Do we have a sinful inborn nature? The NIV evidently thinks so for it “translates” the term sarx 25 times into English “sinful nature.” The KJV, 148 out of 151 occurrences renders the term “flesh.” The remaining 3 times it is translated “carnal” or “carnally.” The KJV never renders the word “sinful nature;” nor do the ASV, NASB, or the NKJV. The question remains – Do we have a sinful nature? Is there anything within the word sarx which suggests such?
It is worth pointing out, the NIV does not translate this same word “sinful nature” when it is used in connection with Jesus (John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 5:7; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). Why the inconsistency? If the word inherently means “sinful nature” why not so translate it in reference to Jesus?
Some Key Passages
Someone says, “What about Romans 8:3? (KJV). The word ‘flesh’ (sarx) is herein preceded by the word ‘sinful’ (hamartias). This is not suggesting that the flesh in and of itself is sinful. It is the equivalent of Philippians 2:7. Goebel Music has written, “It distinctly, intelligibly, and unmistakably is saying that He came as a man. Human flesh is not inherently sinful; if so, Jesus was sinful.” (ADL, Studies in Romans, p. 143). All that is being said is that Jesus took upon Him – the same flesh, that the rest of sinful humanity wore (Heb. 2:17; Heb. 4:15).
Another might wonder about Matthew 26:40-41? Please note that it does not say that the flesh is sinful by nature. It simply says that the flesh is weak. What is the meaning? The context is that they were having difficulty staying awake due to absolute exhaustion (Luke 22:45). They were weak. It seems to me that Jesus is saying, “I know you men would have stayed awake, if it weren’t for the fact that you are exhausted physically” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-44; 2 Cor. 13:4). Others have thought that the reference is to the fact that despite their loyalty and willingness to serve Him, still it is so easy to give in to the fleshly desire of preservation (Matt. 26:33, 56b-57; 27:69-74). Whatever the case, this does not teach that man is sinful by nature. It simply teaches that man is weak.
Next passage: 1 John 2:16. This passage is not teaching that the flesh is sinful by nature. Rather, it teaches that when Satan tempts us, it is through the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Roy Deaver writes, “The natural desires of the human body are not inherently sinful. They are God-given. God has provided for their satisfaction. Those desires can be satisfied in a right way, or they can be satisfied in a wrong way (Romans, God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, p. 201). Robert Taylor Jr. adds, “Bodily appetites are not wrong per se. But they are to be fulfilled legitimately. We hunger for food, water, air, sexual release, security, etc. There are wrong ways to obtain such; There are right ways to obtain such” (Studies in Romans, p. 114). Desiring food is not wrong, but Satan can use such to tempt us to steal, or violate God’s law in some other way (e.g. Adam and Eve). Sexual desire can be fulfilled properly in marriage or illegitimately in fornication. Man must regulate his appetites by the word of God.
Next passage: Romans 7:25. Kenneth Jones well wrote, “The last sentence of the verse does not describe a warfare within the Christian between the spirit and the flesh but rather a contrast between two kinds of service. He had been a slave to sin but now has been redeemed to the service of God. In the Christian, the mind dominates the flesh, but in the sinner, the flesh dominates the mind” (Spiritual Sword Lectureship, The book of Romans, page 117-118, quoted in Studies in Romans by Robert Taylor Jr, page 132). Read Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:1-2; Romans 7:14-15; 8:4-6. We must control our bodies with our minds, by allowing our minds to be changed through the word of God (Rom. 12:2; cf. 1 Thes. 2:13).
What about Galatians 5:19-ff? This is simply describing what man in the flesh commonly does, when he’s led simply by fleshly desires without consideration for God and His instructions (cf. Gen. 6:5, 12). This is simply telling us how man sometimes behaves and the fact that God is not at all well pleased with such behavior.
What about Galatians 5:17? This here is simply speaking of one who hasn’t yet mentally, and spiritually gotten control over the flesh (cf. Gal. 5:18, 23; v. 18 is elliptical i.e. “not under the condemnation of the law” – see Romans 8:1). It seems that Galatians 5:17 is much like James 4:4, 8 and is speaking of a double minded person. Galatians 5:16 is a command. We can choose which we follow: after the flesh or the spirit.
There are other passages that certainly could be considered. But, I know the following things: (1) There is nothing about the term sarx (flesh) which suggests a sinful nature. Understand that the same term is often used in connection with Jesus (see Rom. 8:3 cf. Heb. 4:15). If sarx means ‘sinful nature,’ then Jesus too had sinful nature, and you know this is not true. (2) Man has a choice upon this earth (Joshua 24:15). Man can respond to God (Acts 2:37-38, 40). If not, again we ask what about Jesus? (3) Man can rise above his environment (Gen. 6:5, 9; 2 Kings 16:1-3, 19-20; 18:1-f). (4) One does not need a direct operation of the Holy Spirit to do what is right (Acts 2:36-38; Acts 8:12-17; Acts 19:1-6). (5) In the end , if I’m lost, it’s nobody’s fault but mine (Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 18:20; Col. 1:21). (6) Satan does use the weaknesses and desires, and natural appetites of the flesh to tempt (1 John 2:15-17).