If the believer is to keep himself unspotted from the world (Js 1:27), then he must learn how to govern his own soul. Otherwise, he will be like a city that is broken down, and without walls (Prov 25:28). If the believer lacks the personal discipline to keep his own heart with all diligence (Prov 4:23), then he will experience spiritual declension and suffer a backslidden condition. It is for this reason we have been looking into the two natures that reside in the believer’s soul. Thus far, we have considered (1) the names given to the two natures; (2) the leading characteristics of the two natures; (3) the dividing lines between the two natures. In this study, I wish to open up (4) the bitter conflict between the two natures and (5) the prescribed treatment of the two natures.
However, before looking at the bitter conflict, allow me to answer a common objection that is brought against this teaching:
OBJECTION: If there are two natures residing in the soul, then doesn’t this mean the believer will suffer from a multiple personality disorder?
No, not at all. First, the scriptures distinguish between two distinct natures simultaneously existing in the soul of the believer. Rather than rejecting the clear statements of scripture, based on the assumption that such a thing cannot be true, is it not better to examine the teachings in order to discover how such a thing could be true? Second, the scriptures identify two NATURES residing in the soul, not two PERSONALITIES. There is a difference between the nature of a being and its personality. For example, the human race shares the same human nature (they are distinct from animals), but each human being is a unique person(ality). Similarly, the nature of the soul is not one and the same with the personality of the individual. Third, the Lord Jesus Christ confirms the possibility (indeed, the reality) of two natures co-existing in the same person. Jesus Christ is one PERSON, but with two distinct NATURES (a divine nature and a human nature). These natures of Christ (1) never mix together; (2) are absolute natures respectively; (3) do not combine to make up the person of Christ—it is the second Person of the Godhead who assumed a human nature (His human nature did not have a personality). Now, if two natures are capable of co-existing in the person of Christ, why cannot two natures co-exist in the believer?
Well, let’s get on with the teaching.
IV. The Bitter Conflict between the Two Natures.
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 word “lust” (Greek, epithymeō, Strong’s 1937) means “to set the heart upon, i.e. long for (rightfully or otherwise); to turn upon a thing to have a desire for, long for, to desire to lust after, covet of those who seek things forbidden; covet, desire, would fain, lust (after).” The word flesh (Greek, sarx) is the same term used by Christ in John 3:6 and is a reference to the old nature; the word spirit (Greek, pneuma) is the same term used by Christ in John 3:6 and is a reference to the new nature. John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Notice, the old nature is not lusting AFTER the new nature. It is not lusting FOR the new nature. There is nothing in the new nature the old nature wants. Rather, the old nature is lusting AGAINST the new nature. The Apostle Paul chose an interesting term to describe the conflict between the two natures. To gain an appreciation for the word, let’s capture the image on how lust works. Jesus used the word in Matthew 5:28: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Who among us has not experienced this type of lust? Our attraction for a person is aroused and the appetite to have him/her heats up like water coming to a boil over a hot fire. It is not surprising Paul calls this type of lust “burning” in 1 Corinthian 7:9. The deceitfulness of lust promises that “stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” However, if the persons involved actually gratify their lust for each other, they quickly learn that only the dead dwell in sin and that lust’s guests are in the depths of hell. (Prov 9:17,18) The initial attraction they had for each other soon turns to an abhorrent repulsion—their bodies are defiled, trust is violated and their hearts are broken. Contact between the two is severed, and never again do they wish to cross paths. You see, whereas they begin with a lust FOR each other, they end with lust AGAINST each other. They start with a fervent passion of attraction, like and wanting to be with the person; but they end with a fervent passion of repulsion, hate and wanting to get rid of the person. And it is this second type of lust that Paul uses to describe the hostility, hatred and repulsion between the old and new natures. For look again at the text, it is not just the old nature lusting against the new nature—it is also the new nature lusting against the old nature. The two natures harbor the same animosity and hostility against each other. There is absolutely nothing either nature finds in the other that is appealing, or attractive or beautiful. All they see in each other is utterly abhorrent, and offensive and nauseating.
Or, let us use the analogy of kingdoms. The two natures belong to two different kingdoms, and these kingdoms are diametrically opposed to each other. The old nature belongs to the kingdom of this world and the new nature belongs to the kingdom of God. The two kingdoms are governed by a different covenant, they are represented by a different federal head, they are entered by a different birth, they are administered by a different law, they are driven by a different culture, they are heading towards a different end. There is no peace treaty to be drawn up that will bring an end to their differences; and there are no negotiations that can bridge the gap between the two natures. No. Rather, we are talking here about a hostility between the old and new natures that is more fierce than that between the Palestinians and Israelis. Just as those groups reside in the same land, and fight for control, so the the old and new natures reside in the one soul of the believer, and fight against each other for dominance and control.
The old and new natures are bitter enemies, they are at war with each other and there is no hope for peace between them. They are contrary the one to the other, so that the believer cannot do the things that he would. All of this is confirmed by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7, where he describes the miserable and ferocious conflict within his own heart, concluding in verses 24 and 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 [new nature] I myself serve the [law of Christ]; but with the [old nature] the law of sin.”
Note on Romans 7:24,25: The “law of God” is changed to the “law of Christ” in order to identify which law Paul is referring to. I believe it is a reference to what Paul calls “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” in chapter 8, verse 2. The term “law” is used in several different ways throughout the book of Romans—Heart Law, Mosaic Law, Gospel Law. Paul even uses the word to identify the conflict between the two natures (7:21), and the word is used in (7:25) to identify that principle which governs the sinful nature—“the law of sin”. It is not always clear which law Paul is referring to, and therefore great care must be given when reading through his epistles.
V. The Prescribed Treatment of the Two Natures.
For some who teach on the Gospel Law as the rule for the believer’s life, you might walk away with the impression that since it is God that works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure, there is therefore nothing the believer does in this work of sanctification. However, the Apostle Paul felt no shame on admonishing the believers in Philippi to work out their own salvation—Philippians 2:12,13: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” And again, the Apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus that the believer is created in Christ Jesus unto good works—Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Now, the New Testament gives some very clear and definite teaching on how the regenerate sinner is to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. The personal precepts of the Gospel Law are focused on how the believer is to conduct himself with relation to the old and new natures. There are three things in particular that he is to do:
1. Correct your perspective on how you relate to the two natures.
(1) Conclude you are dead to the old nature, but alive to the new nature.
Romans 6:11-14: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
Now that you have been regenerated, you are no longer under the dominion, rule, power and control of the old nature. Before you were born again, you lived in bondage to that old nature—you were its servant. It reigned over you. You followed its demands, and yielded to its lusts and were loyal to its impulses. But now that you have been regenerated, that old nature has been dethroned. It no longer has the dominance, rule, power and control over your soul. In its place, the new nature has been enthroned. You have been freed, liberated and delivered from the dominion of the old nature, and you have been brought under the righteous and holy dominion of the new nature. You are now the servant of Christ. You are now the servant of righteousness. It is the new nature that governs your soul. You are therefore not to yield the members of your body as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin (the old nature). Rather, you are to yield the members of your body as instruments of righteousness unto God (the new nature).
The analogy of a ship with two captains is a well worn example, but one which serves to illustrate this teaching. Imagine a ship with a crew that is under the authority of a wicked tyrannical captain. So long as he is captain, the crew members are under his dominion and control—they serve him according to the heinous culture dictated by him on the ship. However, a new captain has boarded the ship. He has overthrown the old captain and now has the authority over the crew members. The crew is no longer under the dominion or driven by the culture of the old captain—they have been delivered and given liberty under the dominion of the new captain. Albeit, the old captain has not been removed from the ship. Instead, he has been put below deck until the ship reaches the harbor, at which time he will be removed. Until then, the old captain still exerts great influence among the crew members, enticing them to rebel against the new captain and to live in their old ways. Now, that is similar to what it is like for the child of God—although the new nature now has dominion over his soul, yet the old nature remains within working all manner of mischief and wickedness within the believer. Henceforth, the believer is not to yield the crew members of his body as instruments of unrighteousness unto the old captain.
(2) Put off the old nature and its lusts, and put on the new nature and its desires.
Ephesians 4:22-24: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
To put off the old nature has nothing to do with eradicating it or trying to reform it. Likewise, to put on the new nature does not mean it has been cast off and therefore must be put back on. Rather, to put off the old nature means the believer is to shun the old nature, even as the crew members are to shun the old captain as one who has lost his dominance and control. And to put on the new nature means the believer is to embrace the new nature as the new captain that governs the soul. And note, he is to be put in remembrance of this truth (“renewed in the spirit of his mind”). In other words, he is to correct his perspective on how he is to conduct his life—he is to conclude that he is under the dominion of the new nature, and is to walk in the newness of that life, which is created in righteousness and true holiness.
2. Take action against the old nature.
(1) Make no provision for the old nature.
Romans 13:14: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
The meaning is, while the believer is to put on, or wear the Lord Jesus Christ, which is a reference to walking in the new nature, he is at the same time to make no provision for the old nature; for, any provision made for the old nature will entice the believer to fulfill its sinful lusts.
The word “provision” (Greek, pronoia, Strong 4307) means “forethought, i.e. provident care or supply: providence, provision.” The idea is this, provision is that which a farmer makes ready when sowing seed today, in order to reap a harvest tomorrow—he is preparing the conditions that will reap a return. How does the believer prepare the conditions that will result in lustful fulfillments of the old nature? Well, he does it when he puts himself in places, or associates with people, or engages in activities, or gets wrapped up in the spirit of age, that will feed, shelter or supply an occasion for the lusts of the old nature to be indulged. And lest any believer assume he is strong enough to overcome these temptations and lusts, remember what Paul warned the church in Galatia— Galatians 6:7,8: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.”
Brethren, we are not to make provision for the old nature. We are to keep ourselves from those places that will encourage the lusts of the old nature; we are to keep a distance from those people that will promote the lusts of the old nature; we are to abstain from those activities that will nurture the lusts of the old nature; we are to separate ourselves from the spirt of the age or culture of the world that cultivates the lusts of the old nature.
(2) Mortify the members of the body which are upon the earth.
Colossians 3:5-10: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:”
The members of the body (eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, etc) are the instruments by which the soul accomplishes its work. The soul is not to yield the members of the body as instruments of unrighteousness unto the old nature. Having received a new nature in Christ, the soul is now governed by that which is created in righteousness and true holiness, and is now to yield the members of the body as instruments of righteousness unto God. To mortify the members of the body which are upon the earth, is to deprive the old nature and its lustful workings of its power—it is to starve it of nourishment and hinder its movements by not walking in the lusts thereof. As already pointed out, this is done when the believer abstains from places, people and activities that would be conducive to feeding the old nature.
The same teaching is given by Christ in Matthew 5:29,30: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” This is not to be taken literally, but rather, it is to be understood in the same context as that taught by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3—the believer is not to nurture lusts in his soul. He is to turn away from looking at objects that would provide for the lusts of the old nature; he is to shun those places that would promote the lusts of the old nature; he is to distance himself from those people that would lead him to fulfill the lusts of the old nature; he is to hold in contempt and reject and avoid all opportunities and occasions of fulfilling the lusts of the old nature. I have labored this point because it is one of the leading precepts for which the believer is responsible under the Gospel Law.
And, once again, notice how the Apostle Paul emphasizes how the believer is to REMEMBER (renewed in knowledge) that he is a new creature in Christ. The fact that Paul is having to constantly remind, or recondition, the way believers view their new standing with God in Christ, should teach us how necessary it is for ourselves to be put in remembrance of the same thing.
3. Take action towards the new nature.
The new nature is what allows the soul to be alive unto God through Jesus Christ the Lord. The soul, therefore, having this new nature, is alive. Just like every living creature, the soul must maintain good health. Health is maintained by a combination of two things—nutrition and exercise. There is no difference when maintaining spiritual health.
(1) Exercise—walk in the new nature.
Galatians 5:16,24,25: “This I say then, Walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh…And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit.”
To walk in the new nature means the believer exercises himself in all the graces of that nature. The Apostle Paul enumerates nine of them in verses 22,23—“the fruit of the [new nature] is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” These fruits manifest themselves in every good work towards God and man. Now, notice, Paul does not say that the believer will be able to eradicate the old nature if he walks in the new nature; neither does Paul say the believer will not be tempted, or enticed and harassed by the lusts of the old nature if he walks in the new nature. Rather, what he does say is this: If the believer exercises himself in the graces of the new nature, then he will not FULFILL the lusts of the old nature. This is not to say that the believer will never sin, but rather, that the believer will be enabled to overcome many of those lusts that otherwise would overtake him as a thief in the night.
There is a secondary way the believer walks in the new nature. Just as he is to abstain from those places, people, activities and culture that makes provision for the old nature, so he is to join himself with those places, people, activities and culture that makes provision for the new nature. He may do this on four levels: First, by bringing into his personal life those things that will encourage growth in grace—reading, memorizing, meditating and studying the scriptures; listening to godly music and singing in the heart to the Lord; watching or listening to recorded sermons; reading biblical literature; examining himself, seeking the mind of Christ and feeding upon Him. Second, by engaging in family worship—Christian parents should nurture a godly home, leading the household in Bible readings, discussions and devotions; teaching on the errors of ungodly philosophies, false religions and worldly culture; explaining from a biblical perspective the current events unfolding around the world. Third, by joining with the church of Christ—gathering for as many church meetings as possible; entering into true worship with the brethren (not disconnected or distracted); learning of Christ under the preaching of the Word; supporting one another in things spiritual and material; being a doer of the teachings and not merely a hearer. Fourth, by associating with godly family and friends—extending associations with a wider circle of brethren who may further encourage him and edify him in his most holy faith. Given that Social Media has become the dominant medium whereby these type of associations are sustained, the believer ought to fill his list of friends and followers with other believers; he ought to befriend and follow other believers and other likeminded churches and groups. This way his newsfeed will be inundated with godly posts, links and encouragements. How wonderful and refreshing to open Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, and be in receipt of such godly encouragement. These are all ways the believer may be better able to walk in the new nature. And perhaps then, he will be able to fulfill Paul’s instruction to the church in Philippi—Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
(2) Nutrition—feed the new nature.
Many believers try to feed their souls with the Heart Law, or with the Moral Law, hoping that by keeping these commandments they will be able to grow in grace. But this is to fill the soul with the husks that unregenerate sinners eat. No, this food is not nutritious for the new nature in Christ. “So then,” you ask, “What is the nutritious diet for the believer?” The Lord Jesus Christ gave the answer in John 6:53-63: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you…he that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me…It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
This is not to be taken literally. Christ was not encouraging His disciples to become cannibals—that is a grotesque interpretation. Neither is Christ suggesting other elements, such as bread and wine, are capable of being turned into His body and blood—that is a silly interpretation. Rather, Christ teaching the same lesson He gives to His disciples in John 15:1-5—as the vine supplies all of the life and nourishment to the branch, so Christ supplies all of the life and nourishment to the soul of the believer. The only food that is nutritious for the new nature is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself—John 1:16: “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
And notice, in John 6:63, Jesus said it is the new nature that is alive, and the words that Christ spoke unto His disciples, they are for the nourishment and life of the new nature. Of course, this is confirmed by the Apostle Peter—1 Peter 2:1-3: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Indeed, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) Henceforth, the nutritious food upon which the believer lives and is nourished, is the living and written Word of God—the Lord Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures.
Brethren, these are the personal precepts of the Gospel Law. As you can see, they comprehensively cover the basic parameters around which the believer is able to keep his soul with all diligence. Yes, these personal precepts, if faithfully observed, will enable the believer to rightly govern his soul, so that he will be like a thriving city built up, with fortified walls protecting the Gospel treasure within.
2 Corinthians 4:6,7: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
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.