TEXT: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Last week we continued talking about the meaning and significance of the Resurrection. We talked about sin and the ways that the Resurrection changes our relationship to God with respect to sin. We looked at three pictures of that new life in Christ.
This week we continue on the topic of Resurrection. We will read a bit more about what happens in a person who trusts God’s love, shown through Jesus Christ. This week, the Apostle Paul describes what happens in a letter he wrote to the early church in Corinth. He will use some different metaphors and illustrations to help us understand.
But first, here is the key verse that Paul then goes on to explain:
Therefore anyone who is in Christ is a new creature;
the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Old and New (v.17)
This text begins with “anyone who is in Christ.” (v. 17) While that is familiar Christian wording, it is an unusual term. You can be in a room, but not in a person. But what else could it mean? I can think of a few ways we use IN – we talk about being “in love” or appearing “in person.” Both suggest, and rightly so, that being “in Christ” involves a strong connection of heart and mind, and perhaps even presence. I’d like to suggest one more way we use the word IN – we talk about being “in good hands,” implying trust of another person. I think that adds one more dimension to what is in view here.
To be “in Christ” means to trust Jesus completely – to entrust heart, mind, and soul to his care. Being “in Christ” means to belong to Jesus Christ and to identify yourself with him. It is one more way to describe being a Christian. A Christian trusts Jesus, follows Jesus, belongs to Jesus – we are in Him, in His good hands.
That’s a brief side-trail to get us to what follows. Paul is trying to describe a Christian and he uses this term “in Christ.” He could have said “a Christian is a new creature…” but he chose instead to use this term that suggests a little bit more of what it means to be a Christian.
Let’s turn now to what he says. One who is in Christ, who has trusted Jesus Christ, IS a new creature.
The old things have passed away and new things have come. What could the old be? He doesn’t say directly here, but in earlier verses (v. 15-16) he talks about no longer living for ourselves. He talks about living and knowing things “according to the flesh.” It suggests that the “old things” are human selfishness, pre-occupation with self, and perhaps the cravings and sins of this world. But things have changed because of Jesus. And note that order! We don’t change in order to know Jesus; we trust Jesus and he changes what we know and want.
But mainly today’s text focuses on what is new – not what will be new, but what already is for those who trust Christ.
A City of Bankers (vv. 18-20)
After saying, “Behold, new things have come,” Paul begins a list with “Now all these things are from God…” (v. 18). I’d like to look at the list of new things in verses 18-20.
There are three things God has done, followed by a fourth thing that results:
- God reconciled us to Himself through Christ
- God gave us the ministry of reconciliation
- God has committed to us the word of reconciliation
- Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ…
Clearly, there is a word that appears more than once in there. Paul uses the word RECONCILIATION to explain and describe what God has done in and through Jesus. What does that mean… reconciliation?
Think about it; we use it to talk about forgiveness and restoration between two people, like a split couple being reconciled. But perhaps the most familiar usage is a bit more mundane. It’s an accounting term. You may not do it any more with online banking, but do you remember what we used to call going through your checkbook and your bank statement? It was reconciling your statement. You make sure they match, that things are even-steven. You made sure that you didn’t owe the bank or the bank owe you, but that your records were straight. Accountants do the same thing to balance their books. When things are reconciled there are no unaccounted debts.
If I loan one of you $100, you are in my debt until you repay the debt. When you do, we are reconciled. In fact, if a friend pays the debt for you we can be reconciled. Or if the debt is forgiven we can be reconciled. So that’s an interesting way to talk about what God has done, isn’t it?
Consider this: the New Testament is full of the story of Jesus. And it is full of the story of Jesus being shared with different people in different contexts. If you read the book of Hebrews, you will read about Jesus’ death in terms of the old priest and sacrificial system. It is the Good News of what God has done, particularly for the Jewish context. Last week we looked at a passage from Romans that compared our new lives to a soldier “presenting arms” before an officer – ready, prepared, attentive.
Today we are looking at a letter to people in Corinth, which was a very secular, worldly seaport near Athens, Greece, along the trade routes. As such, it was a commercial hub, not unlike our own city of Charlotte. Said another way, Paul was writing to a group of non-Jewish folks who lived and talked money, trade, and commerce. What better way to communicate to them what God has done than to translate it into language and transactions that are familiar to them!
Hey, Mr. Banker, do you know what God has done in Christ? He has cancelled your debt! Actually, He didn’t just cancel it, but Jesus paid your debt through his own death on the cross. It was a larger debt than you could have paid and he took it on himself for you. You and God have been RECONCILED! Who would understand that language better than someone who dealt in trade, money, and commerce – in debt and payment.
So what does Paul say here about those who trust in Jesus for salvation?
- He says that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Our debts are paid and we are made right with God. Even-steven. Accounts have been settled.
- He says that God gave us the “ministry of reconciliation.” There are two things to note about that. One is that Paul defines “ministry of reconciliation” right there in verse 19. What is it? “Namely, it is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (v. 19) That’s a straight-out definition of reconciliation – not counting trespasses (that is, crossing the line) against them. But even more, God has given that same merciful and forgiving posture to us as a ministry. In other words, we are to do unto others as God has done to us! God has forgiven our sins and trespasses; so we are to forgive others. That’s our ministry – to love like God loves!
- Paul also tells us that God has “committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (v. 19) The word is the message or explanation about God’s reconciling love and action. We are not only to do it ourselves, but be able to talk about it and explain it. So, in word and deed, we are to imitate the love that God has shown us.
- It should be obvious then what results from those declarations. If we are to imitate God’s love in word and action, then we are like “ambassadors” for Christ. Like any ambassador, we represent Christ. That is exactly what is NEW and different from the old. Back in v. 16, the old us was described as being pre-occupied with our own needs and wants and self; now we live IN CHRIST, for Christ, as representatives and living witnesses of Christ. We are ambassadors extending the appeal on behalf of Christ: “Be reconciled to God!” (v. 20)
So do you see what Paul is doing here? More importantly, do you hear it for yourself? Using words and images that people who deal with money, transactions, and accounting should understand, Paul tells us that if we trust Jesus as God’s loving and reconciling action toward us, then we will become new. Our focus will move away from ourselves and onto Jesus. If we trust we will begin to understand how God has set things right with us and we will be able to explain and demonstrate that to others through our own forgiveness, mercy, and love.
Beyond the Illustration (v. 21)
There’s one last part. And this is where Paul moves away from accounting language and speaks more directly of what God has done in Christ.
And perhaps it’s because accounting language can only go so far. Jesus didn’t just pay our debt and reconcile our spiritual bank account. That would not have been enough because God says our problem runs deeper than that. Our sin is not just what we do wrong, but it is at a very deep level who we are. Jesus did more than pay our debt; he actually became who were are and took our place. The cross wasn’t just “I’m here to settle Robert’s account.” It was, “I am here in Robert’s place.” Listen again to verse 21: “God made Him who knew no sin to BE sin on our behalf…” Jesus didn’t just get in the line for criminals; he became a criminal. God turned His face away.
But listen, also, to the end of verse 21: “[it was]… so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
God doesn’t just see us as “all paid up” but as bearing the righteousness – the rightness – of His beloved Son, Jesus. Just as Jesus took on our full identity, we take his on before the Father.
So, God so loved the world – including you – that He reconciled you to Himself in Christ. If you have trusted that love, you are given a ministry and a word, to share with others what has been lavished on you. You are an ambassador for Christ. And you don’t just work for him; you belong to him as a new creature. Amen.
Some Music Used
- CHOIR: Rejoice, the Lord is King
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
- Salvation’s Song
- My Life Flows on in Endless Song