Do we have a sinful nature? PDF Print E-mail

o We Have a Sinful Nature?


A.      If you study only the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, then you will be led to believe that man is born with a sinful nature.

                                                             1.      This is because the phrase “sinful nature” appears twenty-two times in the NIV New Testament.

a.       Taken at face value, this phrase indicates that man is conceived and born with a natural instinct to do evil and violate God’s law.

b.       This phrase is an interpretation (not a translation) of the single Greek word sarx, which literally means “flesh.”  In all twenty-two instances where sarx is rendered as “sinful nature” in the NIV, it is translated as “flesh” in the King James Version (KJV), the American Standard Version (ASV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

                                                             2.      A typical example of this phrase is found in the NIV’s rendition of Romans 7:5 – “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.”

B.      Is the NIV’s assertion correct?  Do we have a sinful nature?

                                                             1.      It is an objective truth that “sinful nature” is a poor translation of sarx, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a poor interpretation.

                                                             2.      To evaluate this interpretation, let us first consider its origins in the teachings of Calvinism, and then let us compare it to the Bible’s context.



A.      “Calvinism” is the name given to the system of theology developed by John Calvin.

                                                             1.      John Calvin was a prominent French theologian during the Protestant Reformation of the fourteenth century.  His doctrine has been very influential among many Protestant denominations.

                                                             2.      The tenets of Calvinism are summarized in the acronym TULIP.

a.       T – Total depravity (man is born completely corrupted)

b.       U – Unconditional election (God predestined individuals to salvation without conditions)

c.        L – Limited atonement (Christ’s sacrifice atoned only for the elect)

d.       I – Irresistible grace (the direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the elect)

e.        P – Perseverance of the saints (the impossibility of apostasy for the elect)

B.      The Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity teaches that man is born corrupt and is incapable of any good.

                                                             1.      According to the doctrine of total depravity, man inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve so that he is by nature completely corrupt and incapable of any good whatsoever.

                                                             2.      The doctrine of total depravity is explained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a 1646 creed accepted by most Calvinist denominations.

a.       Chapter VI, Article IV states: “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”

b.       Calvinists believe that man is not only born incapable of doing any good, but he is also born incapable of receiving what is good, including the gospel of Christ.  Therefore, man needs a special act of God through the Holy Spirit in order to “make them willing and able to believe” in order to be saved. (Westminster Confession, Chapter VII, Article III)  To the Calvinist, this act of God through the Holy Spirit is God’s saving grace.

C.      It is this Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity that is communicated by the phrase “sinful nature.”



A.      The Bible teaches that man has a nature that seeks for God and His law.

                                                             1.      In Acts 17:24-31, Paul told the idolatrous and unbelieving Athenians that God had made all men such “that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (v. 27).

                                                             2.      Notice how the true nature of man is revealed in Romans 1:18-32.

a.       Paul’s words show that the normal, natural way of man is to embrace the truth, to know God, and to honor Him.

b.       The problem is that men left the good nature of their creation and suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18), refused to honor God or give Him thanks (v. 21), exchanged God’s glory for idols (v. 23), and did not acknowledge God any longer (v. 28).

c.        Because men left their natural, godly ways for ungodly ways, God “gave them over” (vv. 24, 26, 28) to corruption.  God did not make them corrupt from birth, but God allowed them to exchange holiness for corruption.

                                                             3.      In Romans 2:14, Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.”

a.       The word “instinctively” means “of nature.”  This means that the pagan Gentiles, who did not know God, knew something of God’s law by nature.

b.       This is the concept of “natural law” or “higher law,” which means that all men have a natural, universal sense of right and wrong that comes from God.

                                                             4.      Every man and woman has a natural, fundamental need and desire for God according to God’s design.  While many live in denial of this and smother their desire, the truth of this fact is evident in every family, nation, culture, and age of man.

B.      The Bible teaches that corruption, evil, and sin are learned by man from the world.

                                                             1.      Notice 1John 2:16 – “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

                                                             2.      God does not send souls into the world preinstalled with these wicked tendencies, but these are the things of the world that corrupt the pure souls that God creates.

                                                             3.      Man is not sinful by nature, but he learns sin as a “second nature.”

a.       We use the phrase “second nature” to mean something that is learned by habit.  For example, putting on a seatbelt becomes second nature to a passenger in a car.

b.       Likewise sin becomes second nature to those who practice it.  This is the meaning in Ephesians 2:3, where sinners are described as being “by nature children of wrath.”

C.      The Bible teaches that each soul who learns and chooses evil is accountable for his own actions alone and not those of others (Jer. 31:29-30; Ezek. 18:2-4; Rom. 9:10-11; 2Cor. 5:10).  This would not be true if man was predisposed to sin by a sinful nature inherited from Adam.



A.      Thankfully, God gives us an opportunity to strip away the corruption that we have learned from the world and start anew.

                                                             1.      Notice 2Peter 1:4 – “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

a.       In this verse, the phrase “by these” refers to the things mentioned in the previous verse – “God’s divine power,” “everything pertaining to life and godliness,” and “the knowledge of Him who called us.”

b.       By these things, we can undo the second nature of habitual sin that we learned from the world and partake in the “divine nature.”

                                                             2.      Thus, we can be restored to the original image of our creation, which is the image of God Himself (Gen. 1:26-27).

B.      Because of this new start, the Bible often describes a Christian as a “new creature.”

                                                             1.      For example, Paul wrote, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2Cor. 5:17).  Similar messages are given in Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:20-24, and Colossians 3:10.

                                                             2.      Although a Christian is still the same person as he was before He knew Christ, God has remade him with a new quality about him.

a.       His physical form is unchanged, but everything about his spirit is new.  He has become a partaker of that “divine nature” (2Pet. 1:4).

b.       In Christ, he “in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24).  Rather than having a sinful second nature that he learned from the world, he learns a godly nature.  The corruption from the world is taken away, and spiritually he is once again as he was when he was born – a new creature.

C.      If you need a new start on life, then know that God has worked diligently to give you that opportunity.

                                                             1.      God did not create us with a sinful nature.  He created us for a fellowship with Him in righteousness, but we learned sin from the world.

                                                             2.      Therefore, leave the world’s sinful ways and take hold of God’s gracious offer to make a new start through faithful obedience to the gospel of Christ.  You must be born again (John 3:3-8).

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