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The New Man

Is a believer in Christ a sinner saved by God's Grace while possesseing a sin nature, or is the believer a new man in Christ, with a new and distinct identity, now fundamentally different from the former person prior to conversion?

A popular view among many evangelical teachers is that the New Testament terms "old man" (or old self), "sin nature," and "flesh" are all synonymous. In this view, since the New Testament clearly teaches that the Believer still has the "flesh," he must still posses the old man. And if this is so, the crucifixion of the old man in Romans 6, where Paul states that "our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin" (Romans 6:6), can not be seen as actual, but only positional or judicial. Teachers of this view would say that the old man, which is the sin nature and the flesh, is positionally crucified, but still with us in our life, that he has only been dealt a judicial death blow by the work of Christ.

The Sin Nature

Although the origin of sin begins with Satan's rebellion against God, sin came into this world through Adam.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
Here we see that in Adam all sinned, as we all participated when Adam sinned. The Biblical principle of participation is demonstrated in Hebrews 7:9-10, where Levi the priest is said to have paid tithes to Melchizedek through his ancestor Abraham, although he was not yet born. Adam's sin produced spiritual and physical death for all of humanity. His fall transformed him downward into a different being from the perfect being which God created. He propagated after his own kind and passed his corrupt nature to all of his descendents who are spiritually dead.

This transmission of sin and its manifested effects of spiritual and physical death, depravity, and hostility toward God, is referred to by some theologians as the "sin nature." The term "sin nature" finds its nearest expression in the New Testament in the words of Paul describing unbelievers, "and were by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). Though Scripture underlines the fact that believers possess the capacity to sin, it would seem to go against the emphasis of the new birth in Christ to say that "the nature" of a believer is to sin. Instead of using the term "sin nature" to describe the believer's capacity to sin, Paul uses the word "flesh."

The Flesh

Scripture never speaks of Believers having a "sin nature," but refers to their daily struggle with what it calls "the flesh."

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so (Romans 8:5-7).
Newell explains the meaning of the word flesh when it is used to describe sin in a believer's life: The flesh is the manifestation of sin in the as yet unredeemed body. Our "old man," therefore, is the large term, the all-inclusive one -- of all that we were federally from Adam. The flesh, however, we shall find to be that manifestation of sin in our members with which we are in conscious inward conflict, against which only the Holy Spirit indwelling us effectively wars.[1]

The Old Self (or Old Man)

The old self in Adam is presented in these verses:

Knowing this, that our "old self" was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6).

That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the "old self," which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (Ephesians 4:22).

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the "old self" with its evil practices, (Colossians 3:9).

Newell writes: This is our old self, as we were in and from Adam. It is contrasted with the "new man" (Colossians 3:9,10) -- which is what we are and have in Christ. Also, we must not confuse the "old man" with "the flesh."[2]

Believers are told to put on the new man, or self, as this is now the true identity of who we are in Christ.

And put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:24).
And Ironside states: The "old man" is more than the old nature. It is the man of old, the man you used to be before you knew Christ as Saviour and Lord. In other words, the old man is all that I once was as an unsaved person. I am through with that man; he has disappeared, for faith, in the cross of Christ.[3]

God is indeed finished with the old man with his sin nature, He has no program to clean him up, He is finished with him! As we have seen, these three terms, old man, sin nature, and flesh are distinct from each other, so a totally different picture emerges of what the life of a believer in Christ is subsequent to salvation. A believer in Christ isn't a sinner saved by God's Grace while possesseing a sin nature, but a "new man," a new creation in Christ, with a distinct identity and possessing a glorious hope.

[1] Newell, William R., Romans Verse by Verse (Chicago: Moody Press, 1938), 212.

[2] Ibid., p. 210.

[3] Ironside, H.A., Lectures on the Epistles to the Colossians (Neptune New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1929), 135.

Written by Alan Torres

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