Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Doctrine of Indwelling Sin

Now, before I start, I just want to remind you that I'm no theologian. I'm just a Christian with a Bible and the Holy Spirit. But I can't ignore this false doctrine any longer, I just have to say something. When I say false doctrine, I'm referring to the teaching that Christians have indwelling sin. I firmly believe that we are all born with a sin nature (indwelling sin). I also want to say that I have no problem understanding that you can be a true believer and accept this doctrine (I did). When I first heard this teaching of indwelling sin for believers, I fought hard against it--or rather my spirit and God's Spirit fought hard against it. I, in my flesh and fear of man fought hard to ignore my spirit and God's, succeeded, and have been since paying the price. And really, I'm not trying to stir up trouble. I'm trying to stir up a revelation of grace and the freedom we are meant to experience.

I've had some idea that I more and more strongly disagree with this doctrine for some time now. But recently the revelation hit me as I was listening to a list of signs of legalism in a sermon. All the signs of legalism are the same things I was taught were proof of indwelling sin. The more I believed this doctrine, the more the fruit of my life proved it: I sinned more and more! I became so cold and distant from God I began to doubt my salvation, and even doubt God existed. I lost the joy and and experience of God's presence and love. I lost hope and stopped fighting the true enemy of my soul--Satan. I believed all the lies he fed me and went into a severe depression. I researched ways to kill myself and lived dreaming of death or running away from everything I've ever believed in and loved--God,family, and friends. This is what legalism does. As described in Galatians 5:19-21:

"...sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Doesn't this list remind you of something? I thought that indwelling sin was responsible for all these awful things. I thought I had to learn to beat this awful sin out of me somehow. I thought I had to plan and work and re-commit to more rigid spiritual disciplines in order to overcome these things. And if by some miracle I was not doing or thinking these things, I had to search for them and find them somehow residing/hiding deep inside of me. In fact, it's almost as if this doctrine stirred up more sin. But there is only one thing that can stir up sin in this way. That is the law (of works). "...the law came to increase the trespass..." (Gal. 5:20)

It seems to me that this doctrine stands mainly on two passages of Scripture.
First, Jeremiah 17: 9:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

It is so obvious to me that this refers to our condition before salvation. It should be obvious to all. Jesus even said he came for the sick, I mean, he came to heal us, not leave us sick. It is because we were born with deceitful hearts that God says in Ezekiel 36:26, promising us a better covenant,:

"And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

The other passage is Romans 7. I'm not going into a big argument here, but if you want to read a good argument for an alternative meaning I can highly recommend Terry Virgo's God's Lavish Grace (incidentally this book is endorsed by one Mr. Mahaney for those of you who would be interested to know) And also "Do Christians Still Have a Sinful Nature" by Ryan Rufus. This book deals very simply with all the arguments or concerns/questions you might have (such as why do Christians still sin). I challenge you to at least read and consider the possibilities.

Some months before I was willing to consider that this doctrine was wrong, my dad challenged me to read through Romans and really honestly by the Spirit of God question my beliefs. I was surprised at the results. I was amazed at what God actually says about us, his children. He says we are set free from and dead to sin. He calls us sons, saints, and many others things but NEVER sinners. We are no longer sinners. I've also spent many hours in Galatians, learning that I'd been bewitched, and had fallen from grace. I lived as though severed from Christ in many ways. It was a terrible way to live, and by his grace I hope I will never ever live that way again. I learned that all the things I was striving to attain are completely unattainable in the flesh. Galatians 5:22-24:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

What I'm trying to say is that I believe the doctrine of indwelling sin is actually legalism dressed up as pious and humble sounding doctrine. I believe it is very deceptive and will lead to spiritual ruin. I plan on continuing along these lines in the next couple of posts sharing my testimony of how legalism affects marriage and then parenting, and also the new joy and hope we have found in an ever increasing revelation of God's overflowing love and grace.


Viscountess said...

Jul: Consider Paul's statements in Romans 7:21-25. No one would question Paul's salvation, but he claims to be at war not with an external struggle of sin but an internal one.

We absolutely would agree that sin no longer reigns within us - we have the ability and choice not to sin - but we still struggle with our sin nature.

I'll be reading the books you mentioned with interest, because if I have been deceived in this, I truly want to know. But that's my reaction right now.

jul said...

Thanks for your comment. The main issue with that passage is does it refer to Paul's experience as an unbeliever or a believer? I'd love to hear your thoughts on Ryan Rufus' book if you get a chance to look it over. For me this is not a question of judging people who disagree --though I think it's an important issue, I don't think it's a devisive issue. I'm also not saying we don't sin as believers. Ryan Rufus gives a compelling ( and I think Biblical) explanation of why we still sin. I grew up in the holiness tradition and am not preaching literal perfection on earth! Heaven help us...

I love your willingness to disagree, which is kind of what I was aiming for in making such a strong statement. I mean, I want to make sure I'm not missing something here.

AndrewF said...

I found the title of your post somewhat shocking, as someone who was brought up to believe in indwelling sin, but I have to agree that it is not a Biblical term to apply to the Christian.

I have studied and taught Romans for many years and I am absolutely convinced that Romans 7 cannot possibly be describing the normal Christian life. As Ridderbos points out in his commentary, the person in Romans 7 is totally defeated by sin. "Sold under sin" as Paul says.
The main reason it cannot be the Christian is the sharp contrast with the language that preceeds it in the earlier part of ch 7 and that which follows it in ch 8.

jul said...

Thanks for you comment Andrew. I've been kind of nervous about this post wondering if I went
too far.

Coralie, I'm hoping to send out a box to you next week and would love to throw in a copy of Terry Virgo's God's Lavish Grace if you're interested. It's hard to get around here.

Don said...

Great post, Julie. I'm downloading Rufus' ebook and will read it with interest.

As a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian, I thought the only things "indwelling" me now are the Holy Spirit of Jesus and my own, redeemed spirit. The NT epistles clearly teach that my nature is one with Christ, and there is obviously no "indwelling sin" in Him.

What I now struggle with is "the flesh" -- the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, as John described it. But these do not constitute a "dualist nature" within me.

I recommend C. Peter Wagner's small book, Radical Holiness for Radical Living, in which he claims we can live holy lives through the power of the Spirit helping us to obey God in daily life.

Wagner makes this statement, which is sure to rile "indwelling sin"-ners:

"I am writing this in the evening, and so far today I have not sinned. To be honest, I didn't expect to sin today, nor do I expect to sin before I go to bed tonight. In fact, I did not sin yesterday. Not that I couldn't have sinned yesterday or that there is no possibility that I may sin before I go to bed tonight, but so far so good."

(This sounds amazingly like the statement I distinctly remember C.J. Mahaney making in the mid-1970s, at a TAG meeting while teaching on sanctification through regeneration (being transferred from the kingdom of satan to the Kingdom of God: "It's not that I don't ever sin, but that I no longer have to sin!")

Wagner then goes on to describe the "preventative measures" he takes to keep from sinning. This includes *meditatively* praying the Lord's Prayer every day, "seek[ing] healing for consistent sin patterns" and "allow[ing] others to read your spiritual barometer" (i.e., serious accountability), and several others. He states that he relies daily on his wife and several other trusted, mature Christians to point out visible sinful behavior, and relies on the Spirit to point out sinful thoughts.

His whole point in this book is that we need to focus on Jesus and his holiness -- not looking within and focusing on our flesh-based weakness to pride and rebellion against God.

Baxter's Boy said...

Again I'm another one who would testify to being stirred by the concept of indwelling sin being introduced into my life some time after I became a Christian but never quite "brought" it. And you have expressed very accurately and honestly what has been troubling me. It's along the same lines as I have been wondering about with spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit. Is it all about faith? Is indwelling sin too comfortable a concept because we simply can't stomach the breathtaking release that God's lavish grace brings? We cannot accept that we are truly truly accepted in the beloved?!

I remember my first housegroup in my Newfrontiers church, someone who didn't know me came up during the worship and prophecied over me that he saw me dressed in royal robes. I actually couldn't handle that AT ALL. Because it was so different to what I had been told, so alien to my shame and yet so TRUE!! We are anointed with the same Holy Spirit - that anointing of royalty to reign in life with one Christ Jesus!!

Thanks for addressing this!

Baxter's Boy said...

I have been thinking about your post overnight and I have been so challenged by it that I have changed what I put on my profile on my blog! I used to put "A sinner saved by God's lavish grace" - which is true! But I think it harps back to the obsession with in-dwelling sin a bit too much.

So I have changed it ... for the better I hope!!

Thanks for inspiring me! I dont always feel it, but I hope everytime I log on to write, that I will read it and that hearing will come by the Word of truth!

jul said...

I would love your thoughts on the Rufus book when you get a chance Don. I always appreciate your wisdom and insight.

And Dan, thanks for your encouragement (again). One of the greatest blessings to us over the past couple of years is having people who are experiencing similar things to fellowship with. It has really made our faith grow and given us courage to keep on going forward with God.

Kris said...

This is a great article!

I recently came out of a church that focused a LOT on our sinfulness. Initially (and ironically!), talking so much about what horrible sinners we are made me feel quite humble and pious. But after awhile, I grew a little frustrated with the sense that we were remaining mired at "square 1" in our Christian lives. After all, if you look hard enough, there's always going to be SOMETHING you failed to do right!

I'm still processing how to balance the reality of my own failures with the reality of what Christ has already done for us.

Thanks for this article.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...not sure what to think. My wife seems to have a healthy
understanding on this - but maybe I do believe the sinful nature is
still in us. I do feel my past life and tendencies tug at me, and have always looked at Romans 7 for encouragement that I am not alone in my struggle against sin (Heb 12). I do feel quite hopeless in my struggle sometimes, so maybe I should try to look at it a little different and see how it goes. I think my shoulders would feel lighter if I focused on the clean slate Christ gives (tabla erasa - as Ravi says), instead of thinking of myself as a Christian halfling (or Christian schizophrenic with 2 "selfs").
Juxtaposing the flesh and Spirit in a Christian - walking in the flesh vs. Spirit - In my early Christian days I feel directed me to viewing my human/godly nature in dichotomy.


Steve said...


Thanks for this post on your blog. I am enjoying the discussion on "indwelling sin."

With all the focus on the OT verse that says the "heart is sick" do they not also focus on another OT passage that says:

Ezek 36:26-27
26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

My heart may have been sick, but didn't God as he promised give me a new heart? Are the people that teach indwelling sin forgetting what God promised here?

jul said...

James, thanks for your comment, I hope you continue to ask God for revelation on this issue, he wants you to be whole, not fragmented and broken! This is the very meaning of shalom, the peace of God that we are promised in Christ (nothing missing nothing broken). I highly recommend some of the grace resources over on the right hand side of my blog, such as Rob Rufus and Terry Virgo, as well as Ryan Rufus' book "Do Christians Still Have a Sinful Nature" ( did I link that in my post, I haven't looked at it for a while I wrote it quite a few months back!) God Bless.

Hi Steve, thanks for your comment. I believe we're on the same page...I agree that to believe in indwelling sin for believers you must ignore a vast amount of Scripture and deny the promises that are yes and amen in Jesus.

Steve said...


Thanks for responding to my comment. I think we are on the same page.

I am curious if all this focus on indwelling sin is more of a trait of groups with a Reformed/Calvinistic philosophy such as Sovereign Grace has gone to? The name "sovereign grace" implies Calvinism.

It sounds like it someone taking the "t" in "tulip" that stands for "total depravity" to an extreme. My guess is the two are quite related.

I don't believe in Calvinism. I consider myself a Calminian.

I would be curious to hear what and others thoughts are on this.

Andre van der Merwe said...


Wow what a wonderful article!! Yeeeesss we are completely free from indwelling sin (the sinful nature). Watch our website (www.NewCovenantGrace.com) over the next few weeks for a 2 part message on "Do Christians still have a sinful nature? Here is a glimpse:

In the original Greek language the Bible was translated from, the word “sarx” was used to describe over a dozen different concepts, such as the sinful nature, human flesh, sexual intercourse, carnality, etc. The only way to determine the meaning of “sarx” in that particular part of scripture was to look at the context. Some Bible translations attempted to translate “sarx” into what they thought it meant in that particular context, but many got it wrong. Only the literal translations (e.g KJV or NKJV and a few others) did not change “sarx” into what they thought it might mean, but left it in the verses simply as “flesh”, allowing the reader to interpret the context. That's why Rom 7 appears to be so confusing in some translations,because "sarx" was replaced with "sinful nature" the whole time!

When the Bible talks about “sinful nature” or “old man”, it talks about the evil nature every person is born with, being at enmity with God and alive to sin. The “inward man”, the “new man” or the “new nature” speaks about the resurrected spirit of a newborn believer.

At salvation, a Christian’s sinful nature is crucified & buried with Christ. Rom 6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Awesome stuff you guys are preaching on this blog, praise God for the grace wave that is taking the planet by storm!!!!!

Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe

jul said...

Thanks Andre! I wrote this quite awhile ago now, I still remember what a freeing revelation it was, and how nervous I was to write it! Now it seems a no-brainer...but really, there are huge segments of the church bound up in it though other parts of the reformed doctrine are so good. I think it depends on how the doctrine of indwelling sin is applied as to how damaging it is in people's live, but it can lead to very dangerous legalism as I can testify myself. As a disclaimer, I know and love many great brothers and sisters who believe in this doctrine and I certainly think no less of them...just have to disagree on this point! Thank God we are all righteous in Jesus by a free gift, on that we all agree!

Leo said...

Romans 7.
This book for the most part describes
Paul trying in his own efforts to live the christian life. He realized it was imposable and thanked Christ for being the only way
The Gospel is Jesus ONLY.

The Righteousness of God said...

I love it!!!! When I listented to Andrew Wommack on the issue a couple years ago, O began being set free. I didnt wait to 'produce fruit' before I declared this wonderful truth because you cannot weigh the truth against experiences, the truth is the truth regardless of experiences. Anyhow, how much definantly plainer can the Holy Spirit get in Romans 6 when He through Paul penned "Your old man (the old nature) IS (not (in the process of) CRUCIFIED. As Christ died ONCE to sin, DO THE MATH (reckon) yourselves TO BE (not in the process of) DEAD TO SIN! Amen!!!!! I weeks later in a church, as I preach or evangelize told boldly that I was deceived by the lie that I had an old man, an old nature or indwelling sin, as I stated "I dont have a sin nature," I was looked at as if I had a devil and since then as I have grown into this reality, and learned that the 'body of sin' is simply the areas of the unrenewed mind, like that of a chicken, after its dead, still can run around by impulse but not because its alive, those muscles were 'conditioned to respond,' even though it is dead. Jul's BE BOLD & TELL IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jul said...

Wow, hard to believe it's been 3 years since I wrote this. At the time I was almost scared to write it! It now never crosses my mind to think of myself as a sinner.

righeousness of God, thanks for stopping by! I got your other comments too, glad you liked some of my stuff. Don't worry about calling me 'bro', I consider myself a son of God anyway haha! Hope to see more of you.

The Righteousness of God said...

Heres another thought to Jul's, when the Holy Spirit showed me this truth about not having an old man, old nature, as I have grown into this awesome relief truth, I realised how much false doctrine is in circulation because of this false belief. How can we have 'no more consciousness of sin' like the writer of Hebrews says we should no longer have, if multitudes of doctrine are established around a lie such as the indwelling sin? That one truth began highlighting the many varied shades of false doctrine surrounding that lie of indwelling sin. I have gone on to say "If/when I sin, there are no more wages of sin for me because Jesus paid all my wages of sin, being not only death it self, but all the colors of death or death as poverty, sickness, shame, depression etc." Whats awesome I believe about Paul in Romans 7 was that I believe it wasnt speaking of us under the law as sinners or a struggle against sin. I interpret it to be, the husband was the old nature (indwelling sin) married to the soulish wife, the mind will and emotions and the law governed or lorded over the old man, the old nature or indwelling sin, and made it more vicious against the wife, the souli, mind, will and emotions but when the husband, the old man, the old nature, the indwelling sin died, the wife, the mind will and emotions or soulish wife which was married to the old nature was free to marry another, that is be married to the new man the new nature in Christ that is not under the law but is joined unto Christ being one spirit! As long as born again believers believe they have an old nature, indwelling sin, I firmly believe it is because of a sin consciousness established in nthe church, that we are not free to manifest raising the dead, healing the sick or walking in all the gifts of the spirit because of the guilt & condemnation that comes from a sin consciousness and the wicked one knows that. I did a common thread search on the heros of faith like Smithwiggles Worth, John G. Lake etc. and they all said the same thing, ready? "I lived from the reality of my identity in Christ being His identity given to me." There is no way they had a sin consciousness and performed the miraculous, they had to be believing what we are, there is no indwelling of sin, the old sin nature is dead and buried once & for all! Be blessed!