Depravity and Regeneration (5): The Depravity of the Old Man
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is the fifth entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. The fourth entry is Depravity and Regeneration (4): A Battleground Within the Regenerated Believer.
Before moving along to the subject of sanctification as I promised in our last blog I want to revisit the subject of the depravity found in the old man of sin. I do not wish to belabor this point since we have already moved along to the battle within the child of God between the old and new man. But I feel it is important to address something that is of concern regarding that old man of sin in us. A couple of weeks ago in defining the old man of sin or the sinful flesh in the regenerated believer I described the horrible reality of the sinfulness that yet dwells in us. The old man is “corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” Ephesians 4:22. In our flesh “dwells no good thing” Romans 7:18. We are “prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 2, Q&A5). If you recall I wrote: “the believer’s sinful flesh or old man of sin is as depraved as the unregenerate man.” This describes the abominable nature or character of the depravity found in our flesh.
But, I was reminded by a colleague that something more must be said about this sinful flesh in us. We must also include the term “total” to describe this depravity of our old man. Though I described the heinous character of sin in us, I failed to describe it pervasiveness. I am thankful for this reminder. Such sin in our flesh pervades every aspect of our being. It is striking that the Bible in almost every reference to the regenerated man’s heart speaks of it as the spiritual center of the life of Christ. For example: Psalm 27:8: “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” Or again, Psalm 37:31: “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.” But there are also references to the truth that our hearts can be influenced by sin. We are commanded to love God and the neighbor with all our heart. Yet the law reminds us that we fail to do this sincerely from the heart because of sin in us. “He that lusts after a woman in his heart commits adultery,” Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:28). Solomon writes that foolishness is bound in the heart of a child. David pleads with God after his sin with Bathsheba to create in him a clean heart. So sin lurks in our hearts.
Because it does, sin also pervades our thoughts or minds: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts . . .” (Mark 7:21). Depravity also extends to our desires or will: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22). From this point of view the depravity of our old man is total. It pervades our very being. Neither does this depravity disappear with our regeneration and sanctification. We will fight it all the days of our lives. We may never minimize the sin that is in us. As we mentioned in our last blog the believer must always be constant in prayer pleading on the merits of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and striving to walk in holiness before God.
This ought not to confuse us on what we have explained up to this point, however. In fact, it should help clarify matters. After all, we have all heard at one time or another in the preaching that the old man is totally depraved. But this does not contradict the truth that those regenerated in Christ are no longer completely or totally given over to sin. The Spirit of the risen Lord reigns in us. We are no longer blind. We no longer sit in darkness and the shadow of death. We have seen the light of salvation and are able to understand the things of the kingdom of heaven. We have become a new man in Christ. The power and dominion of sin have been conquered. This means that, though our old man is totally depraved, the regenerated, sanctified believer is not totally depraved, that is, wholly give over to sin. For the studious among us examine the many passages in Scripture that speak of the heart, mind and will of those in whom Christ dwells by his Spirit. Here are examples. The heart: “The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8). The mind: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25). The will: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25).
In conclusion, we may not twist the truth that our old man is totally lost in sin into a lament that the regenerated believer’s good works are so miserably imperfect that they serve no purpose or function in our lives or the lives of others. Our works are not that which we view in the distance out of the corner of our eye as useless and empty, a mere by-product of our salvation. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works that we should walk in them. Why? Because God’s purpose in them is that his name might be glorified through the life of godliness that comes to manifestation in the lives of those who represent his cause in this world.
Now, we can proceed with the work of Christ in our sanctification.