Two Natures? (Part One)

Are there two “natures” alive and well in each child of God, an old sin “nature” and a new Godly “nature”, each actively pulling the believer one direction or the other? E.  W.  Bullinger (1837-1913) thought so, though the other great “E.  W.,” E. W. Kenyon (1867-1948) disagreed. (See pages 153 and following of The Father and His Family.) The opening paragraph of the preface of Dr. Bullinger’s book, The Two Natures in the Child of God, cites Galatians 5:17.

Galatians 5:17 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.

Dr. Bullinger offers this verse as a Biblical description of the conflict that he says always abides in every true child of God. Throughout his book, he attributes the opposing sides of this conflict to the two “natures” living in each of us who are born again of God’s Spirit. Proponents of this doctrine have typically coupled Galatians 5:17 with Romans 7:15-21 where the apostle Paul says:

Romans 7:15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

These scriptures (Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:15-21) are the primary ones used to show the two “natures.” There are a few others that I will address in another posting.

One of the first things a Bible student might notice about these two references being given as proof of the two “natures” is that neither of them mentions anything about anything called a “nature.” The word “nature” doesn’t appear here. Let’s look at the contexts to see what these passages are about; first, a little of the context of Galatians 5:17.

Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 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.
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

So is Paul telling the Galatian believers that they will not be able to walk in the spirit like they would like to because they have a sin nature that is always warring against the spirit? Of course not. First, the words “cannot do” are a mistranslation. “Cannot” doesn’t appear in any of the other eight versions I checked. The Greek word is, “poieo,” meaning to make, produce, construct, form, fashion, etc. It isn’t “cannot do”, but walk in the spirit so that you do not do, or do not produce, the things that you would. The point is to tell the Galatians to walk in the spirit so that they do not do the lusts of the flesh, NOT to tell them they cannot walk in the spirit because of the lusts the flesh within them.  And there is nothing in this record about a “nature” of any kind.

Before moving on to the context of the passage in Romans 7, lets just think about this concept for a moment. If there were some sin “nature” inherited from Adam, something from which we cannot escape until the return, something that continually draws us toward sin, wouldn’t that sin “nature” draw us toward ALL sin and not just SOME sins? Why is it then that in some areas you are not the least bit tempted, but in some other areas perhaps you are? Is this due to how the sin “nature” works within you, or is it simply because in some areas you have absolutely committed yourself to doing what God’s Word says while in other areas perhaps you just haven’t come quite that far? A passage in James chapter one would seem to indicate the latter.

James 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

Verse 14 does not say every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his sin “nature.” It says every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. And that is why believers sin, not because they have some irreconcilable “nature” to do so.

Now let’s go to the classic argument adapted from Romans 7:15-21. Here we see the apostle Paul describing a truly sorry condition, but is it the condition of the born-again believer, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ? In this section Paul says, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me…. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

We can all relate at least on some level. But just because we can relate to these feelings of inadequacy, doesn’t mean Paul is talking about…. Whoa! What was it I just said, “Feelings of inadequacy”??? If that is what Paul is describing here, it is certainly inconsistent with his other self-pronouncements. Nowhere else in all the seven Church Epistles does he ascribe to himself any such weakness. In fact, he is almost unimaginably confident. Take a look at the following examples of what he said about himself. There are more such references, of course, but these should be enough to paint the picture.

Romans 1:5 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Romans 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Romans 15:29 And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

1 Corinthians 4:4 For I am not conscious of any wrong in myself; but this does not make me clear, for it is the Lord who is my judge. [Bible in Basic English]

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

1 Corinthians 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

Galatians 6:17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Philippians 3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.  If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

1 Thessalonians 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

2 Thessalonians 3:7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

But in Romans 7 Paul says he just can’t do the things he really wants to because of all this sin that dwells in him? Let’s take a look at the context to see exactly what is being expressed in Romans 7:15-21. For the pertinent context, we must back up at least to Romans 6:1.

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Romans 6:1 asks a question, a very reasonable question if one understands the magnitude of the grace of God explained in the preceding chapters. Paul, by revelation, has already informed us in those chapters that the believer has been given the righteousness of God by the faith of Jesus Christ, has been freely justified by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, has been justified by faith without the deeds of the law, has been saved from wrath, has peace with God and access into this grace by Jesus Christ etc etc etc. So what is to be our response? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Verse 2 gives the short answer to the question, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Verses 3 through 14 expand on the answer given in verse 2. We ARE dead to sin. This is not just a state of mind, not just how we should think even though it isn’t really true. Our old man has been crucified. We have been made free from sin.  So don’t let your body act like it isn’t true. The section concludes with verse 14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” This introduces the next question:

Romans 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

This question is answered in Romans 6:16-7:6. In this section we read that we were the servants of sin, but have been made free from sin and have become servants of righteousness. We are told to yield our members, our body parts, servants to righteousness i.e. we ARE servants of righteousness, so act like it.We read that we are dead to the law and freed from it. This brings up question #3 (of 4 in chapters 6 & 7): Was the law a bad thing?

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

Here we have the question, “Is the law sin?” and the short answer.The answer is expanded on in verses 9-12.Verse 9 states:

Romans 7:9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

Really? Paul was alive without the law and then he saw when the commandment came? The law was given nearly 1,500 years before the time of the Apostle Paul! Whenever a word or words fail to be true to fact, it must be a figure of speech. Paul wasn’t alive when the law was initiated. Can you imagine any statement that would be a more obvious big sign to alert the reader that we are entering in to figurative language? Paul is not talking about himself personally, but whom is he talking about? This is a metonymy. Paul is putting himself for the Children of Israel as a whole, those who were alive without the law and then saw the coming of the commandment. The Paul-for-Israel metonymy continues until the end of the chapter. In this section we read that the law was holy, just, and good, but “I” (the Children of Israel) found it to be unto death. This very logically brings up the fourth (and final) question:

Romans 7:13 Was then that which is good [the law] made death unto me [Israel]? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me [Israel] by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

This is the question and the short answer.The expanded answer is given in verses 14-25. Is it not apparent that verse 13 is talking about the effect the law had on those who were under it, not about the condition of the born-again believer? Verses 14 and following are a continuation of the same discussion.

Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

Was Paul as a born-again believer sold under sin? Compare the following:

1 Corinthians 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1 Corinthians 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Romans 7:14 is not talking about believers in the age of grace, who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is talking about the condition of Israel under the law. Paul’s use of the first person is simply a continuation of the Paul-for-Israel metonymy he began in verse 9.

God’s Word also brings in another rhetorical device in verse 14. Use of the present tense to describe the past is called, “historical present.” Modern novelists use it frequently. The effect of this device is that it brings the reader closer to the action, causing him to more readily experience the emotion of the narrative. The verses following verse 14 express Israel’s dilemma and do so with feeling, climaxing with verse 24: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Romans 7:15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 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.
24 O wretched man that I am!who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

In this section, Paul refers to, “sin that dwelleth in me” (twice), “sin which is in my members,” and “evil … present with me.” This was true of Israel under the law, but it is not true of those described only a chapter earlier as “dead to sin” (6:2) and “freed from sin” (6:7). Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” The section above illustrates sin’s dominion over the Israelites under the law, not the condition of the believer under grace. Verse 23 speaks of “captivity to the law of sin.” Is this the condition of the believer under grace? A mere four verses later (Romans 8:2) Gods Word states, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

O wretched man that I am! Is that supposed to be the cry of we who have been paid for by the blood of God’s only begotten son that we might be made the righteousness of God in him? Of course not! This is a personification of Israel’s condition under the law. Who shall deliver me? The answer is Jesus Christ our lord as referenced in the next verse.

Romans 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Forget the chapter division between chapters 7 and 8. Romans 8:1ff follows through with the deliverance cried out for, the deliverance brought to us by Jesus Christ.  “There is therefore now no condemnation [There WAS condemnation to Israel under the law but NOW there is no condemnation to...] to them which are in Christ Jesus,” The following verses continue to show the contrast between what we have now as opposed to what Israel had under the law.

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For 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, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

So is Romans 7:15-21 about the workings of the sin nature in the child of God? No, this section is not even about sons of God, let alone about a “nature” of any kind within them. Those who want to promote the “two natures” doctrine are going to have to do better than their interpretations of Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:15-21.

Two Natures? (Part Two)

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