Covenant Reformed News
November 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 19
Our Old Man and New Man (1)
I shall have to summarize the questions asked in this issue of the News, for the questioner sent in more material than we have room for in this article. The issue involves the New Testament concepts of our “old man” and our “new man.” The questions ask for these terms to be identified and the concepts explained.
The questioner especially refers to two texts: (1) “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24); (2) “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:9-11).
The texts seem to convey the idea that in the life of the Christian this work of God is completed (Col. 3:9-10) and yet the believer is admonished to put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24).
The questioner further says, “This leads to a wider question concerning the nature and extent of the change that has taken place in the believer. What is the believer’s relationship to the old man and the old nature?” He then points out that II Corinthians 5:17 speaks of the believer as a “new creature.” He reminds us that Ephesians 2:3 teaches that we “were by nature children of wrath.” Are we to infer from this that when we were quickened we were given a new nature? If so, where do the struggles of Romans 7 come from?
The questioner ends with saying, “I recognize these are fundamental questions but the answers sometimes given are anything but clear.” To this, I will definitely add a loud “Amen.”
At the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) in Scotland, held in 2014, Prof. Engelsma and I discussed these questions at some length in speeches dealing with the biblical doctrine of sanctification.
I understand these lectures will be published in book form next year by the BRF and will be available at the BRF Conference in 2016 and from the bookstore of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, DV.
I will attempt, first of all, to define the important terms.
The Christian is a most unusual person. Some have even suggested that he is a spiritual schizophrenic. This is really not far from the truth. By nature, the Christian is indeed a child of wrath, and dead in trespasses and sins. In that sense, he is no different from anyone else in the world. Sin is, after all, not merely doing something wrong but it is a deadly disease of the entire nature of man. The sinner is incapable of doing any good. He is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).
Let it be understood that the nature of a man is his entire physical and psychical make-up. That is, a man’s nature is his body and soul, while his soul consists of his mind and his will (his emotions are a part of his will). Total depravity means that his entire nature is corrupted and incapable of doing anything good (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3).
The Scriptures teach us that the elect child of God is regenerated. Regeneration is that work of God through the Spirit of Christ that creates a new heart in man. That new heart is living in union with Christ. The life it possesses is everlasting and heavenly life, even fellowship with God through Christ.
Without going into detail, we may define the heart as the moral and ethical centre of man’s nature (Prov. 4:23). It is that part of a man that shapes the entire nature of man spiritually and morally. If his heart is pure, the whole man is pure. If his heart is depraved, the whole man and all his deeds are wicked.
Thus the heart of man is a man’s entire nature in principle. It is a microcosm of the entire nature of man. The heart is to the entire man what an acorn is to an oak tree and what a corn kernel is to a mature stalk of corn.
The entire oak tree is in that small acorn. Nothing new is ever added. An acorn can never become anything else but an oak tree, and an oak tree always begins with an acorn. But for an acorn to become a towering oak tree takes time, a lot of time.
One important difference makes my figure of an oak tree limited. The regenerated heart of an elect becomes the new man that every saint will be when he goes to heaven and Christ comes again to make all His people like He is, in all His glory and blessedness. But this happens only as God, through the means of grace, causes that new man gradually to become what he will be. The change that makes a depraved sinner a perfected saint, higher in glory than an angel, comes through death when our souls are glorified, and it comes in the resurrection of the body when our bodies are glorified through the resurrection.
The “old man” is the old depraved nature, which we carry with us till we die. The “new man” is the regenerated heart and our entire nature insofar as the heart influences it. Those who were at the 2014 BRF Conference may remember the diagrams I drew on the white board to illustrate this.
That definition and description of terms is sufficient for this issue of the News, but there is more to say. Please save this issue so that you are able to refer to it when we pick up, God willing, the subject in the next issue.
Prof. Herman Hanko (Emeritus, PRC Seminary)