January 8, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NRSV)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4 acknowledges that while our physical bodies are declining, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16). God is working in us by the Spirit, preparing us for unimaginable glory in the future. Today, our responsibility and privilege involve joining God in this inner work. We do so with confident hope that, in time, God will complete the good inner work God is already doing in us (Phil 1:6).
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began a new series I’m calling A Biblical Guide to Inner Work. In that devotion, we saw Jesus’s concern not only for our behavior, but also for our inner lives, our hearts. Jesus doesn’t invite us merely to live in a better way. He also invites us to join him in the inner work that will transform our hearts.
Today, I want to draw your attention to a passage in one of Paul’s letters that speaks of inner work from a hopeful perspective. This is part of what it means for us to do inner work in a distinctively Christian way. We do so with confident hope in God and God’s faithfulness.
In 2 Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul celebrates the fact that God’s own light shines in his heart (4:6). Yet he also acknowledges many of the hard things in his life: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (4:8-10). Given the physical adversities Paul has experienced as a result of his apostolic work, he says that his “outer nature is wasting away” (4:16). But he has not been overcome by discouragement. On the contrary, Paul writes: “our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (4:16-17). Paul’s “inner nature” is experiencing daily renewal. As the Common English Bible puts it, “the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day” (4:16, CEB).
This passage supplies a clear description of a kind of inner work. It also helps us understand inner work in a distinctively Christian way. First of all, the verb “is being renewed” is in the passive tense (in Greek as well as English). This suggests that we are not renewing ourselves but are being renewed by some external agent. That agent, of course, is God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. This means we have the opportunity to cooperate with the Spirit’s work or to reject it, but inner renewal is mainly God’s work (see Ephesians 4:22-24). Or you might say, inner work is something God does in us, for us, and with us.
It’s also important to note that the verb “is being renewed” conveys the sense of ongoing activity. The Greek verb anakainoō is in the present tense, which means that this renewal isn’t a one-and-done experience. Rather, it is something God continues to do throughout our lives. The phrase “day by day” makes this point extra clear. Inner work isn’t something we do for a while and then put aside. Rather, it’s a lifelong experience of cooperating with God’s work in our hearts.
We might wonder what’s the point of what God is doing inside of us. There are many ways to talk about this, of course. We could speak of Christ being formed in us (Galatians 4:19). Or we could talk about being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). 2 Corinthians 4 says that we are being prepared “for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (4:17). This is one of those passages in Scripture that envision our future as sharing in the very glory of God (see also 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:17-21; Colossians 3:4).
2 Corinthians 4 acknowledges that while our physical bodies are declining, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16). God is working in us by the Spirit, preparing us for unimaginable glory in the future. Today, our responsibility and privilege involve joining God in this inner work. We do so with confident hope that, in time, God will complete the good inner work God is already doing in us (Philippians 1:6).
Can you relate to what Paul writes about his outer nature wasting away? If so, how?
Can you relate to what Paul writes about his inner nature being renewed day by day?
Would you say that you are cooperating with God in the inner work of renewal? If so, what does this mean to you? If not, why not?
Talk with a wise friend or your small group about ways in which you are cooperating with God in the inner work God is doing in you.
Gracious God, thank you for your presence in me by your Spirit. Thank you for the work you are doing in me, renewing my inner nature day by day. Thank you for the hope I have that one day you will complete this work as I share in your glory.
Help me, I pray, to join you in the inner work you are doing in me. May I actively cooperate with the healing, encouraging, and guiding presence of your Spirit. Amen.
Banner image by Fabian Moller on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Leading and Serving (2 Corinthians 4).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.