A friend of mine and I were recently talking about the Christian walk, and he pointed out to me how important it is to take time to focus on the new being that God gives us when we are saved. As I thought about this, I realized that this is something I fail to do. You see, if we look at Scripture as a whole, what we call our “sinful nature” is actually not our “nature” at all. God’s original specification for humans is to be “in the image of God” (Ge. 1:26-27). A key part of this design is having an ongoing relationship with God. We are designed to look up to him. Our sinfulness is counter to our original design. As Augustine puts it, we are bent in on ourselves. We do not desire to look up or have that relationship with God, because we are the most important thing to ourselves. So, I question if we should even use the term “sinful nature” to describe this reality. It normalizes a state, which should under no circumstances be considered normal, since it is an abuse of the original design that God created. We could define sin as using God’s good gifts contrary to their intended purpose. Thus, our sinful bent results in our living contrary to God’s intended purpose for us; and we like it.
In contrast to this, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (ESV). When we look at his treatise on faith and salvation in Romans, after he establishes salvation by faith in chapters 4 through 6, he spends only about 300 words in the Greek talking about the sinful bent of the believer, versus over 650 words on our renewed nature in chapter 8; and this does not count chapters 12 and following where he discusses how to live the Christian life, again focusing on who we have become rather than what we were!
Thanks to pietistic and Augustinian influences, the circles I move in spend a lot of time on navel-gazing and lamenting our “sinful nature”. Confession is good; confessing ahead1 is even better. But dwelling on our sinful bent will tend to cause us depression rather than living in new, victorious life that Jesus calls us to. We end up being “little worms”, as Nikolaus Graf Zinzendorf called himself, rather than “more than conquerors”, as the Apostle Paul proclaims we are (Rom 8:37 – NIV). This caused me to ask how much time I spend meditating on what it means to be a victorious Christian rather than on my failings, my shame, and my weakness. Certainly, when these arise, they should be brought before God; but my motivation for bringing him my weaknesses should be who I am in him, not how I have failed. As I have written before, Satan is a pragmatist2: he will use whatever means he has to make us “useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 1:8 – HCSB). After listing the progression of properties of faith in that same passage, Peter enjoins us, “The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble” (2Pe 1:9-10 – HCSB).
So, brothers and sisters, let us focus on who we are in Christ and what our redeemed nature is, so that when we stumble, it will be because we looked up, not because we remained bent in on ourselves. And when we stumble, it will allow us to focus on our gentle, merciful, loving3 Savior, asking for his forgiveness, rejecting the shame, guilt, and fear we feel and moving on to the higher and greater things he has for us, thus becoming fruitful in our experiential knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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- 1. Confessing ahead means that you spend time looking at your besetting sins and bringing them to God before you even commit them, asking him for strength to overcome them when tempted. See S.M. Wibberley, “Confession brings Freedom”, Equipped! 12 Empowering Truths and How to Use Them (Canterbury, CT: Edifying Services, 2015), p. 115ff for a deeper explanation of this concept.
- 2. J.M. Diener, “Unity and Division in the Church Part 1 – Unity”, WolfHawke.com, 2018-04-05 < https://www.wolfhawke.com/musings/devotionals/church-unity-and-division-1-unity > (accessed 2022-04-11); “Pondering the Master: Thoughts on the Temptation of Christ”, WolfHawke.com, 2016-03-03 < https://www.wolfhawke.com/ptm/thoughts-temptation-christ > (accessed 2022-04-11), “Pondering the Master: The Battle of Sunday Worship”, WolfHawke.com, 2019-05-31 < https://www.wolfhawke.com/ptm/battle-sunday-worship > (accessed 2022-04-11).
- 3. J.M. Diener, “Pondering the Master: Amazing Agape”, WolfHawke.com, 2018-03-23 < https://www.wolfhawke.com/ptm/amazing-agape > (accessed 2022-04-11).