Two Contrary Principles in Believers

From “On Sin in Believers” (1763)

The Christian is born again, not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” He is a child of God, a member of Christ, an heir of the kingdom of heaven. “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps his heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” His very body is a “temple of the Holy Ghost,” and a “habitation of God through the Spirit.” He is “created anew in Christ Jesus.” He is washed, he is sanctified. His heart is purified by faith. He is cleansed “from the corruption that is in the world;” “the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him.” And so long as he “walks in love,” (which he may always do,) he worships God in spirit and in truth. He keeps the commandments of God, and does those things that are pleasing in God’s sight; so exercising himself as to “have a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man”…

But was he not then freed from all sin, so that there is no sin in his heart? I cannot say this. I cannot believe it. St. Paul says the contrary. Speaking to believers and describing the state of believers in general, he says, “The flesh lusts against the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit against the flesh. These are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:17). Nothing can be more accurate. The apostle here directly affirms that the “flesh” – evil nature – opposes the Holy Spirit, even in believers; that even in the regenerate, the born again, there are two principles, “contrary the one to the other.”

Again, when Paul writes to the believers at Corinth, to those who were sanctified in Christ Jesus, he says, “I, brethren, could not speak to you, as to spiritual, but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. You are yet carnal: For whereas there is among you envying and strife, are you not carnal?” (1 Cor. 1:2, 3:1-3). Now here Paul speaks to those who were unquestionably believers.  In the same breath, he calls them his brothers in Christ. And he says they are still, in a measure, carnal. He affirms there was envying, evil tempers occasioning strife among them, and yet Paul does not give the least intimation that they had lost their faith. No, he manifestly declares they had not.  For then they would not have been babes in Christ.  And (what is most remarkable of all) Paul speaks of being carnal and being babes in Christ as one and the same thing.  Here Paul plainly shows that every believer is (in a degree) carnal, while he is only a babe in Christ.

Indeed this grand point, that there are two contrary principles in believers – nature and grace, the flesh and the Holy Spirit – and this theme runs through all the Epistles of St. Paul and, even more, it runs through all the Holy Scriptures…. And believers are continually exhorted to fight with and conquer these, by the power of the faith which is in them.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest and evangelist, and the founder of the Methodist movement. After experiencing a profound conversion in 1738, he began a ministry of itinerant evangelistic preaching, travelling an average of 8000 miles a year and making thousands of converts. He sparked a renewal in preaching and discipleship that swept across the Anglo-American world and is one of the fathers of evangelicalism. He is commemorated on March 3 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches. The text is adapted for contemporary readers.

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