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The spiritual battle between initial and final salvation under grace to live holy and obediently for salvation’s sake is an intense conflict in more ways than one. To add to the persecutions for righteousness, daily cares of living and other natural distractions, some have troubled others by magnifying minor details to the extreme, which has created needless questions, confusion and divisions. This has occurred with the conflict between the terms sinful nature or flesh.
Some people are so glued to the KJV and past writers (such as Finney, etc.)—exalting what they said to the utmost, that they have and are continuing to cause uncalled-for problems. For example, one such person is saying the term sinful nature is wrong (blasphemy) and flesh is accurate in verses like Rom. 8:13, 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 5:19-21, 5:24; etc. (In other words, the NIV is blasphemy and the KJV is spot on!) Let’s examine this troubling issue, which has been unscripturally magnified:
QUESTION: What is the sinful nature or flesh (depending on your favorite English translation)? The answer is graphically shown by revealing its sinful deeds in Gal. 5:19-21:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21, NIV)
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:21, KJV)
NOTE: Sinful nature or flesh mean the same, as far as a Biblical description. [If a=b and b=c, then a=c.] That should help to clarify the Biblical meaning and remove confusion. To try to make a big deal between terms, therefore, is error since both refer to the same sins, which will exclude any person from God’s kingdom. The emphasis MUST stay on holy and obedient living and SOULS without going off on a tangent. Some are trying to split theological hairs, who are not only in error, but troubling some saints to their possible harm.
QUESTION: Can the term sinful nature be proper usage for a Christian? Some “choke” (so to speak) with one saying a Christian has a sinful nature, but in the same breath, the same people would have to admit a Christian has flesh, which must be put to death and crucified! Again, the theology of such people has been misshaped somehow and it was probably by past writers. The mistake they have made is simple and common: They wanted truth, but did not seek it out from the New Testament alone. Instead, they went to the writings of a past exalted, but fallible man.
Many dangerously want a quick-easy concise teaching so they in turn can teach the same to others. At that point, a related problem arises: Once someone has taught something, a great reluctance for them to change (even when shown to be wrong with Scripture) occurs. It takes humility to change and admit error, but pride will block this.
QUESTION: What is the proof a Christian has a sinful nature or flesh, according to Scripture? (Again, what any exalted man— including Finney, Wesley, etc.—of the past wrote is meaningless!) The question about this issue is simply: What does the Bible say? The answer is also simple, if we search the Scriptures alone.
Ponder Col. 3:5, which is crystal clear to show a Christian has a sinful nature (or flesh), which must be put to death:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5, NIV)
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Col 3:5, KJV)
NOTE: Paul is writing Christians (Col. 1:1-8). It is Christians who still have an earthly nature (NIV), even though they are new creations and have been born again. The KJV says, your members which are upon the earth. So what do those synonymous terms mean?
Col. 3:5 shows the overlap between the listing there and Gal. 5:19-21. In other words, earthly nature = sinful nature (NIV) and flesh = earthly members. That is clear, but it gets more clear with James 4:1:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (NIV)
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (KJV)
NOTE: The Greek word for members in Col. 3:5, which need to be put to death, is the same word found in James 4:1 and there shown to be desires. It is sinful desires which caused the fights and quarrels James wrote about. It was also those same sinful desires which needed to be put to death.
Getting back to Col. 3:5, Paul told those holy Christians to put to death their earthly natures (sinful natures or flesh). That alone shows they had a sinful nature or flesh, even though they now had spiritual life in Christ and were holy. In other words, to say they had a sinful nature (flesh) did NOT take away from their holy living. That passage goes on to read:
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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. (Col 3:6-10, NIV)
Again, those Christians already took off their old self at initial salvation, but are being warned (like Gal. 5:19-21) to put to death their earthly nature (or sinful nature or flesh). That was part of Paul’s repeated grace teachings. Paul also wrote the same truth in Rom. 8:13 and clearly taught what would happen if the faithful and obedient didn’t put to death those sinful desires:
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Rom 8:13, NIV)
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Rom 8:13, KJV)
If the saints would live according to the sinful nature, they would die spiritually (lose their salvation), just like the prodigal did (Luke 15:24,32). To continue to stay spiritually alive, they would have to put to death the sinful nature (or earthly nature or flesh). It is a fight to the death with sinful desires (which will come from the sinful nature, the devil and world). Please read Crucify The Flesh.
That type of life-or-death warning was Paul’s grace message, unlike the cheap dangerous counterfeit of our day associated with once saved always saved, which says all Christians sin all the time, including Paul himself, who was the worst sinner of all, according to them! (Remember: Rom. 7:14-25 and 1 Tim. 1:15,16 are NOT Paul as a Christian.)
QUESTION: Should sinful nature (or flesh), which needs to be put to death to stay saved, be understood as body, meaning our physical body?
The answer is NO and becomes apparent, if the reader considers the following Scriptures:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:24, NIV)
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Gal 5:24, KJV)
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom 6:6,7, NIV)
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. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom 6:6,7)
In other words, to come to initial salvation—get born again and forgiven—one must crucify (or destroy) the flesh or sinful nature.
(It is only at that point that he/she will be set free from his/her sin addictions. That is vital truth which shows why many never come to initial salvation. Maybe they just prayed a prayer or confessed Jesus as Lord, but there was no real repentance. Some who profess salvation have never experienced freedom from their sin addictions and were therefore never saved, but many others do get saved and delivered from sin addictions and afterwards go back to sin like a dog returning to its vomit, 2 Peter 2:20-22.)
So here is the revealing question, which real Christians should be able to answer easily: Did you crucify your physical body or your controlling sinful desires, when you got born again? Without question, the physical body was NOT crucified, destroyed, etc. for it remained unchanged in appearance. However, the wicked behavior caused by the controlling sinful desires was changed, if salvation came. Hence, the sinful nature or flesh does not and can not mean physical body, as described in Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-10; etc.
Furthermore, when a person gets saved he is spiritually circumcised—he puts off his sinful nature (or flesh), but not his body! When a person gets saved his physical body remains with him without being destroyed, crucified or circumcised away.
Also, the Greek word for flesh is sarx, not soma. Soma is the word for body. It is different from sarx (flesh)! Sinful desires will continue to come even though they are resisted and not yielded to. Even Jesus, who never sinned (Heb. 4:15), was tempted, though he never yielded. Such sinful temptations did not take away from the Lord Jesus being holy and remaining obedient. The same is true for Christians. Temptations alone do NOT equal sin. Sin occurs when temptation is yielded to.
Paul was the ultimate example of a holy Christian and slave of righteousness, yet he died daily, even after he got born again:
I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Cor 15:31)
How did Paul die daily? He put sinful desires to death daily so they would not control his behavior. Even though Paul had a sinful nature (or flesh) such did NOT interfere with his holy and obedient living. Paul was holy, righteous and blameless (1 Thess. 2:10; etc.). Paul was NOT the worst of sinners, like heretics want us to believe.
QUESTION: How important is it to not sow to please the sinful nature?
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal 6:7-10)
ANSWER: Since destruction is contrasted with eternal life, it is a salvation issue to NOT sow to please the sinful desires or flesh! Sinful desires must be resisted and crucified by the Christian for him to stay saved. If not, the righteous will die spiritually (lose his salvation). True grace teaching declares:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Rom 6:12)
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:16)
**Again, the emphasis needs to be on holy living and SOUL winning, not insignificant details about words which mean the same! Remember also, NO English translation is infallible, including the KJV. It is the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts which are infallible. (No person is infallible, including Finney, Wesley, etc. Let the Bible alone shape your theology, not what others say the Bible teaches.)
Getting back to quarreling about words, and what is really important, ponder this:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. (2 Tim 2:11-14)
In conclusion: Resist the devil and follow Jesus. Fear the Lord and shun evil. It is holiness or hell. Such is the issue and battle. So STOP creating more problems with trivial things and don’t be troubled by deceived people who won’t stop. God bless you.
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