II Corinthians 5:16-21
September 6, 2015
As I said last week, Paul was one who was very aware of what it meant to be a “new creation.” Paul, who was once a Pharisee, a strict keeper of the Law, Paul, the chief persecutor of the Church, became a “new creation” on that road to Damascus!
His was a big change! And I’m sure he thought about it all the time! Who wouldn’t! Who wouldn’t remember a life event that was that big! I’m sure it was on his mind all the time. And he told people about it often. His writings in the New Testament are full of statements about how such a new beginning is part of everyone’s life. “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The past is finished and done, behold, the new has come!”
That’s what I want you to think about today. Last week I gave you a little “teaser” about this. I asked you to think about what it means to you to be a “new creation.” And I asked you to consider whether you felt like you were a new creation. I’d like to continue that today. And I’d like you to think about that in a couple of ways.
First, I’d like you to consider how Paul often contrasted the newness of life in Christ with what came before. In several paces he referred to what he called the “Old Nature” and the “New Nature.” In Ephesians 4, he said this. “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) (Yes, Paul liked to write in long sentences!)
Paul said there was the “old self,” and now there’s the “new self.” And they correspond to the “earthly” part of us and the “spiritual” part of us. He told the Colossians, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth… Put to death, therefore, what is ‘earthly’ in you.” (Colossians 3:3-5)
Paul made a lot of distinctions between the “earthly nature” and the “spiritual nature.” We could talk about that a lot. We could read many passages he wrote about it. I’ve given you just a few. But let’s just make it simple for the moment, and say that, in being new creations, things are different. In being new creations, we are different. Paul tells us that we are now to be like Jesus. Are we? Are we Christ-like people? What is different about you than it would otherwise be if you were not a follower of Jesus? And remember we’ve been talking about being “followers,” not just “believers.”
But that’s not easy, is it? I don’t know about you, but I know there are times I’m not very Christ-like. (I’m sure I’m not alone.) That’s why Paul describes it as a process. We are being changed little by little, “from one degree of glory to the next.”
So the important thing is to ask is, not only, are you a new creation, but are you growing? Are you becoming a new creation. And yes, Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ… behold the new has come.” But that’s a little misleading. “Has come” means we are made righteous. “Has come” means we have received Grace. We have been changed. But it doesn’t imply that the new is “already here” – in all it’s aspects.
I say this often, but sometimes people think that being a man or woman of God is automatic somehow. They think the Christian life works on “autopilot.” But it doesn’t. It takes work! Otherwise, there would be no need for Paul’s writings. Being a man or woman of God takes listening to, and yielding to, the Holy Spirit. And that’s not easy! And if you struggle with that – and I think we all do – know that Paul struggled with it, too. He shared that in his letters. He, Paul, told the Romans “…in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. [But] now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20)
That’s sounds kind of discouraging, doesn’t it? But Paul also told us that it is the Holy Spirit which gives us the power to be new creations. And that’s important to remember. It’s not our power. It’s God’s power. In our power, “in the flesh,” as he said in that passage, we don’t have the power. In fact, our flesh, our old nature, sometimes fights against us.
Paul would warn us about what I said before, when I asked you if you “feel like you are a new creation.” I asked it that way intentionally. Because we have to be careful about feelings. Feelings can deceive us. Paul told the Corinthians that “In Christ, God reconciled the world to him, not counting their sins against them.” (II Corinthians 5:19) But the problem is something that I said very quickly last week. Maybe you remember it. I said that God forgives us, he doesn’t count our sins against us. But sometimes we find it hard to forgive ourselves! We find it hard to “let go” of our sin. And then we “feel like” we aren’t forgiven. And therefore we think we aren’t! We still feel the guilt. And that’s a powerful thing!
I remember my youth minister saying years ago, that hell was having to sit in a room and watch, for all eternity, a video tape of all of the sins and mistakes you made in your life. (Egad! Maybe that “lake of fire thing” doesn’t sound all that bad!)
You know, people often talk of Satan as the “great tempter.” But he’s also thought of as the “great accuser.” He gets in there and he reminds us of what we’ve done wrong. He gives us a “dig in the side,” and he suggests to us that there’s no way God will forgive certain things. He accuses us. He makes us feel ashamed, embarrassed, defeated.
Does that happen to you? It happens to me. I sometimes look back on things that I’ve done that I’m not proud of. They seem to come out of the blue. And I feel that guilt and shame rising within me. And I wonder if God has forgiven even for those things. Again my Youth Pastor taught me a lot about forgiveness. I can remember times when, for whatever reason, I was unkind to him. And I remember asking him later, “How did you ever put up with me?” That’s what forgiveness is about! And I’ll never forget the Grace he showed me at that moment!
Now, when I talk about Satan as “the great accuser,” I know that not everybody believes there’s an actual being called Satan. I don’t want to get into that today. That’s certainly a good discussion at some point. But, I would ask, is it not still a problem when we don’t forgive ourselves, and when we forget the amazing grace of God and the power of his spirit. Call it what you want, but is there not still a voice inside you that makes you remember past mistakes? Do you not still have that voice inside you that doubts and denies God’s power to forgive you?
I believe we all have that. And it fights against us being “new creations.” And I would say what Paul would say. Don’t listen to that voice! Seek to hear God’s voice. Rely on his promises! Seek his spirit, and his truth, and know the power of his forgiveness! Remember what he said to the Corinthians. “For our sake God made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21) That’s so much greater than our feelings, isn’t it?
This is kind of an unusual sermon for me. Usually I try to stick to one passage, and not bring in a lot of different scriptures. But I felt like today I needed to have you see how many different places Paul talked about this business of being “new creations.” As I said, I’m sure he thought about it often! And he admonished the people to be new creations all the time!
So, I’d like to end with one more little passage. These are the words from Colossians 3. Once again, Paul is writing, and he’s telling the people about the “spiritual” part of them, as oppose to the “earthly” part. And he says this. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)
Remember, that you are new creations!
Eternal God, you have redeemed us and made us whole. Through Jesus Christ you have taken our sin and given us his righteousness. Help us to live as the “new creations” you have made us. Help us to rely on your promises, to seek your spirit, to know we are yours, and help us to grow in your image. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.