Chapter 17 - The New Nature by Renald Showers
The “New Nature” and the “Old Nature” are opposite dispositions toward God – One’s “nature” is that inherent disposition that affects the conduct and character of that person. Since the Fall, all human beings inherit an inborn wicked disposition with an impure heart and evil lusts and desires; as such, all human beings are naturally inclined and disposed to live contrary to God and His commandments. The old and new natures are frequently referred to as “dispositions.” The Old Nature is a contrary disposition against God; the Bible refers to this as enmity with God. Since enmity against God is sin, the Bible calls the old nature “sin” – so many theologians call it “the sin nature.” The New Nature is a favorable disposition toward God; it consists of the “law of God” written in the human heart (the Holy Spirit places it inside the believer at the moment of regeneration / the new birth). When man rebelled against God in Eden, he became what the Bible refers to as an “old man” (an unregenerate man) – his total being became enslaved by a disposition of enmity against God. In this state of “total depravity” fallen man received the position of “slave to the old nature,” so the old nature gained the position of “master” over him. This condition of slavery obligated unregenerate man to obey the dictates of the old nature.
Before we continue, let me share a special word with you the reader – The material that Renald Showers discusses in his book provides the believer with an understanding of what it means to be a Christian, and uyet still have a "sinful nature" dwelling within him. Admittedly, this material is somewhat deep and requires careful consideration and reflection. In all likelihood you will need to read parts of this summary more than once –– don't opt out of wrestling through this chapter just because the content becomes too heavy for you. Not one of us has a full understanding of this topic. Prayerfully work your way through it, knowing that the more understanding God gives you on this subject, the greater will be your peace and sanctification. Reflect carefully on the following ––
When a person trusts Jesus Christ as his Savior, several major changes happen to him.
- He ceases to be an “old man” (unregenerate man).
- He is no longer a “slave” to the old nature, and the old nature is no longer his “master.”
- He becomes a “new man” (regenerate man).
- He receives a “new nature” (a favorable disposition toward God; God’s Laws are written on his heart).
- He receives the “Holy Spirit” as his permanent indweller.
Although the Old Nature loses its position of “master” over the born-again person at the moment of conversion (regeneration), it does not leave the believer during his lifetime. It continues to dwell in him until the believer is present with the Lord. The Old Nature actively tries to exercise controlling power over the Christian, in spite of the fact that it no longer has the right to rule him. The believer always the potential for internal “spiritual struggle,” because he has two opposing natures dwelling in him. The Old Nature, because it is a disposition of enmity against God, tries to control the believer in opposition to God’s rule. The New Nature, because it is a favorable disposition toward God (the law of God in the heart), prompts the believer to concur with and will to obey God’s rule. It does not, however, give the believer the “power” necessary to overcome the power of the old nature. The Christian, therefore, needs more than the new nature, if he is to do God’s will.
Whenever the believer relies upon the Old Covenant Law or himself for the power necessary to overcome the power of the old nature, he is defeated. The old nature takes him captive against his will and prevents him from doing the will of God. This does not mean, however, that the believer is doomed to be continuously defeated. At the moment of regeneration the “Holy Spirit” permanently indwells the believer – He is the source of power necessary to defeat the power of the old nature in the believer. Because the Holy Spirit permanently indwells the believer, His power is constantly available to him. That power will not operate in the Christian’s life, however, unless he personally appropriates it by faith. Moment by moment he must trust the Holy Spirit rather than himself to empower him for victory over the power of the old nature.
Prior to the Fall of man Adam possessed a “disposition” which was favorably oriented toward God. He joyfully fellowshiped with God and willingly accepted and obeyed His commands. Man’s original disposition has been called a “holy disposition.” Satan tempted Adam to disobey God and choose to be “his own sovereign / his own master” – the temptation was too great to pass up; therefore, he disobeyed God and fell. Adam’s sin of rebellion essentially consisted of two things: rejection of the sovereignty of God, and an assertion of his own sovereignty; in effect, he declared his independence – he desired to be his own sovereign lord; he wanted to run his own life; he refused to subject his will to the will of God. Therefore, instead of God being the chief end of man, man became the chief end of man. When Adam sinned he lost his favorable disposition toward God, and became thoroughly confirmed in a disposition of enmity against God.
The resultant tragic condition of Adam was that he became polluted in every area of his being; sin took possession of his heart and made it exceedingly corrupt (Jer 17:9). Like a cancer sin permeates the whole person, body and soul. The effect of Adam’s sin was that he became locked into a master-slave relationship with his sinful disposition; thus he became helplessly enslaved to a continuing state of sin. Theologians refer to this state as “total depravity” – the contagion of sin spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched. Romans 8:7 says, “The mind set on the flesh [or man himself] is hostile toward God; it does not subject itself to the law of God; it is not even able to do so.” Sin is not a matter of occasional deviation from the right way, but a consistent expression of the natural tendency of his being. Sin has been inscribed so indelibly upon human hearts that it is the governing disposition of their lives (cf. Jer 17:1, 9; Rom 3:10-12). It is because human beings are already sinners by nature that they think wrong thoughts and perform wrong actions. What unregenerate man needs is someone to redeem him from this slavery, and give him a “new disposition” or “new nature” which is favorably oriented toward God. The good news is – God in His grace has provided such redemption and a new nature for man.
All unregenerate men inherently possess a degree of moral and natural truth; as such, he is “not without excuse” when he sins (Rom 1:20). Rom 1:18 says, “he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness;” correspondingly, John 3:19 says, “men love darkness rather than light.” Rom 1:19-21 tells us that God has clearly manifested Himself to everyone through all He has made, so men know Him through this natural revelation, yet they still reject Him. The truth of the matter is men rebel against the knowledge of God that they have. Furthermore, in Rom 2:15 we are told that “all men have the knowledge or the works of God’s Law written in their hearts,” and their “conscience” bears witness to this fact. So that there is no confusion regarding what God does in the hearts of His people through the New Covenant, it is important to note that Paul, here, does not say that the “law itself” is written in their hearts; instead he says, it’s the “work of the law” that is written in their hearts – there is a radical difference between the law and the work of the law; the work of the law is not the same as the law God writes on the hearts of His people in the New Covenant, as we will see in the next paragraph. Through this “work of the law” in the hearts of all men (including the unregenerate), their “conscience” serves as a monitor, confirming the instinctive knowledge of divine moral truth. Therefore it should be understood that unregenerate men do have an “inherent moral consciousness.”
The “Old Covenant Law” failed to produce obedience because it was external and was opposed by an internal, sinful disposition. The “New Covenant” would be written on the hearts of His people (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:26), thus internalizing His Law. The “heart” is the seat of man’s disposition, the fountain of actions, the center that determines his moral conduct, whether it be sinful or holy (cf. Matt 12:34-35). So the inner law written on the heart governs life, not by external regulations like the Mosaic Law, but by the continual control of heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the law of God written upon the heart is the “new disposition” that God places in His people – it is a disposition that desires to do God’s will, and be conformed in both thoughts and affections to the holy nature of God. Therefore the new disposition is in a certain sense the “divine nature” planted in a man (2 Pet 1:4), that is, he receives a disposition which is an expression of the holy nature of God. The ultimate goal of regeneration is that the individual “be transformed into the image of Christ” (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18). In addition to this new disposition, He also places the Holy Spirit in him so that he will have the “power” to obey Him and walk in God’s ways (cf. Ezek 36:26-27).
In Romans 6:12-13, Paul pictures “sin” as a governing disposition that demands obedience. As Paul attempts to explain the relationship of human beings to sin and God, the instrument that he uses most frequently is the analogy of the “master-slave relation-ship.” In Rom 6:6, 16-22, he asserts that people are slaves either to sin, impurity, and lawlessness, or to righteousness, obedience, and God; the unregenerate man exists in a “master-slave relationship” with his sinful disposition – Paul says, before you were saved “you were slaves of sin” (Rom 6:17, 20). This means that unsaved man is obligated to render complete obedience to the dictates of the sinful disposition. In Rom 6:1-13, Paul indicates that when an unregenerate man becomes a Christian he is identified with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Paul teaches that there is some sense in which the unregener-ate man actually “dies with Christ” when he becomes a Christian (Rom 6:6); thus freeing him from his sinful disposition (Rom 6:7). When Paul applies his teaching, he exhorts Christians to “reckon themselves as dead to sin” (Rom 6:11). If this is really true, then why is it that Christians “struggle with sin”?
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul describes the “great spiritual struggle with sin” that he experienced. According to Rom 7:14-25 and Gal 5:16-24. the “sinful disposition” is still very much alive and active in the Christian. In Gal 2:20, Paul says “he was crucified with Christ,” but note carefully what he did not say – he did not say “his sinful disposition was crucified.” So what Paul is teaching us here is this – there is some sense in which the “unregenerate person” actually dies when he becomes a Christian; that means the unsaved person dies with Christ in the sense that he ceases to be an “unregenerate man.” Before regeneration he was an unregenerate or “old man” – at the moment of the new birth he ceases to be an “old man,” he now becomes a “new man” (Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). Although the Christian remains the same person metaphysically, the Scriptures do regard him as a “different person” in some sense – according to Scripture, the Christian is a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17), a “new creation” (Gal 6:15); a “newborn babe” (1 Pet 2:2). The difference is a “spiritual difference” – therefore, when we were crucified with Christ, we were crucified with Him in some “spiritual sense.”
In Romans 6:10, Paul was talking about a “once-for-all death” that was completed on the cross by Christ (2000 years ago) for the Christian. In Rom 6:11 Paul exhorts Christians to consider themselves to be “dead to sin” – he does not he does not exhort them to consider themselves to be “dying to sin.” The language implies that they are to reckon themselves as being in a “fixed state of death” (not in a continuing process of dying). So the “co-crucifixion with Christ” is a once-for-all, completed past even for the Christian – it is not in the process of happening.
In Romans 6:2, Paul declares that the Christian has died with reference to “sin” – as noted earlier, in this context the term “sin” refers to the “sinful disposition.” Paul is saying that the Christian has died with reference to the personal relationship which he had with his sinful disposition while in the unregenerate state. Therefore, through his death with Christ, the Christian loses completely and once-for-all the “master-slave relationship” which he had with his sinful disposition while in the unregenerate state – this means he is no longer a “slave of sin” and no longer is “sin his master.” In Rom 6:6, Paul declares that one purpose for the old man’s crucifixion with Christ is “that our body of sin might be done away with” (that we would no longer use our bodies as instruments of sin); though the body of the unregenerate man is not the source of sin, it serves as the instrument of the sinful disposition – in this sense the human body is the “body of sin” (cf. Rom 6:12-13; 7:23; 8:11).
In Romans 6:14, Paul states that another purpose for the unregenerate man’s death with Christ is that “we might walk in newness of life.” Verse 5 explains why this walk in newness of life is possible – the person who is united with Christ in His death is also united with Him in His resurrection. Paul is teaching that there is some sense in which a person actually experiences “resurrection with Christ” when that person becomes a Christian – he becomes a “regenerate person,” a “new man” with a “new disposition,” and “indwelled by the Holy Spirit” – this is a “spiritual resurrection!” (newness of life!).
In Romans 6:7, Paul states the result of death with Christ – the person who has died is “freed from sin;” in other words the person is “freed from his sinful disposition” (or “sinful nature”), in the sense that he has lost his sinful disposition as his “master.” Though the sinful disposition is still within him, it no longer holds its legal position of master over him. In Paul’s day a master held a legal position of authority over a slave. This gave the master the right to control every aspect of the slave’s total being. The slave was obligated to render complete obedience to the dictates of his master. This legal “master-slave relationship” was terminated only by the death of the slave. By analogy, Paul is teaching that the sinful disposition holds the legal position of “master” over the unregenerate man, and the unregenerate man holds the position of “slave” under his sinful disposition. The unregenerate man is obligated to render complete obedience to the dictates of his sinful disposition. This “master-slave relationship” is terminated by the unregenerate man’s death with Christ. The person who dies with Christ is freed from his sinful disposition in the sense that it loses its legal position of master over him. Thus, death with Christ results in legal freedom from a legal “master-slave relationship” – as such, the regenerate are no longer “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6). In Rom 6:17-22, Paul teaches that in the past his readers had been slaves of their sinful dispositions, but now they have been freed and have become “slaves of righteousness” – they now have a new master.
Romans 6:11-13 teaches that the Christian has certain responsibilities in light of his freedom from the sinful disposition and resurrection with Christ. First, the Christian is no longer obligated to serve his sinful disposition. The sinful disposition, however, will do everything in its power to continue to domin-ate its former slave, even though it has no legal right to do so. According to Scripture, the regenerate man will succumb to the demands of his sinful disposition, if he does not take into account the fact that he is truly “dead to it” – Paul commands the Christian to “reckon himself to be dead to his sinful disposition” (Rom 6:11). This command is in the present tense, so just as the “sinful disposition” keeps on trying to take control, so the believer needs to “keep on considering himself as being dead to sin” – that he is no longer obligated to obey his sinful disposition; he needs to refuse to render service to it. Secondly, the Christian is to “reckon himself alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11). The Christian has been resurrected spiritually with Christ to be a regenerate man with a “new disposition” and the “Holy Spirit” within him (Rom 6:4-5). Now that he is a “new man,” the believer is spiritually alive with reference to God; as such, he has tremendous potential to live a new kind of life. This command is also in the present tense, therefore the believer needs to “keep on considering himself to be alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Every time the sinful disposition tries to control the Christian to commit sin, he should remember the fact that he now lives in a unique personal relationship with God.
Another responsibility the Christian has is that he is “not to let sin reign in his moral body that he should obey its lusts” (Rom 6:12). When the person was unregenerate, his sinful disposition reigned like a king over his physical body, making it a “body of sin.” Because the person’s death with Christ ended his master-slave relationship with his sinful disposition, the believer is to “keep on refusing to allow his sinful disposi-tion to use his body as an instrument” (note the present tense verb “keep on”). He is to say no every time the sinful disposition stirs up “his inward desires” and tries to dominate his body (Jm 1:14). Instead, the believer is to “present himself to God as one who is alive from the dead” (Rom 6:13). The command here is this: the Christian is to present his total being to God to be “God’s slave” – he is to make God is new Lord and Master.
Romans 6:14 focuses on the believer’s “release from the Law” – The Christian who has died with Christ will never have the “sinful disposition” as master again, because he is “no longer under the law,” but “under grace!” Those who are “under the law” are subjected to law as a governing principle; those “under grace” are subjected to grace as a governing principle. As a governing principles for daily living, grace is able to do what external law cannot do – only grace can release a person from the mastery of his sinful disposition. Paul develops this truth further in Romans 7. Paul is declaring here that Christians are not under any “external law” as a means of sanctification. He is teaching that no external law can set a person free from the mastery of his sinful disposition. Paul uses the illustration of “marriage” to make his point – he says that a woman is bound by law to her husband as long as “he” lives; that bondage is abolished by death. If the woman’s husband dies, she is released from the law that bound her to her husband and is free to be married to another man. The first husband represents the “sinful disposition” in this story – just as the wife is bound to her husband, so the unregenerate person is bound to his sinful disposition as master. Furthermore, just as a woman is released from the law which bound her to her husband when death takes place, so the believer has been released from the Old Covenant Law. Paul here teaches that the believer has been released from the “entire old covenant law” as a rule of life or as a means of sanctification.
The purpose of the believer being married to the resurrected Christ is “to bear fruit for God” (cf Romans 7:4). While married to the “sinful disposition,” the unregenerate person bore the fruit of death; by contrast, being married to the resurrected Christ, the believer is to bear the fruit of God. Rom 7:1-6 teaches this: in order to experience any victory over the sinful disposition and any practical sanctification a person must be totally freed from the old covenant law. Romans 7:14-25 describes the effect of the “old covenant law” upon the believer who attempts to use it as the means of practical sanctification – instead of enabling the person to live righteously, it actually hinders him from living righteously. The old covenant law has the effect of “arousing the sinful disposition” to assert its authority over the person; and the more the law asserts itself, the more the sinful disposition exercises its power to cause the person to violate the law. Thus, Paul teaches an ironic fact – the old covenant law, which is holy and opposed to sin, actually serves as an instigator of more sin through its effect upon the sinful disposition. The result of being released from the Old Covenant Law is that “we serve God and bear fruit in newness of the Spirit, not in old covenant law– as such, the believer has a new, internal disposition and a dynamic source of divine power. The regenerate person is not to try to bear fruit for God by using the old covenant law as his rule of life or means of sanctification.
Romans 7:14-25 describes the struggle Paul experienced as a Christian; it was a struggle that ended in defeat. The antecedent of Romans 7 is Romans 6:14 – there Paul declares that never again will the Christian have the “sinful disposition” as his master, because the Christian is not under law but under grace. Paul relates what happened to him when he tried to use the law as the means of practical sanctifi-cation. In spite of the fact that he had the new “holy disposition” in him, the law did not enable him to live righteously. If the Christian is to be free from the dominance of the sinful disposition, he must never use the law as his means of practical sanctification. So, Paul in this section describes the experience of the regenerate person who struggles against the power or influence of his sinful disposition through his own self-effort – Paul uses the word “I” twenty-four times in these twelve verses, and the last “I” he makes very emphatic by the way he positioned and added the word “myself.” The self-effort is the result of using the old covenant law as the means of sanctification. The problem with the law is that it does not provide us with the “power” to do what is right and abstain from what is wrong. As previously note, the old covenant law actually arouses the sinful disposition. Paul joyfully concurs with the law of God, and he says “in my mind I serve the law of God (cf. vv. 16, 22, 25). These expressions indicate that during his struggle Paul had the old covenant law every before him in his thinking as a rule of life to be followed. The problem was he was attempting to keep the law for the purpose of sanctification.
Paul concludes, “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (v. 14). The context indicates that he learned this contrast by painful experience. The struggle and defeat which Paul describes in the remainder of the passage provide the evidence that “he is of flesh” and therefore cannot be sanctified by the law. So this means that the Christian is “of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” – basically, Paul is saying “in spite of the fact that he is a regenerate man, he still is made of flesh.” And as “flesh” man is weak (cf. Matt 26:41; Rom 6:19). Thus Paul is emphasizing the fact that, even though he is a regenerate man with a new disposition, two things are true of him: 1) he is still only a man, and 2) apart from divine empowerment he is powerless to do the will of God. The expression, “sold into bondage to sin,” implies bondage to the sinful disposition. So what he is saying here is that there is some sense in which he as a Christian is still in bondage to the sinful disposition. Earlier it was seen that the sinful disposition loses its position of “master’ over a person when that person becomes regenerate. In that sense the regenerate person has been “freed from bondage to sin” (cf. Rom 6:7). But the sinful disposition continues in the regenerate person throughout his earthly life, and the regenerate person is susceptible to the power of the sinful disposition whenever he relies upon his own “self effort” rather than the power of the “Holy Spirit” for enablement to live a godly life. The regenerate person, then, as a result of being made of flesh, is still in bondage in the sense that the sinful disposition continues present in him and in the sense that he is susceptible to that disposition’s power. It is in these senses that Paul, as a regenerate man, could say that is of flesh, having been sold into bondage to sin.
On the one hand, Paul knew that the law was good, but on the other hand he ended up doing the evil which he hated and not doing the good which he wished to do (Rom 7:15, 19). This great contrast between “desire and performance” caused real consternation in Paul’s mind. He could not understand why he couldn’t live right since the law was good, and since he agreed with it and desired to keep it, and the fact that he had a “new disposition.” Since the new disposition consists of the law of God written in the heart, it seemed natural to Paul to expect that the new disposition would cause him to be favorably oriented toward the old covenant law. Paul states in Rom 7:18-19, “For the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I hate.”
If the regenerate person had only the “new disposition” inside him, he probably would have no problem doing the will of God. But, as seen earlier, he also has the “sinful disposition” inside him. The believer is still subject to its presence and influence. Paul talks about “sin which indwells me” (7:17); “sin which dwells in me” (20); “evil is present in me” (21); and “the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23). By the way, if the sinful disposition were not in the Christ, then the struggle between the Holy Spirit and the flesh of the Christian described in Gal 5:17 would not take place. Conversely, Paul indicates that God gave him his “thorn in the flesh” to prevent him from exalting himself (2 Cor 12:7). If Paul had not had the sinful disposition within him even as an apostle, there could have been no danger of his exalting himself.
Paul makes it clear that not only is the “sinful disposition” inside him as a regenerate person, but also it is an extremely active force. It exercises great power to make him go contrary to what his inner self wills. In Romans 7:17, 20 Paul pictures the sinful disposition as an unwanted guest that not only lives in another person’s house, but also takes control of that house against the owner’s wishes. In essence, Paul is essentially saying, “Now that I am regenerate I hate the fact that the sinful disposition is still in me; it continually tries to usurp control of me against my will.” In Romans 7:23 Paul portrays the sinful disposition as an armed solider that wages war against the law of his mind and makes him a prisoner of itself. Since law is intended to function as a “controlling factor,” it would appear that by “the law of my mind” Paul is referring to his mind as a controlling factor. “The law of sin” is a reference to the sinful disposition as a controlling factor. The “sinful disposition” works to cause the believer to go contrary to what his inner self wills in accord with the holy nature and will of God. It strives to take the regenerate person and illegally exercise controlling power over him.
The outcome of Paul’s struggle can be stated in one word – defeat. Paul says that he ended up doing the evil which he hated, and he failed to do the good which he willed to do (7:15-15; 19-20). He was in the exasperating situation of being held a prisoner contrary to his will (v.23). In all his efforts to do right and to abstain from evil he was blocked by a power which he could not overcome (vv.22-23). In great frustration he gave vocal expression to the wretchedness which he felt (v.24). In spite of his being a regenerate man with the new disposition, all his efforts ended in utter, degrading defeat. Paul recognized the reason for his defeat when he says, “For the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not” (7:18). The “old covenant law,” which he was relying upon as his means of sanctification, did not give him the power to overcome the power of the sinful disposition and to do the good. Instead, it actually aroused the sinful disposition to a greater exercise of its power against Paul (vv.7-13). Since the law did not provide him with the power of performance, Paul was forced to resort to “self-effort” in his struggle with the sinful disposition. But that didn’t work either, because his regenerated humanity by itself lacked the power of performance. The “new disposition” within his inner self did positive things for him, but it did not give him the power to overcome the power of the sinful disposition and to do the good. Whenever Paul resorted to self-effort to do good, the sinful disposition rendered him helpless. The reason for his defeat was “lack of power.” Paul’s defeat gives insight concerning three matters:
1. The old covenant law is powerless as a means of sanctification even for the believer.
2. Although the new disposition does positive things for the believer, it has a limitation; it has no power.
3. If the Christian is to do what God says is right, he must “will” to do it, and he must have the “power” to do it. Living the righteous life is more than a matter of the “will” – to have will without “power” leaves the believer frustrated and unable to accomplish his purposes.
In Romans 7:24 Paul calls himself a “wretched man” – this term expresses a wretchedness which comes through the exhaustion of hard labor. Paul had struggled so long and strenuously through self-effort against the sinful disposition that he had exhausted all his strength. With no reserve left upon which to draw he collapses in the clutches of the sinful disposition. Finally, Paul recognizes that he himself does not possess the power necessary to overcome the controlling power of the sinful disposition and to do the good. It dawns upon him that if he is ever to get victory over sin someone else must provide that victory for him. Thus, in desperation, he cries for help: “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” “Who will rescue me from the controlling power of my sinful disposition?” Immediately after uttering his plea for help, Paul interjects a strong, sudden expression of gratitude: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25) – the Lord Jesus Christ does for us what neither the law nor our own power can effect. Paul learned that the Christian is not condemned to live in constant defeat (8:1). In Romans 8 he presents what God has done through Christ for victory – whenever he appropriates what God has provided, he can experience victory. Paul’s struggle as recorded in 7:14-25 has led to several conclusions:
- The regenerate person who struggles against the power of the sinful disposition thru self-effort = defeat.
- The new disposition causes the believer to agree with the will of God in the inner man.
- The sin disposition is still present and active in the believer, and wages war against him.
- The new disposition is limited in what it can do; it does not provide the believer with the power he needs.
- The regenerate person is not condemned to live in a permanent state of defeat.
The Holy Spirit is related to the new disposition – He is the agent by whom Jesus Christ implanted the new disposition (2 Cor 3:3); and He works together with the new disposition to enable the Christian to do God’s will. The New Disposition prompts the believer to “will” to do what is right, and the Holy Spirit supplies the “power” necessary to put that will into effect. According to Ezek 36:26-27, the Holy Spirit is in the regenerate person for the purpose of “empowering” him to do what God wants. As a result of this special endowment of divine power men are able to do that which they are otherwise quite unable to do. In Paul’s writings, the Spirit of God takes hold of a man, controls him, and gives to him a power that is not his own.
Immediately after talking about the “defeat of the Christian” and God’s provision of victory through Jesus Christ, Paul enlarges upon the provision by writing Romans 8:1-4. In 8:1 he makes the following announcement: “There is therefore now “no condem-nation” [to a life of servitude to his sinful disposition] for those who are in Christ Jesus!” Notice the CONTEXT – penal servitude to one’s sinful disposition! Paul is teaching that “there is no reason why those who are in Christ Jesus should go on doing penal servitude as though they had never been pardoned and never been liberated from the prison-house of sin.” Again note the CONTEXT – Romans 6-8 deals with the subject of “sanctification” / not justification. Also note the next verse (8:2) – it presents the reason why believers are under “no condemnations” / this verse deals with “freedom from the controlling power of the sinful disposition;” not with freedom from guilt. And also notice that 8:1 is joined to what immediately precedes it with the word “therefore”—thus, Romans 8:1 is a conclusion drawn from what Paul has just said in Romans 7. Since Paul has just dealt with the problem of the believer being overpowered by the sinful disposition and God’s provision of deliverance from the power of that disposition (7:24-25), his conclusion in Romans 8:1 must be referring to no condemnation with regard to the power of the sinful disposition, not to no condemnation with regard to guilt. Paul is saying that, since God has provided the believer with deliverance from the power of the sinful disposition, the believer is not condemned to a life of servitude to that disposition. Paul’s use of the word “now” in his announcement of no condemnation indicates that “the believer is free from this condemnation NOW, during this present lifetime.”
Paul begins Romans 8:2 with the word “For” – this indicates that he is giving the “reason” for the believer not being condemned to a life of servitude to the sinful disposition: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you FREE from the law of sin and death.” In other words, God has provided a means of deliverance – “the law of the Spirit of life.” Paul refers to two distinct laws in Romans 8:2 – the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death. LAW, no matter what kind it may be, is established for the purpose of governing or controlling. In light of this, the law of the Spirit of life is the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, which controlling power produces newness of life (Rom 6:4; 7:6). As noted earlier (7:23), the law of sin is the controlling power of the sinful disposition, which controlling power works death. The reason that the believer is not condemned to a life of servitude to the sinful disposition is that the controlling power of the Holy Spirit has set him free from the controlling power of the sinful disposition.
The freedom from the sinful disposition to which Paul refers in Romans 8:2, is different from the freedom from that same disposition to which he refers in Romans 6:7. Paul uses two distinct words for freedom in these passages. The word in 6:7 is a “legal” term. The word in 8:2 is not a legal term. Furthermore, the freedoms of these two passages are obtained through two different means – the freedom of 6:7 is obtained through death with Christ; the freedom of 8:2 is obtained through the controlling power of the Holy Spirit. Plus, the freedom of 6:7 involves freedom from a position; and the freedom of 8:2 involves freedom from a controlling power.
As seen earlier, in Romans 6:1-14, Paul teaches that through “death with Christ” the person’s position of slave and his sinful disposition’s position of master are terminated once-for-all. Never again will the sinful disposition hold the position of master over that person. Although the sinful disposition has lost its position of master over the believer, it still remains with him and tries to exercise control over him. Unless someone more powerful than the sinful disposition intervenes on behalf of the believer and sets him free from the controlling power of his former master, the believer is doomed to a life of servitude to a disposition which has no right to exercise power over him. In Romans 8:2, Paul is saying that someone more powerful than the sinful disposition has intervened on behalf of the believer and has set him free from the controlling power of his former master – that someone is the Holy Spirit.
Although the Holy Spirit set the believer free at the time of regeneration, the believer does not always experiences that freedom. When he uses self-effort against the power of the sinful disposition as the means of sanctification, he experiences domination by sin. Only when he appropriates the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, as a result of relying upon God’s grace as the means of sanctification, does he experience the freedom that is his. Union with Christ in His resurrection (power) is what frees the believer from the controlling power of the sinful disposition – this is what makes it possible for the believer to “walk in newness of life” (6:4) and “bear fruit for God” (7:4). The believer has been set free to do what his inner self will to do – the will of God.
The grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit is able to do something which the old covenant law through the self-effort of the believer is not able to do – free the believer from the controlling power of his sinful disposition. The old covenant law pronounced a sentence of judgment upon sin, but it could not execute judgment upon it in the sense of nullifying its power within a human being – in actuality, the old covenant law “aroused the sinful disposition” to a more vigorous exercise of its power. The reason why the old covenant law could not nullify the power of the sinful disposition is that it was “weak through the flesh” (8:3). The law could not produce holy living because of the weakness of man’s flesh – the problem was not with the law, but with fallen human nature.
Romans 8:4 says that the purpose for which God condemned sin in the flesh is “that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us;” that the holy life required by the old covenant law might be fulfilled in us. The “passive voice” of the verb indicates that the believer does not produce this holy life in himself; the Holy Spirit produces it in and for him through His power. Thus, the Holy Spirit produces what the old covenant law demanded but could not produce. Rom 8:4 says the holy life required by the old covenant law will be fulfilled in those “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” The power of the flesh is no match for the power of the sinful disposition. Those who walk according to the power of the Holy Spirit will have the holy life required by the law fulfilled in them. The power of the Spirit will overcome the power of the sinful disposition and enable the believer to do God’s will.
The appropriation of the power of the Spirit is not a once-for-all act which delivers the believer from the controlling power of his sinful disposition forever. Just as walking is a step-by-step procedure, so the appropriation of the controlling power of the Holy Spirit is a moment-by-moment procedure. The key is “depending on the power of the Holy Spirit.” In Eph 3:16 Paul prays for Christians that God would “strengthen them with power through His Spirit in the inner man” – the fact that Paul prays for this to happen indicates that the potential for strengthening is there. The actual strengthening depends upon the appropriation of the power of the Spirit by the believer. The Spirit comes to reside in each believer at regeneration, but must be relied upon continually to furnish power for Christian living. Since the “new disposition” in the inner man prompts the believer to will God’s will, he needs to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in his inner man in order to do God’s will. Eph 3:17 presents the intended purpose of the strengthening with power through the Spirit – “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”
Paul obviously is not praying that Christ may dwell in their hearts as Savior (he’s already doing that – cf. 8:9). He is speaking of a further and richer dwelling or filling (cf. Eph 5:18). Thus the dwelling of Christ in the believer that Paul is referring to is a “progressive thing” – and the means by which this dwelling of Christ takes place is “through faith.” As the believer trusts the Holy Spirit rather than his own humanity to make him more like Christ, the Spirit empowers him to experience the progressive fulfillment of that goal. According to Eph 3:19, Paul wants Christians to “be filled up to all the fullness of God’s [moral character];” i.e., becoming fully Christ-like – this is the essence of progressive sanctification. The believer is sanctified step-by-step throughout his lifetime as the Holy Spirit given him one victory after another over the controlling power of the sinful disposition. Many skirmishes can be won during the course of one’s life as he appropriates the power of the Holy Spirit, but the whole war is not completed in victory until the believer has gone to be with Christ.
The “old man” is not the sinful disposition. . . it is the unregenerate man. The old man is a slave to his sinful disposition, and is characterized by the sinful way of life. Through death with Christ the person stops being an old man, for he dies in the sense that he ceases to be an unregenerate man. Since the old man is not the sinful disposition. . . the new man is not the new disposition. The “new man” is the regenerate man – that man that is free from the position of slave to the sinful disposition. Through resurrection with Christ (Romans 6:4-5) the person becomes a new man, for he is resurrected in the sense that he becomes a regenerate man. As a new man he possesses the new disposition, but the new disposition is “not” the new man – the new man and the new disposition are not the same. The new man is the regenerate man, but the new disposition is the law of God written in the heart of the regenerate man. The new disposition is in the new man, but it is not the new man.
Paul teaches that the regenerate person is to be transformed to the moral image of God: “But we all are being transformed into the moral image of God from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18) – since Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), and “the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3), to be transformed into the moral image of God is to become like Jesus Christ. Paul teaches this in Rom 8:29 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Since man’s disposi-tion toward God has significant influence upon the moral image of God in man, the new disposition which is favorable toward God must play a key role in the reversal of the corruption of the image of God and Christ in the believer.
The transformation of the regenerate man into the image of God and Christ is not an instantaneous, once-for-all event. It is a gradual, step-by-step process throughout the life of the believer. 2 Corinth 3:18 says, “We all are being transformed in the same image from glory to glory.” The regenerate person passes from one stage of glory to another in a progressive movement forward. The process is emphasized again in Col 3:10 – “The new man who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” The present tense of this statement indicates that the renewal is a process. The process of transformation will not be completed until the believer sees Christ (cf. 1 Jn 3:2). Christians start as “babes” and they grow to be in the fullness of the stature of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 4:13). They are Christians all the while, but they grow – a Christian should never stop growing. During this life it is impossible to reach the perfection to which the believer shall attain when he sees his blessed Lord as He is (1 John 3:2). That Paul had not attained to this state of perfection, he assures us in Phil 3:12. Although perfection is impossible during this life, steady progress toward that final goal is to be made. The believer is to become more and more and more like Christ in his daily living. The process of being transformed or renewed to the moral image of God has been called “sanctification.” The essence of sanctification is now to be found in the gradual transformation of man’s character into the moral image of God.
One of the most difficult passages in the NT to interpret is 1 John 3:9, because this passage appears to contradict other statements of Scripture. John declares that “those who have been born of God do not sin.” Numerous other passages tells us that “believers do sin.” The problem is easily resolved when the “tense” of the verb is revealed – being as John’s statement is in the “present tense,” the meaning of his statement is this: “believers do not sin continuously as a habit of life.” The thrust of Scripture is that it takes “habitual acts of righteousness” to demonstrate the possession of a righteous nature. Just as the devil’s sinful action is habitual, and not limited to a single act, so is the believer’s action – believers habitually practice righteousness. . . and unbelievers habitually practice unrighteousness. So, John in this passage is teaching that every regenerate person does not and cannot sin habitually – sinning is not the prevailing pattern or bent of the believer’s life. The reason he doesn’t sin habitually is that “God’s seed abides in Him” (3:9) – “God’s holy disposition abides in those who are born again” – the implantation of God’s seed involves the impartation of His holy disposition to His child. Logic alone tells us that God doesn’t abide (reside) in someone who habitually practices sin – that would be antithetical to His nature. In 3:10, John says that the distinction between the offspring of God and the offspring of Satan is made obvious by the “difference in their practice.”
Through “grace” God’s holy precepts are administered internally in the form of a holy disposition which consist of the law of God written in the heart. Since the regenerate are the only ones who possess this holy disposition, it can be concluded that the regenerate are the only subject of this “internal admin-istration.” Because the adminis-tration through grace is inward in nature, the Christian is not under the law of God – Paul declares, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal 5:18). To be led by the Spirit must involve more than guidance or the point out of the right way by the Holy Spirit, for the old covenant law gave such guidance, but Paul sets the Spirit in contrast with the law. Being led by the Spirit includes the “controlling power of the Holy Spirit.” The reason those who are controlled by the Spirit are not under the law, is the fact that the Spirit produces so much righteous fruit in the lives of those whom He controls that no external law is necessary to be directed against their actions – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23) – therefore it is possible for the Christian to be free from the old covenant law without being lawless.
Being under the “grace” of God involves the possession of the new disposition and the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. As the new disposition causes the Christian to “will” to do the will of God, and as the Holy Spirit “empowers” him to do that will, the Christian denies the lawless way of life and lives the righteous way of life. This is what is involved in grace teaching the Christian. The Holy Spirit is the powerful ally of the new nature inside the believer. At the time of regeneration the Holy Spirit set the believer free from the controlling power of the sinful disposition. If the believer “relies upon the grace of God” to give him victory, the Holy Spirit will “enable the new nature” to govern the whole person.