My sinful nature: Can I really get shot of my old man without bumping him off?

At a church service, this was a part of the preacher’s opening prayer: “Remind us of our sinful nature.”

 No doubt, those “in Christ” still struggle with the “old man,” and I suppose we could call that the old “nature.” But we should be careful. Scripture teaches that Christians have a new nature, because they are a new creation. There, alas, still remains the struggle against the “old man,” also described as the “flesh.” The term “old man” in the Bible refers to those who have the Holy Spirit through rebirth (the regenerate); so the term does not describe those who are “unregenerate,” or “without the (Holy) Spirit.” So, ”old” not as in ”my old man’s a dustman, he wears a dustman’s cap,” but as in the the struggle with sin. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Christians, in contrast, do accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, yet they still have the old man tussling inside.

In Romans 7:4-20, the emphasis is on the fact that although the Christian is a new creation, the battle against his old self, his old nature, his “flesh” is not over.

Romans 7

4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh,[a] the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

The Law and Sin

7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[b] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, the passage ends, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

In summary, v. 21 “I want to do good” – the new nature desiring to do “good” (be like Christ) but v. 23 the old nature, “the flesh,” warring with the new nature.

The focus in the next chapter of Romans (Chapter 8) moves to the victory of the new creation in Christ over the old creation in Adam. Christians continue to sin but their new desire, which is instilled in them through regeneration (born again) – is to please Christ, not themselves.

Romans 8 

1. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Here is Jeremy Walker on the new nature in his recent and excellent “Life in Christ: becoming a disciple of the Lord”: 

The Nature Identified

If anyone is in Christ,” writes the apostle, ‘he is a new creation.’ This is the language of a radical change. It speaks of something not simply different but genuinely new. It is not enough to speak of a tadpole becoming a frog or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, for the language of transformation and metamorphosis falls short of the reality. Even the Ethiopian changing the rich color of his skin or the leopard changing his distinctive spots is insufficient. This is not alteration but creation, newness at the deepest level. It speaks of a thorough change. It deals not with appearance but with nature. If the Ethiopian could change his skin color, he would remain an Ethiopian. If the leopard could alter his spots, he would still be a leopard. But the new creation begins at and radiates from the core of a person’s being and changes everything he is. It starts with the inner man enthroning Christ in the heart, the seat of the government of our humanity, and begins its course there, creating anew from that point outward, nothing being overlooked or bypassed, all being more or less affected and increasingly renovated over time. This, then, is a divinely than heavenly power. Mere mortal strength could never begin or sustain such a work-human might and ingenuity can no more create a person anew than it can truly create anything to begin with. And, indeed, there is a sense in which this act of salvation transcends even the act of original creation. In creation, God worked from nothing. In salvation, He worked against sin.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we read “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.” Here is John Gill in his commentary on the above verse:

“A new creature – converted persons; and designs not an outward reformation of life and manners, but an inward principle of grace, which is a creature, a creation work, and so not man’s, but God’s; and in which man is purely passive, as he was in his first creation; and this is a new creature, or a new man, in opposition to, and distinction from the old man, the corruption of nature; and because it is something anew implanted in the soul, which never was there before; it is not a working upon, and an improvement of the old principles of nature, but an implantation of new principles of grace and holiness; here is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, new feet to walk, and new hands to work and act with.”

When Christians sin, they don’t merely feel remorse (feel bad), but also the desire to repent. In contrast, “sin” and ”repentance” do not exist in an unbeliever’s lexicon. In Judaism and Christianity and some other religions, repentance always leads to reconciliation with God; while remorse often results in giving up on life. Remorse is the result of a guilty conscience that “kills” the soul, which sometimes leads to the premature death of the body as well. Remorse is the lot of the unbeliever, a worldly sorrow that leads to eternal separation from God. Here is the Apostle Paul:

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).”

And 1 John 1

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 

In sum, the Christian IS a new nature in Christ, filled with joy – bitter sweet, carrying his and her cross through life seeking to be in the hour of their death WITH Christ. The Christian is already IN Christ. Part of that cross is that dusty old man.


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