Do Men Have a Sinful Nature?

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Ephesians 2:1-10


I.         Romans 3:23 - Why is it that everyone sins, barring Jesus our Lord?

            A.        A dominant teaching among the denominations is the idea that people are born sinful.

                        1.         The Westminster Confession gives a popular view: “Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”

                        2.         What it says is that Adam and Eve’s original sin altered themselves and their descendants, not just spiritually but also physically, so that people have a built-in propensity to sin.

                        3.         Even when saved by Christ, that inclination to sin remains while we are in the physical flesh.

            B.        This view is so pervasive, one of the most popular translations, the New International Version, alters many occurrences of the word “flesh” to say “sinful nature.”

                        1.         But is this a good translation?

                        2.         Does it really reflect what God has taught?

II.        What is our nature?

            A.        The usual proof text is Ephesians 2:3.

                        1.         “See! By nature. We are made children of wrath.”

            B.        Phusis - We derive our words physics and physical from this word

                        1.         The form or nature of a thing to behave as it does. Thus its instinctive behavior

                                    a.         The natural branches - Romans 11:21

                                    b.         Jews by nature (that is by birth) - Galatians 2:15

                                    c.         Idols by nature cannot be gods - Galatians 4:8

                                    d.         Homosexuality goes against nature - Romans 1:26

            C.        The Westminster Confession said “we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil”

                        1.         But notice Romans 2:14-15

                        2.         Gentiles, did by nature things in the Law.

                        3.         You cannot by nature cannot do right and do right.

            D.        That is because there is another definition of phusis: That which a person does by ingrained habit, his character, or temperament..

                        1.         “Phusis is then used for a man’s character or nature, without reference to his birth or descent, in so far as this is given and not dependent on conscious direction or education.” [Kittle, IV:253].

                        2.         Both Romans 2:14 and Ephesians 2:3 are examples of this definition.

                        3.         Notice that it is because of how we once lived, not because we were born, that we “naturally” were objects of God’s wrath. It is in the nature of sin to be subject to God’s anger.

            E.        We are born upright - Ecclesiastes 7:29

            F.        We all sinned - Romans 3:23

                        1.         We took action to sin. We all became sinners, not that we were born sinners.

                        2.         Sin is the breaking of God’s law - I John 3:4

                        3.         Birth doesn’t violate a law of God

            G.        If sin were “natural,” then how can homosexuality be against nature? - Romans 1:26-27.

            H.        If sin were “natural,” then how could Gentiles by nature do what was right? - Romans 2:14

III.       Flesh

            A.        The Greek word sarx, primarily refers to the physical flesh. By extension it can refer to the desires that arise from the physical body.

                        1.         Lusts come from this world - I John 2:15-17

            B.        It is Romans 7:18 that leads to the conclusion that sin is built-in.

                        1.         But a subtle assumption is being made that if nothing good is found in the flesh, then the flesh must be evil. Yet, that isn’t what is stated.

                        2.         If sin is built-in to the flesh, the what about Christ? - Hebrews 2:14, 17

                                    a.         Jesus lived without sin - Hebrews 4:15

                                    b.         Jesus was made like us. He had flesh and blood like us. He was tempted like us. Yet, it was without sin. So sin isn’t naturally in the flesh.

            C.        We’ve already point out that God made people upright - Ecclesiastes 7:29

                        1.         Paul noted that before knowing the commandments, he was alive - Romans 7:9-11

                        2.         Children have no knowledge of good and evil - Deuteronomy 1:39

                        3.         We are not made sinful, as children we are not sinful; thus, we are not by nature sinful.

            D.        Where does sin come from?

                        1.         We are made with desires. We have instinctive responses.

                        2.         Satan uses those desires against us to have our desires push us toward sin - James 1:14-15

                        3.         When Paul said there is nothing good in his flesh, what he is saying is that natural instinct isn’t capable of moral choices. Our physical bodies do not know the difference between right and wrong.

IV.      Will

            A.        But our minds are different.

            B.        Our minds can judge that what we desire to do is not right - Romans 7:15-16

            C.        The question is which do we focus on, what our flesh desires, which due to the inability to make moral choices will lead to sin as often as not, or what God teaches? - Romans 8:5-8

            D.        Where you focus your mind is your choice - Joshua 24:14-15

                        1.         This another flaw in the NIV, which in Romans 8:6-8 talks about people’s minds being controlled.

                        2.         But the word here is phronema: One’s inclination or purpose. The NIV changes what is individual selected to what is externally forced.

V.        None of us start life sinful

            A.        To claim so is to say God made us sin - James 1:13

            B.        No one is forced to sin, in fact God limits Satan so that choice remains - I Corinthians 10:13

            C.        Why do we sin?

                        1.         For many it is simply not thinking. We let our instincts run our lives and so are following them into sin.

                        2.         For some we drop our guard and instinct takes over.

            D.        The fact is that we all sin at times. But there is a way out - I John 2:1; Romans 6:3-7

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