by J.C. Metcalfe
LIFE OUT OF DEATH
"I have been crucified with Christ" - Galatians 2:20
In accordance with His usual custom of teaching with the help of stories or parables, the Lord Jesus Christ gave a striking picture of the impossibility of mixing the old and the new lives. "No man," He said, "putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, 'the old is better'" (Luke 5:36-39). Have you ever tried placing a patch of new cloth over a hole in a worn garment, and seen the disastrous result? In Palestine the picture of the old wineskins bursting as the new wine placed in them fermented would be a familiar one, and the result would be equally disastrous. In the same way the new life in Christ cannot be used to patch up the old evil nature in you and me; nor can the new wine of that same life be contained in our old nature received through Adam. God creates a new nature within the Christian to contain the rich wine of divine life. Often we are unwilling to accept God's verdict that the old nature cannot be of value. We have drunk deep of the wine of the old life with its desires, its ambitions, and its joys, and we do not, therefore, "straightway desire the new". All of us have to have the uselessness of the old proved to us, and often this is a hard experience. Paul knew the failure of the old nature, and has left a record of his struggles with it, which agrees closely with our own conflicts. "That which I do," he writes, "I allow not: for what I would, that I do not: but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15), and again - "I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am: Who shall deliver me from this body of death" (Romans 7:21-24). He sees all the possibilities of the new life, and rejoices in them in his mind, but somehow or other he finds that the old nature within is strong, and the liberty and joy he hoped for is not his in actual fact. Many of us find ourselves int he same unsatisfactory state. What is the solution of the problem? The old leopard within cannot change his spots, nor alter his character. But since he was put to death with Christ, he can now be reckoned or counted dead in order that a way may be made for the growth of the new nature created by God Himself.
There are two sides to the gospel, both of which we need to see, and which may be summed up in the words of 2Corinthians 5:14, "We thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead". When the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life on the Cross for you and me, He died in our place, so that we died in Him. Paul speaking of himself declared, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20); and describing the condition of the Colossian Christians said, "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
Before the new life about which we spoke in the last chapter can grow, and be free to develop naturally, the old must be 'reckoned' dead (Romans 6:11). Do you find this 'reckoning' difficult to understand? You are not the first to have found it so. On one occasion I met a lady at a meeting who said to me, "I cannot understand this business of reckoning myself dead. The more I try the further away from it I seem to be." "What have you been doing?" I asked her. "O," she replied, "I have read all the books I can find about it, but the more I read the less I understand." "Do you know that your sins are forgiven?" was my next question. "Yes," was the answer. "How do you know?" I asked, and the answer came quickly, "Because Jesus was wounded for my transgressions". "Where did you look to see that?" I then said. "Why! I saw Him dying on the Cross for me," came the reply. I continued with my questioning. "How did you know when you looked at the Cross that it was for you?" My friend hesitated for a moment, then she said - "I cannot quite explain, I suppose it was the Holy Spirit Who showed it to me!" "Do you believe that 2Corinthians 5:14 is true?" I then asked. "It says that because He died for all, all died." "Yes," was the rather hesitant reply. "I think," I then continued, "that you have been trying to do what God has already done for you. Have you not been doing your best to die, because you feel that the Word of God teaches that that is the way of deliverance from sin? The fact is that the Bible never tells us we have to die, but that when Christ died, we died with Him. All we have to do is to count, or reckon, that what God says about us is true. When you saw how greatly you needed forgiveness you turned with a cry for forgiveness to the one place where God has promised to pardon. You looked to Jesus dying for you, and the Holy Spirit, to your great joy, showed you that He did indeed die 'that you might be forgiven'. Why not come back to the foot of the Cross, and because you so greatly need deliverance from the power of the old life, ask that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you in just the same way the fact that you died with Him?"
This is something that very few see as a basis for everyday living. Let us go over the facts again. If you and I slip or stumble as we go through our daily life what is the remedy? It is summed up by two glorious facts, which we who have entered into the relationship of children of God, through the redemption wrought out for us by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross must accept, and reckon on:
1. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins ..." (1John 2:1,2).
In other words the Savior Who died for us lives constantly to plead the merit of His sacrifice before God, and to pardon the penitent.
2. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1John 1:9).
By going openly and honestly to Him in repentance and confession, pardon is received.
This is blessedly true in the experience of Christian people, and is possible because He died for all.
Now let us take the second step! When you and I come face to face with temptation, and are deeply conscious of our inability to meet it, we may count upon two more facts revealed to us in the Word of God.
1. "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6).
In other words we may face the power of temptation, by reckoning on the fact of our death with Christ, as having freed us once for all from the necessity of serving sin.
2. "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof ... For sin shall not have dominion over you" (Romans 6:12-14).
We must accept God's verdict on the inability of our old nature to meet temptation, and to live the Christian life. Then by an act of our will we must take our stand against the tyranny of sin, crying to Him to fight for us as His word promises. The the Holy Spirit will make our reckoning real, and free us practically from the old nature that the new may come into action. This reckoning is as much a day by day affair as was the gathering of manna by the people of Israel. We are shown the secret of this union with Christ in His death for the first tme, and the revelation may well come as a crisis in our life. Afterwards we live day by day counting on the facts thus revealed to us.
Now shall we turn for a moment to the epistle to the Ephesians? In chapter 4 the Apostle describes in verses 17-19 the way in which the unbeliever lives. Notice some of the words used in this description - emptiness of mind, alienated from the life of God, ignorance, blindness of heart, lawlessness. Then speaking to the Christians he continues: "But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off 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 for righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:20-24). Does not this sum up in a few words all that we have been saying? The truth in Jesus tells of His death for us on the Cross, and of our death with Him, so that in our ordinary lives we may bit by bit put off the old man, and put on the new, which is the nature of God Himself.
A man when he undresses takes off one garment at a time, and he can only put his clothes on one at a time as well. Imagine to yourself a man dressed in filthy rags, old and evil-smelling. Now picture him offered new, clean clothes. He takes off the old. They are now of no more use, and only fit to be burnt. Then he dresses himself in the new clothes, which have been given to him; and stands before you a new man, whom you would find it difficult to recognize as the dirty, ragged man you had seen before. This is the picture given us in these verses.
The same thoughts are expressed in the third chapter of Colossians. The first four verses speak of the fact of our death with Christ and our resurrection in Him. Verses 5-9 point out that in the light of these facts it is our obvious duty to break with sin, the reason given being - "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" (Colossians 3:9-10). The rest of the chapter is then taken up with a number of very practical instructions as to how this is to be worked out in every day life. The Christian life is not made up of a number of doctrines hard to understand, and needing special education and training in order to grasp them. It is simple, and very practical. Anyone really wishing to do so may learn direct from God how the great salvation won for them by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, may make life new, and radiant for him.
Before closing this chapter, let us look at one more picture given us in the New Testament in the epistle to the Galatians, chapter 5. In verses 19-21 is given a list of the "works of the flesh" and we should remember as we read that the Lord Jesus said - "That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit" (John 3:6). As I read this list I always think of a visit I made to a big factory. The noise of the machines was so great I could hardly hear myself speak. All was noise, bustle and hurry. All that man does is like that; and in spite of all his noisy effort man has never made anything perfect. Take a fine needle or the sharpest razor blade, and put them under a powerful microscope, and you will be astonished to see how rough and unfinished they look.
Take, on the other hand, a blade of grass and put it under the same microscope, and you will marvel at the perfection of God's works. Yet the grass grew without any noisy effort. You can see a piece of country burnt brown by the sun, until you would think there was nothing living in it to grow, but at the first rainfall a covering of green appears. How? By the hand of God Who said in the day of creation - "Let the earth bring forth grass!" (Genesis 1:11).
What a relief it is to be able in our passage to turn away from these "works of the flesh", which make ugly reading, and to turn to those lovely verses 22 and 23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." How is it possible for such beautiful things to grow in your life and mine? They must be given room to grow. The flesh must be put out of the way. But how? Read the next verse, and the secret is yours. "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh." What does that mean? Just what we have been pointing out through this chapter! God says that our old nature cannot bring forth anything pleasing to Him, and that the Cross of Christ, and the tomb of Christ are His means of ridding us of it. We must accept His verdict, and make our life attitude one of "reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). In this way only can we see that new life which has been given us grow strong, and develop His likeness.
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