Mere Christianity: Starve the Old Man

Many years ago now, I heard a pastor preach a message on the topic “Starve the Old Man.” His point was that each of us has a mean old man inside of us (also known as the flesh). If we feed the old man with meanness, bitterness, anger, malice, and unforgiveness, then he will get stronger and stronger and will take over us. But if we starve the old man and feed our soul and spirit with love, grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness, then the mean old man will slowly die, and our souls and spirits will grow strong and good—more Christlike.

Lewis says this: “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.” (Lewis, 117)

In other words, it’s not just the huge events of life that shapes us. It’s not just the births, the deaths, the tragedies, and the victories that make us who we are. It’s the little decisions, too. It’s when I choose to speak grace to the unkind voice at the other end of the phone. It’s when I choose to hug my brother instead of choke him when I’m frustrated with him. It’s when I choose to give my extra money to Charity: Water to provide clean water for children in Mozambique instead of using that money to buy another mocha frappucino from Starbucks. All of those things, small as they are, make me who I am.

This week’s chapter is on “Charity.” A lot of people think of charity as giving alms to the poor. It is that, but it’s much more than that. It’s sacrificial love. And while this is easy to do with your family and your friends, God’s Word insists that we have that for everyone. In fact, God goes further and says that by this sacrificial love for others, people will know that we belong to Him.

Really, this can seem like such a huge thing. Impossible. Especially to those of us who have been hurt and who experience unlovable, unkind, ungracious, ungrateful people on a regular basis. Also, some of us have learned that you can’t trust everyone—that even strangers will sometimes hurt you with no regard at all for your health, happiness, or well-being.

It’s not easy to love—really love—everyone. But we have the grace and power of God to take one loving step at a time. Galatians 5 says, “The only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself in love.”

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” (Lewis, 116)

My Mama says it this way: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Do we have the will? Are we willing to find a way?

This post is part of the regularly-scheduled book discussion my friend, Jason, and I co-facilitate each Wednesday. We are currently discussing CS Lewis’ classic book, Mere Christianity. We invite you to come along whether you’ve done the reading or not. All comments are welcome. And if you’ve written a response to this chapter on your own blog, please feel free to link your post via the link widget below. Thanks for coming by! You are always welcome! 

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  1. Good writing as usual. The thing that sometime we get to if we do something out of “unconditional sacrificial love ” and really don’t expect something back, people think you are weird.. Or that deep down you “must want something or you wouldn’t do that for me”. And I understand the other side too about getting hurt by trusting people.. But we have to do what the word says, just like you stated. Thanks for another good Blog Sista Sarah..

  2. As Lewis says, charity is an act of the will. And one small step at a time is all that’s needed. Good post, Sarah.

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Barbara, some people have been “conditionally loved” for so long that they don’t know how to “love” without keeping score. They just don’t know how to function when they experience unconditional love. So, you just keep loving them anyway. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. And a lot of the time, it will be completely thankless. They might laugh at you, or worse, reject you. Hmmm… Sounds like the way I am with Jesus. I don’t know how to accept His love. I don’t know how to function when I experience such a sacrificial, selfless love. But He just keeps loving me anyway. 🙂

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Glynn, thanks!

  5. I love that Lewis says if you don’t love them, act like it. It’s so true, but many would back off from that thinking, “I don’t want to be hypocritical.” It’s not hypocritical to try, to do your best in showing kindness and love, to reach out when you don’t feel like it. That’s just Jesus.

    Great post, Sarah. Thanks.

  6. “Really, this can seem like such a huge thing. Impossible. Especially to those of us who have been hurt and who experience unlovable, unkind, ungracious, ungrateful people on a regular basis. ”

    I think it is a matter of expectation. When we expect another person to respond back in a loving, king, gracious, or grateful manner, we open ourselves up to hurt. If we expect nothing, then any small smile or flicker of happiness in their eyes is enough.

    And no, I’m not claiming to have gotten to a point where I expect nothing. I’m often surprised to find in my heart when I get hurt that I did. But when I think a person is far too hurt to respond to kindness in what I consider to be the “normal” way, I’m not hurt by how they do or don’t respond.

    Anyway, love your post, Sarah!

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