CROSSING OUT OUR "OLD MAN"
One of my favorite Christian artists is Eugene Peterson. His magnus opus (greatest work) would have to be his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. If you do not own a copy you owe it to yourself to look into it. His paraphrase was a major accomplishment. His labor of love has been a real gift to God's people, and to the world. I believe he was faithful to the inspired meaning of the Holy Scriptures...as accurate as a paraphrase can be! But that is not all of his accomplishments. His book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is a must read for any Christian finding it hard to live the committed life demanded by our Saviour's committment on the Cross. Another book many have missed is his book Running With The Horses written to challenge God's people with the words of Jeremiah the prophet to exceed the normal race of running with footmen and challenge the horses! But I site that book because I want to refer to an illustration that Peterson told early in his ministry. In his early years he served as Associate Pastor of a Baptist Church in New York City. It was at this Church that he encountered Willie Ossa. Willie was janitor by day and a professional artist by night-trying to eek out a living. Peterson noticed how hard this man was. There seemed to be a lack of sympathy with this man-especially toward the local Church. He supposedly loved Christ but had very little time for the body of Christ. Peterson decided to try to befriend this man but didn't know how to do it. Finally he said to Willie Ossa-I would like you to do a portrait of me. I would like to spend 2-3 hours per week to see how you do a portrait. He did this solely to befriend the man. So once a week Peterson would go to Willie's house, and Ossa would spend 2-3 hours fashioning this portrait of Eugene. As the portrait progressed Peterson thought it odd that Ossa would not let him see the development. On the last day when Willie was ready to present the portrait, his wife ventured into the room just prior to the presentation. As she focused her eyes on the painting she screamed, in their native language, "there is no resemblance between him and this!" Peterson rushed over to see this portrait for the first time. He too was startled by what he saw. The portrait did resemble Peterson, but had only exaggerated hard and harsh features. There was no compassion in the eyes; no pathos in the expression; no tenderness in the smile. Eugene asked Ossa-"why have you painted me this way? It is not the way I think I look!" Ossa replied, " Mr. Peterson I have painted you the way I would picture you if the Love of God ever departed from your life. I want you to keep this picture as long as you live. The more you begin to resemble this picture the more you will know that you have lost the Love of Christ within your heart!" Peterson admitted that he has kept the picture, in his closet, but pulls it out occasionally to remind himself that without the indwelling presence of Christ, that he is capable of becoming someone very ugly and evil. We all would benefit from such a portrait. The Bible paints its saints with warts and it. It never glosses over sins and failures of those who walk across its pages. Why? The Spirit of God wants us to know that apart from the grace of God daily present in our lives that we all are very capable of so living to destroy ourselves and disgrace our Saviour.
On one occasion Charles Haddon Spurgeon was being shown through the library of Trinity College Cambridge. He stopped to admire a sculpture, a bust of Lord Byron. The librarian said, "stand here and look at the sculpture". Spurgeon took that position and looking upon the statue exclaimed "what an intellectual countenance! What a grand genius!" "Come now" said the librarian, "and look at it from this side". Spurgeon changed his position, and fixing his eyes on the bust of Byron from that perspective exclaimed, "Oh what a demon! There stands a man that could defy the Diety!" Spurgeon asked the librarian if the sculptor intened to so fashion this sculpture to give this effect? The librarian said, "Yes he intended to picture the two characters; the two persons residing in Byron. One sided showed the great, the grand, the nearly super-genius nature that he possessed. The other perspective revealed the enormous amount of sin and evil that was hidden in the recesses of his soul". Every one of us, no matter how long we have known Christ, and claim to have walked with Him, we still live with a double-sided nature within our souls and personalities. The Bible clearly says that when we are born again we become "partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). In Pauline theology we also are reminded that we still have an old fallen nature present with us. Paul, in Romans 7 talks about the struggle between the two indwelling natures. In Romans 7:14-25 Paul describes being carnal-fleshly still. A part of him, his old nature still sold under sin. He describes that as the reason for doing things he knew he should not do. But he adds to the tension and struggle by talking about the inner man that knows and delights in the law of God. But in spite of that reality he still finds himself failing to do the things that the new nature delights in. His conclusion? "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing!" "sin dwelleth in me" and "evil is ever present with me". "Oh wretched man I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" The Greek word for "wretched" is "talaiporos"-meaning "miserable, afflicted, wretched, dominated, enslaved". Paul described a condition far different from what the Christian should be experiencing on a daily basis. Paul indicates that unless the Christian learns how to deal with this indwelling old sin nature that they will be losing daily battles and living in defeat and not victory.
I heard Chuck Smith, Pastor of Calvary Chapel Mesa, California refer to this struggle as the equivalent to carrying around a corpse, i.e. a spiritually dead person that is our "old man". Then he made a reference to a famous poem called The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service. You owe it to yourself to look up this poem and read it. It is a delight! It is about two men who were searching for gold in the Alsakan artic. In the process Sam McGee feels that he is not going to survive this trip and makes his partner promise to take his body, should he die on the journey, to a place where he can be cremated. The poem says, "A pal's last need is a thing to heed-so I swore I would not fail; and we started on at the streak of dawn-but he looked so ghastly pale! He crouched on the sleigh and raved all day-about his home in Tennesee; but before nightfall, a corpse was all-that was left of Sam McGee". He goes on to say-"There wasn't a breath in that land of death-and I hurried, horror-driven; with a corpse half-hid, which I couldn't get rid-because of a promise given". The rest of the poem deals with the struggle of trying to rid himself of that corpse that grew heavier and heavier and that he resented more with each passing moment. What a picture Chuck Smith has painted of the Christian. What a stuggle! What a wretched state!
The Apostle Paul describes the way we rid oursleves of the old man-that spiritual corpse we drag with us on our journey. First we must visit the cross and crucify the old man with Christ! We do this by faith! Paul illustrated this when he said in Galatians 2:20 "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, but not I Christ liveth in me". It is that indwelling Christ, whose presence comes through the Holy Spirit, and enables us to walk in the Spirit and be delivered from that body of death. So not only do we come to Christ and the cross of Calvary to receive the gift of pardon and forgiveness, but we also come there to be crucified with Him, and be raised by the Holy Spirit that raised Him, to "enable us to walk in newness of life" Romans 6:1-4 tells us that baptism is a picture of such an experience! In Pilgrims Progress, when Pilgrim finally gets to Calvary, he rolls his burden of sins off his back and leaves them at Calvary-but we might add that that is the place to cremate our "old man" and finally rid ourselves of "Old Sam McGee!"