In Christ, With Christ: The Old Man & the New Man

Excerpts from Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Chapter 2

The Apostle Paul

 

Herman Ridderbos who taught New Testament at the Theological School of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in Kampen.




An important implication of what has been dealt with in the previous section should be pointed out separately. It relates to the highly important question of how that which once took place in Christ also concerns others (his own, the church, etc.) and by virtue of which principle what took place in him and was accomplished by him is applicable to them and benefits them. Here is one of the most typical motifs of Paul's preaching, which has come to be seen as most closely connect with the significance he ascribes to Christ as the last Adam and Inaugurator of the new humanity.

Undoubtedly one cannot say that Paul derives the redemptive significance of Christ for his own exclusively from his position as the last Adam and gives expression to it only in these "Adam-categories", the apostle not infrequently speaks of this in a less pregnant fashion and adopts the usage frequently followed elsewhere in the New Testament that Christ has executed his redemptive work "for us," i.e., in our behalf. 

This is so particularly when his suffering, death, and resurrection are spoken of.  It is not Paul but Christ who has been crucified for his people (I Cor. 1:13). God made Christ to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).  He has become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). He gave himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4; cf. I Tim. 2:6; Phil. 2:14); in due season died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6); died for us when we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8); died for our sins according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:3).  In these and other pronouncements Paul gives expression to the redemptive significance of Christ's death.

It is typical of Paul's preaching, however, that he joins this general formula "for us" (in the sense of "in our behalf") with another, the purport of which is that Christ forms such a unity with those for whom he appears that it can be said that they are "in him" (2 Cor. 5:17), and that on this account what once took place "in Christ" is applicable to them. While the formula "in Christ," "in him," etc., appears in various connections and even exhibits something of the character of a stereotype, the application to his own of what once took place and is yet to take place with Christ often occurs with the words "with Christ," "with him," etc. 

In connection with the latter one is to think particularly of those pronouncements so typical of Paul's preaching which speak of being crucified, dead, buried, and raised with Christ (Rom 6:3 ff.; Gal. 2:19; Col. 2:12, 13, 20; 3:1, 3), of having been made to sit with him in heaven (Eph. 2:6), and of appearing with him in glory (Col. 3:4).

In the course of the later investigation all kinds of explanations have been given as to the nature of this connection between Christ and his people which is denoted by the formulae "in Christ" and "with Christ."  For a long time scholars have proceeded from the idea that "being in Christ" denotes communion with the pneumatic Christ, out of which then the speaking of dying, rising, etc., "with Christ" is said to have developed as a description of the closest personal experiences. 

Some choose to think here only in a general sense of influences of Hellenistic mystical thought.  Others have gone much further. At the root of "being in Christ," "dying, rising with him," is supposed to be the idea of an absorption with the deity, indeed of a physical unification with the divine being. Over against the religious-ethical interpretation of oneness with Christ all the emphasis was placed on the naturhaft character of this mysticism, which one must take, not in an ethical or symbolical, but in a proper and real sense as union with the deity and which is effected in particular through baptism and the Lord's Supper in a magical way as in the rites of the mystery religions.

It has come to be understood increasingly, however, that with this "mystical" explanation of "in Christ" and "with Christ" one is on the wrong track. This is evident even from the fact that "being in Christ," "crucified, dead, raised, seated in heaven with him," obviously does not have the sense of a communion that becomes reality only in certain sublime moments, but rather of an abiding reality determinative for the whole of the Christian life, to which appeal can be made at al times, in all sorts of connections, and with respect to the whole church without distinction (cf., for example, Col. 2:20 ff.; 3:1 ff.). 

Rather than with certain experiences, we have to do here with the church's "objective" state of salvation, for which reason an appeal is repeatedly made to baptism (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).  It is precisely this which has been seized upon in order to interpret the co-dying and rising of believers with Christ by analogy with the initiatory rites in the mystery religions. 

But in addition to what may be urged against this interpretation even from a purely historical-phenomenological point of view, the unmistakable fact is passed over that in Paul dying, being buried, etc. with Christ does not have its ultimate ground in the ceremony of incorporation into the Christian church, but rather in already having been included in the historical death and resurrection of Christ himself.  Of particular significance is the pronouncement of 2 Corinthians 5:14 ff., where a clear transition becomes perceptible from the "Christ for us" to the "we with [or in] Christ":

...we have come to the insight that one died for all.  Therefore they all have died.  And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.  Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh... Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is new creation...

From this it is to be concluded that "having died," "being in Christ," "being new creation," the fact that his own are no longer judged and "known according to the flesh" (namely, according to the worldly mode of existence), has been given and effected with the death of Christ himself. Of this determination by and involvement of his own in that which once took place with Christ the formula "in Christ" now gives the expression so typical of Paul's preaching.

Accordingly, it becomes increasingly apparent that the expression "dying and rising with Christ" does not have its origin in the sphere of the individual mysticism of experience, nor in the automatism of the initiatory rites of the Hellenistic mysteries, but is of an entirely different nature. The attempt has been made to give expression to this "objectivity" of being in Christ and with Christ in all sorts of ways. 

It has become more and more apparent, however, that the Adam-Christ parallel not only casts a clear light on the significance that Paul ascribes to Christ himself, but also on the way in which he sees his own as involved in him and with him in his redemptive work. This is very clear, for example, from the words of I Corinthians 15:22: "...for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

The concern here (as distinguished from what is intended in 2 Cor. 5) is with the resurrection of the dead at the parousia. What really matters, however, is that here "in Christ" is paralleled with "in Adam." Herewith the character of this "in" becomes plain. As the decision has fallen in Adam with respect to the "all" who pertain to him, that they should die, so in Christ that they shall live. 

Adam and Christ here stand over against each other as the two great figures at the entrance of two worlds, two aeons, two "creations," the old and the new; and in their actions and fate lies the decision for all who belong to them, because these are comprehended in them and thus are reckoned either to death or to life. This is now expressed by "in Adam" and "in Christ."  And it is therefore in this sense that Adam can be called the type of him who was to come.

In Romans 5:12 ff. this is explicated still further. There Paul elucidates what he has posited in verses 1-11 as the certainty of salvation for believers, that those who have already been reconciled to God by the death of Christ shall live by him in the future. For that purpose he points to the bond that joins all the descendents of Adam with their progenitor, as the pattern and type of the communion between Christ and his own. Here there is no mention of "in Adam," but (still more "realistically"!) the transgression of Adam is called the sin of all: "...as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for the reason that all sinned..." (Rom. 5:12).

On what this unity rests, whether it must be viewed, for example, as "realistic" or as "federal," is not further elucidated. Adam and Christ are spoken of here as "universal personalities ... construed cosmically and eschatologically," who comprehend within themselves all the members of the generations of men pertaining to them, or, with a term that has found still more acceptance, as a "corporate personality," which points to the figure (which also appears in the Old Testament) of the progenitor or leader or king or spokesman who represents a whole people or societal relationship and with whom the members of this nation, etc., in virtue of the relationship in which they stand to him, can be identified. 

It is this corporate connection of the all-in-One that Paul applies to Christ and his people, and from which the pronouncements concerning (dying, etc.) "with Christ" must be interpreted, at least as to their origin, as is plainly evident as well from the close connection between Romans 5:12-21 (Adam and Christ) and Romans 6:1 ff. (being buried with Christ, etc.). We have to do here with one of the fundamental motifs of Paul's preaching of redemption, which occurs again particularly in his conception of the church. In that sense Christ and believers can be spoken of as the one seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), and it can be said of them that they, although many, are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:5), indeed that they are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

In close connection with the above there is another point still to be indicated in which in an oblique fashion the Adam-Christ parallel comes to still further elaboration. It is the manner in which not only Christ as the second man, but also in a more general sense the old and the new man are spoken of. The following pronouncements aer of particular importance here:

...knowing this, that our old man was also crucified, that the body of sin might be rendered powerless (Rom. 6:6).

But they who are of Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts (Gal. 5:24; cf. Col. 2:11).

...that you put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man...and put on the new man, that has been created in accordance with God (Eph. 4:22 ff).

...seeing that you have put off the old man with his desires, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed...in accordance with the image of his Creator (Col. 3:9 ff.).

Frequently the old man is taken in an individual sense and the crucifying and putting off of the old man as the personal breaking with and fighting against the power of sin. "Old" and "new" then designate the time before and after conversion or personal regeneration, and the corresponding manner of life. 

But we shall have to understand "old" and "new man," not in the first place in the sense of the ordo salutis [order of salvation], but in that of the history of redemption; that is to say, it is a matter here not of a change that comes about in the way of faith and conversion in the life of the individual Christian, but of that which once took place in Christ and in which his people had part in him in the corporate sense described above. 

This is at least the obvious meaning of Romans 6:6 our old man was crucified (namely, with Christ), that is, on Golgotha. Christ's death on the cross was their own (cf. Rom. 6:2; Col. 3:3) and affected them in their existence.  The old man, the old mode of existence of sin, was then judged and cursed.  For although Christ himself was free of sin, he was nevertheless "in the likeness of sinful flesh" and united himself with them in their existence; and their sin, their old man, was condemned in his flesh (Rom. 8:3; cf. 7:4). 

Here again, therefore, "the old" stands over against "the new"; not first of all in a personal and ethical sense, but in a redemptive-historical, eschatological sense. It is not as yet a matter here, therefore, of that which must come about and be changed in the believer, but of that which was done "objectively" to the old man in Christ, of the einmalig crucifixion of the old man on Golgotha with Christ. Hence, the words can follow in Romans 6:6; "that the body of sin might be rendered powerless." 

Because the old man was condemned and put to death in Christ's death on the cross, the body of sin, the flesh, the old mode of existence of sin, has lost its dominion and control over those who are in him. In Christ's death and resurrection they have been transferred to the new order of life -- the life order of the new creation, the new man.

Undoubtedly there is also mention by believers themselves (Eph. 4:22 ff.; Col. 3:9 ff.), just as it is said that they have crucified the flesh (Gal. 5:24), and that they have put off the body of sin. This refers, as will be demonstrated still further, to the transition that has come about in their life by baptism. 

Yet even understood in this way the expression old and new man retains a supra-individual significance; this transition has been effected in their life because they have been incorporated into the body of Christ by baptism, and they may thus apply to themselves in faith that which has taken place in Christ (Col. 2:11), and have put on the new man, the new creation of God that has come to light in Christ's resurrection. This renewal is a continuing process (Col. 3:9), just as the mortification of the old man is a continuing process (Eph. 4:22). 

But it is the redemptive-historical transition, effected in Christ's death and resurrection, that is working itself out in this process.  And it all rests on their being-in-him, as the second Adam.  For this reason the new man can be spoken of as being created in accordance with God (Eph. 4:24), or being renewed in accordance with the image of his Creator (Col. 3:9 ff.). These are all Adam-categories, for they have been (re-)created in him (Christ) as in the new Adam (Eph. 2:10), and as they have borne the image of the first (earthly) Adam, so, by virtue of this same corporate relationship, they will bear the image of the last (heavenly) Adam (I Cor. 15). 

Indeed, this corporate unity with Christ dominates the idea of the new man so strongly that believers, as the body of Christ, even in their totality can be called "the one new man" (Eph. 2:15; cf. Gal. 3:28), and that it can be said of them that they together, in the building up of the body of Christ, will be permitted to attain to "the perfect man," the mature man in Christ (Eph. 4:13).

The corporate idea of the all-in-One derived from the significance of Adam -- thus we may conclude -- works itself out in all sorts of ways in the Pauline explication of the redemptive event that made its appearance in Christ. It teaches us to understand the redemptive-historical character not only of that which has once occurred in Christ, but also of the way in which those who belong to Christ participate once and continuously in the salvation wrought in Christ.



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