John MacArthur's
One Nature Position

5) John MacArthur's Teaching on the Old Man


John MacArthur's teaching on the old man harmonizes with his one nature position and is as follows:

The old man is crucified (Rom. 6:6) and corrupt (Eph. 4:22). What is it that was corrupt in us? It's our adamic nature, our sin nature; it was our unregenerate self and at conversion it was killed. It is dead. It is gone. People say to me so very often, 'Don't you believe that a Christian has a new and an old man?' and I always say, 'No!' because the old man that was corrupt has been crucified and it is dead and you are a new man. The old man is the unregenerated self. The old man is that which was replaced by the generated man. If you have a new man and an old man then you have a regenerated part and an unregenerated part. In other words, you are half saved and half lost. You're not half regenerated and half unregenerated. You're not a new regenerate man and an old unregenerate man warring against each other. There's a war in there, but it isn't between the old creature and the new creature because you're just a new creature. We don't have a new man and an old man...The old man is the unregenerate self...the new man is the regenerated self, the saved self, the redeemed self...You're a brand new creature (Tape GC 2147 on Colossians 3:9-11, 1976).

Notice that he equates the old man with the adamic, sin nature (the old nature). Hence, in MacArthur's thinking the old man=the old nature, and when he says that the old man is dead and gone he also means that the adamic, sinful nature is dead and gone. Thus he concludes that the believer has but one nature, the new nature, because he says that the believer is a new man (new man=new nature).

MacArthur also says this about the old man: "When you became a Christian you ceased to be an old man and you became a new man. 'If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.' You aren't an old man anymore. You don't have an old man anymore. You are a new man. There aren't two of you, there's only one of you, and that's the one new man" (Tape GC 2147, Col. 3:9-11, 1976). Keep in mind that MacArthur equates the old man with the old nature. Thus when he says, "You don't have an old man anymore" he also means "You don't have an old nature anymore." This is his one nature position.

In his magazine article "The Good Natured Believer" he says, "According to the apostle Paul, the old man has been put off, having been replaced by the new man...The believer is one new man. The old man has ceased to exist. Salvation brings about a radical change in the nature of the believer" (The Masterpiece, March/April 1990, p. 20).

Dr. MacArthur teaches that every believer has already put off the old man and that this took place at the point of repentance/salvation. Of course, positionally this is true of every believer in Christ as we read in Colossians 3:9, "seeing ye have put off the old man with his deeds" (This verse says that believers have put off the old man. It's not something that we are to do but it's something that has already been done.)

When considering the N.T. teaching on the "old man/new man", we need to be very careful to do what Dr. MacArthur often fails to do, namely, to make a clear distinction between a believer's standing and state, his position and his actual condition. Even though the old man and his deeds have been put off positionally (Col. 3:9), yet experientially this is not always so (and that is why believers are told to "put off" anger, wrath, malice, etc.--Col. 3:8). Dr. MacArthur seems to teach that both positionally and experientially the old man and his deeds have already been put off.

According to MacArthur, Ephesians 4:22 is not a command telling believers to "put off the old man." He says, "It is not a command but a statement of fact" and then he gives the rendering of the verse according to John Murray: "so that ye have put off according to the former manner of life the old man" (Freedom From Sin, p. 32). MacArthur says that the verbs "put off" and "put on" in Ephesians 4:22,24 are "infinitives (which) describe the saving truth in Jesus and are not imperatives directed to Christians" (EPHESIANS, pp. 175-176).

MacArthur concludes that the "old man" or "old self" is no longer existent in the believer at all: "The inescapable conclusion from what Paul says in Romans and Colossians is that 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 identify clearly means that salvation is transformation. It is not the addition of a new self to an old self. In Christ, the old self no longer exists (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17)...The old self is the unconverted nature...The gospel invitation is to lay the old self aside in repentance from sin that includes not just sorrow about sin but a turning from sin to God" (EPHESIANS, p. 177). Thus MacArthur teaches that a person "puts off" the old man at the point of salvation by means of repentance. He also teaches that a believer does not need to put off the old man because this has already been done and "the old man has ceased to exist" (Freedom From Sin, p. 33). He defines a Christian as "one who has already put off the old nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 33).

MacArthur's understanding of Ephesians 4:22,24 is also set forth in his major commentary on Romans 1-8 (Moody Press), pages 324,325.

Dr. MacArthur's understanding of Ephesians 4:22 needs to be answered. He cannot understand the verb "put off" as a command directed toward the believer because this runs counter to his "one nature" position. And yet, most of Bible versions translate the verse giving it an imperative sense. This is true of the NASB, the Amplified, the RSV, and many others. Also the KJV, NKJV and NIV renderings also seem to strongly suggest the imperative idea. Some Greek manuscripts even have the verb in the imperative mood. Commentators such as Homer Kent, Alford, Matthew Henry, Hendriksen and many others see the verb as imperative in force, though not in form.

Dr. MacArthur is correct in saying that the verb is an infinitive. It should be connected with the verb "taught" in verse 21. "Ye have been put off the old put on the new man." This was the doctrine or teaching of the apostles, that the old man was to be put off and the new man was to be put on. According to Christ's teaching through the apostles, this is what BELIEVERS need to do. (MacArthur says that believers do not need to do this, but that unsaved sinners need to put off the old man by coming to Christ in repentance).

If believers need to put off the old man, then why does Colossians 3:9 teach that believers have already put off the old man? This apparent conflict is easily resolved when we realize that Paul in Colossians is speaking of the believer's POSITION where as Paul in Ephesians is speaking of the believers CONDITION. By faith the believer is to do what God has already done in fact. MacArthur fails to make this distinction. The same distinction must be made elsewhere in Paul's epistles. For example, in Galatians 3:27 God says that every believer has already put on Christ (positionally). But in Romans 13:14 we have the imperative: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." We are told to do in faith (Rom. 13:14) what God has already done in fact (Gal. 3:27). The same is true of the old man. How do I put off the old man? By reckoning on the fact that God has already done it (cf. Rom. 6:6).

Dispensationalists have recognized this important distinction. C.I. Scofield said, "It is at once evident that here (Eph. 4:22) the phrase ('old man') occurs in relation to the believer's state, as in Romans 6:6 it occurs in relation to the believer's standing. Positionally, therefore, the 'old man' is crucified; experientially, the believer is to 'put off' the 'old man' and his ways" (Scofield Bible Correspondence Course, p. 1222).

Arthur T. Pierson said it this way, "We must make actually true what is judicially true and let our state correspond with our standing. Ye have died judicially, mortify therefore your members--be dead actually. Judicially ye have put off the old man and put on the new man, now practically and actually put off and put on" (Shall We Continue in Sin, p. 75).

Unger in his Handbook says, "Deliverance comes by claiming our in-Christ position by faith, making it an experiential reality" (see under Ephesians 4).

Miles Stanford has said it this way (his quote is in red):

"1. Put Off the Old

a. Fact

'Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him' (Rom. 6:6, NASB. 'seeing that ye have put off the old man' (Col. 3:9). Positionally, we were separated from the old Adamic nature in our identification with Christ on the cross.

b. Faith

'That ye put off concerning the former conversation (manner of life) the old man' (Eph. 4:22). By faith in our new, sanctified position, we turn from, we consider as crucified, the principle of sin and self within. We count ourselves to be new creations in Christ, having died to sin and self. That is our part in putting off the old man that God put off from us at the cross."

(The Complete Green Letters, p. 82)

Miles Stanford, in his paper entitled "The Tragedy of Romans 5:12" has clarified this issue as follows: "Here is the crux of the matter: it is not possible for the source of sin (the old Adamic man) to be eradicated, while retaining sin, the product of that sinful source. Effect must have a cause! If you have sin, you have its source, i.e., the Adamic old man. Paul exhorts the believers to `put off [by faith] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts' (Eph. 4:22). He could not insist that the believer put off that which is not in residence! `He that hath the Son, hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life' (1 John 5:12). Similarly, he that hath the Adamic old man, hath sin; he that hath not the Adamic old man, hath not sin. The principle of cause and effect is irrevocable (p.4)."

Miles Stanford adds this observation: "Every honest believer who knows anything about the extensive and all-important Romans Seven experience, realizes that the sins in his Christian life are identical to those of his unsaved life. They are the works of the same indwelling source--the same all-too-familiar characteristics of the person of the first Adam. They are not the manifestation of some residual sinful habits, left behind by some long-gone, eradicated Adamic source" (p.5).

Dr. MacArthur consistently fails to make the important distinction between a believer's position in Christ and the believer's actual condition or state. For example, he often cites 2 Corinthians 5:17 which refers to a believer's position in Christ but he makes it refer to the believer's actual state and condition. The Corinthians as to their actual condition and state were walking just as unsaved men (1 Cor. 3:3). They were not walking as new creatures at all, even though this is what they were positionally. The more the believer reckons upon the fact of his position in Christ by faith, the more it will become true of his actual condition. Apart from faith the enjoyment of being a new creature will not be experienced.


Apparently MacArthur believes it does. He correctly teaches that the old man was crucified (Rom. 6:6), but he wrongly teaches that this means the old man is dead and GONE (see opening quotation of this chapter). His reasoning is as follows: The OLD MAN has been CRUCIFIED; and therefore the OLD MAN IS GONE. There is no more OLD MAN.

Let's examine this logic in light of other passages which speak of CRUCIFIXION. Galatians 5:24 teaches that the FLESH has been CRUCIFIED. Does this mean that the FLESH is GONE and that the FLESH is no more? Obviously MacArthur would not say this because he teaches that the believer still struggles with the flesh.

Galatians 6:14 teaches that the WORLD has been crucified! Does this mean that the world is gone and that there is no more world? Obviously we would not want to conclude this!

In Galatians 2:20 the Scripture teaches that the SINNER has been crucified. Paul said, "I have been CRUCIFIED with Christ." Does this mean that the sinner is no more and is gone? Obviously not.

MacArthur is wrong to assume that the crucifixion of the old man means that the old man has been eradicated. Sin must have a SOURCE. As Miles Stanford has well said: "Sin in the lost, and sin in the saved, has the life of a man as its source, i.e., the first Adam. If you have no Adam, you have no sin; if you have sin, you have its source, the old man, the fleshly Adam! You cannot eradicate the source, the man, and still have 'remaining sin,' or 'the old grave clothes.' Sin must have its source, i.e. Adam the first" (Critique of MacArthur's book, The Vanishing Conscience, by Miles Stanford, 840 Vindicator Dr., #111, Colorado Springs, CO 80919, page 3).

John MacArthur's One Nature Position - Index


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