Are You New and Improved? (II Corinthians 5:17)
Topic: II Corinthians Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Are You New and Improved?
II Corinthians 5:17
(One Lord: What is Man?)
April 2nd , 2017
I. You in Light of Him
Do you believe this statement: You can only truly know who you are by truly knowing God? Many people today are trying to “find themselves”. But what I'm saying is that to find yourself, you might first find Him.
Why is this true (which it is)? Well, first of all, because God is the one who made us. But second, related to that idea, it is God's word that reveals the truth about who we were meant to be, what we became, and who we can be. This is why, on a One Lord Sunday, we are considering what God tells you about you in light of Him.
The opening words of the Institutes, the massive work of theology by the French pastor and theologian John Calvin, the open line speaks to these same themes...
“True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves” (Calvin)
You may remember that in October, we talked about how God made man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27). But then, in January, we were reminded by Paul in I Timothy 1:15 that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom (says Paul) I am foremost.
This morning, we want to continue to 'pull back the curtains' on what He tells us about who we are. Let's allow II Corinthians 5:17 help us do that very thing. Turn there if you would.
II. The Passage: “Behold, the New Has Come” (5:11-20)
Listen once again to II Corinthians 5:17. Paul writes...
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
It's both short ans sweet, isn't it? And in one sense, the point of what Paul is saying is pretty obvious: if your faith is in Jesus, if you have trusted Christ as your only hope before God, for this life and the next, then you are “new”. There is a part of you labelled “old”, that is gone. It has “passed away” because some thing new has come.
But what exactly does it mean to be new? Am I taller, smarter, faster, richer? Do I have a new driver's license with a new name? Do I have a new family and new job? What exactly is “new” if I am “in Christ” by grace, through faith?
These are the questions we want to explore this morning, and we're going to use the context of Paul's statement here to learn more. But before we move into the immediate context, I want you to see a verse from chapter 4, a verse that I believe lays the groundwork for Paul's statement here in 5:17. Look at 4:6. Paul writes...
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Notice what Paul is connecting here. He is connecting the God of Genesis 1 to the God of the gospel. He is connecting the work of the Creator God to the work of the saving God. Just as creation came into existence by the powerful word of God, a new creation has come through the powerful word that God speaks through the gospel to our hearts. Do you see that.
If you belong to Jesus, you are not simply a 'new creation' like McDonald's replaces your old Big Mac (the one that fell on the floor) with a new Big Mac. You are a “new creation” in the sense that you are part of THE “new creation” that God is ushering in, through Jesus, for the transformation of all things. Amazing, right?
But again, what does it mean to be part of this new creation as a new creation? Well, first of all, I think we see in verse 16 that...
1. A New Creation Means a New Perspective (v. 16)
Look at verse 16, the verse the precedes our main verse. Paul states:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
A helpful thing to see about this context is that Paul is not primarily talking about being a “new creation” so that you will think differently about yourself. That is part of it, and a legitimate application of what Paul is saying. But the context here is not self discovery. The context is seeing those around us with new eyes.
This is why Paul is talking about how we see others “from now on”. We no longer consider one another from a fleshly perspective or worldly perspective. And to be even more specific, since Paul is trying to combat lies, accusations, and caricatures regarding himself and his ministry, Paul wants to remind them to see with new eyes.
What does it mean to “regard one another according to the flesh”? Well, think about the things Paul's critics in Corinth were saying about him. II Corinthians 10:10...
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”
So there were teachers who were slandering Paul because he didn't measure up to what some considered the standard for an impressive leader in that day and age. But the fact that Paul was not handsome or tall or physically impressive, and that he was not a classically trained or charismatic or crowd-pleasing orator, none of that actually mattered.
It mattered from a fleshly or worldly perspective. But not from the new perspective that God gives. In verse 12, Paul describes this contrast when he talks about those who look at the “outward appearance”, but not to what matters most, which is “the heart”.
So to be a “new creation” is to see others, and even ourselves, with a new sense of what truly matters. It is see others and yourself in accordance with the truth. How much of our struggle in this life is because we fail to see our friend, our spouse, our child, our boss, or brother or sister in light of the truth, instead of worldly lies about who they should be or who we think we need them to be?
How much of your struggle in this life flows from judging yourself according to the flesh and not the love, acceptance, and grace of God; of seeing yourself as He sees you, and not who you think you need to be according to your parents, spouse, friends, or even the media.
But notice how Paul reminds them that at one time, all of us even regard Jesus according to the flesh. At one time, we weren't impressed by Jesus. At one time, Jesus was an option, not a necessity. At one time, according to the flesh, Jesus was not Lord; I was lord. But wonderfully, thankfully, all that's changed.
And that's where Paul goes if we keep backing up, into verses 14 and 15. That's where we discover that...
2. A New Creation Means a New Person (v. 14, 15)
Listen to those verses, 5:14 and 15...
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
That's what I meant when I said that a “new creation means a new person”. Not simply that you are a new person in Jesus, but that there is a new person for whom you live. Paul couldn't be any clear. When Jesus died for His people, or to use Jesus' words, when the Good Shepherd laid down his life for his flock, He did so to accomplish 'regime change' in your heart.
...he died for all, that those who live (in and through Him) might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Because of the truth of the gospel, our whole world can be turned gloriously upside-down. When Jesus died on the cross, we died with Him (one has died for all, therefore all have died). That is, as verse 17 expresses it, the “old” passing away. This is how Paul expressed these same ideas to the church in Rome...
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
But when it comes to the “new” or “newness of life”, the new isn't about you. This is so critical. It is very easy and very common for people, including some Christians, to want newness, to want a second chance and a fresh start, to want a do-over, but to desire a new life in which I am still living for myself. What you do with your time, what you read, where your money goes, the words that come out of your mouth, who you spend time with, how you dress, what you listen to, all of that might be “new” in terms of how you used to live.
But the newness of the “new creation” is not first about any of those things. Because your life can be new in all those ways and yet, you can still be living for yourself.
The true evidence that you are truly a “new creation” is that you live your life for Jesus Christ and not yourself. Notice I didn't say “perfectly”. In this life, you will always be tempted to live for yourself. Sometimes you will give in to that temptation, sometimes you will resist. But your new anchor is living to please God through Jesus. Your boat can drift. Your boat can be tossed. But it will always come back to where God anchored it.
This is why Paul declared in verse 9 of this chapter: So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
And this is the doorway that leads us into the rest of the immediate context. For the new perspective of the new creation, through which we live for a new person, reveals that...
3. A New Creation Means a New Purpose (vs. 11-13, 18-20)
As I mentioned before, the largest portion of this section is devoted to Paul explaining his ministry and countering the lies that were being told about him. Living for a new person, with that new perspective, manifests itself in a life of ministry, specifically, the “ministry of reconciliation”. As we expand our focus on the immediate context, listen to verses 11-13, and verses 18-20.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.  We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you...
 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Last week we talked about what it means for us to be on this One Mission for Jesus. If you recall, we looked at how the NT calls us as Christians to live the kind of godly lifestyle that inspires questions, generates conversations, and opens doors for the gospel. AND, when that happens, God calls us to “be prepared to give defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15).
In general terms, for every single one of us, this is what it means to be part of the “ministry of reconciliation” Paul is describing in these verses. He died so that we might live for Him. We have been reconciled to God so that we might help others be reconciled to God. Do you see that?
So remember our primary question: what exactly does it mean to be a “new creation”? It means our life has a new purpose revolving around what we would call the Four Essentials. And a critical part of that purpose is One Mission, this ministry reconciliation. Just look at those words and let God use them to stir your heart: entrust (the message has been entrusted to us), ambassadors (representing Jesus' kingdom here), appeal (appealing to the hearts of the lost).
What does it mean to be “new”? In the 2000 film “The Family Man”, Nicholas Cage plays Jack Campbell, a materialistic, cunning Wall Street playboy who experiences a kind of “It's a Wonderful Life” glimpse of the life he could have known had he stayed with his college sweetheart, instead of chasing his business ambitions.
In the film, you witness Jack's transformation into a “new creation” of sorts. His perspective is radically changed as he learns what matters most, there is a new person for whom he lives his life, and his ambitions, his energies are directed to a brand new purpose as a loving father and husband. In the end, it is only a vision. But it leaves Jack longing for that reality instead of the empty castle he has built for himself.
III. The Cost of Newness (v. 21)
This morning, are you longing for the “new creation”? If anyone is in Christ by grace, through faith, then that isn't just a vision. It is a new God-forged and God-formed reality. Maybe, this reminder that you are “a new creation” is just what you needed to spur you on. Maybe, you are feeling stuck in what feels like the “old” this morning. Maybe you feel like the “old” is still clutching your neck or shackled around your ankle like a ball and chain. Maybe your worn out from the fight, from your own efforts to live LIKE you're “new”.
If that's where you are this morning, be encouraged. God's word to you is this: if ANYONE is in Christ, he IS a new creation. The old HAS passed away; behold, the new HAS come.
And did you notice what Paul told us about the motivation to walk in this reality, to live OUT (not like) this newness? It's there in the opening words of verse 14: For the love of Christ controls [or constrains, or compels] us...
Living as a new creation always begins by embracing the love of Christ for you. It comes as you, each and every day, drink in the truth about God's concern for you and the price that was paid to transfer you from your “old” to His “new”. That price, that cost, is spelled out in verse 21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
On the cross, Jesus embodied your sin-infested “old” in order that you might now, in newness, embody His God-centered righteousness. Let's pray that God would help us see that, with renewed eyes, that the love of Christ would control us as new creations.