What About that Old Nature?

Romans 6:1-14

God is great. He is constantly at work around us. And it is neat to see the transformation God does in people’s lives. My Dad went from occasionally going to church when I was younger to being my “little evangelist” now that he has gotten older. Wherever he went these days, he would talk to the people there who he had never met and inevitably offer them a DVD – either “Jesus fact or fiction” with the Jesus film on it or the Jesus video in 16 languages. If you didn’t accept it, then he would offer something else until you did. My Dad went from “tipping God” by putting a $10 in the offering to some serious giving – 25% of his salary before he retired. God had done a big work in my Dad’s life. 

In fact, as Bible-believing Christians who have repented and followed Jesus alone for salvation, aren’t there times when you feel on top of the world spiritually. Maybe it is on a missions trip, after communion, during a service, on a retreat or when you hear of a miracle God has done. At those times you feel so full of thanksgiving, so appreciative of Jesus’ live, that temptation seems to be far way. Life feels so full. Jesus is totally in control, the Holy Spirit is focusing us on holiness and our new nature is choosing the best for our lives. Right and wrong are clear. When we mess up, we are quick to repent and seek a change because we want to! At those moments it feels like our old nature is dead and gone – crucified forever.

But just a week later, it seems that our old nature is back with a vengeance – temptation is strong; our focus is on ourselves, our love for Jesus starts to cool off. Selfishness, greed, coveting and anger seem to grow. Right and wrong seem less clear – excuses become more common. We begin to sound like Linus in the Peanut’s cartoon 2 weeks ago …

Lucy comes up with her comic book and demands “Did you tear the cover off this comic magazine?”

Linus looks down and says “Yes I guess I did.” You either did or you didn’t, so you can see why Lucy is exasperated and cries out “But why? Why do you do such stupid things?”

Seeming innocently Linus says, “I don’t know… I really don’t know …” Then the deflection starts – that subtle change where it seems the old nature starts taking over:  “I’ve asked myself that too…I’ve asked myself that very question … Why do I do stupid things? Why don’t I think? What’s the matter with me? Where is my sense of responsibility? Then I ask myself, am I really responsible? Is it really my fault when I do something wrong? Must I answer for my mistakes?” Can’t you see Lucy starting to get angry? Linus continues “Who is responsible? Who is accountable? Who is …”

About this time Lucy has had enough and slugs him with the rolled up comic. As Linus is laying on the ground he ends “Her kind never worries about these things?” 

Our question today deals with these real life experiences we have and how are we to understand them in light of the Bible’s teaching.

QUESTION: Since we are forgiven & now new creations in Christ with the old nature passed away, why do we still sin? It would seem the old nature is hanging around …

PROPOSITION: That aspect of the old nature which totally enslaved us is totally broken, defeated and crucified, however the desires of the old nature still battle within us to keep us from going God’s way.  

I. What has God done in the life of the true believer?

In the first part of Romans 6 we have three truths which touch on our question for today. Let’s look at Romans 6 with this question: “What has God done in the life of a true believer?”

A. Forgiven us                                                                                    Rom 6:1 (chapter 5)

Romans 6:1. READ. The first thing God has done is forgiven us. Chapter 5 is full of references about our justification by grace – grace is a gift freely given to us by God and that is always greater than the sin we have done. So that leads us to a simple question: …

Does being a Christian mean we are permanently forgiven – can we sin in the future and it won’t matter what we do or say? Absolutely false! True Christian grace is a gift from God and it has a direct effect on our sin nature – we died to sin. While we may sin, as chapter 7 will show us, we would never conclude that we can sin and that is somehow OK with God.  

         B. Crucified old nature                                                                        Rom 6:6-8a

READ Romans 6:5-7. This clearly says that as a true believer, our old self – our sin nature – the flesh – has been crucified with Jesus – it has died. The key truth here is that we are no longer slaves to sin. We can never say about our explosive anger (or any other sin), “It’s hopeless, I can’t help myself – that is just the way I was made.” When God adopted us into His family, He crucified our old nature – He broke the chains that enslaved us to the body of sins.

So if our old nature has been crucified, then does that mean a Christian won’t be tempted anymore? Not at all as chapter 7 will show. Whatever it means to have our old nature crucified with Christ it does not mean will not face super enticing temptation from within. 

          C. Given us a new nature                                                                     Rom 6:8b-10

READ Rom 6:8b-10. We see here that we have been raised with Christ. We have a new life – a life with Jesus. The life we live is for God. This reflects what is called the “new nature” in other places. When we become a Christian, not only is our old nature crucified by Christ but we are also given a new nature which brings life. This new nature is controlled by the Holy Spirit and wants to do the things of God.

That leads to a final question: Does that mean we are automatically good & holy? Again in chapter 7, we see that the mature apostle Paul struggles to do what is good and holy. It is not automatic. So being a new Christian who has been forgiven, had the old nature crucified & received a new nature that is spiritually alive does not stop us from sin. So what is happening here? 

II. What role do we have?                    (Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:22, 24; Galatians 5:16-17; Romans 13:14)

          A. Consider yourself dead to sin                                                         Rom 6:11

READ Romans 6:11. Clearly we have a role to play in whether we actually do acts of sin or not. “[Count or] Consider yourself dead to sin.” We are to act as if the sin nature was gone. But that also means we will sense or feel that the old nature is not gone – in fact it will be encouraging us to sin. 

          B. Don’t let sin reign in your life                                                          Rom 6:12

READ Romans 6:12. We are not to let sin have regular control in our lives. Again this is something we are called on to do in cooperation with God’s work. Whenever we see ourselves going back and doing the same wrong things over and over again – we need to take strong steps to stop it once --- so it doesn’t control us for the long run. Again whatever is crucified in our old nature it does not mean we won’t feel evil desires from within.

          C. Offer your time, thoughts & actions to God & righteousness           Rom 6:13

READ Romans 6:13. We are to offer our time, thoughts & actions to God and the pursuit of righteousness rather than the sins that are a part of our life. These last 3 verses are also an excellent summary of the cooperation God wants us to have whenever we start to sin – whether that is acting selfishly, showing out-bursts of anger, constantly worrying, wanting to constantly buy more things, struggling with inpure thoughts or having bitter towards others. Whenever temptation is strong, we first need to challenge the way we are thinking and the excuses we are making. We are dead to that sin and need to act that way. Second, there has to be a change in our outward actions --- we must interrupt the sin cycle or it will start to control our lives. Jesus has died to break that control – we dare not go back to it. Finally, we must take time to do positive things that draw us closer to Jesus (like personal devotions) and positive things that help out Jesus’ work in this world (like practical service at the church). These verses clearly shows that whatever God is saying about the crucifixion of the old nature it is NOT saying Jesus took all temptations. Instead Jesus calls every one of us to cooperate in our thoughts and actions with the work God is doing.    

Romans 13:14 - Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Our sinful nature is still clearly trying to get us to sin by making sin look good. 

Colossians 3:9–10 - Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. We are to take steps to tell the truth and not lie as we take off the old self and put on the new. Eph 4:22, 24 says the same thing 

Ephesians 4:22, 24 - You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; … 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Finally Galatians 5:16–17 reminds us that the desires of our sinful nature are constantly clashing with the Holy Spirit in us -  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

There is a genuine battle inside of us at times – and many of us can identify with the apostle Paul’s language in Romans chapter 7. And we have also mentioned that there are times when we are so surrendered to God and so immersed in His work that we don’t feel any temptations at all. How do you put these together? 

I personally like the picture that the Native American Christians give of this. They say each believer has a white dog and a black dog living in us. Our job is to feed the white one, not the black one. But how does this account for the Biblical language of our old nature (the black dog) having been crucified? 

          D. How can the old nature be dead/crucified yet still active & negatively affecting us?                       (Joshua 21:43-45; Judges 2:20-23)

And how can the Bible say that the old nature is dead and crucified when we are still being enticed to sin so strongly FROM WITHIN ourselves? Both aspects are seen in Romans as we have seen – the same is true of the book of Galatians. Over the centuries, Bible teachers have proposed a number of solutions to unite these two truths – they range from those who just emphasize the old nature is dead to those who just emphasize the battle within us – and those somewhere in the middle which is where I am. The way you answer this question actually determines the way you deal with temptation in your own life.  

Some say that your old nature is totally dead, so any affect you feel must just be a shadow or remembrance of the past. Victory comes as you simply claim your place in Jesus. You see this reflected in Neil Anderson’s works where deliverance comes primarily by appreciating our new titles in Christ or in the classic Lutheran approach to sanctification where understanding the concept of grace overcomes all problems. I think it is powerful to focus on who we are in Christ and how great God’s grace is, but the inner temptations I feel and people tell me about are far more than just a shadow of the past and they certainly don’t flee for long just from positive thoughts.   

Others, like John MacArthur, say the old nature is totally dead but that sin still remains in our physical body itself which is not redeemed until our resurrected body. This view is more realistic about the battle we face inside, but it just seems to move the source of inner temptation from our old nature to our physical body. That seems more Platonist than Christian since God doesn’t see the physical body as bad and the inner soul as good like followers of Plato did. People who hold this perspective tend to downplay the physical world or doing positive things there. 

Still others claim that the old nature is crucified but it is taking a long, long time to die – like your whole lifetime. This view is realistic about the battle inside us but really plays loose with the language of death and crucifixion. Crucified people can’t do anything to anyone. And “died” means “dead”.

Some say that “nature” isn’t “a thing” but “a capacity”. Thus the old nature has been crucified – that is what was in it has been deflated & emptied out by God but as we hold on to wrong thoughts or do wrong things, then the capacity of the old nature increases again. In the same way the “new nature” is just a capacity for good and holiness. This rightly sees the importance of our role in this battle – feed the black dog and it gets stronger. But it tends to downplay the work of God somewhat. Whatever crucifying the old nature is – it is something far beyond our human ability. It is something God alone can do and is an awesome gift to us.  

Turn to Joshua 21. This is where I love the Old Testament. It sometimes gives us pictures that help us to understand two competing pictures. I want to hold strongly both aspects we have seen – FIRST that God has crucified the old nature with an incredible victory at salvation and SECOND there is an inward battle we face in our lives as Christians between the old and new natures where God calls us to daily put off the old nature and put on the new. 

Notice how Joshua’s victory is described in v 43-45. READ. If this was all we knew, then we would assume this awesome victory removed every enemy from the Promised Land. Yet we see another aspect of this situation in Judges 2:20-21. READ. What? God had left nations and enemies inside Israel. The peace and rest wasn’t permanent but DEPENDENT on their future obedience. READ Judges 3:1-2. God had planned all along to LEAVE some opposition in the land to teach future generations how to fight Biblically – using spiritual weapons as well as physical ones. When they were regularly disobedient that increased their struggles against their enemies.

So when the Bible says our old nature is crucified and dead – I believe it is like Joshua’s amazing victories to take the Promised Land. The military backbone which was so imposing to the ten spies – that was totally broken. God has done something so incredible that no matter how much you and I struggle inside with our sinful thoughts – if we keep following Jesus we can’t lose. That is how great God’s victory was at Calvary – He broke the chains of slavery we were more bound in more than we’ll ever realize. This takes away EVERY excuse any born-again Christian gives for their sin. This gives us confidence to challenge every excuse we make – it gives us confidence to challenge the rationalizations of others. You can’t blame your parents, your nationality, your situation – nothing for you sin. Because God broke that bondage.

But God also left an element of that old nature – the black dog in our life. These are meant to be smaller, everyday type of battles. These temptations are there to help us learn to be overcomers. It helps us get ready for heaven. It is there so we can learn how to cooperate with God to have victory over temptation and individual sin. We need to learn how to combine our physical actions with our spiritual resources so we give the Holy Spirit more control in our lives. We are learning how to feed the white dog.

This dynamic between what God has done and what we are to do touches most areas we teach here at the church. For example, a month ago we taught that a Christian can overcome worry by prayer. Why does that work? First God has already broken all major slavery to our old nature that causes us to worry. No one can say it is hopeless. Then God gives us a new perspective of life and heaven that allows us to let go of the worries in this world – God wants us to think differently about situations than the people around us. However God also leaves some small pockets of unconquered worries that genuinely tempt us. As we apply our physical effort, thinking different and our spiritual resources – in this case prayer – we can overcome any worry. God is using these two fold cooperative process to mold us into stronger Christians.

Let me end with just one more illustration. It is not unusual for someone to come up to me and say “I prayed for God to take away this bad desire, but He didn’t. So it must be OK.” People give this excuse for why they are marrying a non-Christian, why their credit cards are maxed out, and why they are doing illegal drugs. Since God didn’t take away the feelings, it is OK for me to live unBiblically. That is a total misunderstanding of how God works. Where does God ever say we are to combat temptation by praying God just take it away? Here what is really happening …. (God please don’t let this book fall – but we keep pushing it, we keep feeding the black dog, we keep close to the temptation) PRAY STRONGER. What is going to happen to this book? It will fall! Did God do something wrong? Not at all. We failed to cooperate with the work Jesus has already done. The biggest part of sin’s slavery has been broken. But there is genuine temptations we will all FEEL STRONGLY – it is so we get stronger spiritually. Feed the white dog and starve the black one.        

III. How does this help us?

  1. We are in a lifetime struggle (realistic)
  2. We celebrate the incredible victory of Jesus & put spiritual resources first!
  3. The “dog” we feed will get stronger
  4. We are in control of our choices
  5. There is a great dynamic in life

IV. Other - selfish, hateful, and greedy

Let me end with this illustration of how false expectations in this area are really devastating Christians.

  • A dedicated Christian becomes engaged to a non-Christian in disobedience to the Bible. They tell me, “I couldn’t help it. In fact I prayed to God to take the feelings away but He didn’t”. So it is God’s fault.
  • A regular church person has maxed out their credit cards. “I asked God to take away these feelings I have to buy more, but He didn’t.” So I can’t help myself.
  • A church leader has an affair. They said it just happened – then they prayed to God to take away the feelings, but He didn’t. So I couldn’t help continuing.   

These violate everything we just said as they claim the power of sin is too great & God’s power too little. But they are

Take big book. Start pushing. “Lord I am worried this book is going to fall. Please Lord don’t let this book fall.”  “Lord, I am fasting and praying you stop this book from falling.” “Lord it will destroy this book, please stop it from falling.” CRASH. I don’t know why the Lord didn’t stop the book from falling. Because we were pushing it. Because we were feeding the black dog. Because we weren’t fleeing immorality but cozying up to it – we weren’t cutting up the credit cards and feeding our lust. Stop praying one way when you are acting another. Start being a warrior who overcomes obstacles relying on our spiritual weapons and putting our efforts the same way.