False Teaching: We Are Born With A Sinful Nature
One can find numerous sources to show that the New International (Per)Version (NIV) has created confusion when it comes to the meaning of flesh in the Bible. Here are two: (1); (2). I have read that the NIV decision makers came out with an update in which they changed the word “sinful nature” to the word flesh as in the AV. I don’t know because I don’t own one, and won’t own one. The word flesh can refer to part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin, as in a person is living “in the flesh”, meaning he is serving the flesh. The flesh is not of itself sinful, but can be used for sinful purposes, rendering it sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), but this has nothing to do with the way we are born. Sin is a moral transgression, not a substance that can be transmitted from one person to another. The NIV interpreters (not translators) wrongly interpreted the word sarx as sinful nature and, again, created much theological confusion.
In order to prove their belief that people are born with a “sinful nature”, some will reference Psalms 51:5, in which David stated:
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
As already stated, sin is a moral transgression (1 John 3:4), not something physical that can be inherited. In fact, the Bible says this:
“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
The word “they” shows this verse is not limited to the original creation of Adam. This verse does not mean that men are born righteous, for people are born neither righteous nor sinful. It means that people are born innocent, but they go astray, choosing sin over obedience to God. There are none that do good apart from following God, but this is because of their selfish choices, not because they were born of a substance that made them sin.
What do David’s words mean? In a Psalm in which David was grieving over his sin, he offered several poetic expressions to convey his brokenness and contrition. David said: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7a). David knew that hyssop could not literally cleanse him from sin. David also asked God to “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalms 51:7b), once again using figurative language to address how his sin had stained his soul and how he wanted to be cleansed. David made mention of “the bones which thou hast broken” (Psalms 51:8b), yet God had not literally broken David’s bones. Elsewhere in the Psalms, this is written: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies (Psalm 58:3). Newborns do not speak at all, so this is another example of the use of poetic expression to convey the idea that people go astray at a young age. This matters greatly, for it puts the responsibility for sin on the selfish choices of mankind, not the nature that we are created with. It appears that the weight of sin was bearing on David’s mind, and it reminded David that he was conceived and born into a world of evil, an environment characterized by sin, and David was relating this to his own transgression.
Being susceptible to temptation does not mean we are born with a sinful nature, for temptation is not sin. People should not be defined by their temptations, but by their actions. Yielding to temptation is sin. Adam was not created with a sinful nature, yet he sinned and thereby corrupted his nature, showing to be false the theory that being born, or created, with a sinful nature must be the explanation for why we all sin. We cannot use the nature we were born with as an excuse for sin, though many people do. Because of our God-given nature we can obey or disobey him, and for selfish reasons, we choose to disobey him and we too corrupt our nature, making ourselves “by nature the children of wrath.” Sinning goes against our God-given constitutional design, and that is why sinners will be held accountable for their sins. God designed our nature to be in favor of righteousness, by writing his law upon our hearts (Romans 2:14-15), yet we go against our God-given nature and choose to walk in the flesh.
To claim that sin is unavoidable because of the nature we are born with is to blame our Creator, rather than ourselves. This is no trivial matter.