Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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“Sinful Nature” VS “Flesh”

There is a song that we occasionally sing, Amazing Grace, that was written by a man who believed the Calvinistic concept of inherited depravity. When he wrote the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”, he meant something other than what the scriptures teach concerning sin, grace and redemption. However, because he used scriptural language in the text of the song, we may sing it with a good conscience and an honest heart because we take the words to mean what is taught in scripture rather than what was intended by the author of the song. If the language he had used had clearly indicated his incorrect views, we would not be able to use the song.

The same is true with regard to other English words and phrases that are commonly used by sectarians. Words like angel, church, baptism, faith, bishop, pastor, are common both to Christians, and those who are caught in religious error. While the words are common, the definitions are not. The sectarian uses the word angel to refer to cherubim and seraphim, the Christian knows it to be a term referring to messengers of God, (both human and of a higher order). The sectarian uses the word church in an institutional sense, the Christian as a relationship. The sectarian considers baptism a church rite, accomplished in varied ways, the Christian understands it to be a necessary command of God, and to be immersion in water. The sectarian’s concept of faith excludes obedience, the Christian accepts James’ contention that the two are inextricably tied together. The sectarian’s view of a bishop and/or pastor misses both on the nature of church government, and the distinction between the works of oversight and evangelism. The Christian manages to keep the concepts in agreement with revelation.

Some have contended that we should not use the words, church, angel, baptism; instead substituting assembly, messenger and immersion. However, such is unnecessary so long as the words are defined correctly. While the latter are better translations than the former, a Christian is not sinning if he uses the more common terms, nor the English translations that contain them. He must simply use them correctly, supplying both the scriptural definitions and correct concepts, as revealed from the original language.

An application can be made with regard to the New International Version’s use of the phrase “sinful nature” to describe the Greek word “sarx.” The phrase is used two times in Romans 7:18,25. This is not to be construed as a defense of either the version, or the common use of the phrase. There are much better versions, and much better translations of the Greek term. Nor is there any significant doubt in my mind that the translators of the NIV were most likely influenced by Calvinistic doctrine when using the phrase to translate the term.

The Greek word sarx is defined by Strong, depending upon context, as either literal flesh, or “(by implication) human nature (with its frailties (physically or morally) and passions), or (specifically) a human being (as such): – carnal (-ly, + -ly minded), flesh ([-ly]).”

The Calvinist’s view of man as a being born a sinner, having inherited the original sin of Adam, completely depraved and without any redeeming value, is a concept nowhere found in scripture. When Calvinists use the phrase “sinful nature” (as translated in the NIV), this is what they commonly mean by the phrase.

However, consider that Strong’s definition of the term sarx is an accurate one. The apostle Paul affirmed such in his address to the Galatians. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16-17). There is within each man frailty, passions and a carnal (sinful) nature that must and can be resisted. It is because of this “flesh” that Paul states “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a man wills to develop the fruit of the Spirit, and allows the Spirit’s influence to gain the advantage, the lusts of the flesh lose their appeal and strength. However, the conflict raged within Paul, and ever rages within us as well.

If your sectarian friend insists on using his NIV in his study with you, be confident that you can teach him the truth using the translation. If your Catholic friend wants to use his translation, you can teach him the truth with that Bible as well. Just be sure that you properly define the terms you encounter, using them as the Holy Spirit intended.

Does man have a sinful nature? If you mean what the Calvinist means by the phrase, absolutely not! But, if you mean by that what Paul meant (the flesh, with its passions), then certainly so. It is not the best translation. It is a phrase associated with error. But, the phrase can be used correctly.