Given the severe trials that Paul endured (2 Cor. 11:23–33), it would have been quite easy for him to grow discouraged, to lose his confidence. Imprisonments, beatings, being left for dead—all those things have the potential to break even the strongest among us. Yet the Apostle did not get discouraged, or at least he did not persist in discouragement, and he did not give up his ministry of preaching Christ even when it brought him horrible pain.
How was this possible? In 2 Corinthians 4:7–15, we see that the sufferings of Paul never brought him down permanently because through his ministry and all his sufferings, the Lord made His grace more evident. As a result, the church was built up in thanksgiving, souls were saved, and God was glorified. When we see that our suffering ends up doing good for others and proclaims Christ all the more clearly, we are enabled to persevere despite all obstacles, and we should not think it was any different for the Apostle, who as a sinner possessed all the same frailties that we do. However, something else also enabled Paul not to lose heart, as we see in today’s passage. Second Corinthians 4:16 reveals that Paul did not let suffering pull him down and out of ministry because at the same time his “outer self” was wasting away, his “inner self” was “being renewed day by day.”
At first glance, Paul seems to be talking about a distinction between his body and soul, noting that as his body suffered under the ravages of persecution and even the natural progression of age, his soul was being more and more conformed to Christ. Certainly this is an aspect of the Apostle’s thought here, but Paul is not drawing an absolute distinction between body and soul. The “outer self” really corresponds to all that belongs to the present fallen order, body and soul, while the “inner self” is everything that belongs to the new creation, body and soul. Passages such as Romans 7 indicate that while we have been redeemed, until we are glorified the remnants of sin still affect us and we struggle against them. To the extent that our bodies and souls still participate in the fallen creation, they are wasting away. However, in our regeneration, God has planted a new self, a new heart that loves Him and seeks conformity to Him. This new self will be fully realized in the resurrection of the dead when we receive perfected physical bodies, but the seeds of new life planted in regeneration continue to grow and transform us until then. Knowing that we are coming more and more alive in Jesus enables us to fight all discouragement.