“…the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).
After the sin of Adam and Eve, God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
However, the Lord also shows that man is more than just his temporary “tabernacle” of flesh that returns to the dust. For man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26,27), and that does not pertain to the fleshly part of man — for God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24). So it is the spirit or soul in man, that entity that never ceases to exist, that was made in God’s image. Therefore, when death comes, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7).
Paul also shows this twofold composition of man in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
A picture I used to illustrate this passage on facebook is of a small, dilapidated boat, buried about a foot in the sand by the sea. As we grow older, we might imagine ourselves, at times, as being somewhat like that broken-down boat if we would ever become hindered from being able to do all the things we once did. But in this picture is also a beautiful sunset warmly filling the sky and evoking the thought that, despite our physical limitations, we can often still have an inner peace, a joy, and a delight in the beautiful things of God and in His word with which we as Christians have been growing and maturing, over the years, in our inner man — and have, thus, been making our souls joyfully ready to meet our Maker.
Yes, there can be beauty and benefit in even some forms of brokenness. The psalmist, for instance, could view even affliction in a positive light because it helped bring him into a right relationship with God. As the psalmist says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Thy word” (Psa. 119:67). “It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Thy statutes” (v. 71). “I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness Thou has afflicted me” (v. 75).
Paul certainly learned that lesson, too: As he declares, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me — to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Though much speculation has been made over what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” actually was, yet regardless, it was something annoying and which he initially desired and fervently prayed to have removed, prior to his learning from the Lord of the benefit in its remaining.
Had it not been for his faith in God and commitment to Him, which characterized Job’s inner man, would he have become that great example for the world when it comes to patiently enduring adversity and great suffering? Despite all he went through, Job kept his trust in the Lord and declared, “And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes shall see and not another…” (Job 19:25-27).
As we also head toward that destination to see God, the outer man can sometimes make that journey difficult; but, at the same time, also give more incentive toward that goal. For Paul goes on to say that “…momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:17-6:4).
Though our outer man perishes, that is all right. For our physical body is not the body that would be able to eternally dwell in heaven anyway. There must, therefore, be that great change first, which Paul writes of to Christians in 1 Corinthians 15: “And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 49-57).
Though Paul’s outer man experienced much sufferings in this earth-life — whether in the many imprisonments, “beaten times without number…,” in receiving 195 lashes from the Jews, in being beaten 3 times with rods, and even stoned once (2 Cor. 11:23-25) — yet, in his inner man, he could draw strength from the Lord. Paul writes: “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). It was soon after being struck many times with rods and cast into the inner prison, where their feet were fastened in stocks, that Paul and Silas spent the late night “praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:22-25). What a contrast between the two states of the outer and inner man!
We need to also put our focus on spiritual things, to keep God first in our lives, to faithfully strive to carry out His will for us; and, as we do so, we will then be building up our inner man and continuing to develop even more into the likeness of Christ.
In speaking of his labor among the Galatians, Paul saw a need for it “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Paul, therefore, not only taught others to help bring about that goal, but he also prayed toward that as well. As he mentions to the Ephesians: “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).
It is God’s desire that His people “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). To strive to attain to that, this chapter also emphasizes the need for the mind to be set on things of the Spirit, rather than merely things of the flesh. For it is those things of the Spirit by which our inner man can mature in godliness.
To help us realize the value of the inner man, Jesus put it this way in Mark 8:36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Even if you could gain it all, would it be worth losing your soul over?
The rich, productive farmer who had such a good harvest that he needed to tear down his barns in order to build larger ones for storage, certainly had plenty for the outer man to live on for many years. So he now thought he could just take his ease — “eat, drink, and be merry” — but he did not know that that night was to be his very last! And what had he done for the inner man to be ready to meet the Lord? Apparently, nothing. God, therefore, called that man a “fool” for being unprepared (Luke 12:16-21). His focus appears to have only been out of a concern for his outer man rather than his inner man. But the Lord goes on to show that even the necessities of life should not be our top priority! Rather, our chief concern should always be to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). For striving to put God’s word first in our lives, and living according to it, is also the way of renewal for our inner man and how we maintain our relationship with God (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Pet. 2:2; Acts 20:32). May we, therefore, never neglect that — but always continue on that path to eternal glory!