Question: If God creates a “new man” in me and the old man has to go completely, what is it that God loves in me then? If I am “made in his image and likeness” and “he has called me by my name”, what is it in me that He loves? Does He only love the capacity to be like Him? Does He love us as far as we do His will, are transformed into Him and live His life and therefore our Ego has to go? Do you see the question, psychologically? If we need to be transformed into Him does the fact that “I am” mean anything?
Is the Old Man Different from Our Self?
The real meaning of the expression “Old Man” encompasses a way of acting and its deep roots in us. “Purification” and trans-formation into God does not imply the cancellation of our being.
It seems that to “go completely” from one state to the other means throwing out the baby with the dirty water. We must avoid this, please. We need to properly understand what the expression “Old Man” alludes to. The “old man” concerns behaviour rather than being – certainly not all of our being. It most certainly does not impinge on the self, but on our way of acting. We, therefore, should distinguish between on one hand our behaviour, acts, choices and, on the other hand, our being, our soul, spirit, the faculties of our soul, and our self.
There is a definite difference between a faculty in our soul (mind, will) and the use we make of this faculty. Hence, while it is true to say God loves each one of us, we can all agree that He doesn’t love our sins! But, still, after sinning He still loves us – for who we are, not for this or that act. He hopes also that we can change. He wants us close to Him. He enjoys our presence. He desires even more – He wants to be united to us.
When we say that the Old Man has to go, it doesn’t mean that this happens in a mechanical way, like pressing “delete” and saying: “let us re-create from scratch”. No. God doesn’t re-create us from scratch. He needs us, from the first day, He needs our full collaboration, given freely… willingly. This is why St. Augustine says: God created us without our consent, but He won’t save us without our consent. Our own salvation, realised on God’s side, by Jesus on the Cross, cannot be fully received, enacted, to transform us, without our consent being given, at each step! It is not accomplished by one act but through a multitude of acts, coming from our free will.
In this sense, He cannot realise his salvation in us (realised first on the Cross), without us. God needs us!!
So, returning to the question, it is fair to say that “sin” and “grace” don’t cancel out our being. They are the result, the fruits of our being, they give a colour and a shape to our being, but still they are not our being. We are something different, bigger, exceedingly bigger. The biggest sin is infinitely smaller than each one of us is in His eyes.
Spiritual authors often take the following verse from St. John out of context and apply it to the “Old Man” and the “New Man”: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). This verse is normally said by St. John the Baptist when talking about his mission. We can accept with tolerance the deviation in meaning. However, in order to understand better the meaning of Old Man vs New Man, it is better to re-read what St. Paul says in the following texts: Romans 13:12ss, Eph 4:13-27. See also: Rm 7:7-23); 2 Cor 4:16-17 ; Eph 3, 14-18. Newness of life, old man : Rm 6, 2-11 ; Col 3, 9-10.
Fundamentally we need to understand that the Old Man and New Man consist of essentially two different uses (and acts produced) by our faculties (eg. mind and will). The same faculties can collaborate or not with God’s Grace. One way of acting if repeated will essentially produce, by the grace of God, a virtue, a good supernatural habit. This makes our “new man” grow. We can act in “neutral” ways, in the sense that our acts are not bad acts, but they are not activated by the Theological acts of Faith, Hope and Love. It is true that the main driving engine of spiritual growth includes these three acts. They allow the New Man in us to grow, to learn how God sees things (Faith), to see what goal we are pursuing (Hope) and how to act in general, that is, to see whether we love God and our brothers in Him. Any act, in fact, goes either in the direction of feeding the growth of the New Man, or the growth of the Old Man.
It is true that the soul itself is the mother of its spiritual life. We ourselves are the mother of our own new being. Self stays but it grows in depth and finds new roots.
As a consequence, however, the disappearance of the Old Creature is not the disappearance of ourselves!!
God Loves Us Always
We often hear: “God loves us but not our sin”, or, “God love the sinner but not his sin”. Consider this, however: He loves our choices even the sinful ones for two reasons, not of course because of their sinfulness but because of on the one hand his respect for us, and on the other hand his capacity to offer us a further solution that will make us greater in his eyes.
In us we have “good” and “evil” as well as a “higher good”. Our choice is always between good and evil. This is fine. But in case (God forbid) we choose evil, God is capable afterwards of helping us reach a higher good! It is as if evil has opened a new potential in us for something greater. In a way God can always have the “final word”. But this depends on us. However, this never means that the door is open for sin! Knowing this and still sinning would be a real offence to his mercy and tempting Him: it is like throwing yourself from a high building and still expecting the angels to rescue you.
It is because of this understanding that not everything is lost after sin that we sing at Easter Vigil, while thinking of Adam’s fault: “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.”
In conclusion it would be fair to say that we can’t mix the “old creature” and “the person”. The “Old creature” is a way of acting, thinking seeing and is not the very self of this person, not the actual person itself.
When you take a shower after swimming in filthy water it is still you that emerges after the shower. This is a little like what occurs with the Old Man in us after purification. But it penetrates more deeply, in the sense that one has to introduce the notion of “purification” and “trans-formation” into the process.
Added to this, the act of sin adds new bad roots to the person, rooting the person in something else other than God. If your son or daughter does something bad do you love what they did? No. Do you love their act and the consequences of this act in them and outside of them? No. But you still love they themselves. The act of sin has just added a perished patch of cloth and bad roots to them, which only the experience of the Holy Spirit can show them from within, and which only He can remove; in fact we can refrain from sin, but the habits and bad roots which sin has created can only be removed by the Holy Spirit! Confession reconciles us with God, reopens the stream of the Grace of God, but it is the penance that we receive in confession that helps the Holy Spirit purify our being more deeply! This is why the penance has to be proportionate to the real gravity of the sin in order to help the grace of God enter deeply and change the person! The grace of confession is given but often not totally received and integrated. Therefore, the roots of our being can still hinder our future behaviour.
Transformed in God
Do we know what it is to be transformed in God? It is advisable here to pause and consider what is needed for God to instruct us. Let us take the example of clay. We are created in God’s Image and Likeness. The “image” of God that we are is the clay. The “likeness” is the form that the clay takes as a result of our acts. Because of sin, we lose only “the form”. The “clay” is still there, but, is half-dead (see the parable of the Good Samaritan and the state in which the man was left on the side of the road).
Only the Holy Spirit can show us what is left after total purification.
God’s Bowels of Mercy
Let us enter into the bowels of God, the bowels of his being, of Him being Love. He loves us when we are sinners. Not for our sin, but for our sake. If we remove our sins, there stands our being, whole and entire. But be in no doubt: at any stage of our growth we are loved. Either at the beginning of the journey i.e. where the Old Man is in great evidence, or in the middle, or towards the end where the New Man predominates in the main.
Is God’s love for us conditioned by His desire to have us Holy in front of Him? Would He continue to love us if we are sinning? Would He continue to love us even if we are far from Him and decided firmly to stay far away from Him? What is the “size” of his love for each one of us? Of course, He wants us to be with Him, but with our full collaboration. Does He know anything else other than “to love”? If we are far from Him, if his love can’t reach us, He still loves us, waits for us. Of course, He cannot consent to any act we make that leads us further from Him. But despite our choice and our act, He continues to love us and considers that we need Him more than others need Him! However, He cannot and will never move our will or act for us. He cannot and will not ever impose his love on us!
He leaves us free if we want to abandon Him and go off! He will continue to love us and wait for us. But He will not force us. Never. His respect for our will and choices is absolute. This, ironically, even constitutes a handicap, a difficulty for Him! He can only send messages, warn, try to convince us, but He will never force us. This is our being made in his image! We were created as his partners, but He will not force us to be his!
On an even more positive note we can say that, our sins, and what they generate in us (the Old Man) are still, in a way, like a thin crust, ugly, but we are still there, underneath it. Like being in a prison, but it is still us! He loves us, He wants us free, out of this prison. Our sins are like an illness! Our illness cannot kill our soul! We are still there, loved as if we were without any illness.
I would say that a person who is far from God is, in a way, loved by God even more! Why? Because of his understanding of the person, his compassion. If we humans see a person in pain, thirsty, hungry, we feel compassion for this person! Why wouldn’t God feel the same? But infinitely more!
It is true that we often hear this statement nowadays: “God loves us as we are”. On the other hand, we hear also, the statement found above in the question: “he loves me as long as I am doing his will”.
Both statements are correct. When He loves me, his gaze is capable of piercing the outer shell of my sin (the Old Man) to find me inside of this prison and darkness. Why would I deny this? Why would this be underestimated? He loves me, here, despite my condition, despite my illness. He even loves me more.
Does He love my condition? My illness? My sin? We cannot ask or expect God to do so!
But paradoxically He has the utmost respect and understanding of my choices! First, because they come from me, who is created in his image! “Created in his image” is really a big mystery, because this enables me to stand in front of God and allows me to say to Him and his love: “yes” or “no”! What dignity we have been given! What power we have over God, over God’s destiny!
We are as great as God, even if we are created by Him, in the sense that because of how we are created we have free will toward God himself…and He still loves us!
We can speak forever about the fact that God loves us, whichever the state in which we are in. Look at the behaviour of the father of the prodigal son. He still went to the top of the road of the road every day and waited for his son to return! Was he a happy person? No! Did he stay at home partying with this other son? No! He was “outside of himself”, in pain, part of Him was missing from him. His son, “flesh of his flesh”, “bone of his bones”, had gone away… he couldn’t force him to stay… but the father’s state, God’s state, is really bad! He is in huge pain! His son is away… “lost” … It wasn’t the Dad’s choice! It was the son’s choice! The father respected it! He waited… in pain, as if part of his body were missing, sad, sad, very sad. Crying! Waiting!
So yes, God loves us… we need to experience His love…
He is in a very bad state… He is out of himself… dead alive… part of Him is missing – his son – flesh of his flesh… He is in deep distress… He doesn’t know what to do! He can’t do that much! He respects his son’s decision… He certainly sent messages… inquired… but He feels empty, infinitely sad…, He waits….
So, yes, God loves you… Jesus loves you….
We do not know what it means. It is unconditional though! Totally unconditional, because this is God’s being and He cannot change his being!