Do Christians have a Sinful Nature? (Indwelling Sin)

Because of an unfortunate misinterpretation in some translations of the Bible of the Greek word “sarx” (which directly translated means “flesh”), the doctrine of the sinful nature or indwelling sin has been propagated and preached with amazing conviction for centuries. It has caused sincere believers to try and live up to manmade moral standards, but not realizing that in doing this, they only subject themselves to endless frustration, lack of confidence before God and an expectation of punishment to come their way.

In the original Greek language the New Testament was translated from, the word “sarx” was used to describe over a dozen different concepts, such as the sinful nature, human flesh, sexual intercourse, carnality, etc. The W.E. Vines expository dictionary of Bible words lists 14 different meanings for the word “sarx”. The only way to determine the meaning of “sarx” in that particular part of scripture was to look at the context. Some Bible translations attempted to translate “sarx” into what they thought it meant in that particular context, but many got it wrong. Only the literal translations (e.g KJV or NKJV and a few others) did not change “sarx” into what they thought it might mean, but left it in the verses simply as “flesh”, allowing the reader to interpret the context. That’s why Rom 7 and some other passages appear to be so confusing in some translations, because “sarx” which means “flesh” was replaced with “sinful nature” the whole time! Here’s an example:

Col 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally (sarx). (NIV)
Col 2:1 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh (sarx), (NKJV)

Now, when the Bible talks about the “inward man”, the “new man” or the “new nature” it speaks about the born-again spirit of a believer. The “sinful nature” or “old man” refers the evil nature every person is born with, being at enmity with God and alive to sin. But “flesh” means something else. “Flesh” in this context refers to the un-renewed mind of the believer, a topic we’ll dig into deeper next week. “Flesh” in this context does not refer to something spiritual; it refers to the realm of the mind (soul, will & intellect). Soul = mind. You can read our previous message on this topic by clicking this link: http://www.newcovenantgrace.com/spirit-soul-body/

At salvation, a Christian’s sinful nature is crucified & buried with Christ. Rom 6:6 knowing this, that our old man (sinful nature) was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. After we are born again, we are NOT “sinners” anymore, even though we sometimes make mistakes. There is not 1 verse in the entire New Covenant that calls a born-again believer a “sinner”. The term “sinner” refers to a person that has not been born-again yet, and yet you’ll find most Christians today think: “I am just an old sinner.” No you are not!!

Under the Old Covenant people had to be circumcised on the 8th day in obedience to the laws of Moses. Under the New Covenant God circumcises the heart of the believer, removing (cutting out) the old evil nature, and giving us a new resurrected spirit that is created in 100% perfect righteousness like Christ. Col 2:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh (old sinful nature), by the circumcision of Christ. God also writes His laws on our hearts which simply means He gives us the desire to please Him (but of course we know He is actually already pleased with us because of what Jesus did on our behalf). Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. This means that our new reborn spirit desires to please God and delights in Him.

The following comparisons between a literal and conceptual Bible translation clearly illustrate this misconception (please note we’re not bashing or criticizing certain Bible translations, rather we’re addressing the misconception in the church about a born again believer’s inner nature, and the translation of the word “sarx”):

Rom 7:18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature (sarx) (NIV)
Rom 7:18 For I know that in me, that is in my flesh (sarx) nothing good dwells; (NKJV)

Rom 8:4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature (sarx) but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature (sarx) have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (NIV)
Rom 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh (sarx) but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh (sarx) set their minds on the things of the flesh (sarx), but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (NKJV)

Gal 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature (sarx); rather, serve one another in love. (NIV)
Gal 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (sarx), but through love serve one another. (NKJV)

Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (sarx). (NIV)
Gal 5:16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (sarx). (NKJV)

There are many more examples to illustrate this point, but I think we get the idea. Now consider this: The above verses, coupled with the fact that most people today believe whatever they read (without thinking about it) in whatever translation of Bible they have, plus the fact that the modern church has taught for centuries that Christians DO have a sinful nature (and that we have to deny this nature, fight it and put it to death!) it is easy to see that we can be conned by texts read out of context. Conned by text, get it..?

Now you may ask: “Why then do Christians still sin? If we don’t have a sinful nature, why do we still keep on making mistakes, feeling like we are disappointing God, and falling short of what we think God expects from us?” And this is what we will be talking about next week. In the meantime we encourage you to think about whether you may have been deceived by this doctrine, to repent (which simply means to change your thinking) and be open to receive more truth next. Has God left us with a remnant of our old, evil nature (which would mean He did an incomplete job), or did He do a complete work and remove the whole thing?

Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe

17 Comments

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  1. i am a born again believer, i had abad drug problem for years, then cried out to God, went in a christian re hab, and my life had gone from glory to glory, i have seen family saved and visions from god fulfiled,….then for whatever reason i did drugs again, and become a slave to it, my family was shocked after so many years of freedom, i have heard the preachings on feeding the new man and starving the old man, and they sounded like good teachings, logical, then someone said to me, why would God give you two natures, and this sat right in my spirit, i beleive i have a new nature, but why am i sinning and doing the things i know will harm me, some one help me, i believe revalation is the way to freedom!!

  2. I see Peters point completely. It is a matter of rewording something to make it sound different. I just do not see the point in it. Jesus said “Strive ( struggle ) to enter in ..” there is a struggle, there is striving, there is the desire in every believer to live holy, and there are unholy desires that we must guard against… call it what you will.

  3. God gave us a new heart, then we dont have a sinful heart. We are new creation, thus no longer old ones. we are free from sin, then we are no longer slaves of sin. our problem is in our mindset. that is why the bible says: renew your mind!cooperate with God in the transformation of your thinking. God removed the stony heart, then we are no longer rebellious.

  4. Stephen the answer is very simple. You said concerning Romans 7, “How can this be? Before I was saved,…before I was “in Christ”,…I never struggled with sin…I just did it.”

    You never fought with sin before because you weren’t raised a Pharisee and told that if you keep the law you are pleasing to God, but Paul was, hence his struggle.

  5. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

    “There is not 1 verse in the entire New Covenant that calls a born-again believer a “sinner”.”

    I found one! The context seems to be to believers. What do you think? I agree with what you’ve written and I believe I’m a new creation who needs to renew my mind etc. How do you react to James?

  6. I really love this site and the insights on it. My problem with saying Romans 7 is describing Paul before his salvation is that he said, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man”, at Romans 7:22.

    That clearly sounds like the results of a new heart, or born again inward man. I don’t see how this applies to an unsaved person, who does not have a new heat and an inward desire for God.

    I just received the book, “Grace, the Forbidden Gospel”. It looks terrific, I can’t wait to get into it.

  7. Craig, you said “Rom 7:15 is Paul speaking of himself pre salvation…pre being in Christ…when he was still a slave to sin…in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness…”

    How can this be? Before I was saved,…before I was “in Christ”,…I never struggled with sin…I just did it. I never fought against it. How can Romans 7 describe a person before salvation? There is no “war” inside to bring about this struggle. The sinner has nothing inside to fight against.

    Romans 7 is indeed the struggle of a Christian after salvation. A war between the Holy Spirit and the flesh.

  8. Amen and Amen Richard!!

    Thank you for your encoragement and sharing what God has shown you. All testimony carries within it the power to be reproduced, so receive it all who read this!!

    In Grace
    Andre

  9. Hi everyone, I believe that when we receive a revelation, it is an invitation to encounter heavens reality. Our revelation should demand an experience, after all, is not that ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth (in us)?’ Here is my personal experience of finding out that Craig & Andre are totally correct on the issue of the word ‘sarx,’ flesh. Paul said in Romans 6, until we ‘know this, knowing this,’ we are not able to live in the ‘newness of life.’ Want a mind blower? The ONLY PART OF YOU that is going to be resurrected is your body. Your born again spirit is from God, your old man (the fallen nature) IS (not in the process of) crucified with Christ! How can you die to what is already dead? Come on? The ‘body of sin’ in Romans 6 is not your body, it is directly relating to & referring to “the old patterns of thinking in the unrenewed areas of the mind, developed by the old man, the fallen nature that IS crucified with Christ.” The ONLY fallen nature a believer thinks he or she has is IN THEIR HEAD that they have been brainwashed, like I was, to believe still existed. What you then have is ‘schizophrenic christianity, multiple personality christianity.’ The devil is the author of confusion & has convinced some, like my self, that I had a dual nature, NO! God isnt the author of confusion which is why He loved us so much, HE LEGALLY KILLED OUR OLD MAN! Now, the ‘body of sin,’ the wrong patterns of thinking developed over a life time of living under the dominion of a fallen nature, which is the husband in Romans 7 that the soul, the ‘woman’ mind, will & emotions were under the authority of, if he (old man) is dead, she (mind, will & emotions) is free to be married to another (the new man, the born again spirit that is joined to the Lord, being ONE spirit). Once you realise you do not have a fallen nature but an unrenewed mind, you will fall out from under the condemnation of the devil and when you sin (by thinking) not (by nature) your confession of sin is no longer to be forgiven, but in thanksgiving that that old man, that trained you to think like that is crucified and you havent lost a thing with your heavenly Father. I just recently had an experience by the Holy Spirit all night long in my sleep with Him saying, “The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in you, not by you.” Waking up, I realized, as I heard again in the spirit, “Your new nature in Christ IS THE VERY PERFECTION THE LAW DEMANDED.” In retrospection to the law, we ARE PERFECT BY NATURE, by the new birth, not by obedience to the law but because our spirit is exactly as the Spirit of Christ. What can the law say to that level of perfection? NOTHING, now the law has had its mouth closed, like it had my mouth closed when I had the old man, the old nature!

  10. Man, it is good to know that the Good News is preaced all over the World. How can people not see that God is not also good, He is only Good. God does not love, He is love!

  11. Hi Jaco

    Paul is talking here about boasting in his flesh (Phil 3). The word “flesh” (sarx) is used twice in this passage. Once it is used literally to describe his fleshly descent & accomplishments, namely that he was a Jew, that he was circumcised, etc. And then the second time it is used figuratively to boast in these things, clearly making it legalism.

    But Paul says even if he did have reason to boast in his flesh, he counts it as pooh (ha-ha!!) for the sake of knowing Christ.

  12. For a good explanation on what “flesh” is, read Philippians 3: 3 – 6. It’s clear to see that “flesh” there means his self-effort to please God and keep to the law. With that explanation of the meaning of the word “flesh”, it completely fits into Romans 7 and 8, and makes complete sense. What do you guys think?

  13. Hey Peter…i don’t believe it is semantics, it makes a huge difference whether you say flesh or sinful nature…our flesh has not been circumcised but our sinful nature has….anyhow, Rom 7:15 is Paul speaking of himself pre salvation…pre being in Christ…when he was still a slave to sin…in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness…

  14. semantics… whether you call it “sinful nature” or “body of death”, or “sin of the Flesh” or simply just “flesh” the fact remains that it is a battle we are in constantly to crucify it.. even Paul struggled with this… he said “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Romans 7:15

    In the end I agree, these days we cant just read any translation and believe any preacher, its sad, but we need to have the wisdom and knowledge to interpret and discover for ourselves.

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