6) An Analysis of John MacArthur's One Nature Position
THE OLD MAN IS THE SAME AS THE OLD
As already seen, MacArthur equates the old man with the old nature. "The old man is simply the Adamic nature with all its evil, with all of its terrible habits, with all of its deeds" (Tape GC 2147). At the close of one of his messages MacArthur addressed those outside of Christ and said, "If you have never met Jesus Christ, you're not a new man. You're the same old person--the old Adamic nature, sin nature" (Tape GC 2147, end of Side 2). To MacArthur, the old man is the same as the old, Adamic, sin nature. The new man is the new creature (new man=new creature=new nature).
Is the old man really the same as the old nature? This is not technically correct. For example, a pig has a pig nature but you would not want to say that a pig is a pig nature. The old man has an old nature but it is not accurate to say that the old man is an old nature. Those who are born of Adam have an Adamic nature; those who are born of God have a divine nature. We would not want to say that a child of Adam is an Adamic nature or that a child of God is a divine nature. A person's nature is a collection of attributes which describes the person. Every believer bears a relationship to Adam by way of his natural birth; every believer bears a relationship to God by way of his new birth. The new birth makes it possible to have a brand new relationship to God, based upon the shed blood of Christ. Positionally our relationship to Adam has been canceled, via our death on the Cross (Gal. 2:20). The new birth, however, does not kill or remove or eradicate or altar the Adamic nature and the honest believer must still acknowledge that "evil is present with me" (Rom. 7:21) and "sin dwells in me" (Rom. 7:17). Our condition does not yet perfectly match our position (as long as we are in this body), and yet the more we claim the facts of our position by faith ("reckoning"--Romans 6:11), the more the Spirit of God will make these facts a reality in our condition (our walk in time). MacArthur too would acknowledge the presence of evil and sin in the believer, but he attributes this to our "humanness" and to our "flesh" and to our "unredeemed body" rather than to our old, sinful, Adamic nature.
THOUGH HE WOULD DENY THIS, MACARTHUR ACTUALLY TEACHES THAT THE BELIEVER STILL POSSESSES THE "OLD MAN"
As we have seen, in his published writings John MacArthur strongly affirms that the believer does not possess an old man. The old man has been crucified and is dead and gone. The believer is a new person, a new creation. And yet, it will now be demonstrated that MacArthur actually teaches that the believer still does have the old man.
As we have already seen, John MacArthur teaches that the old man is crucified and has been "put off" once and for all. But he also teaches repeatedly that the believer has a problem with "the flesh" because he is in "the body." The believer sins because of "his humanness" (not a Biblical phrase but one used often by MacArthur). What is his humanness? MacArthur often equates the believer's humanness with his flesh and his body and his members. He calls it his "unredeemed humanity" and that which is in the believer which is "unrenewed" (that unrenewed, unredeemed part of the believer).
But here is the key point. MacArthur makes it clear that the believer's humanness includes more than just the physical body. Though this has already been documented, let us look at these quotes again since this is such an important point:
Dr. MacArthur teaches that "the body" where sin operates from includes more than just the physical part of man: "The law, or principle, of sin resides in our bodily 'members' (Rom. 7:23), which include the physical, emotional, intellectual, and volitional parts of man" (Freedom From Sin, p. 158). "Sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body" (Freedom From Sin, p. 173). "Flesh, used in this context, refers to our fallenness. It taints all the facets of the total person—including our mind, emotions, and body.
Commenting on Romans 7:23 where Paul speaks of "sin which is in my members", MacArthur says that the bodily members refer to "the physical, the fleshly and it even goes beyond the physical to the emotions, the feeling, the mind, the thinking, but it's always the members, the body, the flesh--it's in our humanness" (Tape GC 45-52, Side 2). Commenting on this same verse in a different tape he says, "he (Paul) always puts sin in the members, the bodily parts is what it refers to. That does not just mean the flesh, that means the mind, the thoughts, the emotions, all that goes with our humanness" (Tape GC 45-53, Side 2). On this same tape (45-53) he says, "Your members, your humanness includes your mind and your emotion, your feeling, your body and all those things." At the IFCA National Convention MacArthur said, "By body he doesn't just mean the physical body, (he means) all of the bodily appetites that are in your mind and your emotions and your will--all unredeemed humanness in which is incarcerated the new creation."
Please notice carefully that according to MacArthur, our humanness includes at least three things: 1) The mind/intellect; 2) The will/volition; and 3) The emotion/feelings. This is the key point: THESE ARE THREE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF PERSONALITY! What is a PERSON? A person is one who thinks and chooses and feels. Intellect, will and emotions are essential to personality. What MacArthur is describing is more than humanness, it is human! It's a person--one who thinks, wills and emotes!
So what is MacArthur saying? He teaches that our humanness is the unredeemed, unrenewed part of the believer. Thus the believer has an unrenewed mind, an unrenewed will and unrenewed emotions. But since these three elements go to make up a person we must say that the believer possesses an unrenewed person! This is not the new self or the new man, so it must be the old self, the old man, the unrenewed person. Thus, according to MacArthur's own teaching, there is a very real sense in which the believer has an old man as well as a new man. He has an unrenewed part ("humanness") which contains all the elements of personality. This unrenewed part is more than just the physical body. It is the mind and will and emotions. If this unrenewed person is not the old man, who is he?
THOUGH HE WOULD NOT ADMIT IT, JOHN MACARTHUR TEACHES THAT THE BELIEVER HAS AN OLD NATURE.
If the above argumentation is valid, then MacArthur is forced to say that a believer possesses an old nature. Why is this so? In the above argumentation we have seen that MacArthur teaches that a believer has an UNRENEWED PERSON, an unrenewed self, an old man (an old man simply means a person who is not new or not renewed). According to MacArthur's own definition, the old man=the old nature. He repeatedly equates the old man with the old nature (such as in Romans 6:6, etc.). THEREFORE, IF THE BELIEVER POSSESSES THE OLD MAN, THEN HE MUST ALSO POSSESS THE OLD NATURE.
At this point the reader might be thinking, "Isn't this just a matter of semantics? Haven't you just shown that MacArthur really teaches a two man view (old man and new man) and a two nature view (old nature and new nature)? Isn't this the IFCA position?" This is the IFCA position. The problem is that MacArthur teaches against this position in his published writings and on his public tapes. He teaches a one nature position. He needs to publicly affirm a two nature position which he has not done. What we have done here is merely show the contradictory nature of MacArthur's teachings and that if you carry his teachings out to their full implications, then this would force MacArthur to recognize that within the believer is "an unredeemed SELF, an unrenewed PERSON" (not just some kind of "humanness" which is a very impersonal term). We would hope that John MacArthur might recognize the implications of his teachings and that he would stop denying in his published writings and public tapes what his teaching, if carried out to its final conclusion, seems to affirm.
THE DAVID C. NEEDHAM CONNECTION.
The teaching that the believer has but one nature, the new nature in Christ has been popularized in the book by David C. Needham, Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are? (Multnomah, 1979). Is there any connection between Dr. MacArthur's teachings and those views presented in this controversial book? Both men deny that the believer possesses an old nature (a view which is contrary to the IFCA doctrinal statement, Section 1, Article 8). Both men downplay (in MacArthur's case) or deny (in Needham's case) the concept of "positional truth." Both men share the same view regarding the "putting off" of the old man (that believers are never commanded to do this). Both men teach that sin has its base of operation in the bodily part of the believer not the soul or spirit of the believer (see Birthright, pp. 250-251). Both men use the term "humanness" frequently (see Birthright, pp.98,100,258). Both men would agree that the believer "temporarily exists as a redeemed spiritual being joined with an unredeemed mortality" (Birthright, p. 100). Both men stress Lordship salvation (Needham devotes a chapter to this in his book; MacArthur has written a book on this). Is there any other connection between these two men and their "one nature" emphasis?
In MacArthur's book Freedom From Sin, he quotes favorably from Needham in two places (see pages 42 and 52). In both places he refers to his book Birthright. On page 52 MacArthur clearly identifies himself with Needham's one nature view, saying, "you destroy people's convenient theological categories by teaching what God really says--that there is only one nature in the believer" and then he refers to David Needham and his book which so clearly presents this "one nature" view.
MacArthur also favorably quote Needham in the context of Needham's one nature view in his article "The Good Natured Believer," Masterpiece, March/April 1990, p. 21. See also Romans 1-8, p. 335.
I wrote to David Needham on Nov. 21, 1988 and asked him if he had ever talked to Dr. MacArthur about these things since their views seemed so similar. On Nov. 26, 1988 David Needham sent me this response by way of a personal letter: "Thank you so much for your letter of November 21 with regard to the possible similarity in belief between Dr. John MacArthur and myself concerning the Christian's essential nature. Though the two of us have not personally visited together, I have been told that he has recommended Birthright from his pulpit. From this I have assumed that our views in this area are to some degree parallel. Also, though I have not read his latest book on Lordship, I understand he also has favored the emphasis I gave to that issue."
THE DR. D. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES CONNECTION
John MacArthur's view on Romans 6-7 are very similar to those of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great London preacher. In MacArthur's book Freedom From Sin, he quotes from Lloyd-Jones favorably in two places.
Lloyd-Jones taught, as does MacArthur, that the believer has but one nature. In his commentary on Romans 6, page 63, he writes, "...the old man is gone, he was crucified." As Miles Stanford has observed, the cause of this one nature error is in making Romans 6:1-10 the believers actual condition, instead of his judicial position.
Also helpful in this connection is Stanford's paper entitled ERADICATION (which deals in particular with the one nature error of Dr. Bill Gillham), and is also dated October 1990. I now quote from one of Stanford's paragraphs: "The error of eradication is caused in turn by the error of confounding position and condition. Instead of reckoning the indwelling Adamic life to be judicially, positionally dead, it is instead considered to be actually crucified, and therefore eliminated. To the one-nature advocate Romans 6:1-10 is not that of the believer's position, but rather that of his condition."
HAS JOHN MACARTHUR CHANGED HIS POSITION?
If one compares John MacArthur's older tape on Romans 7 which was given in 1969 (GC 1407, Side 1) with his more recent tapes on the same passage given in 1983 (GC 45-52 and GC 45-53) there is a noticeable difference. In the older tape MacArthur seems to present a two nature view. For example he makes this statement: "Your fallen nature is still your problem just like it was before you were saved. Your desires are different but you still have a fallen nature. Sin is there." He also stated that the conflict in Romans 7 is the "conflict between my renewed mind and my old, unrenewed, unrenewable nature, the flesh." These statements indicate that the believer still possesses an old, unrenewed, fallen nature. This is in contrast to MacArthur's more recent teachings already cited in which he says that the believer does not possess an old nature.
Also in the older tape on Romans 7 MacArthur does not refer to the believer's "unredeemed humanness" as being the seat of sin but in his more recent tapes this phrase is heard repeatedly.
Also in the older tape on Romans 7 MacArthur identifies the man who is struggling as "a Christian trying to do it on his own, trying to live his own life in his own way, apart from the Spirit" (GC 1407). In his more recent tape on Romans 7 (1983) he says this: "Do you know what kind of Christian this is? This is the most mature, spiritual Christian there could ever be!...I believe this is Paul's own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer who loves with all of his heart the precious, beautiful, holy, majestic law of God and finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill the law of God the way his heart wants him to." (Tape GC 45-52)
Note: We are not laying blame upon MacArthur for changing his teachings over the course of years. Every believer needs to be willing to amend his thinking in favor of what God has said in His Word. In MacArthur's case we are simply making the observation that some changes have occurred (whether for better or for worse the reader can decide) with respect to some of these issues found in Romans 7.
CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON THE OLD NATURE:
There are times when Dr. MacArthur says things which seem to contradict his "one nature" teaching. For example:
"Being a Christian doesn't make you perfect, but you do have the capacity not to sin. Sometimes our fallen nature tempts us to sin, and we give in. Be we won't have to" (Freedom From Sin, p. 85). If the believer only has a new nature and does not have an old nature, then how can he have a "fallen nature" which tempts him to sin? If Dr. MacArthur is going to teach "one naturism" it seems he should at least be consistent. What can the "fallen nature" be except that old, corrupt, fallen, Adamic nature which MacArthur says the believer does not have?
"Although Paul delights in God's law (Rom.7), he confesses there is a barrier that prevents him from obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature" (Freedom From Sin, p. 156). But in the same book he says, "There is no such thing as an old nature in the believer...I believe it is a serious misunderstanding to think of the believer as having both an old and new nature" (pp. 31-32). This is contradictory. On the one hand the believer does not have an old nature, but on the other hand he has a carnal, fleshly nature! And though he does not have an old nature, yet he has a fallen nature (see above paragraph). It seems much more logical (and Biblical) to understand the old nature as being that carnal, fleshly, fallen nature which believers still possess.
Elsewhere MacArthur speaks of sin that dwells in the believer's "human nature" which conflicted with his new nature in Christ received at salvation (Freedom From Sin, p. 169). What does he mean by the believer's "human nature"?
John MacArthur's One
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