Growing the New Nature – Part 1

In the parable of the Sower, the seed sowed on good ground produces fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty or thirty (Mat 13:8, 23). The first implication of this parable is that those who have the seed planted in their hearts will inevitably bear fruit. The second implication is that bearing fruit takes time.

 

What is the Seed?

The seed refers to “word” (Mar 4:14) or “the word of the kingdom” (Mat 13:19) or “the word of God” (Luk 8:11). In other words, the seed is the message from God about the kingdom. When Jesus started to preach, his message is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven (God) is at hand” (Mat 4:17; Mar 1:15; Luk 4:43). After his resurrection and during the forty days before his Ascension, Jesus was teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 4:30).

In this kingdom, Jesus Christ is the King. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has been exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33) to fulfill God’s promise to David that one of his descendants would reign forever (cf. 2Sa 7:12-16). David foresaw the resurrection of this descendant because in his psalm, he declared that his descendant would not be abandoned to Hades and that his flesh would not see corruption (Acts 2:25-31). David also foresaw the Ascension of this descendant to reign at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34-35). This descendant of David that was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of God is none other than Jesus whom Israel crucified. God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32, 36). Thus, Jesus Christ is the rightful King of the kingdom of God.

 

Born Again into Christ’s Kingdom

The way to enter this kingdom is through Jesus Christ. In John 3:3, Jesus speaking to Nicodemus declared that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”. How does a person be born again? Jesus answering Nicodemus declared that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Joh 3:5). What did Jesus mean “of water and the Spirit”?

 

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the diverse interpretations of this phrase.[1] While there are diverse views, it is sufficient to note that there are two kinds of birth that Jesus mentioned. The first kind is “born of the flesh is flesh” and the second is “born of the Spirit is spirit” (Joh 3:6).

The first kind is the normal birth that everyone goes through. When Nicodemus heard Jesus said that one must be born again, he naturally asked “How can a man be born when he old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Joh 3:4). This implies that he sees the first birth as natural birth that everyone experiences. This is born of the flesh.

The second kind is “born of the Spirit”. This would be the “born again” that Jesus was talking. This is certainly the work of the Spirit because Jesus went on to describe the hidden way that the Spirit works. Although we may not know fully how the Spirit works and we cannot control how the Spirit works, we hear the Spirit’s sound. This implies that there will be evidence of the Spirit’s working in the lives of those who have been born again (Joh 3:8).

What is the evidence? Those who have been born again will have a new nature given by the Spirit. Carson commenting on John 3:6-7 argues that the Spirit will give those who have been born again a new heart, a new nature.[2] Paul describes this new nature as the new self (man) “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10).

When we have this new nature from being born again of the Spirit, we are immediately transferred into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the beloved son of God. In this kingdom, we have been completely forgiven because of Jesus Christ (Col 3:13-14). There is no more condemnation for all who are in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 8:1).

 

Growing the New Man

While we have been born again into the kingdom of God, the new nature needs our cooperation to grow. In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul exhorted believers to take off the old man (self) and put on the new man (self) (Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:5-10). This implies that we have a part to play in growing the new nature. Our part is to cooperate with the Spirit who regenerated and renewed us with a new nature (Tim 3:5; cf. Rom 6:4). Thus, we are commanded not to grieve or quench the Spirit inside us but to keep in step with the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1Th 5:19; Gal 5:25).

 

Take off the Old man

Before discussing our responsibility, we need to understand the old man, the new man and the interaction of the old and new inside us. The old man refers to who we were when we did not know Jesus. Paul describes the old man as “your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). While Peter did not use the phrase “old man”, he describes the former manner of life as “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1Pe 1:18). The old man is who we were without Jesus Christ; it is who we were in Adam (cf. Rom 5:12-21).

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul describes what we were like in Adam before God made us alive with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). He described us as spiritually “dead in the trespasses and sins” (2:1). We lived our life by “following the course of this world” (2:2a), and under influence of Satan, “the prince of the power of the air” (2:2b; cf. 1Jo 5:19). We conduct ourselves according to “the passions (desires) of the flesh”, which are derived from “the desires (wills) of the body and the mind” (2:3). These three conditions are part and parcel of what we were in Adam.

When anyone who are in Adam, it is natural that the focus is “on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). Although everyone in Adam is equally sinful, not everyone is equally wicked. Some would do more evil deeds than others but all of us have committed some form of wickedness. We have broken some of God’s laws such as having evil desires, covetousness, fits of anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, bitterness, jealousy, envy, dissensions, lying, boastfulness, quarrelling and many others (cf. Gal 5:19-21; Eph 4:25-5:6; Col 3:5-9; Jam 4:1-5; 1Jo 2:15-17).

When we commit our lives to Jesus Christ, our old man, who we were in Adam, was crucified with Christ (cf. Rom 6:6). This crucifixion does not take away the three conditions mentioned above from our lives (cf. Eph 2:1-3). This crucifixion also does not take away the original sin from us because Paul urges us not let sin reign in our mortal body (cf. Rom 6:12-14).

This crucifixion means we have been transferred from Adam into Christ. Now we are spiritually alive (spiritual resurrection) and in the future we will physically be resurrected just like Jesus (cf. Rom 6:6). It also means that while the three conditions are still in us, we are no longer condemn because we are in Christ (Rom 8:1-3). It also means that while the original sin is still in us, we can now resist the urgings of the original sin (cf. Rom 6:12-14; 8:12-13).

 

How do we take off the old man?

Therefore, on the basis that we have been crucified with Christ, Paul exhorted us to take off the old man (cf. Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). How do we take off the old man? First, it is to stop thinking like the old man. In Ephesians 4:17-23, Paul urged to renew the way we think (4:23). When we are born again in Christ, our mind does not change totally overnight. The futile thinking of the world is still in our mind. Paul urges us to stop following the futile thinking of the world (Eph 4:17-22). In Colossians 3:1-3, Paul urges all who have already spiritually died and raised with Christ to set their mind on things that are above. The author of First John commanded us “do not love the world or the things in the world” (1Jo 2:15-17). The things in the world would include the mindset of the world toward the whole of life. Everything is the world is not from Father. Do not love the mindset of the world. Thus, the first step in taking off the old man is to examines all your thinking to identify the three conditions influencing you (cf. Eph 2:1-3).

Second is to break the practices that contrary to clear commands of Scripture. Do not lie. Do not envy. Do not covet. Do not slander. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Forgive one another. Be gentle. Be patience. There are many other commands clearly written in Scripture. If we are living contrary to clear biblical commands, we should immediately stop the practices. If we need help to stop, we should seek mature believers to help us to stop disobeying God.

Third is to examine our motives. No one can see your motives. We should never second guess someone else’s motives. We should never judge people based on our presumption or assumption of others’ motives. However, each of us should judge our motives before God.

God sees all our motives including unconscious motives that are driving us. Since God sees our motives, we begin with motives that we are consciously aware. Are we motivated by ungodly motives even though our deeds are good before God? Ungodly motives could be arrogant, pride, envy, jealousy, worry, anxiety, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-seeking, self-denial, prejudice, unforgiveness, bitterness, impatience, all kinds of fear such fear of rejection, of loss and many ungodly ones. If we are aware of these ungodly motives, we should repent and ask God to remove them.

Then, there is the unconscious motives that are ungodly. The psalmist asks God to search his heart and thoughts to reveal “any grievous way” in him (cf. Ps 139:23-24). Many of us are driven by ungodly motivation that are subconscious. Thus, we need to ask God for grace to take off these ungodly motives from our lives. When we ask, God will in due time reveal to you. When he reveals, we must be quick to repent and confess.

Fourth is to ask God’s mercy and grace to take off our old man. While we do our parts, our effort alone will never be sufficient to take off the old man. We need the Spirit’s empowerment to take off the old man. So, we need to pray daily for God to help us to take off the old man.

Taking off the old man is only one part of the growing the new life New Nature. There is a second part, which is to put on the new man. We will look at the second in the next article.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 191–197. He has detailed discussion. He argued that in mentioning “of water and the Spirit”, Jesus was referring to Ezekiel’s prophesy in Ezekiel 36:25-27.

[2] Carson, 197.

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