Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One Nature

There's a deep rut in the Christian faith, as most believers experience it. It's like a ditch that you run your car into and can't get out of. Unless God tows a believer out of the rut, he or she will never fully live out of their union with Christ.

The rut is this: most of us believe that in the depths of our being we are both good and bad. Or, to put it in theological terms, we are both righteous and sinful. Using a common illustration, we believe that we have within us both a white dog and a black dog, a good nature and a bad nature, that are fighting for control.

But that is not true. It is vital that we know it's not true, because if we believe that we are both righteous and sinful, it will be impossible to live out of our union with Christ and to rest, trusting that He lives through us moment by moment. Instead, we will be focused on ourselves, on getting our act together, on winning the war that supposedly rages within us, trying to suppress the bad part of us so that the good part will reflect the character of Christ. This endless self-effort is the complete opposite of what Paul wrote:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God... (Galatians 2:20)

The only way out of this dilemma, of believing that we are both good and bad, is to understand that the realm of the spirit, above the line, is singular. It is one. The realm of appearances, below the line, is a duality. It is two.

In the realm of appearances, there is constant evidence of good and evil, both outside and inside us. If we judge by appearances, we arrive at the logical conclusion that we are both good and bad. That looks entirely valid. Christians have believed this for centuries. Except for a small minority who have come to know their true identity in Christ, the whole Christian world accepts the lie. Unfortunately, although something may not be true above the line, if below the line we think it is true, it still controls us. We must choose to live out of what is singular, rather than what is dual.

The realm of the spirit, the singular realm, is eternal reality. That is where our spirit being lives, and where our true identity is settled forever. The realm of appearance, although we must live in it in the here and now, is false as far as our identity goes. All of life depends on which realm is ultimate reality to you: the realm of spirit or the realm of appearances. That's going to determine what you believe and how you live.

Choosing to believe that you are not both good and evil can be difficult. All of the external proof, all of the apparent evidence, all of the sight, supports the opposite: that you have two natures. "You are good, yes, a little good, but boy, you are still wicked; you are still evil." Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to you that you only have one nature, not two. In the core of your being you are not both righteous and sinful; you are only righteous.

From: Stone, Dan, The Rest of the Gospel: When the partial Gospel has worn you out. Dallas: One Press. 2000. pgs. 89,90.

11 comments:

RJW said...

Although it is difficult to accept, we have to choose to live out of the reality of what God says about us, not what we think and feel.

Our experience of God will only be as big as we see him; our experience of God's grace will only be as great as we accept it. We have to bring our thinking and believing inline with what is already true of us in Christ.

Good quote. :)

Alison Fincher said...

I don't know that most Christians necessarily believe that there are two natures, one good and one evil. (Obviously 'natures' is a philosophically loaded term that has more nuanced uses than this one, so let's ignore them.)

I, at least, believe I have one 'nature,' one self, redeemed by Christ's grace. I sometimes choose wrong, I sometimes choose good. I am happier (usually in the temporal but always in the grander, Aristotelian sense) when I choose the good because it is what God wants for me. But no matter what I choose, God's grace works outside of my actions--good choices are my way of opening myself to God's grace working in my life.

So, I'm not sure that Stone is not oversimplifying what many Christians believe. He may not agree with me, but he has at least mischaracterized what I and many others believe about ourselves and about grace.

John Fincher said...

Alison,
I have to disagree in one sense. This idea (i.e. the two natures) is absolutely taught in the Baptist churches of today (others with different backgrounds can comment about theirs). I have even heard the exact allegory about the good dog and bad dog used in sermons.

Also, the idea makes sense when we just rely on our own experience. It SEEMS like we do have two natures – one good (i.e. our new Christ-like one) and one bad (the “old man”) that do battle with each other.

God’s Word states that the old nature is dead (see former posts and, of course, Paul’s various epistles), so unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to you directly (which was your experience), others just must accept it by faith.

Joel B. said...

John,

I was also taught about there being two natures, and whichever nature you feed, that nature will prevail. While we're at it, I was also taught that God only "sees" me as righteous by looking at me through Jesus, but that I wasn't "actually" righteous.

I was very thankful, and my life has never been the same since, when someone showed me through the scriptures that I have one nature, one identity.

I'd like to share something I wrote back in March that sort of goes along with all of this. Going through the scriptures, I wrote several paragraphs of what is true about Christians. Sins taken away, saints, alive together with Christ, Christ is in us, we are in Him, Christ is our life, we are the righteousness of God, temple of God, born again of incorruptible seed, partakers of the divine nature, holy, blameless, perfected forever, etc, etc, etc. All of this is our new identity and new nature.

The post was called Who we are in Christ. This nature, this identity, is who we are in reality. It's the nature that we live out of. When we do things that are contrary to this nature, we're simply not acting as the people who we actually are! :)

Alison Fincher said...

I guess my major objection is that the passage acts as though Baptist experience is the only Christian experience. I was certainly taught the same thing growing up--that's part of the reason I'm not a Baptist anymore. :-)

Re-reading this passage, I also noticed another point which makes me uncomfortable. Isn't it inconsistent that Stone tells us 'unless God tows a believer out of the rut, he or she will never fully live out of their union with Christ,' but then goes on to tell us a different 'only' way out of the dilemma? If God is the only way out of the dilemma, how is it that changing our perceptions has any effect?

I'm sure what he actually means is that we are able to open ourselves to God's grace, but I don't think he has said it very well. He seems to set up two rival solutions. It's just one--still reliant on God. His analogy would work wonderfully--we need to prepare ourselves helping God attach the cable by working to understand that we do not have dual 'natures' as he describes them. Yes? Or have I misunderstood? (It's always possible! ;-)

John Fincher said...

Alison,
Perhaps he could have chosen better wording and NOT say that MOST Christians are taught that man has 2 natures. I certainly don’t think, though, that the Baptist experience is the only one, nor is he saying that. Joel didn’t tell you, but he is from a Pentecostal background, and he too was taught that way. Also, Dan Stone (well into his 70’s when he died in 2005) met A LOT of Christians in his life, and since he can really only go by his experience (which is what we all do), he would then say “most”. To prove this, you say NOT “most” because of YOUR experience. Maybe the phrase “most evangelical Christians” would have worked better. What does Catholic doctrine teach?

Actually, he doesn’t even use the word “nature” but says that “most of us believe that in the depths of our being we are both good and bad.” I believe this to be a true statement.

Satan uses that lie very effectively to deceive us into believing it. Again, once the Holy Spirit reveals something to you (like He did you and your identity), you don’t forget it. It becomes something that you “know” and not just “know about”. It becomes your experience, and therefore believe it is everyone’s else’s also.

But Satan wants us to not fully understand our identity with Christ and so he uses our mind, will, and emotions to deceive us into believing we have 2 natures, i.e. BOTH good and bad, righteous AND evil.

Perhaps he is giving two solutions, but he also is just a man, and therefore not infallible. Also, you didn’t know this, but these 2 postings of his are from his book, and so perhaps could be taken out of the context of its entirety.

All that being said, (perhaps with a little more clarity) I think his point is valid and timely.

John Fincher said...

Joel,
Read your post and enjoyed it very much. An old friend used to say his favorite hymn was "At the Cross" because it said "such a worm as I". But, he clung to that phrase as his identity AFTER the Cross, not just before.

Thanks to HIM, that I am no longer a "worm".

Joel B. said...

Hey John and Alison, I think you're both right about the use of the word "most." It's a word used from perspective. I've noticed that I've used it a lot, and although I think 'most' people know what I mean (lol), I'm trying to sometimes work my wording around another way.

Indeed I have a pentecostal background, and before that I had a completely different background in the United Church of Christ. But since my pentecostal/evangelical history is by far the one that has affected me the most, I'm generally referring to people with similar backgrounds when I say "most Christians."

However, the UCC background has caused me to sort of be a little sensitive to that, because I know many in the UCC and those who have similar backgrounds wouldn't relate to some or many of the things I share (as far as saying "most Christians have a problem with such and such...).

But again, through conversations, emails, blog interactions, etc, I'm pretty sure that 'most' people who read my blog and/or listen to the podcast are of a similar background, so I'm not being too hard on myself for using that word. But this has definitely been good food for thought. :)

Gary Sparrow said...

John,

I agree having 2 natures is not in the Bible and have heard this teaching also. When we are saved we are One with Christ in Spirit but we still live in the flesh. This is where I disagree . The Bible is clear that the flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other that is why we still sin.
I have heard this struggle taught as 2 natures but is really just the Spirit and the flesh. Paul gives account of his own struggle in Romans 7.

Certainly this can be frustrating when we try to "live right" within our selves, but the key is yielding to the Spirit and letting the Holy Spirit guide our walk. We are not perfect and will at times yield to the flesh but as we mature Spiritually hopefully we will walk in the Spirit more than in the flesh. But to say there is no struggle in our lives to me would be saying we can live without sin.

John Fincher said...

Joel,
Thanks for the follow-up about your background. Our (narrow) perspective becomes our universal reality. ;-)

Gary,
"Certainly this can be frustrating when we try to "live right" within our selves, but the key is yielding to the Spirit and letting the Holy Spirit guide our walk. We are not perfect and will at times yield to the flesh but as we mature Spiritually hopefully we will walk in the Spirit more than in the flesh."

YES!

"But to say there is no struggle in our lives to me would be saying we can live without sin."

Would it suprise you to know that there are people (Chuck Swindoll being one) that DO think it is possible (at least in the short term) to NOT sin?

The bottom line is taking the focus off "sin" and onto Jesus. Sin-focus makes us focus on ourselves.

As to Paul in Romans 7, most people stop at the "oh wretched man that I am" and go no further. It doesn't stop there, he goes on to say, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."(!)

But like you said, "hopefully we will walk in the Spirit more than in the flesh."

Alison Fincher said...

John, to answer your question, I think the Catholic teaching is essentially what you are saying--though couched in different language. There is not necessarily the equivalent of a moment of conversion, of 'being saved,' for all Catholics, but a life-long process of opening ourselves up to God's grace. We continue to sin when we make bad choices and become more open to God's will in our lives when we make good ones.

I guess my real concern is that your points, and Stones' points, have life-changing potential for a lot of Christians. It's just that many of them from outside the Evangelical tradition--especially speaking for Catholics--haven't come to the same difficulties in their faith from the same place. Many, many Catholics get caught up in the deception that they are bad. Forget, as Stone words it, 'a good nature' and 'a bad nature'--some Catholics grow up believing that they have only a bad nature, even though that is most certainly not what Christ, or the Church, teaches.

It's really sad to me that, because they lack the context attributed 'most Christians,' they ignore points like Stones and miss the really good point that focusing only on guilt is a dead-end. I want everyone to hear that message because it is true, regardless of the whatever baggage of misconceptions we carry!

Thanks for engaging with me on this--especially Joel. As a convert, tt is really important to me that people of different backgrounds learn to talk to each other. In my experience, our ideas are often (of course not always) the same even when we use different language.