1) John MacArthur's One Nature Teaching
The IFCA doctrinal statement very clearly affirms that the believer has TWO NATURES, a new nature and an old nature: "We believe that every saved person possesses two natures, with provision made for victory of the new nature over the old nature through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and, that all claims to the eradication of the old nature in this life are unscriptural." (Section 1, Article 8)
Now let us see what Dr. MacArthur teaches regarding the two natures of the believer:
HIS DENIAL OF THE TWO NATURES (HIS ONE NATURE POSITION):
"I believe it is a serious misunderstanding to think of the believer as having both an old and new nature. Believers do not have dual personalities...there is no such thing as an old nature in the believer" (Freedom From Sin--ROMANS 6-7, Moody Press, pp. 31-32). Question: Does this mean that he believes that the IFCA statement of faith (Section 1, Article 8) reflects a "serious misunderstanding"? And if so, how could he sign it and be in hearty agreement?
"Salvation is not a matter of improvement or perfection of what has previously existed. It is total transformation...At the new birth a person becomes `a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come' (2 Cor. 5:17). It is not simply that he receives something new but that he becomes someone new...The new nature is not added to the old nature but replaces it. The transformed person is a completely new `I.' Biblical terminology, then, does not say that a Christian has two different natures. He has but one nature, the new nature in Christ. The old self dies and the new self lives; they do not coexist. It is not a remaining old nature but the remaining garment of sinful flesh that causes Christians to sin. The Christian is a single new person, a totally new creation, not a spiritual schizophrenic...The believer as a total person is transformed but not yet wholly perfect. He has residing sin but no longer reigning sin. He is no longer the old man corrupted but is now the new man created in righteousness and holiness, awaiting full salvation." (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary-EPHESIANS, p. 164)
"The biggest difficulty in believing that sin is a vanquished foe is the constant conflict believers have with sin. When you destroy people's convenient theological categories by teaching what God really says--that there is only one nature in the believer--many don't know how to respond" (Freedom From Sin, p. 52).
"The believer does not have two competing natures, the old and the new; but one new nature that is still incarcerated in unredeemed flesh" [Study Bible Note under Romans 6:6].
"Explaining the reality that the believer has only one new nature is not simply playing a psychological word game. It isn't saying to yourself, `I'm really wonderful, holy, and righteous', until you finally convince yourself of something that isn't true. The point is that God's Word teaches that sin's power is broken in the life of the believer, and our response is to believe that to be true" (Freedom From Sin, p. 52).
"Nor is Paul describing a dualistic, schizophrenic Christian...Christians sin because of the vestiges of sinful flesh, not because they have the same old active sinful nature. Certainly we sin, but when we sin it is contrary to our nature, not because we have two dispositions—one sinful and one not" (Faith Works, p. 116).
"If you are a Christian, it's a serious misunderstanding to think of yourself as having both an old and new nature. We do not have a dual personality! Assuming the dual nature of the believer could easily lead one to excuse all kinds of sins by blaming them on the old nature" ("The Good Natured Believer" by John MacArthur in The Masterpiece magazine, March/April 1990, p. 18).
"I know of a pastor who counsels premarital couples to take a shower together. He tells them not to worry about sin, saying that when we sin, it is simply a manifestation of our old nature. He believes the old nature is going to sin anyway, so there's nothing believers can do about it. But according to the Apostle Paul, the believer's old nature is dead and buried. With that in mind, how can we possibly serve sin? Those who hold the view that sees a dual nature in the believer could easily attempt to excuse all kinds of sins by blaming them on the old nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 31; and this same illustration was used in his article, "The Good Natured Believer" which appeared in The Masterpiece, March/April 1990, p. 18). Note: This quote implies that those who teach that a believer possesses both an old and new nature (as the IFCA doctrinal statement clearly states) will be prone to easily excuse all kinds of sins, even as the pastor in the wicked illustration above. This is a very unfair representation of those who hold to the two natures of the believer. Those who hold to the two nature position would condemn the above pastor just as strongly as Dr. MacArthur does.
"Salvation is a spiritual union with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection that can also be described as the death of the `old self' and the resurrection of the `new self,' who now walks in `newness of life.' This union and new identity clearly means that salvation is transformation. It is not addition of a new self to an old self. In Christ, the old self no longer exists (compare 2 Cor. 5:17)." (EPHESIANS, p. 177)
"Paul declares `I have been crucified with Christ,'--that is, my old `I' is dead and no longer exists" (Romans 1-8, Moody Press, p. 323).
"According to Romans 6, the old nature represents a person before salvation, who exists solely in a state of habitual sinfulness. The new nature, however, describes a regenerate man who lives a life of righteousness and holiness that is honoring to God" (Freedom From Sin, p. 43).
"But according to the Apostle Paul, our old nature is dead and buried" ("The Good Natured Believer", The Masterpiece, March/April 1990, p. 18).
"Our old self...has been crucified and is now dead, and therefore cannot dictate to us anymore" (Romans 1-8, p. 325).
"Some believe 1 John 3:6,9 mean our new nature can't sin, but our old nature still does. But those verses say nothing about the old and new natures...I'm not convinced there are two natures; I think you have one new nature that has the possibility of sinning" (Marks of a True Believer--1 John 2:18-4:21, Moody Press, p. 51). Such a statement seems to imply that the source of sin is to be found in the new nature. This is not what MacArthur teaches, as we shall see later. But this quote does point out MacArthur's dilemma. If the believer does not have an old nature, as MacArthur teaches, then the source of sin cannot be the old nature, but sin must come from some other source. Later we consider closely MacArthur's teaching as to where sin in the believer comes from.
"I have had a terrible time trying to figure out which is my old man and which is my new man. I gave up a long time ago. I'm just me! I know one thing--when I sin I'm involved...I'm not even convinced you have two natures. I think you just have one new one that has the possibility of sinning. You can't split yourself up into little pieces...In the new man and in the new nature there is the capacity for sin" (Tape GC 2111 on 1 John 3:4-10, 1975).
"Paul is saying in Romans: 'Look. The old man is done away, the old nature is destroyed" (Your Completeness in Christ, p. 100).
"...the old self is gone" (Colossians and Philemon, p. 149).
"As Christians, our old life has been condemned, crucified, and done away with. The old life is gone." (Tape GC 2147).
According to Dr. MacArthur, being "dead to sin" means that "I no longer possess a sin nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 50).
MacArthur teaches that when a person becomes a Christian "God takes away the old nature" and gives the believer a new nature (Your Completeness in Christ--Colossians 1:24-2:23, p. 96).
"The dualistic view that a Christian has two natures uses unbiblical terminology and can lead to perception that is extremely destructive of holy living" (Romans 1-8, Moody Press, p. 323-324).
"True believers have already been removed from the presence and control of the old sinful self" (Romans 1-8, p. 325).
"No matter how radical our outer transformation at the time of salvation may have been for the better, it is difficult to comprehend that we no longer have the fallen sin nature and that our new nature is actually divine" (Romans 1-8, p. 334).
"That view of salvation [a view which MacArthur claims is a false view] often includes the idea that, although trust in Christ brings the believer a new nature, the old nature remains fully operative, and that the Christian life is essentially a battle between his two resident natures" (Romans 1-8, p. 334)
"A person cannot have two different and opposing natures at the same time" (Romans 1-8, p. 344).
"He [Paul in Romans 7] was certainly not teaching that a Christian has two natures or two personalities. There is just one saved person, just as previously there was one lost person" (Romans 1-8, p. 386). [Note: We would agree that there is just one saved person, and yet this one saved person has two natures. The Lord Jesus Christ was one Person and yet He had two natures, the human and the divine. MacArthur seems to be implying that is there are two natures then there must be two persons, and this is not true]
"The relation of the old self and the new self has been much disputed. Many hold that at salvation believers receive a new self but also keep the old self. Salvation thus becomes addition, not transformation...Such a view, however, is not precisely consistent with biblical teaching. At salvation the old self was done away with. [He then cites 2 Cor. 5:17 and Rom. 6:6] Salvation is transformation—the old self is gone, replaced by the new self" (Colossians and Philemon, p. 148).
"To argue that believers have both an old and a new self is to argue in effect that the believer's soul is half regenerate and half unregenerate. There is no support for such a spiritual half-breed in Scripture" (Colossians and Philemon, p. 149).
"Just as it is impossible to be in Adam and in Christ at the same time, so also it is impossible to be or to have an old and new self" (Colossians and Philemon, p. 149).
"Scripture does not support a dualistic view. Romans 6:6 clearly says that our old self was crucified with Christ. The person we were before we trusted Christ is no more. Our nature is changed, transformed. We are new creations, not merely the same old creatures with a new side to our personalities" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 218-219, Word Publishing, 1994).
"The OLD SELF refers to the unregenerate nature, who we were when we were IN ADAM. It is not the dark side of a Jekyll-Hyde disposition. It is not half a dual temperament unique to Christians. It is not an `old nature' that battles with our new nature for control of our wills. It is simply who we used to be before we were born again. The old self is no more. It has been crucified, put off, laid aside" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 137).
MacArthur Labels the Scofield/Dispensational View of the Two Natures as Erroneous:
"I oppose the two-nature dualism that was popularized by The Scofield Reference Bible. Since this is probably the predominant view in American evangelicalism today, it is helpful to examine what is being taught. Scofield believed all Christians have two active natures--the old or Adamic nature, and the divine nature received through the new birth. These, he taught, are equal but opposite realities that operate in every believer. The old Adamic nature--with its love for sin, its thoroughgoing depravity, all its evil propensities and its inability to love God or do good--is still alive and powerful. The new divine nature is given only to believers, but once implanted within, it competes with the old nature for control of the will. Therefore, according to this view, every Christian still has the old sinful nature to contend with--but now has a new, godly nature as well. It is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 217).
Summary of MacArthur's denial of the two natures:
As time passes MacArthur seems to become more dogmatic in his assertion that the believer has only one nature. Here are a few of his statements which have already been cited above along with the year when the statement was made:
In 1975 he said, "I'm not even convinced you have two natures, I think you just have one new one that has the possibility of sinning" (Tape GC 2111).
In his book published in 1986 he said, "Biblical terminology, then, does not say that a Christian has two different natures. He has but one nature, the new nature in Christ" (Ephesians, p. 164).
In his book published in 1987 he said, "I believe it is a serious misunderstanding to think of the believer as having both an old and new nature...there is no such thing as an old nature in the believer" (Freedom From Sin, pp. 31-32).
In his magazine article, March/April 1990 he said, "it's a serious misunderstanding to think of yourself as having both an old and new nature" (The Masterpiece, p. 18, and the article is entitled, "The Good Natured Believer." Even this title reflects his one nature position).
In his major commentary in 1991 he said, "The dualistic view that a Christian has two natures uses unbiblical terminology and can lead to perception that is extremely destructive of holy living....we no longer have the fallen sin nature....a person cannot have two different and opposing natures at the same time" (Romans 1-8, pp. 323, 324, 334).
In another major commentary in 1992 he said, "...so also is it impossible to be or to have an old and new self" (Colossians and Philemon, p. 149).
MACARTHUR'S SEEMINGLY CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS CONCERNING ERADICATION AND THE OLD NATURE:
Dr. MacArthur makes it very clear that the "eradication of the believer's sin nature" is not a Biblical doctrine (see Freedom From Sin, p. 17). "Some theologians would tell us you get to the point where your sin nature is eradicated...It has never been eradicated" (Tape GC 45-53, Romans 7).
And yet in the quotes cited above MacArthur says the following: "There is no such thing as an old nature in the believer." "There is only one nature in the believer." "The old self no longer exists." "I no longer possess a sin nature." "God takes away the old nature." "The old nature is destroyed" (see documentation above) So MacArthur is saying that there is no such thing as an old nature in the believer...it does not exist, it has been destroyed, and yet it has not been eradicated! These statements are contradictory. If it is not eradicated then it must still be there, but how can it still be there if it does not exist? How can it still be there if the believer no longer possesses it? How can it be "destroyed" and yet not eradicated? (Note: As we will see later, what MacArthur really seems to be teaching is this: The believer does not have an old nature, just a new nature. But the believer still has sin. The source of sin in the believer is not the old nature which he no longer possesses, but the source of sin is the believer's unredeemed body where sin resides. When a person is saved God redeems the soul but not the body. But if the old nature has been crucified and destroyed and "put off" as MacArthur teaches, then how can he say that it has not been eradicated? Probably MacArthur is here guarding against the false teaching of sinless perfection (which he does not teach). He recognizes that sin is still present in the believer and he doesn't want anyone to think that this sin principle is no longer there, and so he teaches against the idea of sin being eradicated. But let it be said again that MacArthur strongly teaches that the old nature in the believer has been put off and does not exist ).
On the one hand MacArthur says, "A person cannot have two different and opposing natures at the same time" (Romans 1-8, p. 344), but in the same book he says, "The passage [Romans 7] is obviously a poignant account of a person's inner conflict with himself, one part of him pulling one direction and another part pulling the opposite. The conflict is real and it is intense" (p. 378). How can there be such a conflict without two different and opposing natures?
On the one hand MacArthur teaches that the old self, the "old I," is "dead and no longer exists" (Romans 1-8, p. 323), but elsewhere in the same book he says, "The Christian can say that a new man has already arisen in him, but he also must confess that the sinful part [sic] his old man has not yet ceased to be" (p.393). Has it ceased to exist or not?
On the one hand MacArthur teaches that "the old self has been made a corpse; and a corpse, by definition, has in it no remaining vestige of life" (Romans 1-8, p. 318), but in the same book he says this: "because the believer is still clothed in the old self, he sometimes resists God's will" (p. 412). If the old self has ceased to exist, how can the believed be clothed in him? If the old self is a corpse and has no life at all, how can it cause the believer to resist God's will?
MACARTHUR'S TEACHING THAT SALVATION IS A TRANSFORMATION, NOT AN ADDITION:
"Christians are often taught that salvation is merely addition, not transformation. They therefore believe your new nature is added to your old nature, and you spend the rest of your life in a war zone" (Freedom From Sin, p. 51). "A believer is a new creation in Christ...When a person comes to Christ, he shares in His death and resurrection and becomes a different person...Those who simply add Christ to their sinful life-styles are not saved at all" (Freedom From Sin, pp. 21-22)
"Salvation brings about a radical change in the nature of the believer...The old man has ceased to exist" (Freedom From Sin, p. 33). "Salvation begins with the creative act of God in totally remaking the believer's nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 69). "God has changed our nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 168).
"The renewal of the mind in salvation brings not simply a renovation of character, but transformation of the old to the new self. In Christ, the old self no longer exists" [Study Bible Note under Ephesians 4:24].
"Second Corinthians 5:17 says, 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.' That's why I'm not comfortable about the old man/new man concept. You don't keep the old man and have a new man added to it. I don't see this as an addition; I see it as a new life" (Marks of a True Believer, pp. 62-63).
"(quotes 2 Cor. 5:17) He is re-created, all new! It isn't just the addition of a new thing to the old thing...I don't feel comfortable about the idea of an old man and a new man, (that) you just keep the lousy old man and get a new man added to it. I don't see it as an addition. I see it as a total new life" (Tape GC 2111, 1 John 3:4-10, 1975, Side 2).
"We have a new heart--not an added one, but a whole different one" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 219).
"If...salvation is truly a work of God, it cannot be defective. It cannot fail to impact an individual's behavior. It cannot leave his desires unchanged or his conduct unaltered. It cannot result is a fruitless life. It is the work of God and will continue steadfastly from its inception to ultimate perfection (Philippians 1:6)" (Gospel According to Jesus, p. 74).
Note: MacArthur key proof text that salvation is transformation is 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are new creatures in Christ. This verse speaks of our position in Christ, it does not speak of the believer's actual condition. A new creature may or may not act as a new creature. Remember, Paul told the Corinthians that they were new creatures, and yet he also had to tell them in his first epistle that they were carnal, and they walked as men!
We should also note that in the Bible the term transformation (metamorphoomai) is used twice of the believer (Romans 12:2 and 2 Cor. 3:18). In both places the term is used of the progressive and gradual change into Christ-likeness which takes place throughout the Christian life. We are to be constantly, day by day, transformed by the renewing of our minds and as we behold the glory of Christ in the Word of God we are constantly being changed from one stage of glory to the next. These verses speak not of a total transformation at the point of justification, but of a gradual transformation which is to be taking place throughout the Christian life. MacArthur, on the other hand, seems to be speaking of a sudden and complete transformation that happens the moment a person is saved.
This kind of teaching seems common among Reformed men. For example, R.C.Sproul defines REGENERATION as a change in a person's nature. According to this view, regeneration has transformed the old nature into something good. Here are his words:
"Regeneration is a vital change in a person's nature....All who are regenerated are changed. Reformed theology views regeneration as the immediate supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that effects the change of the soul's disposition....The believer is a changed person. He is still a sinner but is in process of spiritual reversal that has, by the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit, already begun" (R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone, pages 111,26).
Dispensationalists have taught that REGENERATION is the impartation of a new nature but not the transformation of the old nature. It is true that the believer is a changed person, but this is because he possesses Christ, not because his old nature has been improved or reformed or transformed. Scofield said it this way:
The Scriptures teach that every regenerate person is the possessor of two natures: one, received by natural birth, which is wholly and hopelessly bad; and a new nature, received through the new birth, which is the nature of God Himself, and therefore wholly good....The believer, while still having his old nature, unchanged and unchangeable, has received a new nature which `after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.' It will be seen that regeneration is a creation, not a mere transformation—the bringing in a new thing, not the change of an old. (C.I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, chapter on "The Believer's Two Natures").
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