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