A Bit of the Old Nature
Dr. Joe Temple

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Genesis, chapter 20. This chapter is not one that makes me very happy as I make an effort to study this portion of the Word of God, and I think you will understand the reason as we read the chapter and as we meditate upon it. This is a blot upon the nature of a devoted Christian, and yet we should be able to profit from the blot. I use the word Christian about Old Testament characters, recognizing that they were not Christians, if we are going to quibble about terms, but were just men. They were righteous men, and it will be simpler for us to use the word Christian than it would be to make the effort to talk about them in several Old Testament phrases coupled with New Testament phrases.

We will read the entire chapter, and then we will go back and talk about it together.

Genesis 20:

1And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.
2And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.
3But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.
4But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?
5Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.
6And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
7Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.
8Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid.
9Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.
10And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?
11And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.
12And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.
13And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.
14And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.
15And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.
16And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.
17So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.
18For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife.

I do not think that you have a very inquiring mind if you have not recognized in this chapter some definite questions. Some things have come to you and you have asked in relation to these things, “Why? Why is it just the way it is?” I do not propose to say that I can answer all these questions, but I do suggest that we look at the Word and accept the Word for what it says without attempting to whittle the Word down to our conception of things. I am frank to confess to you…and I am sure you have already recognized some of these things…that if we interpret this chapter by our conception of righteousness, there will be a number of things we will not be able to understand.

Saved Men Have A Bit of the Old Nature

I think it might be wise for us to look at the story generally, and then look at some of the details in relation to it. A long time ago I read a commentary on the book of Genesis by a man who has been with the Lord for nearly 150 years, and he had a little dissertation on this chapter. I like very much what he said. He gave the chapter the title, “A Bit of the Old Nature.” I like that because here was Abraham, a man called a friend of God, a man with whom God talked face to face, a man who was so close to God that God said, “I cannot even destroy a city that needs destruction without telling my friend what I am going to do before I do it.” If you did not have this chapter, you would think about Abraham as a very, very holy person. You would think about Abraham as a very righteous person. But then you have this chapter.

You find Abraham stooping to a low-down lie that harmed his testimony to the extent that a heathen king, who knew about God but was certainly not a friend of God, had to rebuke him. Abraham was put in a place where Abraham, the Christian, had lower standards than Abimelech, the unsaved man. All of this is disgraceful from the beginning to the end, and you wonder how it could possibly be.

As I said, I like what that man said. It is all there because of the old nature. Here is a case where a bit of the old nature made iself evident in a man who was called of God.

Every Man Has Adam's Nature

If these phrases seem a bit strange to you, let me remind you that every one of us is born with this old nature. The Bible calls it the old man. The Bible calls it the flesh. The Bible calls it Adam. Theologians refer to it as the Adamic nature. The Bible refers to it as iniquity. It is that propensity to sin with which we all are born. Everybody born into the world is born with this propensity to sin. David expressed it by saying that we go astray from the womb, speaking lies as soon as we are born. That is the old nature.

Every sinner is controlled by that old nature every step of the way. He walks, as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the Power of the air, according to the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. So, you will need never be surprised at what an unsaved person will do. An unsaved person is capable of doing anything, because the old nature is controlling his life.

Redeemed Men Have Two Natures

When we are born again, when we come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, we become new creatures in Christ Jesus, and there is implanted in us a new nature called the new man. I wish I could preach and believe what some devoted people preach. There are some devoted people who preach that you can have an experience of grace that will completely eradicate the old nature. I wish I could preach that, and I certainly wish it were so. I would be so happy if this old nature of mine could be done away with, if it could be eradicated. I have never had any argument with the people who preach that kind of holiness. As far as wishing it were true is concerned, I wish it were. But the sad thing is, it isn't! There is nothing in the Word of God to indicate that such a thing is a possibility. Every born-again believer has two natures within him…the old nature and the new nature. When we are walking in perfect victory, we are walking at the direction of the new nature. When we slip into sin as Christians, we are walking according to the old nature.

In chapters 18 and 19 of the book of Genesis, those chapters related to the intercession of Abraham for Sodom and the following destruction of the city, Abraham was walking according to the new nature, and there was great victory. Here in chapter 20, as this ancient theologian said, a bit of the old nature reared its head, and there was a sad experience and a dark blot on the life of a child of God.

A Christian's Life Is A Battle Between Two Natures

Paul in his letter to the Galatians says this same thing, except he talks about it as walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh. The Spirit lusteth against the flesh. There is a continual battle going on in the heart and life of the believer. You may not always be conscious of that battle, because it is there all the time…the Spirit and the old nature fighting back and forth. Sometimes you are put in a place where you become very conscious of that battle, and you have to make the decision as to whether you are going to walk in the flesh or walk in the Spirit.

Such was the case with Abraham. He went down to Gerar, and when he did, he came face to face with a circumstance that made it necessary for him to decide whether he was going to walk in the flesh or in the Spirit. Sad to say, he decided to walk in the flesh. Oh, I do not mean to imply that he sat down and said, “Shall I walk in the flesh, or shall I walk in the Spirit?” The story suggests that he came face to face with this circumstance where he could have walked in the Spirit or walked in the flesh. He chose to walk in the flesh. Nobody forced him to. That is what brought this sad blot on his experience.

Spiritual Defeats Often Follow Spiritual Victories

The significant thing to me, because I would like for us to draw a parallel, is that this bit of the old nature reared its ugly head right after a tremendous victory. That happens so often. After a great spiritual victory, it seems that the old nature, resenting the victory, will rear its head and make us do something that, if we are not careful, will bring reproach upon the name of Christ. Someone has said, “Oh, it is so dangerous if a person walks far from God.” Well, in a sense it is, but I want to tell you that I believe that the most dangerous time of your spiritual experience is immediately after a great spiritual victory. That is when the Devil seems to get the inroad, and when the old nature rears its ugly head.

We have read the story, and you know pretty well what happened. Abraham went with Sarah his wife into the kingdom of Abimelech, and he told a lie, and Sarah told a lie. The lie was that Sarah was his sister. Abimelech took Sarah into his household for a wife. Now, of course, there is a little question here. We remember that Sarah was awfully old by this time, and humanly speaking it is difficult to see how she could have been attractive to him at this age. Nevertheless, that is what we believe. That is what I meant when I said that I may not have the answers for all these things, but I accept the Word of God for exactly what it says, and that is what the Word says.

Sarah was taken into the palace of Abimelech, and no sooner was it done than Abimelech and all his family were stricken with a plague. The plague in relation to the women was barrenness. Abimelech did not know why they were sick. One night God spoke to him in a dream and told him why. He said, “You are about to be guilty of the sin of fornication. You have another man's wife in your palace, and he is a servant of Mine.” Abimelech said, “Well, I have done this thing in the integrity of my heart. That is, I am innocent. I did not know what was going on. I did not realize that she was his wife. She said she was his sister. He said the same thing. I am not to blame for this thing.” God said, “That is right. I know you are not to blame basically. That is the reason I withheld you from doing something even worse than you have done, but you had better give this wife back. If you do not, something horrible is going to happen.”

So Abimelech called Abraham in, and I want you to notice verse 10, for this is the sad illustration of what walking according to the old nature will do:

Genesis 20:

10And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

“Why did you do this thing, anyway?” Abraham says three things which indicate that he walked in the flesh instead of in the Spirit. The first thing he said was:

Genesis 20:

11…Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

That is the first thing to indicate that he was walking in the flesh. Then he said:

Genesis 20:

12And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

That is the second thing he said. The third thing he said was:

Genesis 20:

13And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.

Walking In the Spirit Prevents Judging Others

Those three things indicate that Abraham walked in the flesh. How do they so indicate? First of all, Abraham attempted with his finite mind to judge the hearts of other people. People who are walking in the Spirit never judge other people. That is characteristic of the flesh, not the Spirit. Those who walk in the Spirit have produced in their hearts the fruit of the Spirit that forbids judging other people as Abraham judged Abimelech.

But more serious still was that he said, “These people have no fear of God before their eyes, and they most certainly will take my wife. In order to take her, they will slay me.” He was walking in the flesh in that he was more afraid of what man would do to him than of what God was able to do to him.

Walking In the Spirit Leaves No Room for Fear

What does the Scripture say? “Perfect love casteth out all fear.” What does the Scripture say? “He has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, love, and of a sound mind.” Of power, of love, and of discipline. I am going to say something that may sound a bit harsh, and I do not want to, because I am thoroughly in sympathy with people who are in the grip of fear. There is nothing quite so tragic, to my way of thinking, as people who live in fear. My heart goes out to them. I do not want to sound too harsh, but I must say this because it is the Scripture. An individual who is afraid is not walking in the Spirit, for the Holy Spirit leaves no room in our hearts for fear. If Abraham had been walking in the Spirit, though he was going into a country that was very, very dangerous, he would have said, “I know the danger is here, and in the flesh I can be afraid, but what time I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord. The Lord is able to take care of me, and He is able to take care of Sarah.” Had Abraham been walking in the Spirit, he would have trusted in the Word instead of in circumstances. If he had brought to mind the Word which God had given him just two chapters before, he would have known that it would be utterly impossible for Abimelech to lay his hand on him. He was looking at circumstances instead of walking in the Spirit, and he fell into sin. You see, sin never begins with the act itself. It is always preceded by another failure.

What was the second thing he did that indicates that he was walking in the flesh instead of in the Spirit? Look at verse 12:

Genesis 20:

12And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

It is impossible to rationalize and believe at the same time. Had he believed God, he would not have found it necessary to rationalize a way whereby he could provide protection for himself. He rationalized, “If they think she is my wife, they will kill me. I cannot say she is my wife. What shall I say?” The old Devil is always handy with suggestions, and he was handy right at that particular time. He slipped up and whispered in Abraham's ear, “Well, Abraham, why don't you say she is your sister?” Abraham said, “But she is not. She is my wife.” The Devil said, “Well, now, Abraham, really you can stretch a point or two. She is your wife. That is true. However, they do not need to know she is your wife. After all, if you had not married her, she would be considered your sister because you do have the same father. You have different mothers. She is really your sister, so it really will not hurt to say she is your sister, because she is your sister.” You see how he rationalized the thing.

The important thing is not that she was his half-sister, but that she was his wife. When he lied and said, with the intent to deceive, that she was his sister, he was deliberately misrepresenting the truth.

The Spirit does not lead one to misrepresent the truth. I want to pause to dwell a bit on that, because I believe that there is an awful lot of that going on. I am sad to say it, but I believe that there is an awful lot of that going on among Christians. There are any number of Christians who will not tell a deliberate lie, but who will present half-truths, or who hold back certain information which, if it were given, would certainly change the entire picture they are trying to paint. I am amazed at the number of Christians who do just what Abraham did. They misrepresent the truth.

Regardless of how you may feel about it, and regardless of your own estimation of your relationship to the Lord, when you are misrepresenting the truth in this manner, you are walking according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. It is a bit of the old nature that is rearing its ugly head.

The third thing to indicate that Abraham was walking according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit…and it is indeed a serious thing…is indicated in verse 13. This was not the sin of the moment. This was not the sin committed under the pressure of great temptation. This was a sin that had its roots in an agreement made some thirty years before. This was a sin that repeated itself. It happened in chapter 13, and here we find it happening in chapter 20, and the reason it was a sin of repetition was that it was never fully judged as sin. Will you notice verse 13:

Genesis 20:

13And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.

Here is an agreement to lie. You see how serious it is. Notice the difference. Here may be an alcoholic, so-called. He has been born again, and he is walking in the Spirit. He is thrown with a group of men who are drinking, and the old taste for alcohol comes back. The urge is so great that he falls into sin and drinks. His testimony is harmed. That is the pressure of the moment. He may weep before the Lord when it is over. He may ask the Lord for grace never to fall into that sin again. He is humbled by it. Abraham's sin was a sin that was not exclusively under the great pressure of the moment. It was a sin that had its roots in an agreement to lie. “We are going to do a lot of traveling,” Abraham said, “and everywhere we go this same thing will come up. So let us have an understanding. Do not run to me and ask, ‘What shall I say?' Say right off, 'I am his sister'.”

Christians Must Judge Sin As Sin

This sin reared its head again because it was never judged as sin. I want you to get that, because I believe that one of the problems that Christians have in relation to sin is that they will not judge sin as sin. They do not slay utterly, as the Scripture says. They rationalize. They reason. They excuse in any number of ways the thing they may be doing, and because they do not judge it, it can rear its ugly head again and again and again.

Will you turn with me, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 6, verse 10:

Romans 6:

10For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

You will notice the emphasis that is placed upon the recognition that we who are born again are dead to the influence of sin. It does not mean that we are dead to the possibility of sin, but it does mean that we should not yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness. It means that we should mortify therefore the deeds of the body, that we should put them to death, that we should judge them worthy of death. That is what the Lord Jesus Christ meant when He said, “If your eye offend you, pluck it out.” He was not talking about going around pulling your eye physically out of your head. Judge the thing that is causing trouble. Do not smile and look on it as a little thing with no practical importance. Recognize it for what it is.

Going back with me to the book of Genesis for a moment, if Abraham, when he went down into the land of Egypt thirty years ago and lied for the first time, had said then, “Oh, God, this is a lie that I have told,” and had judged it for what it was instead of its lying dormant as a pact between him and his wife, there is a good possibility that the sin would never have been repeated. Abraham walked in the flesh, and in walking in the flesh brought reproach upon himself and upon the God whom he was supposed to serve. Abimelech said to him in verse 9:

Genesis 20:

9…What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?…

“Of all people, why did you do it? You are a servant of God.”

You will notice that in verse 16, after he had restored Sarah to Abraham, He said:

Genesis 20:

16…Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver…

Notice the sarcasm of the text:

Genesis 20:

16…I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: [Then he became very serious.] behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.

When he said, “He should be to thee a covering of the eyes,” He was speaking of the oriental custom of women's covering their faces for protection as a sign that they were married, that they belonged to someone else. As the veil was the covering, it was also their protection. So, he was saying to her in so many words, “He is far more protection to you as your husband that he is to you as your brother.” Thus she was reproved.

Can you catch the vision of this chapter? A Christian was reproved by an unsaved man. A Christian was reproved by an individual who did not have the light and the opportunity that the Christian had had. That is exactly what is happening. Let us face it. Some Christians are living such lax lives that unsaved people can justly reprove them. Unsaved people a great many times have a higher standard for the children of God than the children of God have for themselves. It is a sad situation.

God Hears Petitions of His Children

One of the things that will trouble our human reasoning is that God said to Abimelech, “There is only one thing that will ease the situation…Abraham is going to have to pray for you. If Abraham, my prophet, does not pray for you, I will not heal you, and you will not be delivered from this particular sin.” Abimelech might well have said, “Why, that old hypocrite, why should I expect him to pray for me? Why will you even listen to the prayers of an old hypocrite like that?” That was God's order. The prophet of God must pray for the sinner. Why? Here is something we need to learn. It may be difficult for us to receive, but it is in the Word. It is that God hears the child of God not because of his state exclusively, but because of his standing. That may seem a bit confusing to you so let me put it this way: God heard Abraham not because he was a sorry Christian, but because he was a Christian. He heard him in spite of the sorry things we have been talking about. He heard him because he was a child of God. He could not hear Abimelech because Abimelech was not a child of God. Though Abraham was as sorry as he could be in this particular instance, God heard him when He would not hear Abimelech.

Someone has said that Abraham was accepted in the Beloved but was not acceptable in the thing that he was doing at that particular moment. That is so true. Every one of us is accepted in the Lord Jesus Christ, but so often…and I am afraid more often than not…our lives are not acceptable to Him.

God heard Abraham, not because he was a liar. He heard him in spite of it. He heard him because he was His servant. Therein lies a wonderful lesson in the grace of God. Someone says, “Well, do you mean to say that Abraham got off scot free? You mean that God just let him get away with this?” It would have been inconsistent with the nature of God, and it would have been inconsistent with the rest of the Word of God for us to think that Abraham got off scot free. He did not. It just so happens that the record does not tell what happened to Abraham. I am quite sure that Abraham, because he was a friend of God, when he looked at this dowry, so-called, which was given in sarcasm by Abimelech, was reminded of how he had lost his testimony.

I want to say to you that if you as a child of God are ever so lax in your Christian living that a sinner has to rebuke you, you feel indeed that you are chastened. You feel indeed that God has disciplined you. I do not know of anything that hurts any worse than to be rebuked by a sinner and to know that the rebuke is justified.

Of course, there have been any number of us who have been criticized by the unsaved, and it bothers us, because we knew that they had not a leg to stand on. They hate us just because we belong to the Lord. But when we are careless in the way we live and the unsaved have to rebuke us, if we are in love with the Lord at all, we are concerned about it. We are hurt about it. It drives us to our knees in confession of sin and in acknowledgement of that which is evil before the Lord.

God Can Prevent Sinners from Sinning

There is one more thing I would like to say to you that is revealed in this chapter. It is suggested in verse 6:

Genesis 20:

6And God said unto him in a dream [that is unto Abimelech], Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

That is one of the most marvelous verses of the Bible to me. God is able to withhold the sinner from sin. Do you realize that? He is able to withhold the sinner from sin. I think you have a perfect right to pray, if you have a loved one…it may be a husband, a wife, a child, a son or daughter, mother or father…if you have a loved one who is in sin and away from God, I think you have a perfect right to pray, “Oh, God, withhold him, restrain him from doing anything too bad. Restrain him from doing anything worse than he is already doing. Lord, keep him back from sin.” If you believe that certain people are walking according to the course of this world and walking at the direction of the Devil…for people who are unsaved and people who are out of fellowship are walking according to the old nature…then you ought to be very much concerned about what their end will be. I have had people say to me about Christians, their loved ones, “Well, they are out of fellowship, I guess, but they are not doing anything too bad,” and they sort of shrug their shoulders, a little bit ashamned that their loved ones are out of fellowship, but not concerned. I say to you that we should be concerned because they are out of fellowship. There is no limit to what can happen to them. We should be concerned and should pray, “Oh, God, withhold them from doing anything too awful. Withhold them from doing anything too drastic.” I believe God can. I believe we can pray, as some have expressed it, “Do not let them get too far away from you, Lord. Do not let them get too far away.” I believe we can pray that way. God said to Abimelech, “I have been looking this thing over, Abimelech, and I know that you were duped. I know that you were caught in a lie, and the lie of a Christian, of all things. You were, and for that reason I have witheld you, I have restrained you from doing anything worse.” The implication was, “If I had not restrained you, you would be dead.” In fact He said, “You are a dead man. You are sitting on top of something that will explode at any minute.” Yet God was able to keep him from sinning.

Thank God for the restraining power of God…that He is able to keep men from sin. This should encourage our hearts very much to pray for those who are in authority. Here was a king, and God restrained the king from doing anything too terrible. If you are afraid of what Russia might do, pray that God will restrain the Russian leader. God can restrain him. You say, “Well, I think that that button the President carries around with him might restrain him.” It might, but he might figure that he can push his button faster than our President can, so you had better not depend too much on that. You had better pray that God will restrain him. He is able.


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