Table of Contents
Until God puts his nature within us, we cannot love God. Even if we in our human mind agree with the concept of a loving God, we are not able to respond with love in our human nature. Only God is capable of love, though he does share this ability when he gives us his Spirit. Then we can love God and love others with God’s own heart.
We are either “of God” (John 8:47) or “of the devil” (1 John 3:8, 10). There is no such thing as a “sort-of-good person” or a single nature containing both evil and righteousness.
Cultural Myths About Human Nature
We often think of moral dilemmas in terms of the angel-and-demon concept. We imagine a demon on one shoulder, speaking lies into one ear, and an angel on our other shoulder, speaking the truth in our other ear. We then decide which advice to act upon. Such a concept is pure mythology, located nowhere in the Bible.
This myth has been constantly repackaged since the fall of mankind. Another popular version of this myth goes like this:
A Chief is talking with his grandson. He says, “There are two wolves inside of us which are always at battle. One is good and represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is bad and represents things like greed, hatred, and fear.”
The grandson asks, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The Chief replies, “The one you feed.”
According to the biblical model, we are the evil one. The human nature that we received in our inheritance from Adam is hopelessly spoiled. There is no such thing as a neutral person who decides between good or evil. Either we become linked to the Spirit of life or remain linked to our flesh that is mired in death.
Flesh can only choose evil. We imagine that we have some potential to do good or make good choices, but our original sinful nature is fully self-centered. Even if we do good, give to charity, help our neighbor, and other acts of kindness under the flesh, we always do these things to satisfy our own desire for justification as our “contribution” towards eternal life.
Sources of Truth and Lies
We see all throughout the Bible that only God is good (Luke 18:19) and God only speaks truth (Hebrews 6:18). The opposite concept is that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). Lies led to our enslavement to sin.
We know faith starts with hearing God’s truth; likewise, evil starts with hearing Satan’s lies. Adam and Eve first heard the devil’s lies, then believed in the lies, putting trust in the devil. In turn, we have inherited a human nature prone to believing lies. Nobody likes to think they are of the devil, but if we hear lies and believe them, we prove our enslavement.[footnote]Though our corrupted human nature is inclined to believe the devil’s lies, we were designed to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (see Matthew 4:4, which quotes Deuteronomy 8:3).[/footnote]
Although we may say we reject the devil, we cannot escape his influence. Perhaps we do not intentionally follow the devil, but when we follow our own thoughts, listen to our own heart, or believe in ourselves to make the right decisions, we are nonetheless deceived; we remain in sin.
Free-will gospel says we make a decision to “let” God into our life. But the Spirit cannot enter our sinful heart even with permission. Our heart needs to be cut before God can enter. Circumcision of our inner being is the first step of receiving a new identity. This comes by the Word.
Once our sinful nature has been circumcised (Colossians 2:11), there is room for the gift of God’s nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). But at any point during the sanctification process, we can choose to reject God’s Word and Spirit and return to our old sinful nature.
Salvation is conditional. Christ stated that there is an unforgivable sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit.[footnote]Christ does not condemn the sin of speaking against himself. But remember that Christ emptied himself of the fullness of God in the incarnation. Since Christ regained this fullness upon his resurrection, this warning against blasphemy likely extends to all Persons of the Trinity.[/footnote]
“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Rejection of God’s Word and speaking against the Holy Spirit are essentially the same sin. The Spirit and the Word go hand in hand. Our salvation has one essential condition: we can’t reject God’s Word. Most believers don’t dare do this outright. But many believers do adjust their interpretation of Scripture to fit their biases instead of letting God’s Word speak clearly and directly.
Notice the conditional underlined words in the passages below; these relate to the actions we must take to keep the faith.
“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”
“They [Israel] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you [Gentiles] stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
—1 Corinthians 15:2
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.”
—2 Corinthians 13:5–6
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
—2 Timothy 1:13
“[H]e has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
“[T]ake care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
—2 Peter 3:17b–18a
“[B]e on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
—2 Peter 3:17b–18a, NIV
“As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”
—1 John 2:24–26, NIV
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
Some passages assure us that God will keep us in his care by his Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23), but other passages implore us to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25; Jude 20–21). We saw a similar contrast earlier: some passages state that God circumcises our heart, while others instruct us to circumcise our own heart. In each case, the contrast illustrates the relationship between law and grace. Grace comes first, then we can keep the law.
Each set of verses is inspired and correct. They are not contradictory, but sequential. First comes justification, then ongoing sanctification. But if we stop exercising our faith by acting in obedience, we can disrupt the sanctifying work God is doing in our life. By rejecting God’s truth, we reject his Spirit and put our salvation at risk.
The passages above are all addressed to existing believers, urging them to be on guard against Satan’s lies, to remain in obedience. If we say we believe something yet act in a contradictory way, we disprove our own testimony. Lip service to Christian belief is essentially a lie.
Humilty as Part of the New Nature
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
Once we receive the gospel message, we can’t take credit for the good works that follow. These are not a result of our good choices. Only through the implanted Word (God’s Spirit in us) can we produce works that reflect God’s nature. Humility and contrition are requirements; we must not indulge our human nature by taking even a little credit for helping God.
Here we read one of Paul’s teachings on humility along with the fuller context of the Old Testament passage he quotes:
“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
—1 Corinthians 1:30–31
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”
We cannot generate good works, so God puts his own righteousness-generating nature within us—if we submit to him.
“For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
A common theological debate is the question of whether salvation hinges on our free will or God’s predestination. This conversation often supposes we have an immortal soul that will either be converted (through our will) or saved (by God’s will).
As we’ve seen, neither side is biblically accurate. We contain a dual nature: our mortal soul with the immortal Spirit dwelling inside us. God has chosen to show us mercy, but his condition is that we keep his Word without altering any of his commands. It is that simple.
We can talk of “conversion” of our mortal soul, but we should clarify it is a conversion from our mortal nature to God’s immortal nature, a transformation only made complete upon our resurrection. Our conversion is taking place now, yet we are mortal at this time.
Conversion does not indicate the renovation of our human nature. Sin and death cannot be fixed or cleaned, only defeated. We often misinterpret the following passage to show that there is one ongoing process of gradual conversion. But note that the passage states a denial of the world. Only having rejected our human nature can we be transformed. We do not repair our mind but rather take on the mind of Christ, the will of God.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Increasing Our Faith Through the Word
Transformation describes the ongoing process of sanctification through which our sinful nature is sacrificed, denied, crucified, circumcised, drowned, and buried over time. As our self decreases, the new self increases. We are to be set apart from the world. Our will is transformed into God’s will.
“We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged.”
—2 Corinthians 10:15
“[W]alk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.”
—1 Thessalonians 3:11–12
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
—2 Thessalonians 1:3
Some of these passages seem to instruct us to do the work or increase faith ourselves, while others describe the Lord providing the work or faith. As we’ve seen, the greater biblical context is that God is the source of all righteousness, and he equips us to join in what he is doing.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
—2 Peter 1:3–11
Here Peter shows us the big picture. He begins his epistle by establishing that all good things come from God’s divine nature foremost, and we can become partakers of his nature when he grants the Spirit to us. Only then, through God’s nature, are we asked to keep his laws.
Every time we see a passage about increasing our faith or doing good, we need to remember the wider biblical context: the writer is speaking to the new man, not the old.
God’s Destiny for Us
God is not willing that any of his creation should perish but that all should come to him (2 Peter 3:9). First Timothy 2:4 similarly states that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
His will is truth. His Word is clear: our destiny is to obey God’s will.
God has predestined everyone to be saved and to do good works. He gave us his Word, which provides all the instruction we require. Everything was established from the beginning; we see God’s plan of salvation weaving throughout Scripture, starting with his promise to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, then continuing with his promises to Abraham and Christ’s fulfillment of the law. We see God’s master plan in Ephesians 1:9–10, and see a glimpse of its resolution in Revelation. He desires all to be saved, and through his grace he provides the means for all to be saved.
The biblical concept of predestination does not neatly match up with our cultural idea of what destiny is. God created us with one destiny in mind. Following the corruption of our nature in Eden, God ordained the plan of redemption, making salvation possible for us all. This is the destiny God wants for us and has planned for us. But on an individual level, he does not force us to submit to these plans.
Many people ultimately reject God’s Word and derail God’s will for their redemption. Such people were not predestined to reject God. On the contrary, Christ has offered them a portion of his inheritance. But so long as we retain our human nature, we can choose to opt out of the destiny God has prepared for us.
All people who do not believe in the gospel remain under the law, even if they do not hear the message of the law. The curse remains in effect. Yet Christ fulfills the law on everyone’s behalf to remove us from the penalties of the law (death and judgment). All people are destined to die under the law, which is the curse from the garden, unless they are first born again by the Spirit and sealed until they are born again in the body to eternal life at the resurrection.
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
In the verse below, Christ describes belief that comes from within a person’s human nature. We can only obtain the truth from God.
“The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
—John 7:18[footnote]Also see John 8:44 and Romans 2:8 for similar messages.[/footnote]
Pride is part of our sinful nature. We naturally want to take at least a little credit for salvation, pointing to our “choice” to follow God or invite him into our heart. But Scripture does not support any works-based interpretation of the gospel.
We simply cannot invent a private interpretation of Scripture.[footnote]See 2 Peter 1:20–21.[/footnote] A prophet, apostle, or average Joe cannot take liberties with a given passage to make it fit an existing worldview. We do have many liberties and freedoms in Christ. Private interpretation is not one of them. Revelation through his Word is all we need.
Secularizing the Gospel
When we compare the hybrid single-entity gospel (in which our immortal soul is reformed), the western humanistic gospel (in which all good people go to some kind of better place in the next life), and the biblical gospel message, we see that these all offer assurance; they all intend to give hope today and offer eternal life.
But unlike the biblical gospel, proponents of the hybrid message and the western world at large both believe that human beings possess a partially good immortal soul and can choose to act righteously.
According to our secular culture, every average, mostly good person goes to heaven; according to the hybrid single-entity gospel, Christians go to heaven based on the same relative judgment. Both perspectives agree that everyone is immortal and must go somewhere. So good and/or saved souls must go to heaven. There is not much of a difference between choosing moral goodness versus choosing God’s grace as the source of goodness. In either case, a person utilizes choice to obtain credit towards heaven.
Neither humanism nor the hybrid gospel considers the biblical dual-nature scenario; the focus on making choices through free will is ingrained into us. The dual-nature message must come from outside ourselves and pass into our hearts. How can anyone “hear” this message unless the unified body of Christ preaches the complete gospel?
The Christian presenting the hybrid gospel will argue that salvation is based entirely on grace and faith. Which is reasonable; grace does in fact lead to faith according to the biblical salvation message. But we are to be transformed over time, not converted instantly.
So it isn’t enough to simply proclaim the gospel (Matthew 28:19); we are also called to facilitate the discipleship of fellow believers (Matthew 28:20), encouraging each other to persevere and grow in the faith.
The complete gospel as written in the Word sounds different from the modern hybrid gospel that is often preached today. The modern hybrid sounds better to modern ears and blends in with cultural preferences, which mostly eliminates worldview clashes. But how can the Church preach such a convenient, inoffensive gospel and still be the salt or the light?
Some passages (such as Acts 17:30–31 and Hebrews 6:9–12) speak to spiritual salvation without mentioning the future resurrection, but these do not mention death at all; their purpose is to provide hope and assurance, not to argue for an immortal soul.
Present-tense salvation passages do not conflict with other Scripture, but some people take them out of context to promote the hybrid gospel. This is why people memorize Ephesians 2:8 (suggesting a competed salvation) and do not add 2:7 (looking forward to Christ’s future demonstration of grace). Isolated verses such as John 3:16 can be used to justify the hybrid single-entity concept and belief in a spirit-body resurrection into heaven. However, John 3:16 does not contradict the many other passages focused on a future bodily resurrection on earth. The Bible differentiates between spiritual salvation today and physical salvation at the second advent. We can’t focus on just one or the other; we need the Spirit today and tomorrow.
We were sealed when the Spirit came to give us a new heart, we are preserved today, and we will be saved in the future. Salvation is past, present, and future.
When Do We Become Immortal?
If we believe our soul is immortal and our human nature must be repaired, we will tend to believe in salvation as a past-tense work. But if we believe we are mortal, we will understand our need for continual reliance on God as he strengthens us, keeps us, preserves us, and sanctifies us before ultimately granting us immortality at the resurrection.
· Were we already immortal before birth (like Islam and Mormonism)?
· Did we receive an immortal soul at birth?
· Did we become retroactively immortal when we were born again?
· Do we become immortal when our mortal body dies?
· Do we become immortal upon the resurrection of our body?
The Bible only says yes to the last of these. Christ is waiting at the Father’s right hand until the proper time.[footnote]See Acts 3:21, Romans 6:5–9, 1 Corinthians 15:26 and Hebrews 10:13.[/footnote]
We need to wait until Christ comes again; then all enemies—including death—will be defeated. Christ will sit on the throne of glory in the kingdom where we will dwell together in glorified bodily form.[footnote]See Matthew 19:28; 25:31; 1 Corinthians 15:23–26).[/footnote]
Can we be 100 percent certain we don’t need to do something to help save ourselves? Don’t we have some choice or say in the matter, or does God just decide our fate on our behalf?
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Predetermination vs. Free Will
On one extreme, we can insist on complete predestination to the point where God controls everything; according to some schools of thought, God even selects which people will remain in their wickedness and be damned to hell. On the other extreme, we imagine our free will is so potent that we can choose righteousness and save ourselves. And of course many belief systems fall in the middle. Here are some common perspectives on our role in salvation:
· We need to decide to follow Christ; our salvation is 100 percent dependent on our free will. Life is all about choices.
· God does the first work and reaches out to us, then we choose the next step(s).
· We take the first step as a spiritual seeker, then God agrees to enter our heart as requested.
· Salvation depends on God’s choice. We cannot be saved unless we are predestined for salvation, and we have no ability to resist God’s grace if we are among his elect.
· God does the first and only work needed, then we live by his Spirit. Our faith is not based on the strength of our belief, but on the consistency of our obedience. We are to be humble and contrite, rejecting our own sinful nature.
The Bible is very clear and objective. There is nothing subjective about the gospel. We need to understand all clear passages, first relating to God’s plan of salvation; only then we can understand more difficult passages.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
—2 Corinthians 3:4–6
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
We can reject God’s grace using our natural free will. We can use our free will to sin—but not to choose to follow Christ. Faith flows out of the new nature we receive from God, not out of our old human nature.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
Human nature is to rebel against the Maker. He calls prodigals back, even though we lavishly spend our life away. We act as if we own our body, our soul, or our very life––when in reality all belongs to God. He simply wants to share his inheritance with us.
“For all the earth is mine.”
“For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.”