In 1996 Andy Harris was one of the leaders in an expedition to climb Mount Everest. Harris reached the summit but remained longer than planned. He became fatigued in the descent. At the top of Everest, even when you breath as deeply as you can, only a third as much oxygen is available. Harris radioed Base Camp about his emergency.
We'll return to Harris shortly, but first let's remember that, like Harris, we ourselves are climbing a mountain; we are making our own spiritual ascent. We are engaged in a journey, an expedition of our own. God has put in our hearts a desire for good, but we have all sinned and gone astray. We tend to trust in ourselves but the path to God is to learn to trust in Him. Getting that right can be difficult. Subduing self, which we all have developed, requires the hardest battle of all. So while we are not saved by our striving, it is of supreme importance that we learn to trust in Jesus. We're all climbing Everest as it were, and the outcome will be life or death.
But there is good news! Second Corinthians 5:17 has the word:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
It is an audacious claim.
It is not only bold, it is falsifiable; that is, it's testable. This standard--being a new creation--is revealed in God's Ten Commandment law, lived by Jesus, and described in Scripture. In calling myself a Christian, I testify that I seek to follow His standard, that my goal is to exemplify it. And, just as we admonish each other, "test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), so should we model Christianity before others so that they may test all things and hold fast what is good.
Today, let's consider together how to receive a new nature.
Adam and Eve were part of a "very good" creation. Their humanity was just right; everything was according to the Creator's design. Hear a few quick insights into what that eperience was like:
In the beginning God created man in His own likeness. He endowed him with noble qualities. His mind was well balanced, and all the powers of his being were harmonious (Patriarchs and Prophets 595).
Man was originally endowed with noble powers and a well-balanced mind. He was perfect in his being, and in harmony with God. His thoughts were pure, his aims holy. But through disobedience, his powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love. His nature became so weakened through transgression that it was impossible for him, in his own strength, to resist the power of evil. He was made captive by Satan, and would have remained so forever not not God specially interposed (Steps to Christ 17).
His [man's] nature was in harmony with the will of God. His mind was capable of comprehending divine things. His affections were pure; his appetites and passions were under the control of reason. He was holy and happy in bearing the image of God and in perfect obedience to His will (Patriarchs and Prophets 45).
How glorious! But the Fall changed all that. When Adam and Eve chose sin they became disordered. The powers with which they had been endowed were now dangerous to themselves. Romans five calls it being "without strength" (Romans 5:6). Romans eight warns that when we use our powers for self-service, we are walking "according to the flesh" (Romans 8:3). Ecclesiastes proclaims "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes" (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and that "the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live" (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
Exactly. Noble qualities like free will are turned around. Appetites and passions are ascendant over reason. A part of conversion is setting these things back in order again. But there is no human way to set them in order again. What we need is a new nature.
One of my favorite reformers, WIlliam Tyndale, said this about the gospel:
The gospel is glad tidings of mercy and grace, and that our corrupt nature shall be healed again for Christ's sake, and for the merits of His deservings only; yet on that condition, that we will turn to God, to learn to keep His laws spiritually, that is to say, of love for His sake, and will also suffer the curing of our infirmities (William Tyndale, Prologue Gospel of Matthew).
It can be very instructive to read the reformers. They do not all line up the way some people think. Many of them spoke boldly of being victor over sin.
Old Nature and New Nature
So let's consider Ephesians 4:20-24. Paul tells Christians not to live in the futility of their mind, not alienated from Christ, not given over to lewdness,
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 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, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
The old man is the unrenewed man. It grows ever worse, pursuing self-indulgence, putting self first.
Have you ever read the Wikipedia entry on "addiction"? Here it is:
Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. Despite the involvement of a number of psychosocial factors, a biological process--one which is induced by repeated exposure to an addictive stimulus--is the core pathology that drives the development and maintenance of an addiction. The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are reinforcing and intrinsically rewarding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction).
And I'm not sure that we can improve on that definition. We start out with a disordered nature and then we train ourselves in an ever-increasingly self-serving path. We become acclimated to having things our own way. I am intrigued by the way Paul speaks of the opposite, the new man. Here is an experience of being renewed in the spirit of your mind. The old man is put off, like taking off an old article of clothing, and the new man is put on, as though putting on new clothes. The new man is created according to God. It exists in true righteousness and holiness. The contrast is clear. What one was before Christ and what one is in Christ are two very different things.
But for most of us this isn't new information. The question we are especially interested in today is, how?
How the Spirit Works in Me
How do I receive this new nature? How do I put on this new nature? God has to do it, but how can I cooperate with God? How can I get out of His way, so that His Spirit has full room to work? Here is a one-liner from Christ's Object Lesson, page 411 that helps me:
The Spirit works upon man's heart according to his desire and consent implanting in him a new nature (Christ's Object Lessons 411).
I want the Spirit to work in me. It must be a deep work. But there is free will. God will not overpower us. He could. He certainly has the power to. But He refuses to use force. He invites us to participate.
The Spirit works but, very interesting, how He works is specified. He works according to my desire and my consent. Let's talk about desire.
"The heart," Jeremiah warns us, "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it" (Jeremiah 17:9). That is to say, we cannot trust our own desires, we cannot be sure of the rightness of our own thoughts. We need that our desire be God's desire. But our old man grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. Our character as we developed it before knowing Christ is deceitful. It is steeped in self-deceit. It is bent and self-seeking. It is biased. It wants what it wants, not what is right.
I cannot be sure of my own desires, that they are right, but I can be sure that God wants me to overcome. I can be sure that our Father gives good gifts to His children, not snakes or scorpions. So I can ask God to give me the right desire. I want the Spirit to change me. What needs to change is vast, so I want God to increase my desire for the new nature to be very great. So I can ask God, "God, please give me a very strong and persistent desire to obtain this new nature from you."
What will God do with a prayer like that? He will honor it! I want more desire to have the new nature and so a major theme in my prayer life should be to ask Him to give me a stronger desire for this new nature.
And He will do it.
But desire is only one part. God will not change us without our consent. So again, we must give Him consent. We should actively purpose in our heart and actively state to God as we pray, that we consent to His work to change us. We not only say we consent but we need to be fully surrendered to Him, we need to actually consent, intentionally and in the strength He gives us, we need to actually commit ourselves to receive the change He gives.
We need to be thoughtful here. There is very little in the world around us that informs us about spiritual change. We won't find any appreciable help from outside or from other purportedly "spiritual" experiences. Don't expect receiving the new nature to be anything like goat yoga, OK? We are Christians and this isn't about technique or self-improvement. To receieve a new nature is supernatural. You will not be able to account for this by science or mathematics.
There is another nature, a divine nature we are called to be partakers of. Paul describes it as the result of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6) and as walking "in the spirit" (Galatians 5:16). It is a life which shows forth this new nature. What character manifestations are seen to result from this new nature? "Love joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Those character manifestations are not induced by caffiene or even morphine. They are available only to the man, the woman, who desires, consents, and seeks a renewed mind by the Holy Spirit.
An Implanted Nature
The natural man is the character we build on top of our disordered human nature. The child learns to self-serve and becomes habituated in putting self first. He develops a self-serving mode of living, and this pattern of decision-making is determinate in who we become. But God gives us a new nature. He doesn't remove what we are from us, but He facilitates the development of what we desire and consent to be. So the new nature is implanted. The new nature is the new possibility, it is the new me, the spiritual person I want to become. James calls upon the believer to "Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).
If the Bible says that something is able to save one's soul, that would be very important. But do you notice the attitude issue again? James doesn't just ask us to receive the implanted word, but to lay aside wickedness and receive with meekness that which God desires to implant. There we are again: "The Spirit works upon man's heart according to his desire and consent."
But maybe we don't want to be changed. Maybe we think there is something better right where we are but we just haven't found it yet. Then remember the word of the wise man at Ecclesiastes 1:8: "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing" (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Friends, we will never be satisfied if all we ever are is that old man, that contradictory set of thoughts and feelings which only "grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." Our choice is between being the kind of person who it is impossible to ever please or satisfy, impossible ever to truly be happy, or, the kind of person who is a new man--a person ready for an endless, interesting, fulfilled eternity.
When we receive Jesus then we have a new nature. Paul also calls it our having the mind of Christ. All this is within our reach. Jesus is the ladder who has come down connecting heaven and earth. We can have it all. Christianity is there for us. We can live lives that don't just occupy space but are actually evangelistic.
Everyone who knows Jesus is salt and light in the world. Each person sends out his own influence into the vineyard, the mission field. The life of Christ in you will produce the same fruits as in Jesus. Nothing will be better in eternity than to see your loved ones, your mother, your father, your child, your grandchild, holy, healthy and happy for eternity because you took Jesus at His Word and gave up your corrupt self and received the strength of Jesus to live for Him in this world.
I said we would return to Harris on Everest. So there he is, oxygen-starved, trying to come back down from the summit. And he radios in to base camp about his emergency. He mentions that he had found a cache of oxygen bottles on the way down but that they were all empty. Back at Base Camp they radio back and forth to him to try to help him. What he needs is right there, right within his reach. You see, the other team members who had come back down before him had passed by those same canisters and they knew those canisters were full of oxygen.
Back and forth the conversation crosses over the radio, as they tell Harris that the oxygen he needs is there, right there, in those tanks. Harris argues back that no, the tanks are empty. He is not thinking straight. The lack of what he so needed--that crucial oxygen--had addled his thoughts, and he was not thinking logically or clearly. The lack of what he needed so disoriented him that although he held those canisters in his hand, he threw them aside as empties.
Harris died on Everest.
God has just exactly what we need. He knows our expedition. He is making available to us the very thing we need--a new nature. We can't earn it, we can't strive for it, we can't pay for it. All we can do is receive it. All we can do is trust the provision He has made and act on His instructions. We can exercise faith in Him.
None of us need die on Everest. The very thing we need--the new man--is available to us through Jesus. But how many Christians lose their way and fail, all while success is within their reach! Some have this view that God is trying to make it complicated, to keep people out. That is utterly false. Luke 12:32 is where the truth is:
It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
And so, He makes it so very doable. He puts the Bible within your reach. He makes prayer a simple thing, almost as simple as anything ever could be. And He makes it clear we need to be made new, that our old man--our developed habit patterns, even the self-serving, established commitments and biases we have developed across our lifetime so far--all need to be changed for the new man. We've tried so many human remedies. But we need a supernatural change.
Jesus died on the cross for you. He didn't ask you if you might be interested in His dying there for you. He simply went straight on and was sacrificed for you. Then through His Word He presents Himself to you crucified. As the old hymn says, "Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow." Secular 2019 hasn't made any improvements on that. It can't. Nothing can improve on the cross. All or nothing, a new creation or an old one, and the choice is mine and the choice is yours.
Don't die on Everest. Put off the old man and put on the new man who is created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
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