SELF ESTEEM (Part 1)
by Dr. W. J. Prost
A MAN IN CHRIST1
Now let us consider man in Christ. We have already seen that sin was brought into this world by man's disobedience and that it has affected every part of our being. Because sin entered this world, each of us has a sinful, fallen nature. We have seen that sin takes even our God-given abilities and uses them in a wrong way. In the last section we have said that the answer to everything for the believer is found at the cross. In order to understand this statement fully we must consider the truth found in Romans, chapters 6, 7 and 8.
In the book of Romans up to verse 12 of chapter 5 we have the matter of sins taken up. The absolute guilt of the whole world is established, and then the finished work of Christ is presented as the only remedy. Then, from Romans 5:12 to the end of chapter 8, the question of sin in its root and principle is brought before us. We must be clear on the sin problem if we are to see the scriptural answer to the question of self-esteem.
It is important to see that when God saves us, He does not forgive our sinful, fallen nature, nor does He take it away. The Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). When we come as guilty sinners, God forgives our sins and gives us a new life in Christ. Now the believer has two natures: one which is hopelessly sinful and cannot please God, and a new nature which is truly life in Christ and cannot sin. Having these two natures in us causes the conflict in our lives.
The old, sinful nature never improves as long as we live. It is always with us, and is just as bad after I have been saved for twenty years as it was before I was saved. God wants me to display the new life and its nature in my Christian walk, but how often the old nature tries to assert itself! That is why Christians sin, and occupation with myself and pride are part of those sins.
In Romans 5, we get the truth that the blood of Christ has put my sins away. In Romans 6, we get the further truth that, in the death of Christ, God saw the death of our "old man."
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)
Now the command is to "reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). Before the death of Christ, man was never told to reckon himself (that is, the old man) to be dead. Rather, he was placed under law, until Christ came. "The law has been our tutor up to Christ" (Galatians 3:24 JND).2 Now Christ has died, and is risen again. The believer as identified with Christ can say that he too has died to sin, and thus sin has no more dominion over him. Now God sees us, not as fallen sinners, but as those who have new life in Christ. We are to allow the new life and nature to characterize our Christian walk, and we are to recognize that we have died to sin.
This conflict between the old and new natures is brought before us in a practical way in Romans 7. Here the man is truly born again and has a new life, but has not yet experienced deliverance from sin. Like so many of us, the man in Romans 7 found that while he had a new life and wanted to do what was right, he had no power to do so. How many of us have sincerely wanted to live the Christian life, yet constantly found that we sinned in spite of ourselves? How many of us have found, in the words of Romans 7:15 (JND),
For that which I do, I do not own: for not what I will, this I do; but what I hate, this I practice.
What is the reason that we are unable to get the victory? We find the answer in verse 18. We must come to the scriptural conclusion that "in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." So often we are willing to admit that we have sinned, but are not willing to admit that there is nothing in us that has any merit towards God. We are unwilling to recognize that there is absolutely nothing in us in the flesh that God can accept – all has been ruined by sin. More than this, we must also come to the sad conclusion the Apostle comes to in verse 24, when he says, "0 wretched man that I am!" Not only is the old nature within us incurably bad, but our condition is wretched beyond belief. This is a painful thing to realize, but essential if we are to know deliverance from sin. It is only when this is realized in our souls that we cease to have any confidence in our old, sinful nature, and turn to Christ. That is why the last part of verse 24 and verse 25 says,
Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Deliverance comes, not through being occupied with ourselves and trying to improve ourselves, but rather with looking outside of ourselves, at Christ. Then we find immediate deliverance, because we are occupied with what Christ is, instead of what we are.
Often we shrink back in horror when we see how awful our sinful nature really is. We do not want to admit it, so we de- fend our old, sinful nature, or make excuses for it, rather than admitting that it is as bad as it appears to be. The pathway of deliverance is to admit fully what God has already told us in His Word, that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). Let our sinful nature be as bad as God says it is – God has condemned it at the cross, and in the death of Christ I have died to sin.
God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3)
Romans 8 brings before us the blessed position of the believer who has been delivered from sin. Not only are my sins washed away, but I have been delivered from the law (or principle) of sin and death. No longer am I before God as a ruined sinner, but I stand "in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1), and "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:4). Instead of trying to improve the sinful nature, I simply turn away from it, recognizing that before God, I am "in Christ," and have a new life in Him.
In years gone by more people burned wood and coal to heat their homes, and men known as chimney sweeps were very common. As you may know, with the burning of wood and coal a substance called creosote builds up in chimneys and, if it is not cleaned out periodically, it eventually results in a chimney fire. These chimney sweeps used to go around and clean out chimneys for their living. Sometimes the chimneys were large enough for boys and men to get right inside them to do the cleaning, and you can imagine how filthy they became. They were covered from head to toe with soot. You would see the men going from house to house, black all over, with their brooms and other tools over their shoulders.
Now let me ask you the question, "Which would get you more dirty, hugging a chimney sweep, or fighting with him?" If you think for a moment, you will agree that it would not make much difference – you would get hopelessly dirty either way.
If we think of the chimney sweep as our old, sinful nature, the application is obvious. The devil does not care whether we embrace sin, or continually fight with it, because we become defiled either way. We must give the chimney sweep a wide berth – keep well away from him. That is what the Word of God tells us to do when our sinful nature tries to act – I am simply to turn away from it, and allow the Spirit of God to bring Christ before me. Every true believer is indwelt with the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God is the power of the new life. We will speak more of this later.
The Apostle Paul spoke of himself as "a man in Christ" (2 Corinthians 12:2). No longer was he the man he had been before he was saved, although his sinful nature remained with him, and was just as bad as before. But before God he recognized that he was "in Christ," and that God looked on him as "a man in Christ." No longer did he try to improve his sinful nature, for that had been condemned at the cross, and he had died to sin. As "a man in Christ" he viewed himself as God viewed him, and practically took the position that he was dead to sin. Then he sought to live in the good of that position.
We have seen that true Christian position is that of being dead, buried and risen with Christ. As far as sin is concerned, God has condemned it at the cross. In the death of Christ, God saw the crucifixion of my old man, and the cross was the end of all that I was as a sinful creature of Adam's race. Now I am entitled to take that position practically, and reckon myself to be "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). With this blessed truth in mind, we can go on to see the true, scriptural answer to self-esteem. ˘
To be continued in the next edition of the GFJ.
1 This is the first installment of a multi-part series on “self-esteem” and the Christian living by grace.
2 JND is an abbreviation for the “The New Translation” by John Nelson Darby.
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