“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” 2 Cor. 5:17
As one considers their life before Christ, this verse provides such a renewed sense of joy. However, to be honest, as a believer who has heard this verse for many years, I have often wondered what this meant. What does it mean to be a “new creation”?
Much of the time, this idea seems to be presented as a change in behavior or even character. For many, this verse seems to point to tangible changes, which can be measured or observed. While this might be part of the newness that takes place, this is certainly not the extent of it. Paul is not attempting to convey a simple change in behavior, but rather he is showing a much deeper understanding of what Christ has accomplished in us. He does this, not in verse 17, but within his whole train of thought. In verses 14-21, Paul describes for us what we are given when we are made into a “new creation”
According to Paul, we are given four things.
1. New Affections
1 Cor. 5:14-16 “14For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (ESV)
We all love a good love story. Even if you think you’re hard and not susceptible to getting mushy, you still love a good chick flick. This is how the story usually goes. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They have the time of their lives. Until one day there is a tragedy that threatens their love. This could be a disapproving father, someone needing to move away, or some other hardship or struggle. They are devastated because they think it’s over. However, they refuse to let their love die. They decided to fight for their love. In the end, they triumph! And we’re left with movies like Titanic, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Twilight, and a countless others.
Why do we love stories like this? The reason is simple. We love the idea of someone out there willing to fight for us. We love the idea of someone loving us so much they are willing to sacrifice and even die for us. However, this was a story that was written long before modern Hollywood got a hold of it.
Paul describes this love in v. 14. This verse can grammatically be read “The love Christ has for us” caused Him to “die for all”. This sacrifice provided the way necessary for us to know God. Without this sacrifice, we’d be lost and without hope. This is a powerful story of love. Furthermore, Paul continues and makes it clear that this love “controls us”. Why? So, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (v.15). When we experience the saving love of Christ our affections should change. Our current love for things of this world is replaced with a true for Christ.
Yet, it is important to realize this is not a forced control, but rather it’s a result of a changed perspective. For example, I have the strongest earthly affections for my wife. These affections cause my actions and desires to be controlled by this love. For example, I am not going to have sex with another woman. I am not going to share my deepest and most imitate secrets with another woman. I am not going to spend my money on what I want. I am not going to go where I want to go. Why? Because my affections control me to the point that I no longer live for myself but also for her. In the same way, when we are truly saved, our affections change and this love controls our actions. Ultimately, we act out of love and affection for the one who holds our hearts.
2. New Nature
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Have you ever changed your mind about something? You once thought one way, but now you don’t and you can’t believe that you used to think that way. My 9-year-old daughter knows what I mean. There was a time that if I offered her three $1 bills or a single $100 dollar bill, she’d choose the three $1 bills because there were more bills. Obviously, this is crazy, but when you’re little it makes sense. However, now that she understands money, she’d never think that way again. For her, to believe that she once thought that way is crazy.
Likewise, in v.16, Paul presents an idea reminiscent of Romans 12:1, which calls for a “transforming of your mind”. When we are truly saved, we are given a new nature, which causes the way we think to change. In Christ, we are made into this “new creation” and we now think differently. This is what Jesus meant in John 3 when he told Nicodemus he needed to be “born again”. The sinful nature that has caused us to think one way should die and our new nature, in Christ, should come to life.
As we’re given a new nature, it’s insanity to function in the old ways. How can you come in contact with truth and still choose lies? How can you come in contact with grace and still choose fear? How can you come in contact with purity and still choose depravity? Our new nature must change the way we think.
3. New Relationship
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
What is reconciliation exactly? It is simple. Reconciliation is a repairing of relationship. When a relationship is fractured, reconciliation restores it. However, God’s reconciliation seems to go against what we know reconciliation to be. Usually, when one friend wrecks a relationship, we expect that friend to be the one who initiates reconciliation. However, with God, our rebellion and sin left us powerless to pursue reconciliation. In v. 18 we’re told “all this is from God”. The One who was betrayed is the one who restores the relationship. Even after we betrayed him, mocked him, and rebelled against Him, He still restored the relationship. Now, we have a new relationship with Him, which never would have been realized expect by Christ’s saving work.
The question then becomes, what does this relationship mean to me? Considering that God does all that is necessary to reconcile the relationship, this relationship should be infinitely valuable to me. There should not be a lack of interest in seeing this relationship flourish and grow. Instead, being given this new relationship should cause our hearts to leap with joy and expectation for what can develop as we walk being to walk in a right relationship with our Creator.
4. New Status
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This verse just about sums it all up. This is glorious picture of the work of Christ. Paul makes it clear that Jesus “knew no sin”. The writer of Hebrews affirms the same when he said, Jesus “was tempted in every way yet did not sin” (4:15). Jesus was perfect and blameless and was without flaw. So, when Paul writes that Jesus “became sin” this meant that the Perfect One willingly became our sin on the cross. This was done so that wrath of the Father was poured out on Christ instead of you and I. For the lair, Jesus became a liar. For the gossip, Jesus became a gossip, for the thief, Jesus became a thief. For the rapist, Jesus became a rapist. He became sin!
However, this is not the end of the story. Jesus did not just take our sin, but instead replaced it with His perfection so that “we might become the righteousness of God”. In what we call the “great exchange”, Jesus not only takes our sin, but also gives us His perfect. It is this imputed righteousness that now justifies me. I have now been acquitted of the sin that I was once guilty of. Now when the Father looks at me, He does not see a vial wretch, by instead He sees the perfection of Christ covering my depravity. This now changes my status before Him. My status was once a guilty criminal. Now my status is a child of the Most High King. This is only accomplished through the saving work of Jesus.
First, we must remember that we’ve done nothing to solve our problem. When we are made into a new creation, we’ve done nothing to deserve it or earn it. This is the essence of the Gospel. There is nothing we can do to change our affections, our nature, our relationship with God, or our status before Him. This is contrary to what most believe about God. Most would say, “be righteous and know God”, however, Christianity says, “because Jesus is righteous, we can know God”.
Second, a true encounter with Jesus must result in change. Your righteousness does not save you. However, your desire to be righteous confirms your change. We can’t claim Christ and have our affections remain the same, our nature and thinking unchanged, our relationship with God be of little interest, or think our righteousness saves us. When He makes us new, nothing remains the same.
Originally a sermon preached in New Rochelle, NY June 2013