Second Corinthians 5:16-21
A Community Of New Persons

Authored by Rev. Tsuneo Sugita, Kouri Church Of Christ, Japan

1. From the time we are young children everyone of us as human beings begin to ask questions about our existence and the meaning of it.  The question of children of "How was I born?" is not a biological or physiological question but is kind of a childlike philosophical or theological question as they come to an awareness of the wonder of their existence.  Why do I exist here in this world and am I given life? For what purpose am I alive?  Hasn't anyone of us thought and asked these things with words and ideas of a childlike naiveté?  Although at some time we have forgotten that we used to ask [these questions] and used to think about [these things], these questions have not gone away.  When they come back to us unexpectedly, we come to realize that such issues have sunk like dregs [in a barrel] to the bottom of our minds.  Usually we get busy with everyday realities and we tend to forget them.  We come face to face with these issues again as we age, our bodies weaken, and the time of our death draws near.  We feel regret over whether we have lived a good life or whether we might have overlooked some very important area and spent our life meaninglessly or not.  I think that a great part of the troubles of death is more than a physical thing but is an agony of ontological and existential proportions.  I think that questions will come to the surface which are related to our existence and its meaning and which we have had since we were born as human beings.

2.  Scripture replies to these particular questions that the existence of all things including humanity was created by God.  From the outset of one's first reading of scripture, scripture reveals that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," (Genesis 1:1).  We were made by God and have our existence [through him], and we are given life and now here we are.  Because God made us, we ought to live following the purposes of God's creation.  However, in reality it isn't so simple.  When a young child wakes up to its ego, he or she begins to assert himself or herself.  When that self-assertion is at a young age, it may look cute but if left unattended it begins to abuse the power and freedom it has acquired.  When abandoned to a self-centered desire it runs wild.  Like a car with no brakes it becomes dangerously destructive for oneself or for others.  A person created by God does not regain the form of humanity which he or she ought to have had originally unless he or she goes back to God.  How can a person go back to God?

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3.  In the scripture we just now read it said, "So then, we would no longer know anyone according to the flesh.   Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, now we would not know [him] any longer in such a manner," (verse sixteen).  How we know Christ, the way we know Christ will influence our life.  Christ is not just a historical character that you can know fully on scholarly or scientific levels.  Since the founding of the world he was with God and he was equal with God.  You cannot say you know Christ unless you come to know Christ and believe in Him through the faith given as a gift from God, which is beyond all human intellectual understanding.  When we believe the word through the Holy Spirit we are joined to Christ who lives even now.

4.  It says, "Therefore, anyone who is joined to Christ is a person that is created anew," (verse seventeen).  In the New Interconfessional Version of the Bible, we often come across the expression "joined to Christ."  In the Colloquial Version of the Bible, it is translated as "being in Christ."  [The latter translation] is more familiar to us, but it was hard for me [personally] to familiarize myself with such a translation [i.e. the new translation "joined to Christ"].  However, as we think about it we don't usually use the expression much of "being in someone." That is an expression characteristic of the Bible.  It is translated in the New Co-operative Bible as "joined to Christ."  At first the expression doesn't click, but we come to think it is rather a natural way of saying that a person is joined to a certain person.  This way of speaking is typically [used] in the context of marriage.  [In Japan,] we say I was destined to be joined to Mr.So-and-so in marriage.*  (Though a Christian says that he or she was joined by the will of God.)  Two persons joined in the bonds of marriage pledge their love for each other with "I will never separate my life from you but live with you."  At least they say that while starting out.  I always have them to say that.

5.  However "being joined to Christ" is a tie with Christ that goes deeper than marriage.  By God's leading I met Christ and have come to believe in Christ.  Also, I had a decisive encounter when I was joined to Christ and made my life with him. At that time the old me died with Christ and the new me was born in Christ.  We call a marriage a new lifestyle, but even far more than that is the decisive new lifestyle I began by being joined to Christ.

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6. "Therefore, anyone who is joined to Christ is a person that is created anew," (verse seventeen).  The old person who was separated from God and depraved died and a new person joined to Christ was born.  The church is defined as a flock of people who have been created anew by God.  By faith in Christ, they are a people who live in a new era under the control of Christ and who have become new creatures.  The adjective "new" (or kainos in Greek) means a newness in quality that did not exist before, a newness where the dimension has changed.

7.  [The phrase], "a person created anew," does not mean they have become a new person in an earthly or corporeal sense.  Paul says, "We would no longer know anyone according to the flesh," (verse sixteen).  [To really] judge [things] from [the perspective of] the gift of Christ's atonement is vital.  By Christ's arrival the era when sin ruled is over.  Now the Christ who was raised from the dead and ascended is in control of the world and the church.  A new era (an interim period) has already begun in which we are hoping and waiting for the soon appearing of the new heavens and the new earth.  So here then what he calls new is the relationship with God and we have become newly created persons if we look at it from God's perspective.

8.  Sometimes people see themselves from a human perspective and according to the flesh and they misunderstand their being made "a new person," and they criticize themselves for not truly becoming [such a new creation] and they harbor an inferiority complex.  Don't misunderstand that [by calling it] humility.  If any of us disciples [would] honestly take a good look at our own selves, the nature of the old person [still] remains even after we have believed.  We come to realize that we still have the dirty nature and feelings we had before we were joined to Christ.  But, we don't need to lose heart.  Before we were lead by faith we were under the control of the old nature and bound as its slave.  But now, we have been set free by Christ and Christ has taken hold of us.  We have been apprehended by Christ and become persons living in liberty.  We have changed from persons living self-centeredly to Christ-centered living.  Therefore, by a never ending bending of our ear to the scripture and by being carefully in prayer we will never be brought under its control even though we are under the influence of that old nature.

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9.  In order for God to make us into "persons created anew," he set us free from sin. The sinless Christ died for us and bore our sins upon himself.  The way we [usually] put it is that a righteous and strict God was angry with sinful humanity and Christ acted as a go-between for us, pacified God, and became our substitute.  We mostly think that thanks to him our sins are forgiven.  A righteous God is awesome and dreadful to us, so some play up to the gentle Christ.  Then because Christ is awe-inspiring and august, some Christians even take a step further back and play up to Mary.  But, I think that an understanding like this of God and Christ in contrast causes a misunderstanding of God speaking from a Trinitarian faith.  If God, Christ, and the Spirit are one, we have to say that the removal of human sin is a divine work which God, Christ, and the Spirit as one did.

10.  So, the Bible says that "God reconciled us to himself through Christ."  "Reconciliation" says that a peace and a relationship was established with God and the sinner who was God's enemy.  That is the result of when God forgave our sin through Christ.  Reconciliation in the works of men in opposition to each other often times comes to pass as the two split the situation down the middle in a compromise.  But, God did not show any compromise plan at all.  Christ did not stand between sinners and God [as a go-between] and establish reconciliation.  The initiative to carry out reconciliation was with God.  It says, "God reconciled himself with us through Christ."

11.  When God reconciles a person to himself, how does he do it?  It can be compared to when the opinions of two persons sharply oppose each other; on the one side, though one becomes angry against another, yet the one does not seek revenge against the other, but a time where the one seeks to calm the other down by his or her sincere words and actions.  It resembles a situation where the Father with loads of patience inclines his ear to his rebellious son's objections and at last takes possession of his son's heart.  God would take possession of us with love and reconcile us to himself manifesting his love by which he accepted us through the death of his son.

12.  When we say "reconciliation" in this world it is something established between fellow companions who are in an equal position.  However, because God is the other party here, it means instead that "we have respectfully received the gift of reconciliation furnished by God."  It says, "God made sin for us of him who never had any relationship at all to sin.  We have been able to obtain the righteousness of God by this person," (verse twenty-one).

13.  Thus, "Old things pass away, new things are born."  The church is born as a flock of people who have received forgiveness of sin from God and have been reconciled to God.  The word "church" (in Greek, ecclesia) means people who have been called to assemble.  The citizens of a meeting, who were called to assemble for town politics, used to be called the ecclesia.  The first Christians took that word and called their own flocks the ecclesia (or church) of Christ and the ecclesia of God.

14.  As for "the persons joined to Christ" each one does not just have a personal relationship to Christ.  [Each believer] is included in the world wide universal model of a community named the family of God or the kingdom of God.  A Christian, as a member of the community that makes Christ the head, is joined to Christ.  What took place in Christ, what took place in all of us will take place again in the future.  When Christ died for us, eace one of us died with Christ and took part in the life of Christ's resurrection and became a newly created person.

15.  Sometimes people think the church is an option to the faith life, nice to have but not necessary.  Some we come across persons who understand the importance of faith but don't value the church much or are even indifferent to the church.  Where do attitudes like this come from?  Because aren't they seeing the church as a building, an organization, or a system?  According to the New Testament, the church is really about us the flock of disciples.  The flock of disciples joined to Christ is the church.  Even if one is not in [a church like this], the church is the flocks of all the disciples joined to Christ and created anew.

16.  From the true nature of such a church what the mission of the church is becomes clear.  "God reconciled us to himself through Christ and also, he gave us the duty to serve in reconciliation.  That is, God reconciled himself to the world by Christ and he is not demanding accountability for human sins but has entrusted to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, God exhorts through us and we have to fulfill the ambassadorial service of Christ.  I ask you in the place of  Christ.  Please be reconciled to God," (verses eighteen through twenty).

17.  "The word of reconciliation" is the gospel which was made clear by the cross and which brings salvation.  God has entrusted this gospel to the church.  God has furnished the gift of reconciliation to humanity through Christ.  The duty to convey this gift of reconciliation was given to Paul.  It was not just given to Paul but to all disciples.  The gospel of reconciliation was entrusted to the church.  The church was given the task to reconcile all people to God.  The love of Christ requires the entire faith community to "a ministry for reconciliation."  The death of Christ on the cross was for the purpose of reconciling to God persons separated from God because of their sins.

18.  We too are given the duty to exhort those around us saying, "I ask you in the place of Christ.  Please be reconciled to God."  This duty is a privilege for us in the church who have been joined to Christ and created anew.

End Note:

*Literally, "to be joined by the red thread of destiny."

 
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