02 Corinthians 5:17- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” That verse had, and still has, very special meaning to me.”
I know it has been a long time, but I still can vividly remember the time that, as a teenager before I met Jesus Christ face to face, I had many dreams. But, I never seemed to accomplish them. I always thought that the fulfillment of those dreams was just around the corner- that I was always just one step away from knowing and fulfilling my purpose in life, knowing who I was, why I was here, and where I was going. Although most people who knew me wouldn’t have guessed it, I also felt an overriding sense of guilt. My parents had tried to instill in me a sense of values and morals, and most importantly, they tried to instill in me a sense of God. But, I wasn’t listening. I thought I would be able to make it on my own, and do it my own way.
I remember that at one time, I wanted to move away from my home town. I thought that if I could just change my environment, if I could just start all over, I could start with a clean state, and begin to live life differently. With each move, I only changed my environment; but, I was not changed.
But, one day, I returned to my home town, and turned my life over to Jesus Christ fully and completely; and, I discovered something- now I was changed! I had become a new creation! I had new desires, a new peace of mind and heart. I felt like now I knew who I was, why I was here, and where I was going. I have truly seen that what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true- “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”
How, then, did this transformation take place? And, more importantly, how can we take this truth about becoming a new creation and apply it to each one of our lives? Let us look more closely at three parts of this verse:
- The condition: “If anyone is in Christ”
- The inward change “He is a new creation”
- The outward signs: “Old things have passed away; all things have become new.”
- The condition: “If anyone is in Christ”
2 Corinthians is addressed to “anyone.” That is all inclusive. It doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter where you have been- “anyone”. It doesn’t matter what is your color, your race, your economic class, your religious background, your beliefs, your actions, your sins- “anyone”. You!
Our primary task is to be in Christ. If you have never really allowed Christ to come into your life, and to take full control of your life, you need to make that decision. Make it your first priority to remain “in Christ”. It is a momentary decision, but a lifelong process. Just as a couple- a man and a woman- comes before the altar, and in a moment, they enter into a “covenant relationship” saying “I do”, they find that it takes a moment to make a “wedding”, but a lifetime to make a “marriage!” Building oneness in a marriage is a lifelong process.
So also, it takes a moment to enter into a “covenant relationship” with Jesus Christ. He has already said, “I do” at the cross! Here, the once for all payment for all sin for all time was made, and a relationship with the living God is now a possibility. What do I need to do? Simply say, “I do! By an act of faith, I commit my life to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.” This is called, in theological terms, “salvation.” Salvation- new life- is now a reality. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Salvation happens in a moment; but, the process of living in Christ (“sanctification”) occurs over a lifetime. Only twice did Jesus say, “You must be born again” (in John 3); but, 23 times, Jesus called upon people He encountered to “follow me!” That is a lifelong process! Achieving oneness with Jesus is a process that we enter into daily, moment by moment as we follow Him, and get to know Him. We trust Him by faith in good times and bad, through trials and blessings, inviting Him to become a greater part of our lives at work, at home, at church, in our communities.
- The inward change: “He is a new creation”
That is an established fact- a present condition- if you are “in Christ”, you are a new creation- today (not next week, next month, next year, not when you work on it for the rest of your lifetime, not after you die. You are a new creation- now.)
Christ begins by changing who we are, which will ultimately affect what we do. Until Christ brings about that change, there is a circular pattern that can occur in our lives and in our thinking. It goes something like this: “I did this; therefore, I am like this; therefore I will do it again; and because I do it again and again, I am even more certain that I am like this.” And, as a result, I repeat this circular pattern.
Christ breaks that cycle by coming in and changing who you are. “You are a new creation. You are of a new created order. You are reborn in the image of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, we have a new mental picture of ourselves, and we will begin to act according to that new picture. That is more than just good psychology. It is an established fact! It is real in the spirit realm. We are just waiting for it to be fully manifested in the physical realm.
According to the bible, man is a three-dimensional being- body, mind and spirit. The body is the physical makeup of man- the five senses, organic functions, electrical impulses, etc. Mind– the realm of thought and reasoning; the emotional make-up of a man as well. But, what is at the seat of all these functions? What controls the mind and body? That is the spirit. The spirit is the driving force at the center of one’s person, the “me” that is inside that controls everything else. You can’t really see it. You can’t locate it. Scientists have tried to determine where this “core” really is in a person. Some say it’s at the base of the brain. Others say that it is locked in all of the DNA molecules in the body, the information that determines all of our personal characteristics. The point is, it is in the realm of the spirit that all of the rest of the person’s functions originate.
The spirit realm is actually more real than our present physical world. It is eternal; it is the realm in which God himself lives- “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
Now, when Christ comes in and makes us into a new creation, he begins in the realm of the spirit. Romans 8:16- “His spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” He brings about change from the bottom up- a change in our spirit, which will bring about change in our thought life and our emotional life, which will bring about change in our physical life. We get this process reversed, sometimes. We believe that we need to begin in the physical or material realm. We start by doing something in the physical realm. This will change my mental and emotional attitude, and this will change me spiritually. No- it is an established fact- a change of being occurs first in the realm of the spirit. We are of a completely different spiritual order, in the image of our “New Adam”- Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45)
- The outward signs: “..old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Notice that this phrase is in the past tense- it has already happened. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 43:18, it is written in the future tense- “Do not remember the former things, neither consider the things of old; behold, I will do (future tense) a new thing.” But, now for us, children of the New Covenant of Christ, it is written in the past– “Old things have passed away (past tense); all things have become new (past tense).”
Do you realize that your past doesn’t exist in the sight of God? We use the phrase, “to pass away”, to refer to dying. Your past is dead and gone. You are bound to nothing. You may try to hold on to it, if you choose. But in God’s sight, it is not there. It is as if you were in a prison, tied up in chains; and someone comes in and unlocks the prison, leaves the door open and removes the chains. You may stay in the prison, if you like, and talk about how bound up you are. But, the better choice is to go out and to live in the freedom that is set before you.
Jesus Christ can make you into a new creation, and set you free. Isn’t that good new- great news? But, perhaps that thought may scare you as well. Freedom is hard, but it is free. You need to make good choices, follow through on those choices, make it happen, not wait for it to happen, Then, you get to make more choices. To continuously live in this freedom is hard! Sometimes, it must be worked for, fought for, and struggled for- but, the rewards worth it!
In my work in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, I once spoke with a man who had spent so many years in prison that he was actually afraid to go out and face the world outside. He told me that he once told his probation officer- “I have known prison life for so long that I don’t know how to live any other way. That world outside scares me. If you send me out there, I promise that I’ll commit another crime and come back.” Despite his threats, he was released; and sure enough, he committed another crime and was put back into prison. Fortunately, he eventually found his way to a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, the Market Street Mission, and for the first time, he said, he knew true freedom in Christ!
Might that be describing you in some way today? You know that Jesus Christ can make you into a new creation, and set you free- but, perhaps that thought scares you as well. Being set free in Jesus, living as a Christian is a real culture shock. You receive new attitudes, new thoughts, new insights, new prayers, new vitality. You enter into an unknown land- unfamiliar, different from the prison you have been living in- but, infinitely better. Be made new in Christ today!
Peter Amerman (D. Min, M. Div., BA) is Department Chair and Professor of Biblical Studies at Pillar College, Newark, NJ. He has pastored churches in the northern and southern New Jersey area for nearly forty years. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY, a Masters in Divinity Degree from Lutheran Theological Seminary, and a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Religion/Philosophy from Roanoke College. His greatest blessing from God is his family- married to his best friend and ministry partner, Susan for thirty-nine years; blessed with two daughters, two sons-in-law; and seven beautiful grandchildren.
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