by Rev. William M. Cwirla
Have you ever tried running new software on an old computer? I have. I have a seven year-old laptop—my trusty old road warrior. I’ve replaced the keyboard, the hard disk, and the logic board, three batteries and a few other spare parts from E-Bay. It’s not my primary computer, which is a desktop, but I try to make the old laptop as compatible as possible. However, I find that the new versions of software just don’t run well on old hardware. That’s a picture of the Christian life. Luther called it being “simul iustus et peccator,” which is Latin for “simultaneously a righteous saint and a damned sinner.” We sometimes speak of our “old Adam” or “sinful nature” and our “new man” in Christ. Old You and New You. Old You is the sinner born of Adam, hopelessly infected with the virus called Sin. New You is the saint born of God, pure and holy. The Scriptures call Old You the “outer man” or the “flesh” and New You the “inner man” or the “spirit.”
The key to understanding the Christian life as it is lived by faith is that New You is hidden “in, with and under” Old You—a Christ-mind operating an Adam-body.
In Baptism, the Spirit has given you a new operating system, new software, New You. You have the mind and the will of Christ. You delight in the Law of God and you desire to do what is pleasing to God. The trouble is that New You is running on Old You’s hardware. As a result, there are the inevitable crashes and glitches.
This is how the apostle Paul describes it: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Romans 7:21-23). In other words, New Paul, his “inmost self,” really wants to do God’s will and delights in God’s law. But the hardware for Old Paul, his “members,” refuses to cooperate.
Old Paul has a terrible virus called Sin that causes him to crash every time he tries to do the will of God. Whenever he wants to do good, evil always lies close at hand. He can’t seem to get anything right. Everything he does is infected with sin, even his good works. And what is Paul’s analysis of the situation? “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
Martin Luther communicated an amazingly profound insight in a series of statements he drafted for a debate at Heidelberg, Germany in 1518. This was very early in the Reformation—only a year after Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. In his Heidelberg Theses, Luther said that everything man does, even when God is working through man, is sin. That’s because the inner man, the new person in Christ, must always work through the outer man, the old person in Adam. In other words, New You must always use Old You’s hardware.
That explains a lot of things. It explains why our works can’t save us. They are always sinful, even when they are good! It explains why faith alone justifies us before God. Only Christ’s works are without sin. It explains why we always seem to mess up, especially in spiritual things, why we can’t seem to stick with prayer or God’s Word, why we’re not glad when they say, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord.” It’s because New You always has to work through Old You. The righteous saint must always work through the sinner. No wonder the apostle Paul cries out, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
It also explains why we can’t seem to fix ourselves. The Christian life is not about retraining old hardware to run new software. Old You is not fixable; it’s destined to die. Instead, Old You must be forced to go along with the program, at least for the moment. That’s where the Law comes in. The Law curbs, mirrors and instructs Old You to death. It curbs Old You’s behaviors, mirrors sin, and instructs with punishments and rewards, much the way you train an old dog new tricks. And you know how well that works.
Old You’s hardware is simply not suited for holiness. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Until you come into new hardware in the resurrection, New You’s software is going to have to make the best of trying to control Old You’s hardware.
Does that mean we simply sin to our heart’s content and ask for forgiveness? No! It means that we say “no” to Old Adam, and we bring him under discipline. Even though our new man in Christ needs no Law, our New You uses the Law to threaten, bribe, coerce our old hardware to get with the holiness program. That’s why we set alarms on Sunday for church. The New Adam is glad when they say, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord,” but the Old Adam says, “I’d rather roll over and go to sleep.”
For now you live “simul” by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake as a New You in Christ stuck in an Adam’s Old You hardware. That may not be a pretty sight to those keeping score, but in Christ you are already justified, sanctified, and glorified (1 Corinthians 6:11). You’re just waiting to be rescued from this “body of death” to rise with new hardware to run that Christ-like software.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and the President of Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.