05. The Danger of Teaching that the Believer Does Not Possess an Old Nature

     Not all Reformed men deny the old nature, but many do, including John MacArthur,12 M. Lloyd-Jones, and David Need­ham.  It was Needham who brought this “one nature” position to the forefront by publishing his book Birthright– Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?

John MacArthur may be used as a spokesman for those who hold this position as seen in the following quotes:

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 becomessomeone 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.13

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.14

Holding such a view has some very practical significance.  If the believer only possesses a new nature in Christ, then we should expect the believer to be remarkably free from sin.  We would expect the believer to exhibit a quality of life which is truly exceptional.  John MacArthur, for example, teaches the following:

1)  Christians will never be ashamed before the judgment seat of Christ.15

     But see 1 John 2:28.

2)  Christians always have fellowship with God and nothing, not even sin, can break this fellowship.16

     But see John 13:8.

3)  Christians are in the light and cannot walk in darkness.17

     But see Ephesians 5:8.

4)  Christians do not need to confess their sins in order to be forgiven.18

     But see 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 51.

5)  Christians can no longer live in bondage to sin.19

     But see Galatians 5:1.

Note: For full documentation and discussion of these five points, see The MacArthur Study Bible–A Critique (50¢) and also The Teaching of John MacArthur on the Two Natures of the Believer, Chapter 7 (20¢).


     We have available a lengthy and detailed critique of this ONE NATURE position (31 pages), $2.00.  A very helpful book dealing with these issues is The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford (Zonder­van).


12 John MacArthur is dispensational in some respects (especially in the area of prophecy) but reformed in many respects.  In his two books on Lordship salvation he attacks dispensationalism while at the same time claiming to be a dispensa­tionalist. Reformed theologian, John Gerstner, described him as being as far away from dispensationalism as anyone can be and still be called a dispensationalist (from a taped message given at Geneva College, Sept. 27, 1986). See our notes on The Teaching of John MacArthur with respect to Dispensationalism.

     13 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary—Ephesians, p. 164.

     14 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary—Colossians and Philemon, p. 148.

     15 Marks of a True Believer (Moody Press), pp. 34,37.  See also the comments in The MacArthur Study Bible under 1 John 2:28.

     16  Confession of Sin, Moody Press, pp. 12-14,55.  See also the comments in The MacArthur Study Bible under 1 John 1:3.

     17 Confession of Sin, pp. 28,32,33,34 and Faith Works,  p. 167. See also the comments in The MacArthur Study Bible under 1 John 1:7.

     18 Confession of Sin, pp. 48,52,55.  MacArthur fails to distinguish between the two aspects of forgiveness that are taught in the Bible.  There is that forgiveness which is needed for salvation (Acts 10:43) and there is that forgiveness that is needed for fellowship (1 John 1:9).  See our paper (chart form) entitled “Two Aspects of Forgiveness” (5¢).

     19 Faith Works, p. 117.