The 'Old Man' and the 'New Man'
The New Testament says a lot about the ‘Old Man’, the ‘New Man’, ‘the Flesh’, the ‘Mind of the Flesh’ and the ‘Mind of the Spirit’. It paints a picture of a constant struggle between our old self, seeking to lead us back to our old pleasures and the ‘new creation’ in is seeking, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve and honour God. The power for overcoming our ‘old man’ lies with the Holy Spirit and in our Lord Jesus Christ (see the paper on “Christ our Deliverer”). This paper looks at the what the ‘old man’ and ‘new man’ really is.
Baptism in the Bible
There are several baptisms in the scriptures. In the New Testament these are the baptisms of John the Baptist, the Lord’s own baptism by John the Baptist, the Lord’s disciples baptising at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry (John 4v1-3), the baptisms of the 3000 on the day of Pentecost, Philip baptising the Samaritans, the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, the baptism of Paul (Acts 22v16), the baptism of Cornelius and his house, the baptism of the Philippian jailor and his house, the baptisms of Lydia, Stephanus and Crispus with their houses and the baptism of the Ephesians (Acts 19v3-6). In the Old Testament there are two baptisms, one to Moses (see 1 Corinthians 10) and Noah’s baptism (see 1 Peter 3v18-21).
What is the 'Old Man' and the 'New Man'?
The Bible speaks of a great transformation in every Christian. They have been “born again”. They have left behind the “old man” and become a “new man”. Paul refers to this transformation as “new creation”. It all shows us a key fact about the Christian’s life. All that we were, i.e. our ‘old man’, has been put to death and destroyed in Christ’s death. All that we are now is a completely new creation. God has judged the old sinful person that we were and has now recreated us as new person. It is this new person which bears Christ’s likeness that will pass through death into God’s presence. The sinful bodies in which we are living (what the bible calls ‘the flesh’) will cease at death. Anyone who has not been born again will suffer find that all their hopes and pride in their sinful flesh will be destroyed when that body dies.
The ‘Old Man’ or ‘the Flesh’
"What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it? Are you ignorant that we, as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death? We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death, in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we are become identified with him in the likeness of his death, so also we shall be of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin." (Romans 6v1-6).
The ‘old man’ is never portrayed positively in the scriptures. In Colossians 3 it is described as being characterised by “wrath, anger, malice, blasphemy, vile language” and lying. In Ephesians 4 it describes “bitterness, and heat of passion, and wrath, and clamour, and injurious language” in malice. In Galatians 5 Paul says “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strifes, jealousies, angers, contentions, disputes, schools of opinion, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revels, and things like these; as to which I tell you beforehand, even as I also have said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit God's kingdom.” In Romans we find the true character of the ‘old man/the flesh’:
“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell: for to will is there with me, but to do right I find not” (Romans 7:18).
"Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:7).
Good does not dwell in our flesh. There is nothing good about it because it is opposed to God. Galatians 5 even tells us that the “flesh lusts against the Spirit”. All our pride, lust, desires and wants are with the aim of satisfying ‘the flesh’ and because it is sinful and disobedient to God then it has enslaved us to sin and Paul can describe us as “bondmen [or slaves] to sin”. This is our natural nature before salvation and the driving force of much of unregenerate mankind.
Being ‘born again’
The ‘old man’ cannot enter the kingdom of God. Therefore, the Lord told Nicodemus that for us to enter the kingdom of God we must be born again. This new birth is not a physical rebirth but a spiritual one. We become a ‘new man’. This new man is made, not as a result of our will or any decision of man but rather, it is created by God’s will.
“Jesus answered and said to him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God … That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3 & 6).
“He came to his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
The moment we have cried “Lord, save me” we a “new creation” begins within us. A new spirit and desire grows in us that wants to serve and glorify our blessed Saviour. We have been reconciled with God for this ‘new man’ is like Christ and can enter God’s kingdom. The ‘old man’ at this point is condemned and passes out of God’s sight, never to be seen again.
“So if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new: and all things are of the God who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and given to us the ministry of that reconciliation: how that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their offences; and putting in us the word of that reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
“But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision; but new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15).
“Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth to unfeigned brotherly love, love one another out of a pure heart fervently; being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23).
The ‘New Man’
The ‘new man’ is the complete opposite of the flesh. It is characterised by being under the influence of Holy Spirit who now indwells us. In Ephesians 4 it is described as being made by God and created in “truthful righteousness and holiness”. In the same chapter we find that the ‘new man’ will cause us to “kind, compassionate, forgiving”. Colossians 3 describes these features as “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering” and adds that it is characterised by love. Romans 8 tells us that the mind of the spirit is “life and peace”. Galatians 5 shows us that this ‘new mind’ which has the “mind of the spirit” will bear fruit as follows: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control: against such things there is no law”.
The ‘new man’ is made alive (or quickened) by the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit which quickens, the flesh profits nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63).
‘The flesh’ can do nothing to make us living. It is the Holy Spirit that causes the ‘new man’ grow and develop.
The struggle between new and old
Being ‘born again’ is a spiritual rebirth. We find Romans 7 that Paul describes an inward struggle that so consumed Him that he writes in desperation “Who shall free me from this body of death?”. Paul was referring to the fact that our ‘new man’ desires to serve and honour God but we still have the ‘old man’ with us in the form of ‘the flesh’. Satan sets to work to use the senses, lusts and pride of our sinful bodies to disrupt and ruin our enjoyment of salvation. He seeks to prevent God from having any enjoyment from our lives on earth by either making us go back to our old lifestyle or become so consumed with our failings that we can’t look to God and worship Him.
“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring in opposition to the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which exists in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
Paul says that inwardly he delights in God’s ways but in his ‘members’ (i.e. his body) he finds that there is another law working there that seeks to bring him back under the influence of sin and return to his old lifestyle. He explains that the mind of the flesh is fighting the mind of the Spirit in the ‘new man’ that has been created in us.
For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:6-7).
So, we want to serve God in purity and holiness but we find that in us ‘the flesh’ is resisting this change and wants us to serve its lusts and honour ourselves. It refuses to be subject to God. As a result, we become focussed on forcing our flesh to be obedient to God’s will and then despair when we find that we let down our guard for a moment and we fail. We find ourselves echoing Paul’s words and agreeing that the thing we desire most is to be free from this body of sin and death (for sin leads to death).
Why is the ‘old man’/’the flesh’ still there?
Our new birth was a spiritual new birth. We are told that in a day soon to come our bodies will also be changed (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). However, we are told that the ‘old man’ has been crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be annulled and that we might be alive to God with Christ.
“For if we are become identified with him in the likeness of his death, so also we shall be of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin. For he that has died is justified from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ having been raised up from among the dead dies no more: death has dominion over him no more. For in that he has died, he has died to sin once for all; but in that he lives, he lives to God. So also ye, reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:5-11).
“For when we were in the flesh the passions of sins, which were by the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit to death; but now we are clear from the law, having died in that in which we were held, so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter” (Romans 7:5-6).
As a result of our having died with Christ (as far as God is concerned) we have been justified from sin in God’s sight. This does not change. However, the ‘old man’ has been crucified. A crucified man is condemned to death and has no escape from his fate. Our body has not reached the point of death yet but the sentence of death has already been passed upon it. It will die, even though it seeks to be so active in diverting us from God. Paul says that we must therefore regard it as being already dead and effectively ignore it.
What can we do?
The Bible tells us that we have to put in some effort to put on the ‘new man’. In other words, we must focus on living in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not only made like Christ, but we also have to ‘put on Christ’ in our daily lives.
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not take forethought for the flesh to fulfil its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye should no longer walk as the rest of the nations walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in understanding, estranged from the life of God by reason of the ignorance which is in them, by reason of the hardness of their hearts, who having cast off all feeling, have given themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greedy unsatisfied lust. But ye have not thus learnt the Christ, if ye have heard him and been instructed in him according as the truth is in Jesus; namely your having put off according to the former conversation the old man which corrupts itself according to the deceitful lusts; and being renewed in the spirit of your mind; and your having put on the new man, which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24).
“Let no corrupt word go out of your mouth, but if there be any good one for needful edification, that it may give grace to those that hear it. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which ye have been sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and heat of passion, and wrath, and clamour, and injurious language, be removed from you, with all malice; and be to one another kind, compassionate, forgiving one another, so as God also in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).
“But now, put off, ye also, all these things, wrath, anger, malice, blasphemy, vile language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, having put off the old man with his deeds, and having put on the new, renewed into full knowledge according to the image of him that has created him; wherein there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is everything, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any should have a complaint against any; even as the Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye. And to all these add love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ preside in your hearts, to which also ye have been called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of the Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God. And everything, whatever ye may do in word or in deed, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him” (Colossians 3:8-17).
“But I say, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall no way fulfil flesh's lust. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do those things which ye desire; but if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strifes, jealousies, angers, contentions, disputes, schools of opinion, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revels, and things like these; as to which I tell you beforehand, even as I also have said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit God's kingdom. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control: against such things there is no law. But they that are of the Christ have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let us walk also by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25).
These passages make clear to us that although God views us as being a ‘new man’ that has been born according to His will we have been left to fight the ‘mind of the flesh’. The ‘old man’ will be gone forever when we die or the Lord comes and we will be released from its influence as only the ‘new man’ will enter God’s kingdom. In the resurrection, our spirits will be united with changed bodies like Christ’s which will have been made by the power of God and won’t be tainted by sin any longer.
At the present time though, we have been given the Holy Spirit and if we allow Him to have the central place in our lives then He will be the source of power needed to overcome ‘the flesh’ and its lusts. We desire to serve God but ‘the flesh’ prevents us from doing this so the Spirit gives us the power to overcome the flesh if we let Him.
In conclusion ...
There was never any struggle before we were saved. The ‘old man’ was us and we did what we wanted to do as we served and satisfied the lusts of the flesh in self-will. Then God showed us that “the mind of the flesh is death”. We repented and were born again in Christ becoming a new creation within. However, our sinful flesh, energised by Satan, seeks always to promote ourselves and go back to our old temporary pleasures and therefore resists God’s will just as it always has done. Romans 7 and 8 show us that this ‘old man’ is no longer ‘us’ but in God’s sight has been condemned to death. Keeping this in mind we must seek to “walk in the Spirit” and “reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God”.
Satan would seek to divert us and consume us with our failings but we are given one very effective piece of advice.
“If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above, where the Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God: have your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth; for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Don’t focus on ourselves at all. Our flesh will never be subject to God which is why it has been condemned to death and annulled. Focus on the Lord Jesus in glory and when we have our eyes on Him we won’t sink. As Peter walking on the water began to look at the wind and the waves, taking his eye off the Lord he began to sink. We must focus on the Lord and as we do so the wiles of the flesh will grow weaker and weaker. Whichever side of us we feed will be the side that dominates. Feed on Christ and God’s word and the ‘old man’ will lose his influence over us.