Second Corinthians 5:16-21
A Person Created Anew
1. Giving up the old self, [we] want to become a new self. Everybody has entertained that wish [at least] once. When we want to be somebody new, some of us cut our hair. We dye our hair. We change wardrobes. We experiment with image makeovers. Images can certainly be changed. The gazes of the people looking around us will even change. Moods will even change to certain degrees. But does that actually turn you into a new person? Or, when we want to be somebody new, some of us go on a trip. Some of us might move. Some of us might change careers. To an extent, the surrounding environment in which we live can be changed. Our style of life can be changed. But, change the conditions around us as we might, will that make you or me into somebody truly new?
2. In today's passage of scripture, we have these words written: "Therefore, anyone joined into Christ is a newly created person. The old person passes away, a new person is born," (verse seventeen). A person truly becomes new. That's what the Bible teaches. People can become brand new. The Bible uses the expression "to be created anew" for this. It was God who created humans. Through God's new creation, a person becomes new. So, what does "the newness" in this new creation entail? What does it mean when it says a person is new?
Reconcile The World With The Self
3. So, when you take a look from verses eighteen and on, you'll find this written there: "As all these things come from God, God reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has imparted to us a mission to serve in reconciling others. In other words, God has reconciled the world to himself by Christ, not holding people responsible for their sin, but has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation," (verses eighteen and nineteen).
4. As we go on reading, we think that his speech on the new creation will keep going, but contrary to our expectation, Paul abruptly starts talking on "reconciliation" here in the text. After he decides to set aside "the new creation," then for a while, he decides to give a go at thinking about "reconciliation" in his line of argumentation and reasoning.
5. The word "reconciliation" is an everyday word for us. It means to restore ourselves in a relationship with someone, to make friends again. A broken relationship is repaired back. An enemy becomes a friend. It is not a speech about human relationships that [the Bible] is speaking of here. It is [speaking here of] reconciliation between God and man (woman). To say that it is speaking of reconciliation between God and human means that the relationship between God and humans has actually been broken. It is precisely because [humans] are in a hostile relationship of enmity [that the Bible] is speaking on making peace between the two entities.
6. The Hebrew people of antiquity have expressed the ruptured relationship between God and human in a simple story. -- God created humans a man from the dust of the earth, he placed [them] in the prosperous Garden of Eden. In the midst of the Garden of Eden, there was a Tree of Life and a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God commanded the people not to take and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But, they rebelled against his injunction, they took from the [forbidden] tree and ate. Then, the man and his wife were afraid of God, and avoiding his face they hid among the garden trees. But, the truth that they had rebelled was made plain and obvious by God. At last, they were driven out of Eden. -- As you know, [this] is the story written in Genesis chapters two and three. This narrative portrays the relationship of God and humans so naively and simply, yet so truly superbly. In this way then, on account of the fact that humanity went against God's law and had rebelled on God, the [pure] bond between God and humans was broken.
7. Many people are not willing to seriously consider this matter. When it comes to God, they have an image of God like some smiley grandpa beholding the face of his grandchild. You just gotta pray and he oughtta grant it. God's just gotta be good to people cause God's God. -- People will think like that all too often. But, look at it carefully. As far as this world goes, isn't it really a world that goes against God? [The people in the world] don't love and respect God as God, and neither do they love and value their neighbors as persons whom God has created. It's truly a world that has turned its back to the will of God. This world is one that would even crucify and murder God's beloved son. Make no mistake about it, all of us are a part of this sinful world that it's been. We are definitely by nature just like Adam avoiding God's face and having to hide among the trees. By nature, we cannot possibly appear in the presence of God the way we are.
8. In case we are thinking of this matter of "reconciliation" as pertaining to the condition we are in, what of it? Quite matter of factly, we cannot extend the hand of reconciliation to God from our side of things because the responsibility for the break between God and humans lies with humanity. -- Because we're the ones wrong. However, from God's side of things, God has extended out a hand of reconciliation to us just as we are. Through the agency of Christ God has reconciled us to himself. That's an astonishing message written here.
9. Then, the phrase of "not holding people responsible for their sins," which is in verse nineteen, has decisive significance. This was the method God took to bring reconciliation into realization. This phrase "to hold responsible for sin," when translated literally, is a phrase with the meaning of "to count faults." Since this too is an every day phrase for us, we see it clearly. We often times count each others faults. We take issue with them one by one, we hold each other accountable, we look for paybacks. We document each and every fault in our minds real hard. By doing that, we can't ever make things right with each other. But, God says that he has given up on counting [our] faults in order to make reconciliation a reality. By disposing of the records of sin, God has been trying to gain humanity [though it be] sinful and rebellious against him.
10. Moreover, I'd like for us to remember that Paul is making repeated references in this passage to Christ. "God has reconciled us to himself through Christ," (verse eighteen), "God has reconciled the world to himself by Christ," (verse nineteen). In sum, "through Christ" and "by Christ" God has brought into realization the act of "not holding people responsible for their sins."
11. What does it mean to say "through Christ" and "by Christ?" I'm jumping down a bit but take a look at verse twenty-one. What God has accomplished through Christ is expressed in a most brief and simplistic way, "God made him, who has nothing to do with sin at all, [to be] sin on our behalf. We have been able to obtain the righteousness of God through him," (verse twenty-one).
12. Jesus Christ was sinless. His life was permeated with obedience unto God the Father. God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son were one. While he was in this world of sin, Christ was afflicted with suffering by humanity's sins, and he was crucified and killed. The one person in this world who did not need to suffer and who did not need to die was murdered. God approved it. Why? God laid on Christ the sins of the world and charged him guilty for them. This is how the words that the prophets have spoken had come to fulfillment. "We are a flock of sheep, we err from the way, we have turned and gone into different directions," (Israel 53:6). That was so that we sinners, who have not a thing to do with righteousness about us, might obtain the righteousness of God and be justified.
13. This is the essence of the phrase of "not holding people responsible for their sins." God hasn't just ignored sin. He hasn't just approved them over. Sin is not something God could care less about. Since he did "not hold people responsible for their sins," God himself had to bear the responsibility. Therefore, in the truly painful manner of Christ's death on the cross, it was fulfilled. "God reconciled the world to himself 'by Christ.'" In fact, the same Christ who came into the world and who died on the cross are one and the same as the hand of reconciliation which God had so extended. And that hand of reconciliation has been dyed in dark red with the shed blood [of Christ] so that our sins might be forgiven.
14. God himself accomplished this for the reconciliation of God and humans. But, even though God has extended his hand of reconciliation not holding people responsible for their sins, that alone will not establish a state of reconciliation; for, reconciliation is a condition which always involves both partners. The hand that God extended needs to be grasped by the individual person. For that reason, first of all, the will of God, in seeking for reconciliation, must be communicated to people. The message of God's reconciliation must be communicated. Then the communicated message must be accepted. For that reason Paul states as a person commissioned with the message of reconciliation, "Therefore, as God exhorts through us, we are fulfilling our duties as ambassadors of Christ. We plead with you on behalf of Christ. Be reconciled to God," (verse twenty).
15. "Be reconciled to God." This is an exhortation from God and a request from Jesus. This is the message that the apostle Paul had communicated, and it is the message that the church has been communicating for generations. True salvation does not lie in a person seeking God with all his or her might or in making God a possession of our own. God is seeking humans. God himself has accomplished everything necessary for reconciliation with humanity, he has extended out his reconciliatory hand, and he is speaking [his] message of reconciliation through [his] church. We just believe the message of reconciliation and only accept it. We just turn ourselves over to the outstretched hand of God. We can't do anything about our sin debt before God. We admit our sin before God, turn to him, and just receive God's reconciliation into us. Thus, then, a person obtains peace with God.
16. Well, let's go back to the questions at the beginning. What does "the new" in the new creation mean? When a person becomes new, what does that mean? I think it is clear in the words of the Bible that we've already seen. "The new" in the new creation means "a newness in relationship," which is given by being reconciled to God. A person becomes reconciled with God and in the new relationship with God, one is created anew. People look for a new self. In trying to be somebody new, people try out all sorts of stuff. But, it is not necessary that "we be concerned with becoming" a new self of some kind. In the relationship with God we need to truly become new. That very newness indeed has eternal significance.