Fading Echoes Of An Old Life
by Lyn Packer
In a previous article I looked at "who we are" – the fact that we are new creations in Christ and that we have a new identity. We live out of that knowledge of our identity and our Christian walk is just that – a learning to live from our new identity and new nature.
Romans 12:2 tells us "…Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect." In the New Living translation it reads "Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
While we have been made a new creation, the reality of that transformation is effected in our life as our mind is renewed, and as that happens we learn to live from our new nature. Yet when we look at our lives it can seem that our "old man" can be a tenacious holder-on, and even seem at times that it hasn't really died. That seems evident as we look at our habitual ways of behavior and habitual thought patterns.
But lets look at that for a minute. Just because we may have habit patterns and thought patterns that have not yet changed that does not mean that we still have a sinful nature, and that nothing much has changed in our life from before we were a Christian. It is, in reality, simply an indicator that our mind has not yet been fully renewed and we haven't yet learnt how to live from our new nature.
Those habitual patterns of thought and behavior are actually fading echoes of our old life, but because we are still in the process of having our mind renewed, and our behavior being transformed as a result of that renewing, we can be sucked into thinking that we are not actually much different.
Living from our new creation's nature does get easier the more we realize the wonder of the work that God has done in us, the more our mind is renewed to think like Jesus, and the more we walk in that new nature.
As new creations we can, of course, still choose to walk in the flesh and obey its dictates and appetites; scripture is clear on that (Rom 8). But just because our flesh has appetites and impulses does not mean that our old man is still alive; it just means we haven't yet learnt to walk by the Spirit in our new nature. Walking by the flesh for the born again, spirit-filled, believer happens because we make a choice to do so, not because it is still our nature to do so, and it's a choice that runs contrary to our new nature.
So why do we feel so guilty when we do something wrong?
There are a couple of things at play that cause that feeling. They are:
1. The Holy Spirit's role, and
2. Our role.
The Holy Spirit is our helper, counselor, teacher and guide. One aspect of His job is to lead us and train us in how to walk in our new creation reality and to bring us into all truth. (John 16:13) As we allow Him to do so we will be children of God who are led by the Spirit. (Rom 8:14)
One mistake we make is in thinking that the feeling of guilt we have is the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin. The Holy Spirit's job is not to convict believers of their sin. Our sins have been judged, forgiven and forgotten in Jesus (2 Cor 5:19, Heb 8:12), so Holy Spirit will not convict us of something that has already been judged and forgiven. But He does lovingly correct us, and correction is different from conviction. So it may be that the feeling we get is from Him correcting us, letting us know that we are not acting in line with our new nature, but His correction is never about condemnation or shaming people (Rom 8:1).
He does, however, still convict the world (unbelievers) of the sin of unbelief in Jesus, (John 16:7-11) and many scholars believe, according to the same verses, that for believers He convicts or persuades us of our righteousness because Jesus has gone to the Father now and Holy Spirit is the one who comforts, teaches us and leads us into all truth.
Our heart or conscience, though, may make us feel guilty or condemn us, even when the Holy Spirit is not. Rom 2:15 says "in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." NASB
1 John 3:19,20 says "...This is how we know we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence; If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything."
Science is catching up with Scripture
Science is catching up with Scripture and has made some astounding discoveries in the last decade or so. One of those is that instead of us having just one brain, we actually have three brains - our 'mind brain', our 'heart brain' and our 'gut brain'. All three are highly sophisticated, with their own neural pathways and memory retention capabilities. In fact all the cells in our body are capable of holding memory at a certain level. All three brains play a part in setting memory in place in our lives, especially our heart and mind. They do so through the neural pathways that are built and the chemicals etc that are released into our bodies when we do things. 1, 2
So how does that relate to our feeling of guilt when we sin? Our heart, gut and brain have been used to us sinning all our life, and have made neural pathways, memories and emotions of what sin feels like. So now, as a Christian, when we sin they remember and automatically pull up the feelings (of guilt or other feelings) associated with our actions. So in reality our heart truly may condemn us – in other words our heart, mind and gut may still be sin-conscious, and not yet used to feeling the righteousness and forgiveness that we actually walk in, and may still make us feel guilty.
Scripture tells us to put on our new man (Eph 4:24) – in other words make conscious choices to act in line with who we now are. Understanding the depth of our forgiveness and experiencing the feeling of our cleanness, righteousness and holiness in Christ is a part of the process of putting on our new nature, and we need to be intentional about doing so. These experiences, along with learning from scripture what God has done and who He has made us, and deliberately choosing to believe and act in line with that, cause our heart and brain to make new neurological pathways and memories that will, in time, become the stronger ones.
In the meantime we are learning to live out of our new nature, and we won't always get it right. But we can know that God has forgiven us and does not condemn us, but instead lovingly corrects us, puts us back on the right track, and gives us strength to have another go at walking in our new nature. So we rely on His grace to help us and to teach us not to sin (Tit 2:11,12) not on our having to be perfect in our own strength.
As our mind is renewed and we realize who we now are, and our lifestyle and choices are transformed because of that, we will find that we do actually sin less and less. And also it will become easier to resist the temptation to sin as we rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, knowing that Christ has a strategy for each situation and a way through the temptation (1 Cor 10:13). As we allow Him to show us that strategy and implement it we will find that we are walking in our new nature in situations that may have tripped us up before. As we rely on Holy Spirit more and more, His voice and encouragement will be the one that is heard far more easily than the fading echoes of our old life.
1 Some information taken from - Deliverance from toxic memories by Ken & Jeanne Harrington and from Dr Caroline Leif's book "Who switched Off My Brain"
2 Some other scriptures relating to the heart thinking and being involved in decision making and memory retention are Prov 23:7; Prov 4:23; Matt 15:18,19; Matt 13:15; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17