“And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” – Mark 7:20-23 (KJV)
The parallel of this verse in Matthew 23:25-28 contrasts the state of the inside of the Pharisees, (that is, their spiritual state, thought life, personality, motivations, intentions, etc., or in the Hebrew, simply your ‘heart’ – cf. Jeremiah 17:9) with the state of the outside of the Pharisees. So it should come as no surprise that the word here translated as ‘defileth’ in the twentieth verse of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark is Strong’s Greek 2840 κοινόω, transliterated ‘koinoó’. It means to make and regard unclean, polluted, or desecrated. Everything is laid plainly before the LORD (Luke 12:2), which would necessarily include the inside, the outside, and the true appearance thereof.
It’s not always so for us, though, is it?
Most of us have two physical eyes with which to see the world. Yet we’re naturally born in our fallen state with no capacity to discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). If our theology is doctrinally sound and rooted in the Holy Scriptures, we’re given more than a few clues as to our ‘inaugurated but not yet consummated’ state as saints and adopted sons and co-heirs with and in Our Lord Jesus Christ – our brother (Matthew 12:50), our bridegroom (John 3:29; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34), the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:23). Still, that doesn’t always seem to provide enough light to see by. Yet it does. Let’s take a closer look.
Positionally, we’re good soldiers. But presently, there is an enemy afoot – an enemy within. This article aims to use God’s Word to help you see that enemy more clearly. Not with snake oil, or gnosis, or worldly wisdom, but with God’s Word as a light unto our feet.
The Enemy Within: The ‘Old Man’
Ephesians 4:22-24 talks about the former conversation of the old man. Romans 6:6-23 talks about him being crucified, that the body of sin might be destroyed. I thought the analogy of the old man stems from the fact that in Christ we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). This might be one way of understanding this term. However, I rather prefer John Gill’s:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him,…. By the old man is meant the corruption of nature; called a man, because natural to men; it lives and dwells in them; it has spread itself over the whole man; it rules and governs in men; and consists of various parts and members, as a man does: it is called “old”, because it is the poison of the old serpent, with which man was infected by him from the beginning; it is derived from the first man that ever was; it is as old as the man is, in whom it is, and is likewise called so, with respect to its duration and continuance; and in opposition to, and contradistinction from, the new man, or principle of grace: it is called “ours”, because continual to us; it is in our nature, it cleaves to us, and abides in us. This name the apostle took from his countrymen the Jews, who were wont to call the vitiosity of nature hereby; so R. Aba on that passage, “the firstborn said to the younger, our father is old”, Genesis 19:31, asks, what is the meaning of this, “our father is old?” this, answers he, is the evil imagination, or corruption of nature, which is called “old”, according to Ecclesiastes 4:13; and is said to be old, , “because it is born with the man” (o); or as the reason is elsewhere given (p), because it is joined to him from his birth, to his old age: this, they say (q), is with a man as soon as he is born, from the hour of his birth, as soon as ever he comes into the world. Now this is said to be “crucified with him”; that is, with Christ, when he was crucified: the Jews (r) have a notion that the evil imagination, or corruption of nature, , will not be made to cease, or be abolished out of the world, till the King Messiah comes, and by him it is abolished: this is so crucified by the death, and at the cross of Christ, as that it cannot exert its damning power over believers; and is so crucified by the Spirit and grace of Christ in them, as that it cannot reign over them, or exercise its domineering power over them; wherefore they are dead unto it, and that to them, and therefore cannot live in it; which is done,
that the body of sin might be destroyed: by “the body of sin” is meant sin itself, which consists, as a body does, of various members; and also the power and strength of it, which the Jews (s) call , “the power of the evil imagination”; this is crucified with Christ, and nailed to his cross by his sacrifice and satisfaction, that its damning power might be destroyed, abolished, and done away: and it is crucified by the Spirit and grace of Christ, that its governing power might be took away, and that itself be subdued, weakened, and laid under restraints, and its members and deeds mortified:
that henceforth we should not serve sin; not that it should not be in us, for as yet, neither by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ, nor by the power of his grace, is sin as to its being removed from the people of God: but that we should not serve it, make provision for it, indulge it and obey it, in the lusts thereof.
(o) Midrash Haneelam in Zohar in Gen. fol. 68. 1. Vid. Caphtor, fol. 20. 1.((p) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 70. 2.((q) Zohar in Gen. fol. 102. 1. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 14. 4. (r) Zohar in Exod fol. 94. 4. (s) Ib.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Romans 6:6: Source. Emphasis mine.
Let’s explore the excerpts in bold as headings. I’ll highlight a small sample of relevant passages from God’s Word along the way.
“It is in our nature,”
We should, as Christians, endeavor to be like the Bereans of Acts 17:11. So it seems good for us to check Mr. John Gill’s work a bit. Can we find any support for this poison of the old serpent being, in our natural, fallen state, now part of our nature? Surely. All of Genesis 3 comes to mind, as does Jeremiah 17:9 and other verses.
“it cleaves to us,”
We may not separate from its clutches entirely in this life.
“and abides in us.”
We may not remove it from within us (drawing from the first heading) in this life. Our present condition is one of a man who is seemingly stuck in the middle, though the ending of the story is fixed and the restoration of the man is sure. We must then brave these trials for but a little while until the old man will be bound and removed by a yet stronger Man, the God-man, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
“It cannot exert its damning power over believers;”
We’ll circle back to this point a few paragraphs down, but note that there is no evidence that this old man can exert damning power over believers. However, it can noisily abide for the measure of time up until our physical, bodily death. I think every genuine believer knows something of this struggle Paul speaks of in Romans 7.
“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” – Romans 7:15-24 (KJV)
“It cannot reign over them,”
To reign is to rule, and to rule is to exercise ultimate authority or power. As believers, the old man has been dethroned. He is, however, still chained to Our Lord’s throne in the courts of our hearts. He is still permitted to hiss and whisper with the intent to provoke or sway. We may (despite a better judgment given to us by God in His grace) find ourselves led astray by our own lusts and enticed due of this old man, as recorded in James 1:14 – for which we ought to be ashamed, and grieved, and must sorely repent. But this old man’s days are numbered and his tricks are few. You knew him well, for he was you. This is why we must be so very careful in our thought life to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” – 2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)
You see now why our King James in that verse reads ‘casting down imaginations’. Positionally, the old man is both cast down and downcast. But presently, he’d like nothing more than to rise up and drag you down with him, were it possible. So we must make it our business to leave no opportunity for the old man in the mean time, even though his fate has been sealed and end is secure.
“or exercise its domineering power over them;”
May the old man in this present perdicament exert any power? Why, yes. But power over us, or more exactly, domineering power over us? I believe, despite these headings being sourced from John Gill’s commentary, that he is spot on here: that the old man may not, and that God’s Word is clear. If not for John Gill, then for the context of the verses in Romans 6. If not for those, then for the logical consequences of an alternate interpretation. I digress – what might this power look like? Well, the old man may, like a deposed eminence grise (not yet exiled), make appeals. Is this not what we’ve seen of from that old serpent and from Our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness? Does our old man not carry some strain of that venom? Surely he does. A perfect example of what such an appeal might look like can be found in the Book of Genesis. But examples in this present age abound also.
For instance, throughout the world today, on television shows and in books and schools, one of the most ubiquitous of these appeals the old man ever conceived of was “you deserve better.” No, friend, we deserve Hell. Any appeal that puffs us up, or leads us to esteem ourselves as better than others, or does none of these things but does not appeal for you to do something in faith, in accordance with God’s Word and to the glory of God, is very likely that old man rattling on.
I can scarcely get enough of John Gill, but I suppose that’ll do for now.
In closing I’d like to leave you with some verses from God’s Word that have been a help to me in plainly and practically identifying what is of God and what is not of God, to include evil imaginations and the tired tricks of that persistent old man.
Heuristics from God’s Word: (‘Old Men’ hate them!)
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” – James 4:17 (KJV)
Are we encouraged to do the good we know we ought to do, or do we say it’s better for it to wait until tomorrow (Proverbs 27:1; James 4:14)? I’ve been so guilty of this lately with my writings. Yet, by God’s grace, here we are.
“Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” – Romans 14:22-23 (KJV)
This thing that I am considering or not considering, is it being undertaken or abstained from in faith? The end of that twenty third verse is every bit as beautiful as the beginning of the twenty second: “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33 (KJV)
Am I seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? This is paramount. It should always come first.
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10 (KJV)
Am I seeking to persuade men, or to please men? Am I not relying entirely on the LORD and His grace, as one who gives the increase when I’ve endeavored to plant a seed in obedience to the Lord and in seeking to redeem the time and please Him?
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” – Philippians 2:3 (KJV)
We’re so selfish today, to our shame, and I wish I were an exception – but I’m a worm, truly, and altogether vile. In my flesh, there have been times when pride has strained at pursuing meekness and humility. There are things going on today in our current events that would suggest many people struggle treating others like equals, let alone esteeming them as better than themselves. This is a big ask of us, but it is what God in His Word asks of us, and so we must strive and pray to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him as blessed children of God in Our Lord Jesus Christ.