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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III


Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part IV: The Development of Personality: The Old and the New


1. Our Part in the New Personality

     In view of the fact that the process of maturing in Christian life has been the subject of endless discussion, with opinions that were often contradictory to one another, proposed by the highest authorities, it seemed rather presumptuous to present one of our own. For this reason, it has not been incorporated in the text of the Paper itself. But it has this to commend it, at least, that while it demands real effort on our part, the end result is still entirely a work of God, and pride of grace is thereby excluded. This looks like a paradox. But I think it avoids two rather serious errors. First, growth is not the result of some process of "complete self-surrender of the will," which some holiness movements have insisted is "all there is to it." It is amazing how easily one can be deceived into relaxing the struggle, by believing that in this kind of "weakness" lies our chief source of strength -- the strength of the Lord supposedly being inversely proportional to the weakness of the individual. This is a view which takes several forms, but all of them are rather dangerous self-deceits in spite of their apparent Scriptural justification from such passages as 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10. When Paul speaks of weakness here, does he really mean weakness of will ? We might well ask the question, Would a man who could claim to have fought a good fight, suggest that no struggle is necessary?
     Secondly, man cannot in any direct way assist God in the creation of anything that is perfect. I think this rule applies even for the child of God. And the man who is quite confident that by a constant exercise of willpower he can contribute to his own holiness in God's sight is deceiving himself. For while he may be dealing successfully with one or two consciously recognized areas of failure in his own life, he can only deal with the things he recognizes. And he is apt to suppose that having dealt with these, he has achieved full stature. What he tends to do is merely to concentrate on one or two symptoms, ignoring the basic disease. The Word of God never promises a consciousness of sinlessness,

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yet this is what most of us assume victory to mean. The human heart is desperately wicked and is no sooner subdued in one thing than it will erupt in a subtle way somewhere else.
     I should like to suggest, on the basis of what has been said in this Paper about the growth of the new personality, that man's part is not to plant more flowers, but to keep the weeds down in the unoccupied area, in order that the seed of God's planting may grow. The new man, then, is entirely a creation of God in Christ. Yet we do play a vital part in its growth.
     Our part is a negative one, and I think Scripture supports me clearly in this assertion. Since this note is not intended as a key to victorious living, it will be sufficient perhaps to list a few of the passages which explain what we mean by a negative contribution and after each reference to give the key words which seem to bear this out.
     The real crux of the matter is this: Does man have within himself the power to produce anything that is perfect enough to please God? Many Christians would perhaps say, "The unbeliever has not this power," but would say that the believer does have this power. I do not think that Scripture can be found to support this. If by the exercise of a redeemed will, a man could deny every evil propensity of his nature, would this make him a righteous man in God's sight? No, I think he would be in the position of a gardener who had rooted out every single weed in his little plot of land, only to find that he could not grow any flowers because he did not have any seeds. The cleaning-up process was excellent, but like the man who swept and garnished his house (Matthew 12:44, 45), his position was more dangerous than ever. This is the limit of his capacity -- to institute a clean-up. He does not have the capacity to create a new thing, to replace the old. This is the work of God, and the most he can do is to restrain the evil that God may introduce the good. This, I think, is the meaning of such passages as the following:

2 Timothy 2:21           ". . . purge himself. . ."
Colossians 3:5            "Mortify therefore your members. . ."
Romans 13:14            ". . . make not provision for the flesh. . ."
Romans 6:12              "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . ."
Matthew 16:24            "Let him deny himself, and take up his cross. . ."

     The mortification of the natural propensities for evil which exist in every one of us is not something which we can undertake without help. It is obvious that a will that is sinful cannot will itself out of existence. The help that we need in this process of restraint, is promised in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The following verses seem to indicate this principle:

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Romans 8:26            ". . . the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities. . . ."
Hebrews 4:16                 ". . . and find grace to help in time of need."
1 Corinthians 10:13        ". . . a way to escape. . ."

     In these passages, and in many others, the part which we may play is carefully circumscribed. It is always the restraint of evil, and never the creation of righteousness. It is humbling to discover that God has no confidence in the capacity of man to be good. And it is important to observe that when one man by nature seems to be a better man than another, as though relative goodness had some real meaning, the truth is rather that some men are less evil than others, which is fundamentally a different thing.
     All of this can be summed up in the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3 :30). The one is neither possible nor safe without the other. Moreover, Paul made it very clear that the new man himself was the sole source of any good thing that he did, this new man being the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20). From all this, it is manifestly more appropriate to rejoice not in our victory in the Lord, but in the Lord's victory in us.
     The more flowers, the more distasteful the weeds. The purer the heart, the greater the hatred of the sin which remains. As the sin occupies less "space," it becomes more and more distasteful, the gardener longing more and more for "all flowers." It follows that the nearer a man comes to true holiness, to himself the greater will seem the enormity of the weeds that remain.

2. The Temple of His Body

     The following passages beautifully symbolize the process of the building up of the Body of Christ, which is His new Temple. First, the stones have been prepared and day by day are being brought to the site (1 Kings 5:17). We are these stones, living people indwelt by His presence (1 Peter 2:5). The prophets and the apostles formed the foundation (Ephesians 2:20-22), and we are built in to the growing structure, one by one. As the stones of the first temple were worked up in secret (1 Kings 6:7), so the Lord works in us secretly, hiddenly, His working being even concealed from ourselves much of the time. When He has finished, we shall with truth be called His workmanship (Ephesiams 2:10) and not our own, and He that hath wrought us for this very purpose is God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:5).

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3. Fruits versus Works

     It might appear that if our good works are already foreordained, and we have been created in Christ Jesus in such a way personally as to render their achievement possible -- indeed certain -- that we are merely machines doing what we must, according to the will of God. In what sense is there freedom and responsibility, and therefore the possibility of growth in virtue? The answer is provided with a beautiful consistency in Scripture. It may be set forth very briefly in the following passages:

Ephesians 2:10      Good works are appointed that we should do them.
Colossians 1: 10     This passage makes clear that the doing of these appointed good works should                            be in such a way that we are ourselves made better thereby. Paul refers to this                            consequence as "the fruits of good works."
Galatians 5:22f.      These fruits are personality traits, qualities of soul, the response of the doer's                             heart to the things he does.
Ephesians 5:9-11    This passage points out that "the works of darkness" are unfruitful.
1 Corinthians 9:1    Contrary to popular belief, this passage shows that the winning of souls for the                             Lord, in itself, is not fruit, but works.

     It is evident that good works do not automatically bear fruit in the doer's heart, as the amazingly successful evangelistic campaign of Jonah in the city of Nineveh most certainly did not! It left him an embittered saint, ready to commit suicide. Conversely, evil works are not the basis of God's condemnation, but only the "fruits" of those evil works, in the doer's heart. There is a beautiful illustration of this in Isaiah 10:5-12. Verses 5 and 6 give God's commission to a pagan king to serve as His personal administrator of punishment to disobedient and offending Israel. Verse 7 shows that the king was quite unaware of the real inspiration of his behaviour. He imagined he was merely pleasing himself. Verse 12 shows that he would in no wise be punished for what he had done at God's instigation, but he would indeed be punished for what the doing did to his own heart, for "the fruit" of his proud heart which the deed engendered within himself. We find the same basic principle reflected in Jeremiah 17:10: ". . . even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." And again in Jeremiah 21:14: "I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings." It is by men's fruits that they will be known, and not by their works (Matthew 7:16).
     In a nutshell, as it is not by works per se that man is to be judged;

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nor is it by deeds per se that we grow, but by the effect that the doing of these works has upon ourselves. Indeed, it is even more than this. We may be rewarded merely for what we have desired to do and yet have never done. Thus in 2 Corinthians 8:12 Paul wrote, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." On this very principle David was credited with having built the temple (1 Kings 8:18), though he was not permitted to do it.
     The following passages of Scripture bear also upon this issue:

1 Corinthians 9:16, 17:      Paul points out that he could not expect a reward for actually preaching the Gospel, for this                                        was his "commission" and he had no alternative. But, if he did it "willingly," i.e., from his                                        heart, he could expect a reward indeed.
Philippians 2:13:               It is God who works in us believers, not only to do, but also to will His good pleasure. God                                         works in the world to do His will; He works in us to will His will. The sin of the world is                                         not that it does not do the will of God, but that it does not will the will of God.
Matthew 7:20-23:               The claim that these people had done so many wonderful works in the Lord's name is not                                         disputed, but they are under judgment because evidently the motivation was wrong.
1 Corinthians 13:3:             Notice the concluding phrase, "it profiteth me nothing." It would not be true to say that                                          those who were the beneficiaries were not profited. They were profited, but not Paul.

     Clearly, it is very important to distinguish between these situations. More important than the work is the worker; more important than the achievement is the earnest desire to achieve; more important than the fulfillment of a task is the attitude of the heart while setting about it. We may do God's will and yet receive no reward if the motive is wrong (Luke 17:10). Indeed, it is even possible to suffer punishment for having done His will perfectly, for such was the case when Israel crucified their King (Acts 2:23; 4:28). How careful we ought to be not to judge one another for good or ill before the time.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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