Although it does not manifest itself at birth, each of us has his own peculiar nature and characteristics.
The new-born babe looks like any other babe in the nursery. There are a few external features that distinguish. They vary in size, amount of hair, color of hair, roundness of face and weight, but the physical features that will distinguish them from others are not as sharply defined as they will be in years to come. They look very much alike, so much so in fact that precautions need be taken lest the parents take home from the hospital the wrong child.
Yet inside is a distinct soul and individual heart. It is not yet evident whether this person has a poetic soul that will delight in the world of art and music or a cold, cynical soul that will cause him to stand aloof and in a self-centered life. It is not yet evident whether this child will be-a leader or one who is perfectly content to be led, will be mechanically minded or seek fields of philosophy and education. We can tell so little about that new-born babe as far as its character and nature are concerned.
Looking at the parents we may assume that the child will have the same hot temper of one of the parents or the calm, poised nature of the other. We may expect the child to follow his father in the field of finances; and yet the child when grown may rather seek the fields of the sciences. Even as no two children look alike (with the exception of identical twins) so no two children from the same parents have the same natures. You may find in your children natures that are so different from each other. They may not look like brothers at all; and they may behave as complete strangers. Who can tell when the child is only a day or two old what his nature is and how he will think and will, what his favorite color and food will be, what his likes and dislikes in clothing and furniture will be? He does not know that yet himself. He has not come to self-consciousness. In due time all these matters will become plain to him and to those who deal with him.
It will without exception be a nature that is under the dominion of sin. David speaks the truth when he declares that we are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity. Psalm 51:5. Paul says that the carnal mind is enmity against God and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, Romans 8:7. And that means that the carnal mind of the meek, the self-conscious introvert who has an inferiority complex is also enmity against God and cannot be subject to the law of God. There is no such thing as naturally being pleasing in God’s sight. That a man has not the courage to strike the blow that kills does not mean that he is not a murderer in his heart. And natural meekness is no virtue that merits before God. There are not those who do not need Christ, because they already from their natural birth have His virtues. The Psalmist again declares in Psalm 14:1-3, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.”
Whether, therefore, it is a patient or an impetuous nature, whether a quiet or an excitable nature, it will be a nature that moves in the sphere of sin and brings forth the works of darkness. An unregenerated heart can only bring forth the works of the kingdom of darkness. Cain could only perform that which the fallen natures of Adam and Eve could produce. And although the opportunity to sin is not the same with all men, all men sin with their whole being and fail to serve God with any part of it until they are born again. Except they are born again they cannot see either the kingdom or the laws and principles of that kingdom. It is therefore impossible for them to be subject to the law of God. When we say that man by nature is corrupt, we say that the natural thing for him to do is to sin.
Regeneration does not change this nature, for it does not take away that hot temper or indolent character. Peter was an impetuous man who spoke twice before he thought once. We see this on the mount of transfiguration when; without giving it a thought, he suggested building three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elias. He manifested it again when without consideration of Jesus’ words that He must suffer and die and would rise again the third day Peter said, “That be far from thee, Lord.” Had he given it a thought he would not have objected to that last part and declared that he did not want Christ to rise again the third day. That was not his intention, to be sure. But Jesus had hardly begun the statement, and while He is still stating the truth about His resurrection, Peter began to answer the first part in his impetuousness. Regeneration did not take this impetuous nature from him. Regeneration does not destroy the old man of sin. It does not even reform him. He stays an old man of sin until this body takes the last breath of life. The old nature is an evil nature and remains such till God destroys it in death.
What regeneration does is to implant a new life alongside of that old life and nature. What regeneration does is to give us a life whereby we are able to fight victoriously against that old nature. Regeneration sanctifies the man so that his zeal is now directed towards things holy and spiritual. It enables the physically lazy to become diligent in the things spiritual and to fight against and overcome the indolence of the flesh. Paul was a man who with zeal sought to destroy God’s Church. His conversion did not take away the fire of his nature and make him a quiet, easy-going individual. Instead it turned him into a fiery preacher of the gospel, a zealous apostle who was willing to go into fire and persecution to preach the Christ Whom he had formerly persecuted. And no different is it with us. Our evil nature remains with us, but we receive grace through regeneration to fight it and wrest from the grip of the old man of sin our talents and members and faculties to the glory of God and in His service.
In the regenerated believer, therefore, we find a continuous struggle. There is conflict in his life. For in him there are two lives that are opposed to each other. The source of the one life is this sinful earth and fallen Adam and Eve. The source of the other is Christ Who dwells in the heavens with the God of our salvation. Jesus says to Nicodemus that we must be born from above, if we are even to see the kingdom of heaven. It will be a rebirth, for we have already been born with the life from below. But the word Jesus uses stresses the idea of a higher source, a source diametrically opposed to the first life which we receive from Adam and Eve through our parents.
The direction of that life of the rebirth is therefore also so different from the direction of the first life wherewith we come into this world. The new life seeks the things which are above where Christ is seated at God’s right hand and sets its affections on those things above. The carnal mind which is enmity against God seeks the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The life of regeneration is always aimed upward. The life of our natural birth is always directed towards the base, the evil, the corrupt things of this world.
And it simply follows that two lives going in opposite directions and having contrary sources are going to clash in the individual. If we do not walk with God, we walk in opposition to Him. If the life of our natural birth does not walk with God—and it certainly does not—and the life of God is infused in us by regeneration, there is going to be in us that which walks with God and that which walks against Him. The conflict then follows. A fierce, unceasing, relentless struggle follows. The life of the regenerated is indeed a continual struggle. He has peace with God according to that new principle of life, but as long as that flesh is with him, he does not have peace with himself. Paul presents all this so vividly in Romans 7 and at the end cries out of this continuous struggle in those memorable words, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
The evil that he would not, that Paul did. The good that he would, his old man of sin allowed not. He found that according to the new principle of life that he delighted in the law of God. The life from above was there. But he also finds another law warring in his members and warring against the law of his sanctified mind. There is a spiritual conflict which he experiences because he is a regenerated child of God.
At times it may appear as though one is not a child of God and that there is no such struggle within him. There are those, as righteous Lot, who seem to be able to live in the world and with the world and have no struggle. Scripture reveals to us that this was not the case with Lot. He vexed his righteous soul, and that certainly means that the struggle was there. He had not the spiritual strength to make separation. He had a godless wife that held him in the bondage of this heathendom. She was not a help-meet for a regenerated child of God. She sought only to drag him ever deeper into the wickedness of Sodom and agreed wholeheartedly to the betrothal of her own children to the paganism and devilishness of Sodom. She was no help spiritually for Lot, and therefore was not meet or a suitable partner for him in the wedded life of this elect child of God. But so it is with so many of God’s people. The extent of their spiritual struggle is nothing more than a vexing of the righteous soul. But it must be more and will be more, if in His fear we walk our pilgrimage here below. That it might be more, God took Lot by the hand and pulled him out of Sodom while he lingered.
Naturally the struggle of the new man in Christ intensifies or diminishes as he is fed and nourished with the truth. No soldier can fight when he is cut off from a food supply. No soldier of the cross of Jesus Christ can continue the struggle when his faith is not fed with Christ, the Bread of Life. It is, indeed, even as the Indian convert said to the missionary. Having been taught some time before about this struggle and this presence in the regenerated child of God of the new man of Christ to live in the same body and soul with the old man of sin, he was asked one day by the missionary how matters were going in his spiritual life and whether he was having the victory over sin. In answer to the question as to who was victorious in his life, the old man of sin or the new man in Christ, he stated that it was just like his two dogs who were always fighting. Questioned by the missionary as to what he meant, he stated that the dog which he fed the most had the victory over the one from whom food was withheld. Indeed, and is it not so? That child of God who eats regularly of the spiritual food and receives from Sabbath to Sabbath the pure, unadulterated Word of God is going to find victory in his struggle against the motions of sin in his flesh. And when he runs away from that Word, changes churches because the sermons are too long, skips over the longer chapters and Psalms in the Bible, subscribes but leaves unread the Christian literature that comes into his home, becomes a “oncer” in attending the services of divine worship, when there are two services every Sabbath, sleeps through the sermon, goes bowling or seeks the worldly entertainment of his TV set instead of attending his men’s society and in short walks not in His fear but away from His sphere, that man is going to find little struggle in his life and find himself giving in more and more to that old man and his evil lusts.
O, indeed it is easy to fight the brother, the neighbor, the man who exposes the works of the old man within. It is easy to pride oneself that one is fighting the good fight of faith and even profess to be seeking the brother’s good. Well and good. That also is our calling. But in His fear we will not neglect to fight the old man within ourselves. Viewing our own lives—and after all it is our own heart that we can see and not the brother’s—one will, if one does so in all honesty, see oneself as the publican and cry out, “God be merciful to me THE sinner.” A little more consciousness of our own evil will prevent us from exalting self above the other. A little more fighting the flesh and the old man within will keep us plenty busy to have far less time to be looking for the faults of others.
May I wish you that your life be a continual struggle in that spiritual sense of the word? All is well, if that struggle is strongly there. And one can have peace with God only when that struggle is there. Walk with God and there is bound to be that struggle. Walk the way of the old man of sin and you cannot be in fellowship with God.