Note: I posted Part 1 of this series on Reddit and, just like the good ol’ days, the idea of not having a sinful nature led to a lot of confusion and assumptions about what I was saying and what ancient heresy I’m attached to.
I’m not a big fan of disclaimers, but to avoid confusion, please don’t assume I’m saying things I’m not. I say what I mean, I don’t beat around the bush. I don’t speak in parables or hyper-spiritual language. There isn’t anything hidden between the lines, so don’t go reading there looking for a reason to accuse me of preaching heresy. If you want the Truth about your sinful nature, here it is. If you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. But if all you have are veiled accusations and labels to throw at me, you’ll hear nothing from me besides what is already written.
With that, here is part 2!
6. The Sinful Nature is “Of the Devil.”
The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (9) No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (10) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
1 John 3:8-10
The quote above might feel a little Westboro Baptist in tone (“If you sin you’re of the devil!”), but take a second to remember we’re reading the words of “The Apostle of Love.” This is the same letter where he refers to his readers as “my little children.” Regardless of how we might perceive his tone in text, I believe the last thing John is trying to do is make his readers feel condemned and inadequate over sin.
On the contrary, this letter gives hope and excitement that living free from sin is actually possible (1 John 2:1). But this isn’t a post about 1 John as a whole, so we’ll deal with the rest of the letter at a later time. If you’re curious about 1 John 1:10 (which is inevitably brought up along with this subject), I’ve dealt with that in detail in How to Overcome Sin. You can pick that up, or watch this video by Dan Mohler who does an excellent job of giving perspective to 1 John 1:10.
In the meantime…
An important thing to understand is that the Bible deals with sin as both a verb and a noun. On one hand there is sinful actions, on the other hand there is the sinful condition.
Think of it like rabies. There’s rabies the disease, but there is also outbursts of paranoia and anger that result from having rabies. The behavior is merely a by-product of the disease. In the same way, there are sinful actions, but there is also the influence of the sinful condition (which is what we call the sinful nature) that influences the sinful actions.
“Aha!” Someone just screamed. “You just proved we do have a sinful nature, because we still sin which means something is influencing us!”
Hold your horses, fancy pants! We’ll deal with later on in this post.
Often when the Bible talks about “sin,” it’s not specifically referring to bad behavior or disobeying the Ten Commandments, but instead it’s referring to the sinful nature (the sin disease) that’s affecting humanity and the rest of creation.
For instance, when Paul says, “You are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ,” he’s not saying it’s now impossible for you to sin (verb), he’s saying that you’re free from the disease, the influence of sin (noun). You died and were made new, and the sin disease (the sinful nature) you once had, died with your old self. (Remember Galatians 5:24, and Col. 2:11 from the Part 1?)
What does all of this have to do with 1 John 3:8? It will help you avoid feeling condemned over a statement that says, “If you do what is sinful, you’re of the devil!”
John isn’t saying that if you tell a lie it automatically proves you were never saved and the devil lives in you instead of Jesus. He’s making a distinction between those who have the sin disease (they are uncontrollably influenced by the sinful nature), and those who don’t (they are empowered to say “no!”). The way you tell who is of the devil (who has the sinful nature) is that their behavior is influenced by the sinful nature–they cannot control themselves in giving into sinful desires.
What does “of the devil” mean?
“Of the devil” can sound pretty condemning, but all it means is thinking like the devil, who has been sinning uncontrollably since the beginning. This is interesting when you consider that the vast majority of Christians think they have a sinful nature, which indirectly implies they’re “of the devil.” They think they will always sin uncontrollably until they die because they have a sinful nature. Who sins uncontrollably? The devil. Why? Because it’s his nature, he’s been sinning that way since the beginning.
When John says a person is “of the devil,” he’s talking about their nature and (as a result) the way they behave. It’s the same way Jesus called the Pharisees “sons of the devil” and said, “Your father is the devil and you want to carry out his desires!” (John 8:44) He’s not saying that the devil literally begot these people (hopefully that’s obvious), but that they are “sons of the devil” because they act in accordance with the devil’s desires.
But Look! Good news!
Had John stopped at, “If you sin you’re of the devil!” We’d have a lot of excuse to curl up in a ball and cry forever about how terrible and wicked we are for not holding the door for that old woman at the grocery store. But let’s look at the next sentence.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
We’re still on the subject of sin here, so when John says the reason Jesus came was to destroy the devil’s work, he’s referring to sin, and all of the side-effects (sickness, death, evil desires, etc.).
Remember, it’s not just about sinful behavior (verb), but the sinful nature (noun). For even if Jesus came to forgive the verb, it does us no good if we’re still condemned by the noun. He would be lying when He said we’re free, because we’re still under the influence of the thing that keeps causing us to misbehave (and more than that, causes us to think terribly about ourselves, God and others). It would be like Him plucking the weeds off of our front lawn and saying, “You’re free from weeds!” No I’m not. You left the roots there so the weeds will be a problem again by next Monday.
Thankfully, Jesus was smarter than that. He didn’t judge us for the weeds on the surface (the sinful behavior), but went straight for the weeds underneath (the sinful nature which gave influence to the sinful behavior).
Notice that in Jesus’ ministry He didn’t often do what so many ministries do today, focusing on sinful behavior. His best friends were liars, thieves, racists, prostitutes, and a tax collecting mafia man, yet He ate and drank with them, and didn’t lecture them about their life choices.
Sinful behavior is a big deal to us because we often live by sight, and we can see bad behavior. We condemn the homosexuals, adulterers, and others we think are acting bad because we can see their bad behavior. But Jesus didn’t often make a big deal out of the verb (the act of sin) because He saw what we didn’t see: the noun–the sinful nature that was causing the sinful behavior. Sin (not people) is what Jesus came to destroy.
His battle isn’t with people (flesh and blood), but with the dark powers and principalities that influence their thinking, and as a result their behavior.
When John is talking about those who do right and those who don’t (those who are of God and of the devil), he’s talking about who has the holy nature of God, and who has the sinful nature of the devil, or in other words those who are influenced by those natures.
It’s similar to how Paul said in Romans 6, “We’re no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness.” Sin is no longer the controlling influence of our lives, righteousness is. In the same way that the one with the sinful nature can’t say no to sin, the one with the God-righteous nature can’t say no to good behavior.
It’s not an effort, it’s a manifestation of being.
Is this saying you can never sin? Or that even if you murder somebody, it’s not sin because the one who is born of God cannot sin? No. He’s not talking about denial of the existence of sinful actions, or saying it’s impossible to sin. Instead he’s saying that the one who is born of God cannot continue to sin habitually like it’s his nature, because the one who is born of God has a new nature: God’s seed remains in him.
“If this is true, why do we still sin?”
I’ll tell you, but you might not like the answer…
7. The Renewing of the Mind
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (18) They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (19) They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— (21) assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, (22) to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds…
What I highlighted are all the places where Paul talks about why the Gentiles walked as they do. Paul says the Gentiles walk as they do in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding and alienated from God because of their own ignorance and their own hardness of heart.
In other words, God isn’t the one hiding from them, they’re the ones hiding from Him as a result of their thinking.
Why do I bring this up? Because it’s the way the vast majority of Christians think! Countless Christians live like they need to convince God to reveal Himself to them when in reality they need to convince themselves that He’s already been revealed. God didn’t run and hide from Adam, Adam ran and hid from God. It’s not Him who needed convincing about you, it’s you who needed convincing about Him. That’s why Jesus came and said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen God!”
Christians still live in the same “”futility of their minds” that they did when they didn’t know Jesus. This is why they still live like they’re trapped in sin. They think Jesus came to forgive their sins, but still left them in the same “under the influence of a sinful nature” predicament they were in before they got saved. So what did He really fix? What did He save you from? How can you say He saved you from your sins if it’s still your nature to do what you were doing before you met Him?
It’s not a lack of what Jesus did that’s the reason you continue to sin, it’s your own lack of understanding what He really did for you. That’s what the verse above is talking about. They give themselves up to sensuality and every kind of impurity because of what they fail to understand in their own minds–their own ignorance of God. It’s similar to how Paul said we “were enemies of God and alienated from Him in our own minds” (Col. 1:21).
But look at those next part.
Paul doesn’t teach us that we’re doomed and damned to continue giving ourselves to sensuality and impurity. You don’t find that stuff in scripture, you only find it in the experience of Christians because of how they interpret scripture.
Your old self. It’s not your current self.
Your old self, your former manner of life. There’s nothing present-tense about it. It’s all past-tense, done away with.
Paul didn’t teach a Christ who only forgave sins but never gave a solution to sin. The Christ we learn about from Paul became the solution to sin for us, not in empowering us to try harder, but in “taking away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
But if our job isn’t to try harder to be good boys and girls, what is it? It’s to put off the old self. That is, to stop thinking like the old person thought so you can live like the new person is created to live. Why? Because you’re not the old person, you’re a new person.
So why do Christians still sin?
Christians still sin because they aren’t being renewed in the spirit of their minds (here’s an illustration). They are being taught every week in sermons, movies and worship songs that they are rotten sinners who Jesus came to forgive for their rottenness, and who will (eventually) make them new when they die and get to heaven. But you won’t find that in scripture unless you cling to the faulty interpretation of Romans 7 that says you can’t do the good you want to do and will always do the bad you don’t want to do.
What kind of gospel (good news) is that? I’m doomed to be a disappointment to God and myself for the entire time I’m alive on this planet? No thanks! You can count me out of that religion.
In scripture you find that you’re already holy (Heb. 10:10), already righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), and already perfect (Heb. 10:14).
Some will come up with a thousand New Testament verses about how “all have sinned” and “none seek God,” but I highly recommend reading those verses in their context. You’ll find that most, if not all of those verses (including Romans 7) are in the context of people under Law. Many of those verses are quoting Old Testament prophets in order to make a comparison between the old (before Jesus) and the new (with Jesus).
Where are you? The old or the new? Without Jesus or with Him?
Jesus didn’t come, tease you with eventual change in heaven, and then say, “See ya later, nerds!” before He floated away into the sky and abandoned us to the sinful nature for thousands of years. He took what was “eventual” to every old testament prophet and made it a reality for us (Col. 1:26-27, Col. 2:17).
Jesus only ascended into heaven because there was literally nothing more for Him to do for us (Heb. 10:12, Mark 16:19). He “took away the sin of the world,” He saved us from the sinful nature we were ruled by since Adam (Gal. 5:24, Col. 2:11), He gave us everything we need to live godly lives (2 Peter. 1:3), and everything we will ever need in heaven is already ours on earth (Eph. 1:3).
What else do you want from Him?
The problem is that the church still thinks with the same “eventually” mindset that the prophets thought with when they were looking for their Messiah.
We have what they didn’t have, but we still act like they did, which reveals the truth of our thinking: we give lip-service to Jesus and the cross, but we still think and live like we’re waiting for a Messiah to save us from our sin. That would make much of the modern church more Jewish than they are Christian. The thing that separates us is that they’re still waiting for what we say we have. If we have our Messiah, why do we still live like those who don’t?
That’s the detailed answer to why Christians still sin.
He “destroyed the devil’s work.” Now you’re free. You can no longer blame the devil for the way you behave because Jesus destroyed that line of influence forever. Does it mean you can’t be tempted? No! But it means you can always say “No!” to sin (Titus 2:11-12), and there is no temptation stronger than the Spirit that influences you, so there’s never an excuse to sin (1 Cor. 10:13).
8. From Darkness to Light
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9
He called us out of that dark life where we were ruled by a sinful nature, where we always anticipated punishment and always felt guilty and condemned. He called us out of that way of life and brought us into His light, where we don’t fear punishment, and where guilt and condemnation have been done away with along with the sinful nature.
I have a dead flesh and my spirit is light; sin and darkness have nothing in me to hold on to!
Do I still have the ability to sin? Yes. Do I still have the desire to sin? No.
If I am tempted, it’s not to sin, but to believe that the desire to sin is still in me. Once I accept that it’s my desire to sin, I’ll only resist it for so long before I give in. Out of that thinking comes sinful behavior. To say the sinful nature controls my behavior and yet I’m free from sin is as delusional as a slave who thinks he’s free, but continues working for and being whipped by a slave-driver.
I’m free. The old darkness has been done away with, replaced completely by the light of Christ.
9. You are Clean
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
The one who said, “Light be,” and light was, has declared that you are clean. My hands are clean, my heart is pure. Why? Not because I sang a sappy song about it, but because He spoke the word.
10. Dead to Sin
Yes, when Christ died, he died to defeat the power of sin one time—enough for all time. He now has a new life, and his new life is with God. (11) In the same way, you should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive for God through Christ Jesus.
One of the most exciting few words in this verse isn’t “dead to the power of sin,” but “in the same way.” Paul talks about how Jesus died, and in His death the power of sin was defeated one time, for all time (once for all!). Now Jesus has a new life, and His new life is with God.
Now “in the same way as that,” Paul says, “think of yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive to God.” In what same way? A “once for all” kind of way. Am I dead to sin until the next time I sin? Until the next time I confess my sins, and ask for forgiveness? No! I’m dead to sin one time, for all time; once for all. When did this happen? On the cross. You can never convince me that sin lives in me because I’m dead to sin, once for all! And that’s a dead horse I can beat without apology!
Compare how Paul told us to see ourselves with how so much of modern Christianity has taught us to see ourselves and you’ll see why so many Christians still struggle with sin, depression, lust, addiction, and so many other things Jesus set us free from.
There are many, MANY verses that tell you you’re not destined to sin for the rest of your life. It’s not trying to live up to Biblical standards that will set you free from sin, it’s accepting that Jesus has already set you free from sin by killing the old you on the cross, and making you an entirely new person who doesn’t have those old desires you once did.
Would you ever say Jesus has a desire to sin? Obviously not! That’s blasphemy! Well then, look.
If you believe you’re dead, and that Christ lives in you, but you still have a desire to sin, where do you think that desire is coming from?
As He is, so are you, in this world, right now.
You are one. Jesus is not living in your heart as a separate entity, piloting your body from a driver’s seat in your chest. The two of you are one. So again, where would those evil desires you think you have even come from?
Anti-climactic ending aside, I understand this is a controversial topic that raises many questions, and even more emotions. Feel free to comment with your questions below and I’ll do my best to answer them!