The Lordship Controversy & the Carnal Christian Teaching

The Lordship Controversy and the Carnal Christian
Teaching (Part 3)

Ernest Reisinger

[Back to: Part 1|Part 2]

In this series of studies we have been considering some of the theological differences between the non-lordship and the Lordship teaching on some very, very important Christian doctrines. There are some Christians who are a bit afraid of the word theology and there are others who simply do not like the word. It is not uncommon to hear remarks such as “don’t talk theology to me, just tell me about Jesus.” That may sound very pious but the truth is that when we teach who Jesus is and what He did and why He did it-His virgin birth, His sinless life, His vicarious death and His victorious resurrection-we are into the deepest kind of theology.

Before we get into the study of man’s nature it may be well to say a word about theology. The truth is, every Christian has a theology whether he knows it by that name or not.

Theology is a compound of two words, basically meaning an account of, or discourse about, gods or God. The word denotes teaching about God and His relation to the world from creation to the consummation. The acid test for all theology was well expressed by Thomas Aquinas: “Theology is taught by God, teaches of God, and leads to God.”

Charles Hodge in speaking of the necessity of systematic theology said,

It may naturally be asked, why not take the truths as God has seen fit to reveal them, and thus save ourselves the trouble of showing their relation and harmony? The answer to this question is, in the first place, that it cannot be done. Such is the constitution of the human mind that it cannot help endeavoring to systematize and reconcile the facts which it admits to be true. In no department of knowledge have men been satisfied with the possession of a mass of undigested facts. And the students of the Bible can as little be expected to be thus satisfied. There is a necessity, therefore, for the construction of systems of theology. Of this the history of the Church affords abundant proof. In all ages and among all denominations, such systems have been produced. It cost the Church centuries of study and controversy to solve the problem concerning the person of Christ; that is, to adjust and bring into harmonious arrangement all the facts which the Bible teaches on that subject. We have no choice in this matter. If we would discharge our duty as teachers and defenders of the truth, we must endeavor to bring all the facts of revelation into systematic order and mutual relationship.

In this study we will consider another serious theological error related to the carnal Christian teaching of the non-lordship teachers, that is, the two nature theory, the “new man” and the “old man” teaching. What we shall see in this study in that the old man, new man teaching goes hand in hand with the two classes of Christians-carnal Christians and spiritual Christians.

In this study I want to show that the Bible does not teach that when a person becomes a Christian he becomes two persons: the old man and the new man. The old nature as one person and the new nature as another person.

What Changes in Regeneration?

The non-lordship teaching is that in regeneration (the new birth) nothing in man’s nature changes. They teach that the sinner’s “standing” which is his legal relationship to God changes; however, his “state”, that is, his condition on earth does not necessarily change at the time of regeneration or even after regeneration. The error of this teaching is not in the distinction between “standing” and “state” but rather, in the denial that there is a vital connection or relationship between our standing and our state, that is, between justification and sanctification.

This erroneous dualism is evident in the non-lordship teaching of regeneration. The non-lordship teaching is that the “old” fallen nature remains untouched and unchanged. The Spirit regenerates and indwells the person (his body) but the Spirit does not indwell the old nature. The regenerate person is made a partaker of the divine nature but this divine nature is not his nature.

The non-lordship teaching is that the “old” sinful nature and the “new” nature are poles apart in the same person at the same time. This is real schizophrenia-it is an absolute and antithetical split between the finite created, sinful, old nature and the divine uncreated, infinite, sinless, new divine nature. The bottom line is the person is not changed at all. This teaching produces an underlying dualism-these two natures never influence one another. They go their separate ways-the old nature will ultimately be destroyed and the new nature will live forever.

This underlies the non-lordship teaching of two kinds of Christians-the “spiritual” and the “carnal.” The spiritual Christian is one who, for some reason, is controlled by the indwelling divine nature; the carnal Christian is one controlled by the old nature.

The two nature theory, like all theology, is interrelated with other theological points; therefore, this study builds on past studies in this series. The two nature theory is vitally related to regeneration (what happens when a sinner is regenerated), sanctification and justification. Justification underlies sanctification. The best way to understand non-lordship justification and sanctification is to understand their view of regeneration (see FJ 13 & 15).

The non-lordship teaching is that a new nature is implanted in the soul. This results in two distinct natures in the Christian. Nothing actually happens to the old nature except that it has an entirely different new nature placed along side it-this is a real dualism.

The Lordship teaching is that a new foundation for action, a new disposition, is implanted in the old ego, thus the Christian is still one person with two struggling principles, and the new principle is destined to conquer the old. This is quite different from the non-lordship teaching of two utterly distinct natures, that is, two selves. This view has profound implications on the doctrine of sanctification. The old nature continues as it was before regeneration throughout the earthly life only to be annihilated at death. One of the non-lordship teachers put it like this – “Flesh is flesh, nor can it ever be made aught else but flesh. The Holy Ghost did not come down on the day of Pentecost to improve nature or to do away with the fact of incurable evil . . . .” This means that the old nature is not changed.

They teach that the new nature is actually the indwelling of the divine nature of God. This new nature really cannot be justified because it is the very nature of God Himself, and, therefore, could not possibly need to be justified. Lewis Sperry Chafer speaks for all the non-lordship teachers when he said “the experience of sanctification is absolutely unrelated to position in Christ” (Systematic Theology, vol. 7, pp. 279-284).

It is obvious that Chafer does not believe that there is an inseparable relationship between justification and sanctification, that is just why many of the non-lordship teachers do not believe in progressive sanctification.

The non-lordship teaching is: “Regeneration is not a change in the old nature, but is the introduction of a new. . . . Nor does the introduction of this new nature alter in the slightest degree the true, essential character of the old. The old nature continues to be what it was, and is made in no respect better; yea, rather, there is a full display of its evil character in opposition of the new element.”

Many, if not all, non-lordship teachers teach that progressive sanctification is false, and is not to be expected.

The non-lordship teaching is that the evil nature is not at all weakened by grace, but, rather inflamed. The old nature is not changed at all. The old nature remains in all its distinctness, and the new nature is introduced in all its distinctness.

The new nature has its own desires, its own habits, its own tendencies, its own affections. All of these are spiritual, heavenly, divine. All the aspirations of the new nature are upward.

One antinomian teacher stated it very clearly, “Be warned that the old nature is unchanged. The hope of transforming the old nature into holiness is as vain as the dream of a philosopher’s stone, which was to change the dross of earth into gold.” This is just why I must emphasize and reemphasize, in this study, that the teaching of the non-lordship teachers is that the old nature is not changed in regeneration or at any time thereafter.

There is not one text in the New Testament that teaches that regeneration is the implanting of a “new nature” beside the old, or, that the renewed man has two hostile natures. What he does have is two hostile principles in one nature.

But I see another law in my members, warring against my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Gal. 5:17). For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Rom. 7:23). Here the great apostle teaches that the renewed man (one man and one nature still) is imperfect having two principles of volition mixed in the motives of the same acts. Paul does not teach in these passages, or any other, that the renewed man becomes “two men.” The Lordship teaching is that there is one nature, originally wholly sinful and is by regeneration made imperfectly holy, but progressively so. I recommend on this point Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State (Banner of Truth).

Boston divides human nature into four states: The State of Innocence, The State of Nature, The State of Grace and The Eternal State.


A quote from one of the non-lordship leaders will assist us in summarizing their teaching. “Regeneration is not a change of the old nature, but the introduction of a new. . . . Nor does the introduction of this new nature alter in the slightest degree the true, essential character of the old. This latter continues what it was, and is made in no respect better; yea, rather, there is a full display of its evil character in opposition of the new element.”

Speaking of the new birth this same non-lordship leader goes on to say: “It is a new birth, the imparting of a new life, the implantation of a new nature, the formation of a new man. The old nature remains in all its distinctness, and the new nature has its own desires, its own habits, its own tendencies, its own affection. All these are spiritual, heavenly, divine.” He goes on with these dangerous words: “Be warned that the old nature is unchanged.” This is to say that there are two men in the Christian.

Robert L. Dabney tells the story of an emperor of Germany who bitterly rebuked a great episcopal feudatory for his violences, so inconsistent with his sacred character. The lord bishop answered that he represented two men in one, being both clergyman and baron, and that the military acts complained of were done in his secular character of a feudal baron. “Well, then,” replied the emperor, “bethink thee how the clergyman will fare when the devil is roasting the baron for his rapine and murder.”

Paul teaches that the renewed man (one man and one nature still) is imperfect, having two principles of volition mixed in the motives even of the same acts; but he does not teach that he has become “two men,” or has “two natures” in him. Paul’s idea is, that man’s one nature, originally wholly sinful, is by regeneration made imperfectly holy, but progressively so. Dr. Dabney makes the following comment on this passage. “Among the texts which seem to favor this dualistic view, none is claimed with more confidence than Eph. 4:22-24, which speaks of “putting off the old man,” and “putting on the new man.” We note this as a specimen of the manner in which Scripture is over strained, and an example of the way in which it may be cleared of these extravagances. One can hardly deny that, in this well known passage, it is the most natural interpretation to regard the putting off of the old as in order to putting on of the new; then the two are not coexistent, but successive. But more decisively; Who is the old man, and who is the new? The obvious parallel in I Cor. 15:22; 45-49, shows that the “old man” is Adam, and the “new man” is Christ. The statement which we have to expound, then, is substantially this: that believers have “put off” Adam in order to “put on” Christ. That is, they have severed their connection with the first federal head, in order to enter into a connection with the second federal head.”

John Newton, the great preacher and hymn writer, describes the inward warfare in a poem:

The Inward Warfare
Galatians 5:17

Strange and mysterious is my life,
What opposites I feel within!
A stable peace, a constant strife;
The rule of grace, the power of sin:
Too often I am captive led,
Yet daily triumph in my Head.

I prize the privilege of prayer,
But oh! what backwardness to pray!
Though on the Lord I cast my care,
I feel its burden every day;
I seek His will in all I do,
Yet find my own is working too.

I call the promises my own,
And prize them more than mines of gold.
Yet though their sweetness I have known,
They leave me unimpressed and cold:
One hour upon the truth I feed,
The next I knew not what I read.

I love the holy day of rest,
When Jesus meets His gathered saints:
Sweet day, of all the week the best!
For its return my spirit pants;
Yet often, through my unbelief
It proves a day of guilt and grief.

While on my Saviour I rely,
I know my foes shall lose their aim,
And therefore dare their power defy,
Assured of conquest through His name;
But soon my confidence is slain,
And all my fears return again.

Thus different powers within me strive,
And grace and sin by turns prevail;
I grieve, rejoice, decline, revive,
And victory hangs in doubtful scale:
But Jesus has His promise past,
That grace shall overcome at last.


The foundational error behind the carnal Christian theory and the two nature theory of the non-lordship teaching is in their erroneous view of sanctification. They fail to teach progressive sanctification, in fact, they oppose the teaching of progressive sanctification. If the non-lordship teachers had more respect for what the Holy Spirit taught our Christian fathers they would not embrace and teach their views on the carnal Christian or the two natures.

The following three paragraphs are taken from chapter 13 of both the Westminster Confession and the Old Baptist Confession of 1689.

  1. They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit, dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
  2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
  3. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ, as Head and King, in his Word hath prescribed to them.

If these three paragraphs are biblical and true the non-lordship teaching is out of business because the truths expressed in these paragraphs are a million miles from the non-lordship teaching. They do however, represent the Lordship view.

The substance of the material in this study is from Dr. Robert L. Dabney’s Discussions: Evangelical and Theological. Volume I, p.190ff. Published by Banner of Truth Trust, P.O. Box 621 Carlisle, PA 17013.

I would also recommend Dr. John H. Gerstner’s book Wrongly Dividing The Word of Truth A Critique of Dispensationalism, published by Wolgemuth & Hyatte, Publishers, Inc., Brentwood, TN.

For a more exhaustive study on our subject I recommend John Owen, Vol. 6 Temptation and Sin, Mortification of Sin, Indwelling Sin in Believers. Banner of Truth