We have seen that, though the two natures dwell side by side in the same personality, it is clear that we have certain responsibilities with regard to each of them, quite apart from precepts, rules, regulations, and "commandments of men".
1. Our first responsibility is TO ACCEPT GOD'S ESTIMATE OF IT.
The Word of God does not reveal the doctrine to us without giving us the needed instruction. Holy Scripture is "profitable for both" (2 Tim. 3:16); so that, with the "instruction" we may know how to use the "doctrine"; and how we are to know our responsibilities, and fulfil them for our profit and our peace. If then we recognize this as our first responsibility, then we shall reckon that our old nature "died with Christ" (Rom. 6:11). We are not left in doubt as to what this means. The verse begins "So likewise ye:" Like what? The preceding verses tell us:
"He that died has been [and is] justified from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall live [again] also with Him: knowing that Christ having been raised up from among [the] dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over Him. For He who died, died unto sin once for all; but He who
liveth, liveth unto God. Even so ye also reckon yourselves indeed [to be] dead ones as to sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:8-11).
Observe, it does not say we are to feel ourselves as dead; or that we are to realize it; but to "reckon" it as being really so in God's sight, as though it were an accomplished fact. These four verses (Rom. 6:8-11) are added as an explanation and illustration of the statement of the fact in the previous verse (5:6). "This knowing, that our old man was crucified with [Christ]." We have the same fact in Romans 7:6: "But now we were cleared [or, discharged] from [the claims of] the law, having died to that in which we were held" (so
A.V. margin and R.V. text). We have the same testimony in Galations 2:20, where the Apostle emphasizes an important, independent and dogmatic statement by using the Figure,
Epanadiplosis, which commences and closes the sentence (in the Greek) with the same word "Christ"; thus emphasizing and marking off the statement; setting it forth distinctly and attracting our attention to it, and fixing it upon it. "Christ I was crucified with; yet I live, [and yet] no longer I, but He liveth in me, Christ." This is how the Apostle "reckoned" that he died to the law. This is why he says he would actually be a transgressor if he sought now "to be justified by Christ" (5:17); because, if he died with Christ he is freed from the law. His seeking, therefore, after that, for justification even by Christ would be a practical denial of that great revealed fact which had been already accomplished. Even so, it is our first bounded duty to reckon that we are (as regards the law and all its claims on us) as though we were dead persons.
This is not a matter of feeling, but of FAITH. If we are guided by our feelings we shall never enjoy it. It is for us to "believe God". "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). God has declared this great fact in His Word (or we could have never known it); we hear that Word; faith believes it, and rejoices in what it hears; and believes God, quite apart from the question of feeling. So that our first responsibility as to the old nature is to accept God's estimate of it, and to reckon it (as He does) as having died with Christ when He was crucified.
2. Our next responsibility is that we are TO RECKON IT AS BEING DEAD FOR WHAT IS GOOD, AS WELL AS FOR WHAT IS BAD.
When we say "good" we mean, of course, good for God; good in God's sight; good for eternity; good in God's estimate, good as what He looks for and can accept. In His sight there is in the old nature (as we have already learned) "no good thing". So that when we say we are not to cultivate the good in it, we do not mean what man would call "good", but what God reckons as "good". We are to reckon the old nature as dead in all its goodness as well as in all its badness and to have done with all expectation of producing anything for God from it, as we are of one who is actually dead and buried. When God says it is dead, He expects us to believe it is dead, because He says it is. He looks for us to own it as buried. In the natural man there may be found natural religious and amiable characteristics: and he may cultivate these. But the child of God need not, and is not, to cultivate these. For, by walking according to the new nature, and led by that, what need will there be for cultivating the flesh? Led by that, we have Christ in the place of "religion"; and, we have "the mind of Christ". This infinitely exceeds anything that we could ever produce by any attempted cultivation of the old nature. This leads to ...
3. A third responsibility, which is to "MAKE NO PROVISION FOR THE FLESH" (Rom. 13:14),
but always to remember "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). This is what man calls "the teaching of Jesus", our adorable Lord and Master. But though man so calls it he does not want it and he will not have it. At any rate, he will pick and choose what "teaching" he likes. Nevertheless, this is what the Lord taught: "the flesh (or old nature) profiteth nothing". If we believe His estimate of it we shall never seek to make it, or force it, to do anything for God, either in the way of worship or service; we shall never try to get it to do anything by way of meeting God's demand for righteousness. We shall remember that all such righteousness is "as filthy rags"
(Isa. 64:6). The flesh can be made very religious. Indeed, it is just this which distinguishes "religion" from Christianity. Religion has to do solely with the flesh. All its ordinances are on, or connected with, the flesh. They are all things that the flesh can perform. In Isaiah 1 we have a picture of what "religion" consists. When our Lord appeared on earth this exhibition of religion was at its height. Never was there a greater or more punctilious observance of all its ordinances and ceremonies. But, that these can never give a new nature, or change the old, is shown by the fact that it was the religious part of the nation that crucified the Lord Jesus. That is what a religion, even when given by God, culminated in, when perverted and misused by the old nature. It is to this that such passages as these refer: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27). That is to say, if it is a question of religion, i.e., of outward acts and observances, then, acts of mercy and kindness are purer and better far than all outward religious acts of service and services; bowings and
kneelings; crossings and counting beads; drawing near with the lips, and the observing of days, and keeping of feasts.
This is the essence of the argument in the Epistle to the Colossians, which sums up this very question; "If ye died with Christ from the religious ordinances of the world, why, as living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances ('Touch not, taste not, handle not'; which all are to perish with the using); after the commandments and doctrines of men?" (Col. 2:20-23) The flesh can understand and be subservient to these ordinances, for they all belong to "earthly things" whereas, "If ye then were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things which are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Co1. 3:1-3). Thus we are taught, as possessors of the new nature, not to make provision for the old nature; not to feed it up with the nourishment which it loves; not to seek to please or gratify it, not even in what in man's sight appears "good".
The old nature is full of pride. This is why those gatherings and congregations are crowded where the teaching is what is called "practical"; and the hearers are told to "do" this or that (not that they necessarily think much afterwards about doing it); but still it gratifies the old nature of the religious man: and, the old nature, even in the child of God, loves to hear "precept upon precept, precept upon precept". But, let God be
honoured, and Christ glorified, His Word magnified and man abased, that is what the old nature will not have. He will have the churches and chapels deserted where this is the doctrine preached, and where the worship is really spiritual. All this is hateful to him; and he will plainly tell you how thoroughly he dislikes it. But where provision is made for him; where there is plenty of music in the choir, and "precept upon precept" in the pulpit, and worldliness in the parish room, there he will be found, with the multitude.
There is more danger for the child of God in the things that pertain to "religion", and in the refined desires of the carnal mind, than there is in the coarse and vulgar "lusts of the flesh". The child of God will not readily, or so easily: make such provision for the flesh. His real snare is when the provision is made by others for what is not openly associated with vice and irreligion, worldliness or immorality.
4. The fifth verse adds another responsibility: "MORTIFY, THEREFORE, YOUR MEMBERS WHICH ARE UPON THE EARTH'' (Col. 3:5).
This sounds very strange at first, after being told repeatedly that we "died with Christ". It sounds practical also. But for a thing to be practical, it must be practicable. It must be something which we are able to do. The word "mortify" is
nekroo, to make dead; hence, to treat as having become dead. The Scripture meaning of the word, here, may be gathered from its usage. Its other two occurrences show us, unmistakably, what this usage is:
Romans 4:19, Of Abraham it is written: "Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old); or the deadening of Sarah's womb."
Hebrews 11:12, "Wherefore also there sprang of one and that too of [one] as good as dead." It is not a question of what the word means in the Lexicon; or how it was used by the Greeks: but it is a question of how the Holy Spirit uses it. And we see from the two passages just quoted that it is used of one who was actually alive; but, "as good as dead", i.e., impotent as to producing life, and as to all practical purposes. Moreover, the word is used in Colossians 3:5, not of the old nature itself, but of its "members" (as of Abraham's and Sarah's members): and the exhortation is consequent on the doctrine in the preceding verses. It begins with "therefore", and the argument is: Seeing that ye died with Christ, occupy yourselves with heavenly things and not earthly things; set your mind on Christ and on the blessed fact that ye are "complete in Him", and that when He appears in glory ye also shall be manifested in glory. Be not weak in faith: consider not your members which are upon the earth; but reckon them as good as dead, "ye having put off the old man with his deeds, and having put on the new, which is being renewed unto full knowledge, according to [the] image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:1-10).
It is because of the fact that we died with Christ, and hence, have put off the old man, and have put on the new, that we are therefore on that account to "reckon" the "members" of our body "as good as dead", and to consider them as being impotent, and unable to produce any "living", Or "good works".
All so-called "good" works done by the old nature are "dead works". They are wrought by our members which are, in God's estimation, "as good as dead". Only those are "good works" which God Himself has "prepared for us to walk in" (Eph. 2:10); and which are done in the spiritual strength of the new nature.
Oh! that God's estimate may be ours: that, like Abraham, we may be not "weak in faith" in this important matter; but strong, to believe God; and thus, set free to center our affections on the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God; and to wait for our manifestation with Him in glory.