Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Old & New Man



by Dennis Pollock

There are two men spoken of in the Scriptures who are most important in our lives. They are known simply as the old and new man. Understanding the nature of these two men, and how to deal with them is of the utmost importance. The old man is a nasty sort of fellow who is both totally incompetent and entirely evil. The non-Christian and the Christian alike have to live with this old man. He does his best to make our lives miserable and never tires of trying to drag us down into the depths of depravity. The new man is our best Friend, and the One who will never let us down. He succeeds at all He attempts, and can never be corrupted. When He is in control we can never fail. Only Christians, however, live with this new man. And while they all love and prefer the new man, they often find themselves strangely attracted to the advice and lusts of the old guy. When they were saved they thought they had seen the last of him, only to find to their chagrin that he had merely gone on a strategic retreat, and was now back and ready to take up where he had left off.

It was the apostle Paul who made use of these terms to represent the sinful nature (the old man) and the Christ nature (the new man). Paul had a lot to say about sin and how it is overcome. It was Paul that wrote that classic description of the man who desperately wanted to do right, but found himself failing again and again. Paul declares, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do… I find then a law that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good… O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (From Romans 7)

Anyone who has ever made a sincere attempt to live righteously will identify with the dilemma Paul is describing. We find that the desire to be virtuous and upright, as noble as that is, is not nearly enough to provide the power to actually live that way. Though the world makes much of willpower and resolve, the Scriptures inform us that the will of man is woefully inadequate. In the face of the sin nature that resides within every man, woman, and child on our planet, and seethes with restless lusts and urges, our puny human will cannot stand. In Romans we read, “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

When then Senator John Kennedy was weighing the possibility of a run for the presidency, his secretary bravely asked him a question that puzzled her. It was well known in Kennedy’s inner circle that he was a notorious womanizer, which at that (more innocent) time in our country could have spelled death to his political career. She asked him, “Why do you continue to run after women when you know it could cost you the presidency?” Kennedy, no doubt amazed at her frankness, gave her a simple reply, “I just can’t help myself.”

Many would scoff at such an answer, but it is probably closer to the truth than one might think. Jesus taught that sin has an enslaving effect: “He that sins is a slave of sin.” It doesn’t enslave immediately. In its early stages we usually have a certain measure of control over any particular habit of sin. But indulge long enough and all control is lost. We are no longer dabblers; we are slaves.

RebelIt is much like the young man who decides to start smoking. There is usually a trace of rebellion in the act. Cigarettes look so cool, and the fact that mom and dad are telling him not to touch those things makes them all the more attractive. That first cigarette tasted terrible! But the young man perseveres and finally gets to the point where they don’t bother him. And it is such a delight to light up and show the world that he is a little on the wild side.

Fast forward about thirty years. Our smoker is now nearing fifty, he’s balding, and has a nice round pot belly where his six-pack used to be. Any cool he once had has long deserted him, and it seems pointless to smoke in rebellion toward his parents since they are now both in a nursing home and could not care less at this point whether he smokes or not. He has heard enough evidence about the dangers of smoking that he decides to quit. He throws his cigarettes away and determines never to smoke again. By mid-morning he is feeling most uncomfortable, by the afternoon he is downright miserable, and by evening he is feeling just fine, having bought a new carton, and is puffing away happily. What has happened? The rebel has become a slave.

To deal effectively with a problem you have to get to the source. If your house has holes in the flooring, it is not enough just to set mousetraps. Fix your floors or you will have a perpetual mouse problem. To deal effectively with the sins and vices of our lives, it is completely useless merely to go after them one by one with a pinch of grit and a little determination. We must get at the source. 

The Nature of the Old Man 

Paul describes this source as the old man, the sin nature that infests the human race. One definition of nature is: the essential qualities or characteristics by which something is recognized; "it is the nature of fire to burn.” And while it is the essential nature of fire to burn it is the essential nature of humans to sin. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” From this and other verses that describe this indwelling sin we have a thorough picture of the nature of the force which attempts to dominate us and bring us to ruin every day of our life.

The Old man is corrupt and rotten to the core. Jeremiah took note of this, declaring, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus spoke of it as well: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man”  (Mark 7:21-23).

It is a popular thought that within us all lies a spark of divinity. Man is basically good and if we can only construct society to allow for that innate goodness to come out, our world will be a paradise. Both the Scriptures, and indeed all of recorded history testify otherwise. During the days when Sadam Hussein was causing trouble, Meg Greenfield, then editor of Newsweek, wrote an insightful piece about the Iraqi dictator: 

Have you noticed how many of us have been saying … Sadam Hussein … is crazy or a nut. He’s not crazy. He’s no nut. It’s far more scary and dangerous than that. He is sane. He is evil. He knows exactly what he is doing… The question itself reveals that there is an apparently invincible innocence … at the bottom of our reasoning. We have a penchant in this country, when confronted by a genuine villain … to dehumanize him. He is either a freakish, demonic giant, some commie Cyclops who is scarcely part  of the human race, or a pitiful, well-meaning leader who only turned nasty and aggressive because we were so mean to him. It is evidently impossible for us to accept the fact that people of no particular gigantic dimension or clinical insanity … do wicked things — knowingly. 

Whether she knew it or not, Ms. Greenfield was picking up on one of the Bible’s core truths – that there is no necessity for insanity or a deprived childhood for men to do evil. What Ms. Greenfield may never have guessed is that this same sinful nature that ruled Hussein dwelt inside of her as well – and all the rest of us, from the nun working with lepers in India to the serial killer waiting his execution on death row.

The old man grows more corrupt with time. Paul tells us to put off the old man “which grows corrupt.” It’s not so much that the old man starts out being pretty decent and in time becomes more evil. He is evil from day one. But as our lives go by, if there is not the preserving grace of Jesus in us, the old man gains a greater foothold. His domination becomes more and more complete. This is why we often see the stereotypical cranky old person. Apart from the sanctifying work of the Spirit, mostfolks become increasingly irritable, impatient, and difficult as they age. Many of the seeds of selfishness and anger which were hardly noticeable in their youth have matured and now rule with absolute, unchallenged authority. This is probably one of the reasons God limited man’s time on earth to around 75 years. What a horrendous world it would be if men had several centuries to hone and cultivate their wicked hearts!

The Old Testament is a record of the weakness and failure of the old man to keep the holy laws of God. Israel was given God’s laws but no grace to keep those laws. They failed miserably, as God knew they would. The law was given to “tutor” the world, emphasizing one central truth: man with all his willpower and energy is totally incapable of living righteously and pleasing His Creator – we need the grace of Jesus! 

God’s Answer 

God has provided deliverance from this terrible adversary to all that is noble and pure in our lives. It is radically different from the various efforts attempted by man. Men have often assumed that education is the key to overcoming crime and evil. But an educated old man is still an old man. He may now commit computer crime rather than robbing liquor stores, he may have affairs with beautiful, sophisticated ladies rather than consorting with prostitutes, but he is still wicked at heart. His primary motivation is what it has always been – self.

 God’s solution is execution. Paul writes, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” When we are born againthrough faith in Jesus Christ a replacement happens. The old man is put to death and a new Man, the Lord Jesus takes his place. By the indwelling Spirit we are given a new nature, which is everything that the old nature was not. While the old nature was selfish, lustful, and rebellious, this new nature, the very nature of Jesus, is loving, seeks and yearns for the will of God, and gladly submits to the laws and authority of God.

Though the Bible speaks of the old man being put to death, this does not mean he ceases to exist for the Christian. Believers all wrestle with conflicts, some incredibly intense, between the old and new nature. This is why Paul tells us to put off the old man and put on the new. Using different terminology he writes, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” No, the old guy has not left us – this will not happen until we see Jesus face to face. But through faith in Christ he can be rendered ineffective and impotent. Thousands of years ago the prophet Ezekiel foresaw this amazing victory, and wrote: 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:26,27).


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