God's Supreme Interest in Man

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Crisis of Being Renewed

"Ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge, after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:9).

A word now regarding that phrase or clause which is, "being renewed... after the image of Him that created him..." something that has been taken up and is being carried on and that, of course, relates to the occupation and the energy of the Holy Spirit.  I am just going to be content with one thing in this whole matter of the Holy Spirit's activity, and that is the ultimate and the object of the Holy Spirit's work.  You notice what it clearly says here, that the goal that the Holy Spirit has, although He is not mentioned by name here, we know quite well that this renewing work is the work of the Holy Spirit and the goal of the Holy Spirit's work is brought forward and made to stand over everything. All-governing; it is the end that is brought into view with the life of the believer and made the thing which rules throughout. 

Now we are right, of course, in being occupied with the many things related to the end as we are concerned so largely with what is more elementary.  That is, we are greatly concerned with the work of evangelization that is bringing the gospel to the unsaved and bringing them to Christ.  We are greatly concerned with the spread of the gospel, or what is so often referred to as the extension of the kingdom.  This and many other matters like that are right and must be as a way to the end, as a means to the end, but perhaps there is a weakness often associated with that occupation, which is making these things the end in themselves.

And what is made very clear here, you must remember, is that the Apostle is writing now at the end of his life, and this letter is set in the consummation of his ministry.  His whole life and ministry and work is now being brought together in a consummate way.  And here at the end is, amongst many other things of such great importance to be brought to the Lord's people in this consummate way, he brings this activity and energy of the Holy Spirit, not here in relation to the entering into the Christian life and all that is associated with it, but in relation to the end of the Christian life, and he says in effect: it is the end that governs all.

It is not being saved in itself, and it is not the work of getting people saved in itself, important and of course essential as that is, for nothing can be without it.  Nevertheless, the thing that must be kept in mind is that this work of being saved and getting people saved and all that has to do with it is related to this great end: to secure conformity to the image of Him that created him.

Why are we saved?  We rejoice in being saved, and praise the Lord that we are saved, and never cease to be grateful that He has saved us!  We can never exaggerate the wonder of grace in our salvation and in the Lord as our Saviour.  But why?  Not just to be saved, not just to leave it there, but it is the first step toward this full end.  Why are we seeking that others should be saved and using our lives and our time and our strength that they should come to salvation?  Is it just that they should be saved?  Just that they should be saved and escape condemnation, or judgment, and hell and find heaven?  No, the Apostle brings forward the end.  He says, "No," our object in leading others to Christ must always have the full end governing, and every one is to be brought right into line with that end: the renewing after the Image. 

Now you may think that this is hardly a thing to say, it is obvious, that it goes without saying, but it does not go without saying, because there are so many born-again people who are saved people and who are falling lamentably and unrightfully short of Christ's likeness.  We know it in ourselves and we are not speaking only objectively of other people, we know it in ourselves. But it is true that we meet so many Christians who are very glad that they are saved, and boast of being saved, and make no hesitation in saying that they are saved, but their transformation is lagging behind, and in many you meet so little of Christ. Really so little of Christ... many things you do meet, but you meet very little of the Lord Jesus.

Now what we are being told quite clearly is that this will not do. In the end it will be the End that judges our Christian life. And so it is the Holy Spirit's work, His interest, concern, energy and activity; not only to bring people to the door and to get them inside the door, but to make them know that that door is but the opening of a Way, on the other side of the door everything lies.  It is not the door alone, but it is what lies beyond the door, and that is this renewal, this making anew after the image of Him that created.  The End governs: it is Christ in all that He signifies and means and stands for.  It is that vast All that He is.  "Christ is All, and in all" is the last clause.  It is Christ in that fullness, which is more than our salvation, more than our initial salvation. The door is essential, but it is what it leads to that justifies going in it at all.

Christ Himself, when He was here, never failed to let people know that when they entered that door, or that straight and narrow way, they were in for trouble - they were in for trouble.  Now that may sound like a very terrible thing to say, especially to you young Christians who are not far inside the door, but be perfectly clear about it; the Lord Jesus never deceived anybody about this, never at all.  He let people know that to "follow Him," as He put it at that time, involved them in difficulty and suffering and persecution and trial and a lifelong thing.  There is a cost here, a great cost.  And we shall discover that while there are the compensations, for there are undoubtedly the compensations in this life, and the mighty compensations for eternity, this is a way which is not easy for the natural man by any means.  This work of the Holy Spirit is drastic, exacting, and very trying to the flesh.  Make no mistake about it; it will take all the energy that the Holy Spirit Himself has to accomplish this work.  It really will.  So the Lord Jesus has not left us in any doubt about this.

But note, and I am glad the Apostle Paul puts it like this, because it is so true to experience. The new man who is being renewed.  Notice, first there was a precise and definite transaction, "Ye put off" and "ye put on," but now the work that is going on is not a single act of a single moment and a single day, but it is something that is going on in us.  The new man is being renewed, and that process will go right on to the end.  It will never stop until we will not allow it to go on any further, until we put a period to it.  It will go right on to the end, a process, something that is being done all the time, this changing over. Not our position, that was the act, but of condition... and that is the process.

Well, that is the activity and the energy of the Holy Spirit, and that is all I am going to say at the moment about that, that the Holy Spirit keeps the end in view. If you look at your Bible, both in the Old and in the New Testament, you will find that right early in the experience of God's people, He brings the far horizon of the end forward and governs the first movements with what it is "unto."  For instance, when Israel crossed the Red Sea and was on the other side, with Pharaoh's armies engulfed... the people were mightily delivered by that very, very precise and definite cutting off and setting apart unto God.  And the song on the other side of the sea, with all the miles yet ahead before the land, and all the conflicts that were going to be in possessing the inheritance, nevertheless before any of that in actuality, that song contains something which is in the tense of a present accomplished thing: "And hath brought us unto Thy holy hill, to Thy sanctuary."  They were forty years away from that and there was a lot of history between, and a few years after that in the conquest of the land. Nevertheless, it is done.

And in the word to Joshua to begin to possess, the terms are quite distinct, "...have I given thee, every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, have I already given you." It is yours.  You see, the end is always in view with God.  It governs everything by what the end is going to be.

Well, let that sink into us, because it is very important for us to know what it is the Lord is doing, really what He is up to.  Why all this intervening history between our being brought to Him and the consummation of the end. Why is it?  What is the Holy Spirit doing with us?   Well, it is just this: we are being renewed.  That word "renewed" which is used on several occasions is perhaps itself a little misleading.  We can think of it as renewing, refreshing, re-strengthening and so on, but really it just means: "making over again."  The little prefix, of course, in the Bible is a very, very significant thing.  Whenever you get "re-," you always know that it is a throw­back to something that was.  It is not now, but it is going to be.  Whether it is re-demption or re-conciliation or any of the large number of "re's" it means "again."  It was, but it is not now, but it is going to be again.  And so here renewal means "bringing back to the original intention, purpose, and satisfaction to God."

Well, having said that, let us spend a few minutes upon this matter of the crisis, the crisic event in the life of the believer.  "Ye put off the old man with his doings.  Ye put on the new man."  This is something you did: "You put off."  I must remind you that again there is a picture behind the Greek words, and here it is quite simply the picture or figure of a man taking off his clothes.  A man taking off one suit and putting it aside and taking another suit and donning it. A matter of putting off, unclothing, and then putting on, clothing.  A simple figure, a very simple, but a very effective figure, of what happens in the crisis of new birth.  This is just what it is that happens when we step out of the old man into the new man.  We repudiate one set of clothes, one adornment of life, and we say, "That suit, that suit no longer is befitting me; that suit no longer has a place with me.  I have taken off that suit, those clothes, and put them away, never to put them on again. It is a fashion that I have done with. It is what fitted me at one time, but no longer fits."  This is simple language, simple thoughts, but how real this is and taking an altogether different and other outfit, a fashion of life, and adornment.  "Adorn the gospel," said the Apostle.  "Put ye on the Lord Jesus."  It is the same figure again, "Put ye on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the flesh."  

Here is this crisis, this definite crisis, and that is exactly what was meant when you and I were baptised.  There, in effect and in meaning, we stripped off the old garments and put them into the grave.  We put them into the grave, and are done with them; the old garments of the old man, we put him off.  And when we rose on the other side, we took altogether new garments: we put on the new man.

That is, at any rate, the meaning of our baptism, the meaning of our ceasing to acknowledge and recognise our identification with the old man.  We say, "I am done with him.  Just as I could discard a suit of clothes never again to wear it, I repudiated the old man, the natural man."  And just as definitely as we might take another entire outfit, so different in its nature, in its style, in its manner, in fashion, we rose and put that on "the new man."  "Ye did this," says the Apostle.  Now if you want to know why I relate that to baptism, you only have to go back in this Colossian letter to chapter two, and here it is: "In Him ye were also circumcised in a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh."  "The putting off" is the same idea again, related to clothes and garments: "putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism" (verses 11, 12; ASV).  So you left your clothes in the grave, you just left them in the grave. Not literally, you never see your clothes literally in the baptistry afterward, but this is the idea, you see, the spiritual thought. In "buried with Him" you put off - "buried with Him in baptism." The other side of burying: "You were also raised with Him through faith in the working, in the energy of God, Who raised Him from the dead."  And that is followed by, "If you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things that are above," (Col. 3:1, 2; ASV).  You put on something altogether new, you repudiated one form, or nature of life, and put on another.

You remember when Saul the king was rejected by God and God said, "I have rejected him."  A very drastic thing, a very terrible thing for Saul - his repudiation, he took hold of the garment of Samuel, and it rent, and Samuel said: "The Lord has rent the kingdom out of your hands."  Saul was rejected, was repudiated.  Samuel mourned for Saul and the Lord stepped in and said, "Why mourn ye for Saul, seeing I have rejected him?  Arise, take your horn of oil..." And with the rejection and repudiation of one man, an old man that could not any longer stand in God's favour and acceptance, God brought in a new man. A new man, "Go, anoint David. I have found Me a man.  He shall do all My pleasure" (1 Sam. 13–16; Acts 13:22).

Now the whole change turns upon that little word, "Do."  "He shall do all My pleasure." That was the trouble with Saul as you remember, in First Samuel 15, God told Saul what he was to do, precisely and definitely: "Go, destroy Amalek, and leave nothing of Amalek remaining."  And Saul went and half did the job; he compromised, argued, excused, saved something.  He did not do all God's pleasure.  He did not do it.  Now he is repudiated because he did not do the will of God. 

David is brought in on that one little word, "He shall do all My pleasure."  This is the new man, this is the difference, you see.  One who is not wholly, utterly committed to God, to do God's will wholly, is repudiated.  And then there is the man who will do.  So it is just a question isn't it, of obedience!  And that crisis, historic crisis in Saul and David is just one of the numerous illustrations in the Old Testament of this great truth.  Here is a man who does not do the will of God, does not satisfy God's will: he is called the old man; and here is the new man who does do God's will: Christ, you have put on Christ Who does all God's will, and I have no need to take time at this point to dwell upon how He did the will of God.  That was the battleground to the last degree, "Thy will, O God, not Mine."  So the New Man is the accepted man, committed to complete obedience.  And that is the Man we are supposed to put on. 

I think you will agree with me that in too many cases the meaning of that transition, that changeover, the meaning of it does not sink deep enough into the hearts of those who take the step.  The tragedy that we have so often met, that those who come for baptism, who have been told what it means - death, burial, resurrection - told what it involves and in a subsequent year turn away from that meaning. Many, many are not living according to that transaction, many have turned away from the meaning, and many more are not pursuing the course of that which it meant; to repudiate wholly, once and for all, a kind of man with his doings, with his trappings. Not only the bare garment, but all its adornments, embroidery, decorations and everything else... done with - the old man and his doings.  Well, the Apostle here just tells us a little of the doings you see, verse eight, "Put ye also away all these: anger..." I think we are going to be found out in a minute, if we dare to read any more! He put off the old man and his doings. What are they? "Anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking, lying."  Any more? Is that all?  No.

Now by contrast with the new: "Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion."  Well, you put off a heart that is not a heart of compassion.  "Put on kindness, humility, meekness, long­suffering; forbearing one another, forgiving each other" (verse 12; ASV).  All that is contrary to those things belong to the doings of the old man. "You put them off."  The old man is very clearly portrayed here, and the new man also.  Well, that is what is supposed to have happened with you and with me.  That is something done.  That is not a process, I mean the putting off of the old man, and the putting on of the new.  That is not a process, that is a position.  The process is what belongs to him, any relics at all, anything associated with him, is to be progressively put off the old man and what is belonging to the new man being put on.

Well, this putting on of the new man is, as we have said, the real engagement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, He is trying to bring about a new adornment altogether.  Peter has a way of speaking of this, of course he's talking to sisters, talking to the saintly sisters, but they're not the only people interested in fashion. And Peter says about these saintly sisters whose adornment (I'm going to come back to that word in a minute) whose adornment is not in the plaiting of the hair, and the wearing of jewels, but is the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.  That word "adornment", I'm sorry that it is so translated, but perhaps it would sound a little awkward to rightly translate it. The word there in the original is: "whose cosmos."  Whose cosmos is not the plaiting of the hair and the wearing of jewels, and its "whose world" whose world is not that. That's not your world. The correct translation in one sense is that the meaning of "world" is the form, the adornment, all that makes it up.  But says Peter, "That is not the world of a true believer.  You do not live in that world."  I don't know how far that's true, seeing the difficulty in these days of dealing with our own personal appearances, we've come into a time in our national history when it seems that both men and women don't know what to do with their hair! It seems to be one of the big problems of our day; what to do with it! How to appear, or appearances. Peter says don't live in that world, that's not your world. Don't be careless about such things, but don't live in it, do not let it be your life, your world; whose adornment is not that, whose world is not that, but whose adornment, whose world is a meek and a quiet spirit.  This is of great price in the sight of God.  This is the real value from God's standpoint.

Well, we just conclude at this point with a re-emphasis.  We have said early on that we had one object in view, just one, it may be wrapped around with all these other things that we have said, and are saying, but right at the heart there is only one thing, and that one thing is: Christ-likeness, being renewed unto the image of Him.  And you notice the word that we have not underlined: unto knowledge, "Renewed unto knowledge, to the image of Him that created him."  It just means this, dear friends, that you and I are throughout our Christian life to be learning what Christ is, and what Christ is like, discovering Christ for life; learning in knowledge, knowledge unto conformity, knowledge unto the renewal of the lost image.

And again, we have to be very practical.  One thing that you and I have come to or will come to, is this: A dread of knowledge that does not lead to something. A dread of knowledge that does not lead to something.  I never in my life have shrunk from speaking as I do today, lest it might resolve itself into words only; words, words, teaching, teaching, a subject, a vast amount of it, and so little that corresponds to it. It's very true, I don't say that it is all lost, it's all in vain, I don't believe that it is, but it is a wholesome fear to accumulate a kind of knowledge that does not lead to something.  And the one and only thing to which spiritual knowledge should lead, is Christ-likeness.

Now then, what a knowledge we have of things concerning the Christian life and the purpose of God, and how greatly we fall short in the expression, the personal expression, of Christ.  Is it not true? There is a gap between our knowledge and our life so often.  And I have not come to you at this time just to give you a lot more knowledge as such, or to add to the teaching, but say to you: the occupation of your life and mine, and the knowledge which you and I receive, must be turned to this one account and have this one effect: "I must be more a man and a woman like Christ."  If that is not true, then the knowledge is false knowledge, for it does not really fulfill its intention.

One must underline that again.  I think probably this is why the prophets were so reticent, so reticent to speak.  This is something to take note of.  I was speaking to people who were ambitious to preach and to teach; whether there are any such here, I would be very strong about this, after many years, for this is one thing that the Lord has said to me very, very strongly and drastically to me in experience.  After years of being very much in the way of demand, preaching in many quite important, highly standing churches in the country and having a large sphere of acceptance at conferences and so on, the Lord brought me to the place where He made it perfectly clear to me by very drastic handling that it is the result that matters and not what you are doing.  And I can tell you, dear friends, that I have come to the place where I would seek to be an ordinary man in an ordinary job and a menial job at that, rather than be in the false position of public ministry that is only an end in itself; only an end in itself.

No, you look again, and we need to be reminded that the prophets were very reticent men about public ministry. Isn't that true? Moses... God met him, and told him of his vocation, his calling, and he said, "I cannot speak, I cannot speak."  God had to really argue with him, but Moses stuck to his point. "Oh, if You can send by anyone, send not by me."  Well, it therefore became a matter of divine compulsion that made Moses fulfill his public ministry. 

Jeremiah.  The Word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee I knew thee... I have appointed thee a prophet to the nations."  Jeremiah says immediately, "I am a child, I cannot speak."  You would think he would have leaped at a thing like that.  If he had been like a great number of young men that we know, he would have jumped at it: the opportunity of being a prophet of the nations.  Jeremiah says, no, "I am a child, I cannot speak."  And once more the Lord had almost to compel him. The responsibility you see bound up with this. And these are not the only ones in the Bible.  There is a wholesome reticence, a wholesome reticence not to have ambition in this way, but to be brought to the place where it has got to be of God or may I be mercifully saved from it.  Why? because it is not what we do and what we say, but it is after all, what is effected, what comes of it all, and that is very searching.  Well now, if you are not prophets and preachers, or ambitious to be such, we are all those who receive a lot; and there is a great responsibility bound up with everything that we receive, "unto knowledge... unto renewing... unto the image of Him."

So as we search our hearts before the Lord as we close, and simply ask, "How much of all that I have received, and all that I know in a way is being changed into the likeness of Christ?  How much of it is working out in that way?  How much is the Holy Spirit able to take hold of our knowledge and bring it into conformity to Christ?" 

This is an explanatory word, dear friends, of why the Holy Spirit puts us into the experiences through which we are going.  Oh, how drastic are His dealings with us! How painful are our experiences, how deep are our histories in God!  You wonder when there will ever be an end of all this that we go through under His hand.  Why?  Oh, we may not see it all, it may not be safe for us to see it, we might begin to congratulate ourselves, but here is the object perfectly and clearly stated: the Holy Spirit's activities and energies in our experiences - deep and terrible, painful experiences of trial - one object in all this is to make us like the New Man.  To inculcate in us these virtues of the New Man Who we have put on.  Not just some thing that we have put on, but something that is a new character: that of the Lord Jesus.

Now that is not an exciting word is it?  It doesn't in any way cause us to leap for joy at the moment, because "no temptation for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous, but afterward..." afterward: likeness.  And I think, however heavy this may sound, it could be perhaps a bit of it depressing,  I think every heart here says, "after all, whatever it means, by whatever way, my one desire is to be like Christ, that Christ should be fully formed in me."  

May we have grace to let Him do it in His own way, and that through our sufferings, something more of that meekness and patience and humility and forbearance of the Lord Jesus shall really be a part of our being.  It shall be like that!

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.