Sunday, January 6, 2019

BLOWING UP THE OLD MAN (Lesson #2)

In Blowing Up the Old Man–Lesson 1, the post of last week, I wrote of the New Year’s tradition in Latin America called “blowing up the old man.” It is a custom that is supposed to carry with it the meaning of blowing up all of the problems of the previous year so that you can begin new in the year to come.

It is done in fun of course, because everyone understands that the problems in our lives cannot just be blown up and done away with so simply. We must deal with them.

However, if we are to deal with our problems, there are some things that we must realize about these difficulties that we encounter in our lives. 

Not God’s Final Vision for Us

The first of these matters for us to realize is that it is not part of the completed plan of God for us that we should have problems at all. God has intended us for greater things than dealing with difficulties. Our present state of facing and trying to solve one problem after another may be our condition in this age, but ultimately speaking, it is actually an unnatural state for us. God has created us for greater things than that.

But for the present, it is the sad reality that we will indeed experience problems in our lives. Until God has completed his work of redemption in us, we can expect that difficulties will come. We wish that we could simply blow these problems up and be done with them, but we know that type of wishful thinking will not help.

“That’s foolish!” we might say.

Foolish indeed, but unfortunately, the methods that we actually do employ in dealing with our problems are sometimes just as foolish. We have bills that are due, so we put more charge on our credit card. When that card is maxed out, we apply for another card and max that one out.

This is no way to live and it is no solution. Problems are not solved by blowing them up or by charging our way out of them. The solution is much more drastic.

We must die. 

A Daily Death

Are you shocked by that last statement? You should be, and I do not even mean a death as we would ordinarily define it. A mere physical death would be easy compared to the death that I am going to tell you about now. I am about to speak of a death that goes beyond enduring it once and then being done with it.

“I die daily,” the Apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 15:31). 

Backing Up a Little

But perhaps I should back up and do some explaining first. To do that, we look at some other words of Paul. The first of these statements is as he wrote to the first century church in Galatia. He told the people there, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).

He did not mean, of course, that he actually was hanging on a cross next to Jesus, like one of the two other men who were crucified when Jesus was. Nevertheless, although it was not literally true, in some respects, this is what he meant. In Jesus, his old life was put to death—it was crucified on the cross.

He said to the Roman Christians of the day, “Our old man was crucified with him” (Romans 6:6).

So you see, if you truly do want to have a new beginning in the New Year, it should not be our problems that we should be putting to death in the tradition of blowing up the old man. The problems that we face are not at the core of the issue. It is our “old selves” with which we must do away. 

Further Back Still…

Perhaps we need to back up even a bit more. What does Paul mean by all of this? What does it mean to “crucify our old man with Christ?”

For the insane days in which we presently are living, with suicide bombers and the like, we cannot take it for granted that someone will not take this statement literally—loading themselves up with morteros like the New Year’s old man in our Venezuelan neighborhood, and setting themselves on fire (see Blowing Up the Old Man–Lesson 1). But of course that is not what is meant here.

But if not this, then what?

The primer for this lesson is perhaps found in that same chapter of Romans where I quoted Paul a moment ago—chapter six of the book. Here is what Paul said before he mentions his old man being crucified: 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4 ESV) 

So difficult is this process of separating ourselves from sin that Paul calls it a death. This is the true significance of baptism, by the way. The act of baptism is intended to demonstrate that we are putting our old lives to death so we can be resurrected into a new life.

We have the rite or the ritual of baptism that is a picture of this. Baptism is not a formality that we repeat regularly in our lives, but in some ways the idea of baptism should be a daily occurrence. Every single day, when the thought of our past lives before we knew Christ comes to mind, we must say “No!” to that life. We daily put that life to death.

The failure to act in daily putting to death their old lives is the very place that so many Christians stumble in their walk with Christ. They make the initial turning to God a reality in their lives, but they do not realize that they must do this daily. Every single day must be a baptism of sorts. Every single day must be a day when we put the old life to death.

Every single day, and even several times in every day, we must say “No!” to our former way of living. 

A New Year’s Resolution?

You might say, “I tried that same sort of thing in making New Year’s resolutions. I tried saying ‘No!’ to eating sweets. I made the resolution on January 1, and I ate no sweets at all until January 2.”

But the daily dying to our old life is not the same as making a New Year’s resolution. Certainly, dying to self also takes resolve, but this resolve does not depend upon our own strength only. At least this is not how the Apostle Paul looks at it.

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia that he depended not upon his own strength and resolution when it came to this task, but upon the strength that came from a more secure source. He was writing on the subject of faith in Christ in contrast with the “Law.” By referring to the law, he is talking about doing things by his own strength.

I am going to quote what he wrote below, but instead of using the word “law,” as did Paul, I am going to substitute the words “my own self effort.” With that slight change, here is what Paul wrote: 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless, for if righteousness were through my own self effort, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21) 

Paul is pointing out that our very salvation comes not because of our own self effort, but entirely because of the grace of God. The people of Galatia seem to have understood this aspect of the truth, but they then thought that they could take over at that point and conduct their lives in Christ by their own effort.

The response of Paul to these thoughts was right to the point: “Oh you foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”

He then continues to ask them a series of questions intended to provoke some thought into their entire view of the Christian life.

He begins, “I would like to learn just one thing from you”…then continues:


Did you receive the Spirit by your own self effort, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning your walk with Christ in the Spirit, are you now finishing in the flesh? ... Does God lavish His Spirit on you and work miracles among you because you are walking according to your own self effort, or because you hear and believe? (Galatians 3:1-5; I have amplified the text of some of the phrases) 

…And now let me again mention the verses I earlier quoted from the book of Romans: 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4 ESV) 

Notice that the death of our old life opens up the opportunity for us to live a completely new life: “As Christ was raised from the dead…we too might walk in newness of life.”

Here again is where so many Christians fail in their walk with the Lord and with dealing with their old life. They may say, “New Year—New Me,” but if truth be told, they are not actually interested in a new life in the New Year. What they actually are interested in is simply a new and improved “Old Me.” They want to hang on to their old life before Christ.

“Oh you foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” 

Spiritual Double-dipping

If you truly are a believer in Christ but are not growing in your relationship with him, then you must ask yourself why your relationship has become stagnant. Imagine having a child who has not grown over a period of a couple of years. Would you not be very worried and try to find out the reason why there was no growth and development?

It is no different in our lives with Christ. If you are not growing, then you must find out why.

One reason may be is that you are not actually putting your old life to death. You not only are allowing your former life to live, but you continue to feed and nourish it.

Many Christians do not actually want to turn away from their former manner of living. They think that they can continue to live in their old pleasures of the world and still maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord.

Oh you foolish Americans! Who has bewitched you?

You can never be fulfilled in Jesus in this way, simply because you are not looking to God for fulfillment. You cannot live as you did in your past life and think that God will bless you in the present.

You are merely continuing to look to the world for amusement. I do not say “fulfillment” when speaking of the world, because the world does not even offer fulfillment. It only can offer temporary and shallow amusement.

And of course, another thing about this lifestyle of trying to follow Jesus and still live in the world is that you can never be happy living it. You cannot draw the same amusement from the ways of the world as you did in the past, because you now have the Holy Spirit within you who will not stand for it. And neither will you live in the enjoyment of your new life with Christ because you have not put your old life to death. 

It is a choice each of us who know the Lord must make. You can continue to hang on to your old life and try and derive some pleasure from it, while at the same time try to follow the way of Jesus. By doing this, your life will continue to stagnate and you will continue to live in frustration.

“What shall we say then?” the Apostle Paul asks. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Here is his answer. Since this is such a difficult lesson for us to learn, I repeat it yet again: 

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin… 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:3-4; 12-14 ESV) 

Our task is not to blow up our problems and put them to death. Our task is to put our old lives to death. It is only in that way that you will ever be able to walk in newness of life.

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