8. What Is The Difference Between Sin, Sinful Nature & Sinful Flesh?
What Is The Difference Between Sin, Sinful Nature & Sinful Flesh?
Many pastors teach their members that all individuals are born into this world as sinners, someone who is doomed to the eternal pits of hell. The meaning of the word “sinned” as used in (Romans 5:12) is actually in reference to man’s “sinful nature.” A “sinful nature” and an act of “sin” have different meanings. To sin is to actually commit some type of sinful act, while to be born with a “sinful nature” is to have a trait that makes you susceptible to becoming a sinner. All infants being born as sinners is argued as fact; however, when born babies have committed no act of sin this argument is not supported by the definition of sin as being an act of disobedience or transgression (breaking of God’s law – 1 John 3:4).
However, before we come to any conclusion we must also consider every related scripture on this topic in order to be honest with ourselves and adhere to the most harmonious biblical understanding. The following are several verses which must be taken into consideration.
(Romans 5:12) “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (also Romans 5:13-17).
A few verses later however in Romans 5:19 Paul now says “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Paul says many (in contrast to “all”) were made sinners so unless one verse is a “figure of speech” (which it is) they contradict.
Let’s compare the following:
(Ezekiel 18:20) – “The child does not bear the iniquity of the father, but the wickedness of the wicked is upon himself.”.
(2 Corinthians 5:10) – “Each one will be judged according to what he has done in the body, good or bad.” If this verse is true then this means no one will be condemned for Adam’s sin, except Adam!
(Luke 12: 47-48) – “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
(Romans 5:13-14) – “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned”
We, therefore, need to explore how all of these verses best harmonize without being contradictory. In addressing this matter I always like to start by addressing how it relates to infants. How is a baby ever given the opportunity to receive salvation if it is born a sinner and happens to die during infancy? Does it die a sinner? Is it a sinner because of Adam’s sins and yet it cannot even comprehend the concept of faith or belief in Christ? The Bible gives no examples of Christian-believing infants.
What we do know is that when an infant dies each one will be judged according to what they have done (their deeds – 2 Corinthians 5:10) so we can concede that an infant would have done the least wrong or sin in comparison to any adult who dies regardless if the infant was never baptized, never knew of God or Christ, never spoke in tongues, never even repented for any of the “alleged” sins the infant actually never committed, in thought or through any of its own “physical” actions.
What Is The Difference Between Sin And Sinful Nature?
Sin is basically any disobedience that goes against the will of God.
We are always striving to keep ourselves in right-standing with God by observing and following his commandments. Sin is not something condoned by God but sin can be forgiven by God in accordance with the will of God.
Sin During Old Testament Time:
God’s requirement for the forgiveness of sin in the Old Testament was often by sacrifice.
All sacrifice involves offering something valuable to God; the object offered represents the self-offering of the worshiper. There are several sorts of sacrifice mentioned in the Bible:
- Human; burnt offering (Genesis 22) Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son to God
- Passover: (Exodus 12) blood sacrifice which the Israelite’s offered at the command of God
- Animal; burnt offering (Leviticus 1) of an animal completely burned;
- Grain offering (Leviticus 2) of raw or prepared grain, as a memorial or a sign of the worshiper’s faithfulness; and there are probably more examples, etc…..
I am not an Old Testament scholar but without question, God has often been found making a way for the consequence of man’s sins to be forgiven (or to avoid God’s punishment). There were many men and women who followed and worshiped God as instructed by God and many of these men were called Holy men or prophets and their stories are recorded.
So what happens to all of the Old Testament people like Abraham, Noah, and Job? Are all of these God-loving men doomed to the same fate as the sinner who did not serve God? Of course not, if so this would totally vanish the belief that God is a “just rewarder” of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). God never told any of these men they would go to hell and burn forever as a consequence for not knowing that there would be a man named Jesus (who had not yet been born) that would be called the Christ or for not knowing and believing that Jesus was the “Son of God” that would come long after they had been dead and buried, or that someone in their future would die for the remission (removal) of their sin(s) or that they should adhere to some future baptism requirement “in the name of Jesus“, or any other requirements or instructions that would be taught by Jesus or shared through the writings of his disciples/apostles.
Those who attempt to take select New Testament scriptures out of context pertaining to salvation should be very careful when we claim that these men had to be baptized in Jesus’ name and speak in “unknown” tongues. Just a little hard to imagine all of these Holy men of God going to hell after doing the will of God as instructed by God. This issue is brought up only because infants would also have the same similar disadvantage of being disconnected from God’s forgiveness if this theory were true.
Sin During New Testament Time
God’s last commandment to man is found recorded in the New Testament writing:
Mark 9:7 “….. This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
We have been commanded to obey the words of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was sent by the Father into the world teaching us how all men could obtain a relationship with God our Father, through the belief in and teachings of Jesus (repentance, baptism, etc…). This is also referred to as discipleship.
Sinful Nature / Sinful Flesh:
Sinful nature is the ability to commit sin or the desire to want to commit sin, it is the free will given a man to choose sin or choose to abstain from sin. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of various types of sins. This is important but not the primary focus regarding infants and determining if they are born “sinners” destined for hell.
What Part Contains The Sinful Nature: The Spirit Or The Flesh?
The first order is to determine which part of man is sinful. Sounds easy enough right?
The flesh is unanimously determined to be the sinful nature, correct? (Romans 7:17-18, 8:3) But is it really that straightforward?
Did Satan and his angels also have a sinful nature (the ability to disobey God)? How? Did they originally have human flesh? Or were they “angels“? It would appear that although Adam and Satan are different types of beings both were created by God and both sinned against (or disobeyed) the will of God. This is only mentioned to bring light to a factor that many tend to overlook in consideration.
The Bible indicates that sin is disobedience to God’s will (or transgression of the law), therefore adults have this ability to transgress but do infants actually qualify as sinners when they have committed no disobedience or transgression against the will of God at this stage in their life?
Is Sinful Nature The Same As Being A Sinner? No
So does being born with a sinful nature automatically make every man a sinner? At first thought, many would say yes but clearly, it doesn’t because even after we have become Christians our sinful nature (this free will ability to be disobedient to God) remains with us until death.
To be born with a sinful nature is similar to being born into this world with parents who have diabetes. From that point on the disease is said to run in your family; it is an inherited possibility (a risk) but not necessarily a guarantee you will ever have the disease. Your father or mother may have this disease but based on your choices to live healthily you may never develop the disease. But if you make bad choices, you eat a horrible diet, don’t exercise, and pollute your body then you end up with diabetes. So it is with a man and has always been that way. We can prove this here very shortly but I first need to address the “new man” aspect.
Some would immediately argue “but we become a new creature in Christ and have put on “the new man” (Ephesians 4:24). Yes that is true but that is also only figuratively speaking, it is new in that we are actively renewing our way of thinking and living daily but our “sinful nature” the minds ability to think of sin is ever present with us for it is the mind that initiates all actions which are listed as being sinful.
Was John The Baptist born a sinner?
John the Baptist was born “filled” with the Holy Ghost from the womb (Luke 1:15). Was he then born “with” sin? Can a man have the Holy Ghost while yet being a sinner at the moment of his birth? Or was John actually born into sin (a sinful world) being a man having a sinful nature (the ability to sin or disobey God). Did John ever sin? There is no record of John committing sin. For “all have sinned” (Romans 5:12) to be taken “literally” would indicate John sinned somewhere along the line. Was it while he was in the womb? Was it after his birth and after receiving the Holy Ghost? If all are born sinners then John’s situation would indicate that the Holy Ghost doesn’t save anyone from sin if this understanding meant John was born a sinner instead of being born with a sinful nature. This understanding is further supported by the fact that even after receiving the Holy Ghost people fall away, fall back into sin, often turning their back on God. Being filled with the Holy Ghost does not make a person immune to committing sin, but this Holy Spirit (that portion of which we receive of God) leads and guides in the paths of righteousness, the man was inherently made to have “choice” and it remains this way even after receiving the Holy Ghost.
Was Jesus born a sinner?
For Romans 5:12 (“all have sinned”) to be taken “literally” then Jesus must have sinned also somewhere along the line. The Bible says that Jesus was without sin (Hebrews. 2:14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5). How could He have been without sin if babies “inherit” the guilt of Adam’s sin and Jesus was “human” and the offspring of David who also was the descendant of Adam?
One argument I was presented with was that Jesus “inherited” his sinless nature from his Father, which sounds good and must be taken into consideration. But what about the sinful nature he also inherited from his mother that too must be included. How could that be excluded when we just determined that it is the flesh (or the desires of the flesh) that gives a man his sinful nature?
Both John and Jesus were said to have been born with the Holy Ghost, yet Jesus is not considered a sinner at birth.
Was The Virgin Mary – (Jesus’ Mother) Born A Sinner
It dawned on me that maybe we should take a look at Jesus’ mother Mary. Was Jesus (if he were God) then birthed by a sinner named Mary? If salvation didn’t occur until after the shedding of Jesus’ blood and his resurrection and if we still claim that everyone is born a sinner “literally” then Jesus (or God Jesus) dwelt inside a sinner for 9 months? As you may start to see a bit of caution may be needed in our hasty interpretations of what is meant by “unclean”, “sinner” or “all have sinned” which may be literally spoken in one verse and used figuratively in another, dependent upon the intent of the writer.
What About Our Sinful Thoughts?
Mental Development and Accountability
What is the starting point when we begin to know God?
One difference not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:21 is that Adam was a grown man when God gave him his commandment thus Adam’s mentality or intelligence was developed well enough to be held accountable for disobeying God. Jesus, on the other hand, was an infant when he came into the world. There is nothing in the bible, which would indicate Jesus had any prior abilities or prior conversations with God until after Jesus reached an age higher than infancy mentality.
We can reasonably conclude that all children including Jesus had to be taught by someone that which is good from that which is bad (i.e., “you ate my candy, it didn’t belong to you”). Does an infant know all the rules prior to being taught? How do we measure accountability or distinguish doing something wrong vs. being sinful (i.e. stealing)? Is the child’s action actually an act of sin if he is unaware?
Luke and James seem to imply that this is not the case with God, indicating that some degree of conscious awareness is required to be considered as committing sin because there must be a sense of fairness to fit the circumstance.
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12: 47-48)
The first indication that Jesus had any possible communication with God was after Jesus was of age and able to speak and shared his need to “be about my father’s business” (Luke 2:49), to his mother, clearly a higher degree of mental development had been established. He was now able to speak and share his thoughts as compared to his limited abilities during his infancy.
We can also reasonably conclude that Jesus would have been taught by his parents. God, being Jesus’ father, would have had to convey what God’s will was for Jesus, which Jesus acknowledged took place.
“I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)
John 8:28 gives support showing Jesus was like any other human infant not all-knowing but had to be taught. To me, this is important because unless Jesus was a real human who had free will to disobey God and face similar consequences from God there was no “real sacrifice” ever made.
If Jesus was controlled by God no real sacrifice was made either however scripture indicates that Jesus’ death was a voluntary sacrifice. Jesus didn’t really want to die when his time came.
“Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
If we say that Jesus was actually God then Jesus was not a real man or totally human but God pretending to be a man. Of course, that does too much damage to who and what God is. As Jesus told us from his own mouth, God is a Spirit. Jesus always claimed himself to be a man. No more needs to be said if we claim to believe Jesus.
OUR SINFUL NATURE CONCLUSION
Both Jesus and John The Baptist are identified as being men, (humans) just as you and I, and neither are considered to be “part-human”. Both were “born” of a woman and neither is recorded to be born as sinners (especially not if BOTH had the Holy Ghost from BIRTH – Luke 1:15) then clearly ALL MEN are NOT born as sinners, at least not in the manner many churches try to portray the “all have sinned” passage (Romans 5:12). Being men (human) both Jesus and John would have had the same “sinful nature”, the same ability and opportunity to sin, (or disobey God) but it is not recorded anywhere that John ever committed sin himself. Infants are not born as sinners, not literally, because they do not have the ability to “sin” thus they are not guilty of having committed any sin (sinful acts) during this period of time of their development (Ezekiel 18:20; James 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:10)
This does not in any way diminish the “unique” relationship God had with Jesus (God’s begotten Son/ the lamb of God, etc..) any more than the special relationship God had with Adam and many other biblical notables mentioned through the Bible in comparison to the rest of humanity.