When first converted, we often suppose that the only difficulties we shall have to meet are those which may come from our old worldly companions; but this is not so. The coldest blast from outside, that ever blew upon a young convert, came from those who profess to be the Lord’s, but who yet want to go on with the world. Such people find that their ways are rebuked by the faithfulness of an ardent heart, whose first love causes it to diligently follow Christ, and refuse things that worldly Christians can go on with.
The difficulties which we may have to face, whether from worldly companions or from Christians of a worldly mind, we may speak of as hindrances from without, yet neither of them can be compared with the difficulties and hindrances that proceed from within.
Ideals of what a Christian should be, and of what he should experience, are often entertained by the young, and yet they are unrealized! Perhaps they read biographies of excellent saints and servants of God, whose course has been run and finished, and then they compare their own experience with what they read. The result is very painful. Their lives seem to come woefully short of these dear saints, and so odious is the comparison that they are sometimes led to despair and tempted to doubt if they are Christians at all! Their trouble does not spring so much from what they have done in the way of sins, but from what they are, and from the heart-sickening disappointment they feel when they discover that their conversion has not improved nor mended their old evil nature.
The young convert has to make three discoveries before he proceeds very far.
1. He has committed sins against God.
2. He is thoroughly sinful in himself.
3. He is powerless in himself to do the right, and seems to do worst when aiming at the best.
The first discovery is very easily made: indeed he made it at the outset when he turned to God. The second and third are discoveries that we make much more slowly. However, he turns his eyes in two directions: first, outward, to what he ought to be for God as he sees it in the Scriptures; second, inward, to what he actually is in himself and in his practice. Then it is that these discoveries become real to him.
He started with the idea that conversion is a great inward change, whereby the old nature would be greatly improved; hence his trouble. He compares his experience with God’s Word, and-poor wearied soul-he comes to the conclusion that he cannot be converted, for they do not at all tally.
There are three facts concerning the one that is born of God, very plainly stated in Scripture.
1. He "doth not…and he cannot sin" (1 John 3:9).
2. He "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4).
3. He "keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 5:18).
Now, with 1 John 3:9 compare Romans 8:7-8, where we read of that which cannot be subject to the law of God, which cannot please God, which, in fact, cannot do anything but sin. Is there any contradiction here? There is not. But there is a tremendous contrast. What is the explanation of it?
The explanation lies in the fact that there are two distinct natures in the believer. They can be seen very clearly in such a verse as Romans 7:25, where we read,
1. "With the mind I myself serve the law of God";
2. "With the flesh the law of sin."
Here the mind stands for the new nature, and the flesh for the old nature. And the real "myself" he identifies with the new nature and not the old.
It is most important that we should lay hold of the fact that the old nature is not improved but condemned. Sin, the evil principle controlling the old nature, is not affected by the forgiveness of sins, any more than the nature of a crab-apple tree is altered by knocking off the crab-apples. Our sins are forgiven, but "sin in the flesh" has been "condemned" (Romans 8:3).
The old order of man, born of Adam the first, has been condemned, just as the Lord condemned and cursed the barren fig tree, as recorded in Matthew 21:16 and Mark 11:20. A new order, connected with Adam the Last, has been commenced, as is indicated in 1 Corinthians 15:45. Now we no longer stand in Adam but in Christ.
What troubles many a new-born soul is that he cannot make the flesh in him to be what he knows a new-born soul ought to be. What a comfort it is to know that God has condemned the flesh, and is no more expecting any good to come from it. We should no more expect any good from it than He does.
Thus it is we learn that we are bankrupt, not only as regards goodness but as regards power also. Where then is power to be found?-we may ask. The answer is-we have a new power, and it is ours in the Holy Spirit .
Before conversion sin was our master. It is looked at in this way in Romans 6. In that chapter we read such things as:
"That henceforth we should not serve sin."
"Let not sin therefore reign…that ye should obey it."
"Sin shall not have dominion over you."
"Ye were the servants of sin."
"The wages of sin."
And again in chapter 7, verse 14, we read, "I am carnal, sold under sin." Sold under sin, just as a slave is sold, and thereby passes under a master. Well, how do we get free from the tyrant, SIN?
Romans 5 shows us the way of freedom when it says, "He that is dead is freed from sin."
Death liberates from the master, no matter how firmly his fetters were riveted on. This has always been true, hence Job speaks of death as a place where, "the prisoners…hear not the voice of the oppressor…and the servant is free from his master" (3:18-19).
Here, however, a further difficulty may occur. How is it, we may say, that I am spoken of by God as dead, when I am not actually dead? It is because you have died as identified with Christ, and on this account you are to reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to God. Were it an actual fact that you had died there would be no call to reckon yourself dead. When a person reckons himself deaf to the call of his old master, it is because he is not actually deaf. He does not however respond to the call of his old master, and we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin in all its demands,
Power does not come from death but life. It is necessary that we should reckon ourselves dead to sin, but the joy and power are found in reckoning ourselves alive unto God in Christ Jesus. And the Holy Ghost has been given to us to be the power of that life. Then it is that we can joyfully say, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2).