The New Has Come
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely,that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their wrongdoings against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf,so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
This passage is one of my favorite verses in the Bible as it is also the slogan of the organization that I was a part of back in 2007-2009 -The 180degrees Music and Missions team. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come". This is the org's life verse as it is really the basis for the 180 degree life of turning away from sin as we turn to Christ. But this verse is not just limited to the individual level. It also talks about the New Community as the Church with her calling and mandate, and the New heavens and the New earth that we are eagerly praying for as we pray 'may your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'. Let us talk about these 3 layers of the transforming power displayed in the ministry of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Individual level
The verse specifically says "this person" so there is no denying that the promise of new creation is definitely for the individual whom the Lord chose to work on. Being a new creation is not only our hope but the very thing that we need as we understand our sinful state. As Christians, we believe that man is created originally in the image of God, in true holiness and true righteousness. But when our first parents sinned against God, they have fallen from this state and distorted the image of God in man. Man now instead of being able to reflect the image of God now reflects the rebellion that Satan also is guilty of. The image of God in man was corrupted and distorted. And so the Christian hope is not to just be a better person or to have all the blessings that we need in life.
What we ultimately need is for the image of God to be restored unto us. Bad news, we cannot achieve it through our own works or own efforts. It is only given by the sheer grace of our God as He sent His son Jesus. It is in Christ that humanity and the divine are united in one person as Christ who is the second person of the trinity who is co-equal, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit assumed humanity to bear on himself the sin and guilt of man, that even though Him having no sin at all, would die a shameful and painful death as the wrath of God was poured out unto Him. His perfect life while He walked on this earth earned for us the Righteousness that we need, so that those who are united in Christ will not only be saved from hell, but be restored in perfect righteousness and holiness by His perfect life and sacrificial death. Wew! That was a lot! But this is why we praise God for His goodness! This new creation in the person is also called regeneration.
As the Reformed Confession Canons of Dort says in the 3/4 Main point Article 12:
"And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God’s work is done, it remains in human power whether or not to be reborn or converted.
Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not less than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God, but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, people themselves, by that grace which they have received, are also rightly said to believe and to repent."
Being saved then is a supernatural work of God by the power of the Spirit through the mediation of Christ which we receive via our union with Him.
That restoration of the image of God in man is accomplished by Christ as He restored us to God. Notice the mention of the work of the Spirit. The same spirit that was hovering upon the waters in Genesis 1:2, is the same Spirit who conceived Christ in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and the same Spirit that made us alive in Christ. As Romans 8:11 says:
"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
The same Spirit then produces the fruit of Christ-likeness in the person as Galatians 5:22-23 says:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
Such is the work of our Triune God in just restoring in us the image of God that was corrupted since the fall. But it doesn't stop there. These individuals are gathered by the Lord and as they are recipients of the promised holy spirit, not only that they are enabled to reflect the true holiness and true righteousness of God, but these new community is also empowered by the Spirit to share in the ministry of Christ. The ministry of reconciliation.
2. The Church level
The Church is this new community. A community distinct to the communities after the fall of Adam because this is a community that the Lord has gathered Himself, and gave her a new identity to be His bride and His body. Husband and wife are called one flesh after marriage and so the imagery of Bride and own body points out the reality that those who belong to Christ are united to Him and are made one through His ministry. This new community that reflects the power and wisdom of God is also commissioned to join in His ministry of reconciliation as said in verses 18-21. The ministry of Reconciliation entrusted not just to Paul but to the whole Church. The ministry of reconciliation is first and foremost Christ's work as He reconciles individuals. Now this new community is given the power of the Holy Spirit to be faithful witnesses for God in Acts 1:8:
"but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.”
Side note: Acts 1:8 is the reversal that Christ's ministry accomplished. In the gospels, we have learned that Christ was born in Nazareth which is outside of Jerusalem. As we follow His ministry, we learn that He is coming from outside the capital and going into Jerusalem where He was crucified and buried.
Israel as a nation resembled the rebellion that Adam and Satan had and Jerusalem its capital has become the epitome of corruption. But it is where Christ's blood was shed and where He had risen triumphing over sin and death, that is why now Jerusalem, the corrupt city, was 'reborn', and it is where the good news of Christ's ministry would come from to reach the farthest parts of the world. Praise be to God it reached us! This is the ministry of reconciliation that was entrusted to the Church.
The Church is the new community birthed by the Spirit through the ministry of Christ. It is not through the flesh or our own effort that this new community would thrive and grow but as we hear and hear the words of Christ. As the Spirit enables each member to have a proper role for the benefit of one another. This new community is gifted by the Spirit so that the individuals in this community would grow in their love for God and their neighbors. Wherein they would grow in serving one another just as the son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. This new community should be governed by His word as His word is produced by the Spirit. Birthed and enabled by the Spirit, guided by His Word- the scriptures. This new community resembles Christ and His love for His people that He calls 'Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.' And so the mission of the church to proclaim the Gospel is the ministry of reconciliation proclaimed and applied as we welcome people who would come to Christ.
3. The New Heavens and the New Earth level
When Paul said that "Christ [is] reconciling the world to Himself", he does not talk about a universalist kind of reconciling the whole world to Himself that no one would go to hell. He said this to tell us that even though the whole world deserves His condemnation, He chose to reconcile it to Himself by not counting the sins of the people. This speaks of salvation for God's people, His elect, His Church. But it also speaks of the ultimate hope that we all have. Christ returning to earth to judge the living and the dead and wipe the tears from our eyes as death and sin are no more. It is important to note that this is what we all have been waiting for. God's promise of return and to make the whole of creation new a again. The Bible ends with the story of recreation and renewal and redemption and reconciliation. For while we do not deserve embrace, God in His goodness worked throughout all creation to bring about our restoration to Him. This is the work of God and not by any human hands.
As a conclusion, the ministry entrusted by God to the Church is not something that we should take lightly or take for granted. We should see it as something that is really important because He granted us the ministry of Reconciliation. The reconciliation of an individual to the Holy God, the ministry reconciliation entrusted to the Church, and the hope of final reconciliation in the end as Christ who is our Lord would meet us face to face and welcome us in His loving arms. Let us prioritize being reconciled to God, celebrating our reconciliation, and actively participating in any way we can so that another person would be reconciled to God as we wait for the final reconciliation in the end.