@conmeg – I understand exactly how you feel. Every Christian does.
Your brother is right that you’ve been “made good” by the new birth of the Spirit at salvation; you’re right that sanctification is a lifelong process. As for which of you is “righter” in your overall assessment, I’ll have to side with your brother. I’ll give you a short answer as to why, followed by a deeper dive into the how of it all which you can read if you’re interested.
I believe the Apostle Paul would take issue with your statement that the sinful nature remains within you and hence you cannot be called good. In Romans 7, he clarifies that the sinful nature is in his flesh, which is not the part of himself that he identifies with (verses 17-25). He repeatedly says that it’s not the “real him” that’s driving the sin in his life, but the flesh that he’s stuck with until the resurrection.
But putting all that the Bible says about sinners becoming saints together, the bigger picture that emerges is this:
Adam was created with a natural body from the dust of this world on the outside, and a supernatural soul reflecting the likeness of the Creator breathed into him on the inside. So man’s body can interact with the natural world, and his soul can commune supernaturally with God. Eve was created with the same capacities – all of which we refer to as our “human nature”.
This “soul” (a word I’ll use for simplicity) is a triune reflection of the image of God with a “mind to reason” as God does, a “heart to feel” as God feels, and a free “will to act” as God acts (again, words chosen for simplicity’s sake).
When Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation, her mind was corrupted by believing a lie, her heart was corrupted by desiring the forbidden, her will was corrupted by choosing to disobey, and her body was corrupted by the fruit she swallowed – Adam too, for similar reasons that are open to discussion.
This introduced something alien to our “human nature”. We call it the “sin nature”, and it corrupts us inside and out.
But notice that the sin nature is something in addition to our human nature. Our human nature itself is not what’s sinful about us. Adam and Eve each had uncorrupted human natures before the temptation. Jesus was born with an unstained human nature that He never corrupted. Our human nature is actually incompatible with the sin nature – humans weren’t designed for sin. In fact, sin kills humans. The sin nature dulls our image of God, hinders our reflection of Him and dehumanizes us. The more our minds are controlled by lies, our hearts by lust, and our wills by fallen urges, and the more we gratify our fallen flesh, the less “humane”, the more “bestial” we become – inside and out.
So the sin nature “burns away” at our humanity, degrading it over time.
But when a sinner’s mind opens to the truth of the gospel, his heart turns from sin to the Savior, his will says “I do” to the heavenly Groom, then the sin nature inside him is nailed to the cross as a new nature inside is born (or resurrected, both phrases are Biblical) redeeming the soul and replacing the old man that had been wreaking havoc with the mind, heart and will.
This new nature is the very Spirit of Christ Himself that begins healing the mind with truth, the heart with love, and the will with power.
But while the soul has been redeemed, and the sanctifying restoration has begun, the body on the outside is still fallen.
So now the new believer has the nature of God living inside the nature of Adam – the soul of a saint in the body of a sinner – a constant conflict. Galatians 5:17 explains that the flesh (your old outer man) lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit (your new inner man) against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
But someday, the body will also die, be buried, and resurrected in glory – and then the outer man will have finally caught up with the inner man, and we will be wholly holy.
When the Bible talks about the flesh, it means the body and all its juices – the chemicals, secretions, enzymes – everything about you that’s made up of atoms – even those hormones that affect your moods. It’s all struggling with your new Spiritual nature to control your will.
So your Spirit wants to be at peace, but someone insults you, and your flesh churns out adrenaline that makes you want to swing a fist – and your Spirit has to say, No, flesh! Down, flesh! Bad, bad flesh!
Your Spirit wants to be pure, but some bikini babe goes bouncing by, and your flesh churns out hormones that make your head swirl – and your Spirit says, Bad, flesh! Down, flesh! No, no flesh!
Your Spirit hates sin. Your body will crave it until the day it dies, but your Spirit will grieve and groan over sin even as your will gives into it – until the body is redeemed at the resurrection (Romans 8:23).
And that conflict between the Spirit and the flesh that so frustrates your soul is a powerful testimony to the reality of the transformation going on inside. Every time your Spirit agonizes over another failure, it’s a reminder that something within you is not behaving as it did back when your inner sinner and your fallen flesh were in infernal harmony with each other. Notice how Paul prays for the spirit, soul and body in I Thessalonians 5:23.
- The Spirit that was born in you is the very Spirit of Christ Himself. It’s absolutely and infinitely holy. It’s the very holiness of the divine nature of which you are now a partaker. It cannot be any holier. Gazillions of eons from now, that Spirit in you will never be any holier than it was the day you were born again!
Of course, in the resurrection, it will finally be freer to express the holiness as it’s always longed to. But the new nature inside you is already yearning and working in you both to will and do what pleases God.
- The Bible never describes God’s followers as wicked. Not once. Ever. God describes His people as righteous because the Spirit within them reacts against the fallen flesh and desires to govern the will.
Here – I’ll demonstrate this for you.
Lot was arguably the weakest follower of God anywhere in the Bible. You can read his story in Genesis 19 to see what I mean. In fact, it would seem reasonable to even question whether a man like that was a worshipper of God at all. But in II Peter 2, the apostle describes Lot as a just man in verse 7, he calls him a righteous man twice in verse 8, and even calls him godly in verse 9!
Lot? Godly? Yes! Because Peter shows how Lot, seeing and hearing the sin all around him, vexed his righteous soul from day to day. Godly souls are vexed by sin – just as you’ve described in yourself.
God’s people do not sin because they are wicked. They sin because they are weak. Lot was weak, but not wicked. Jesus recognized that the hearts of His sleeping disciples in Gethsemane were willing to pray, but they were weak to the flesh. The struggle against the pressures of the world, the lusts of the flesh and the deceits of the devil often wear us down, but we are ultimately destined to overcome because the Spirit within us is greater. The flesh may win some battles, but the Spirit is predestined to win the war in conforming our sin-damaged souls back into the image of Christ. A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again – Proverbs 24:16.
- From the instant you were saved, God has loved you as much as He loved Christ Himself. Jesus, praying to the Father in John 17:23, said, Thou…hast loved them as thou hast loved me. In fact, He proved that by sending Jesus to die for you. Nothing is ever worth more than what someone will pay for it. To God, your soul was worth the life of His Son. Not angels, not animals, not anything else but Adam’s children was ever worth that to Him. Dying for us was the only truly hard thing God ever did. Our souls are the only thing that ever cost Him anything. Creating the universe didn’t even make Him sweat – redeeming you made Him sweat blood.
May you and your brother continue to have fantastic discussions!