You’ve often heard it said that the believer has two natures, two identities that battle for the foreground his being. An intense, inner struggle between sin, self, and spirit rages deep within the soul. However, I contend, based upon what the Bible says, that the believer is not dual-natured. Rather, the believer has only one true nature – the spirit.
The Bible clearly teaches that the born-again believer has crucified his former self with Christ.
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Galatians 2:20, NLT
In the book of Romans, Paul the apostle asks a rhetorical question regarding living in sin.
By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? - Romans 6:2, NLT
The answer to his rhetorical question is simply that “the believer who is dead to sin cannot live in sin”. You’ve been made completely new.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. - 2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV
But this is where it can become confusing: while we know that we are dead to sin, we still experience a very real struggle to resist the temptations of the world.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
- Galatians 5:16-17, NLT
How can this be?
What do you do when your new mind seems to be thinking old thoughts? Where should you turn when your new nature behaves according to old patterns? This is the frustrating part, indeed. Paul the apostle describes this battle.
I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. - Romans 7:15-25, NLT
So on one hand the scripture describes the believer as being completely dead to sin, yet on the other hand the scripture describes sin putting up quite a lively battle. How can we reconcile these two realities?
The answer is found in one simple verse:
But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
Romans 7:20 (NLT)
Paul the apostle, in the verse above, is not dismissing himself from the responsibility of his own sinful actions. He is simply choosing to not identify with the sin nature. Sure the sin nature puts up a fight, but the sin nature just simply isn’t you anymore.
Just because you struggle with sin doesn’t mean you have to identify with sin.
So when you sin, you are not acting according to “another nature” that you possess. Instead, when you sin, you are acting against your actual nature.
When you sin, you’re not a fake Christian; you’re a fake sinner. You’re not a wolf in a sheep’s clothing; you’re a sheep in a wolf’s clothing.
Avoid sin. Repent of sin. Feel sorrow over sin. Despise sin. But never identify with sin. You have one nature: you are of the spirit.
Choosing to identify with the Spirit rather than with the sin nature is an important step towards holiness. For overcoming the power of the flesh is not a matter of fight sin but of surrendering to the Holy Spirit.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. - Galatians 5:16, NLT