The Believer’s Inner Conflict
Pastor Paul M. Sadler
The Lord has given me a number of opportunities to preach the gospel at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. As you look out over that sea of faces, one cannot help but see the depths of sin. But, thankfully, “where sin abounded grace did much more abound.”
Consider for a moment a river that is overflowing its banks due to a torrential downpour. Its destructive force sweeps away everything in its path. This is a picture of sin in the world; it destroys lives. However, when a dam is scheduled to release enough water to flood a valley and form a man-made lake, these waters consume the river and the valley leaving a peaceful, serene setting. This is a picture of the grace of God super-abounding over sin!
The foregoing passage prompted Paul to pose the following question to the saints at Rome, some of whom were apparently living in sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1,2). The apostle adds in verse 6, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
Although Reformed Theology and Dispensationalism have been ardent defenders of the “dual natures” within the believer, there are a growing number in both of these camps that teach the old man is eradicated upon our conversion to Christ. Therefore, they believe the child of God only possesses the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness. This position has come to be known as one-naturism. The following statement of John MacArthur, the voice of the Grace to Youradio ministry, is representative of those who hold this viewpoint: “I believe it is a serious misunderstanding to think of the believer as having both an old and new nature. Believers do not have dual personalities…there is no such thing as an old nature in the believer.” 1
On this premise, the Holiness Movement teaches sinless perfection, but advocates of one-naturismconcede that the believer can and still does sin, although in a diminishing capacity as he yields to the Spirit. Even though the old man is eradicated, they claim the remnants of original sin are still present in the believer. We might liken it to a man who fires a shotgun at a rotten apple—all that’s left are pieces embedded in the wall. They call this embedded behavior, the flesh.
While it is not our desire to enter into a dialogue over one-naturism, we do want our readers to understand that this position stands in opposition to one of the fundamentals of the faith. Our declaration of faith in the Grace Movement states: “By reason of Christ’s victory over sin and His indwelling Spirit, all of the saved may and should experience deliverance from the power of sin by obedience to Romans 6:11; but we deny that man’s nature of sin is ever eradicated during this life” (Rom. 6:6-14; Gal. 5:16-25; Rom. 8:37; II Cor. 2:14; 10:2-5).
The Scriptures clearly teach that the believer has two natures. Our primary concern with the teaching of one-naturism is that some will be led to believe they could come to the place in their Christian life where they no longer sin. This, of course, is beyond the realm of possibility in this corruptible body.
In our study of the Scriptures, it is very important to distinguish between positional and practical truth, which sometimes is referred to as standing and state. A failure to do so will lead to erroneous conclusions. Positional truth is a truth that’s viewed from God’s vantage point. On the other hand, practical truth has to do with the believer’s conduct in relation to that truth.
For example, we learn in Ephesians that God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Positionally, as far as God is concerned, you are presently seated with Christ in heavenly places. Practically speaking, you are probably sitting at home in your easy chair reading these lines. You see, you are to appropriate this truth by faith, which will facilitate setting your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.
With this in mind, there are three tenses to our salvation in Christ:
Justification: Past tense—saved from the penalty of sin.
Sanctification: Present tense—saved from the power of sin.
Glorification: Future tense—saved from the presence of sin.
The present tense of salvation, sanctification, has the idea to be set apart unto God. The family of words associated with this Greek word is: saints, holy, holiness, sanctify, sanctuary, etc. Here we must be careful to distinguish between positional and practical sanctification. These are two distinct lines of teaching in Paul’s epistles.
“But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Cor. 1:30).
Notice it is “in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us…sanctification.” This is a once-for-all act of God that takes place at the moment of our conversion. Therefore, we are the saints of God, holy, perfect, and complete in Christ (Eph. 1:4; I Thes. 5:23; Col. 2:10). Nothing in this life or the next can ever change our standing before God. The moment death sweeps us into the eternal presence of God we will appear before Him perfect because we are in Christ.
The present state of things, however, is a much different story. Our behavior as the saints of God is not always becoming of Christ. We are imperfect and incomplete on this side of glory. This is why the apostle admonishes the Corinthians and those at Thessalonica accordingly:
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (I Thes. 4:3,4).
In the Old Testament, God never made a provision for presumptuous sins in the daily sacrificial system. There was only a provision made for sins of ignorance (Num. 15:27-31). The reason for this was clear: as far as God was concerned His chosen people, a holy nation, would never willingly sin against Him. But the fact of the matter is, they sinned again and again presumptuously against the Holy One of Israel, which thankfully was covered by the annual Day of Atonement.
We might say it this way today: surely a saint of God, who is set apart unto Him, would never willingly sin against the Lord. Sadly, he can and often does as the above passage demonstrates. You see, the believer is to appropriate by faith what he already possesses in Christ that he might not sin against God. This is how we have power over sin in our lives.
THE INNER CONFLICT
The mechanics of our identification with Christ are more fully developed for us in Romans Chapter 6:
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6).
The “old man” is that which we have inherited from Adam at conception. Although some object to the usage of “old nature,” since it is not specifically used in Paul’s revelation, these two designations are one in the same. For example, a dog has a nature, which is the inherent character of the animal. The two are inseparable. Thus, we often hear it said that it’s the nature of a dog to bark. In similar fashion, the old nature is corrupt according to deceitful lust (Eph. 4:22). It naturallyrebels against God and the things of God. The old nature is like the dog that returns to its vomit, it cannot be altered, and any attempt to reform it will always be futile.
Other names for the old nature are: the natural man, the (old) heart, the carnal mind, and the flesh. These designations merely describe additional characteristics of the old man, with which we are all too familiar. But Paul says, “Our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.” We are dead to sin. Do you believe this wonderful truth? We do—lock, stock, and barrel, as they say!
In the eyes of God, our old man was crucified with Christ; it’s dead and buried forevermore, positionally. Practically speaking, however, he’s alive and well within our members. This is why the apostle instructs us that since Christ died unto sin once, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin” (Rom. 6:11). Beloved, we would not have to reckon the old man dead if he has been eradicated, as some teach. We must count him dead because he is still present within us.
But some will say that this is merely the old patterns that we fall back into that cause us to sin when we fail to yield to the Spirit—the leftover fruits of the old man, if you please. But this is where we believe the teaching of one-naturism collapses. Those who defend this position not only fail to differentiate between positional and practical truth, but also between the root and the fruit. If the root of a tree is dead, the tree will not bear fruit. The old man is the root, oftentimes called sin in the Scriptures, and sins are the fruit (Rom. 5:12 cf. Eph. 2:1; Gal. 5:19-21). So, for there to be fruits, the root of sin must be alive to produce them.
In order to have power over sin in our lives we must reckon the old man dead by faith. But now for “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. Upon our conversion we are given a new man, which is identified with Christ’s resurrection. This is what enables us to walk in newness of life to the glory of God (Rom. 6:4,5). The new nature is said to be created in righteousness and true holiness; therefore, we are a new creation.
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
Other designations assigned to the new man are: the inner man, the (new) heart, the mind, and the spirit. The believer then has both an old and a new nature. We take exception with the argument that if the believer has two natures, he then has dual personalities. But there is evidence to the contrary; did not our Lord Himself have a human nature and a divine nature, and who will dispute, in one person. Why then is it so hard to believe the same could be true of us, and indeed it is, albeit our human nature has been tainted with sin. Soon after we are saved we realize that there is an inner conflict within our members, as the flesh (old man) lusts against the spirit (new man), “and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17).
Advocates of one-naturism deny that this warfare is present within us, stating that those who believe there is a conflict between the old and new natures are admitting defeat. This, they say, is why these believers struggle in the Christian life and tend to be carnally minded. We disagree, of course, on two fronts: first, this is contrary to the Scriptures, and second, it denies experience.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:12,13).
In essence, the apostle is instructing us not to allow the sin nature to have dominion over us. You are dead to sin, positionally, therefore you should not obey the lust of the flesh. Neither yield your members as instruments (Greek hoplon, weapons) of sin against God. Rather, yield yourself to God, put yourself at His disposal, bearing in mind that you are alive from the dead by the resurrection of Christ. Yield your members as weapons of righteousness to the praise of His glory. Surely this portion demonstrates that there is a warfare within our members (See also Romans 7:14-25). This inner struggle may be illustrated accordingly:
The conflict between the two natures may be compared to a ship, on which a new Captain has been put on board by the owners. The old Captain has so long held command, and his enmity to the owners is so great, that he has practically treated the vessel as his own; and kept the crew in perfect bondage. The crew has submitted to it, never having known any other authority, or understood what real liberty of service was. From time to time they have heard of it; they have passed other vessels which they saw at once were very different from their own.
But, now that the new Captain is in authority they begin to find out what the difference is. The new Captain henceforth always has control of the helm and the charge of the ship. The ship is the same, the crew is the same. Even the old Captain remains on board. The book of instructions which the new Captain has brought on board tells that the old Captain has been judged and condemned: but the sentence cannot be executed except by the proper judicial authorities, when they reach port.
They cannot put him ashore, or throw him overboard. But, he no longer “holds the helm or guides the ship.” He tries from time to time to get hold of the wheel, but in vain. He succeeds sometimes in putting forth his old influence by creating disaffection in some of the members of the crew; for he knows them and their weaknesses well from his former complete control of them. He occasionally bribes or deceives some of them into acts of insubordination which they afterwards deeply regret. But the old Captain cannot get at the “ship’s papers.” They are now put quite out of his reach, where he cannot touch them. He cannot succeed in altering the ship’s course, or change the port for which she is now bound. He does not read the book of instructions; and if he looks at it, he does not understand it (I Cor. 2:14).
The ship’s crew was once his executive, and carried out only his will; but there is now no obligation for any of them to obey his orders, or to recognize his authority. They are released from it; and henceforth they are under the orders of the new Commander. They are to “reckon” the old Captain as already condemned; and the sentence as only waiting to be carried out. As to his power over them, they are to reckon themselves “as good as dead” so far as he is concerned. 2
“Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:9,10).
It is essential to note that the verbs in this passage “put off” and “put on” are past tense in the original language, as well as in the English. The Colossians were to understand that God has addressed the matter once-for-all in the life of the believer. Now the apostle says, you need to put into practice what you already know to be true. Believe it and apply it!
Hence Paul commands them, “Mortify [i.e. put to death at once, immediately] therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection…” (Col. 3:5). In regard to the new man he commands, “Put on [a command to be obeyed at once] therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another…” (Col. 3:12,13).
Experientially, triumph over sin is only possible as we reckon the old man to be dead by faith, for we walk by faith and not by sight. Having reckoned him dead, our new nature is renewed day by day in the knowledge of Christ, as we study the Word of God. Oh, that we might know Him, that is, more fully, and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:10 cf. Col. 3:11). This alone will bring joy and fulfillment in the life of the believer in Christ.