New Creation

2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

What does it mean to be a “new creature”? Is there a Biblical formula to achieve this status? Are their evidences of having achieved this status? Is this for everyone or but a select few? For the Scriptural answer, we examine:

  • Historical Context: Written approximately A.D. 55-57, 2 Corinthians 1:1 identifies the author of the Book of 2 Corinthians as the apostle Paul, possibly along with Timothy. The church in Corinth began in A.D. 52 when Paul visited there on his second missionary journey. It was then that he stayed one and a half years, the first time he was allowed to stay in one place as long as he wished. A record of this visit and the establishment of the church is found in Acts 18:1-18.

    In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses his relief and joy that the Corinthians had received his “severe” letter (previous correspondence) in a positive manner. That letter addressed issues that were tearing the church apart, primarily the arrival of self-styled (false) apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13) who were assaulting Paul’s character, sowing discord among the believers, and teaching false doctrine. They appear to have questioned his veracity (2 Corinthians 1:15-17), his speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6), and his unwillingness to accept support from the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-9; 12:13). There were also some people who had not repented of their licentious behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20-21).

    Positively, Paul found the Corinthians had well received his “severe” letter. Paul was overjoyed to learn from Titus that the majority of Corinthians repented of their rebellion against Paul (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:5-9). The apostle encourages them for this in an expression of his genuine love (2 Corinthians 7:3-16).
  • Grammatical Usage: “Man” in the Greek is “eiâtiv” and literally means, “whoever”; “Christ” is “Christos” meaning, “Messiah…Son of God…Anointed”; “new” is “Kainos” meaning, “immediately made…unprecendented”; “creature” or “Ktisis” meaning, “creation”; “old things” or “Archaios” meaning, “original condtion”; “passed away” is “Parerchomai” meaning, “omitted…averted”; “become” or “Ginomai” meaning, “come into existence.”
  • Literal Application: The result is that if anyone is associated with the Messiah – the Anointed One of God, that person is immediately made a new creation; old relations to sin, the world and the realm of evil are now averted and have passed by; instantaneously a new spiritual condition now exists, consequently new relations now exist in relation to God and man.
  • Contextual Interpretation:

In Christ …

A phenomenal blindness is the only thing that could account for the total absence from the writings of so many scholars of any reference whatever to this little prepositional phrase which is nothing if not the very eye of Christianity. Paul used this expression, or its equivalent, 169 times!  Failure to appreciate what Paul means by this is to misunderstand everything. Paul had just written that all people are dead spiritually, a deadness that shall never abate unless they are risen again IN CHRIST. In Christ:

  • A new spiritual life is given to the convert (Romans 6:4);
  • In Christ all of his previous sins are cancelled (Acts 10:43);
  • In Christ he is endowed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13);
  • In Christ a new and glorious life begins (Romans 6:4);
  • In Christ old values are rejected, old standards repudiated, and old lusts are crucified (Galatians 5:24);
  • In Christ are “all spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3);
  • Out of Christ, there is nothing but death, remorse, hopelessness and condemnation (Ephesians 2:12);
  • In Christ there is the life eternal (John 3:16);
  • To be “in Christ” denotes a more tender and close union (John 15:10);
  • In Christ implies that all our support is from Him (Acts 20:32);
  • All our strength is derived from Him (Ephesians 6:10);
  • We shall partake of his fullness, and share in his felicity and glory, as the branch partakes of the strength and rigor of the parent vine (John 15:2).

In the light of the above, how is it that one can read 57 commentaries and find not one single reference to the all important question of “How does one find the status of being `in Christ'”? The answer to this question is the concern of every man ever born, or at least it should be. Here is the answer:

  • Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3);  
  • As many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ (Galatians 3:27);
  • For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

The baptism “into one body” in the third reference above is exactly the same as being baptized into Christ, because the one body is the spiritual body of Christ. The entire New Testament gives no other means, provides no other device, and suggests no other ceremony or action that can bring the believer INTO CHRIST than faith…and a very specific object of faith. Jesus Himself stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Acts 16:31 reads, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved….”  Why? Because there is no other way.

When used in the New Testament, “baptisim” more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. Contextually, baptism refers to the external sign of the previously accomplished inner faith of the heart, just as “confessing with the mouth” as in Romans 10:10: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved”); and there also as here this outward manifestation of Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change…evidence in thought, word and deed which reflects a true heart conversion from the old way of life to the new found only in Christ.  Indeed, one is not truly eligible for water baptism until one has experienced the cleansing of Christ’s blood – a baptism washing our sins away: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7 (see also Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2).

The new birth implants a new, divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and the Christian, though physically in the world, and though still unchanged in his physical body, with its fleshly desires, has a new nature which Paul calls “the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).  John refers to it as the “seed of God” (1 John 3:9).  The practical outworking of this is that we who know Jesus as our personal savior are no longer citizens of a democracy but we have our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20, 21) and are only ambassadors on earth.  Our function, as such, is not to meddle in the internal affairs of the world to which we no longer belong, but to represent the best interests of heaven’s court (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Our relation to the unsaved world is expressed in terms of salt and light (Mt. 5:13, 14).

In addition, those who know Christ are the “light of the world” for the purpose of revealing truth (1 Peter 2:9; Philippians 2:15, 16).  No permanent compatible relations with the unsaved can be possible (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

The true Christian will always sense the alienation which separates him from his unsaved colleagues, however gracious and friendly with them he must try to be.  Given that we are in Christ, our outlook, values, mission and vision are entirely different and, in our conversation and actions, we demonstrate such by our witness. 

  • Scriptural Comparison: The word “therefore” in our primary text refers us back to verses 14-16 where Paul tells us that all believers have died with Christ and no longer live for themselves. Our lives are no longer worldly; they are now spiritual. Our “death” is that of the old sin nature which was nailed to the cross with Christ. It was buried with Him, and just as He was raised up by the Father, so are we raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That new person that was raised up is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as the “new creation.”
    To understand the new creation, first we must grasp that it is in fact a creation, something created by God. John 1:13 tells us that this new birth was brought about by the will of God. We did not inherit the new nature, nor did we decide to re-create ourselves anew, nor did God simply clean up our old nature; He created something entirely fresh and unique.
    Second, “old things have passed away.” The “old” refers to everything that is part of our old nature—natural pride, love of sin, reliance on works, and our former opinions, habits and passions. Most significantly, what we loved has passed away, especially the supreme love of self and with it self-righteousness, self-promotion, and self-justification. The new creature looks outwardly toward Christ instead of inwardly toward self. The old things died, nailed to the cross with our sin nature.
    Along with the old passing away, “the new has come!” Old, dead things are replaced with new things, full of life and the glory of God. The newborn soul delights in the things of God and abhors the things of the world and the flesh. Our purposes, feelings, desires, and understandings are fresh and different. We see the world differently. The Bible seems to be a new book, and though we may have read it before, there is a beauty about it which we never saw before, and which we wonder at not having perceived. The whole face of nature seems to us to be changed, and we seem to be in a new world. The heavens and the earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the praise of God. There are new feelings toward all people—a new kind of love toward family and friends, a new compassion never before felt for enemies, and a new love for all mankind. The things we once loved, we now detest. The sin we once held onto, we now desire to put away forever. We “put off the old man with his deeds” (Galatians 3:10), and put on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
  • Conclusion: Referring back to our primary text, Paul is not advocating sinless perfection.  As Christians, we do stumble, but we do not live a lifestyle of continual, unrepentant sin. All of us have weaknesses and can fall into sin.  Even the apostle Paul did what he didn’t want to do because of the sin at work in his body (Romans 7:15). The difference is that the new creation is no longer a slave to sin, as we formerly were.  Like Paul, the response of the believer is to hate the sin, repent of it and ask for divine grace to overcome it (Romans 7:24-25). Grace is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). When we sin, the Spirit will convict us of sin such that a godly sorrow will result (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). He will not condemn our souls as if there is no hope, for there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The Spirit’s conviction within us is a movement of love and grace. Grace is not an excuse to sin (Romans 6:1-2), and it dare not be abused, meaning that sin must be called sin, and it cannot be treated as if it is harmless or inoffensive.  No one reaches sinless perfection in this life, but the redeemed Christian is being sanctified (made holy) day by day, sinning less and hating it more each time he fails.