The Two Natures
Every believer has two natures, the old and the new. These are quite distinct the one from the other, and are continually in conflict: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). The old nature is sinful, and is alluded to by Paul in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” Whether the Apostle had in mind his condition as an unbeliever or as a believer, the fact remains that he realized the sinfulness of his natural heart. Although it is our privilege to worship God in the Spirit, and to rejoice in Christ Jesus, we must have no confidence in the flesh.
When our Lord spoke to Nicodemus about the necessity of the new birth, He stated clearly the reason for the necessity in these words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The natural element of birds is the air; the natural element of man is the earth; and the natural element of fishes is the water. It is obvious that for a fish to live on the earth, or for a human being to live in the water, a change of nature would be essential. Similarly for a man, who is by nature a sinner, to live in God’s presence forever, his nature must be changed, he must be born from above. A confirmation of this is given in Romans 8:5, “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” Everything that pertains to the old nature is displeasing to God, and everything which pertains to the new nature is God-honouring.
The Old Nature
There are many things to which the old nature is subject, one of the most deadly being unbelief. We need to guard against this evil with all the power of which we are capable. The latter part of Hebrews 2 (from verse 7), and the early part of chapter 3 (to verse 11) might well be entitled the tragedy of unbelief. A most solemn warning is given in chapter 3:12, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” The moment we allow unbelief to influence our lives, we lose touch with God. Only two men who came out of Egypt entered the promised land; namely, Caleb and Joshua. All others perished in the wilderness, and the reason is stated quite clearly, “They could not enter in because of unbelief.” One of the greatest safeguards against unbelief is an uncompromising confidence in the Holy Scriptures. If we wander from the clear teaching of the Bible, we necessarily wander from its Author.
Another evil which appeals to the old nature is pride. One of the easiest things possible is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and this is what we are strictly forbidden to do (Rom. 12:3). Everywhere in Scripture pride is condemned, and humility is commended. On three distinct occasions our Lord emphasized the divine maxim, “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” From this principle God has never deviated. The familiar words in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” have been verified throughout history.
The sin of jealousy is also closely allied to the old nature. The Bible tells us that jealousy is cruel as the grave (S. of S. 8:6). Jealousy has been responsible for some of the most terrible crimes in history. Jealousy and envy are virtually synonymous terms, and the first Evangelist informs us that it was because of envy that the Lord Jesus was delivered up to Pilate to be falsely accused, unjustly condemned, and put to a malefactor’s death. It is sadly possible for one brother in a meeting to be jealous of another, only because the other happens to be a little more prominent than he. As James would say, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” They belong to the old nature.
Closely allied to jealousy is the spirit of bitterness. The Bible warns us against the “root of bitterness” which is one of the most deadly weeds in existence, the outcome of which is spiritual defilement (Heb. 12:15). Bitterness leads to vindictiveness, the equivalent of which is an unforgiving spirit.
The number of things to which the old nature is subject is legion. We cannot enumerate them all, but here is a catalogue of some of the items which, if yielded to, will positively spoil the Christian life and testimony: anger (as distinct from righteous indignation), avarice, backbiting, covetousness, deceit, every form of immorality, evil thoughts, fault-finding, hypocrisy, impatience, impulsiveness, ingratitude, lying, slander, selfishness, self-will, sowing discord among brethren, strife. We do well to search our hearts as we face this ugly list of inconsistencies, and if perchance we have succumbed to any of them, to seek grace to succeed in the future where we have failed in the past.
The New Nature
We have already said that every item which pertains to the new nature is God-honouring. This is implied in the words, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation): old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). This is how God views His redeemed people. He no longer sees them in their natural condition, but in Christ His Son: because “as He is, so are we in this world.” The whole of our previous life before we embraced Christ as Saviour and Lord is in the mind of God a complete blank. It is not a reformation but a transformation that takes place at conversion. Further, we are told that in this new creation all things are of God. There is nothing which appeals to the flesh, nor to the will of man. Every item is beautiful and Christ-like.
One of the most essential items in this new creation is love. Of all the virtues mentioned in Scripture love occupies the first place. It appears first in the nine ingredients comprising the fruit of the Spirit, obviously because of its exceptional importance (Gal. 5:22-23). It is the overall which covers all the other spiritual garments that are enumerated in Colossians 3:2-14, or to exchange the metaphor, it is the golden girdle which binds the other garments together, the bond of perfectness. We are to love one another as Christ has loved us, the standard being none other than Calvary. Although we may never attain to this standard in this life, it is far better to aim at perfection, even though we fall short, than to aim at imperfection and attain it.
Another virtue connected with the new nature is genuine humility. On one great occasion the disciples asked our Lord who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The answer was quite unexpected. He set a little child in their midst, and said, “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. This was the Master’s definition of greatness from which we gather that true greatness of humility, and the man or the woman who is truly great will be so humble as to be unconscious of his or her greatness. All God’s servants throughout the ages who have been mightily used in His work have been characterized by humility, reminding us of the twice-mentioned maxim in Proverbs, “Before honour is humility” (chaps. 15:33; 18:12).
A further feature of the new nature is patience. This virtue is needed in every walk of life. One of the foremost signs of Paul’s apostolic status was patience (2 Cor. 12:12). We are exhorted to run with patience the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:12), and James in his inimitable practical way enjoins us to be patient unto the coming of the Lord (Jas. 5:7), thus leaving no loophole from now until that glorious moment when we shall be caught away to meet our beloved Lord in the air. “Ye have need of patience,” is a divine aphorism which we should remember and act upon in the home, in the office, in the factory, in the assembly, and wherever we may be. To enumerate all the items which are connected with the new life in Christ is not possible, but it may be helpful if we mention a few, so that we might examine ourselves in the light of these holy obligations: compatibility of temperament, endurance, faithfulness, forbearance, forgiveness, holiness, hospitality, kindness, long-suffering, obedience, purity, spirituality. All these manifestations may be summarized as follows: complete subjection to the known will of God, accompanied by a life controlled by the Spirit of God, the result being Christlikeness.
The question may be raised, “In the light of what has been said about the two natures, how can I be certain of victory?” The answer is, by starving the old, and by feeding the new. There is no other way. As we allow the Word of God to dwell in us richly, that is, as we read, study, and meditate upon the Scriptures, and endeavour to obey their precepts, the old nature will be rendered increasingly inoperative, and the new nature will be manifested in all its Christlike beauty and glory.