>Ye Olde Sin Nature
>St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible, for both its incredible insight and its ability to deal with the tension between the new spiritual nature and the old sin nature within every Christian this side of Heaven. Paul pulls no punches but deals with the matter head-on, confessing that this struggle also takes place in his own life. His words are sometimes almost paradoxical.
“If we have been united with [Christ] like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”
“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
Paul writes again and again of the Christian’s victory over sin, that we have been set free from sin, that the sinful nature has been killed. He also commands us not to submit ourselves to sin as our master, to daily kill our sin nature, and to offer ourselves to God and not to sin.
I have often struggled with the idea of Christians still having a sin nature. When we commit our lives to Jesus the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and births a new holy nature. We are born again into God’s family. We become adopted children of God. We become ambassadors for Christ. We are finally enabled to refuse our sinful nature and to live holy lives. Why, then, must we still have a sinful nature at all, the old flesh*?
It occurred to me a few days ago that there may be a very good reason for still having the sinful nature. While Scripture is clear that I am made new through the work of the Holy Spirit, I often miss that I am made new. God is birthing a new creation within me. My new nature is of course a new creation, but it is also a continuation of me. Paul’s discourse on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians provides insight here:
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
-1 Corinthians 15:42-44
‘I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” ‘
-1 Corinthians 15:50-54
Just as our resurrection bodies are described as being the same as our mortal bodies, but different, we too are the same people, but different. Although I am a sinful man, I am still God’s good creation. God did right in creating me, but I have been severely marred by sin. It is clear in Scripture that God could have simply destroyed His fallen creation and made a new one, but instead He is graciously redeeming and recreating that which has fallen so that it will be better than it was to begin with. Thus, God does not desire to simply destroy us but to birth His life within us. Our old selves must die, but only so we can truly live.
All of this has been the build up to why we might still have our old natures. God is in the process of conforming us to the image of His Son, sanctifying us and bringing us into submission to His will. He wants each of us, individually, to be all His. He does not simply want to destroy His older, good but marred creation, but to make that creation new. We still have our old nature because that too needs to be transformed into the new nature if we are to be completely transformed. It is as if God painted a perfect picture, which has now been marred almost to the point of being beyond recognition. God could have simply thrown it away and painted a new one, but instead He is restoring it better than ever on the same canvas.
Our old self must be put to death, but like a seed being planted, it does not die for the sake of dying, but so that it might be born anew.
Why do I still have a sin nature? Perhaps because it has not yet been returned to God, but must be returned to God.
*Remembering that we as Christians do not think of spirit as good and material things as evil, the “flesh” refers not to our bodies but to our sinful nature. Spirit can be bad (i.e. demons) and physical things can be very good (i.e. Genesis 1:31).