What is a sinful nature? It is difficult to provide a Biblical answer since the phrase sinful nature is not in the Bible. (It is found in older versions of the NIV.) However, the Bible does talk a lot about sin and temptation using phrases like the old self and the lusts of the flesh.
A sinful nature is an inclination towards sin. In Biblespeak, it is an inclination to carry out the desires of the flesh. It is trusting in yourself (your abilities and understanding) and living solely from your earthly experience (what you see, hear, touch, know, etc.). It is living without regard for the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14).
What we call a sinful nature might just as easily be called human nature, since the temptation to trust in our own abilities and lean on our own understanding is universal. We are all tempted to rely on ourselves, lean on our own understanding, and be in control.
Contrary to what Augustine believed, we are not born with the desire to walk after the flesh. A newborn baby has no interest in a life of independence. It is only as we grow that we develop the urge to go it alone and chart our own course.
A nature can be inherited or acquired and a sinful nature is an example of the latter. Adam and Eve learned how to sin and so do we. The difference is that we learn in a fallen world. We are taught by experts.
The Bible repeatedly warns us to beware those who might lead us astray. False messiahs, false prophets, false apostles, false teachers, licentious men, wily women, sluggards, scoffers, fools, lovers of money, busybodies, wolves in sheep’s clothing, bad shepherds, foxes and vipers, Jezebels, and Balaams (e.g., Ps. 1:1, 14:1, Pro. 7:10, 20:4, Jer. 50:6, Matt. 7:15, 12:34, 24:24, Luke 13:32, 1 Tim. 5:13, 2 Tim. 3:2, 2 Pet. 2:1, 15, Jude 1:4, Rev. 2:20.).
Truly “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33, NIV).
And it’s not just bad company. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with messages encouraging us to indulge the flesh. Treat yourself. Just do it. Have it your way. Be all you can be. These messages are not inherently wrong, but they teach us to rely on ourselves instead of the Lord.
The siren song of self-indulgence is deafening. Every day, the average person is exposed to as many as 10,000 messages. Most of these are trumpeting the values of a corrupt me-first culture. Is it any wonder that most of us grow up walking after the flesh?
Legitimate desires vs carnal cravings
It is important to distinguish our legitimate needs from the desires of the flesh. We were all born with needs for food, comfort, security, love, expression, and so forth. These God-given needs are meant to lead us to the One who promises to supply all our needs. (You need love; God is love.) But we will never find our true Source if we become ensnared in the cares and concerns of the world.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)
Where does a sinful nature come from? John Calvin said the works of the flesh testify to our innate depravity, but John the Apostle said we learn about sin from the world. “For all that is in the world…”
It is the world that teaches us grasp, claw, and crave control.
Corrupted by the Matrix
We are not born corrupt but we can become corrupted by the deceitful desires of the flesh (Eph. 4:22), the defilements of this world (2 Pet. 2:7, 20), and the empty traditions of men (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Behind all these things is the corrupting influence of the devil (see Eph. 2:1–2, 1 John 5:19). The devil does not care whether you are good or bad. As long as you are walking after the flesh, your mind will be closed to the things of God (Rom. 8:7).
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
God loves sinners but those who buy into the ways of the world alienate themselves from God (Jas. 4:4). Choosing to live in darkness is a sign that one is unacquainted with the well-lit paths of righteousness (Pro. 4:18).
Augustine said the newborn baby was a hell-bound rebel stained with original sin. In truth, a helpless babe is closer to the grace of God than the worldliest philosopher, because the child knows that help comes to those who ask.
God desires to help all of us, but those who have been raised inside the Matrix aren’t looking for help. They’ve been institutionalized. They have made the world their home. They might be moral and religious but if they are “in the flesh” they are as lost as the worst sinner.
As C. S. Lewis said, “you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”
Back to Glossary
Back to Commentary
The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got something to say? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this specific page, please use the comment form below.
- Children of God
- Eternal Rewards
- Eternal Security
- Flesh, The
- Gospel, The
- Grace of God
- Heavenly Treasure
- Law, The
- Love of God
- New Life
- Word of God