A few years ago, my parents bought an old farmstead. They bought it primarily because of its location. It’s on a lake, and it’s right next door to where Dad grew up and Granny still lives.
The house on this farmstead boasted a “newly” remodeled kitchen and bathroom of avocado green, yellow, and rust-red sinks. Its picture windows overlooked views of old growth trees, a stately white barn (in far better condition than the house), and a lily pad-covered bay teeming with silver dollar-sized sunfish. Worn hardwood and wilting wallpaper bedecked the halls and rooms upstairs. Charm shone through the filth and ruin, yearning for redemption.
But before all the possibilities were fully considered, a more critical look at the structure itself was in order. The previous owner was an elderly widow, something of a hoarder, and maintenance and upkeep had clearly been lacking. The more my parents considered what it would take to remodel this house, the clearer it became that renovating wasn’t a viable option. The biggest problem was that the roof had been leaking, allowing mold to flourish throughout. Inspections of the walls also revealed dry rot and evidence that mice had made a home there. Even if, on the outside, it appeared redeemable, a closer inspection of the house’s critical inner structure revealed the truth: this house had to be condemned. It was simply too far gone to be suitable for future use.
When the Bible describes our spiritual condition—the condition of our “critical inner structure,” so to speak—it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of our condition either. When we look on people from the outside, it might seem that there are in fact some good people in the world, people worthy of renovation, and—with a little dressing up—perhaps even worthy of salvation. But God doesn’t judge our condition simply on the outward appearance; instead God looks at the heart.
Having inspected our heart condition, Jesus gave this analysis: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20a). So the verdict is in; we are defiled! And not just by our actions, but by our thoughts and ways. The condition of our hearts dictates that we are worthy only of condemnation. Like that old house, we cannot be renovated. We’re beyond repair. No amount of refurbishing our thoughts and ways could ever bring the old self into compliance with God’s righteous code.
Returning to my parents’ story for a moment, it was decided that a new house would have to be built. But before the foundation work for the new house could even begin, the old house had to be destroyed completely. That’s because the state of Minnesota is extremely picky about lake property; only one residence can exist on each lake lot. Before the new building could go up, the old one had to come down. So they brought in equipment, knocked down the old house, trucked its remains out into the field, and buried it in a hole in the ground. Then, and only then, could the new house begin to take shape.
Again, this story bears striking similarities to our spiritual condition. We can’t simply alter our old ways or renovate them, they must be totally forsaken. As Job 14:4 (RSV) puts it, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” Just like that old house, our old self must be utterly done away with, forsaken, in order that the new self might be built in its place.
This isn’t a project that we are capable of undertaking ourselves. It has nothing to do with our own commitment or effort. Instead it’s God who rids us of the old self and creates the new one, and he does it by uniting us with Jesus Christ.
Paul describes the process of our being created anew in Romans chapter 6. In verses 3-4, he writes: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Then Paul writes in verse 6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” In Christ, God performs all the necessary work of destroying the old self and replacing it with the new. On the cross, that sinful old self that was so utterly beyond saving has been completely done away with; the old self is buried so that a new creation might begin in us.
The Christian life is so much more than a renovation. We could never bring ourselves into compliance with God’s perfect code, but in Christ we are a totally new creation. The old is gone, the new has come. Through Christ’s resurrection we have received the promise of life everlasting.
In light of God’s law, we know that we can’t trust in ourselves or our own work, instead our faith rests entirely in Jesus Christ, and through his finished work we find assurance of salvation. Galatians 2:20 says it well: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Rev. Adam Krog is pastor at Elim Lutheran Brethren Church in Clearbrook, MN.