Our Natural Depravity

We received the following question: "Is a regenerated person still depraved?

Your question reminds me of two errors that often arise within the church: on the one hand, the error of perfectionism, and on the other hand, the error of antinomism.

The perfectionist argues that we are new creatures in Christ; old things are passed away, and, along with these old things, also our depravity. He appeals to such passages of scripture as I John 3:9: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The perfectionist will also refer to saints like Job, of whom it is written that he was a man, "perfect and upright, and one who feared God and eschewed evil.” The Pentecostals seem to lean in that direction when they speak of being baptized by the Holy Spirit, enabling them to live sinless lives. These perfectionists stress, of course, an outward perfection of "touch not, taste not, and handle not."

On the other hand, there are the antinomians who stress that we are by nature depraved sinners who cannot keep God's law. They remind you that Christ has fulfilled the law for us. In Him is all our righteousness, so that we can add nothing to that nor detract from it. Nor must we try with our good works to add to the righteousness of Christ. Some will, therefore, object to admonitions in the preaching, since we cannot fulfill them anyway. In extreme cases the antinomian will condone sin with the attitude, "Let us, then, sin, that grace may abound."

Now I am sure that you have neither of these errors in mind. Your question centers about the extent of Christ's work of regeneration in us. When we speak of the renewal of the heart, does this also include the renewal of our nature?

To that I must answer, that it is my conviction, that the renewal of the heart does not include the renewal of our nature. It is true that the heart is the spiritual ethical center of our life, for from the heart are the issues of life. Paul teaches us: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." This is true even to the extent that there is a new man in Christ within us that wills the good (Romans 7). This is evidently what our fathers had in mind in Canons III, IV, XI, where they state, "But by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, (God through his word) pervades the inmost recesses of man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.” Nevertheless, that does not renew our nature. Our sinful inclinations, our character weaknesses do not change. We do not become better people. The old man of sin is still present, sin still wars in our members.

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