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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New Things

Paul is, at times, a difficult read. Take, for instance, 2 Corinthians. Chapter 5 begins, "For we know ..." (2 Cor 5:1). Whatever it is we know, it is a product of what went before (chapter 4) because of the "for" at the beginning. But scan down the verses in chapter 5 and you'll find "for," "for," "inasmuch," "for," "now," "therefore," and "for" as the first words of verses of 2 Cor 5:1-7. The only reason it breaks at 7 is because verse 8 is the end of the sentence that fed it in verse 7 (which is only part of the entire sentence). In other words, Paul is writing very detailed, very logical "if-then" kind of stuff. So when we get down to the famous, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17), you can be quite sure (because of the "therefore" at the beginning as well as the entire structure of the chapter) that it is linked to a whole string of "ifs" and "thens" before it.

Still ... what exactly does that mean? "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." Other translations say, "All things have become new." But, look, we know that isn't true, right? I mean, just because you're in Christ doesn't mean you get a new body, new face, new identity, new name. Aren't there really a lot of things that are not new? What does Paul mean here? Let's see if we can make some sense of verse 17 by the links the text has for it.

So, first, verse 18. "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). The origin, then, of these "new things" is God. We don't do it; He does. Good to know. But just what things are new?

Verse 16 gives us an indication on that question. "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer" (2 Cor 5:16). Okay, that should help a little. Paul is distinguishing here between the fleshly and the spiritual, between old man and new man. The "new things" of which he speaks are the spiritual things. When he says "new things have come" (or "all things have become new"), he is speaking about a brand new spiritual condition. Spiritually, when we come to Christ we change from death to life, so spiritually all things become new. That is an absolute. That helps. That's making more sense.

But Paul doesn't leave it in that general sense. He is more explicit. Just prior to that he says, "He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (2 Cor 5:15). One more clarification. This new spiritual condition has a result that is intended to be universal for those with this new spiritual condition: "That they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf." Clearer still. The "new things" that have come would be a new spiritual condition in the new believer that includes an inclination and goal of setting aside self and serving Christ. No, not serving -- living for Christ. This "new thing" edges out all other considerations, all other aims, all other plans. It is a new life direction predicated on a new spiritual condition that begins with faith in Christ and death to self.

I think that helps clear up the question regarding what is new in 2 Cor. 5:17. But I also think that there's a little more to it. I think it should be patently obvious that to a genuine believer -- one who has repented and placed their faith in Christ, identified with His death and resurrection, is indwelt by His Spirit, and living for Christ -- now sees everything differently. For one alive in Christ, the entire world is changed to their view. Their worldview is changed. Their values are changed. Their goals and aspirations are changed. What was good is not the same and what was bad is not the same and why for all of it has changed. Their trusted sources have changed and their life directions have changed. In a very real sense, then, everything has changed. Maybe not those things in themselves, but certainly to the believer. To the believer new things abound and the old has passed away ... just like the text says. Much bigger than I originally thought.

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