Series - Two Natures

Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 7)

Problems with the One-Nature View

Properly delineated, the two-nature view can accurately and correctly represent the Bible’s teaching on regeneration and sanctification, but so can the one-nature view, if it is properly delineated. An advantage for the two-nature view—and thus a minor difficulty for the one-nature view—is that the two-nature view more easily describes the believer’s struggle with sin. As we have previously observed, one-nature advocates usually end up using two-nature terminology even though they disavow the term nature. A potential and much more serious problem for the one-nature view can arise if that one nature is not carefully defined. For instance, Warfield says: “For the new nature which God gives us is not an absolutely new somewhat, alien to our personality, inserted into us, but our old nature itself remade.”1 Thus Warfield can call the believer’s one nature, the new nature. But, of course, Warfield is careful to explain that something old remains in that new nature.

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 6)

Criticisms of the Two-Nature View

Though I have argued that the two-nature view is a theologically accurate way to describe the believer’s struggle with sin and that Scripture itself supports such a view; nevertheless, the two-nature view has been subjected to severe criticism. That criticism has come mainly from within the Reformed camp. One of the most outspoken critics was B. B. Warfield. His views are found in an article entitled, “The Victorious Life,” which was originally written for the Princeton Theological Review in 1918 and later reprinted as part of his two-volume work, Perfectionism, in 1931.1 Equally important is Warfield’s review of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s book, He That Is Spiritual, which appeared in the Princeton Theological Review in 1919.2 The significant point to note about Warfield’s opposition to the two-nature view is that his criticism was based on a particular formulation of the two-nature view. Warfield criticized Chafer’s presentation of two natures in the believer, not so much because of his two-nature terminology, but because Warfield believed Chafer’s particular two-nature viewpoint was defective as it related both to regeneration and sanctification. Warfield’s chief objection to Chafer was theological, not semantic. That this is the case can be demonstrated from the fact that Warfield’s own teacher in theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Charles Hodge, used two-nature terminology,3 and, as we would expect, Warfield’s views on regeneration and sanctification are in full agreement with those of Hodge.4 A more recent Reformed theologian, Anthony Hoekema, whose views are substantially the same as Warfield’s, also firmly supports the concept of two natures in the believer.5

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 5)

Originally published as a single article in DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997): 81–103. Used by permission.

This installment continues our study of the believer’s struggle with sin, focusing on Romans 7.

Romans 7:14–25

Paul’s description of the struggle between the old and new natures is not confined to the flesh/Spirit contrast of Galatians 5:16–17. Paul can, as Romans 7:14–25 illustrates, use somewhat different terminology to describe the same conflict. Though there is considerable debate about this section of Romans, there would appear to be more than sufficient reasons for understanding this passage as describing Paul as a regenerate person. Some of the more important ones would include: (1) The shift from the past tenses of verses 7–13 to the present tenses beginning in verse 14 is inexplicable unless Paul has now shifted to his present regenerate status. (2) In verse 22 Paul says: “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,” and in verse 25b: “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God.” Murray argues that “this is service which means subjection of heart and will, something impossible for the unregenerate man.”1 (3) In answer to the longing of verse 24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Paul gives a triumphant answer in the first part of verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This is the confession of Paul, the regenerate man, which is immediately followed by a concluding summary concerning his continuing struggle with sin as a believer: “So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” This is the same struggle which has been recounted beginning in verse 14.

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 4)

Originally published as a single article in DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997): 81–103. Used by permission.

This installment continues our study of the believer’s struggle with sin, focusing on “flesh” vs. “the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:16–17

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

It is universally recognized that this passage describes the believer’s battle with sin—the flesh against the Spirit. Though Paul sometimes uses flesh (σάρξ) for the physical aspect of man, it is widely conceded that in this passage we find Paul’s well-known “ethical” use of the term—fallen human nature. Longenecker explains:

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 3)

Published as a single article in DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997): 81–103. Used by permission.

Part 2 concluded that speaking of the believer as having “two natures” is not contrary to Scripture, but that a defective theology exists that happens to also use two-nature terminology. Here, Part 3 aims to “look more carefully at the scriptural descriptions of the believer’s struggle with sin” as groundwork for examining that defective theology.

The Old Man/New Man

In Romans 6, Ephesians 4, and Colossians 3, Paul contrasts the old man with the new man, though, actually, Romans 6 speaks only of the old man. Whereas the KJV has “man” (ἄνθρωπος) in these passages, the NASB uses “self.”

Romans 6:6, 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;

Ephesians 4:20–24, But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 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, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 2)

Published as a single article in DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997): 81–103. Used by permission.

Part 2 continues Part 1’s consideration of what “nature” means in the “one or two natures” question.

Theological Usage

As was previously noted, the use of the term nature as it relates to the question of one or two natures does not stem primarily from a particular text. Instead, it can more correctly be viewed as a theological term, essential to the discussion at hand, but whose meaning is generally derived from its common, ordinary usage. Webster, for example, defines nature as “the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: essence, disposition, temperament.”1 Smith helpfully observes that

except when it is used for the material world or universe, the term “nature” does not designate a substance or an entity. Instead, it is a word which refers to the inherent or essential qualities of any substance or entity.2

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Does the Believer Have One Nature or Two? (Part 1)

Published as a single article in DBSJ 2 (Fall 1997): 81–103. Used by permission.

In recent times the popular radio preacher and author, John MacArthur, has attacked the idea of two natures in the believer. He says at one point: “If you are a Christian, it’s a serious misunderstanding to think of yourself as having both an old and new nature. We do not have a dual personality!”1 Similar attacks have come from a number of others. J. I. Packer says: “A widespread but misleading line of teaching tells us that Christians have two natures: an old one and a new one.”2 John Gerstner labels the two-nature viewpoint “Antinomianism.”3 Are these attacks justified? Is it unbiblical to speak of two natures within the believer? This essay purposes to tackle the issue.

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