The Old Man

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

That’s bad news because it is indicative that my problem is much more than few surface pecadillos.  In fact, the problem runs much deeper, down to my very heart.  It typically feels like the good I do is a farcical act covering over an abyss that is generally pretty dark.  There ain’t much light down there.  This led to thoughts of putting off the “old man”.  As is usual for me, I have this phrase in my head of an old man to be put off, but have no context to place it in.  What is St Paul speaking of?  Turns out there are several instances where he uses the phrase.

How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 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 former man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  Rom 6:2-12

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Col 3:5-10

Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off the old man which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  Eph 4:17-24

(Weird little side note.  The RSV which I copied this from on-line had “self” in place of man in the Romans passage, and “nature” in its place in the other two.  I changed it back to how it is in my pocket RSV-CE.  It would be interesting to discover the reasons for these variances.  I think the “man” translation brings out nicely the association between the “old man” and Adam.)

I immediately get drawn down the rabbit hole of looking at verb tenses.  Romans states that our former man was crucified with Christ in baptism.  The old man died with Christ, in baptism.  Therefore, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and therefore, live that way.  However, though he is dead, we are still urged to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13).  The old man is dead, but his deeds remain to be killed.  Or something.  The Colossians verse is very similar.  It starts off urging us to put to death what is earthly in us, seeing that we have put off the old man.  The old man has been put off, presumably in baptism, therefore we should put to death what is earthly.  Colossians goes further, though, and states that the new man has been put on also, but similarly, though he has been put on, he is still in the process of being renewed.  The old man is dead and the new man is here, in baptism, but the old man’s deeds are still being killed and the new man is still being renewed.  So Romans and Colossians make the putting off and on an event that happened in baptism, whose effects are still being worked out in time.

Ephesians is slightly different in that we are now urged to put off the old man and put on the new.  All I can think of is that this is more of St Paul’s famous looseness with terminology.  So that, while the putting off and on occurred as an event in baptism, so the ongoing outworking of that event is also referred to as putting off the old man and and putting on the new.

So in response to the sad realization that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…  Well, in baptism, the old man has been crucified, and he belongs to my former manner of life.  He is dead.  It is an accomplished fact.  So that is cause for rejoicing.  And yet the process of working the old man out (put to death…; i.e., mortify) and letting in the new still carries on.  But this is the process of a heart being transformed from evil to good.  And though it is a long process, and has born oh so precious few fruits to date, that is also a hopeful thing, for it is the working out of what has already been accomplished.  Christian, become what you are, to put JP2’s words in a slightly different context.

Furthermore, to engage in this putting to death is a form of worship:

I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Rom 12:1-2

Colossians speaks of being renewed in knowledge.  Ephesians speaks of being renewed in the spirit of your minds.  Romans now speaks of the renewal of your mind.  To fail to put to death the old man is to be conformed to this world.  To engage in the act of putting to death the old man is to offer oneself in sacrifice to God, an act of worship and transformation.  The second halfs of these three books seem to be pretty well focused on what this transformation looks like.  Maybe I should be hanging out there for a while.


~ by Rob on January 19, 2010.

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