“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16b).
I’ve pondered this verse, because my outer nature is wasting away. The Greek, diathiero, is used of a moth slowly consuming clothing (Luke 12:33). And here of my body becoming increasingly weak. I loathe it, of course. It always rages in my mind. I’m facing death, however far off it may be. And the thought of leaving my beloved Lois and my family behind makes me sob with sorrow.
But I want to think about my “inner nature”. Paul says it is “being renewed day by day.” The Greek is anakaino-o, referring to causing something to be made new and better.
Paul uses it in Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Again in Colossians 3:9.10—”Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” And in Ephesians 4:22,23—”You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “
In each case “renewed” is passive. Being made new and better on the inside is something done to us. One can argue that we are not passive, that we participate—and I won’t disagree. But Paul implies that the force doing it is greater than both our participation and the wasting away of our outer nature.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18).
We’re familiar with Paul’s affliction, most of it the result of his preaching the gospel (both persecution and travel-dangers), some of it physical illness. To call it “light” seems a gross understatement; but he’s comparing it with eternal glory (“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”—Romans 8:18).
What’s incredible about his statement here is this: light, momentary affliction “is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. The Greek is katergaomy—“producing, achieving, accomplishing”.
God the Holy Spirit is actually using our affliction to produce for us an exceedingly great eternal weight of glory.
Does Paul mean the greater the affliction the greater the weight of glory? That’s unclear. But this much is certain: not one hour of affliction is to be wasted; God will use all of it in the renewing process toward glory.
And this production-process is occurring right now! “ . . . our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
“ . . . . while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen . . . “The Greek says only, “looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” Paul isn’t saying our looking makes the inner renewal happen, but that the inner renewal makes the looking happen. Day by day the Holy Spirit is turning my eyes off my outer wasting away and onto my inner renewal working toward an eternal weight of glory.
Of course, I can (and do at times) resist. He tenderly takes my chin and lifts my head toward the unseen—and I force my eyes back. Down instead of up. Outer instead of inner. Seen instead of unseen. Light, momentary affliction instead of eternal glory.
Nevertheless, the inner renewal process continues unabated . “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Of course, it’s to my benefit to look at “the things which are not seen”. Fixing my eyes on my weakening body is depressing, even frightening. But fixing my eyes on inner renewal is hopeful, even comforting and joyful.
So, it’s to that, by God’s grace, I will look. Not so much to the “eternal weight of glory”. For that is more than I can see, beyond what my mind can take in. Even as my body wastes away a bit more, I will look today to my “inner nature being renewed”. I can’t really grasp that either. But to know God is actually at work in me, creating something new and better–well, that’s exciting and full-of-wonder.
How great is God’s grace! Even while I’m complaining about my body growing weaker, he’s making me new and better on the inside. And someday that process will climax in an “explosion” of an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure!
So, old man, smile! You’re being made new right now!