by Ron Merryman

Question #1: Talking recently with my seminary Greek instructor, he told me the following. A person has a sin nature before he is saved. Once he is saved he does not have two natures, his spirit is renewed and is his holy nature ("divine nature" is not a good term to use). He must choose to live correctly on the basis of everything that happened to him in salvation (such as receiving the Holy Spirit) – in this way his spirit will cause his soul to make the body do the correct things and live correctly. If he does not do this, he will go on auto-pilot and his body will act the way it wants to act due to the sin principle (sin nature is not a good term to use with a believer since the word "nature" implies this is an innate part of the believer). Only when the body is redeemed at glorification will the sin principle be completely gone and the body totally under the mastery of the spirit. I Cor. 15:44 tells us we have a soulish body, but in the future we will have a spiritual body.

The soul possibly could be affected by the body, but it is primarily the spirit which controls the body through the soul. If the spirit does not control, the body will be on auto-pilot, doing what it wants from the sin nature.

Question #2: I am teaching/leading a Precept on Colossians in January. Seems like several passages of scripture are used to teach eradication of the old nature. This also seems to be the teaching from the pulpit. That the old nature is eradicated but the remnant of it’s thinking is found in the soul and therefore we must live from our spirit. In living from our spirit we will counter the thoughts of the soul and therefore the body, soul and spirit will function as a unit. Therefore the thoughts that we have that are contrary to God are from Satan. I wouldn’t feel like it was going to be a big issue except for the fact that Neil Anderson is having a conference at our Church in Apri.

Answer: The two questions are related, thus I have answered them both in the following paragraphs.

Your questions are the result of the non-scriptural teaching that the regenerated believer has only one nature. Popular propagators of this perverted doctrine include Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John F. MacArthur, Jr., Neil Anderson, Charles Solomon, Kay Arthur, and others.

At the core of this issue is the question: "What is the source of sins in the believer’s life?" That believers do sin is beyond question. All believers are encour-aged to confess their sins: in fact, the Apostle John includes himself when he says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..." (1John 1:9).

The issue is: what is the source of these sins? Let the Scriptures speak. Settle the issue by good exposition.

1 John 1:8: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." NOTE: John is not referring in this verse to sins (as he does in v.9), rather to their source, the sin that continually resides in us (the verb "have" is present tense, indicative mode). John again includes himself. He is saying that for believers, including himself, to say, think or propose that animating sin is not continually resident in them is to practice self-deception. The truth on this issue is not in them. Is this animating sin a nature, a principle, or a disposition?

Romans 6 & 7: In these two chapters, Paul refers to the animating force of sin 31 times, 24 of which include the definite article: that is, he calls this animating force, "the sin", 22 times. We (believers) should not serve as slaves to the sin (6:6); we (believers) are to reckon ourselves dead to the sin (6:11); we (believers) are not to let the sin reign in our mortal bodies that we should obey the lusts thereof (6:12), etc. If the animating force of sin is dead, if it is eradicated, why are believers commanded to "reckon themselves dead to it?" If it is indeed extinct as one natureism teaches, why are believers commanded not to let it "reign in our mortal bodies?"

Are Paul and John talking about a sin nature, a sin principle, or a sinful disposition? This is much more than a semantical debate (as I shall show), but semantically, our terminology, our use of words, must convey the truth of Scripture. It appears to me that the term that best communicates the significance of the animating force of sin in the believer’s life is the sin nature. What is clearly taught in Scripture is that believers do have sin natures and to teach that this sin nature is dead or eradicated is terribly misleading. The source of sin in the believer is a nature that is neither cleansed, purified, nor eradicated. If it were, sin(s) would cease!

The propagators of one natureism go astray exegetically again and again. This is very apparent in their treatment of Rom. 6:6, where we read that "our old man was crucified." They tell us, "He is dead and gone: eradicated." "Death of the old man means annihilation and eradication," they say. To the question, "Why does the believer sin?," they would reply, "Due to hang-overs, residuaries of the old man (sin nature), dysfunctional influences left over from the pre-conversion life."

Wrong in their exegesis; therefore wrong in their understanding and doubly wrong in their application.

"Death" in the Scriptures always means separation, never annihilation. Physical death means separation of the soul/spirit from the physical body, never annihilation. Spiritual death means separation from God, not annihilation. The second death is spiritual death perpetuated into eternity, not annihilation.

Likewise, death of the old man. The old man, all that we were in Adam, stands crucified, dead, to all that we are in Christ. The old man can make no contribution to the new, because the believer’s positional death with Christ has separated the old from the new. Death here as everywhere in the Bible, means separation, never extinction.

One more passage: Galatians 5:17 says, "... the flesh lusteth (lit. "is passionately set") against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary to one another..." Paul is pointing out the persistent antipathy between two basic natures in the believer, the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh here is human nature animated by sin; that is, the sin nature. There is a dramatic absoluteness in this statement. The warfare between the flesh and the Spirit is perpetual because flesh and Spirit can never be reconciled. The dichotomy of their desires is fixed and contrary. The Spirit does not seek to control the flesh. Flesh will always be flesh and will seek always to express itself contrary to the Spirit. The "flesh" is used synonymously with the "sin nature" in Galatians 5:16-17,19,24; Rom. 7:5, 25; 8:3-5, 8-9; 2 Pet. 2:18; 1 John 2:16. Flesh, the sin nature, is not only alive: it is aggressively active!

In summary: a nature is a composition of attributes. When we talk of the nature of the Christian God, we talk of His attributes. So with the believer who has a new nature and old sin nature. Nomenclature like "sin principle" or "sin disposition" simply fail to strongly enough convey what the Scriptures teach on this issue. Moreover, one natureism perverts and distorts the reality of the sin nature. Its propagators err first in their exegesis, then in their application, and again in their terminology.

P.S.: When your Greek teacher says "the ‘divine nature’ is not a good term to use," he is at odds with the translators of the King James Version, The New American Standard Version, and The New International Version, all of whom say that the believer is a "partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Not a good term to use! Is he speaking out of arrogance or ignorance? ˘

If you have a question that you would like Ron Merryman to answer, simply write or e-mail your questions to the address on the cover of the journal.

Ron Merryman served the Lord in Bible colleges for 11 years, 3 of those as Acting President of Western Bible College. He also pastored Holly Hills Bible Church in Denver, Colorado, for 14 years. Ron currently teaches in the G.I.B.S., a ministry of Duluth Bible Church.