As followers of Christ, we are to take God at his word and accept as true what he says about us. This means our ‘old man’ represents someone who still seeks to be seen as right before God because of his own works. Such a man’s conscience continually brings him under guilt, but instead of repenting, he pledges to overcome his sin problem himself. “I’m going to change! I’ll start fighting my besetting sin today, no matter what the cost. I want God to see how hard I’m trying.”
Such a man brings much sweat and many tears to the Lord. He prays and fasts to prove that he has a good heart and to satisfy his own pride. He’s able to resist sin for days at a time, and so he tells himself, “If I can go for two days, then why not four? Why not a week?” By the end of the month, he feels good about himself, convinced he’s working himself free.
Then his old sin resurfaces, and down he goes into deep despair. That starts the cycle all over again. Such a man is on a treadmill, and he will never get off.
Paul tells us that the old man was pronounced dead at the cross. His old man was crucified along with Christ, killed in the eyes of God. Jesus took that old man into the grave with him, where he was forgotten. The Lord says of our old man, “I won’t recognize or deal with such a one. There is only one man I recognize now, one with whom I’ll deal. That is my Son, Jesus, and all who are in him by faith.”
The new man is the one who has given up all hope of pleasing God by any effort of the flesh. He has died to the old ways of the flesh.
This new man leans on the truth of this verse: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11, ESV). He believes, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). He may not always feel it or even comprehend it fully, but he won’t argue with his loving Father’s Word. He accepts it on faith, trusting the Lord is faithful to his Word.
As Jesus stood at the highest point of the temple, Satan whispered to him, “Go ahead. Jump! If you’re really God’s son, he’ll save you.”
“[The devil] said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give his angels charge over you,” and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”’” (Matthew 4:6, NKJV).
Do you see Satan’s deviousness in this? He isolated a single promise from scripture, and he tempted Jesus to cast his whole life upon it. He was suggesting, “You say that God is with you. Well, show me the proof. Your Father has already allowed me to harass you. Where was his presence in that? You can prove he’s with you right now by jumping. If God is with you, he’ll provide a soft landing. You can base your confidence on that. If not, you might as well die rather than go on wondering if you’re on your own. You need a miracle to prove the Father is with you.”
How did the Savior respond? “Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”’” (Matthew 4:7). What exactly does Jesus mean here by ‘tempting God’?
The Old Testament provides us with our answer. Over and over the Lord had proved himself faithful to the Israelites. God’s people received visible proof that their Lord was with them, and yet they fell into the same question time after time: “Is God among us or not?” God calls this ‘tempting him.’ Jesus uses this same phrase in his reply to Satan.
As with Israel, God has already given us an entire body of evidence for his presence. First, we have in his Word that contains multiple promises of his closeness to us. Second, we have our own personal history with God that is a testimony of his many past deliverances in our lives. Third, we have a Bible full of witnesses to God’s presence in past centuries.
What does this tell us? It shows us it is a grave sin to doubt God’s presence; we’re not to question whether he’s with us. The Bible is clear: We’re to walk with God by faith and not by sight.
Consider Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt in the Bible. As God’s people crossed over on dry land, they saw the waves crash down on their enemy behind them. It was a glorious moment, and they held a mighty praise meeting with dancing, singing and thanksgiving. “We’re free! God has delivered us from the hand of oppression.”
Israel’s story represents our own deliverance from the bondage and guilt of sin. We know that Satan was defeated at the cross and that we were immediately set free from his iron grip. However, there is more to God’s purpose in saving and delivering us. God never meant for Israel to camp there on the victory side of the Red Sea. His greater purpose in bringing them out of Egypt was to take them into Canaan, his land of fullness. In short, he brought them out of slavery in order to bring them into his heart and into his love. He wanted a people who were totally dependent on his mercy, grace and love. The same is still true for his people today.
Israel’s first test came just a few days later, and they ended up murmuring and complaining, totally dissatisfied. Why? They had known God’s deliverance, but they hadn’t understood his great love for them.
Here is the key to this teaching: You cannot come into joy and peace—indeed, you cannot know how to serve the Lord properly—until you see his delight in your deliverance…until you see the joy of his heart over his communion with you…until you see that every wall has been removed at the cross…until you know that everything in your past has been judged and wiped away. God says, “I want you to move on into fullness that awaits you in my presence!”
Multitudes today rejoice in the wonderful benefits of the cross. They have moved out of Egypt, and they are standing on the “victory side” of their Red Sea trial. They enjoy freedom, and they thank God continually for casting their oppressor into the sea.
Many of these same believers miss God’s greater purpose and benefit to them. They miss why the Lord has brought them out, which is to bring them in to himself. He is where the ultimate joy, satisfaction and purpose of our lives may be found.
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh…. let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-20, 22, NKJV).
There are two sides to Christ’s work at Calvary. One side is to the benefit of man, and the other side is to the benefit of God. One benefits the sinner, while the other benefits the Father.
We are well acquainted with the benefit on the human side. The cross of Christ has provided us with forgiveness for our sins. We are given the power of victory over all bondage and dominion over sin. We are supplied with mercy and grace; and, of course, we are given the promise of eternal life. The cross has given us the means of escape from the terrors of sin and hell.
I thank God for this benefit of the cross to mankind, and for the wonderful relief it brings. I rejoice that it is preached week after week in churches all over the world.
There is another benefit of the cross, though; one that we know very little about. This one is to the benefit of the Father. We understand very little about the delight of the Father that was made possible by the cross. It’s a delight that comes to him whenever he receives a prodigal child into his house.
In my opinion, most Christians have learned to come before God for forgiveness, for the supplying of needs, for answers to prayer. However, they lack boldness in this aspect of faith, an aspect that is crucial in their walk with the Lord.
The Lord has great joy that the cross has provided us with open access to himself. Indeed, the most glorious moment in history was when the temple veil was rent in two on the day that Christ died. In the instant that the temple veil—separating man from God’s holy presence—was torn asunder, something incredible happened. From that point on, not only was man able to enter into the Lord’s presence, but God could come out to man.
This set the stage for Christ to send the glorious gift of the Spirit to his followers, and our relationship with God was transformed.
In 2 Kings 4:1-7, we have an amazing passage about Elisha and a widow. She began to share her story with Elisha, and it was a tale of hurt, brokenness and disappointment. Her husband had died. That one thing alone would be tragic enough, but her story gets even worse. Not only was her husband gone, but she was saddled with debt far beyond her ability to pay.
If all of this weren’t bad enough, she was approached by the creditor who threatened her, saying, “If you don’t pay this debt back immediately, I’m going to take your two sons and make them my slaves until they pay off that debt through hard labor.”
Here she had a choice to become frozen in cynicism and say to herself, “I prayed for my husband’s healing, and he’s dead. I prayed for this debt to be gone, and I’m in more debt than I’ve ever been before. Why would I believe that my sons are going to be rescued? So many things I’ve prayed for haven’t happened.”
Once you become cynical, the door often closes. The cynic rarely prays and even more rarely believes in God’s power to work. It’s like when Jesus went back to his own hometown. People looked at him skeptically and dismissed his power because Jesus was the local carpenter. As a result, scripture tells us, “He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6, ESV).
Fortunately for this woman in 2 Kings, she believed in God’s word through his prophet Elisha, and the Lord worked an incredible miracle in her life.
I may have seen some unanswered prayers in my time. I may have gone through some hurts in life, but I know that God hears me, and I know that he’s ready to fill my hands that I hold open to him. That tiny seed of belief is all that’s needed. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
All it takes is a mustard seed of faith to overcome a life of cynicism.