I was the first of two sons born to Clarence H. Peters and Marjorie M. Peters. They were both from families that were characterized by longevity. My mother passed away at the age of ninety, at which time my father was ninety-five.
My father sold their house, and moved into a care-home at which he had worked for many years as bookkeeper/accountant as a second career. He was still ambulatory, but was very compromised as to vision and hearing. Without my mother to keep him company he was pretty miserable.
One day when I was visiting him he was sharing that he wanted to die and be with my mother, but, he complained, “We Peterses are hard to kill!” He was right, but at ninety-seven he fell, broke his hip, survived the surgery, but died of congestive heart failure the next day without regaining consciousness.
Alas, I have the same problem. I am closing on ninety-seven, Alva has been with Jesus since June 9, 2013, and here I am being a Peters who is proving to be hard to kill, wanting to be with Jesus also. I’m thankful that I am in good health, feel good, have enough eyesight and hearing to have my own apartment, and am able to enjoy a bit of pastoral ministry in the Chapel while I wait for my name to be called. Hallelujah!
But, alas again, after being a serious Christian for sixty-eight years, sixty-one of which have been as a pastor, I still have a killing problem! My old-nature, which the Bible ordered me to put to death, though weakened, still lurks in hidden crannies of my persona, anxious to cooperate with the devil to make me stumble.
Old nature! So what am I talking about? The dictionary defines the word “nature” (as applied to humans) with this primary meaning: the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person by birth. The secondary meaning: the instincts or inherent tendencies directing conduct.
As created, Adam and Eve had an innocent nature which produced a loving relationship with each other and a loving, obedient relationship between each of them and God. Their natures were inclined towards God. But let’s review the Bible’s creative statement in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” As a pure spirit being, God had no body, so “in His own image” had nothing to do with their bodies, or them being male and female. Instead, it had to do with their personhood. God was a person. Adam and Eve were persons. Personhood consists of will, intellect and emotion. The appearance of God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was what we call an anthropomorphism, a deity appearing in the form of a human for purposes of communication and/or fellowship.
Alas, first Eve, and then Adam, in the exercise of their free will, when tempted by the devil in the guise of a serpent, chose to disobey God. By this rebellion, sin entered the human race. Their innocent natures, which were inclined towards God, were now inclined towards sin. Their natures had suffered a terrible fall, which awful event has ever since been known as The Fall, and the post-innocent nature has been called the fallen-nature. The extent of this calamity is demonstrated by the fact that every human born since Adam and Eve’s fall have inherited that fallen-nature, including you and me! Woe!!
Besides fallen-nature, the post-innocence nature is called the sin-nature and the old-nature. All of these are Christian lingo (not from the Bible, except the NIV uses sinful-nature) but are used because they are so descriptive. In the New Testament the expression “old man” is used in Ephesians 4:20-24, “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Thus we have come across an important doctrine. When we become a Christian, our old, sinful nature is not removed or destroyed. Instead we are given a new nature, created in true righteousness and holiness. Oh-oh! Doesn’t that lead to internal conflict? Yes, the Bible predicts it, and anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has experienced it.
Before we look at that prediction, let us note that the word most commonly used by the Bible for the fallen-sinful-old-nature is “flesh.” I suppose this is so because “the flesh” moves us to the improper use of or emphasis on some normal bodily function or mental process, per Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”Regarding the predicted internal conflict, go back to Galatians 5:16,17, RSV, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Note several things about this passage:
- The “new man” (new nature) is identified as the Spirit (the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in every true believer (Christian). Hooray!
- The desires of the flesh (the devil’s fifth column in every human) are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh –always opposed to each other.
- Thus we Christians are continually coming to a fork in the road with one route labeled “Walk by the Spirit” and the other “Gratify the desires of the flesh.” We have to exercise our will, and choose which route to take.
- The instructions are plain: Walk by (follow) the Spirit! Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Other Scriptures giving the same instructions but put in different terms:
- In Ephesians 4:20-24, previously cited, we were instructed to “put off” the old man (flesh, or sinful nature) and “put on” the new man (new nature or Spirit).
- Romans 8:5, 6, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, (set their minds on) the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
- And the terms best describing the ultimate goal, Galatians 5:24, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” We are to put to death the old man, aka the flesh or the sinful nature, by crucifying it – nailing it to the cross and leaving it to die. An execution by crucifixion was a slow death, usually requiring two or three days, apropos to the title of this essay, Hard to Kill.
I have already confessed that after being a Christian for sixty-eight years I am still trying to administer the coup de grace to my sinful nature. Let me tell you an amusing story about the tough job it is to crucify the sinful nature.
During my twenty-nine years as Senior Pastor at the Chapel I attended free Monday-through-Friday Pastor’s Conferences at Hume Lake Campgrounds east of Fresno. One year the son of William R. Newell (who wrote the well known hymn, “At Calvary”) ministered to us in both music and Bible study. The day he taught Bible his subject was “The Need For and Difficulty of Crucifying the Sinful Nature.” I still remember the illustration he gave of that difficulty.
It seems he was raised on a farm with dogs, chickens, pigs, cows and maybe other animals about, but no horses. He was consumed from his childhood with a love for horses and the desire to have one of his own. Year after year he pleaded for a horse, but his father said no. When he finally got into high-school, still pestering his dad for a horse, his father was worn out, and reluctantly gave his permission – with iron-clad conditions:
- He would have to earn the money to buy the horse;
- He would have to earn the money for all the expenses of having the horse, purchasing tack, buying feed, paying for any vet fees for sickness or shots, or whatever;
- He would be totally responsible for all labor required related to the horse;
- To all of which he agreed without reservation, and finally bought his horse. A dream come true!
Alas, after a few months, the horse got sick and died. His dad, in a gesture of sympathy, walked out to the tool shed and returned, handing his son a shovel, and left. He didn’t give us all the details, but it went something like this:
- There he stood, with his dead horse lying on the ground, and a shovel in his hand;
- With a sigh, and remembering his iron-clad contract with his dad, he began to dig;
- Eventually, the hole was in the ground, the horse was in the hole, and the backfill covered the horse – barely;
- The next morning, horrors, unknown wild animals had dug down to the carcass and eaten their fill and left the mess to him. Back to the shovel. He had to fill it back up and mound some more dirt on it to foil any further intrusions;
- The next morning the dogs had dug down and were still eating.His beloved horse was now smelling pretty bad. I don’t remember if any unChristianlike expletives came to the surface or not, but he dutifully filled it back up and mounded it a bit more;
- Guess what? The next morning revealed that the pigs, smelling what to them was a ripening repast, had dug down and eaten their fill. One consolation, the carcass had been eaten and decayed down to a considerable depth, and his tamped down backfill was finally sufficient. After much difficulty, his horse was dead and disposed of – whew!
At this point I need to get off the “alas mode” (that my sinful nature is not completely dead yet) to the “HALLELUJAH MODE” (that it is a lot deader than it was when I first become a Christian).
Sure, struggling to put to death some facet of our sinful nature can be tough, but when we cooperate with the Spirit, in due time victory over that facet will come. Note some good things about this whole process:
- We are usually only struggling against one facet of our sinful nature at a time;
- Final victory (wining the war) over some facet comes after winning a number of battles, with probably a few losing battles along the way;
- Each battle won provides its own reward, the joy of pleasing Jesus and sensing His presence more;
- Even each loss isn’t all bad. We feel shame for letting Jesus down, but we repent, confess the sin, and receive Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing, 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We immediately feel better and are reinforced to do better on the next battle;
- When the war is won, that facet usually doesn’t tempt us anymore, and we are one step closer to Romans 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” We will be more like Jesus, more pleasing to God, feel better about ourselves, and be more attractive to our family and friends – pretty good, eh?
- Then the Spirit shows us the next facet to address;
- This process is called sanctification, 1 Thes. 4:3, 4, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own body in sanctification and honor.” The dominant idea of the Greek and Hebrew words rendered sanctification is separation from the secular and sinful and setting apart for a sacred purpose.
The rise of the holiness movement attested to the desire to extricate Christians from this seemingly painful process. John Wesley came up with the interpretation of sanctification as a “second definite work of grace,” salvation being the first definite work of grace. After salvation, by means of seeking after God through Bible reading, prayer and other spiritual exercises one received sanctification in one fell swoop, which consisted of removing the sinful nature and arriving at a state of sinless perfection. A dear Christian lady I knew who was from a holiness denomination and professed to have attained this exalted state admitted that she and others like her still made “mistakes,” but could not sin. We differed in our theology, but we dearly respected each other. In today’s United States the Wesleyans, Free Methodists and Nazarenes are holiness denominations that come to mind.
My own testimony after sixty-eight years of being a Christian is that regardless of the struggles to crucify the sinful nature, I never experienced the slightest feeling that it wasn’t worth it all. Even here on this sin cursed earth, being a Christian has always been to me far better than anything the world had to offer. Can you imagine how much better still it will be when we are with Jesus in Heaven? GLORY!