The young man asked me “What if you start feeling as if you’re going back to the old man?” Doing a Bible study with several men who are looking at a considerable amount of time behind bars is not without it’s challenges. When someone on the outside struggles with depression or feelings of isolation it’s one thing but when you’re talking with someone who probably won’t be free for years, or maybe ever, it’s another story all together.
Making our way through the letter to the Colossians we slowed down a bit to focus on Paul’s statement about his goal of making the once hidden Mystery of God known among the Gentiles. He said He was made a minister in order to fulfill the word of God and preach “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27).
As you read Paul’s writing’s you will begin to see this message of “Christ in you” to be his foundation no matter what else He teaches. For me it seems there is never enough said about how God’s plan all along was to inhabit His people. It was never His intention that we be apart from Him and live in the self-effort strife of trying to work our way up to His standards. I shared with the men how God never thought we could keep His commandments. While many think God gave us His commandments– primarily the Ten Commandments–expecting us to keep them, the reality is He gave them in order to awaken us to our inability to keep them. The deception brought on by the fall is so deep rooted in man it takes something such as the demand for perfection to shake us, bring us to our senses and prove to us our inability to make ourselves “like God.”
The core deception the enemy fed to Adam was that He/We could be independent from God. The idea that we are independent and can do our own “Good” or “Evil” is what has to be removed from our thinking. God gave us His Law to show us who He is so we would start to understand He is Holy, just and perfect and to show us we aren’t. It is only reasonable that a Holy, Just and Perfect God requires Holiness, Justice and Perfection from His creation, right? Jesus Himself did say, “Be perfect/Holy as your heavenly Father is Perfect/Holy didn’t He? The question is how are we to succeed at this impossible demand? Can we try a bit harder? Maybe we can discover a new method of self-improvement, go to a seminar. Are we to hire our very own life coach or guru? No!
After sharing with the men about the Law and it’s demands of perfection we found our way back to Paul’s goal of preaching the message of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You see the only way we can be Holy, Just and Perfect is if the Holy, Just and Perfect one takes up residence within us. The way God does this is the cross. When the first Adam sinned we all sinned; so God’s solution is to take us out of the first Adam and place us into Christ–the last Adam. The problem God has is we are free to choose and yet that really isn’t a problem because He knows there are those of us, after trying and failing for long enough, who will come to the conclusion that we are unable and will cry out to Him to save us. The Apostle Paul himself tells us of his own experience of this in Romans 7 where He cried out ” Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Of course the answer is “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” You see “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So it is truly only “Christ in you” that can give us back “the hope of glory.”
Once we went through all of this we came to the issue of the young man feeling as if He was slipping back into the “old man.” We went from the Law and Christ in us to the division of soul and spirit. We read Hebrews 4:12 and talked about how we have all sorts of thoughts and feelings that come and go each and every day but we don’t have to take condemnation for them. Feelings are part of what makes us human but we aren’t meant to be ruled by them so if you feel a bit blue or depressed from time to time it doesn’t mean it is you. At some point we have to start recognizing the real us is our inner man joined to Christ not our thoughts and feelings. Sure we have thoughts and feelings but they don’t define who we are. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). We don’t deny or attempt to fight feelings we simply see them for what they are and let them be. It’s not as if we can fight them away, in fact fighting them tends to feed them power and we end up in a worse state than when we started most of the time.
While it sounds crazy at first we have to give ourselves permission to be human or as my friend Sylvia Pearce says, “We have to give our humanity a break.” Now this doesn’t mean we allow sin into our lives but what it means is we give ourselves permission to have thoughts and feelings and they don’t stop us from walking in the Spirit. The enemy has the free range to inject thoughts into our minds and we must learn to see them for what they are. I told the guys when you have those thoughts and think to yourself “Where did that come from? Why am I thinking that?” Right away you identify them as from the enemy, take it captive, and present the truth to it. It goes something like this: If you are feeling angry, fearful or depressed you say to yourself, “Well, that isn’t me it’s my emotions. The real me is joined to Christ and Christ didn’t give me the spirit of fear, He’s not angry or depressed so it must be the enemy so I don’t have to take it.” That is what it means to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). You see the old man didn’t have the ability to do this because He didn’t have Christ living in him but thanks be to God we do.