By Norman P. Grubb
WE have not scrupled to show in some detail the ramifications of the independent self in the most earnest of God's servants. We have done so because a thorough insight into our own nature is the essential preliminary to a vital experience of "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" which makes us free from the law of sin and death. This also is the Scriptural order and emphasis. We are set the standard in Romans 6; are given the facts about the self-Life in Romans 7; and experience the deliverance in Romans 8.
But one point needs to be stressed as a possible corrective. In all these Bible characters, which have been cited, the exposure of the flesh has been a long task. This might well put an earnest reader into bondage. "I suppose", he might say, "I must expect a six or ten year period during which my true condition is brought home to me." Not so indeed. Let us say it with emphasis. There is one great difference between these men of God and ourselves. They lived the other side of the Cross before the Savior and the Apostle Paul. What Christ did for us, Paul, more than any other writer, was God's mouthpiece for expounding, and without doubt he himself in his own soul's experience, probably in Arabia, sounded the full depths of self-revelation and deliverance. It is for this reason, therefore, that we are safest if, even in language, we keep close to the categories and symbols used by Paul in these matters.
What, therefore, could only be taught with difficulty to the men of old through the hard knocks of life, is made absolutely plain to us in the Scriptures. We see what sin is, what the flesh is, where it dwells in us, and how we can be delivered. We are in the position of a traveler who has sign-posts along the road, in contrast to the pioneer who has to hack his way through virgin forest.
After we have recognized, therefore, the old man, "the sin that dwelleth in me," the ego that needs crucifying, the flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and numerous other Pauline definitions, without further ado the desire for a full deliverance can be expressed and the choice of a total renunciation made. But, it may be asked, "Surely there is a difference between the mere head knowledge of a truth in Scripture such as we may have, and a heart experience such as these men of old had?" Was not the point with the men of the Bible that they were brought to know themselves, by the only way in which we can know ourselves, by coming to grips with life? True enough. That will follow. But they had to grope their way and be delivered by special revelations. For us, rich provision is made. Let us make the most of it. Let us get all the truth we can, absorb it, understand it, soak in such teaching as we find in Romans 6 to 8, following on to Romans 2 to 5, then obey it as far as we have light. We can at least give all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of God.
Having now seen our true enemy, our fallen ego; having traced him to his lair, through sins, through world attachments, right down to our own hearts; according to the measure in which we have truly felt this "sin that dwelleth in me", made fully bare to us in Romans 7, we cry with the Apostle, "wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
But first we must ask: What is the deliverance I expect? Just this: I have a puny, poisoned, localized self, shut up to its mean "my" and "mine", lusting and having not, desiring to have and unable to obtain. It is alive in me in place of a God-expanded, God indwelt self, which can know all things, have all things, do all things.
It is the flesh of which Paul so often speaks, the old man, the carnal nature. Yet it is the very same self that came from the hands of my Creator-the same self, but seduced from its proper function as the hidden and willing servant of the Spirit in the kingdom of light, and taken captive by sin and Satan to be his agent in the kingdom of darkness. It is not something which was created evil and for which the only remedy is destruction or eradication. Such is an impossibility. The God-made self, a ray from His own self, is no more capable of dissolution or extinction than is God's own self. Rather, it is man's ego which has become enslaved, defiled, bedeviled, and must be released, cleansed and restored to its rightful Owner. It may be likened to the man "which had devils long time and ware no clothes", who was later seen, "the devils departed out of him, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind". The same man in two totally different relations, first to devils, then to Jesus.
The important point of this truth, which is missed by many who remain confused as to exactly what the old nature is and what becomes of it, is to grasp that the new man in Christ is basically the same person, same self, same entity as the old man; formerly carnal, sold under sin; now spiritual, sold under holiness. The flesh (I-carnal) becomes the new man in Christ (I-spiritual). It is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Stevenson's creation, the one becoming the other by an imagined process of metamorphosis.1
We see it most clearly when we are told to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The self is seen here to be the living center both of the old man and of the new. I am to reckon the self that was once the old man as now dead unto sin, in other words immune from the power of sin as sharing the death of Christ; and that same self now as the new man, alive unto God as sharing in the quickening life of the risen Christ: and we are then told to yield our selves unto God as those that are alive from the dead.
Perhaps the best word to describe the process is transmutation (from the Latin transmutare, to change). It is a chemical term used by the old alchemists whose aim was to transmute lead into gold, so to change its character that the elements which constituted the lead should become the elements which constitute gold, a like process to that which actually now takes place in the transmutation of the atom. And this is the only possible aim of redemption, that the leadened nature of man in the dominion of the flesh should be transmuted into the golden nature of man in the dominion of the Spirit.
If that is the deliverance, who is the deliverer and how does he do it? "Who shall deliver me?" cries Paul. The glory of the Gospel is the answering cry of Romans 8:2, "He bath delivered;" not "He shall'", but "He bath." We are back again to our old theme: all grace, as all stature, consists in the givingness of God. He has given rein and sun and food and air and life to all his creatures; they have but to enjoy them. He has given forgiveness, life, adoption, redemption in Jesus to as marry as receive Him: all they have to do is to hear and believe. Aye, and more: He was given deliverance from the power of indwelling sin the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which bas set us free from the law of sin and death.
1.Paget Wilkes, in his little book Sanctification, has an illuminating footnote on this point (page 42): "Many people have supposed and indeed taught that the 'flesh' in its ethical sense as employed by St. Paul is identical with 'the sin that dwelleth in me' - that 'infection of nature that doth still remain in the regenerate'. This has led to endless confusion of thought and misunderstanding, causing divisions where there need have been none... The flesh in itself is not sinful; we are not told to cleanse ourselves from the flesh but from 'all filthiness of the flesh.' It is 'the mind of the flesh' that is 'enmity against God.' St. Paul, in speaking of the fruit of the Spirit', when he talks of 'the flesh,' in the very same passage, is careful to say that adultery, fornication, etc., are 'the works of the flesh' and not its fruit. They are the fruit' of Indwelling Sin, though 'worked' out by the flesh; or, to use the language of Col. 3:5, they are the members of the 'old man.'
"Thayer, the great Lexicographer, describes it thus: 'The flesh in its ethical sense denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from Divine influence.' Martin Luther says: 'Thou must not understand flesh as though that only were flesh which is connected with unchastity, but St. Paul uses "flesh" of the whole man-body, soul and spirit, reason and all his faculties included.'
"Now our 'human nature' - 'our reason and all other faculties included' - are God-made and God-given, and cannot therefore in themselves be sinful. The flesh seems to include our natural appetites, our heredity, our temperament, our environment and upbringing: all. God-given and God-appointed. They are the avenues of temptation, and are only sinful when and because they are indwelt and poisoned and dominated by Indwelling Sin.
"St. Paul thus described the flesh in his Philippian letter (3:3-6). 'I also might have confidence in the fled:. Circumcised the eighth day... of the stock of Israel... of the tribe: of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews,' etc. Now none of these things were sinful; they were merely part of the natural man and his upbringing, and yet St. Paul designates them as 'the flesh'.
"St. Paul tells us plainly that the crucifying of the flesh is something we have to do-our business (Gal. 5:4). The crucifying of the Old Man on the other hand and the destruction of sin in my members is the work of Christ and Christ alone; it has been done by Christ in Ibis sacrificial death and is wrought out in us by the Holy Ghost. In this we had no hand; we had no power to deal with these terrible foes. If what I have here written is true, it is possible ever' after we have been delivered from 'Indwelling Sin to walk and work for Christ in the energy of the flesh. Hence our need to 'die daily', to 'watch' and 'to keep under our body' lest we too may fall and be a 'cast-away'.")