2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed
away; behold, new things have come.
It seems almost every other week, Microsoft is trying to install the latest update on my computer. It promises that the newest upgrade will vastly improve my operating system and make it run better and faster than the day before. These promises are often quite empty as I find myself stumbling through new features and unfamiliar programs that have been installed. The so-called “new and better” upgrade frequently ends up being a small
improvement over the previous version with a few annoying new features.
It can be easy to think that 2 Corinthians 5:17 presents to us a similar empty promise – that being in Christ is like getting a slight upgrade in life. We might conclude: New life in Christ is a minor improvement, but overall, it is nothing to get overly excited about. The reason we may think this way is because the experience of our life in Christ often does not seem to be all that better than before we were in Christ. We read Paul’s statement in this verse, yet we are perplexed on how these new and wonderful realities are, well, real for us. The new life just doesn’t feel all that new; it feels like the “same old.” We want to grasp the new, but we feel bogged down in the old.
But the Apostle Paul makes is very clear that the one who “is in Christ” has not simply been upgraded from an older form to a newer. Paul says, “he is a new creature” altogether. This is an entirely new transformation. Not renovated. Not refreshed. Entirely new. The believer, “anyone…in Christ,” has been made completely new. So, what does this mean? And how is this newness experienced and known in the life of the believer? Scripture reveals to us four realities that those in Christ experience as new creatures.
1. New power. To rightly grasp these realities for new creatures, it is important that we consider them in contrast with the realities of the old creature. First, the old creature had no power to please God. It was not a matter of effort; it was a matter of identity. Jeremiah 13:23 puts it this way, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good.” The old is only capable of sinfully pleasing self and is empowered by self (or the flesh). But the new creature is empowered by Christ. Being justified by faith, we are united to Christ, and we can rightfully say, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ
lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
2. New position. Second, although we were not aware of this at the time, as old creatures we were completely opposed to God. We were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) living as cosmic rebels against Him and His will. Not only were we enemies of God, but we were condemned enemies of God abiding under His wrath. As new creatures, we stand in a new position before God, being justified by faith “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1-2). God has “reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18). How amazing it is to think that we have been adopted as children into the family of God and are now royal heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).
3. New purpose. Third, the old creature was completely dependent on self to determine purpose in life. As old creatures we may have thought this to be freedom. We could decide for ourselves and command our own destiny. But how unsatisfying and meaningless it turned out to be! Our current culture has been indoctrinated in this teaching which has resulted in a massive rise in child suicide rates. In truth, to force people to decide their own purpose is slavery of the worst kind and leads to utter hopelessness. But, in contrast, the slave of Christ is a new creature who possesses a new purpose. I love how Ephesians 2:10 gently states what that new purpose is: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
4. New perspective. Finally, we know that as old creatures, we were blinded both by sin and by “the god of this world,” Satan himself (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). We could see and understand things only in a natural way (1 Corinthians 2:14), but, as new creatures, we can see things anew and comprehend things in a spiritual way. We are told that now, we even “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). This really is the point of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 where he instructs believers to “behold” the “new things” that “have come.” As new creatures, we see ourselves and other believers in a completely new way. Not only that,
but we also see Christ in a new way. Paul says, we once knew “Christ according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16), but now we see Him as the source of our life. Now, we know Him as our righteousness and justification and sanctification – our hope of glory in heaven. Now, we see Him as our Lord.
The newness of life for those who are in Christ is much greater and more marvelous than we often consider it to be. We have not been given an upgrade; we have been made completely new. Still, it may be difficult to process this information and understand how it affects us in our own daily experiences. It may be beneficial to understand Paul’s instruction - “behold, new things have come” - in both an immediate and progressive sense in the Christian experience. Think about the blind man of Bethsaida (whom Jesus healed in Mark 8:22-26) who could only see things dimly at first until Jesus laid his hands on him again. In the same way, we also progressively grow in beholding and comprehending the richness of our new life in Christ. So, as the new year begins, let us take time to “behold” the life that we have as new creatures, and let us pray for one another as the Apostle Paul prayed for the
believers in Ephesus…
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 1:17-20 (ESV)