Those who have true faith have truly been given new life in Christ. If a person believes in Christ, he or she has been “born of God” (1 John 5:1). Regeneration means that someone who was dead in sin is now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5). However, new birth (regeneration) does not mean that the old sinful nature is completely gone. True believers still struggle with indwelling sin (Gal. 5:17). As Luther rightly said, the Christian is a saint and a sinner at the same time.
This means that when we stumble into sin, we can’t simply blame the devil or the world. The devil can mess with us and the world can entice us, but we sin because we still have the “old man” in us, the “flesh.” So how does this “old man” function in us? W. Brakel (d. 1711) explained this well in his discussion on sanctification. I’ll summarize it below:
- Sometimes the old nature stirs us up to sin by violent assaults. The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord is present, the lust is so strong and forceful that any good inclinations are quickly extinguished.
- Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest and relaxation. He begins to think upon natural things and the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful. His mind wanders and he lusts, covets, or becomes proud. He falls into more sin as the moment permits, or even to the degree he never thought himself capable of.
- Sometimes the old nature gains strength due to recklessness. He puts himself into situations he knows will ensnare him, but he does it anyway. The sin at hand gains the upper hand. Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain (vetjes maken smetjes).
- The old sinful nature also is engaged in keeping us from doing good. A) He makes us think there is no time to pray, read Scripture, sing, or meditate upon the word. B) He makes us procrastinate and say we will do godly things later. C) He makes us believe that doing good is too difficult and impossible to do. D) He makes us think that doing good is in vain because God is not paying attention and it will not benefit us. E) He makes us compromisers by saying the path is not as narrow as we think.
- The old sinful nature also wants to keep us from doing good so he attempts to spoil that which is good. A) He makes our thoughts wander. B) He distracts us by making us think about a good thing that isn’t applicable to the situation. C) He causes us to be proud of doing good, and the purity of the duty is contaminated. D) He causes us to think we do not have the Spirit. E) His atheism and unbelief surface and it ruins the good with evil.
Why is this important? For one thing, it helps us as Christians to know ourselves. We can’t point fingers and blame others for our sinful words, thoughts, and actions (Ps. 51:3-4). It also keeps us truly humble to know we still have the old man of sin dwelling in us. It helps us stay near the cross, where we receive continual cleansing from Jesus’ blood. It makes us constantly confess our sins to God. It makes us all the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the new man strength in the battle. It teaches us that God gets all the credit for any good in us or anything good we do in his sight. Realizing that our old man remains in us also makes us long for heaven, when sanctification will be complete and we will be fully delivered from our remaining sinful flesh. And the list goes on. Paul put it this way: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 HCSB).
The above edited and summarized quote is found in volume three of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 9-11.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015