August 19, 2018
“The Old Life and the New.” That’s the heading of this section on my “Bible Gateway” internet page. Remember, those used to be headings at the top of the page in your actual Bible. But hey, we’re in the 21stcentury!
So, “The Old Life and the New.” As we think about that, I the first question I think we have to ask is, can you say that you have had an “old life” and now a “new life?” We’ve all heard Paul’s words, “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The past is finished and done, behold the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17) That’s pretty well known. So, do you feel like there was an “old life,” and now a “New Life” for you?
Think about it. And consider this. For many people, the “new life” is solely a matter of “destiny.” They think, “Before, even though I was basically a ‘good person,’ I was not destined for heaven. But now in the ‘new life,’ I am.” And that’s great. That’s standard, orthodox theology. And I hope you know that about yourself! But! It’s only part of the story!
The problem is that there are a lot of people in this world for whom that is the extent of the Christian life. For them, nothing has actually changed. Old habits and failings are still part of their lives, and they don’t have any intention of changing. They don’t think a “new way of living” is needed, appropriate, or even desirable. It’s not even all that relevant. “I’m fine just the way I am. And now I’m saved!”
Ok. But Paul had no intention of things being that way! He had no intention of one’s “eternal destiny” being the only difference in this “new life.” In fact, Bible Gateway has it slightly wrong here. The heading of this section says, “new life.” Paul spoke of this in terms of “the new nature.” That’s what we’re looking at today.
That’s different, isn’t it? Our “nature” refers to the kind of people we are. Our “nature” is about the things we are likely to do and say. And Paul is telling us that those things are different because of a change in our “nature.” And Paul gets very practical here. He does that. As I said that last week, Paul is “inspirational” – for a while! Then he gets “practical.” The next heading in my Bible Gateway page, starting at verse 25, is “Rules for the New Life.” That’s the practical. Read those “rules” sometime. See how they call for a different way of living.
Paul had no intention of this “New life,” this “new nature,” being only a matter of “eternal destiny.” And neither did Jesus! His teaching was always about the practical side of living the faith. “You are the light of the world.” “People should see your light!” “They will know you are mine because of the way you choose to love one another.” And “How can you say you love God, who you cannot see, when you don’t love your brother who you can see?”
And so! The important question, the one I like to ask a lot, the one that makes all the difference in our lives, the one we should ask ourselves every day, – and one the world cares about when we tell them about our faith – is, “How are you different?” That’s what the world’s going to ask. They’re not going to ask, “How is your eternal destination different?” “How are you different?” And if we’re living the same as everybody else, then we’re missing something very important!
And then there’s another problem we can encounter with this. If we fail to live a “different life,” we can start even to doubt our destiny! When we don’t see any change in our lives, when we’re still doing the same things we did before, when all we’re doing differently is believing differently! Then we begin to doubt the change in our “eternal status.” Do you see how that can work? Either that, or we don’t make any effort to change, then we fail, and then we “feel” that our failings “disqualify” us.
We all have that feeling from time to time, don’t we? We feel like we’re too flawed. We feel like we’ve messed up too many times. We feel like nothing’s different. We feel like God can’t possibly forgive us any more. And of course the operative word there is “feel!” That’s why we need to rely on the promise, rather than our feelings! Because we know our failings disqualify us! That’s the truth! But! We also know the promise of grace!!!
So the “new nature” does have a bearing on the “new destiny.” When we choose to live the new nature, we strive to make and to see changes. And then we’re not focused on the failings and the feelings. But let’s be clear. The new nature is a result of our new destiny, not a way of getting there. This is like something else I’ve said before. “Good works are a response to Grace, not a means of obtaining it.”
So then, we change, we love, we reach out to others because of what God has done for us! Because of that, we leave the “old nature” behind, and we focus our lives, and our energy on the “new nature.” That’s what I want you to think about as you go today. Think about the “old nature” and the “new nature!”
Eternal God, help us in our struggle to be the people we know you want us to be. Help us to have the strength to follow Jesus’ example of loving and serving one another. Help us to live his life of forgiveness and grace, that the world may see in us, his life and his light. For this we pray in his name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.