Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Two natures?

I was doing some online searching yesterday regarding a completely different subject, and I came across several references to Christians having two natures: one righteous and one sinful. After all, God has made us righteous, but we still sin, so that must mean we have two natures, right?

Not so fast.

I find humor in the phrase "act naturally." To me, it's an oxymoron. If you're behaving naturally, then you're not acting. :) "Natural" is who you are. The nature of something or someone is the very essence of what it is or who it is. A person can certainly act or behave like something he or she isn't, but that doesn't change his or her true nature. If I got on all fours and started barking like a dog, chewing bones and chasing the mailman, it's not that I'm behaving out of a "canine nature". I'm simply behaving in a way that doesn't represent my actual nature. I don't have two natures. I'm not a human and a dog. I'm a human who's acting like a dog.

In the same way, a Christian who is sinning is simply not behaving naturally. Your actual, factual nature - given to you as a gift from God - is righteous. You are a saint. The Bible says that you have become a "partaker of the divine nature." There is no sin in the Divine nature. Your nature is not righteous and sinner. You are a righteous person who sometimes sins, but sin is not your nature!

Well, what about when I walk after the flesh? Again, the flesh is not your nature! In fact, quickly, let's talk about the difference between the "flesh" and the "sinful nature," and then discuss how neither one describes the reality of who we are in Christ.

Sinful nature: This is the actual, factual nature that we inherited from Adam. When we were born, we had this nature. But when we were born again, this nature died and we took on the new nature (we're New Creations, right?) of righteousness - a gift from God. We seem to take it very lightly that Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ" and "I died." But those are powerful statements! So, what died? What was crucified with Christ? Our bodies obviously didn't die. Our souls didn't die - we can still think and feel and we still have a "will." So what died was our spirit that had been born in Adam - our sinful nature. When we were born again, we still had these ol' bodies and souls, but our sinful nature was killed - dead, gone, crucified - forever - and we were raised to life with the righteous nature of Christ.

Flesh: The flesh can be described as our own efforts to live this life apart from God. When we had the sinful nature, it was quite easy for us to simply walk according to the flesh. That is, to walk according to our own way of doing things apart from God. When our sin nature died, and when we were born again as new creations with righteous natures, it became natural for us to walk after the Spirit. But yet anytime our souls (mind, will, emotions) are not secure in the reality of who our spirits have truly become in Christ, we still find ourselves trying to live our lives by our own methods, even by our own religious methods. But all it is, is walking after the flesh.

To make it clear, the flesh and the sinful nature are not synonymous. The NIV unfortunately translates the Greek word "sarx" as "sinful nature" several times, when the word "sarx" actually means "flesh." This can really lead to confusion, because the flesh is NOT the sinful nature! The sinful nature has died. We could not be partakers in the divine nature if we were still partakers of the sinful nature!

So why do we sin? And how is it that we sin, if we have a righteous nature? I believe it's because our new spirit (our righteous nature) still dwells temporarily in a corruptible body! Paul said it this way, that when he sins, "it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." Sin still dwells temporarily in our bodies - but sin is not who we are. Sometimes, when we're not walking according to the Spirit - who is one with our spirit (1 Cor 6:17) - we let sin that dwells in us (but again, is not who we are) take the reins. This happens anytime we're not resting in His sufficiency. Even religion and law can cause us to walk after the flesh, rather than after the Spirit! (Take a look at Rom 7:8-13).

Paul gives us good news at the end of that chapter. The Lord Jesus will deliver us from these bodies of death! And in another epistle he says that our corruptible bodies will be exchanged for incorruptible bodies and our mortality will be exchanged for immortality. In the meantime, trust, trust, trust in the righteousness of God that is yours as a gift. Trust the reality that you are one with Him, even if you sometimes don't act like it. Trust in who you are in Christ, and end the focus on sin that dwells in you, but is not you. Trust that you have one nature - the divine nature!

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts, Joel... it is quite unfortunate that there is so much confusion in the church over this issue. One illustration I've heard numerous times is the 'good dog vs. bad god' - whichever one you feed is the one that takes over. This is unfortunate because it gives the impression that your 'sinful nature' (bad term, I know!) is in fact EQUAL to your new godly nature - which to me is an affront to the work of Christ. Instead of our focus being on 'Christ in you, the only hope of glory', we are forced to pay equal attention to these two supposedly equal forces within us. Seems ludicrous in light of Paul's exhortation to 'Set your minds on things ABOVE, not things on this earth...'. The reason? Found in the next verse - "For you have DIED and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

    Thanks, my friend, for addressing this important issue. May God's people come to see the truth about their new identity in Christ!

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