Study 9 THE SINFUL NATURE VERSUS THE SPIRIT
(Scripture Portion: Galatians 5: 16-26)
It was surely characteristic of the late Canon Guy King to entitle a sermon he once preached on Galatians 5:19-23 – “From the Slum to the Orchard”! (Verses 19-21 describe the slum; verses 22-23 describe the orchard). It is God’s will that we, who by nature are in the slum, should be translated into the orchard; that we, from whose lives proceeded such evil things, should be made new creatures in Christ Jesus and that the fruit of the Spirit should be manifested in us. In Galatians 5:16-26, there is a progressive line of teaching concerning the two-fold nature of the believer. Let us consider this very important doctrine.
1. Before we are born again and become Christians we possess a sinful, fallen, depraved nature.
The expression “the sinful nature” occurs in verse 16, twice in verse 17 and in verses 19 and 24, and it is the Bible description for unregenerate human nature. The “sinful nature” is also called “our old man” – look up Romans 6:6; “your old self” – look up Ephesians 4:22; and Colossians 3:9. The “sinful nature” is wholly evil and is incapable of improvement – look up Romans 7:18. See also Genesis 6:5, 11-12; Isaiah 1:5-6; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 1:26-32 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7.
2. When we are born again we receive a new nature, a spiritual nature.
This is imparted by the Holy Spirit and it is described as “the new self” – look up Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10. How very wonderful this is! When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we actually “participate in the divine nature” – look up 2 Peter 1:4; we receive and share the very life of God.
3. Every Christian, therefore, possesses two natures – the old and the new.
All who have been born again possess the sinful nature, which they inherited from Adam, and the divine nature, which they received when they were born again – look up John 3:6. These two natures are co-resident within every Christian, and it is very important to understand that when we are born again and receive the new nature we do not lose the old nature, nor indeed shall we lose the old nature until we see the Lord and are transformed into His likeness – look up 1 John 3:2. The old nature is incapable of any change or improvement, and it is quite impossible to be rid of it, though we may have victory over it. Thus, it is true that every Christian has within him the old, evil, corrupt Adamic nature, and the new divine nature.
4. These two natures, which co-exist within every Christian, are exact opposites and are in constant conflict the one with the other.
One is evil, the other is good; one is corrupt, the other is pure; one is inherited from the first Adam, the other is inherited from the “last Adam” – and these two natures are in constant conflict – look at verse 17 and see how clearly this is brought out, and how vividly it describes the experience of every Christian – compare Romans 7:18-24 with Galatians 5:17.
5. The old sinful nature manifests itself in “acts” which are very horrible.
Verses 19-21 tell us this, and they describe the acts of the sinful nature. Notice:
- The word “acts”. It is plural and it describes the striving, the efforts and the endeavours of the sinful nature.
- The word “obvious” (verse 19). The apostle tells us that the works of the sinful nature are evident – we only have to look in our own heart to see them!
- The list that the apostle gives us of the works of the sinful nature is not complete, for having mentioned a number of the manifestations of the sinful nature, Paul adds the words (in verse 21) – “…and the like”.
What Paul is saying is that because we all possess the old nature we are capable of any or all of these “works” because they are the works of the sinful nature and we all have the sinful nature within us. Do you wonder, therefore, that God condemns the old nature? – look at Galatians 5:21.
6. The Holy Spirit, who imparts the new nature to the Christian, manifests through the new nature the “fruit of the Spirit”.
Notice that the word is “fruit” (singular), and not “fruits”. The Holy Spirit produces in and through the life of the Christian one glorious, harmonious whole. It is worthwhile to notice the word “but” at the beginning of verse 22. It stands between “the acts of the sinful nature” and “the fruit of the Spirit”. What does this “but” tell us? It tells us that the Holy Spirit alone can and does produce in the Christian the fruit of the Spirit, or Christ-likeness. Every real Christian wants to be more like the Lord Jesus. How can this be? Only as the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us loving (Romans 5:5); joyful (Acts 13:52; John 15:11); calm and peaceful (Philippians 4:6-7); patient (1 Peter 2:20-23); kind and gentle (Ephesians 4:30-32); good (Acts 11:24); faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2); humble (Matthew 11:29); and masters of ourselves (Romans 8:2). We can never produce this beautiful fruit – this Christ-likeness, this Christian character – in our own strength or by our own effort, any more than we can in our own strength or by our own effort overcome or suppress the works of the sinful nature. What, then, is the way of victory?
7. How may the fruit of the Spirit take the place of the acts of the sinful nature?
Within us we have one nature which strives to do evil, and we have the new nature through which the Holy Spirit seeks to produce the beautiful fruit of Christ-likeness. How may we be freed from the power of the sinful nature so that the fruit of the Spirit may be manifest in our lives? A three-fold secret is indicated:
- Keep on Reckoning – verse 24, KJV. This means that we must obey the injunction in Romans 6:11 and say by faith – Galatians 2:20.
- Keep on Relying – verse 18. Recognise that you are not under the Law – that victory over the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit can never be effected by works, by striving, but by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, rely on Him to lead you into victory.
- Keep on Receiving – verse 16. To live by the Spirit indicates fellowship. This means negatively Ephesians 4:30, and positively Ephesians 5:18.