Few things are more frustrating than the gradual erosion of meaning in Christian language. For example, I often wonder if the people who applaud the hymn Amazing Grace have any idea of what they are singing. Do they know what it means, biblically speaking, to be a “lost” “wretch” in need of “salvation”? Sadly, the notion of divine “grace” that redeems from sin and delivers from eternal wrath, apart from human works, has been domesticated, secularized, and emptied of its theological significance.
Much the same is true of being “born-again”. Those who claim to have experienced the “new birth” often equate it with the regret they feel for their most recent DUI or arrest for drug possession. When faced with public reproach and possible jail time, professional athletes and morally retarded pop-culture icons find it useful to affirm they’ve “found God” through some ill-defined “new birth” religious encounter.
How far and away different that is from the imagery employed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 –
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Although he doesn’t use the terminology of being “born again”, he surely has in view the same concept as Jesus (John 3:3-8) and Peter (1 Peter 1:23) and John (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:1) when he speaks of a “new creation” for those who are “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).
There is a strong likelihood that Paul's language here of a "new creation" is also an allusion to the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 21-22. If so, his point would be that our experience of the new birth is a personal prelude to the corporate and cosmic dimensions of the new creation that will come when Christ does. Simply put, the glory of the age to come has impinged upon or broken into the present. We are re-born microcosms of the eschatological macrocosm!
That being said, we can’t escape the individual and personal focus that Paul has in view in this text, as seen in his emphasis on “anyone” who is “in Christ” being a new creation. Earlier in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul portrayed the conversion experience as a creative act of God comparable to the original creation of light out of darkness. Here he returns to that theme with added emphasis on the transformed nature and newness of the person who is the object of his saving action.
This “new creation” or "new birth" or “regeneration” (cf. Titus 3:5) or being "born again" does not mean merely the mending of one's ways, the changing of bad habits, or embracing a new list of do's and don'ts. It refers to a radical, pervasive spiritual re-creation of the inner being.
No wonder Paul calls for our undivided attentiveness to this glorious truth with the declarative: “Behold!” Be stunned, be very stunned! That you are an utterly new creation, the spiritual product of the gracious and life-giving power of God, is a breathtaking reality. Behold! Stop and consider this remarkable and triumphant truth. Don’t pass it by with only a casual glance. Give it the focus it is due. Behold!
Could it be that many Christians struggle and languish because they fail to grasp the far reaching and spiritually radical implications of being a “new creation”? Could it be that some of you live unnecessarily enslaved to “old things” because the truth of v. 17 has never been given the weight it ought to bear? That’s right, unnecessarily enslaved. You need not live in bondage to “old things”, be they stubborn habits or deceptive values or destructive relationships or wrong-headed beliefs. The God who was kind enough and strong enough to create you anew is equally committed to supplying you with the resources and energy to live consistently with what you are. You are now “in Christ”! You are now “a new creation”!
What are the “old things” that hold you back and keep you down? Are you still beholden to false beliefs about your personal identity? Have you failed to realize that you are a child of God, not of Satan, and are adopted into his family, destined to reign with Christ as a co-heir in the kingdom of heaven? Have you failed to realize that you are reckoned as righteous in God’s sight, fully and forever forgiven of all your sins, sealed and filled with the Spirit of promise and power?
The “old” things have passed away. So stop living as if they had any claim on your life. “New things” have come: a new covenant (Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:8), a new creation (Gal. 6:15), a new humanity (Eph. 2:15), a new name (Rev. 2:17; 3:12), a new city (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), as well as a new standing, a new power, a new hope, and a new destiny. Resist the temptation to reduce being born again to a momentary existential crisis or a convenient religious enlightenment, neither of which yields the fruit of the Holy Spirit and a passionate pursuit of Jesus Christ and his glory in all things. Behold! If you are truly in Christ you are a new creation. Behold!
There is no escaping the fact that Paul has in view a complete and pervasive restructuring of your life, your values, and your agenda for the future, as well as your identity as a redeemed image-bearer. The conditions, relationships, worldly perspectives, and carnal principles that once dominated your life are the “old things” that have “passed away.” All thinking and willing and feeling and judging are now governed by a new and undying power.
Don’t embrace the pernicious lie that life will never change or that sinful circumstances will always dominate your existence. The enemy would have you believe that spiritual growth is an elusive dream and the future is a dark and endless repetition of past failures. To that, Paul would say to you in no uncertain terms, “Behold! If you are in Christ you are a new creation!”
I’m not advocating a “power of positive thinking” approach to life, as if by merely willing yourself to believe the best that all of life will automatically change. Don’t mistake my exhortation for the gushing, semi-religious, feel-good nonsense that certain (here to remain unnamed) preachers deliver monotonously each week to millions of gullible viewers. I’m speaking about the grace-grounded, blood-bought power of a new life in Christ that enables you to embrace with joy the forgiveness of sins and to welcome with a cross-centered confidence the trials and sufferings that will inevitably come your way.
Countless internet commercials, roadside billboards, radio advertisements and more than a few deceptive TV evangelists compete for your attention every moment of the day, promising you an enticing but ultimately false future (for a small fee, of course, or a “seed-faith” donation to the “ministry”) that will supposedly enable you to escape the rut of your past and present.
Don’t believe them! There is only one voice and one glorious truth worthy of your faith. “Behold! Take note of this one, marvelous truth! If you are in Christ, you are a new creation. The old, by the mercy of Christ, has passed away. The new, because of the cross of Christ, has come!”