THE SPIRITUAL POSITION OF CHRISTIANS
Paul loved explaining the existence of spiritual reality, even to those who showed little visible, fruitful evidence. (See 1 Cor. 3:16 and also Ephesians 1, 2 and 3.) He devoted much time emphasizing positional truth to the young converts in the early churches by telling them who and what they were "in Christ". What an encourager!
These passages are lucid explanations to baby Christians who Paul saw as "temples" of God, "seated in heavenly places". These people obviously needed more instruction of what had happened to them at the deeper, spiritual plane when they were first born again. Like all new Christians, I suspect their knowledge was limited to the fact that they had heard the Gospel and trusted in Jesus. But that was enough for Paul to pray:
"...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints..." (Eph.1:17&18)
Positional teaching is the highest form of motivation to grow in Christ. Paul did not discourage true believers even when performance was poor; nor did he criticize real faith, even if it was sometimes shallow or inactive. Paul used a better way to stimulate fruitless-Christians by explaining more clearly to them who they were in Christ Jesus. Man, if I can get a better picture of what God has graciously already accomplished within my spirit, that makes me want to do better. What about you?
The apostle John said "whosoever abideth in Him (Christ) sinneth not;"...and "...Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;..." (1 John 3:6&9)
Many expositors (and even some modern versions of the Bible) say that these verses simply mean to “not practice sin habitually”. This can be true (although not always), but we can also accept the statement very literally if we view and apply John’s inference to the new creation inside a Christian. It is most certainly reasonable that which is “born of God” would never sin. The spirit which has been sealed "abides" (remains) in Jesus until taken to heaven. He/she is God's property. The purchase was made on a "no return" basis. This is a positional truth. A spiritual reality.
But, sin-wise, the soulish life here in this world has it's 'ups and downs' and of course that which has been made new and sealed inside us will be responsible for what he allows the soul and body to do. At times, Christians yield to temptations. God could have given us glorified bodies and minds at the time of our new birth, but that is obviously not the current program. In this present age, God’s grace (the desire-and-power kind) is to be considered "sufficient” to overcome and keep the flesh in check.
The Holy Spirit resides in and communicates with the spirit. His purpose is to love, teach, admonish and prompt the sealed believer to live obediently. When Christians yield to temptations, the spirit is grieved because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within. When we sin, the soul and body are not then abiding in Christ, even though the sealed spirit is. The saved and sealed spirit is positionally perfect. The soul isn't. The body and soul remain in this world and subject to its lusts and temptations. If the sealed, new-man spirit (i.e., the part which has been born-of-God) wasn't connected to the soul and body, one would never choose to commit sin, period. So what is the conclusion? From day one of a Christian’s life, the brand new creation inside does not sin, which is what John plainly said.
Under the Holy Spirit's guidance and promptings, our saved-and-sealed spirit relays revealed-knowledge to the soul. But since the soul and body are not sealed, the old ways which linger in the soul (our human life) can still rebel against truth. Satan, the world, and our own former-sin-tendencies, all combine to work against the Kingdom of God. And that which is pristine inside a new believer (the new-Adam seed which God planted into the believer's spirit) is part of that Kingdom. Remember, every ungodly thing in existence wars with the saved, sealed spirit — even our own sin-prone flesh! The soul and body must be conditioned to act right. This is sanctification in action.
THE WHOLE PERSON
Obviously, a saved person is a singular, composite individual. You and I, fellow Christians, are responsible for our total, complete self. (Recall 1 Thes.5:23.) And it is up to us to rule the whole "temple". Some might conclude that my understanding promotes the attitude of concealment, leading one to assume something along these lines: "Well, since my spirit is all locked up and going to heaven, I can enjoy my soulish life to my heart's content." I'm not at all suggesting that God allows a Christian to hide behind the truth that we are positionally perfect. The born-of-God new seed within us will be inwardly grieved by sin's presence and/or disobedient conduct which takes place in our temple. This truth in no way gives license to "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". (Personally, the more I concentrate on who and whose I am, the more I am motivated to bring my soul and body into line with what is already a positional, spiritual fact in my inner spirit.)
Now recall Paul's closing prayer for the Thessalonians (1 Thes.5:23) and see if it doesn't agree perfectly with the concepts being outlined here. His hope was that the believers would be "sanctified" completely, so that the "whole spirit and soul and body would be preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." These are wonderful words of encouragement. Clearly, he is praying that believers ought to make sure their soul and body are aligned with that which has been born anew in their spirit, so that the entire being might be kept in unison. He wanted his hearers to know that they still have something to do with getting their personal 'house' in order.
THE NEW MAN
"...put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24.
Most of us Christians have been taught that we must contend with two ruling natures in our being — the old man and the new man, each alternately in charge of the 'throne' of our lives. That when we sin, the nature of our old man is in control, and when we do good, the nature of the new man is exercising authority. This is a rather weird partnership but, according to this understanding, something we must learn to live with. Well, since we know that believers do sometimes sin after the new birth, this thinking seems valid. But I'm now convinced most Christians are confused here. In fact, clinging to this notion will prevent one from ever enjoying the full benefit of the freedom which Jesus bought for us. Scripture explains my point like this:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17.
After really digesting this verse, there is no way to conclude that two natures truly have God-given, shared authority in the life of a Christian. The fact that one can sin does not negate this truth. However, it is probably due to the fact that Christians do sin that gives rise to the erroneous understanding. How can this dilemma be resolved? Let’s look at it this way:
God has one nature but three Persons exist to comprise His one nature. The Bible describes God as three-Persons-in-One. Now, how can this be? Frankly, I really don't know. It's one of those 'reckoned' truths. But regardless of whether I can fathom it, Scripture clearly presents the Father as God (Hebrews 1:1-5); the Son, Jesus Christ, as God (Hebrews 1:8); and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3&4). Three Persons all called God, and yet we know there is but one God! (Isa. 44:6.) Understand it? I can't. I just believe it. But, how about us?
So, the Bible clearly teaches the conclusion that within the nature of the One God, there are three distinct Persons. That being true, is there perhaps a similar explanation for us, since, as the Bible says, we are made in the "image of God"? When one is saved, a change of ruling authority happens inside the spirit of a believer. The new man comes alive, unseating the old man who (the Bible says) dies at the moment of the new birth. A new nature takes the place of the old nature. God did not design the new man to share the throne with the old man. The old man may have been around longer than the new man (who is a newcomer), but, from God’s perspective, the latter is rightful 'king' of the temple of a new Christian’s body and soul.
Now I'm speaking about spiritual-truth reality. It must be reckoned so. Mere human logic, which probably led to the co-existing-rulers idea, will not provide the correct answers to this puzzling situation. We must check it out scripturally and then, by faith, simply accept the truth that is found.
The stumbling block for me in this area has always been due to the fact that I still sinned after being saved. I was aware that something was certainly still alive which caused me to sometimes do wrong. If it wasn't the old nature, then what was it? I'm convinced Romans 6, 7, and 8 were written to shed light on this mystery. I suggest several readings of all three chapters. But, let's look at one verse in particular to illustrate what's said in these passages:
"But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead." Romans 7:8.
Carefully note the wording here: The apostle treats sin as though it had the power of person-hood! And that is how we must think if we are to understand our new, regenerated status. Whether we like it or not, God allows sin to continue its force upon us even after we are saved.
The sensitized, saved and sealed spirit relates to sinfulness similarly to the above illustration. If I had gotten a new body when the new man entered my spirit, I would never have allowed sin to enter. Not even once. (Again, that's what John really meant when he said, "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin;..." 1 Jn. 5:18). However, an immediate new body for a new believer was obviously not on God's timetable.
Question: How can the old man be considered dead when it seems he comes back to taunt and haunt us? Well, as we have seen, his authority over our temple was severed, so in that sense he had to move out. I believe that which comes back is sin, Satan, demons and the world, all of which are determined to tempt our flesh to live as we formerly did under the old man’s rule. These are truths that must be reckoned as truths. Paul reckoned it this way. I reckon I agree. Thus, the things which God allows to stay around after initial salvation are:
(1) Sin itself (to which the flesh is still sensitive).
(2) The fallen, Babylonish world. (Christians are not of this world but we must remain in it until physical death, or until Jesus comes).
(3) Satan, who always tempts us to commit sin (as well as trying to prevent our learning more about the spiritual reality of who we are in Christ).
The above three forces comprise the totality of spiritually-evil powers in the universe. I believe they actually conspire in an attempt to keep the new man quiet. Satan is author of the conspiracy; the world follows him; and sin itself is alive in the flesh to complete the loop. But keep this in mind: they are all deceptive liars! The Bible says that believers are new creations in Christ Jesus. We Christians need to recognize this reality and move faithfully ahead so that our post-regeneration walk can match that which is already a spiritual reality in our new man.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
I think this would be a good place to take a break from the flow of the book and take a look at God's overall plan of the ages. It almost always helps to have a broader view of any given situation in order to better understand the smaller details of the picture. I'm also convinced this theological perspective will help clarify some of the 'mystery' about salvation. And it will definitely help prepare the reader for Parts 5, 6 & 7 of this book.
In the garden before the fall, Adam and Eve walked with God. They knew Him intimately. God was their provider. He was always there to answer any question they might have. There was no lack of any kind — physically, mentally or spiritually.
God had said they could have anything in the garden they wanted except not partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which apparently meant to know everything with their mind). But it was God's right, not man's, to be the possessor of all knowledge. God's perfect will for Adam and Eve was that they willfully submit to His authority over their spirits, souls and bodies — i.e., every aspect of their being.
Before the Fall, the evidence seems to indicate that there was a physical manifestation of God's authority over Adam and Eve. It doesn't overly-stretch the imagination, nor Scripture, to believe that their bodies were perhaps covered with a radiant, God-like glory. But, as we know, they sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit. God had said that the day they ate of this tree, they would surely die.
One of the immediate consequences of Adam and Eve's sin is that they knew they were naked! God asked who told them they were naked. Obviously they saw their own nakedness for the first time and decided to provide coverings for themselves with fig leaves. What had happened there? It is strongly implied that there was a covering beforehand but that it had vanished.
It appears to me that the who? God inquired about was their new adviser, the "old man", who had come alive the day the glory of God left. An exchange of guide on the seat of authority over man took place that day.
When God's glory left, they were no longer in direct communion with the Almighty. The intimacy was gone. Their "spiritual umbilical cord", if I may call it that, was disconnected from their Creator. Through their selfish will, God had been unseated from the throne of authority over them. (We have no record that Adam and Eve ever fully realized the seriousness of their sin: that all human sin emanated from that one, rebellious act.)
But beginning immediately, God started His action-plan to re-establish man's relationship to Him. The first thing He did was to cover Adam and Eve's bodies with animal skins, a symbolic gesture which had in it the promise of God's protection and buying back of that which was lost by their sin. Prior to their sin, God's glory was on the outside. With scriptural hindsight, we can now see that God would eventually restore man by permeating his being with His glory starting on the inside.
So, beginning at Adam, continuing with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, etc., we can trace God's continual and repeated emphasis on how to be reconciled to Him. There has always been an “if clause” connected with God's bountiful provisions: some measure of obedience associated. But God didn't force Adam, nor anyone else since then. He lays His order before us. He's provided the gift of His Son and the gift of faith. We must exercise our will to receive His input into our lives.
What is God trying to show us? It's really quite simple. But so many [including me for years] seem to have great difficulty grasping and embracing the concept.
We come into this world with an Adam-nature, called the first Adam in the New Testament. All of us inherited Adam's fallen nature. With Adam, it happened the day he first sinned. With us, it happens at physical birth (actually conception). We don't have to sin even once in order to have the old man in us.
What is this "old man"? Not to over-complicate things here but it helps to think of him as a fourth dimension of our being, an addition to the spirit, soul and body. I think Adam and Eve didn't initially have this nature; he was born in them the day they first sinned. What, or who, directed their actions before this? God Himself did! But when God's Spirit left Adam, man got a new motivator. The new commander came alive on the inside of Adam to replace God's control from the outside. Satan's temptation — that Adam and Eve would become "as gods" — had taken root. Selfish ego was alive. I believe this is what God was referring to when He asked Adam and Eve about “who?” told them that they were naked.
Ideally, God should sit on the throne of the central core of every man. It is only in this way man can possibly be what God designed him to be. The exchange Adam went for when he sinned was a bad deal! He had God at first, then exchanged Him for a loser — himself.
What are the main attributes of the old man? He wants to do what he wants, when he wants, where he wants, etc., without any input from His Designer. How lost (and sometimes stupid) humanity really is! Well, let's not blame Adam and Eve too much. If you or I had been there, we would have done the same thing, perhaps sooner than they did. Remember, they were much better off than you and I are now (in terms of what we got at our natural birth) and yet they still rebelled.
THE SECOND ADAM
It was not until I understood the meaning of what the Bible calls the second-Adam (Christ) that the "old man" and the "new man" concepts began to make sense to me.
In John 3, Jesus sets the stage for understanding that He was the second Adam. There He tells a Jewish man named Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, one must be "born again". "Nic" showed his ignorance by asking if he would need to return to his mother's womb and be born a second time. Jesus said that which is born of flesh is flesh (i.e., natural) and that which is born of spirit is spirit (i.e., spiritual). Now aside from the fact that Jesus was laying the groundwork for the basic Gospel message (that He was the Messiah), He was also showing us God's plan of the ages regarding how man could be restored from his fall, back into relationship with God. Man needs a way to remove the "old man" motivator from his central being and a way to replace him with something better — the very same Spirit of God that the first-Adam caused to be removed. Is this possible?
Indeed it is. In fact, that's exactly what happens when one receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It has been called by some The Great Exchange. A believer in Jesus exchanges his "old man" nature (the first-Adam) for the "new man" nature (the second-Adam). That's why the apostle Paul could refer to the "old man" as dead when one becomes a new believer. The "new man" (the second-Adam) is formed in the spirit of a new believer in Christ Jesus. When this happens, that which was disrupted by Adam when he fell is re-connected because of what Jesus did for us by becoming the Lamb of God. This is the new birth. It is a spiritual birth. (In the natural sense, this could be likened to a man's sperm cell impregnating the ovum of his wife and starting new life in the womb.)
After this new birth, the "new man" has far greater potential to act in our behalf than the "old man" did. Potentially, he is in fact a God-like man. Those who are in Christ Jesus are the "sons of God". How does this happen? Jesus was born into Mary when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her; the Seed of God's Son was placed into her womb. Similarly, a new seed is planted into the 'spiritual womb' of our own spirit when God calls us and we put our trust in Jesus. That's when the Holy Spirit seals our spirit and reunites us with Almighty God for eternity.
Adam and Eve were clothed with God's glory on the outside. At the new birth, a Christian's clothing begins on the inside (at a deeper level, i.e., in the spirit). Next, a believer begins his/her work of improving the soul level. When we reach the final glorification level (in heaven), our "new man" will be completely full of God from the inside out, including a new body. I believe this will be a better garment than Adam and Eve had even before their fall. Now, let's move on to Part V and expand these ideas even further.