Part 5: The Two Natures in the Believer

by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

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(As we continue our series on True Spirituality, Pastor Stam effectively addresses the two natures in the believer. The conflict between these two natures explains the present warfare we experience within our members. The lesson that follows is a biblical guide on how to have victory over sin in your life.)

THE OLD MAN AND THE NEW

The believer who would be truly spiritual must recognize the fact that within him there are now two natures; that in addition to the fallen nature of Adam there is also the perfect nature of Christ, begotten of God through the Holy Spirit.

So real is the presence of both these natures in every child of God, that in Paul’s references to the believer’s experience, his personal pronouns refer sometimes to the one and sometimes to the other.

A good example of this is found in Romans 7, where the apostle says on the one hand: “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Ver. 14) and on the other: “I serve the law of God” (Ver. 25). Again he says, on the one hand: “In me…dwelleth no good thing” (Ver. 18) and on the other: “I delight in the law of God” (Ver. 22) referring on the one hand to the old nature, and on the other to the new. Surely the “I” who delights in the law of God is not the same “I” who is “carnal, sold under sin” (Ver. 14). Yet in both cases the apostle uses the first person pronoun, associating both conditions with himself.

That the apostle here refers to two natures in one person is clear from the qualifying clauses he employs. On the one hand he says: “In me [THAT IS IN MY FLESH] dwelleth no good thing” (Ver. 18) while on the other, he says: “I delight in the law of God AFTER THE INWARD MAN” (Ver. 22). Thus the “me” in Verse 18 refers to the old nature, while the “I” in Verse 22 refers to the new. In the former dwells no good thing, while the latter delights in the law of God.

THE OLD NATURE IN THE BELIEVER

The believer who would be truly spiritual must recognize the presence of the old nature within. It would be dangerous not to recognize a foe so near.

The old nature in the believer is that which is “begotten of the flesh.” It is called, “the flesh,” “the old man,” “the natural man,” “the carnal mind.”

Just as “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8) so that which is of the flesh, in the believer, cannot please God. “The flesh,” as we have already seen, is totally depraved. God calls it “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3),1 warns that it seeks “occasion” to do wrong (Gal. 5:13) and declares that “the works of the flesh” are all bad (Gal. 5:19-21).

Nor is the old nature in the believer one which improves by its contact with the new. It is with respect to “the flesh” in the believer, even in himself, that the apostle declares that in it “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18), that it is “carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), that it is “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22), that it is at “enmity against God,” and is “not subject to the law of God, NEITHER INDEED CAN BE” (Rom. 8:7).

“The flesh,” even as it remains in the believer after salvation, is that which was generated by a fallen begetter. It is the old Adamic nature. It is sinful in itself. It cannot be improved. It cannot be changed. “That which is born [begotten] of the flesh is flesh,” said our Lord (John 3:6) and it is as impossible to improve the “old man” in the believer as it was to make him acceptable to God in the first place.

The “old man” was condemned and dealt with judicially at the Cross. Never once is the believer instructed to try to do anything with him or to make anything of him, but always to reckon him dead, and so “put him off.” But more of this later.

THE OLD NATURE NOT ERADICATED IN THIS LIFE

There are those who, with good motive, to be sure, strive to achieve the eradication of the old nature in this life. Such do not help, but hinder, the attainment of true spirituality.

First, the doctrine of eradication, far from taking a truly serious view of sin, takes a very shallow, superficial view of it. Those who teach it suppose that if we could get rid of the sins we recognize we should be perfect, not realizing that at our very best we all, having fallen into sin in Adam, constantly “come [present tense]2 short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and will continue to come short of it until we are changed to be “like Him.” Thus “We, through the Spirit, WAIT for the hope of [perfect, personal] righteousness by faith” (Gal. 5:5).

Concerning those who feel that they have achieved the eradication of the old nature, the fact is that others can invariably testify that they have not! And generally those who claim to be without sin are guilty of one of the greatest of all sins—spiritual pride.

Certainly the doctrine of eradication is a flat contradiction of Scripture. The first epistle of John emphatically declares:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (I John 1:10).

Paul also speaks of “the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23) and urges constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit for overcoming power (Rom. 8:11-13; Gal. 5:16,25). Indeed, if the doctrine of eradication were Scripturally sound there would be no reason for Paul to instruct all believers to deal with the old nature, in such terms as: “reckon,” “yield not,” “put off,” “mortify,” etc.

But let us suppose for the moment that it were possible to achieve the eradication of the flesh; would that also dispose of our other two enemies, the world and the devil? Surely not, and having gotten rid only of the fallen nature of Adam, we would, like Adam before the fall, be as subject to temptation from without as he, and would as surely fall. But the Scriptures clearly teach that we all fell once in Adam:

“by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

THE NEW NATURE IN THE BELIEVER

It has been well said that if there is anything good in any man it is because it was put there by God. And something good—a new, sinless nature—has been imparted by God to every believer.

While there is still within us “that which is begotten of the flesh,” there is also “that which is begotten of the Spirit,” and just as the one is totally depraved and “cannot please God,” so the other is absolutely perfect and always pleases Him.

Adam was originally created in the image and likeness of God, but he fell into sin and later “begat a son in HIS OWN likeness, after HIS image” (Gen. 5:3). It could not be otherwise. Fallen Adam could generate and beget only fallen, sinful offspring, whom even the law could not change. But “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son IN THE LIKENESS OF SINFUL FLESH, and for sin,” accomplished, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3,4).

As Adam was made in the likeness of God, but fell, so Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, to redeem us from the fall, that by grace, through the operation of the Spirit, a new creation might be brought into being, a “new man…renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:10) a “new man, which, after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

John, who does not go as far as the symbol of the new creation in this connection, nevertheless refers to the impartation of the new nature to believers, when he says:

“Whosoever is born [begotten] of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born [begotten] of God” (I John 3:9).

“We know that whosoever is born [begotten] of God sinneth not…” (I John 5:18).

It is evident that the “whosoever,” here, does not refer to the individual as such, but to that part of the individual which Paul calls the “new man,” for we have already seen that John, in this same epistle, declares that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and make God a liar. It is the new nature in the believer that cannot sin, for it is the new nature, not the old, that was begotten of God.

Thus in addition to our fallen Adamic nature we, through faith, have also become “partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4). This is the “inner man” of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:16, and this “inward man” delights to do God’s will (Rom. 7:22).

Let us thank God that the old nature is under the condemnation of death. Judicially it has already been dealt with. It was put to death representatively in Christ. Practically it will come to its end when our “earthly house…is dissolved” (II Cor. 5:1) or when we are “changed” (I Cor. 15:52) and “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thes. 4:17), but the new nature—that which is begotten of God—will never die. In the first place it does not come under the condemnation of sin. In the second, it is that which is begotten, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23).

Paul, by the Spirit, gives particular emphasis to this fact as it affects believers in this present dispensation, for we are not only “begotten” of the Spirit and given the resurrection life of Christ, but we belong to the “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10) which God will glorify “in the ages to come,” in order to “show the exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:7).

We have now cleared the way for a consideration of the conflict between the old nature and the new, and of the means placed at our disposal to overcome the old.

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW NATURES

The epistles of Paul have much to say about the conflict continually going on between the old and new natures in the believer. God has a gracious purpose in permitting this conflict and it has its real advantages to the believer; also, abundant provision has been made for spiritual victory in any given case, but before considering all this, let us deal first with the fact of the conflict itself.

Concerning this conflict, the Apostle Paul writes, by inspiration:

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17).

Regarding this conflict in his own personal experience, he writes:

“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:19,22,23).

It has been taught by some that we need not experience this continual strife between the old nature and the new. They say: “Get out of the 7th of Romans into the 8th.”

We would remind such that the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 7 and Romans 8 at the same sitting; that in the original the letter goes right on without interruption—without even a chapter division. Thus the same apostle who exclaims: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) refers in the same letter, only a few sentences before, using the present tense, to “the law of sin which IS in my members,” and freely acknowledges the present operation of that law in his members, as we have seen above. How then shall we get out of the 7th of Romans into the 8th? Paul experienced both at the same time, and so do we, for while we are free from the condemnation of sin, sin itself nevertheless continues to work within us.

It is true indeed that no amount of striving can improve the old Adamic nature, but it is not true that there should be no strife between the old and new natures, otherwise the exhortations not to “yield” to the dictates of the old nature, but to “put off” the deeds of the old man and “mortify,” or put to death, our earthward inclinations, would all be meaningless.

It is a simple fact that the conflict described in Romans 7 is experienced in the life of every believer. Else let those who contend that we should get out of Romans 7 deny it. If they have come to the place where they can consistently do the things that they would;3 where “the law of sin” no longer operates in their members; if in their experience they have been wholly delivered from its captivity; if they need not—up to this very day in their experience—acknowledge: “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”; if they need not cry with Paul: “O wretched man that I am!” if they need not “wait” with Paul “for the hope of [perfect, personal] righteousness by faith,” they should take their stand with those who teach sinless perfection and the eradication of the old nature. If, however, they are not prepared to make these claims, they should acknowledge the naked truth of Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:22,23.

Should it be asked how we are to be blamed if we “cannot” do the things that we would, we reply that Galatians 5:17 was not written to teach us our helplessness, but rather our utter depravity. The Spirit is always present and willing to bestow needed help, but we are so inherently bad by nature that we never consistently succeed in doing the things that we would. Indeed, the flesh wages constant, relentless war to prevent us from doing them.

It is true that the believer has been made “free from sin” by grace (Rom. 6:14,18); that is, he need not, yea, should not, yield to sin in any given case (Rom. 6:12,13). It is also true that the believer is “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2) for Christ bore the death penalty for him. But no believer is free from the presence of what Paul calls “the law of sin which is in my members;” that is, from the old nature, with its inherent tendency to do wrong. Nor is he free from the conflict with the new nature, which this involves. If we would be truly spiritual and deal in a Scriptural way with the sin that indwells us, we must clearly recognize its presence; we must face the fact that while, praise God, we are no longer “in sin,” sin is still in us, and that though the “old man” is counted as having died with Christ, he is still alive and very active as far as our experience is concerned.

THE BLESSINGS OF THE CONFLICT

But this conflict should not discourage us, for it is one of the sure signs of true salvation. It is unknown to the unbeliever, for only the additional presence of the new nature, along with the old, causes this conflict, for “these are contrary the one to the other.”

If we did not experience this conflict at all it could only mean that we were not saved, for with two natures so utterly incompatible dwelling within, conflict would be inevitable. If we know little of this conflict it can only mean that the old nature, in any of its subtle, deceitful forms, has attained the upper hand, for when the new nature asserts itself, as it should, the old nature is sure to “war” against it all the more fiercely.

But not only is the conflict within us a sure sign of salvation; it also creates within us a deep and necessary sense of our inward corruption, and of the infinite grace of a holy God in saving us and ministering to us daily in helping us to overcome sin. And in turn this again gives us a more understanding approach as we proclaim to the lost the gospel of the grace of God.

Notes:

  1. Even though, as we have shown, it may express itself in an attempt at self-betterment, seeking to control the baser passions, and revelling in religious rites and ceremonies, in ascetic practices or in other substitutes for true spirituality.
  2. The idea in Romans 3:23 is not, as might appear from the Authorized rendering: “All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God,” but “All have sinned and do come short of the glory of God.”
  3. Granting that Galatians 5:17 might be rendered: “to prevent you from doing what you would,” as in R.S.V., the fact still remains that “the law of sin” operates in our members and does hinder us from doing (consistently) what we would.