When I was younger, I thought God was supposed to make me into a “new man,” or that He had created a new, distinct part of me that was now the good part of me – the “new man,” which would battle against the “old man.” Later, I understood that the “old man” in me had been crucified, but I grossly misunderstood what the “new man” and “old man” was.
The New Man – ultimately – is Jesus.
To clarify, the New Man is a broad way of speaking about the new way of being human, characterized by being spiritually united with Jesus by continuously depending on Him. Just like the grafted scions pictured above (the twigs surgically inserted into the branch), there isn’t something different about us per se – the difference is that we are in Christ, and He is in us.
In the second half of this article, we’ll look at the Greek terms used in the four occurrences of “the New Man” phraseology in Scripture, but for now keep in mind that it has everything to do with you being intentionally in Jesus, in the community of His new people group, and yielding to Jesus’ presence in you – it isn’t about God changing you per se, but of dwelling in you and changing you by His continued presence.
Jesus is the New Man, the New Adam, the GodMan who has shown us the new way to be human, and the Way is Himself: “I am the Way” (John 14:6).
He is the Vine supplying the sap of the Holy Spirit to our branch souls, if we will open to Him (John 15).
He is Electricity to our lightbulb hearts, if we will yield to His foreconditional love (Phil. 2:13).
He is the Leader in a dance, connecting with us – the follower – in a dance of love, if we will let Him lead us .
He is the Music that resonates through our souls, if we will not suppress His reverberations in us.
When they disobeyed, Adam and Eve manifested a pattern of human life that is based on trying to be like God while apart from God – as if the branches could live apart from the Vine! This way of life is “the old man.”
But being fully human is not the distorted independence from God that Adam and Eve introduced. Instead, it is the intimate dependence on God that Jesus showed us as man. While fully God, Jesus as man modeled this dependence upon God. Jesus’ example and especially His presence in us now is what can transform us and give us this new experience of what it means to be human. This is the way we were created to live. In short, Adam was the first man, who distorted ‘humanness’ for all of us – but Jesus is “the Second Adam,” who restores it. Jesus’ very personhood extends out to effect all creation and redeems the world more extensively, and deeper, than Adam’s fall ever damaged it (Romans 5).
THE BIBLICAL TRANSLATION OF “ANTHROPON”
The translation of “new man” (or worse, “new self”) that we find in our Bibles is somewhat misleading. The Biblical Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest wrote,
“There are two words in Greek which mean ‘man,’  anēr, which refers to a male individual of the human race, and  anthrōpos, which is the racial, generic term, and which has the general idea of ‘mankind’. “
In every occasion of the New Testament referring to a “new man” or “old man” the Greek word is “anthropon.” As Wuest wrote above, it’s best understood as “mankind,” “race,” “humanity,” or “way of being human.” In the New Testament era, a “race” was not about a certain skin color, but about the religious and cultural practices embodied by a people group (see “the Apology of Aristides“, a 2nd century Christian document, in which Christians are considered a new race within the human race).
The New Anthropon or Old Anthropon is only referred to in four passages in the Bible. Keep the better translation in mind, and read them:
Romans 6:6 We know that our old anthropon was crucified with Him [Jesus], that… now we might no longer be slaves to sin.
Ephesians 2:11-15 “you Gentiles used to be alienated… But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you all have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. [Jesus] Himself is our peace, who made Jews and Gentiles into one, when, in his own body, he broke down the wall of hostility [between Jews and Gentiles]… so that in Himself He might make the two into one new anthropon, thus making peace.”
Colossians 3: 9-11 “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old anthropon with his deeds; And have put on the new, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”
Ephesians 4:21-24 “If… ye have heard [Christ], and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That concerning the former way of life, ye have put off the old anthropon, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that you all put on the new anthropon, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Each time is clearly an emphasis on a collective anthropon; a plurality of people; a way of being human. It cannot be read in a individualist way: This way of being human is always intimately tied into real, participatory fellowship with the living person of Jesus Christ.
There is no possible way to read these verses as meaning that some old part of us is dead and God has given us a new part that is holy on its own. No, instead, we see that our old godless way of doing life is to be put to death (a poignant metaphor), and our new life is to be characterized by an intimate union with Jesus who enlivens and electrifies our souls.
It’s especially clear from Ephesians 2:15 that the “new anthropon” is a community of Jews and Gentiles, who have been collectively made into a new kind of being human – a kind of humanity centered on being filled with Jesus Himself, not on their ethnic or religious particulars. This “New Man” is synonymous with the “Body of Christ,” another potent metaphor which captures the truth that we are to all be filled with the Spirit of Jesus, to collectively be “a temple of the Holy Spirit”…. People skip over these clear truths and read these verses as something that is true of people in an individualistic kind of way, rather than a communal kind of way, because we are used to thinking of ourselves and not about 1st Century issues facing the church at that time. But it’s undeniable that this verse is teaching that the “new anthropon” is a plural community, a “new humanity”, which is characterized by depending on Jesus for our identity, headship, and spiritual life.
I encourage you to look through Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians. Underline every occurrence of “in Christ” and “in Him”, “with Him” “with Christ”, etc, that you can find (perhaps print out a copy). There are dozens of these phrases! The theme of these books is not changed behavior or focusing on truth, but on a mystical, living, personal connection with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
WRONG WAYS TO TRY TO PUT ON THE NEW MAN
Yielding to His presence in our souls is the way our minds are renewed. Yet some people will teach that the way we are renewed in the spirit of our minds is by thinking about spiritual truth. Two popular teachers – the veritable popes of one brand of popular Protestantism – stand out in my mind from my young adult years. They both present a wrong view of how to put on the new man.
One of these popular teachers put it this way: “Paul was renewed in the spirit of his mind by [the means of] filling his mind with the unseen truths of eternity, so that the loud, garish deceitfulness of this world was pushed out.” That may be an ear-tickling sentiment for many sincere Christians who love to think a lot (and there’s nothing wrong with thinking), but this advice to fill out mind with particular ideas can still be carried out in godless self-effort – it is not the path to true spiritual renewal.
The other popular teacher preached an entire sermon on “Putting on the New Man” and unbelievably only mentioned the Holy Spirit twice – once offhandedly, and the other time saying, “What the Holy Spirit is doing in your life, whether you like it or not, He is conforming you to Christ.” This leaves the listener wrongly thinking that putting on the new man was about trying hard to obey God, and assuming the Spirit would be doing His part regardless of whether we opened or closed ourselves to Him. The final part of his closing prayer was directed to the audience: “Put on the things that God wants on you. Righteousness and holiness. Take the truths you know and devour them, turn them into energy to build yourself, and grow to the full knowledge that makes for Christ’s likeness. Amen.”
God help us all! You are not transformed by trying hard to think about spiritual things (did not the Pharisees think about spiritual things? Did not I try to fill my mind with spiritual things?), nor are you transformed automatically, (“whether we like it or not”), and you are certainly not to take “truths” and “turn them into the energy to build yourself”! Rather, the Bible clearly tells us we are transformed by Jesus Christ Himself, shining the light of His countenance into our hearts through the mysteriously personal work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18, 4:6), as we intentionally yield to Him. It is only if we open our hearts to this work of Christ Himself shining into our heart (not merely truths about Him), that we are, “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord…transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18). This energy comes not from thinking about “truth”, but from God Himself (Phillipians 2:13, “It is God who energizes you…“).
THE DANGER FOR CHRISTIANS OF WALKING IN THE OLD ANTHROPON’S WAYS
You might be tempted to slip back into the old way of thinking, and say, “Well, I already have Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, right? I have been saved, so Jesus is in me already. Now, having been saved by grace, I am to try – by God’s help of course – to live a holy life.”
It is true that every person who has trusted in Jesus for salvation has had a life-changing experience with each person of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – whether the believer is fully conscious of it or not, and every Christian does indeed have the Holy Spirit. The problem is that you may not be yielding to Him fully. Christians are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” and so we are to yield ourselves to Him consciously and intentionally – and this is something which we can fail to do, to our spiritual harm. Christians are commanded to not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit. It is a sobering and fearful thing that we could quench the Spirit’s work in us! And we often do – by our self-effort and indifference. Many Christians must feel that their entire life is a long series of grieving and quenching the presence of the Holy Spirit. It does not need to be this way.
You may be tempted to say, “God does His part, and I must work my part.” No, this is not right either. That is the language of a legal contract or business partnership, not a deep relational syntheses. Such a statement reveals that the speaker has no conception of the intimate and living personal work of the Holy Spirit. It is a sad fact that many popular authors and teachers write against the truth of the real, spiritual, experiential, mystical, concrete reality of the living Personal work of the Spirit – even as they profess our need for Him in general terms.
Of such teachers, John Wesley wrote,
It nothing helps them to say, “We do not deny the assistance of God’s Spirit; but only this inspiration, this receiving the Holy Ghost: and being sensible of it. It is only this feeling of the Spirit, this being moved by the Spirit, or filled with it, which we deny to have any place in sound religion.” But, in only denying this, you deny the whole Scriptures; the whole truth, and promise, and testimony of God.
Although Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we can still operate in the fleshly “old man” mindset by doing life trying to be like God while independent from God (often concealed by our empty lip service of doing it “with God’s help”), by trying to be transformed by our own efforts of filling our minds with God’s truth, by trying to judge good and evil for ourselves, by trying be empowered by our own gratitude for what Jesus did for us in the past, or by trying to remember that we serve a God who will hold us accountable. Merely doing these things is not dependence of God’s presence. This way of doing life is still following the pattern of the “Old Anthropon”, a way characterized by depending on self-effort rather than the empowering personal work of the Holy Spirit.
This old way of doing life was put to death in a deeply significant way when we pledged our allegiance and identification to Jesus in baptism; “buried with him by baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also may live an entirely new life…. We know that our old anthropon was crucified with him, that… now we might no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6). Certainly in terms of thinking we might earn our salvation, this old anthropon is necessarily put to death when we reject our own goodness and cast ourselves and our hope solely upon God, who is goodness. Our life is to be with Him. If only we would do the same in every hour as we did at our baptism!
Ultimately, it matters only a little what you think of the “old man,” whether you think you have one or not, whether “he” is dead or not. What really matters is that you know that the power of Jesus Christ being in you – as you yield to Him – can utterly obliterate any power of sin over you, and destroy the allure of temptation in you.
It is only His presence, not our efforts to meditate on truth, which will produce the energy and emotions that underlie holiness, purity, and the fruit of the Spirit.
We are to be “clothed in Christ.” We are to “put on Christ.” These verses are not merely metaphors for “try to be like Jesus.” They are communicating a deeply mystical truth: that we are to choose to be consciously, intentionally, spiritually united with Jesus Christ himself.
We are not called to merely imitate Jesus – we are called to participate in Jesus. (John 17, 1 Cor 1:9, Phil. 2:1, 1 Jn 1:3, 1 Jn 1:7, Eph 3:6, Heb 3:14, etc)