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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

Chapter 6

The Nature of Conversion

Structure and Content in Christian Experience

     FROM WHAT HAS been said about the thoroughly undesirable nature of the subconscious, which to a large extent seems to be the real man and out of which it seems only evil can come for the most part, it is not surprising that the Lord does not seek to reform it. As Paul said, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Or as Jesus Himself put it, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). Yet while the old self is not reformed, it is not simply replaced either. It is a common experience to find that in a subtle but very real way the old personality does remain. Simply to bypass it, to cast the old self aside as worthless, would seem to do violence to the soul. Almost every child of God can look back and see at certain critical points the hand of the Lord molding him while he was yet unsaved. Then how do we reconcile our experience with the statement made by Paul in writing to the Corinthians? In what sense do we not undergo a complete change? To see this, we must revert to the circle, the triangle, and the square.
     It will be remembered that these figures were arbitrarily chosen to represent certain personality structures or types: the circle for the artist, the triangle for the philosopher, and the square for the practical man. No psychologist with a reputation for competence would dare to simplify the situations as is done here. Almost every aid to understanding can also be an aid to misunderstanding. There are not just three "kinds" of people. The choice of three and the selection of artist, philosopher, and mechanic is for convenience only. For example, some have a marked capacity for memorization, and they learn languages well. There are extroverts and introverts, both it seems by heredity. These remarks are merely to underline the fact that the shapes used are quite arbitrary, but do stand for something that is evidently real and can be clearly defined. As we have seen, these aspects of personality are hereditarily determined, a man is an artist because he was born

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an artist, and though training may make him a better artist, the temperament must be innate to respond to the training. These personality structures are revealed by projection techniques.
     The structure is non-moral, being in itself neither good nor bad, but capable of being turned to serve either good or bad ends. In Scripture this is referred to by the term "Vessel" and as such its shape is by God's appointment. There are vessels of honour and vessels of dishonour, but in itself this brings neither praise nor blame. Every house must have both types of vessel, yet a beautiful vessel may be degraded completely by its contents when it is made to serve the wrong purpose. The content of a vessel shares something of the vessel itself and communicates something of its own nature to the container: and yet for all this the two are clearly separable. This simple observation is important for what follows. The content is the moral aspect of man's nature, and without becoming involved in the eternal problem of the body-soul relationship it is clear that such a relationship does in fact exist in some form. In the previous chapter we showed that the content filled the vessel and took its shape. And when that content is bad, a vessel of honour may be put to dishonourable use. In Scripture the content is represented by some form of the word "Filling." This filling is completely changed, but because it is poured into the old vessel which is retained, it assumes a form which does not break the continuity of personality or ignore the stature which a man has already achieved. As Dan Crawford put it,
(48) looking back after 22 years without a break in Central Africa, "With the converted African, Christ's mercy, like the water in a vase, takes the shape of the vessel that holds it." Culturally the African Christian is still an African as the Hebrew Christian is still a Hebrew. We must then suppose that in some way God is able to put something entirely new into each man which is completely suited to a part of his personality that He has no intention of destroying.
     It is not too difficult to see how this can be. Scripture makes it clear that we are all derived ultimately from Adam. So it must be assumed that the potential for the structure of every man's personality existed in the first man, and has since been divided by inheritance, fragmented, or distributed by natural means so that each one of us individually has an appropriate portion and all of us together have the whole of Adam's potentiality. In Adam was the artist, the philosopher, the mechanic: the circle, the triangle and the square. Augustine taught that human nature in its totality was present seminally in the first man.

48. Crawford, Dan, Thinking Black, Morgan Scott, London, 1914, p.484.
49. Neve, J. L., History of Christian Thought, vol.1, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1946, p.144

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     In the Lord Jesus Christ were gathered together once more all the potentialities of Adam. Is it any wonder, then, that He can distribute some perfect fragment of His personality to fit appropriately into the circle or triangle or square, that is each one of us? When the Lord became man, He passed through all the stages from babyhood to manhood creating a perfect personality for each age as He lived through it. But because He was more than man, God made man, He summed up completely in Himself the total potential of human personality -- not merely young and old, but male and female, black and white, ancient and modern, artist, philosopher, and especially mechanic -- carpenter. This same Lord is the seed who is implanted in the believer when he is born again. This thought is expressed in the ancient Christmas carol which has the words, "Be born in us today." He is implanted as a child in the child, a youth in the youth, a man in the man, a woman in the woman, an artist in the artist, and a philosopher in the philosopher.
     Do not misunderstand, because this can be dangerously misunderstood. A series of diagrams extending the use of the circle, triangle, and square will, I think, help to make clear what is taking place. There is abundant Scriptural support for this approach. We have three structures:

     The content fills the structure and gives it its moral significance. At a very deep level, it is morally bad, destructive of self and of society, and restrained only by cultural influences.
     Into this total personality God implants a seed which is perfect and completely appropriate in form:

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     This seed has immense vitality and will grow at the expense of the old content in so far as we allow it to do so

     The difference in size of these seeds is intended to show that the growth of each Christian personality does not proceed at the same rate. Whatever the rate of growth, this new man is no less than the Lord Jesus Christ reincarnate, but reincarnate in such a form that the new personality displaces the old personality by growing at its expense, yet thereby maintaining continuity of soul. One still recognizes John the literary artist, or Thomas the doubting philosopher, or Peter the practical man. We shall return to these three men later.
     On the other hand, what now lies outside the growing seed has no part in the new person in so far as God is concerned. It does not grow by absorption, but by displacement of the old. It is like a perfect flower planted in a bed of weeds. Our job is to clear the weeds so that the flower may grow. The flower is entirely a work of God. The area of weeds is the old nature and as its outer margins were determined at birth, so will they disappear with death. And at the same time, in the disappearance will be spilled out all of the content which was not enclosed in the new man. Conceive of the outer lines being removed altogether, leaving only that which is of the Lord. Thus:

     It is this which God looks upon as the real "us." But we may go several steps further. It not infrequently happens that when a man becomes a

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Christian, his old talents and capacities are suddenly enlarged. We would have new diagrams:

     One of two things may result: the Lord may grow to larger size, or the individual may end up with a larger proportion of unredeemed old nature than he had before. This is the tragedy of some converts who have been advanced too rapidly in the assumption of responsibility.
     If we carry this to its logical conclusion, two things become apparent. The first is that if the solid figure should ever completely fill the structure in which it is born, that soul would have apprehended his apprehension (Philipppians 3 :12). The second point is that if all these little seed figures (the dark areas within) are extracted and put together, they would be found to fit like the segments of a jigsaw puzzle, like the cells of a body, like the stones of a great temple. It is as though some great Architect who understood His task perfectly had predetermined their shape and form and character, so as to guarantee that the final building would be exactly as He planned it should be.

The Vessel and the Filling According to Scripture

     It occurs to each of us sometimes, I'm sure, that the part we play as members of the Body of Christ is very, very, small. Even in Paul's time there were evidently many people who felt like this. But it is surely comforting to recall what Paul said about it. Using the analogy of a living body, he pointed out that we could not all be hands, tongues, or eyes. "But," he said, "God hath set every one individually in the body as it hath pleased Him" (see 1 Corinthians 12:18).
     Now cells are differentiated not because they want to be, but because it is predetermined for them what part they shall play, what form they shall take, what structure they shall have when they reach maturity. And though it might be thought that many of them could be dispensed with, it seems highly probable -- certainly in the Body of Christ -- that not one is expendable. The cells are different, the differences are predetermined, and the predetermination is God's. The structural aspect of the new personality must be considered in the same light. Scripture refers to this differentiation by saying that in a

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great house there are vessels of gold and silver, and wood and pottery (2 Timothy 2:20). As with the materials, so with the shapes: one shape differs from another. And as with their shapes, so with their uses: some being more distinguished (more honourable) than others (Romans 9:21). Note in this passage that it is of "the same lump": that is to say, God is here dealing simply with the stuff of heredity. Moreover, in the previous verse it is made clear that this is entirely of God's responsibility. Verse 20 reads, "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" The kind of vessel that we are is of God's choosing. These distinctions are foreordained to guarantee that the Body will at all times be functionally complete.
     It must be apparent that any reference to functional form will involve pre-ordained duties. This is explicitly stated. Paul says, "Ye are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that ye should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). This means that the labour any child of God performs as a direct contribution to the functioning of the Body as a whole is not necessarily related to his moral stature. This is the functioning of a cell fulfilling an appointed task for which God has seen to it that heredity provided the requisite structure. In the last section of this Paper we shall see how completely consistent Scripture is with itself in the relationship between the moral aspect of behaviour and the functional aspect. This helps to explain why a Christian whose life is far from what it should be, may nevertheless be exceedingly active in the Lord's work with every evidence of success: while some other dear saint of God whose character is pure and sweet, may appear to be playing a very insignificant part in the work of God.
     In all of this, we are speaking specifically of the work which the individual is equipped to perform and not of the spirit in which he performs it. This is an important distinction because it raises the question of whether we should not perhaps after all accept as part of God's plan the contribution which a man can make, even when his life is not lived according to the standards we think are proper. A highly successful business man, whose innate capacity for making a success in business, may be able to contribute much to missionary work in a financial way. Yet among his business associates he is considered as crooked as a dog's hind leg. His innate capacity may be quite distinct from his own personal standards of morality. Although it is never right or possible to separate these altogether, it seems quite proper for those missionary boards which accept his contribution, to do so as from the Lord. For in spite of himself, this man gives them these gifts as unto the Lord, even though he refuses to acknowledge other financial

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obligations in his business dealings. This might be an exceptional case, but I think it illustrates an important point. If God has given to one of His children a special capacity, do we have any right to deny to that individual the exercise of that capacity? Should we not rather permit God to indicate His pleasure or displeasure in His own way, by either withdrawing the capacity (as He did from Nebuchadnezzar) (50) or prospering it? Yet this is a difficult question.
     Using the analogy of the body, Paul speaks of the cells as being fitly joined, compacted together, and growing (Ephesians 4:16). This growing structure, by a change of analogy, is likened to a building taking shape as a habitation for God. And here the phrase is not "fitly joined," but "fitly framed," and the elements are now likened to stones (Ephesians 2:20-22). Thus the Body becomes a Temple. The stones for the temple which Solomon built were brought to the site already shaped and carved, to be fitted silently into place (1 Kings 5:17; 1 Kings 6:7). But these stones are "living" stones (1 Peter 2:5) for the building of a spiritual house. This building is therefore God's building, not ours (1 Corinthians 3:9). Or, as Paul put it to the Corinthians subsequently, "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 5:5). Although some people have interpreted the passage in an evolutionary sense, there could be a reference to God's secret carving of these stones in Psalm 139:15, 16. This much seems clear, however, that for the cell to take its proper place in the body, the stone in the building, or the vessel in the house, forethought and deliberate planning must have been involved. Those aspects of personality which qualify it to fulfill its role as represented symbolically by the use of these three terms are predetermined; they remain through the experience of conversion. The structure of the old personality is the structure of the new.
     And what about the filling, the new content, which God introduces at the time of regeneration into the heart of each individual? Like the precious ointment in Mary's alabaster vase, we also have a treasure in these earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). The treasure is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by Him that we are "filled with the fruits of righteousness" (Philippians 1:11) and therefore filled "with all joy and peace in believing" (Romans 15:13). In Ephesians 3:19 Paul writes that we are to be "filled with all the fulness of God." And what is the "fulness of God"? Jesus Christ: "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9); "For it pleased the Father that in him should all

50. Daniel 4. Verses 1-3 show of pride, thinly disguised as "praise," verses 15-17 the removal of God's power foretold, and verse 34, the restoration.

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fulness dwell" (Colossians 1:19). Consequently, when all these apportioned "fillings" within the individual are summed together, the end result is "His Body," the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Thus, in due time we shall all come in the unity of the faith "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
     This is the overall view. Let us look for a moment at the individual. The Seed in Scripture is Christ (Genesis 3:15 and Galatians 3:16). The seed which is introduced into the new man is also Christ, and this seed is sinless. I John 3:9 has troubled many people, but surely the explanation is simple enough in the light of these things. "Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and cannot sin, because he is born of God." This I think, is a reference to this fact that within the heart of the believer there is now a new seed, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is born of God, and being no less than the reincarnate Lord Himself, it cannot possibly be the source of any sinful act. This seed remains within, always present, the source of the new personality, the spring of all righteousness. In Romans 7:22 Paul wrote, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man." The Greek here is ". . . according to the man inside." Here we have a new man within the individual, sinless and delighting in the law of God. This is the direct consequence of the new birth. We have been born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (1 Peter 1:23). The new nature is incorruptible because the Seed which gives rise to it is Christ Himself. This is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We have been made partakers of the divine nature that we might escape the corruption that is in the world (2 Peter 1:4). The reincarnational nature of the new man is constantly affirmed in Scripture -- it is Christ within:

Deuteronomy 30:20                 Romans 7:22                             Colossians 1:27; 3:4
Zephaniah 3:17                        2 Corinthians 13:5                     1 John 3:24; 4:4; 5:11, 12
John 14:6, 18-21                      Galatians 1:16; 2:20; 4:19          Revelation 3:20                        
                                                 Ephesians 3:17-19

     We are not filled with some kind of impersonal power which descends from His presence. When we open the heart's door He Himself enters in (Revelation 3:20). The consciousness of His presence is brought home to the soul by the Holy Spirit. But I believe that the Lord's presence personally within the believer is not merely mediated by the Holy Spirit. It is a real presence. Michael Green put it this way: "The greatest thing is that He is within us still, though we cannot see Him. He has come . . . to take up residence in our personalities." (51)

51. Green, Michael, Man Alive, Inter-Varsity Press, London, 1969, p.24.

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     This by no means renders us sinless (I John 1:10); for the old man struggles still to assert himself. But thanks be to God, He has no use or interest any further in this old man as far as Satan's accusations before the throne of grace are concerned. He points to the new man which is perfect; and this is the basis of Paul's triumphant assertion in Romans 8:1, because the sinfulness in our lives does not spring from us, i.e., the real us; "There is therefore now no condemnation. . . ."
     There is a beautiful illustration of this in 2 Peter 2:7, 8 where by inspiration Peter gives us God's picture of Lot during his sojourn in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He tells how God "delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: For that righteous man dwelling among them . . . vexed his righteous soul from day to day. . ." A truly godly man, and yet the Old Testament record gives us the picture of quite another man. Still, the New Testament is speaking of the new man, under no condemnation whatever for his failure to maintain his testimony, because he is seen as God sees him.
     One day Archbishop William Temple was accosted by a drunkard and rebuked because some of his parishioners had passed him by without offering to help him. Dr. Temple walked thoughtfully down the street with the parting words of the drunken man ringing in his ears, "And then you tell me the Church hasn't failed!" But suddenly he realized that the Church has not failed. What fails all the time is not this aggregate of inner seeds which is the Body of Christ, but the aggregate of weeds in the individuals' personalities, which that seed has not yet displaced. The Body of Christ never fails; and within that Body the new man in Christ never fails either. What fails is not part of the new man. It is not our failure as the Church, but our failure to be the Church.


     To summarize what we have been saying and to make clear the distinction between the structure and the content, the form of the vessel and the filling which occupies it, the part which is divinely appointed in which we have no say, and the part for which we are personally responsible, let us revert once more to John, Thomas, and Peter. These three were different kinds of people, and if such techniques had been available, the Rorschach Test would have undoubtedly separated them out. John was an artist at heart, and the word pictures which he has painted of the Lord are among the literary masterpieces of the world. Peter, on the other hand, was entirely practical. It was he who, after the "tragedy" of the crucifixion, said, "I'm going fishing." To him, it was the obvious thing to do -- to get

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busy, to do something practical. And one of the last scenes points up this difference as recognized by the Lord, who said to John, "Stay with Me," but to Peter, "Feed My lambs." In these personality traits neither Peter nor John ever changed. John's imagination on Patmos painted vivid pictures in symbolic forms, whereas Peter spoke in quite exact scientific terminology of the elements being melted with a fervent heat and being dissolved (52) -- the artist and the practical man to the very end.
     And what of Thomas called Didymus? Thomas was one who had to think his thoughts for himself and must know the reasons why. While all the others were emotionally convinced, perhaps because they wanted to believe that it really was the Lord who was raised, Thomas still demanded a certain type of proof. He knew exactly what kind of proof would satisfy his reasoning mind, and the Lord set out deliberately to meet his specific need. It seems appropriate that this man should have become a missionary to India, if the traditions about him are correct. The philosophical Age of Greece was past, and its people were little more than idly curious dilettantes. But in India it was quite otherwise. Here was a pagan people with little interest in practical things but deeply immersed in philosophical problems. Who then could better go to such a country than Thomas?
     There is a certain parallelism between Peter and Paul. In both cases, it is clear that these men were leaders, men of decision, men whom others tended to follow. This is a structural feature of personality, namely, executive capacity. It was true of both men before, as well as after, their conversion. When Peter said, "I go fishing," the others said, "We go also" (John 21:3). And much later, when Peter made the mistake of withdrawing himself from the fellowship of Gentiles in the presence of his Jewish brethren, many others also were led astray (Galatians 2:11-13). Moreover, Peter's impetuosity stayed with him to the end. Having denied the Lord with cursing and swearing, he was, according to tradition, crucified head down at his own impetuous request. And like others of such nature, he could always fall asleep very easily. On the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane he simply went to sleep. Later on, in the prison (Acts 12:6) and on the housetop (Acts 10:9,10), we find the same Peter, asleep. So also with Paul. He was as thorough in his persecution of the Church of God before his conversion as he was in its edification afterwards. Thoroughness was part of his nature -- that part which was divinely ordained and was not laid aside. But the filling of this vessel brought something entirely new. It is 

52. 2 Peter 3:4-11. A remarkably scientific statement in contrast to John's.

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not until Acts 13:9 where the first specific mention is made of this new filling that his name is changed from Saul to Paul. In view of all that has been said about the giving of names and the identity of a new name with a new person, it is significant that the change of name took place when the change of personality was first made manifest. Paul, "a chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15), now filled with a new content, was never again referred to as Saul. Every one of us has received a new name, completely expressive of our new nature individually, but it is not yet revealed. We shall perhaps more readily recognize our brethren in heaven, than we shall recognize ourselves.
     The Medieval theologians rightly said, "In Adam a person made human nature sinful; in his posterity nature made persons sinful." This is surely true. But it is also wonderfully true that in the Last Adam, a person made human nature pure; and in His posterity, thenceforth a new nature was to make persons pure. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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