old nature

A Constant Obsession

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. – Hebrews 12:14-17 ESV

The Scriptures clearly teach that followers of Christ have been sanctified by God. They enjoy a new status as His chosen ones, having been set apart by Him and deemed righteous in His eyes, due to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on their behalf. As a result of Christ’s sinless life and selfless sacrifice of that life, those who place their faith in Him as their Savior receive wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

But there is far more to the doctrine of sanctification than the believer’s change in status. Yes, God sets each and every believer apart as His own, but He also fills them with His Holy Spirit. Through the divine presence of the Spirit of God, every believer is equipped with the power they need to live as who they are: A saint or holy one of God. And this power is essential because believers, though set apart by God, still find themselves living in a fallen world and dealing with the reality of their old sin natures. Coming to faith in Christ eliminates the penalty for sin, but it does not eradicate the potential to commit future sins. The truth of this statement is lived out in daily life and supported by the New Testament writers.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 ESV

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1-2 ESV

It is the daily experience of every follower of Christ that sanctification does not provide an escape from the temptation to sin. Even Jesus Himself, the God-man and the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of man, was faced with the temptation to sin, as the author of Hebrews makes clear:

…he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.
– Matthew 4:1 NLT

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. – Mark 1:13 ESV

But Jesus had no sin nature with which to contend. He was not born into sin like the rest of mankind. He came into the world as holy and remained so throughout the entirety of His life. But the same is not true of us. We are born in sin and were imputed the same sinful disposition that Adam and Eve possessed. And as A. W. Pink so aptly puts it, our relationship with Christ does not eliminate our potential for sin.

…scriptural sanctification is neither the eradication of sin, the purification of the carnal nature, nor even the partial putting to sleep of the “flesh”; still less does it secure an exemption from the attackes and harassments of Satan. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

We must not think of sanctification as a freedom from the capacity to sin, but as a God-endowed power to resist the temptation to sin. Paul reminded the believers in Rome that they had been set free from their former slavery to sin.

Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. – Romans 6:17-18 NLT

Before coming to faith in Christ, they were incapable of resisting the constant temptations thrown at them by Satan and the world, let alone the passions of their own sinful flesh. But now, as those set apart by God and possessing the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, they could say no to sin and yes to righteous living. But Paul goes on to tell them that they face a daily decision regarding their choice of lifestyle.

Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. – Romans 6:19 NLT

The believer has been sanctified by God, but he faces a daily decision to live as one who has been set apart as belonging to God. That is why Paul so strongly emphasized the believer’s obligation to live according to his or her status as God’s chosen possession.

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

This pursuit of holiness is not intended to be meritorious in nature. In other words, Paul is not instructing the Roman believers to earn favor with God through their actions. They had already been sanctified by God. Jesus had paid the price for their sins – in full. They had already been declared righteous by God because He had imputed the righteousness of Christ to their account. But Paul was clearly teaching that the believer’s new standing before God came with an obligation to live in keeping with His divine will so that their lives would give Him glory. Notice what Paul says: “So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”

One of the amazing realities of the doctrine of sanctification is that it reveals how God has chosen to restore His image in man. Adam was made in the image of God, but sin marred that image. It damaged Adam’s likeness to his Creator. No longer could Adam’s actions bring glory to God by reflecting His glorious character. But Jesus came to earth as the second Adam, and He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT) and the apostle John said Jesus made God known and knowable (John 1:18).

And when sinful men place their faith in the Son of God, they become one with Him.

 …he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17 NLT

Christ-followers are united with Him in His death, having had their sins nailed to the cross and crucified alongside Him. And believers are united with Christ in His resurrection, having received a new nature like His. Those men and women who place their faith in Christ are made new and receive the capacity to once again reflect the image of God. Their union with Christ provides release from slavery to sin and the restored freedom to serve God faithfully as His obedient servants.

But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. – Romans 6:22 NLT

But again, each and every Christ-follower faces the daily choice to live in their new-found freedom, made possible by the death of Christ. They can still choose to sin, or they can choose to pursue a life of sanctification. But this choice is only possible because of their relationship with Christ. It was not possible in their former fallen state. But because of Christ’s death on the cross and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, believers have the capacity to live godly lives. They can and should pursue righteousness. They should desire to live in keeping with the will of God and according to the example that Jesus left them.

And the New Testament is filled with countless calls to forsake the old way of living for the new life made possible in Jesus Christ.

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:1-2 NLT

Sanctification is to be the believer’s constant obsession. There is no place for complacency in the life of the Christ-follower. The status quo is to be avoided at all costs. Growing in Christ-likeness is to be the goal of each and every person who claims Christ as their Savior. And the joy of watching God transform their life from the inside out, through the power of His indwelling Spirit, is the reward of a life of sanctification. And it will continue until we see Him as He is.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson



Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Seek and Destroy.

Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:7-8 NET

Sin is an ever-present reality for every human being – including Christians. Ever since Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan in the garden, and put their own self-interests ahead of God's will, mankind has been enslaved to the enemy's wishes, acting according to his rebellious, anti-God agenda. And yet, John would have us remember that the reason Jesus came into the world, lived a sinless life, died on the cross in man's place, and rose again from the grave, was to put an end to Satan's rebellion and sin's dominion in our lives once and for all. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Then why do we still struggle with sin? Why do we, as believers, still have to put up with our old sin nature that makes life so difficult and living righteously so seemingly impossible? The answer lies in the now-not-yet nature of our current status. John makes it clear that we are “called children of God, and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Just in case we didn't get his point, he repeats it. “Beloved, we are God's children now” (1 John 3:2 ESV). We have been born of God and have His seed abiding in us (1 John 3:9 ESV). According to John, this is a present reality. We are God's children right here, right now. It is not something that is reserved for us at some future date. But there is a “not yet” nature to our status as God's children. We are citizens of heaven living in a strange place. We are not where we belong. We are strangers and aliens living in a place that is foreign and hostile to us. John even tells us, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Not only does the world not know us, it hates us. Because it is under the dominion and control of Satan, the world despises anything and anyone who represents God's Kingdom. So he has us in his sights and constantly seeks to attack us and defeat us. And to make matters worse, we still have our old natures, what Paul refers to as the flesh, living within us and causing us all kinds of problems. We have our new righteous nature, provided for us by Christ. And we have our old sinful nature, inherited from Adam. But John wants us to remember that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). Part of the process in which we find ourselves is the ongoing mortification or putting to death of our old nature. This will continue until the Lord returns and we receive our glorified, sinless bodies. “But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). There is a day coming when we shall be completely sinless just as He is sinless. But in the meantime, we must do battle with our old natures. and “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13 ESV). God has given us His Spirit to make it all possible. We have the strength to resist the enemy, and do what is right and righteous.

What we need to constantly realize is that Jesus, through the Spirit of God, is constantly seeking out those areas of our lives that remain in rebellion against the Kingdom of God. He is out to seek and destroy the vestiges of our rebellions sin nature and put them to death. Through exposure to the Word of God and with the help of the Spirit of God, we can have the remaining darkness in our lives exposed by the light. We can have the falsehood and lies that still linger in our hearts destroyed by the truth of God's Word. The presence of sin should not surprise us. But John would warn us that a Christian who sins is still living in subjection to the enemy. He has been set free, but is willingly allowing himself to be enslaved again. As Christians, when we sin, we are not living in the reality of who we are. We are hiding our true nature. “A sinning Christian conceals his true character when he sins and reveals it only through holiness. On the other hand, a child of Satan reveals his true character by sin” (Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John). Christians can and do sin. But it is NOT our nature. It is not who we are. Our capacity to live righteously is what shows that we are His children. Claiming to be a child of God, but living like a slave of Satan, hides our true character. But because we know who we are and what we will one day be, we purity ourselves as He is pure. We seek to be like Him who died so that we might live. John knows we will sin. Which is why he reminded us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Sin is inevitable, but it is not irresistible. We can say no to sin. We can live righteously, even in this life. And when we do, it proves the reality of who we are. It gives evidence to the world that we are children of God and that Jesus Christ is still actively destroying the works of the devil, in our lives and in this world.



The Best Is Yet To Come.

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 ESV

John went out of his way to let his readers know that they were God's children. It wasn't some future hope reserved for them in heaven, but a present reality that was to set them apart from the rest of the world. John could think of no greater expression of God's love than that He would call people who had once been His enemy, His children. And that new relationship had been made possible by Him sending His own Son to take on human flesh and die for the sins of mankind. John puts it this way a little bit later in his letter: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 ESV). And John's statement, “that we might live through him” is not just a reference to the eternal life reserved for us after Jesus returns. John had heard Jesus Himself say, “ I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). So as believers, we have the amazing privilege of being children of God. Which means we are loved by God. Not only that, we have the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, living within us, providing us with an abiding awareness and constant proof that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be and that all He promised and that the apostles taught was true. Which includes the promise of Jesus, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ESV). He is with us now. John referred to Him as our “advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1 ESV). He intercedes on our behalf before the very throne of God. And the Spirit of God lives within us, providing us with divine insight and incentive to live godly lives in the midst of a godless world.

But a big part of our motivation to live righteously in this life has to do with the life to come. At this point, we have residing within us our new nature, our sinless nature, given to us by Jesus. Because of His death, we were given His righteousness. We received new natures, that like His, are sinless. Our new natures are incapable of sin. John says, “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning; for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:8-9 ESV). Jesus died in order to put an end to sin, to destroy the works of the devil, and to eliminate the spirit of the antichrist that pervades this world. And while we still struggle with the ever-present reality of sin, we must never forget that Jesus Christ has already done all that needs to be done to put an end to sin and death. His crucifixion settled it. His death paid the price for man's sins and satisfied the wrath of God. His resurrection was proof that His death was worthy and that His Father was satisfied. It also proved His power over death. The apostle Paul said it so well. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

John wants us to know that there is a day coming when our sinless nature will be our only nature. Right now, we struggle with our residual, clinging, hard-to-kill sin nature that is constantly doing battle with our new nature. But there is a day coming when He will return, and “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). His sanctifying work in us will be completed once and for all. Our old natures will be eliminated and we will be like Him. Which is why John says, “everyone who thus hopes in him, purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3 ESV). It is our hope of future holiness that motivates our desire for present holiness. Because we are children of God NOW, and our future inheritance is reserved for us, we should want to live like who we are. We should desire to see our new nature increasingly become our only nature. Our future hope should instill in us a present passion to be sinless and righteous even now. The best is yet to come, but Jesus provides abundant, overflowing, righteous life even now. No one states this reality better than the apostle Paul. “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:6-11).