4-2 The New Life
The new man / person created in us at baptism by the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) is essentially a character; or at least, the potential for a character, after the pattern of the Lord Jesus. For Christ is said to be “formed in us”. As we gaze into His glory, we are changed bit by bit into His image. His glorious character is a mirror, Paul says; as we look into it, our image comes to reflect His glory (2 Cor. 3:18). He doesn’t subsume us beneath Himself. Self-expression, or even self-manifestation, is one of God’s features, and so He intends it to be in us who are made after His image. God manifestation doesn’t in that sense mean the destruction or ignoring of the individual human person; rather, the very opposite, in that the real character, the new life, will be eternally developed and preserved. This is where Hinduism is so wrong, as wrong as any monolithic, apostate Papal or Protestant Christianity- the person disappears into the great Whole. Joash understood where ‘God manifestation’ can be taken too far; he told the Baal worshippers to let Baal plead for himself, rather than them pleading for him (Jud. 6:31). This needs thinking through. He was saying that they were assuming that they had to ‘play God’ for Baal; they had to mindlessly, unthinkingly manifest the god they thought existed. Joash says that if Baal really exists, he himself will act for himself, openly. And this of course is where the One True God excels; He does act for Himself, and doesn’t rely solely upon manifesting Himself through men in order to achieve anything.
Real character and the new life is this world’s most pressing need. If all 5 billion of us down here had real character and refused to be led by the manipulations of others, if we knew who we really were and refused to live out merely convenient personas, then the strife and depression and poverty of spirit which characterizes humanity would be no more. Real character refers to who we are when no one’s looking; what we essentially feel and identify ourselves as, as we walk down a street alone or lay awake at night in silence. It refers to what our self-talk is about, and the nature of it. I submit that true character of any sort is sadly lacking amongst the billions on this earth. The true and real character is that of the Lord, the true humanity whom God intended. And they know Him not. All are merely living out the expectations of their upbringing or surrounding societies. In Christ alone is the true character as God intends. Only in Him, in bearing His image, is there true freedom of self-determination. This freedom leads to visionary thinking, to true creativity. The peoples of this planet are largely committed to doing as they are told, or to preserving or creating a status quo which operates to their personal advantage; it is in the selfless person of Jesus that we find the freedom to break free from this terribly limited perspective; to creatively serve the only true God, to work out His glory in our own unique ways, not at the dictate of anyone else. Our generation seeks instant everything; instant wealth, success, fulfilling personal relationships, instant gratification. All this reflects a total lack of character. For those who are aware of their real selves, the man Christ Jesus within them, there is the strength to realize that nothing comes instantly; the real self,l the new life, is the product of slow, certain development.
There is something unique about the human person, the person God intends us to have; whereas that uniqueness is not found in the personas we often live out. From early childhood, when personality starts to develop, there is the desire to have something unique. Children like to invent secret codes which erect a sort of barrier between them and their parents; they make secret hiding places, or keep secret treasures to which their parents have no access. Take a real life conversation between two kids:
“I’ve got a secret, but I’m not going to tell you”
“Oh, I don’t care about your silly secret”
“Don’t you want me to tell you my secret?”
“I don’t think you could have a secret”
“OK, I’ll tell you my secret…”.
Children may be incapable of resisting the pleasure of divulging secrets- even inventing them if necessary. Divulging secrets gives the child, so he thinks, some kind of prestige; he knows something the other doesn’t. And adults are no different. Many lack a sense of their own unique personhood, their boundaries and those of others, to the extent that they will spread gossip no matter how much harm it causes to others.
The Adventure Of Living
The man after God’s image is the new life, the true self of the believer. This means that the new man within us has God’s characteristics. And our Father is essentially creative, pouring out His love in the face of aggression. When we experience those occasional flares of creativity for God, of love, of desire to witness more powerfully, of the energy to truly forgive, our true person is being revealed, albeit in intermittent flashes. The personas we live, on the other hand, tend towards routines, self-centredness, and an altogether narrow vision of life. The man of the flesh is a slave, doing the same things; whereas the man of the spirit is free. Those who merely live out personas thus become automatons, following habits, tending towards stability in everything. Even their spiritual life becomes mere automatisms- Bible reading, breaking bread, attendance at meetings become automated habits rather than events that regularly shock, startle and inspire us as we find authentic contact with the Father and Son through them. The dynamic new life of God is far from the personas we live out. The adventure of living after God’s image becomes suppressed; rather than go out into society and witness for the Gospel and transform lives, a sister prefers to sit at home and read novels or watch movies; a brother plays with his computer programmes or reads Bill Gates’ biography rather than launching out on the internet to lead people world-wide to Christ.
Those random examples reveal something, however. There is a spirit of adventure within us, yet we tend to want to live it out vicariously, through identifying with some character in a movie or in a novel, or reading a travel book, rather than ourselves going outside our comfort zones and being the person God intended us to be in His service. The most timid office clerk will disclose under psychoanalysis that he has dreams which reflect a passion for adventure. Gambling and drug addition often begin from this basic desire for risk and adventure. The young child seeks an escape from his limited life experience by indulging in fairy tales; adults lose themselves in science fiction and video games. Yet the child seeks true and real adventure; it is only socialization that makes him or her a realist, recognizing the narrow limits of our lives. The young child draws maps of imaginary islands, or she constructs new countries in the sand. The adolescent wants to be different, to have different hair, strange clothes; there is a hunger to be themselves and not a copy of their parents; to become a person. This spirit of adventure and rebellion and desire for new life is thus a very real, if latent, part of everyone. It can only find true expression in our total devotion to the creative life and spirit of the Lord Jesus. Conversion is therefore a change from a routine of religion to the adventure of a life lived in actual and real fellowship with God Almighty Himself. We are called to the highest levels of personal ambition- that one day, you and I will share God’s nature, fighting for the only ultimately right and valid cause, knowing that every move, every choice, every personal decision, is of crucial importance.
We nearly all complain of bursts of fervour for the Lord, willingness to take the leap and adventure of faith, and then slipping back into lukewarmness. What is happening is that the true person is showing through only occasionally, and then we slump back into the personas which society demands of us. Our overorganized society makes us fossilized, and thus we fail to have the sense of rejuvenation, renewal and exaltation of which the Scriptures so frequently speak. Yet such an existence isn’t necessarily the fate of every Christian. No. We can, we really can, live a life which is ourselves, fearless of what others think, living the gripping life of true spiritual adventure, taking ourselves where we have never been before, even if it takes us to the cross- which is the ultimate end of the truly Christ-following new life.
Repentance can be understood as those moments when we realize the discordance between our true person and our personage; we fall to our knees in recognition of our hypocrisy, of our unfaithfulness to the Truth of Christ which is really within us, of our acting out a part in the eyes of men. And it is those moments which light afresh the fire for Him which is the basis for all truly spiritual endeavour. The gap between our own person and our personas is easily reflected in the discomfort we feel when we hear a recording of our own voice, a video of our movements, or even a photograph of ourselves. We’re all eager to see how we came out in the photo… but that eagerness which turns to a slight discomfort, even to the extent of trying to destroy the photo, is really a sign of the tension which there is between our person and our persona. The two aren’t in harmony- and, frankly, never will be until we shall know even as also we are known. And yet when David asks God to “unite my heart”, and speaks of praising God with his whole heart (Ps. 86:11,12), he surely speaks of his desire not to have two hearts, a real self and a shadow self; but to be one within himself.The new life was to be his one and only life.
The world, Paul told the Romans, seeks to push us into its mould (Rom. 12:2 J.B. Phillips). And this is increasingly true, as people crowded together catch the same bus each day to arrive at roughly the same time, reading the same newspapers, watching the same soap operas…automatic lives. Yet the real self created in the believer is ultimately free. For freedom did Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1 RV). The new person, the essential you and me, is characterized by sudden, creative welling up to the Father’s glory. This doesn’t mean that we have no habits- regular prayer, Bible study, meeting together etc. are all part of the new person.
As I write this my wife and I have just left a meeting in a small bedroom on a Bible School campus in the USA. Stirred by what they had heard in their Bible study classes, three sisters enthused with each other over lunch and decided they must reach out to battered women living in shelters and on the streets. And they invited us along to their planning meeting. There was the very definition of this sudden, creative upwelling. All present shared their own doubts, fears, past abuses and determination to get out of their rut of inactivity and actually achieve something concrete for their Lord. Their true persons were showing through. They were being themselves. There was no acting, no seeking to impress each other. As an observer, and the only male in the room, not invited to actually participate in the project but just to give some guidance, this was just so apparent to me as I sat there and listened and observed them. They were being themselves; being the women God intended them to be, triumphantly rising above the automatisms of middle class American life to be and live the new life. I recall how the simple words of Jesus were throbbing in my mind as I looked on: “I am…the life” (Jn. 11:25).
This welling up of new life is a characteristic of true conversion. This is why the elderly, the infirm, the chronically shy, experience the flowering of the person, the sense of new life even in the face of the outward man perishing daily; because their inward man, their real self, is being so strongly infused with power (2 Cor. 4:16). This explains why the graph of spiritual growth in any person is not a smooth upward curve; it is a very jagged line. Our true person asserts itself in those moments of totally free choice to serve our Lord. But we so easily allow our lives to slip back into the automatisms which define our personas. Yet the Father and Son are constantly seeking to lead us in “newness of life”. David didn’t get victory by the mulberry trees the same way each time (2 Sam. 5:23,24). God changed the method. To rend apart our personas by true self-examination, to allow the true self to appear, can be shattering. It is nothing short of the way of the cross, the naked self-crucifixion which the Lord asks of us, in which like Him we may look down at all our bones and see them staring back at us (Ps. 22:17). Living like this, we will be constrained to confront life’s problems head on, not content with compromises, escapism, dodging the issues. We will no longer excuse ourselves that we cannot be ourselves for fear of upsetting others. We cannot be true to ourselves and repress our own convictions, or pretending to have those which we do not. James 1:24 brings out the point that real self-examination is related to hearing and doing, rather than merely hearing and not doing. Real, adventurous, fearless self-examination, James is saying, leads to action.
Avoiding Stale Relationships
But adventures become stale once they are over. New life is always needed. This is why in our daily reading and fellowship with our Lord, as we enter ever more deeply into His character, we are challenged afresh daily. We aren’t professionals, committee members, in this drive for spirituality. We are amateurs at heart, children, wide eyed with wonder at what we are being shown, ever moving on to some fresh endeavour. Our spiritual new life need never become a mere routine, a burden, a duty to be performed, a habit. For “[in the heart] where the spirit of the Lord [Jesus] is, there the heart is free” (2 Cor. 3:17); we were brought out from the pointless, repetitive bondage of Egypt by the blood of Christ. What this means is not that red liquid somehow did something for us; His example of death, how He was there, inspires us to break out from the vain way of life we received by tradition from our fathers (1 Pet. 1:18). We alone, as true believers in the representative nature of His sacrifice, are thereby empowered to break out of the routine of our lives. Life becomes valuable; we number our days with wisdom (Ps. 90:12). We no longer fear failure, for firstly we know there is forgiveness in Christ, and secondly, our focus is upon living the real life of ultimate discovery and adventure, able to live with the fears which this presents to us. Failure is no longer a problem to us; for the aim is ever before us. We will not be like Ahithophel, committing suicide because he ran out of highway and lost his political power to others (2 Sam. 17:23). Our failures are nothing more than temporary setbacks, as the baby who stretches out her hands to the lamp on the ceiling and cries because she can’t reach it. We take them all, even our sins, in the spirit of the cross- the supreme failure which became the supreme triumph of God and the true person. Our instinct for security, to hide behind insurance policies and savings, becomes almost despised as we live the life of true seeking after the ideal. Our struggles between the desire for security and the desire to go God’s way are no more than the tensions between the persona and the true self. Absolutely no other goals or achievements can ultimately satisfy us- the accumulation of wealth, sexual experience, power, artistic achievement….nothing, nothing, nothing, can ultimately fulfil us, apart from the imitation of Christ Jesus our Lord. Solomon is the great Biblical example, concluding at the end that “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbour [i.e. his living out of a persona dictated by the society around him]. This also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc. 4:4).
Relationships grow stale because the real self within others remains unperceived. A romance thrives and seems so magic as the two lovers each explore and discover the hidden self of the other, the other’s openness to them in turn inspiring them to reveal themselves and be themselves. But so often, this romance ends, and the now married couple retreat into their own worlds, barely communicating. Doing ‘romantic’ things like going out to eat no longer has meaning. The thrill of discovering each other is over, and frankly, people either look inwards and fill their thinking with the mundane, or they look to someone else. Yet in Christian relationships, the real self within each of us is being renewed day by day. There is so much to discover in each other! Picking through the false self of our mate becomes an enjoyable exercise, as we seek to discover and know who really this wonderful person is whom God is at work upon. Of course, being able to live like this requires us to perceive the value and meaning of persons. And the same theme is apparent on a higher level. All too often, people go through a ‘romance period’ in coming to know God, eagerly lapping up “the first principles of the oracles of God”, they get baptized… and then the same stagnation sets in as so often happens in human relationships. In the church of my youth, much was made of Jn. 17:3: “This is life eternal, to know thee the one true God”. It was clearly felt that getting the correct doctrinal facts about God gave a right to life eternal. People learnt those ‘facts’- but the whole thing went stale for so many. What the Lord was surely referring to was the fact that eternal life will be spent ‘growing to know’ [note the aorist tense] the only true God. It will be an endless romance, going on and on and on and further and yet further and deeper, into the infinite and most wonderful Father of ours.