Xenos Christian Fellowship
Christian Principles Unit 2

The Sinful Nature


Revised 7/30/03



God's will for our lives is fruitfulness (John 15:16)—to become ever more effective in impacting others with the life, love and truth of Christ (God's will is not just my own healing, happiness, etc.). But growing Christians soon discover there is a barrier preventing us from fruitful service and sabotaging our efforts.

(Watchman Nee)   "Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the great hindrance to his work is not others but himself . . . "Footnote1B

(Watchman Nee) "If you have a very clumsy servant and he just sits still and does nothing, then his clumsiness does not appear. If he does nothing all day he will be of little use to you, it is true, but at least he will do no damage that way. But if you say to him: "Now come along, don't idle away your time: get up and do something," then immediately the trouble begins. He knocks the chair over as he gets up, stumbles over a footstool a few paces further on, then smashes some precious dish as soon as he handles it. If you make no demands upon him his clumsiness is never noticed, but as soon as you ask him to do anything his awkwardness is apparent at once. The demands were all right, but the man was all wrong. He was as clumsy a man when he was sitting still as when he was working, but it was your demands that made manifest the clumsiness which, whether he was active or inactive, all the time were in his make-up.

Therefore, if we want to be deeply fruitful, we're going to need to develop an appreciation for just how deeply sinful we really are. This can be a very sobering week of study.

Tonight's goals:

To gain an in-depth biblical understanding of fallen human nature.

To become more aware of how your own sin-nature operates.

The biblical view of sin includes attitudes, motives, and subtle behavioral habits as well as isolated acts of disobedience.

See Mark 7:21-23; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:26-5:4; Col. 3:5. Note how Jesus and Paul mix the internal attitudes in with the external actions. The emphasis is on the internal change.

(Mark. 7:21,22) For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, (22) deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

Healthy, growing Christians therefore experience a strange paradox:

As we grow, God keeps peeling off layer after layer, revealing new areas and levels of sin. So, although we are making progress, we often feel like we're losing ground!

(Gal. 5:17*) 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.

As disturbing as this is, it is not a sign of spiritual sickness, but of spiritual health. It is normal and healthy to experience this internal conflict between God's Spirit and your sinful nature (Gal. 5:17*). What does it mean if we can't identify any struggle with our sinful nature lately?


(Isaiah 6:1-8) In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. (2) Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (3) And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." (4) At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (5) "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (6) Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. (7) With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." (8) Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

The cycle of Isaiah 6:1-8 (see God more clearly —> see your sin more clearly —> become more appreciative of God's grace —> become more motivated to serve God) keeps repeating itself, like a spiral staircase . . . Only Christians who keep growing in this way truly mature.


Note Peter's reaction to Christ's miracle.

Luke 5:4 And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 And Simon answered and said, "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets." 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; 7 and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"


(1 Cor. 15:8-10) And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (9) For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(Eph. 3:8) To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,

(1 Tim. 1:15) It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

Paul demonstrated this same paradoxical self-awareness. The older in Christ he gets, the more disparaging terms he uses to describe himself: "I am the least of the apostles who am not fit to be called an apostle . . . " (1 Cor. 15:8-10) >> note, abnormally born literally means I was a miscarriage, an abortion - ektrwma "To me, the very least of all saints . . . " (Eph. 3:8) >> "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." (1 Tim 1:15)

C.S. Lewis

(C.S. Lewis)  "Burrowing into his past, he was appalled at what he found…'I have found out ludicrous and terrible things about my own character. Sitting by, watching the rising thoughts to break their necks as they pop up, one learns to know the sort of thoughts that do come. And, will you believe it, one out of every three is a thought of self-admiration: when everything else fails, having had its neck broken, up comes the thought "What an admirable fellow I am to have broken their necks!" I catch myself posturing before the mirror, so to speak, all day long. I pretend I am carefully thinking out what to say to the next pupil (for his good, of course) and then suddenly realize I am really thinking how frightfully clever I'm going to be and how he will admire me…. when you force yourself to stop it, you admire yourself for doing that. It's like fighting the hydra…There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration…Pride…is the mother of all sins, and the original sin of Lucifer." (Green and Hooper, C.S Lewis: A Biography. p. 105.)

How does this square with our culture's emphasis on loving yourself first and most?

E.G. ("You can't love others unless you learn first how to love yourself."), positive self-esteem ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough—and gosh darn it, I'm worth it!"), no negative "self-talk" allowed, victimization ("I'm an angry person because my parents mistreated me"; "I'm a negative bitter person because my husband is mean to me."), and disease-model addiction ("My obesity is not a sin; it is a sickness"). These two views are not complementary—they are antithetical! This view is a replacement of God's grace.

(Richard  Lovelace)    "Christians whose spiritual lives are grounded and nurtured only on self-esteem and positive thinking, without a vision of the depth of sin, are going to be lacking in depth, reality and humility . . . If we cannot face the bad news about the depth of sin . . . we cannot fully grasp the good news of salvation and the transformed life in Christ . . . Christians who are sensitive to the depth of their own sin are a lot easier to be with, because they are not as inclined to be judgmental."Footnote5B (Richard F. Lovelace, "Renewal as a Way of Life", p.70).

Note: Often persons who ascribe to the therapeutic view of life will show an inadequate appreciation of God's righteousness & grace. While it is true the Bible argues for human worth & dignity based on their nature as God's image bearers, this is never submitted as a basis for self-esteem in the Bible but as a basis for treating others with dignity (Gen.9:6; Jam.3:9).


1. No matter how sinful you think you are…you are worse. 

2. No matter how merciful you think God is…He is more merciful.

If you miss the first point you will be superficial, fake, arrogant people. Without increasing awareness of your own sinfulness you will be superficial, self-righteous, self-sufficient and thus comparatively unfruitful.

If you miss the second point and only get the first you will be fatalistic people. It is possible to become inappropriately sin focused:
     1. Forgetting your true identity;
     2. Forgetting God's mercy;
     3. Having perfectionistic expectations or impatience about 'getting over' a sin (Gal.5:16-18) - for your sin or those of others.

Someone may seem fatalistic when they are actually manipulating others by running themselves down. This is often done to get affirmation or as a substitute for actual confession of particular sin.

Biblical Terminology & Definition of Sin Nature

Terminology: The Bible uses many terms for our sin nature.


Gal. 5:17; (NIV translates "sinful nature")

Semantic Range: Each word has a range of meaning, the specific meaning of which must be determined by its immediate context. Paul uses the same word (sarx) in different ways: physical body (Gal. 2:20), human accomplishment (Phil. 3:4)—and sinful nature.

Col. 2:11 mentions the "removal" (apekdusis) of the flesh (NASB). This word can also have the meaning "disarmed"—and the verbal form of it is translated this way Col. 2:15.

"Body of sin"

(Rom. 6:6)  . . . knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin . . . 

"The body of the flesh" - It is somehow connected to our physical bodies.

(Col. 2:11)  . . . and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ . . . 

"The sin which indwells me" (ROM 7:7-25**) - It is deeply ingrained and internal.

(ROM 7:17,20) So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me . . . (20) But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

"Heart" - It is deeply deceptive; only God can truly expose it to us.

(Jer. 17:9) The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart . . . 

"Outer man" - (2 Cor. 4:7-18;  More on this later)

(2 Cor. 4:7,16) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves . . . Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

Definition of Sin Nature:

The inherited and deeply ingrained drive to rule our own lives, rebel against God, protect and exalt ourselves, and meet our own needs our own way apart from God.

Remember:  The "old self" (ROM 6:6) is not the same as sin nature ("the body of sin"). "Old self" is our old legal identity in Adam which is "crucified" (gone) for Christians.

Remember: Our sin nature ("the body of sin"), however, is "deposed, but not destroyed" (Review ROM 6:6). Though no longer in authority over us, it still exists (until glorification) and is active and can enslave us if we submit to it (ROM 6:16).

Other Definitions:

(John Owen)  "It adheres as a depraved principle (in) our minds (as) darkness and vanity; (in) our affections (as) sensuality; (in) our wills (as) loathing of and aversion from what is good; and is constantly putting itself on us (through) inclinations, motions, or suggestions to evil . . . (it) is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet . . . "Footnote6B

(J. I. Packer)  " . . . a perverted energy within people which enslaves them to God-defying, self-gratifying behavior, and by distraction, deceit and direct opposition weakens and overthrows their purposes of righteousness. (It is) the moral equivalent of a wolf in sheep's clothing, presenting itself to us again and again as good, desirable and a necessity of life, thereby corrupting our conscience so that we lose the sense of its guiltiness and cherish it as if it were a friend rather than an enemy."Footnote7B

(Richard Lovelace)  ". . . the structure of sin in the human personality is far more complicated than the isolated acts and thoughts of deliberate disobedience commonly designated in the world. In its biblical definition, sin cannot be limited to isolated instances or patterns of wrongdoing; it is something much more akin to the psychological term complex: an organic network of compulsive attitudes, beliefs, and behavior deeply rooted in alienation from God. Sin originated in the darkening of the human mind and heart as man turned from the truth about God to embrace a lie about him and consequently a whole universe of lies about his creation. Sinful thoughts, words and deeds flow forth from this darkened heart automatically and compulsively, as water from a polluted fountain."Footnote9B

(Larry Crabb)  "Many pastors preach an `iceberg' view of sin. All they worry about is what is visible above the water line. Like a naive sea captain steering his vessel around the tip of the iceberg with no awareness that there is a mountain of ice beneath the surface that could wreck his ship, Christian (leaders) are too often satisfied when their people turn from church-defined sins of behavior."Footnote10B

(Charles Spurgeon)   "In the Lateran Council of the Church of Rome [1215AD], a decree was passed that every true believer must confess his sins, all of them, once in a year to the priest, and they affixed to it this declaration, that there is no hope of pardon but in complying with that decree. What can equal the absurdity of such a decree as that? Do they suppose that they can tell their sins as easily as they can count their fingers? Why, if we could receive pardon for all our sins by telling every sin we have committed in one hour, there is not one of us who would be able to enter heaven, since, besides the sins that are known to us and that we may be able to confess, there are a vast mass of sins, which are as truly sins as those which we lament, but which are secret, and come not beneath our eyes…The transgressions which we see and confess are but like the farmer's small samples which he brings to the market, when he has left his granary full at home. We have but a very few sins which we can observe and detect, compared with those which are hidden from ourselves and unseen by our fellow-creatures." Footnote10c

Discovering our Sinful Nature

Since by definition the sinful nature is deceptive, let's consider two areas where we can (if honest) discover our sin nature: Temperaments and Close Relationships.

Area 1: Temperaments


Temperaments are a collection of personality traits within each of us that are exhibited as we respond to life's situations and relationships.  These are descriptions of traits that tend to cluster in a person.  

People, though uniquely made, exhibit patterns of behavior, thought, and attitudes that can be generally (not rigidly or stereotypically) grouped together. Hippocrates in the 5th & 4th centuries BC identified these four temperaments: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, Phlegmatic. It's worth noting that he observed these traits and patterns BEFORE attempting to determine how they were determined.  General trait theory is a legitimate area of psychological study.   Usually people exhibit a mixture of two or more temperaments, one usually being dominant.

(Gordon Allport) "The characteristic phenomena of an individual's nature, including his susceptibility to emotional stimulation, his customary strength and speed of response, the quality of his prevailing mood, and all the peculiarities of fluctuation and intensity of mood, these being regarded as dependent on constitutional make-up, and therefore largely hereditary in origin."Footnote11B

Myers-Briggs (thinking/ feeling, judging/ perceiving, intuition/ sensing, extrovert/ introvert) is a contemporary example of a personality trait theory which uses different terminology.

See also O. Hallesby, "Temperament and the Christian Faith"

Warning: Don't use temperaments carelessly:

  • Don't use them to unrighteously condemn others. Instead we should use them to help others. Temperaments are helpful in identifying a person's strengths to be developed, and in identifying and addressing their chronic (besetting) sins.
  • Don't use them insensitively around others who are unfamiliar with the terms.  Good community often does have "in-house" terms that are helpful and efficient, but must be used sensitively.
  • Don't use them with the view that some temperaments are superior/inferior to others.
  • Don't throw out the use of temperaments just because "it rubs you the wrong way."  Instead, work through your bias against them and learn how to use this in a godly way to help your own growth (so that you can serve others more lovingly), as well as others.

                              Active Temperaments

Sanguine Strengths

Sanguine Sins

Choleric Strengths

Choleric Sins


Poor Listener


Angry Outbursts




Cruel Sarcasm












Resists Correction















Messiah Complex

        Reflective Temperaments

Melancholy Strengths

Melancholy Sins

Phlegmatic Strengths

Phlegmatic Sins


Unhappily self-centered







Deep Emotions 






















Dry Humor


Area 2: Close Relationships

Marriage, roommates (promote ministry houses for singles), people we serve with—relationships bring our sinful nature to the surface (remember "clumsy servant")!! Deep and consistent involvement in the Body of Christ allows us to develop close relationships.  If we stay aloof from relationships and hold people at arms length, we will never get a good look at how sinful we are, and sadly, never a clear look at God's grace, the very thing we claim we want most.

Key Principle:

The great temptation, of course, is to focus on how others fail to love us properly. God's way, however, is to have us look primarily at the "log in our own eye" (Matt. 7:3-5). If we do this, we will continue to grow regardless of how people treat us, and we will eventually have much better relationships!

(Matthew 7:3-5) And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

When it comes to relationships, instead of trying to "Find the right person," we need to try to "Become the right person." Many singles need to think this through as all too often they make the mistake of focusing on finding the right person instead.

Once we adopt this focus, we will begin to see certain areas of our sinful nature. Let's consider a few common examples of sin issues that come to light especially in close relationships.


A. Anger & Bitterness

(Eph. 4:26,31) Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . .(31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Righteous vs. unrighteous anger

  • God's purpose has been violated vs. your selfish demands/ wanting to "get your way"
  • Under control vs. "puking"
  • For their good vs. to pay them back

Our culture teaches it is healthy to "vent" anger. The Bible teaches that this way of handling our anger is foolish and destructive. (FULL BLADDER vs. Prov. 17:14).

Placing unrighteous demands and expectations on others is idolatry and should be replaced with turning to God to meet our needs.

Unrighteous anger takes on various forms: silent treatment, rages, sarcastic cuts, etc.

B. Critical Spirit

(Eph. 4:2,3)  . . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, (3) being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Fault-finder; quick to notice and point out others mistakes & sins—without redemptive suggestions; judges motives. Predominant feedback you give people is when they do something wrong versus when the do things right.

C. Envy & Jealousy

(James 3:14,15) But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. (15) This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

Constant comparison with others; glad when they fail & mad when they succeed

D. Inconsiderate & Insensitive

(Titus 3:2,3)  . . . to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.

Doesn't focus on others in conversation because of being preoccupied (thinks of things before people); don't respect others' property or rights; justify their actions based on pragmatic considerations—no matter how it affects people.

E. Hyper-sensitive

(Prov. 19:11) A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

(Prov. 12:16) A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

Thin-skinned; overreact to correction, kidding, etc.

F. Ungodly Controlling

(Luke 10:38-42) Now as they were traveling along, he entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. (39) And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at his feet. (40) But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to him, and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." (41) But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; (42) but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Treats amoral areas as moral (PACKING CAR TRUNK—only one right way; DOING DISHES)

G. Autonomy

(Prov. 18:1) He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.

(Prov. 12:15) The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Making decisions without asking advice or not considering the counsel given, considering how our decisions will affect others, doing Christian work without asking for the help of others (possibly even seeing it as an invasion of your territory), etc.

H. Omission

(James 4:17) Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.

We typically see sin as something we DO—not something we FAIL to do. Yet failing to serve others in relationships in areas of legitimate need is clearly wrong (1 Jn 3:17).

A pattern of passivity or laziness in a close relationship is always damaging.

Common for men—to see functional needs of wives, but neglect emotional things. Our culture is weak in teaching this—but that's no excuse for our failure.

A hint I am struggling with omission is regular comparison with others, particularly committers ("I am glad I don't do what they do.").

Although we all struggle with not fulfilling our full potential, the omitter is more likely to be satisfied with where they are rather than coming out of their comfort zone.

We need to be aware of these, admit them to our close relationships (even take some kidding about them), give them the "green light" to bust us when we're doing them—and then respond when they do!!!

NOTE: There is actually a third area that also provides an excellent (though often very convicting) grid through which God reveals aspects of our sin nature that He'd like to sanctify—the world system.  The world, or kosmos (the Greek term), has a semantic range but in this context the definition most used is the system of values and priorities which is controlled by Satan and used to seduce people from ever coming to a relationship with Christ or Christians from investing heavily into Christian work to be used by God.

The world's values are opposed to God's and will often entice our sin nature into pursuing goals which are contrary to God's.  We gravitate towards some of these values more than others. If we look honestly at the three areas of the world's values that John speaks to (materialism, hedonism, egotism—1 Jn. 2:15,16), often we will experience God convicting us that we are not committed to his values.  For a more thorough treatment of this subject, see our notes from unit four: Satanology: Covert Tactics and Response.

Cooperating With God

Key Principle:

If you want to be more effective for the Lord in ministry ("useful to the master"), you must cooperate with him in your sanctification!

(2 Tim. 2:19-22**) Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness." (20) Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. (21) Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (22) Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

  1. View this struggle and deepening awareness of your sinful nature as normal and a sign of health (Gal. 5:17*). MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS!
  2. Identify your "besetting sins" by praying for insight (Ps. 139:23,24), reviewing temperament weaknesses, and asking Christians who know you well (are you ready to listen?). See Unit 3 "Encouragement and Admonition".
  3. Prayerfully reflect on and thank God for the identity truth that applies specifically to your area of sin (ROM 6; Unit 2, Week 3 notes). This combats fatalism when you're dealing with new revelation of sinful nature. It also helps you deal with the root problem of many of your symptoms.
  1. Develop a strategy for combating your besetting sins, and be sure that it includes both "RESIST" and "REPLACE" (but don't forget #3's application of identity truths) as well as confession (See "A Strategy for Combating the Besetting Sins of the Phlegmatic Temperament.").

Memory Verses

Gal. 5:17* - It is healthy and normal for Christians to experience a battle between sinful nature and Spirit.

2 Tim. 2:19-22** - There is a direct proportion between our sanctification and our ability to bear fruit for God.


1. Read Walking in Victory—Chapters 7-9. Write one paragraph summarizing each chapter and one paragraph on what was most helpful to you.



Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit (Cloverdale, Indiana: Sure Foundation Publishers, 1965), p. 9.


Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), pp. 157,158.


Richard F. Lovelace, Renewal As A Way Of Life, p. 67.


John Owen, Sin and Temptation (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1983), p. 29.


Richard F. Lovelace, Renewal As A Way Of Life(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 70.


John Owen, Sin and Temptation, p. xx,xxi.


J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1992), p. 107.


Richard F. Lovelace, Renewal As A Way Of Life, pp. 72,73.


Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p. 89.


Larry Crabb, Understanding People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), p. 129.


C.H. Spurgeon. The Treasury of David (McLean, : MacDonald Publishing Co.), p. 274.


G. W. Allport, Pattern and Growth in Personality (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961). p. 34.

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