The Old Adam, A Stubborn Donkey; The New Man, Spontaneous And Free. Understanding The War Between The Old And New Nature.

I had a professor in seminary that would always stress to us that all of the Christian life is gift. As students we would complain during class when he would hand out essays for us to read by saying, “You are giving us more stuff. Ugh, more stuff that we have to read!” As typical, he would respond, “These are gifts and you ‘get’ to read them.”

When my former professor would use the words get to he was speaking about doing works out of the context of the new man. The Formula of Concord speaks about this when it says,

“But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2 [Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor. 9:21 ].”

The Formula of Concord also shares that people so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man,

“…do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts…”

So, truly from the new nature, everything that we do as a Christian is from the perspective of get to. Furthermore, when we ponder the depths of our depravity and understand that God would be completely just in damning us for our sins for all of eternity, not only is the Gospel seen as pure gift but the very air that we breath and our next heartbeat are gracious gifts as well.

Can the Christian life be this simple? I am afraid not, for the scriptures show us that we also have the old Adam (i.e. sinful flesh) warring against the new man (e.g. Romans 7:7-ff and Galatians 5:16-ff). Keep in mind that we as Christians are simultaneously sinners and saints. Because we are stuck with this sinful nature until the day we die, The Formula of Concord states that this old Adam is an,

“…intractable, refractory ass… which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments…”

Because we, “believers are not renewed in this life perfectly or completely,” what happens is that the old Adam will take advantage of the Gospel leading to what is called lawlessness. Furthermore the old Adam will be in constant struggle with anything that has to do with the Gospel. When the old Adam hears the words get to, it will not only despise these words but it cannot even begin to understand what it means to do works of the Law from a free and joyful spirit. Keep in mind that the old Adam has never liked the Gospel and never will. He can’t and won’t perform anything through the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit according to God’s Law. The old Adam won’t operate from a free and cheerful heart to the honor of the Lord and the building up of one’s neighbor. Therefore, when God’s most gracious divine Law is proclaimed as something that we get to walk in (e.g. Ephesians 2:10) and we find ourselves grumbling, we can be most assured that this is our old Adam rebelling, complaining and being like a stubborn donkey. Thus, these grumbling occasions are yet another opportunity for us to be brought to repentance where we can confess our sinful rebellion unto God. It is yet another opportunity for the old Adam together with all of its sins to be drowned and put to death so that the new Man may rise up cleansed and righteous[1], cheerful that he (i.e. the new man) gets to serve God and his neighbor.

[1] Paraphrase of Luther’s Small Catechism’s portion on infant baptism.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at:


The Old Adam, A Stubborn Donkey; The New Man, Spontaneous And Free. Understanding The War Between The Old And New Nature. — 4 Comments

  1. Johan Gerhard, the great orthodox Lutheran theologian of the 17th century, gives a wonderful analogy of the old man and the new man. He points out that when Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, He was displaying Himself as a king, but of a kingdom that was not of this world. In preparation of this event, Jesus sent his disciples to get a certain donkey “upon whom never a man had sat”. Matthew tells us that the disciples actually brought back two donkeys to Jesus, both a colt and his mother. Contrary to what we would expect, Jesus chose to ride on the little colt, towing the mother ass behind, rather than the other way around. Gerhard says that he did this to teach us about the “new man” and the “old man”. The “new man” is the little colt “upon whom never a man has sat”, but that the Lord Himself rules and directs according to His own power and will. The “old man” is the mother ass, which we have to drag around with us in this life, but is no longer who we are. We are the colt, belonging to a new kingdom, and being ruled and directed by Christ our King. We are no longer the old ass, but must be tethered to her and experience something of her ornery and stubborn nature while we are yet in this world.

  2. @Stuart #1

    very nice.

    and pastor matt: this article is RIGHT on the money!

    This is to teach Law and Gospel or the Two Kingdoms, aka the Two Powers of Law and Gospel as it applies WITHIN each believer.

    Excellent work!

    I am surprised there are not more comments here.

  3. Hi fws,

    Thanks or your feedback. I, too, was surprised that there was not more interest in Pastor Matt’s excellent article. I thought you might enjoy another more contemporary analogy of the relationship of the new man to the old man that I like very much.

    The relationship of the old man to the new man is like an exceedingly dirty light bulb. The dirty bulb itself is like the old man. It is hopelessly bespeckled and besmirched with sin and is not able to be reformed. It is what it is. But when we are baptized, believing the Word of God for the remission of our sins, then this old bulb is as it were placed in the Gospel socket containing the power of the Word of God. By this power, our filament is lit and light begins to shine through the dirty bulb, even if ever so dimly. The lit filament is the new man, and as he feeds upon the power source (the Word of God) he begins to progressively increase in brightness. His nature ever remains the same. He is light by new birth, and continues to be light. But through feeding upon the Word of God, the new man is progressively manifested through the dirty bulb to the world. Paul writes, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:15).

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