Our minds do a lot of dirty work in us unless we purposefully take charge of with a godly intention of obedience and commitment. It’s like there is a toggle switch up there that flips to the darkness of the depths of debauchery without notice.
But that is the realm of the ungodly, and the believer who has been made a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) has a new spirit because the Spirit of God has joined with His Spirit in regeneration and renewal. Thesetwo passages tell us that:
“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
That is why Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, paraphrased in the words of J. B. Phillips:
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
The old familiar saying in Christian circles is true: “God’s Word will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from God’s Word.” And that truth brings the situation “close to home.” We mortal creatures have two natures, as believers. The “old man” and the “new man,” as Paul identifies that fact and its solution in a parallel passage to the Romans 12:2 quote above:
“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have 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” (Ephesians 4:20-24).
Another common saying among Christians is this: “A Christian’s enemies are the flesh, the world, and the devil,” having these characteristics, among others:
· The flesh – hungers and thirsts of the mortal body; desires for security, comfort, intimacy.
· The world – things pleasing to the eye; possessions; comparing self with others.
· The devil – pride and elevation of self; desires for power and prestige; self-centered and self-worshipped.
When mortal man died the day Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, he died instantly in his spirit, and his body was doomed to die and return to the dust from which he came. Before the flood men lived almost to a thousand years, and after the flood, most, if not all, did not reach an age of two hundred.
Death came upon all mankind because of Adam, and thus we have the old nature, the old man, vying for rule of the body until the grave ends its combat with the new man’s spirit.
Some argue that the apostle Paul was telling of his experiences before he was saved, in his struggles related in Romans 7:7-25.
However, I submit that it is not the struggles of an unsaved person, but one who has the old man and the new man fighting an inner battle for control, and the flesh desperately wants to be in charge, just as it has been before the Spirit of God came into the picture in the man’s born-again experience.
The two final verses of that passage adequately supports this understanding, for no unsaved person will admit his wretchedness and thank God for his deliverance:
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).
Paul continues in the next chapter to explain how walking in the Spirit, by faith, overcomes that onslaught of the flesh to hold us in its grip of self-works, not of faith. It is worth noting, too, that Paul also describes, in Galatians 5:16-18, this inner warfare between the old man and the new man—the flesh against the Spirit—as active in every believer, just as he described it in his own life:
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
That passage in Galatians 5 goes on to list the works of the flesh, revealing the utter degradation of mortal man without the entrance into the life of the Spirit of God. The reason for their condition is summed up, perhaps adequately, in Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The strange paradox in all of this is that God has chosen to use this sort of mankind, those who are waging a constant battle of the flesh versus the Spirit, putting His gospel in the hands and stewardship of such creatures:
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul tells us, and he admonishes Timothy, and us, to keep that vessel honorable:
“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
All of this brings us to the point of the article—breaking free from those clinging memories of sins of the past. It is simply a matter of believing that God’s forgiveness is complete, sure, and everlasting. Paul’s cry of despair and defeat, then looking to Jesus Christ for the solace of his soul is also my cry, as it is for any believer. When we look at 1 John 1:9, we must believe it fully—the forgiveness as well as the cleansing:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The magnitude of that forgiveness and cleansing, in its everlasting-ness, is dramatically told in Psalm 103:12:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
They are gone—removed—and no longer with you, for the blood of Christ has completely washed them from you. They keep going away, endlessly.
We have looked at the apostle Paul and his inner-warfare with the old man, the old nature, so let’s look at how he handled some of those nagging reflections of his past:
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16).
In that passage Paul addresses his moral degradation as the chief of sinners, yet a receiver of God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the following passage he acknowledges his stedfast assurance of God’s forgiveness for all time:
“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12)
When he wrote to the Philippian church, in chapter 3, he recounted his “good works” as a Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews, but then rejects all of that as rubbish compared to a relation- ship with Christ. He turns his back on that whole experience with this emphatic declaration and appeal that fellow believers join with him in looking forward rather than backward toour past failures:
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do,forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
“Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Philippians 3:13-16).
Finally, in Romans 6:14, Paul makes an affirmative declaration that I believe is applicable to all sins, past, present and future: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Our challenge is to believe that with unwavering faith!