The Believer’s Nature

As I have already shared, the past several months, I have been reading the Scripture with a specific question in mind, “Who does God say I am? Who is the ‘new me’?” I have shared my decision to believe what I read in Scripture, rather than merely reading what I believe.

I recognize that what I am about to share may be controversial to some and may be misunderstood by others. However, I do not write to be controversial; I have a growing passion for the person of Jesus Christ to be revealed through His body. The Lord has shown me the folly of my own way of thinking, and I have a new desire for everything that I share to be judged by the Word of God. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and I need to change. It’s really that simple. I desire to be like the Bereans who searched Scripture to see if the things they heard were really truly, and I challenge you to do the same.

With that introduction, let me cut to the chase. In regard to our identity in Christ, I have been asking this simple question, “Do we have a sin nature?” Regardless of the theological and doctrinal answers I had received to that question, the impression that I had received from much of the teaching I’d heard had implied (and sometimes outrightly affirmed) an ongoing struggle with the sin nature.

Because of this, if I will be completely honest, it was difficult for me to even visit this question. If I say my nature isn’t to sin, is it not pride? If I visit this question, will I create some kind of faith that allows total lawlessness because it denies our capacity to sin? The true question, of course, is simply, “Is this concept Biblical?”

As I read Romans, I realized that Paul went to great lengths to persuade us that we died. What he means…we’re dead! If I’m dead, it means that the “old me” is dead, gone, and buried–because that’s what happens to dead people. The “old me” was crucified with Christ, and a “new me” rose with him. The “old me” was under legal obligation to sin, but he’s dead, so I’m not under obligation. The “old me” is not something I have to kill; it’s something that happened on the cross 2000 years ago. In fact, because this is our reality, Paul tells us to consider ourselves as being dead to sin! This means that we need to change our thinking to believe that we are dead to sin. The “old me” is dead, along with its bent towards sin, and the “new me” is alive to Christ.

The question naturally follows, “If I’m dead to sin, why do I not always feel like it?” However, we can ask this question differently, “If the Word of God does not match my experience, which do I believe?” If the Word of God says I’m dead to sin, it means that I’m dead to sin. If we believe that we have a sin nature, we will live as if we have a sin nature. The trouble with believing that we have a sin nature is that it keeps us in bondage to sin. How can I get free from sin when it is part of my nature? And is that not the reason we died with Christ, because we were fundamentally broken and could not please God? However, if we believe that we are truly dead to sin, we will live as though we are dead to sin, and we will live free from it–because Jesus really did die to set us free from the control of sin!

I have heard many people quote Romans 7:15, which says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” At first glance, it appears that perhaps Paul is saying that he has a sin nature. However, as we look at the context, we see that he is describing us before Christ. The law that was given is a spiritual law, but those who are of the flesh (non-spiritual) cannot fulfill a spiritual law. In fact, he sets the context of this passage with verse 14, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” In other words, you can embrace verse 15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” only if you embrace the previous verse that you are of the flesh, sold under sin. When Paul wrote this, was he really confessing that he was of the flesh and sold under sin? And if this is what Paul meant, why did he continue in Romans 8 by thanking God for condemning sin in the flesh through Jesus Christ? How can this tension continue if God has taken care of the underlying problem?

I have heard a second explanation, that if we must die daily, implying that if we don’t, our old self will resurrect. I can find two passages possibly supporting this. In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul proclaims, “I die every day!” However, Paul is not talking about dying to sin. In the previous verse, he talks about being in physical danger every hour, and in the following verse he talks about the beasts of Ephesus. This concept is in reference to Jesus’ words in Luke 9, where he instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is in the context of Him telling His disciples that He must suffer and must face persecution, and I personally believe Jesus’ intent was that we not shrink back from facing suffering or persecution.

I have heard a third explanation for this, that we are “positionally sanctified” and “progressively sanctified”. I understand that we grow in faith and knowledge of our Lord, and I understand that not everyone’s spiritual journey continues at the same rate. However, my concern is that our belief in progressive sanctification keeps us from experiencing the fullness of what God has already done. If Scripture teaches that it’s normal for us to continually battle something we call a sin nature, I am willing to embrace that. However, that’s not what I read. What I read is that we are not under obligation to sin; and if we are not under obligation, why would we live under it? No matter what our experience, we must believe what God says about us. As we embrace what He says, our experience will follow. If it is what God has spoken, it means it is truth and reality. To live according to that is to live in reality.

The issue of a sin nature is not merely an intellectual issue. It is an intensely practical issue. Our beliefs drive our actions. If we believe that our nature is sinful, we have no way of escaping the control of sin, because it is part of who we are. We will continue to fight with something that Jesus dealt with 2000 years ago. If we believe that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ, we will live free from its grip and control.

As a final disclaimer, I am not saying that we cannot sin. Adam and Eve sinned before the fall, and we have the option to obey sin and become its slaves. Though we have the choice, we are under no obligation!

I recognize that this discussion opens a plethora of additional questions. As I said, I do not intend to argue or invoke controversy. I only desire the Word of God to be my ultimate authority, and I want to allow what He says to dictate my life, not my own opinions or experiences!

Soli Deo gloria.

3 comments

  1. Sherilyn Miller

    AMEN!! AND AMEN!!!!!!! Powerful life-changing truth… so needed to be heard and explained clearly. I am wondering if you have noticed that “old nature, old man, etc.” are very tight terms for the most part in the New Testament and “new man, new nature, marrow, heart” etc. are also and then “flesh, body” also. We have heard them mixed up randomly all our lives which lend to the confusion but Paul doesn’t mix them. What do you think of the idea that while we were the old man our bodies/flesh were “trained to sin” and so that is why in the flesh we can still sin, but at core that is NOT who we are or our tendency and it is that flesh that is being now sanctified?? 🙂

    • matthiasmiller

      I have not paid close attention to the distinction between those terms, but I have loved hearing from others about what they’ve seen and realized!

      With that in mind, here are several passages that I think speak to that:

      Romans 8:3-4 says, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

      Galatians 5:24 says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

      Ephesians 6:10-12 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

      In summary: Sin has been condemned in the flesh, the flesh been crucified with its passions and desires, and we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. Although sin used to reign in the flesh and we used to wrestle with it, that was the reality before we were born again and is no longer the reality for us who believe.

      Where, then, is our struggle? According to Ephesians, it is against spiritual forces of evil. From this, I’ve come to the conclusion that sanctification is more about receiving spiritual deliverance and freedom than merely correcting bad habits.

      That’s my understanding, at least. 🙂

  2. Sherilyn Miller

    Love hearing this!! Want to know more, more, fully…. I so agree that that sanctification is not merely correcting bad habits!! Love that it is not natural for us to sin… and we so so do live out of what we believe. I am starting slowly to ask Jesus what am I believing…. thank you for bringing Jesus.

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