(Please read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2. Quotations below are from the New International Version.)
Tribal wisdom of the Lakota people, passed from generations immemorial, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Our modern bureaucrats, however, have a set of more advanced strategies such as:
- Buy a stronger whip.
- Find lighter riders.
- Harness several dead horses together to improve performance.
- Arrange an overseas visit to study dead horses.
- Reclassify the horse as “living impaired.”
- Rewrite the performance requirements for dead horses.
- Provide additional funding to improve the performance of dead horses.
- Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.
Any similarity between the above and what happens in government is intentional. It is intended to serve as a great example of why there’s no use trying to fix up the Old Creation. Let it stay dead. Trying to keep the old creation is the source of a lot of frustration and disappointment in our Christian life.
THESIS = A new life in Christ includes a new attitude toward God, others, and self.
CONTEXT = 2 Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s defense of his ministry. One set of his critics blasted him for not being Jewish enough. Part of his response to them was to show that the Good News he preached offered a new and improved means of relationship with God.
You are new and improved (16+17).
Verse 17is key to what we are discussing and central to our identity: we are new creations! Our new standing with God is possible because of Jesus Christ; that’s why Paul wrote, IN CHRIST.
It is a way of describing our new relationship with God. According to Romans 5, our old relationship with God needed improving. Verse eight reads;
BUT GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US IN THIS: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Verse ten makes it worse;
FOR IF, WHEN WE WERE GOD’S ENEMIES, WE WERE RECONCILED TO HIM THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, HOW MUCH MORE, HAVING BEEN RECONCILED, SHALL WE BE SAVED THROUGH HIS LIFE. Paul elaborates; THE OLD IS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!
Thank God! Being a NEW CREATION means we cease being sinners and enemies of God. Another thing to note about this term is that the scope of our new life includes all aspects of our personhood. Jesus similarly taught Nicodemus: “NO ONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN AGAIN” (JHN 3:3). This is a “total makeover!” Accordingly, we must think and act in NEW CREATION modes.
Now we backtrack to verse sixteen to find the application of verse seventeen (and verses eleven through fifteen): our new attitude toward one another (i.e., toward Christ).
One aspect of being new creations is that we reject a WORLDLY POINT OF VIEW. FROM NOW ON we look at people from God’s point of view. When we do we see…
- Victims of the Enemy, not the enemy.
- People in need.
- Brothers & sisters; in fact or in potential.
Where worldly eyes see barriers, godly eyes see bridges God has built.
Paul offers Jesus as an example. He and others once viewed Jesus from a worldly point of view and saw only a Galilean troublemaker. Later, with acute vision bestowed by faith, Paul saw Him truthfully, as the Great Reconciler.
God did this for you (18-21).
The old creation did not come about by human will, nor has the NEW CREATION. Instead, as verse eighteen asserts, ALL THIS IS FROM GOD.
That fact rules out our intellect, willpower, & imagination: we don’t make it up.
God did it by reconciling US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST (18). “Reconciling” means restoring our relationship with God which had been
broken by our sin.
THROUGH CHRIST means that Jesus is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin. But God doesn’t force His solution on anyone; only those who receive it willingly will be restored.
Verses 19-21 reveal that God reconciled us in three steps.
- 19 = GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF IN CHRIST. God joined us & identified with us in the human life of Jesus Christ. His blood paid our penalty.
- 21 = GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US… Jesus suffered our guilt and shame. Because He was innocent He was the perfect sacrifice for sin.
- Imputation is found in v. 19 NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM. The solution is to impute (assign) righteous status to all who accept Him
- Delegation .
- 19 = AND HE HAS COMMITTED TO US THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. God has delegated to us the responsibility of making Him known to people we encounter.
- 20 = WE ARE THEREFORE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS… We represent our homeland & act w/t authority of our Leader.
Get busy and receive His grace today (1-2).
Paul was concerned that the church live according to this message of reconciliation. He demonstrated his concern by using emphatic language: AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU. His expression, FELLOW WORKERS, shows Paul’s identification with the church in Corinth and reminds us today that we are responsible with and for one another. Use of the first person pronoun (WE) connects God & Paul. (See 1 Corinthians 3:9 where Paul describes himself as “God’s fellow-worker.”) So in a sense, Paul is also pulling rank, telling them to get in line!
Chapter six, verse one presents some difficulty to the interpreter. The call to RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE is not the hard part. In fact, RECONCILIATION is the subject of the passage.
The challenging bit is when he urges them not to receive GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN. How is that possible? Apart from the egotistical use of the word, VAIN means fruitless, ineffective, unsuccessful, or frustrated. How could that happen?
Paul urged them to avoid a superficial commitment to Christ. A sign of inauthentic discipleship: a lack of godly fruit. He quoted Scripture (Isaiah 49:8) to reinforce his point, emphasizing it is God’s will to act, decide, choose Him.
Borrowing TIME and DAY OF SALVATION from the Isaiah quote, Paul urged a timely, even immediate response = NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.
If that alone doesn’t motivate you, consider a couple other things. One, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent. Until He comes again, we’re in a season of grace, where reconciliation can happen. After He appears, there’ll be no more opportunity.
Second, our own death is also immanent. As today could be our last, we must bear fruit. Thus, in addition to the command of God, we have two additional excellent reasons to act NOW, not wait. Whether we’re talking about accepting Christ as Savior or obeying Him as Lord, now is the moment; the door of opportunity has been swung open.
God made us new creations so that we will choose to be agents of change. We are entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, helping the world to turn back to God.
I came across a negative example of reconciliation in Today in the Word, July 5, 1993.
“One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. ‘You must,’ Hicks said to Lonsdale. ‘It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.’
“So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. ‘I wish you a happy New Year,’ he said, ‘but only one’.”
That’s not going to get it done, will it?
God gives us an entirely new life to live in Christ. We are made new creations to serve as ambassadors from the Kingdom of God to this poor, sin-sick world. We have a lot of work to be done in an uncertain but ever-shrinking amount of time. Let’s get started!