A good deal of confusion seems to exist in the minds of believers regarding the true significance of the terms, “The Old Man,” “The New Man,” and “The Flesh,” and I have thought it might be profitable to direct the attention of the saints of God to the way in which these terms are presented in Scripture. The fact that they are very much in use amongst us makes it imperative that we should have right thoughts about them, lest we be found building up a system of error in connection with them. It is only in subjection to God’s Revelation that we can get our preconceived notions, which are always errant, displaced by His soul-saving truth.
Everything is now leavened in Christendom, and the thoughts of the best instructed are very imperfect, so that none of us can boast of being the people with whom wisdom shall die, still God in His grace has been pleased to give us a little light, and we should be thankful to Him for every ray He has been disposed to send into our souls, and we should seek His grace that we may make good use of the light we have got, for only then shall we be able confidently to ask for more. Let us look in the first place at what is said regarding the old man.
The Old Man
We get the term three times in Scripture (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:22), and always in the writings of Paul. He is the only writer that speaks in a direct way of either the old man or the new, and the reason of that is, I have no doubt, because he is used of God to go down to the very root of man’s ruin, and the way in which in the cross our whole fallen and corrupt condition has been dealt with, and the glory of the new order in Christ, in a way that has been given to none other.
The first mention we get of the old man is in Romans 6:6, and there we read: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin should be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” We know that God has not only dealt with our sins in the cross of His Son, but He has dealt with the man that committed the sins, our old man. There the root is reached. It is not only that the fruit of the tree has come under the judgment of God, the tree itself has been hewn down.
And the object is, that the body of sin might be destroyed, having nothing to work upon, for it cannot influence a dead man: and this is just the meaning of crucifixion. When our Lord spoke of His being lifted up, the Holy Spirit said: “This He said, signifying what death He should die” (John 12:33). Our old man is gone in the judgment of the cross. But it is with Christ we have died, for it was with us that God was dealing in judgment in the death of Christ, and this truth is ministered to us in order that we may be brought under the power of it, and claim that freedom from sin that belongs to a dead man. We are now in the life of Christ, and are privileged to account true of us that which is true of Him, and that is that “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death has no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once; and in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.” And this great truth we are to apply to ourselves, and to reckon that what is true of Him is true of us—dead to sin, and alive to God, for we are in Him.
In Ephesians 4:22 we are said to have put off the old man. This is done in the hour in which we turn to Christ. We turn from one man to another, from ourselves to Christ, and thus have discarded as utterly unprofitable all that we were as children of Adam. Whether we have been intelligent as to this or whether we have not, it is the meaning of our act. The Spirit gives His estimate of the value of our faith in Christ. It is the same in Colossians 3:9. In the cross of Christ the old man has come to His end in the judgment of God, and is no longer in any relationship with Him whatever. The old man is just what Adam and his descendants were and are. For four thousand years that man was on his trial, and he has been proven to be unmendably corrupt, but the cross is the end of him in the judgment of God, and believers have put him off, as well as the deeds that characterized him, and have put on the new man.
The New Man
It is the New Man that has made the man after the flesh old. This man, the man after the flesh, occupied the ground, as I have intimated, for four thousand years. During that time he could not have been spoken of as the old man, for the man after the Spirit, the new man, had not come into view. But now the old has passed away, and the new has come to pass, and never again is the old man to be associated with the people of God: they have put on the new, and the beautiful characteristics of the new, which came to light in the life of the meek and lowly Jesus down here, are to be exhibited an His people.
In Colossians the new man is said to be “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him.” This “renewed” is something wholly new, and which had never previously existed, renewed in the full knowledge of God, made to know Him in His very nature, for the nature of the new man is Divine. “God is love,” and “Love is of God.” Everyone therefore that “loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4). And this is “after the image of Him that created Him.” The Creator is Christ, to Him all creation owes its existence in Colossians. The new man is after the prototype of Christ.
In Ephesians the new man is said to be after God, and “created in righteousness and true holiness.” “After God” fits in with the character of the epistle, for in Ephesians everything is said to proceed from God, as in Colossians from Christ. The creation of the new man is in contrast to the creation of the old man Adam. The latter was created in innocence, though from that happy state he very quickly fell; but the former is created in those qualities that characterize God Himself. God is the model here as Christ is the model in Colossians. The life and nature of God and of Christ is the life and nature of the new man. And in putting on Christ, the new man is put on: and Christ is put on when His gospel is embraced (Gal. 3:27).
The flesh is viewed in two ways in Scripture. In the first place it is what the body is (Gen. 6:3, 13); “The life I now live in the flesh” (Gal. 2:20); “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). Another way in which it is viewed is in its fallen and corrupt condition, in which dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). Now when we are told: “Ye are not in the flesh,” the meaning is that the spring and fountain of our life does not lie in the flesh, as it once did when of the old order (Rom. 7:5), in the standing, state, and responsibilities of a mere child of Adam, all our activities springing from a corrupt life within, the corrupt life of fallen, sinful flesh. But to be in the flesh in the sense of Galatians 2:20 is to be in the body, but the Apostle was energized, not by the will of the flesh, but by faith in the Son of God. The flesh in its corrupt state has been defined as “the body with a will in it,” and I take this as a fairly correct definition.
But though the old man has been terminated in the judgment of the cross, and the believer has put him off, and is done with him, we have still the flesh to trouble us. We are not in it, but we cannot say it is not in us. We are made very conscious of its presence, and if we are not watchful it will very soon lead us into the practice of sin. Our own natural sinful wills will be found acting through our members, and failure and sorrow will result.
But for the flesh we have the cross, and they that are Christ’s are said to have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). This cannot be otherwise, for in accepting Christ we have acknowledged the justice of the judgment passed upon all that we were in His cross, and in that sense even the Galatians had crucified the flesh, though they were found going back to it through the influence of false teachers.
By these few remarks I have sought to bring before the reader the way in which these terms are viewed in the Word of God, being perfectly assured that we cannot improve on the manner in which God has taken to teach us His mind. He has effected for us a wonderful deliverance, and He has also been at great pains to bring the truth of that deliverance before our souls, and He would have us receive it in the way in which He has made it known to us. He has, in addition to the unfolding of this deliverance, given to us His Holy Spirit, in order that we may be able to understand and avail ourselves of the deliverance, so as to be able to live to Him and to serve Him for the little while in which He has left us in a world that is in rebellion against Him, and in the midst of a corrupt profession that is on the verge of apostasy. May we seek grace to be free from every hindrance, and wholly devoted to His service.