Our Sinful Nature

What within us leads us to sin?

What within us leads us to sin?

"The mind of sinful man is death ...; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:6-8, NIV; compare Titus 1:15; Isaiah 55:7-8).

As human beings, we prefer to do things our own way. As a result we can easily develop, either consciously or unconsciously, resentment toward God's authority over us (Colossians 1:21). This is especially true when His instruction forbids us to do as we wish.

It then becomes easy for us to convert, usually unconsciously, our resentments—our underlying hostility toward what we may perceive as God's unnecessary interference in our affairs—into an active resistance to His commands. We simply begin to ignore some of His laws or reinterpret them to fit our own views. This is how our sinful nature, more commonly called human nature, works. These wrong attitudes begin in our minds.

We usually disguise resentful and disobedient attitudes to such an extent that we deceive ourselves into believing they do not exist. As Jeremiah observed: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, New American Standard Bible). We easily deceive ourselves into believing we are doing nothing wrong. That is why the Scriptures tell us, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12, NIV). We blind ourselves to the seriousness of our own sins.

Everyone must face the problem of a sinful, deceitful mind. There are no exceptions. Resistance to God's instructions begins in our thoughts and attitudes. We have all sinned. We are all guilty.

Did Paul acknowledge his sinful nature?

"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Romans 7:14-17, New Revised Standard Version).

Paul well understood his human nature—how deceitful it could be. As a young Jewish boy he had been taught to do what is right. In line with his early training, he was exceptionally sincere. Yet, when Christ opened his mind to see himself as he really was, he recognized he had deceived himself about his own righteousness. He could see he had sinned in many ways, both in action and attitude.

He concluded: "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, within my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand" (verses 18-21, NRSV).

Paul had not deliberately chosen to sin. Nevertheless, he could look back on his life and recognize that many things he had done were indeed sinful, though at the time he hadn't grasped that they were wrong and contrary to God's will. In describing his blindness to his own sinful actions and his weakness in resisting sin, he is describing every one of us.

Must we recognize our sins and deal with them?

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10; compare James 1:13-15).

One of our great challenges is to recognize that our attitudes and actions often are not right in God's sight. We can convince ourselves that our own ways are fair and just. But to be truly converted—to wholeheartedly turn to God—we must carefully and willingly examine our own motives. We must recognize we are all too susceptible to desires that channel our thinking down the pathways of sin.

Jesus explained that our priorities—what is most important to us—usually determine our actions. He cited the common problem of greed as an example: "'No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.' The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight'" (Luke 16:13-15, NIV).

What we cherish the most determines how we behave. When our values are flawed we look for ways to justify our views and behavior, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22-24).

What is a common self-deception?

"He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men ... All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition'" (Mark 7:6-9; compare Colossians 2:8).

Traditions not solidly based on God's principles and laws often provide us with easy excuses to sin. Since almost everybody else practices them, we reason, how could they be wrong?

But many times they are wrong. Jesus showed that common religious traditions, while outwardly appearing righteous, in reality can be disguising sin. "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honour his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matthew 15:4-6, NIV).

One of the reasons Christ died for us was to pay our penalty for following traditions contrary to the Scriptures. The apostle Peter confirms this. "... Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:17-19). It is important that we examine the traditions we follow to be sure they are not in conflict with the Word of God.


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