New Birth and the Believer’s Two Natures (1)
A Summary and a Historical Review
A recent claim—that the doctrine of the believer’s two natures was imported into Christianity from heathen religions—has prompted this brief review.
The converse is true. People are “converted” to religions by indoctrination, coercion or attraction. They are radicalised by the efforts of others or they make up their own minds in self-will. Of course, some become “Christians” in this way. But a distinctive feature of true Christianity is that a believer is born again. There is such a thing as a “professing” Christian as contrasted with a true Christian. But there is no such thing as a professing Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc, as contrasted to a “real” one. What is fundamentally characteristic of Christianity—distinct from all forms of man-made religion—is that the true Christian has received a new birth.
In the matter of the believer’s two natures, the real question is—
What is New Birth?
It is the sovereign act of God (John 1:13; James 1:18), by means of His Spirit and His word (John 3:5; 1. Pet.1:23), implanting a capacity within a man which renders him capable of seeing God’s rights and his obligations to them (John 3:3) and which causes him to crave a deliverance which can only be met by the knowledge of the redemptive work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2; Rom. 7:24; 8,2).
This new capacity is called in Scripture a “seed” (1 John 3:9). It is planted with the objective of producing fruit (James 1:18).
It is not material but spiritual (John 3:6). It takes character from the Spirit of God who produces it. This new capacity enables one to:
- see the kingdom of God (John 3:3)
- enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)
- practise righteousness (1 John 2:29)
- not practise sin (1 John 3:3)
- love one another (1 John 4:7)
- believe that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1)
- keep himself from the wicked one (1 John 5:18)
The matter of being born again is named by those who were pillars in Christianity— James, Peter and John (Gal.2:9). It is not named by Paul, but its effects are very clearly described by him on Romans 7. This chapter, often grossly misunderstood, gives an idealised description of one who has been born again (who has an inward man capable of delighting in God’s law, v.22) but who is still in the flesh (v.5) having desires to practise good without the power to do so (v.19) and thus bringing forth fruit unto death (v.5, 10). It describes a process in which one learns that there are two opposite influences working within him (v.20-21) and at the end of which he learns to cry out to the One who can provide for him a once-for-all deliverance (v.24-25).
The result of this deliverance is seen in Romans 8. After thus receiving Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can be known—as the power of life (v.1-13) and as a living Person (v.14 onwards) who leads, witnesses, intercedes, etc.
Neither the reception of a new capacity—a new seed—by new birth, nor the reception of the Holy Spirit—a new power—by believing Christ’s person and work (Eph.1:13) eradicate the existence of the “flesh” in a believer. It remains flesh (John 3:6). It remains sinful (Rom.7:17). It remains in me (Rom.7:18, 20) – but I must not, and do not need to, live according to it (Rom.8:12-13). Although the flesh is in me, I am no longer “in the flesh” (Rom.8:9)—that is, my position before God is not characterised by what I am naturally as a child of Adam.
The flesh, indwelling sin, the law of sin—these biblical terms are usually described by the human term, “the old nature”. God’s seed, a new spirit, the inward man—these are some of the biblical terms usually described by the human term “the new nature”.
In any healthy communication process, terms are coined to compress large subjects into small statements. This is very common in Bible teaching. “Trinity”, “eternal Son”, “two natures” are not Bible terms. They are human terms. But they are commonly used as representations of important Bible truths.
 The point, which divides the mass of those who have written and preached on it, as well is of multitudes of those influenced by them, is the question whether the experience described is that of a natural man or of a Christian. It is assumed on both sides that one or other it must be. But the assumption is an error, and the failure of both lies exactly here. It is impossible rightly to understand the passage if applied either to a natural man or to a Christian. There may be, there is, a transitional state constantly found in souls when they are born again, but not yet in conscious deliverance; and this is the precise state, here in question. … It is the case of one quickened, but not yet submitting to the righteousness of God. Hence, being jealous for God but ignorant of the full place in which redemption sets the believer, such a soul places itself under law; and the operation of the law is therefore exhibited to us. There is an awakened conscience, but no power. If the new nature were not there, such experience could not be: if the Holy Ghost were there, power would follow, as we see in Romans 8 where we have the proper normal state of the Christian. The state described, however, is in no case I believe final, but transitional, though bad and legal teaching may keep a soul in it till grace acts fully, it may be, on a deathbed, or what is equivalent.
(W Kelly. Notes on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Romans. Page 102.)
 As Mr Darby pointed out: “A regenerate man may be in the flesh, as to the condition and standing of his own soul, though he be not so in God’s sight; nay, this is the very case supposed in Romans 7” Collected Writings, vol. 7, p. 372.