“Dying, Yet Being Renewed” (II Corinthians 4:16 sermon)

Writing at age 75, mystery writer Agatha Christie observed: “With every year that passes, something has to be crossed off (my) list of pleasures. Long walks are off, and alas, bathing in the sea; fillet steaks and apples and raw blackberries (teeth difficulties) and reading fine print.
But there is a great deal left. Operas and concerts, and reading, and the enormous pleasure of dropping into bed and going to sleep, and dreams of every variety, and quite often young people coming to see you and being surprisingly nice to you. Almost best of all, sitting in the sun — gently drowsy … And there you are again — remembering. ‘I remember, I remember, the house where I was born …’. (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, p. 530)

Ms. Christie said there were both negative AND positive aspects about growing old for her — there were things she could no longer do; but also some things she really enjoyed more. That is also true for the person who is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are some difficulties we experience with age — and we need to be aware of those, and face up to them — but if we are really walking with the Lord, there are also some great compensations, which are a foretaste of the glory we will experience with God forever. Paul speaks about this whole process in our verse for today:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

I. The Nature of our Humanity

The first thing this verse teaches us is a very fundamental truth about us as human beings, and that is that we have both and “inner” and “outer” aspects of our being. Paul writes here about our “outer man,” and our “inner man.” What he is referring to is that each one of us has a body — which is our “outer man” — but we are not only a body; we also have an “inner man” — a spirit, and a soul. This is fundamental to our understanding of who we are as human beings.

The Greek Bible word for “outer” is exso. There are some creatures, like crabs, lobsters, and crawfish, that have what we call an “exo-skeleton,” which means their skeleton is on the outside. That is the Bible word here, “exo,” it means the “outside”; the “outer/outside” man; our physical body.

The Bible word for “inner” is “eso.” Perhaps you know the English word “eso-teric,” meaning something that only a few, the “inner circle” knows about. So “eso” means “inner.”

So those are the two words here: “exo” and “eso;” “outer” and “inner”. Each of us has both an “outer,” physical body, and an “inner,” mental, spiritual part of our nature as human beings.

I Thessalonians 5:23 is clear on that. It says: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here God talks about our whole being — He talks about sanctifying us “entirely,” that is, every part of us — and then He lists these three different aspects that we each have: spirit, and soul, and body.
— The body of course is our outward, physical body that we can see and feel and touch — what Paul calls here the “outer man.”
— But the spirit and the soul are “who we are on the inside.” Our soul is our mind, and will, and emotions. This is our individual personality. Then we also have a spirit, by which we relate to God. We can’t “see” our spirit and our soul; they are “inside” of us; that is why Paul calls it here our “inner man.”

Now, materialistic humanists believe that there is no such thing as an “inner man;” that there is no “spirit” or “soul.” They believe that all we are, is just a body; that what we think of as our “inner man” — our mind, will, and emotions, and spirit — are just the functions of our brain, which is physical. And when that physical brain dies, everything dies, and there is no more; that we are not “made in the image of God,” and do not have an eternal soul.

Ingrid Newkirk, the co-founder of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote: “There is no rational reason for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” To these materialistic humanists, all there is, is the physical. There IS no “inner man.” This is how they can justify treating animals as well — or better — than they treat people. This is how they justify killing babies the same way they’d kill rats. To them, they are the same. Humans are just “outward” animals, with no eternal soul, made in the image of God.

But the Bible teaches that you do have both an “outer man” and an “inner man;” that you have a physical body, which is an important part of you, but that it is not the most important part of you; you also have a soul, created in the image of God, with a spirit, by which you relate to Him. Each of these parts of us is important; each needs nourished and fed — and each has certain qualities and characteristics, which will affect us, as Paul goes on to share here …

II. Our Outer Man Is Decaying

So what does the scripture say about these different parts of us? First, it says, “our outer man is decaying.” This Bible word means “spoiled, corrupted, being destroyed.”

In Luke 12:33 Jesus speaks of how a “moth corrupts” something — it eats away at a garment until it is corrupted and ruined and destroyed. That is the Bible word here. Paul says our “outer man” — our physical body — is decaying, being slowly destroyed.

Now in context, Paul had been speaking of the persecutions that he and the other Christians had been going through. He said they’ve been “afflicted, persecuted, struck down.” He said “death is working in us.”
Now, most of us are not facing what Paul did, but it is still true that our outer man is decaying. Our physical bodies are gradually being “eaten away at,” and are slowly corrupting and dying.

Most of us who have attained to any number of years — say 40? — don’t need anyone to tell us this; we know this very well. All we have to do is look in the mirror, or try to do something “we used to do.” Our bodies are not what they once were.

Some of you remember when we came back from the Mexico mission trip last March (doesn’t that seem like SUCH a long time ago?! But it has only been 4 months!) But when we came back from the Mexico mission trip, I had two cracked ribs. I will probably never forget how that happened. We were at the Salvation Army home for children there in Mazatlan, and several of the boys wanted to play soccer, so some of us went out to play with them. The kids were pretty good, and it was hard for some of us “grownups” to even get the ball. But at one point I finally DID get the ball, and what happened then is just SO telling: in my mind, I thought: “Ok, I’ve got the ball, now I need to just “swing” upfield and kick the ball ahead of me, and dribble the ball down the field as fast as I can …” and I STARTED to do that — but somehow my body did not put into action exactly what my mind was telling it to do — my head got ahead of my body, and I started stumbling, and I could not stop it, and I started to fall to the ground, and I put my arm out to try to break the fall, and I hit the ground HARD (it was hard-baked, like concrete) and I felt a very sharp pain in my side like I had never experienced before. And when I fell I did NOT just “pop up,” either, like I would when I was younger. I just laid there. (I did roll over on my back, but I just laid there.) Cheryl’s got a picture of this sweet little boy from the home who ran over to check on me; which was very nice. But it was very painful, and when I got back to the States, they x-rayed it and discovered that I had indeed broken two ribs.

But the thing that I will remember more than anything else about that incident, is that MY BODY DID NOT DO WHAT I WAS TELLING IT TO DO like it had done all of my life. I’ve played basketball, run road races, I’d been swimming every day — I was used to my body responding to what I wanted it to do. But it didn’t that day — that is what was more unsettling than anything else about it to me. And of course I’ve had numerous people tell me: “No more soccer for you, Brother Shawn!” But the thing behind it is just what Paul is saying here: my “outer man” is decaying. I am not 20, or 30; I am not even 40 any more. I am 61. My body is not what it used to be, and it never will be again. My “outer man” is decaying.

Now, someone may say (and honestly I’ve even thought this myself), “But you can get in better shape, Bro. Shawn. You can run and practice, and you can be in better shape than you are now.” And I DO need to do that, and I certainly CAN be in better shape than I am now. (This COVID shutdown has kept me from swimming laps in the pool that I’d been so faithful at). But the thing is, even if I DO get in better shape, my body will never again be what it was 20 or 30 years ago. No matter what I do, my “outer man is decaying.”

Now we in America do the best we can to try to reverse that. In our culture, no one wants to get old. So we dye our hair, and have surgeries to try to lift and fix things, and we try to eat right, and exercise, and do everything we can to try to slow down the aging process. And it IS a good thing to try to eat right and exercise; don’t think I am saying that it’s not. BUT THE THING YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND IS: YOU CAN NEVER ULTIMATELY REVERSE THE AGING PROCESS in your body. You cannot. “Our outer man is decaying.” That is a truth from the Word of God that we cannot reverse. Our bodies are decaying as a result of the sin that man brought into the world in the Garden of Eden, and as a result, our bodies wear down, and will eventually die, and there is nothing we can do about it. In fact, some of the procedures we use today to try to “hide” or delay our decay are in a way deceiving, both to ourselves and to others. They may “mask” what is happening to our bodies, to the point that we almost believe that it’s not happening, but the fact is that what is really, inevitably going on with us, is that our bodies are decaying. And we need to realize that, and stop denying it, and come to grips with it. Our bodies will not last forever. Perhaps through science and technology humanity may get to the point one day where we all live to 100 or even 120 — but if we do, it will still only postpone the inevitable. Our bodies WILL NOT last forever. They ARE decaying. We WILL die. We need to face up to it and we need to be ready for it — which is what the Christian faith is all about, and is what we are going to talk about next.

III. Our Inner Man is Being Renewed

I told somebody last week what I was going to be preaching about today, and they said “Is it going to be depressing?” And I laughed. It can be a little bit discouraging, as we see our bodies begin to deteriorate from what they once were — but Paul says here, as God’s servants, we are not discouraged by that. Because there is an even greater truth working in us, and that is that “though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Our body, our “outer man,” is decaying. But Paul says our “inner man,” the INSIDE of us, “is being renewed.”

In Ephesians 3:16 Paul uses this same word when he prays “that (God) would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man …”. That is the same word for “inner man” as here in II Corinthians 4:16. So the Bible tells us there that it is God’s Holy Spirit who is renewing us, and strengthening us, inwardly in our “inner man.”

This is a basic aspect of our salvation. God created us originally with a spirit and soul and body, just like I Thessalonians 5 says. Genesis 1:7 says God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” God gave us a body to live in, and also a spirit and a soul as individual personalities, to relate to Him and to other people with. But it wasn’t long, the Bible says, until man turned his back on God, and disobeyed Him. When that happened, we were corrupted by our sin. Not only did our bodies begin to die, as we saw, but our spirits lost the ability to relate to God. “Our iniquities caused a separation between us and our God.” (Isaiah 59:2) Even our minds, wills, and emotions were damaged by our sin. Ephesians 4:18 says when we became lost, we were “darkened in our understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in us, because of the hardness of our heart.”
So our MIND was affected: we were “ignorant,” “darkened in our understanding.”
Our spirits were cut off from God: “excluded from the life of God.”
Our whole “inner man” was corrupted by our sin.

That is why God sent Jesus: to reverse this in us. Jesus died on the cross, and paid for our sins, and rose from the dead to be the Savior from sin of everyone who would call upon Him. And when we ask God to save us, the Bible says He sends His Holy Spirit into our lives — Ephesians 1:13 says “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit” — and now “the Spirit of Christ dwells in you” as Romans 8 says, and He has “made us alive together with Christ” in our spirits. We are “saved,” we are a “new creature” in Christ as II Corinthians 5:17 says. God’s Holy Spirit is now inside of us, and He is working in our “inner man.”

But that is not the end of it. That is just the beginning. Now our mind, our will, and our emotions all still have to be made new. And that doesn’t happen all at once. It is a PROCESS that takes place as God’s Spirit takes His word and gradually “renews” our mind, will, and emotions. But we have to understand that renewing our mind, will, and emotions is a PROCESS that takes time.

When we lived in North Carolina, we knew a family that adopted a child from another country. The moment they adopted that child, he was immediately a part of their family. He was a citizen of our country, he was a member of a new family, he had a new name, a new everything, right then. BUT that was not “the end of it.” In fact, in a very real sense, it was just the beginning. Because he was from a different country, he had to learn a new language. He had to learn new customs, new habits; he had to learn to relate to his new family. He had to learn and “re-learn” so many things. He was totally, 100% a new member of that family. But also still had a long PROCESS of growing and “re-newing” to do to become the person and family member and citizen of our country that his parents want him to be.

That is very much like the process of renewing our “inner man” as Christians. The moment you give your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior, you are saved, you are “adopted into the family of God” so that now you can call God your Father. You have a new family, the family of God. You have new home, heaven. But just like that newly adopted child, you still have a long way to go. Your mind, will, and emotions all have to be “re-trained” to think differently, choose differently, respond differently, to God and to other people. And just like with that adopted child, it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long, slow process — in fact it takes a lifetime!

That is just what the Bible teaches us here:
— Paul says here our inner man “is being renewed” — that is a participle, which indicates continual action. Our inner man is not “renewed in a moment,” but “is BEING renewed;” it is an ongoing, life-long process.
— that’s the same thing we see in Colossians 3:10, where Paul says your new self (and you DO have a “new self” when you come to be in Christ) but this “new self” “IS BEING RENEWED.” Again, it is a participle; indicating an ongoing process.

So how does this process happen?
— Well, God’s Holy Spirit is in charge of it. The Bible says HE is the One who is “working in our inner man” gradually renewing us.
— He uses the life situations we go through to shape us (“causing all things to work together” to make us like Christ, as Romans 8 says)
— And He uses His word to do that: He takes His word as we read it, and study it, and apply it to the life situations we are going through, and He rebuilds our minds; He redirects our will to do what HE wants us to do, instead of following our own will; He seeks to corral our emotions, to respond to situations the way HE wants us to, with joy, with self-control, and so on. And He gradually draws our spirits closer and closer to God as we learn day by day, week by week, better how to worship Him, so that as Christians we can say with that old song, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” My body may be getting older and older and is decaying, but my walk with GOD is better, and deeper, and sweeter than it ever has been before! “Our outer man is decaying; but our inner man is being renewed”!

But it is important for us to remember that all of this IS a PROCESS. This is why you have so many imperfections yet, even though you are a Christian. Because this is a process. So remember that, and be patient with yourself. SO many people get discouraged, and think, “Well, if I’m a Christian, why do I still … (put whatever you want to in that blank). But we need to remember that even though you are saved, adopted immediately into the family of God the moment you were saved, the “renewing” of your mind and will and emotions is a process that will take the rest of you life. So be PATIENT with yourself. God is working in you every day. AND, by the way, show that same patience to other people, that you want shown to you! God’s Spirit is gradually working in them, too; they’re not where they’re going to be yet either, so be patient with them. Our “inner man is being renewed day by day.”

But it is important for us to be committed to be involved in this process of daily renewal:
— We need to participate in worship services, so we can grow in our worship of God; so His Spirit can speak to our hearts through His word, and show us areas where our “mind, will and emotions” are not what they should be; so His Spirit can take His word, and gradually change us.
— In the same way, we need to be in the word of God every day for ourselves; this is one of the most important means of spiritual renewal: as you get God’s word in life every day, His Spirit will speak to you, and will convict you, and change you, and “re-new” you. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO GIVE HIM THAT TIME EVERY DAY for that to happen.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians do NOT give Him that time: they are NOT faithful in worship and preaching; they do NOT get into God’s word every day — and consequently, although God’s Spirit is in them, they are not much being renewed — so that sometimes it can almost be difficult to tell this person from a person who is lost. They aren’t lost, but they aren’t as different as they should be, either, and they are often more discouraged than they should be as their bodies decay, because they are not drawing closer to God and being renewed in this “day by day” process like they should be.
So be faithful to worship. Even in this COVID-19 time, if you are at home, continue to listen on the “Live Stream.” Continue to catch our “Facebook Live” prayer meetings. Continue in your ZOOM Sunday school class. And especially be committed to walk with God in His word for yourself every day, and let His Spirit “be renewing” you bit by bit, every day.

AS YOU DO THIS, you will rejoice, because you see God working in you. Paul said this is one of the greatest causes for joy in the Christian life. He said “our outer man is decaying,” but “we do not lose heart,” because “our inner man is being renewed day by day.” When we see our inner person being renewed; when we realize how God is working in us, as we learn to get closer to God in worship, it gives us great joy. Yes our bodies are decaying, but we rejoice in God and in what we see Him doing in us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, suffering in a German prison at the end of World War II, wrote that “Pain is a holy angel, who shows treasures to men which must otherwise remain hidden … But … there is an even holier angel than the one of pain, that is the one of joy in God.”

YES our bodies are getting older day by day, and that can kind of weigh us down. But if we are walking with God day by day, we have inner pleasures and joys that only grow deeper as we walk with the Lord, and as our spirits are renewed day by day. Our worship with Him will get even more sweeter and more fervent, and Heaven will become even more real to us, and we’ll long to be with our loved ones there – and most importantly, THE Loved One, the Lord, whom we want to see more than anyone else, and to Whom we have been growing closer in worship, day by day by day.

But remember, that can only be true for you, if you really ARE growing closer to Him, day by day. The truth is, you ARE outwardly dying. You have no choice about that. (someone said the minute you are born, you begin to die. You have no choice about it. It IS happening.) The question is: are you inwardly growing day by day? You DO have a choice about THAT! Make sure that the Spirit of God is in you; make sure that you are saved. And make sure you are working with Him, growing closer to Him, as He “renews your inner man, day by day.”




As you pray about applying today’s message:

— “Day by day” is an important phrase here. ARE you walking with Him “day by day”? What do you need to do, in order to do that better?
— IS He in you through His Holy Spirit? “Examine yourself, test yourself” as II Corinthians 13 goes on to say.  Ask the Lord to forgive you and to save you if you never have, and for His Holy Spirit to come into your life and begin that process of renewing you, today …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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