As I mentioned in the previous study, there are several ways the precepts of the Gospel Law could be catalogued. I have chosen to select the threefold category of Gospel precepts given by James in the first chapter of his epistle, the twenty-seventh verse:
James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
This text arranges the Gospel precepts under the following categories:
1. The God-ward Precepts of the Gospel Law—“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father…”
2. The Relational Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”
3. The Personal Precepts of the Gospel Law—“To keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Now, rather than beginning with the God-ward precepts or the relational precepts, I feel it is in our best interest to begin with the personal precepts. I say this, because if the believer has no rule over his own soul, then he is like a city that is broken down, and without walls (Prov 25:28). Indeed, if he lacks the personal discipline of keeping his own heart with all diligence (Prov 4:23), then how will he hope to be faithful in those precepts that relate to God and others?
So, the doctrine is this: The believer who is keeping himself unspotted from the world is one who is keeping his heart with all diligence; he is one who is ruling well his own soul.
To keep one’s self unspotted FROM the world, suggests there is another world to which he belongs. Of course, this brings us back to the two kingdoms—each kingdom is governed by a different covenant; each kingdom is designed for a particular group of people; each kingdom is represented by a different federal head; each kingdom is experientially entered by a different birth; each kingdom is administered by a different law; each kingdom is restricted in its provisions for salvation; each kingdom is distinguished by a different culture; each kingdom has a measurable population; each kingdom is fitted for a certain end.
Again, to keep one’s self UNSPOTTED from the world draws attention to the contrasting cultures between the two kingdoms. The culture of the worldly kingdom is driven by “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”; whereas the culture of God’s kingdom is driven by the desires of the new nature in Christ. Let us therefore observe, that there are two distinct natures, producing two very different cultures, each belonging to a different kingdom.
James is summarizing the personal precepts of the Gospel Law under this general heading of the believer keeping himself unspotted from the culture of the worldly kingdom. However, the trouble is this: both natures reside in the soul of the believer simultaneously—the sinful nature, belonging to the worldly kingdom, and the righteous nature, belonging to the kingdom of God. And, it is the co-existence of both natures within the soul that creates perpetual trouble in the life of the believer. If the regenerate sinner is to learn how to rule well his own soul, then he must understand the distinction and relation between these two natures. To that end, there are five things we will consider: (1) The Identity of the Two Natures; (2) The Characteristics of the Two Natures; (3) The Dividing Lines between the Two Natures; (4) The Bitter Conflict between the Two Natures; (5) The Prescribed Treatment of the Two Natures. In this study, we will look at the first three.
I. The Identity of the Two Natures.
The Scriptures most clearly identify two natures residing in the regenerate soul of the sinner.
1. The first nature is that which is inherent to the sinner at conception (generation)—he is conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity, and therefore this nature is corrupt according to its deceitful lusts. This nature goes by several names, such as, “the flesh”, Jn 3:6, “the old man”, Col 3:8, “the outward man”, 2 Cor 4:16, “the heart”, Matt 15:19; “the natural man”, 1 Cor 2:14 and the “the carnal mind” Rom 8:7.
2. The second nature is that which is imparted to the soul of the sinner in regeneration (new birth)—it is created in righteousness and true holiness. This nature also goes by several names, such as, “the spirit”, Jn 3:6, “the new man”, Col 3:9, “the inward man”, 2 Cor 4:16, “the Christ-spirit”, Rom 8:9, “the divine nature”, 2 Pet 1:4 and “the mind”, Rom 7:23,25.
II. The Characteristics of the Two Natures.
The Scriptures also describe the essence of each nature.
1. The First Nature.
(1) It is an old nature—John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”. As pointed out earlier, this is the nature with which a person is brought into the world at the time of conception. It is therefore the original, or the first, or the old nature of the soul.
(2) It is not subject to the Law of God—Romans 8:7: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The old nature is bitterly hostile and actively opposed to God. It is in absolute and utter rebellion to the law God has inscribed upon the soul. Not only WILL it not be tamed, it CANNOT be brought under subjection.
(3) It is corrupt—Ephesians 4:22: “The old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” The old nature is completely corrupt. Out of it proceeds all deceitful lusts and evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, etc, etc.
(4) In it dwells no good thing—Romans 7:18: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:” There is nothing good, or holy, or righteous or virtuous in this old nature.
(5) It is desperately wicked—Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is…desperately wicked:” The old nature is not only wicked, it being corrupt according to its deceitful lusts, but it is desperately wicked. Even those “white lies” and “idle talk” are abominations to the Lord God.
(6) It is deceitful above all things—Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things.” Of greater subtlety than Satan, the father of lies, is the old nature. The sinner is a master manipulator of his evil propensities, justifying his transgressions and rewarding himself in his own conceit.
(7) It cannot please God—Romans 8:8: “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” There is nothing within the capacity of this old nature that is pleasing to God, neither can a sinner within the capacity of the old nature do anything to earn favour with God.
(8) It profits nothing—John 6:63: “The flesh profiteth nothing:” He that sows to his old nature will of the old nature reap corruption. The wages of sin is death. The old nature reaps pleasure when its lusts are feasted upon, but the pleasure is short-lived. Like a drug, it gives a ‘high’ to the user, but the ‘low’ is felt the day after. That is why the Apostle Paul described the lusts of the old nature as “deceitful”—they promise fulness and joy, but they result in emptiness and misery.
2. The Second Nature.
(1) It is a new nature —John 3:6: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” As this is the nature that the Holy Spirit imparts to the soul in regeneration (new birth), so it is the second or new nature.
(2) It is subject to the Law of Christ—1 Corinthians 9:21: “Being not without law to God, but under the law of Christ.” The old nature, belonging to the kingdom of the world and under the covenant of works, is responsible to keep the Heart Law (though it cannot and will not on account of its enmity). However, the new nature, belonging to the kingdom of God and under the covenant of grace, is responsible to keep the Gospel Law (law of Christ). This Gospel Law is the soul’s union with Christ, as a branch is engrafted to a vine (receiving all life and nourishment from Christ).
(3) It is created in righteousness—Ephesians 4:24: “The new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The new nature is absolutely righteous and completely holy. Out of it proceeds all true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous and praise worthy things.
(4) It cannot sin—1 John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Unlike the old nature which can only sin (for that is its nature), the new nature cannot commit sin. This new nature is created in Christ—it is righteous and truly holy.
(5) It is complete in Christ—Colossians 2:6-10: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him…for ye are complete in him.” Just as human life begins at the moment of conception, so spiritual life (new nature) begins at regeneration. A human life at conception, though not fully developed, is nevertheless perfectly complete—the baby is not less of a human being just because he hasn’t grown in the full development of body and mind. Likewise, the new born babe in Christ, though not fully grown, is nevertheless perfectly complete—he is not less of a “saint” just because he hasn’t grown in the full development of the new nature. The new nature is complete in holiness, only because the new nature is created in Christ Jesus—He it is that makes the new nature righteous and holy.
(6) It is created in Christ unto good works—Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” The new nature, which is the soul’s union with Christ, cannot but work itself out in good works. As the branch bears fruit because of its union with the vine, so the regenerate soul bears fruit, within the capacity of the new nature, because of his union with Christ.
(7) It is free in Christ—Galatians 5:13: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.” When a new nature is imparted to the soul, the sinner is delivered from the covenant of works and his obligations under the Heart Law. This is because Jesus Christ is his federal head, having fulfilled the terms and promises of the covenant of works on his behalf. There is now nothing the regenerate sinner is required to do under the obligations of the Heart Law. Rather, he is brought under the Gospel Law, liberated by Christ and free in Christ. This freedom does not give license to the regenerate sinner to fulfill the deceitful lusts of the old nature, but rather, it stimulates him to live godly in Christ Jesus.
(8) It profits all good things—Galatians 5:22,23: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” He that sows to his new nature will of the new nature reap spiritual blessings and all things connected therewith. The new nature reaps a fulness and a joy when its desires are feasted upon, and fulness and joy is long-lived.
(9) It cannot be touched by Satan—1 John 5:18: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” As already stated above, the new nature cannot sin. But in addition to this, neither can it be touched by the wicked one. As Satan is “the god of this world” (worldly kingdom), he has great power and influence, even to the point of blinding the minds of them which are unregenerate. However, he has no power over the kingdom of God or the new nature—he cannot “touch” the new nature so as to destroy it or corrupt it. Although Satan may tempt and grieve the regenerate sinner, yet he cannot injure or ruin the new nature.
III. The Dividing Lines between the Two Natures.
The Apostle Paul made reference to the dividing lines between the two natures in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The “soul and spirit” are the old and new natures. The Word of God, as a two-edged sword, divides asunder the old nature and the new nature. The Word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the soul, whereby it presses upon the unregenerate sinner his obligations under the covenant of works (Heart Law), and then presses upon the regenerate sinner his privileges under the covenant of grace (Gospel Law). Now, what are the dividing lines between these two natures?
1. The old and new natures cannot be changed.
John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
(1) That which is born of the flesh IS flesh. The old nature is not subject to the law of God, it is corrupt according to its deceitful lusts, in it dwells no good thing, it is desperately wicked, it is deceitful above all things, it cannot please God and it profits nothing. This old nature cannot be changed—Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” You cannot improve this old nature; you cannot make this corrupt nature holy. But, that is precisely what sinners attempt to do. They try to cultivate this old nature so as to make it more acceptable with God and respectable with man. However, all they are capable of achieving is “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2 Tim 3:5). This old nature cannot be reformed to be anything other than it already is—a corrupt, wicked, deceitful and profitless nature! There is a lot of talk about asking Jesus into your heart, but exactly why or how would Jesus take His abode in the corruption of the old nature? There is a lot of talk about giving your heart to Jesus, but exactly why would Jesus want your wicked heart? There is a lot of talk about needing a changed heart, but that which is flesh IS flesh—it cannot be changed. There is a lot of talk about making a continual reformation of the heart, but the old nature cannot be reformed. That which is born of the flesh is flesh!
(2) That which is born of the Holy Spirit IS spirit. The New Nature is subject to the law of Christ, it is created in righteousness and true holiness, it cannot sin, it is complete in Christ, it is created in Christ unto good works, it is free in Christ, it profits all things and it cannot be touched by Satan. This new nature cannot be changed—Ecclesiastes 3:14: “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.” You cannot improve this new nature; you cannot make this holy nature more holy; you cannot make this complete nature more complete; you cannot defile this nature with sin, because it is against its ‘nature’ to sin; you cannot run to the Heart Law or to the Moral Law hoping to add something more to this new nature.
2. The old and new natures never mix together.
Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
The old nature is contrary to the new nature, and the new nature is contrary to the old nature; the old nature lusts against the new nature, and the new nature lusts against the old nature. This language could not be made any clearer—the old nature exists as its own separate entity; the new nature exists as its own separate entity. These natures never mix together. Just as the kingdom of the world is separate and distinct from the kingdom of God, so the old nature which belongs to the kingdom of the world never crosses the border and mingles with the new nature in the kingdom of God. Likewise, the new nature which belongs to the kingdom of God never crosses the border and mingles with the old nature in the kingdom of the world.
Now listen, the regenerate sinner, having been given a new nature in Christ, is perfectly holy, and righteous, and favorable and accepted with God. This is true not only in terms of his justification—having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him; but it is true also in terms of his sanctification—having a true, living, new, righteous and holy nature imparted to the soul (created in Christ Jesus). Justification is a judicial act accomplished for the sinner from eternity; sanctification is an experiential act accomplished in the sinner during the course his life on the earth. But both of them are acts of God, one by the Son and the other by the Spirit, and they make the regenerate sinner righteous on a judicial and experiential level. It is for this reason the regenerate sinner cannot make himself more holy—Christ is his holiness, and to try to add to His perfect obedience is a repudiation of His person and work.
However, there are many Christians who try do advance in their holiness with God—it usually goes by the name of progressive sanctification. They will attempt to enlarge their holiness by keeping the Heart Law or the Moral Law (ten commandments). I cannot speak for all who hold this view, but I know there are many that do who are mistaken in their perceptions of the two natures. Rather than separating the natures as two distinct entities, they believe that the new nature is nothing more than a righteous principle God inserts into the old nature (sinful soul). From this framework, they view sanctification to be the regenerate sinner’s duty to reform the old nature by the inner workings of that righteous principle—the more obedient he is to the Heart Law (or Moral Law), the nearer he will be drawn to God. Of course, I have already shown the falsehood of this framework. But let me add to it one thing more—those who try to sanctify themselves by keeping the Heart Law are making the same mistake as the unregenerate who try to justify themselves by keeping that same law. But we know, “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal 2:16) So likewise, a regenerate sinner is not sanctified by the works of the Heart Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be sanctified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Heart Law: for by the works of the Heart Law shall no soul be sanctified.
“So,” you ask, “If the regenerate sinner is not progressively sanctified, does that mean there is nothing going on in his soul; is he perfect, and therefore stagnant?”
No, of course not! Although there is no such thing as a progressive sanctification, yet there is most definitely a growing sanctification. The regenerate sinner is alive unto God through Jesus Christ the Lord, and therefore he does grow in grace and in all the graces of the new nature. He grows in love, faith, patience, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, hope, steadfastness, knowledge, zeal, meekness, wisdom, understanding, etc, etc.
3. The old nature cannot be eradicated (until death, or the return of Christ).
Romans 7:24,25: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
The Apostle Paul could not get rid of his old nature, and neither can we. There is an idea prevalent in come circles that the regenerate sinner is gradually making advancements to eradicate his soul of the old nature. Some view this as something that can be accomplished even before the regenerate sinner dies, so that he can live a sinless life. Others view this as something that takes place from the day the sinner is born again and will be completed on the day of his death—that between the new birth and his death bed, the regenerate sinner is making advancements with God slowly eradicating the old nature. These ideas are pure nonsense! The old nature cannot be changed, it resides simultaneously in the soul with the new nature, and it will remain in the soul just as it is until the regenerate sinner is released from the body of this death. Of course, the old nature no longer has dominion over the soul of the regenerate sinner, but it still resides in the soul. The practical point is this—at no time is the regenerate sinner not vulnerable to the corruptions and deceitfulness of the old nature. Even the strongest believers are liable to fall into grievous sins. The Bible gives many examples of this—from King David, a man after God’s own heart, committing adultery and then murder, to the Apostle Peter, denying Christ. Therefore, pride cometh before a fall, and wise is the believer who remains humble and always vigilant of the danger within his own soul.
4. The new nature cannot be lost.
Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”
There are many professing Christians who believe a regenerate sinner is capable of losing his salvation. And, there are many true Christians who do not have the assurance they are eternally secure in Christ. Well brethren, the regenerate sinner is secure, for he is under the terms and promises of the gracious covenant—electing love eternally joins the believer to the TriUne Jehovah; redeeming grace judicially binds the believer to the TriUne Jehovah; sanctifying power effectually unites the believer to the TriUne Jehovah. If “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”, then the sovereign grace of the TriUne Jehovah is impossible to break.
Remember, the new nature is nothing other than the soul’s union with the Lord Jesus Christ by the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That new nature is a good and perfect gift from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. You are secure in Christ, and this new nature is yours for eternity. That is not because you deserve it, or because you have earned it, or because you are doing anything to keep it. Rather, it is because Christ has earned it for you, and Christ deserves that you keep it and Christ ensures that you will have it for all eternity. I leave you with the promise of Christ Himself:
John 6:37-40: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
On this important subject of the two natures, I recommend the works of (1) John Bradford, “A Comparison Between The Old Man And The New, Also Between The Law And The Gospel”; (2) John Gill, “Sanctification, Body Of Divinity”; (3) E. W. Bullinger, “Two Natures Of The Child Of God”. Of course, I don’t endorse everything found in these works.
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.