Fighting The War: Executing The Old Adam

This is Part 3 of the Lent Series titled, 

Text: Colossians 3:1-17

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

I have been told before that the worst kind of alcoholics are those who deny that they have a problem. These are individuals who keep their back bar shelves stocked full of booze and constantly tell their family and themselves that they do not have a difficulty with the bottle. Their talking point is that everything is under control. That is to say; these alcoholics are very difficult because they live under the delusion that they have the ability and willpower to control their alcoholism, but in reality, it is destroying themselves and those around them.

So, they may choose to go several days without a drink, which confirms that they are in control, but when they fall off the wagon, they then rationalize it away and say,

“Oh, it won’t happen again, I am alright. It was just one time. I’ve got this.”

Family members make it worse too when they encourage the alcoholic by giving him encouraging optimistic sayings,

“A couple of drinks are okay.  Everything will be alright. You are fine.” 

And so, the alcoholic will never get the help that he needs, as long as he thinks that he is not an alcoholic and feels that he can make changes on his own. Indeed, as long as he thinks that he is in control and that he can improve his life, he is unfortunately trapped in alcoholism. And being trapped in the addiction, nothing will change for the good, but more often than not, he will destroy himself and others.

But there is another possibility. As soon as the alcoholic bottoms out – reaches the absolute bottom where he can no longer escape his alcoholism – there is hope. Yes, when he realizes that he cannot fix and improve his struggle with the bottle, then he is finally in a place where he can get the help that he needs. At the bottom, the alcoholic will be able to take his eyes off the idea that he can fix himself and then look to help outside himself.  He will be able to look to others to help him with his addiction, which typically results in him dumping the alcohol down the drain and smashing the back bar into a thousand pieces while confessing to those around him, “My name is John, I am an alcoholic.”

Now, why do I share this? I share this because everybody else is no different than an alcoholic, when it comes to the sinful old nature – the old Adam. You see, way too many people are living as if they can improve their sinful old Adam. They have not bottomed out. They think that they are in control and can fix up the old Adam. They live with the delusion that their old Adam can advance and improve.

Consider, for a moment, some of the titles of these popular books,

“Think Confident”

          “Thinking Big”

          “The Power of Your Mind”

“You Can Get Rich”

“I’m OK-You're Ok”

“There is Nothing Wrong With You”

Now, all of these books understand to a certain extent that we humans have a problem, but like the alcoholic, they believe the delusion that we humans can fix our problems. They think that the old Adam can be renewed and converted and improved.

Dear friends, if you try to educate a person, you will get a smarter sinner. If you try to get a person to be confident, you will get a self-assured sinner. If you try to get a person to think big, you will get a big headed sinner. If you try to get a person to tap into power, you will get a power-hungry sinner. If you try to get a person to be rich, you will get a greedy sinner. If you tell someone that they are okay and that there is nothing wrong with them, you will get a satisfied and slothful sinner.[1]

As with the alcoholic, if we ignore the root of the problem, which is that the sinful old Adam cannot improve or be fixed, then meager advice and optimistic encouragements do nothing. Advice only gives the impression that we can fix our old Adam.  

Dear friends, whatever we do, we cannot change our sinful old Adam. The sinful nature is too addicted to sin. The sinful nature is too twisted, too dark, and too perverse. Therefore, "the old man is not converted, he cannot be; he is not renewed, he cannot be. . . . [But rather,] our whole old nature must be removed,”[2] it must be put to death. We must bottom out and realize that improvement of the old Adam is not only a delusion but an impossibility. Indeed, the sinful old Adam is not just a “mere figment of imagination which can be adjusted by thinking differently”[3] or more positively. But rather, the sinful old Adam must be put to death – it must be smashed into a thousand pieces. It must be poured down the drain. It must be dragged out and confessed before the throne of grace. It must be slain. And until this happens, nothing will change for the good, but more often than not, things will only get worse. 

This is exactly what we hear in our Epistle Reading from Colossians. We read that this old Adam, along with its fruit, must be ‘put to death.’ Yes, Paul says that the old Adam and its fruit must not be reformed or converted or improved, but put to death, put away, and stripped off! The sinful old Adam mustn’t pass Go and does not collect $200.

I think we are getting a clear picture right about now that there is no hope for this old Adam. In fact, this old Adam is not to be treated with kid gloves, but rather, this old Adam is to be treated as an enemy combative.  This old Adam needs to be kicked around – admonished, forced, threatened, punished, and ultimately executed.[4]

Too often though, we Christians give this old Adam a hall pass. That is to say; we are way too easy on our old Adam. Case and point – think of Sunday mornings. The alarm goes off. The old Adam says,

“Hit the snooze button you’ve had a long week.”

So the snooze button is hit. The alarm goes off again, but this time you are awake. So, you get up, and you’re your feet to the kitchen to make coffee. You then realize that it is Sunday and that church is in an hour, to which your old Adam says,

“It has been a tough week. You should just stay home. Besides pastor won’t care, he is a pretty nice guy.”

And so, you make the decision not to go to church, but then you find yourself conflicted. Maybe you should go, for church is a good thing. But then your old Adam speaks up again,

“You don’t need to go; you’ve been fairly consistent lately. Missing today won’t impact your spirituality, for you’ve got your faith under control. Besides if you go, your morning will be eaten up and you won’t have time to get to your weekend project done.”

And so, the old Adam wins out. Church is skipped, the Word and Sacrament are not received, and the Third Commandment is broken.  

Dear friends, I know this is a struggle for many of you on Sunday mornings because it is a struggle for me as well – and I am the pastor. You see, our sinful nature despises church because the last thing it wants, is to be confronted by the Lord. And unlike many churches in America, Zion Lutheran is not going to bait your sinful nature into the pew by promising you entertainment in the worship services.

So what does this mean?

Dear friends, first, we need to understand that not wanting to go to church is breaking the Third Commandment, which is not good, but bad.

Secondly, we have to acknowledge that this sinful old Adam within us is like a stubborn donkey and hates church. The old Adam will never change and like church, no matter what we do at the church services.  Even if we gave away free door prizes at church, the old Adam still would despise coming, because the old Adam despises the preaching of God’s Word.   

Thirdly, we need to realize that the very fact that our old Adam does not want to go to church is the very reason why we need to go to church. So, instead of letting the old Adam have his way, we instead confront the sinful nature. Remember you are a Christian, the sinful old Adam can never be given asylum with a Christian. The sinful nature is never to be granted a voice or a safe haven with the Christian, for it is our enemy. And so, when the stubborn sinful nature grumbles, you kick the old Adam and drag this sinful nature to church, where you stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone else and confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You O God all my sins…” And then the pastor hearing the confession, makes the sign of the cross reminding you of your baptisms while saying, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all of your sins.”

And at that moment the old Adam is executed – the old Adam is plunged into your baptisms where it drowns and dies.[5] Indeed, at that moment your faith is strengthened – faith that kills the old Adam and makes you altogether a different person.[6]

And here is the catch, dear Baptized Saints, this is the life of the Christian.  The daily Christian life is nothing other than a daily baptism. Because you belong to Jesus and because you have been put at war against your old Adam, you are to daily plunge into your baptisms by confession. Yes, when you confess your sins and confess the old Adam within you, the Lord declares to you that you are baptized - forgiven! Your baptism is not just a past event but a present reality. You received forgiveness of sins in baptism, and that forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old creature around our necks.”[7]   

So, we fight against the old Adam, not by reforming the sinful nature or trying to make it better, but by putting it off – putting it to death. And when we attack the old Adam by confessing, which is repentance, we are also walking in our baptism where we are given the grace, Spirit, and strength to fight the good fight and finish the course.[8]

Strip off the old Adam, put him to death, dear Baptized Saints, for you have died in Christ and are raised anew by faith in Him – clothed in the radiance of your baptisms.

The old Adam cannot be carried forward because Christ is your life. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Don Matzat, Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends (Harvest House Publishing, 1990), 32.
[2] R.C.H. Lenski quoted on Buls Notes on the New Testament, “Colossians 3:1-11,” Pericope Dot Com, (accessed March 6, 2018).
[3] Don Matzat, Christ Esteem, 32.
[4] See the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VI:24.
[5] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: Baptism.
[6] Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, IV:10.
[7] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: Baptism.
[8] Paraphrase of 1 Timothy 4:10.

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