directs his steps.

“Why has the potter made me thus?” …He knows, but the degree to which you are clued into it may depend upon your co-operation.

“Be not like the horse or the mule which must have bit or bridle or it will not come near”.

IMO, No one’s will is totally free in this life except the one who is perfected in love- that is the glorious liberty of the children of God into which first we, and then ultimately the entire creation are being reborn. So the old creation is the crucible in which the new creation is being formed( light shall shine out of darkness 2 cor 4…the earth was without form and void, let there be light!Gen 1)

No ones will is totally controlled in this life, either. A child whose parent totally controls their will never learns or grows. This life is a potter’s wheel, and we, as diciples are to “take His yoke upon us”.

I think a great example is the garden of gethsamane where Jesus expresses His desire to have the cup of crucifition pass, “Nevertheless not my will but your will be done”.

I think much of who we are is in us in the womb. Who we become depends upon our interactions with God as clay upon the wheel, and whether or not His original purpose for us finds expression through our yieldedness, or is thwarted by our stubborness, but in anycase, there is plenty of water(grace) on the clay, to keep it working towards His creative purpose, because He is the artist and the sculptor of us.


I think much of who we are is in us in the womb. Who we become depends upon our interactions with God as clay upon the wheel, and whether or not His original purpose for us finds expression through our yieldedness, or is thwarted by our stubborness, but in anycase, there is plenty of water(grace) on the clay, to keep it working towards His creative purpose, because He is the artist and the sculptor of us.

Agreed and well said!



If a father had the power to take away the child’s ability to choose, and controlled his actions like a puppeteer pulls the strings to control a puppet, the child be become an automoton.

No one had denied influences which TEND to affect behaviour. But influences do not DETERMINE behaviour—no matter how strong.

A father corrects his child. That is, he influences his child to behave in a particular fashion. Some fathers use a very harsh form of “correction”. But some children rebel against even that. Their free will, or ability to choose is not removed by the father’s influence.

So it is with God. God influences his people. As the writer to the Hebrews says, He corrects his children, just as a good human father corrects his.
But God does not predetermine the behaviour of people. He seldom or never interferes with their free will—only influences it.


I’ll just agree to disagree, because although I dont believe God predetermines behavior, I do believe He routinely interferes with our will, which is not totally free as long as we are babes. Freedom is given gradually as we mature. Shepherds impose their will on sheep when they must, to keep them safe, and I believe God does so with us. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Where does the term “free will” come from anyway? It certainly isnt biblical.


It’s not that our wills are weak; it’s that they are perverse. - MavPhil


There’s nothing wrong with our ability to choose, and our choices are not always perverse. The fact of free will is the main factor in having been created in God’s image. The problem is, of course, the bad choices which fallen man continually makes. But he isn’t constrained to make them, though he may be strongly influenced.

Yet no matter how much influence, we may choose otherwise. We all know dedicated alcoholics who seem to have been slaves to drink, who, notwithstanding have chosen to quit cold turkey, and have succeeded. Some who have done so, have never become Christians, and so their ability to do so does not seem to have originated in the enabling grace of God made available by the magnificent sacrifice of Christ. What then is the source of their ability to have put away drink—if not their own free will?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that the sacrifice of Christ was unnecessary. I think it highly improbable if not impossible for fallen man to CONSISTENTLY make good choices without the enabling grace of God.


I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to read or reply to anything on this thread, but I have a few minutes so here you go.

By putting destiny and fate in parentheses I was not making a statement concerning free-will; I only intended to bring into the mix the reality that for some people it seems that God has a very specific calling or purpose. For example, consider Moses and Pharoah. Pharoah could not have chosen to be Moses and Moses could not have chosen to be Pharoah. And scripture says that God even hardened Pharoah’s heart. Well, anyhow, the discussion on free-will is another thread.

Concerning the use of “Determine” or “Influential”, I meant it more as “Influential”. The combined influence of all 4 results in who a person is, his character, and significantly effect the story of his life.


As I’ve pondered the OP question and talked with others, it seems to me that “God’s will” underlies, surrounds, influences, controls each of the other 3 factors to a greater or lesser degree.

For example, consider Genes. Are the Genes that we have a result of randomn chance, God’s will, or a combination of both, depending on God’s overall plan? Who knows? And our genetic makeup significantly influences our character. Motivational gifts, personality characteristics, etc, all are founded in our genetic makeup.

Even our Choices can be influenced by God to a greater or lesser degree. For example, for years I have made efforts to move into full-time pastoral ministry, only to have every door shut and other occurences beyond my control that kept me from moving in that direction. Most recently, coming to believe in UR actually had me excluded from a fellowship. And yet in other situations, it seems that God opens doors and keeps encouraging me in another path. So though I “choose” a certain path, God can and does certainly block paths that are not His will; and the opposite is true also. So my “free-will” is not ultimately “free”, but is limited by God’s will.

Well, I gotta go for now.