The Residue of the Old Nature

After their new birth, Christians soon discover that they are two-natured people, experiencing what Paul calls the war between “the Spirit and the flesh”:

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Gal. 5:17).

The residue of the old, sinful nature that remains Paul refers to as “the flesh.” These two natures within us produce different desires, which, if yielded to, produce different actions and lifestyles. Notice the contrast Paul makes between the “deeds of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit”:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:19-23).

Obviously it is possible for Christians to yield to the flesh; otherwise Paul would not have warned them that if they make a practice of following the flesh, they will not inherit God’s kingdom. In his letter to the Romans, Paul also wrote of the two natures of every Christian and warned of the same consequence of yielding to the flesh:

And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness….So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Rom. 8:10, 12-14, emphasis added).

This is clearly a warning to Christians. Living (that would indicate a regular practice) according to the flesh results in death. Paul must have been warning about spiritual death, because everyone eventually dies physically, even Christians who “putting to death the deeds of the body.”

A Christian might temporarily fall into one of the sins that Paul listed; but, when a believer does sin, he’ll feel convicted and hopefully repent. Anyone who confesses his sin and asks God’s forgiveness will, of course, be cleansed (see 1 John 1:9).

When a Christian sins, it doesn’t mean he has broken his relationship with God-it means he has broken his fellowship. He is still God’s child, but he is now God’s disobedient child. If the believer doesn’t confess his sin, he places himself in a position to be disciplined by the Lord.