The Doctrine of Simultaneity

     The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, coined the Latin phrase simul iustus et peccator, which translates as, simultaneously righteous and a sinner.  Luther correctly understood the biblical teaching that we are righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at salvation and at the same time we continue to possess a sin nature and practice sin.  This is based on four biblical truths:

We are all born sinners with a sin nature

     Every person born into this world—with the exception of Jesus—is a sinner.  We are sinners because Adam’s original sin is imputed to us (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), we are born with a sinful nature which urges us to sin (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and we choose to sin when we yield to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15).  Sin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God.  Sin permeates every aspect of our being and renders us separated from God and helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3). 

God has provided for our salvation

     The good news of the gospel is that Jesus took our sin upon Himself and bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  This is substitutionary atonement, in which Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Mark 10:45), and calls us into fellowship with Him (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14).  Salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  God is completely satisfied with the death of Christ, who “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires and provides us salvation as His love desires. 

We receive a new nature at the moment of salvation

     At the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), and we acquire a new nature that desires to do God’s will (Rom. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9-10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9).  In addition, our identification with Adam is cancelled and we are immediately united with Christ (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), we are indwelt with God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14), forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), bestowed with God’s own righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13; Tit. 2:11-14). 

Christians continue to possess a sin nature after salvation

     Though we have our new nature in Christ at the moment of salvation, we continue to possess our sinful nature, and this produces internal conflict throughout our Christian life (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17).  This reality explains why Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), and to the Christians at Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  Though we struggle with sin, we are assured that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), for we are “the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9).  Both are true.  We are perfectly righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and we continue to possess a sin nature and commit sin.

Dr. Martin LutherThe person who has thus received the gift of faith Luther described as “at once righteous and a sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). Formerly he had understood this term in the Augustinian sense of “partly” a sinner and “partly” righteous. …Now, however, while retaining the paradox of simultaneity, he sharpened each of the clashing concepts into a sovereign, total realm. Luther continued to use simul iustus et peccator after 1518-19, but he did so in the sense of semper (always) iustus et peccator. The believer is not only both righteous and sinful at the same time but is also always or completely both righteous and sinful at the same time [emphasis added]. What does this mean? With respect to our fallen human condition, we are, and always will be in this life, sinners. However for believers life in this world is no longer a period of doubtful candidacy for God’s acceptance. In a sense we have already been before God’s judgment seat and have been acquitted on account of Christ. Hence we are also always righteous.[1]

Summary

     So then, as Christians, we are simultaneously righteous and sinners.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us as a free gift (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  And, we continue to possess a sin nature that continually causes internal temptation and conflict (Rom. 6:6; 7:14-25; 13:14; Col. 3:9; Gal. 5:16-17, 19).  Though the power of the sin nature is broken (Rom. 6:11-14), the presence of the sin nature is never removed from us until God takes us from this world and gives us a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Sin Nature within the Christian  
  2. I am a Saint  
  3. The Gospel Message  
  4. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  5. Believe in Jesus for Salvation  

[1] Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville, Tenn., Broadman and Holman publishers, 2013), 72.

The Sin that Leads to Death

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him– to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. (1 John 5:16-17 HCSB)

     It happens from time to time that a Christian will see another Christian “committing a sin.”  The apostle John distinguished two kinds of sin in the life of the Christian: the “sin that does not bring death” and the “sin that brings death” (1 John 5:16-17).  The “sin that does not bring death” is any sin the Christian commits that does not warrant physical death from the hand of God, though it may bring divine discipline if the believer continues in it (Heb. 12:5-13).  John does not specify which sin leads to death and which sin does not, as the punishment is finally determined by the Lord. 

     The sin that leads to death “denotes a sin habitually practiced by a believer, leading to God’s removing him from this life, but not taking away his salvation.”[1]  It refers to the Christian who has become so sinfully rebellious that God disciplines him to the point of death and takes him home to heaven.  There are references in the Bible where God personally issued the death penalty for one or more of His erring children who had defied His authority.  Examples include: Nadab and Abihu, who disobeyed the Lord in their priestly service (Lev. 10:1-3), Uzzah, when he touched the Ark (2 Sam. 6:1-7), Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), and some of the saints at Corinth who were abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

     Under the Mosaic Law, God willed that sin be punished, but only some sins were punishable by physical death.[2]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the New Testament, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). 

Most sin does not lead to death

     It appears from reading the Bible that most sin committed by believers does not result in the Lord putting them to death, although it may bring great punishment.  It was a terrible sin when Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6), but God did not call for Aaron’s death.  Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4), and though he was disciplined, the Lord did not kill him.  When David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, it was a rotten sin that brought divine discipline.  The Lord told David, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Sam. 12:11); however, the Lord also told David, “you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).  It was evil when Solomon worshipped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10), but even here the Lord did not pronounce death for his sin.  Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22), and later publicly denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75), but Peter was allowed to live.  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9), but the Lord let him live and used him in ministry.  God’s grace and mercy is very prominent all throughout the Bible, and He repeatedly gives us ample opportunity to confess our sin and turn back to him.  Thank God for His great grace. 

God disciplines us for our good

     As God’s children, He expects us to live holy and righteous lives that conform to His will (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).  When we sin, we can be restored to fellowship with God by means of confession (1 John 1:9).  If we fail to confess our sins, and choose a sinful lifestyle, we put ourselves in real danger of knowing God’s discipline.  The Scripture states, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).  The wise believer accepts God’s correction.  David writes, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71), and later states, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).  The foolish believer rejects God’s correction, and if he perpetuates his sin, God may administer a final act of discipline and remove the believer from this world. 

     Many Christians rightfully suffer because of their sinful lifestyle (Heb. 12:5-11), and those who persist in their sin will eventually die by the hand of the Lord.  Such death is the pinnacle of suffering in this life, but we should never conclude that it means suffering for eternity.  All believers are eternally secure in Christ.  At the moment of salvation, all believers are given eternal life and imputed with God’s righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  They are forever kept by the power of God and cannot forfeit their salvation (John 10:29; Rom. 8:38-39).  This means that when a believer dies—whatever the cause—he is guaranteed heaven as his eternal home.  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 

Summary

     It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever.  However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb. 12:5-11), and, if necessary, disciplines to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  This need not be the case.  The Christian is called to a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16), and this means learning to walk with God and do His will.  Though we still possess a sin nature, the Christian knows victory because of his union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11-13). 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Restoring Fellowship with God  
  2. The Sin Nature Within the Christian  
  3. I am a Sinner  
  4. Do God’s People Ever Behave poorly?  
  5. A Christian View of Death  
  6. Atonement for Sins  

[1] Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 359.

[2] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

The Sin of Idolatry

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol [פֶּסֶל pesel – an idol or carved image], or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship [שָׁחָה shachah – to worship, bow down] them or serve [עָבַד abad – serve, work] them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Ex. 20:3-5)

What is idolatry?

     Idolatry is the selfish sin of substitution in which we devote ourselves to worship something or someone in the place of God.  It is foremost a sin of a covetous heart that leads us to desire more than what God provides, and to trust something or someone lesser than God to satisfy our wants and needs.  Paul addresses the heart of idolatry when he writes that covetousness “is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).  Covetousness is idolatry because the covetous heart desires things and pleasures more than God.  The believer who is satisfied with God is content with what he has (1 Tim. 6:7-11; cf. Phil. 4:11), but the covetous heart is never content and always seeks more (i.e. money, success, friends, etc.) in order to feel secure or to please the flesh. 

In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects, such as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars; and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice.[1]

What is an idol?

     Stone IdolThroughout Scripture an idol is almost always a carved image, something crafted by human hand, made of wood or stone.  An idol can be either a physical object that symbolizes a deity, or it can be an abstract concept such as greed or justice.  A physical idol is merely the work of a craftsman (see Isa. 44:9-19).  There is no life in it (Ps. 115:1-8; Jer. 51:17; Hab. 2:18-20), nor can it deliver in times of trouble (Isa. 46:5-7).   Ultimately, an idol is the thing or person we trust more than God to provide, protect, or guide us in life.  Biblically, there is only one God, and He demands that His people worship Him (Ex. 20:3-6).  The exclusive worship of God is for His glory and our benefit. 

Can God’s people engage in idolatry?

     Yes.  We can engage in idolatry.  The record of Israel’s history—with the exception of a few generations—is a record of their unfaithfulness to God as they worshipped pagan idols (Ex. 32:1-6), which at times included human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31; 18:10; 2 Ki. 21:6; Ezek. 16:20-21).  The books of Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea (just to name a few) all reveal Israel regularly committed idolatry, and this caused them to suffer greatly under God’s discipline as He faithfully executed the cursing aspects of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). 

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas PoussinIdolatry is dangerous because it is connected with the activity of demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20), who seek to steal God’s glory and wreck our relationship with the Lord.  Many of God’s people have fallen into idolatry.  Aaron led Israel into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).  Solomon, by the end of his life, bowed down to idols (1 Ki. 11:6-10), and there is nothing in the biblical record that suggests Solomon ever turned back to the Lord.  The apostle Paul addressed idolatry in his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33; 2 Cor. 6:16).  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).  John knew the sinful proclivity of all Christians and I believe this is why he warns us, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Why do we commit idolatry? 

     Even though we are born again believers with a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23), we still possess a sin nature (Rom. 6:6; 13:14; Gal. 5:16-17, 19; Col. 3:9), and there is always a conflict within us (Rom. 7:19-25; Gal. 5:16-17).  We commit idolatry because we seek to satisfy our sinful desires over God and His will.  In American culture we tend to worship at the altar of self-interest, greed, personal achievement, personal security and self-satisfaction. 

How do we guard ourselves from falling into idolatry?

     First, realize our hearts are sinful and bent toward idolatry.  It is the natural proclivity of mankind to worship things and people in the place of God.  It comes very easy to us, even as Christians.  Second, be devoted to God.  Paul writes to Christians, stating, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1).  This is a lifetime commitment to God in which we bring all of our life under His directive will.  Third, constantly be in God’s Word, letting it guide our thinking and behavior.  As Christians, we do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).  The Bible is God’s inerrant and enduring written revelation that tells us who He is and what He’s accomplished in time and space.  The Bible is written in understandable language and made acceptable by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Our walk with God depends on rightly understanding and applying Scripture (John 17:17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Fourth, surround yourself with Christian friends who will help you in your daily spiritual walk with the Lord.  Our fellowship with other growing believers is paramount concerning our spiritual health and growth.  The Bible is very clear when it states, “bad associations corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).  This is true in every way, and it helps us to have growing Christian friends who influence us to worship God and stay close to Him always.  Fifth, make time to worship the Lord daily, singing to Him and praising Him for all His blessings (Ps. 95:2; 105:2; Eph. 5:18-21; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:18).  A heart that is satisfied with God will not seek lesser people or things to fill the void that occurs when we turn away from Him. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Do God’s People ever Behave Poorly?  
  2. Restoring Fellowship with God.  
  3. I am a Saint. 
  4. I am a Sinner.  
  5. The Sin Nature Within the Christian.  

[1] Merrill F. Unger, ed. R.K. Harrison, “Idolatry” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

When God’s People Sin

     Do God’s people every behave poorly?  Yes.  There are times we behave poorly.  As a Christian, there are times I behave poorly toward God by refusing to do His will (James 4:17).  There are times I behave poorly toward other Christians by not modeling the love or grace or truth that should characterize a growing believer.  And, there are times I behave poorly toward unbelievers by not modeling the love or grace or truth that reveals God to them.  Though I have eternal life by faith in Christ (John 3:16; 10:28), and am among the Lord’s righteous (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), I still sin (1 John 1:8, 10).  As a believer, Solomon understood “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  There are numerous biblical examples of believers who behaved poorly. 

Old Testament examples include:

  1. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and slept with him (Gen. 19:30-38).
  2. Judah slept with Tamar, assuming she was a prostitute (Gen. 38:13-18).
  3. Aaron led the Israelites in idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6).
  4. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  5. David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  6. Solomon ended his life worshipping idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).

New Testament examples include:

  1. James and John (nicknamed Boanerges, or “Sons of Thunder”; Mark 3:17) wanted to call fire down from heaven to kill the residents of a Samaritan city (Luke 9:51-55).
  2. The mother of James and John requested special treatment for her sons, that they might have a place of prominence seated on thrones to the right and left of Jesus (Matt. 20:20-21). This upset the other disciples (Matt. 20:24).
  3. The disciples tried to send away a woman who had come to Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter (Matt. 15:21-23).
  4. The disciples tried to prevent a man from doing the Lord’s work (Luke 9:49-50).
  5. The disciples argued amongst themselves as to who was greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46).
  6. Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22). The Lord reproached Peter sharply (Matt. 16:23).
  7. Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75).
  8. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement that resulted in their separation as friends in ministry (Acts 15:36-39).
  9. The Christians at Corinth were guilty of quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  10. Peter engaged in hypocrisy and was publicly rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14).
  11. The Apostle John was twice corrected for worshipping an angel (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). John knew the depravity of his own heart and how easy it is to fall into idolatry, and he cautioned other Christians to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

Five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 behaved poorly by not doing God’s will, and the Lord Jesus reprimanded them. 

  1. Church at Ephesus – “you have left your first love” (Rev 2:4).
  2. Church at Pergamum – “you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Rev 2:14).
  3. Church at Thyatira – “you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).
  4. Church at Sardis – “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Rev 3:2).
  5. Church at Laodicea – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev 3:15).

     Though there are numerous examples of believers, both in the Old and New Testament, who behaved poorly toward God, other believers, and unbelievers, this is never what God expects from us.  As His children, God calls us to live holy and righteous lives (Tit. 2:11-14), to manifest love (1 Thess. 4:9), grace (Eph. 4:29), and truth to others (Eph. 4:15).  When we fail, we should humbly confess our sins and move on (1 John 1:9), as we keep striving to know God and walk in His will (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

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The Sin Nature Within the Christian

     If the devil were a broadcaster sending out his signal through the world, the sin nature in every person would be the receiver that is specifically tuned to welcome his message.   The sin nature, sometimes called “the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, 19) or “old self” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), has a natural affinity for Satan’s values and his world-system.  More so, the sin nature is not eradicated from the believer during his time on earth, nor is it ever reformed, as though it can be made to love God.  What person can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Prov. 20:9).  No one is ever free from sin in this life, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Christians have a sin nature, and they do sin.  Paul tells the Christians at Rome to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14).  He writes to the Christians at Galatia and states, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:16-17).  

The Spirit and the flesh are in constant conflict. God could have removed the fleshly nature from believers at the time of their conversion, but He did not choose to do so. Why? He wanted to keep them continually reminded of their own weakness; to keep them continually dependent on Christ, their Priest and Advocate; and to cause them to praise unceasingly the One who saved such worms. Instead of removing the old nature, God gave us His own Holy Spirit to indwell us. God’s Spirit and our flesh are perpetually at war, and will continue to be at war until we are taken home to heaven. The believer’s part in the conflict is to yield to the Spirit.[1]

       The sin nature is resident in every person; both saved and unsaved, and is the source of internal temptation.  “The flesh refers to that fallen nature that we were born with, that wants to control the body and the mind and make us disobey God.”[2]  Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature, and it is this nature that internally motivates men to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine.  At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the capacity and desire to obey God.  Because the sin nature is not removed from the believer after salvation, the believer begins to experience conflict within.  “The presence of two opposing natures (not two personalities) in one individual results in conflict.”[3]

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[4]

       Only the Christian has two opposing natures, and his spiritual growth guarantees internal conflict.  The sin nature, though crippled at the moment of regeneration, does not give up control without a fight, and only the spiritually advancing Christian can overcome the power and habits of the flesh, as he devotes himself to learning and living Scripture by means of the filling of the Spirit.  The Christian is to “lay aside the old self…and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22, 24).  Such language speaks to the reality that the believer has two natures, one that is corrupt and wants to please self and one that is new and wants to please God. 

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but [the] sin [nature] which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me [the Christian], the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man [according to the new nature], but I see a different law [of sin] in the members of my body, waging war [causing conflict] against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  (Romans 7:19-23)

       I have pondered Paul’s struggle between his two natures on many occasions.  Every Christian who has grown spiritually and lived for any time in this world knows exactly what Paul is saying.  He writes that he wants to do good, but then finds himself doing the very opposite.  On the one hand Paul states that he “joyfully concur[s] with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22), but that he experiences a war within because of “the law of sin” which is in his flesh (Rom. 7:23).  This is the Christian experience. 

Torn inside with desires to do that which we know is evil and new desires to please God, we experience the rage of the battle.  The internal conflict manifests itself in everyday life as the believer is tempted to sin.  The source of this conflict is the old sin nature, which is the root cause of the deeds of sin.  In the conflict the believer is not passive.  He has a vital role in determining to whom he will give allegiance—the old nature or the new nature.  From the moment a sinner trusts Christ, there is a conflict in his very being between the powers of darkness and those of light.  The one who has become a member of the family of God now faces conflicts and problems that he did not have before.[5]

       Though the Christian will struggle all his life with his two natures, he also knows the victory is already won.  The sin nature has been defeated and its strength diminished because of the believer’s union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11).  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body in heaven that is free from the sin nature as it will be just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 

       Not only is the Christian commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but he is to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14).  He must not only choose to live according to the new nature in conformity to the Spirit’s guiding, but must also learn to starve the monster that is his sin nature.  To “make no provision for the flesh” means the Christian is to stop exposing himself to the things of the world that excite the flesh and lead to sinful behavior.  The positive action is to grow spiritually with biblical teaching, Christian fellowship, worship and prayer so that the believer grows strong (Acts 2:42; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  It is only by spiritual growth and drawing closer to God that the Christian glorifies the Lord and learns to live in righteousness.  

Modified excerpt from The Christian Life

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1893.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Colorado Springs, Col., Victor Publishing, 2001), 18.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 112.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

[5] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 206.