Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pastoral Panoramic Ponderings ~ The Changing of the Selfs

          How is it that the adopted children of God are able to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves”?[1] The answer is, by exchanging the old self for the new.
          What has become very clear for me this week is that we cannot use the old self, the sark, to get us out of the mess that the sark has created. This is why Jesus came into the world to save sinners;[2] it’s because no one in the world was able to change what they were doing, because no one could create a new self to do things differently than all the original selves were behaving.
          When God’s word calls his children to do impossible things like removing all selfish ambition from the church, eradicating all conceit, and having the freedom to look out for the interests of others above our own,[3]it is not presenting something hopeless. It’s presenting something that needs a new self, and it gives us the new self that will do what is needed.
          There is such a clear distinction between Worldlings and Christians that Paul declares as loudly and strongly as pen can speak off of paper, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”[4]The believer in Jesus Christ did not learn Christ through the flesh. We were not taught Christ as Worldlings, but as those who were made alive in Christ.
          So, Paul explains, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”[5] Here is the decisive difference. There is falsehood in the world, and there is “truth in Jesus.” The way we live in the church is not in the falsehood that we used to handle our childhoods, but in the truth that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
          Now, here are three significant, transforming steps that happened to us, that must guide us still. The things we were taught “as the truth is in Jesus,” are these:
“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”[6]

1.       The Old Self

          The first thing Paul confronts is “your old self.” We were not taught to live in that “old self,” but to “put off” our old self. We put off that old self because it “belongs to your former manner of life.” The life where we relied on the old self to handle everything is the “former” life, not the present life. The reason we must treat that old self as former and not present is that it “is corrupt through deceitful desires.” We cannot live the new life we have in Jesus Christ by a self that is corrupt, that expresses desires that are deceitful.
          That does not mean that we are consciously deceitful towards others, although this may be the fruit of the old self’s deceitfulness. It means that the old self has desires that are deceitful towards us. The old self deceives us into thinking that its desires are good, and that it is taking care of us, and that it knows what is best, even while it is deceiving us into corrupt things, broken things, messed-up things, hopeless and meaningless things, without-God things.
          It is no wonder that Paul says that we were already taught to “put off” this old self. We were not told to fix it, or to bring it to Christ for regeneration. This is a part of our lives that cannot be fixed, cannot be saved, cannot be mended, cannot be helped. It is an enemy of our souls, and the only thing we can do with it is put it off.

2.       The Renewed Mind

          After putting off the filthy old self, we need a bath. Paul says that the thing we were already taught as the truth is in Jesus is, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” The spirit of our minds was once deceived by the old self. It’s thoughts were corrupted by the deceitful desires the old self expressed. Our minds were consumed with selfishness, and selfish ambitions, and conceit, because that is the only way the old self can think.
          Once we take off this old self, we were taught in Jesus to submit to his work of renewing our minds. In Romans Paul described it as, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.[7] What we are given in Jesus Christ is mind-renewal. We cannot get it anywhere else. Any of the world’s offerings of transcendental meditation, celebrity-spirituality, new age thoughts and feelings, religions and atheism, are expressions of the “deceitful desires” of our old self.
          When we come to Jesus, coming to know him as, “the way, and the truth, and the life,”[8]we are given renewed minds. Our minds are made alive towards God so that we can know and understand the spiritually discerned things he is teaching us. He is now working in us to will things that we choose to work out with him through our renewed minds. He is working in us to work things that are according to his “good and acceptable and perfect” will,[9] and we must join this work by being “renewed in the spirit of our minds” every day.

3.       The New Self

          After taking off the filthy garments of the old self, and taking a bath in the mind-renewal of the Lord Jesus Christ (which is not the same as brain-washing), we have been taught as the truth is in Jesus “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
          While the old self is corrupt and deceitful, there is a new self that is “created” completely different. This is why we do not bring the old self to God for fixing or mending. This is why we do not use our old self to work out the things God is working into our lives. This is why Paul must have us convinced that there is no room in our lives for selfish ambition and conceit. The new self simply doesn’t do those things.
          To encourage us with how different the new self is from the old, Paul says that this new self is “created” for something. We did not create it, we do not need to fabricate it, and we do not need to make it work. We only need to put it on, because it is already created to do what God has created it to do.
          When we consider what God is doing in his people now, it all has to do with being restored to the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Since the old self is so corrupt and deceitful that it could never make us like Jesus (and has no interest in trying), God gave us the means of becoming born again,[10] of becoming new creations in our Lord Jesus Christ,[11] and he did this by giving us a new self that is created “after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
          What this means is that, no matter what we are facing, and no matter how much we have already given in to the old self in the past, every day can be a further transformation into the likeness of God because we have been given a new self to help us, to lead us, to direct us into these things. While God is working in us to will and to work according to his righteous and holy good pleasure, we have a new self that can work out those things with fear and trembling.
          What would this look like? It would look like the poor in spirit facing our utter failure to do this on our own, and facing the mess that our reliance on our old self has brought into our lives.[12]         
          We let our hearts mourn what we have done,[13] what our old self has done, and how we have failed to be the righteous and holy children of God by our own efforts because we were deceived by the old self.
          We stay on these things with fear and trembling as we feel that there is this meek resignation within us that we cannot fix what we have done. We cannot make up for anything. We cannot add enough good works to the scale to outweigh our bad works. That is just another deception of the old self. [14]
          And so, as this meekness overtakes our souls, humbles us, brings us to the end of ourselves (thankfully), we find within us this gracious gift of hunger and thirst for righteousness.[15] We hunger for this gift of God, that we could live by this new self already created after the likeness of God, already in the image of Jesus Christ, already given to us to put on, already ready to lead us to  be “transformed into the same image” as Jesus Christ, “from one degree of glory to another.”[16]
          And, as our impoverished, mourning, meek, and hungering souls cry out to God with the clarity of thought and mind that comes from putting off the old self, and being renewed in the spirit of our minds, God fulfills his promise to us that, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”[17]
          When we come to this idea that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure,[18]we are talking about a church full of Christians who have put off the old self so that there is no room for selfish ambition, conceit, or putting our interests before others. They have and still are corporately being renewed in the spirit of their minds; and everyone together is helping each other every day to put on the new self that is created to be like Jesus in true righteousness and holiness.
          We can do this in the most messed up, heartbreaking, experiences of our lives. Absolutely everything can be brought into a church that will keep addressing selfish ambition, and helping each other put off the old self that keeps tricking us into conceited thoughts and feelings. The renewal of our minds, and the new self we put on, enable us to work out every issue of our salvation with fear and trembling, because God has given us the new self to do this, and he is constantly and personally working in us to will the things that are his good pleasure, and to work the things that are his good pleasure. The new self already wants to do that in the same intimate fellowship with the Father as Jesus experienced and emulated. So we can join as the one body of Christ, the one new man, to grow up in these things for the good of the whole body of Christ.
          What do I expect to happen next? That I will feel God working in me to “will” specific things to do with specific people in specific circumstances that I can only do by putting on the new Christlike self, and then he will hand me circumstances in which it will be clear what “work” he is working into me with the people who walk into some situation as a divine appointment just waiting to happen.
          I know that, as I also put on this new self, seeking fellowship with God’s people to help each other do this together, the Holy Spirit will lead me into the born again kind of experiences that are something like the wind that, “blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[19]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 2:3
[2] I Timothy 1:15
[3] Philippians 2:4
[4] Ephesians 4:20
[5] Ephesians 4:21
[6] Ephesians 4:22-24
[7] Romans 12:1-2
[8] John 14:6
[9] Romans 12:2
[10] John 3:1-8; John 3:1-36 for the broader context, and how Jesus taught us how to be born again by faith.
[11] II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15
[12] Matthew 5:3
[13] Matthew 5:4
[14] Matthew 5:5
[15] Matthew 5:6
[16] II Corinthians 3:18
[17] Matthew 5:6
[18] Philippians 2:12-13
[19] John 3:8

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