by Norm Olson
Q. A born-again Christian I visited with the other day believes that we have just one nature, based on Romans 6:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, which say that old things have been done away with and all things have become new. Please comment.
A. Adam and Eve, our first parents, fell into sin through volitional disobedience to God. Their sin passed on to us a sin nature (also called in Scripture the flesh, the old man, or the outward man). Spiritually dead, the unsaved person has only the capacity for sin. Even what society perceives as “human good” is tainted (Isaiah 64:6). Birth into Adam’s family offers nothing for being holy or receiving the things of God.
God provided the remedy for the fallen human race through His Son, the Lord Jesus, the Perfect One Who took our place at the cross, doing for us what we could not do: pay the penalty for sin. This work of Christ on the cross, shedding His blood, is described as a free gift to all who will believe on Him (Ephesians 2:8, 9). When we take this gift, we experience the new birth. In 2 Peter 1:4 we read that this new birth experience results in our possessing yet another nature besides the old nature: the new nature (also called in Scripture the new man or the inward man).
God neither reforms nor eradicates our Adamic nature. Rather He gives a new nature to those who become His children through salvation. Thus a believer in Christ has two natures.
We must not fall into two erroneous views. One is the idea of “sinless perfection,” as though the old nature is no longer present (1 John 1:8–10). People who hold to this view generally excuse their sins, calling them mistakes, shortcomings, or weaknesses. The other erroneous view is sometimes called “sinful imperfection,” the thinking that “even though I’m saved, I still have a sin nature. I can’t help that, so I’ll just sin, and God will forgive me.” Such thinking fails to reckon with the holiness of God and also denies the freedom we can have from sin by yieldedness to the Holy Spirit, Who indwells the believer from the moment of salvation.
If two natures were not residing inside each believer, the apostle Paul would not have had to describe the continual conflict that he and every other believer experiences day to day (see Romans 7:14–25). In Galatians Paul wrote, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (5:16–18). In the life of the child of God, the flesh and the Spirit are continually in conflict. Who we yield to at any given moment is the one who wins out.
You mentioned Romans 6:6, which says that our old man was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed. Actually the King James word “destroyed” means “made inoperative.” In its original language, the word does not indicate an eradication of the sin nature. Rather it means that the sin nature doesn’t have to operate within us, or win. The “right” of the old nature, or old man—not the old nature itself—has been broken.
Paul and the other New Testament writers teach us how we can live so that the new nature, rather than the old nature, has its way in us. We must recognize the fact of Christ’s victorious work on the cross and His resurrection and that, therefore, sin does not have a right to control our lives. Romans 6:11 says that if we reckon, or consider, that we are dead to sin but alive to God through Christ, we can have victory whenever we claim that victory and obey God’s Word. God’s will for us is that we allow the Spirit to live His life through us; then we will have victory over the old nature. Yieldedness to God’s control is vital but not automatic. We learn how to yield as we grow in grace. We can’t kill the old nature, but we can subdue and defeat it as it tries to dominate. We must not feed the old nature and make provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14). Instead we must let the new man be on the throne and keep him strong by feeding upon the Word and things that will nourish us spiritually.
You and I will die someday (Hebrews 9:27), due to the Fall. But, good news: death delivers believers once and for all from the old nature and from the presence of sin (1 Corinthians 15:51–57).
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