Doug Phillips on The New vs. The Old in Our New Life with Christ

GUEST POST from Doug Phillips

Note: Doug Phillips, besides being a good friend, is the Executive Pastor at South Church, a large independent Baptist church in Lansing, Michigan. South Church is currently looking for a new worship pastor. If you or someone you know might be interested in the position I encourage you to check out the links or pass them along.

Now on to Doug’s post.


Sometimes it’s helpful for me to try to get the “big picture.” That’s what I’ve tried to do in the following summary of essential characteristics of the authentic Christian life.

And one valuable way of summarizing the Christian life is by looking at the antitheses of godliness. The pursuit of holiness is a journey of ongoing repentance that keeps us “putting off the old” as we simultaneously seek to “put on the new” (Eph. 4:22-24; Col.3: 9-12ff.). As J.I. Packer puts it, “Repenting of any vice means going in the opposite direction, to practice the virtues most directly opposed to  it.” In a time when our entire cultural mood constantly pulls us toward a mediating ‘third way’ instead of embracing an “either-or” it might be helpful for us to remember how much of the New Testament is cast in terms of “this versus that.”

For example, Scripture insists we cannot ‘serve the living and true God’ without ‘turning from idols’ (1 Thess. 1:9). The Spirit is opposed to the flesh, so it’s the new versus the old, when it comes to the pursuit of holiness (Gal. 5:16ff.; 2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 12:14).

And we could cite many more examples of “this versus that” holiness:

  • Christ-centered vs. self/man-centered (Gal.2:20; Phil.1:21; 3:4b-11; Col.1:10, 15-18ff.)
  • Spirit-empowered vs. ‘flesh’-dominated (Gal. 5:16ff.; Rom.8)
  • Gospel-driven (grace) vs. performance-driven (works) (Rom. 11:6; Gal.2:20-21)
  • Word-obeying vs. ‘worldly wisdom’ following (Deut. 8:3; Matt.4:4; 28:18-20; 2 Tim.3:16ff;     Jas. 3:13-18 ; 1 Cor.1:18-2:6; 1 Jn.2:3-6)
  • Others-loving vs. self-serving (Matt. 20:24-28; Mark 8:34-37; Jn.13:34-35; Matt.22:34ff.)
  • World-denying vs. culture-conforming (Rom.12:1-2; 1 Jn.2:15-17)
  • Holiness-pursuing vs. ‘self-indulging’ (2 Cor. 5:15; Heb.12:14 ; 2 Pet.1:5ff.)
  • Father-glorifying vs. man-pleasing (Mt.5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31; Gal. 1:10)
  • The way of peace vs. the way of the transgressor (Matt.11:28-30; Prov. 13:15; Rom.3:15-17)
  • The narrow road that leads to life vs. the broad road that leads to destruction  (Matt. 7:13-14; Jn. 3:36; Rom.2:5-11)

It is important to see that all these different facets are interdependent and ‘synergistic’ – the cultivation of the new virtues are to be maintained and experienced together for maximum effectiveness in the simultaneous ‘mortification’ of the old vices (cp. Matt.4:17; Jn. 3:1-16;  Rom. 6; 2 Cor.5:17; Eph. 4:17ff.; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:13-17; 1 Jn.2:15-17).

And here is the most encouraging part – the Bible makes it clear that this entire enterprise of progressive sanctification is empowered by God the Holy Spirit himself. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

And so the believer is called on to “strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), but he does so in the confidence that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil.1:6). Paul’s closing benediction to the Thessalonians puts our pursuit of Christ-likeness in heartening perspective:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24, emphasis added)