A Study of 2nd Corinthians 5:17-18
I know of no other text in the Bible that so clearly and pointedly focuses on the heart of what true religion is and on the heart of what a Christian is than the one that we find in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 18, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Let us place ourselves beside that passage of Scripture in order that it may shatter false notions of what being a Christian is, if we have them, and, in order that it may confirm and strengthen us in the true religion that is to be found in Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that a lot of people have a kind of Christianity that is not the real thing. Jesus, in Matthew 7:21-23, speaks serious words. He says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you.”
What was the problem there?
These people had the language of true religion. They said, “Lord, Lord.” They had the outward words of true religion: “Have we not prophesied, have we not cast out devils, have we not done many wonderful works?” Jesus did not argue with them. He did not say, “No, you didn’t.” They had done all of those things.
But what was the problem?
Although they spoke the name of Christ upon their lips, and although His works were in their hands, they never had His grace in their hearts.
We have all heard the expression, “Not all that glitters is gold.” So also, not all that talks of Jesus Christ, not all that has connection to the church, not all that has connection to the Bible is necessarily of Christ. Here is the heart of true religion. This is what a Christian is: He is a new creation.
What then is the essence of being a child of God, of having real religion?
It is given in these words of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.”
First of all, it is to be united to Jesus Christ by faith. Nothing less, nothing more. To be in Christ is the common scriptural phrase to express saving connection between Christ, the Son of God, and His people. When God saves you He does not cut up Jesus Christ and give a little piece of Him to you and a little piece to the other person, thus scattering Christ around. But He takes the sinner and He puts him into Christ. He ingrafts him into Christ so that there is a real, spiritual, unbreakable, living bond between him and Christ. Notice the language: If any one be in Christ. Not simply in the church, in an external place sitting in a pew. Not simply in outward conformity to the Ten Commandments. Not simply in an outward profession of the name of Christ. All of those things are important. All of those things will be found in the lives of those who are in Christ. But the text does not say that. It says “true religion is to be in Christ, it is to be united to Christ Himself.”
In the last day there will be multitudes who were in the church, multitudes who were in the way of outward conformity to the Ten Commandments. There will be multitudes who were in the way of a profession of faith, and yet who will be found to be totally devoid of saving union to Jesus Christ. If anyone be in Christ.
Now the apostle Paul uses the word “Christ” here deliberately. The word “Christ” is more of a title than it is a name. The personal name of our Lord is Jesus. But His official title, telling us of the work or the task that God gave Him, is Christ. The word “Christ” means “anointed one,” “God’s anointed,” and it refers to the fact that God gave to Christ the Spirit in order that Christ might be our prophet, to teach us; our priest, to forgive and intercede for us; and our king, to reign over us. The heart of true religion is to be brought into a living union with the one who is the Christ of God.
Saving religion is not some woozy feeling, some vague notion about Jesus whom you once saw in a picture, not some warm, tingly feelings that you get. But a Christian is one who has been instructed of God concerning the basic truth of Jesus Christ. A Christian is one who has been brought to know with all of his heart that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is not only a real man but He is very God. And a Christian is one who has been brought to understand that Jesus Christ is the Prophet. He is the one alone who can reveal to my heart the salvation of God and speak the Word of God to me. A Christian is one who has come to understand, at least in an elementary way, that Christ is his Priest. By laying down His life and being made a curse for him on the cross and bearing his sins upon the tree, as Priest He has brought a perfect sacrifice. And a Christian is one who understands that Christ is his Lord before whom he bows as servant and to whom he is subject with a willing heart. “In Christ” means that Christ now is my Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the one who brings me to God.
The Christian is not simply one who has sentiment for the Jesus who was a good man, a wonderful example, the Jesus proclaimed by modernism. A Christian is not simply one who has an attachment to Jesus of subjectivism. One gets shivers and shakes and goosebumps at the name of Jesus and cannot tell you why, he just gets it. No, a Christian has been united to Christ by a mighty work of the Holy Spirit, united in such a way that he knows who Christ is. And he knows what Christ has done. And he knows that who Christ is and what Christ has done is perfectly suited to his need as a sinner.
That is a Christian.
How is any man in Christ, you ask?
How does it happen that one is placed in Christ?
That does not happen by heredity. That is not something you inherited in your genes or chromosomes because your parents were Christians. Children of believing parents do not receive Christianity through their genes. There is something that a parent passes on to his child. That is a depraved nature.
So it is not by heredity, nor is it simply by outward association to His people. You do not get into Christ by simply having Him rub off on you because you have been close to His people. It is very important to be close to His people, because Christ communicates His grace through the communion or fellowship of saints. Still more, one is in Christ not by his own power of will, by his own choice by which he has reached out to Him by any power of natural will. That is no teaching of the Bible. That is a proud teaching. That is saying that one’s being in Christ is ultimately determined by that person. That denies the truth of grace.
No, there is only one way of being united to Jesus Christ. And the Bible tells us what that is. Paul tells how in 1 Corinthians 1:30. He says it very plainly: “For of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” Of God. It is because of God Himself. In other words, it is only by the almighty God, in free sovereign grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through what the Bible calls regeneration, being born again, being given the resurrection life of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the way we are united to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 the apostle puts it in just a little different language. He says, “We are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ.” The faithful and almighty God calls us, draws us by His powerful Word, by His living Word, into fellowship with Christ.
What is a Christian?
A Christian is not simply one who sits in the pew. He is not simply one who says, “Lord, Lord.” No. He is one who has been brought into a saving union with Jesus Christ. Therefore, he is a new creation.
The translation we have in the King James Version is correct. But if we wanted to translate it strictly literally, this is the way we would read it: “If any man in Christ – a new creation!” As though Paul were sitting wherever he was when he wrote this epistle, and after he wrote the words describing the essence of true religion – “If any man be in Christ” – he put down his pen, he rubbed his forehead, he pressed his eyes shut with the thought.
How shall I express what that means?
The result of being placed truly in Christ.
What words do justice to that?
How does one express the marvelous, stupendous change that comes when a dead sinner is placed into union with Christ?
What concept, what illustration, what words shall I employ?
Then, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by the Holy Spirit moving his heart in the very words that he writes, he picks up the pen and he writes in bold letters: a new creation. Nothing less than a new creature.
That concept of being a new creature was a very precious one to the apostle Paul as it expressed the wonder of salvation. He uses it in Galatians 6:15. There he speaks to the Galatian churches who had Jewish converts (some who were not true converts). They were very zealous to preserve the Jewish way of life. And they told the Gentile converts in those churches that unless they were circumcised and began to keep the Jewish Old Testament laws and ceremonies and be kosher, they could not be full-blown Christians.
You had also Gentile converts in those churches out of pagan background with all the baggage of their former life and thought. So you had in the Galatian churches a tremendous potential for blowups. And Paul says in that verse, in Christ circumcision availeth nothing and uncircumcision availeth nothing, but a new creature. The only thing that counts is that you understand that you have been made in Christ a new creation.
In Ephesians 2:10 he uses the same concept. In that chapter, after he describes the terrible condition of man in the first verses (we are dead in sins, under the power of the devil, children of wrath of ourselves), then he goes on to say that God, who is rich in mercy, has made us alive by grace only and not by our works.
How does he then summarize the mighty work of God in raising a dead sinner to life?
He says this: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”
Whenever a sinner is brought into living union with Jesus Christ, the result is that he stands a new, spiritual creation. The Christian is not old Adam patched up with a religious talk. The Christian is not the old man with the wallpaper or fresh paint of religious ceremonies and religious actions. A Christian is not similar to a dog who has been trained simply to go through motions and to jump through hoops. But he is a new creature. He is someone who has been made for the new heavens and the new earth. He has been given a new life, the principle of the life of Christ.
When God makes you a Christian, when God works His grace in your heart, He might not make you tall, He might not make you handsome, He may not make you beautiful or slim, but He gives to you a new heart. He makes you a new creation.
And this brings out the power of the work of God. There is a comparison here, then, between the Christian and the creation. The comparison is this, that the power of God displayed in the creation of all things is reflected in the power that He uses when He calls us and places us by His grace in Christ. That is the idea. In the opening chapters of Genesis, where we read of the creation of the worlds by God, that passage is simply filled with the power of God. In fact, God will ask Job in chapters 38ff. about that, and He says to Job, “Were you there? Was anyone there when I created? Did anyone help Me? Did anyone say, ‘Jehovah, I think it is time for Thee to do the work of Creation and, by the way, when you start I think you should do this and that’”? Of course not. That is ridiculous.
Our Bible opens with what words?
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” No one told Him what to do. No one told Him how to do it. Creation is a truth which shouts the truth of God’s almighty power. The God who acts and is answerable to no one but Himself. So also, the Christian is a new creation. He is created of God alone by wonderful grace and by power.
I love those words of the Scriptures which say, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God opens His mouth and He speaks. And by His power the world comes into existence. He spake and it was done. That is our Creator. He speaks. And so, the wonder of grace is that He speaks, He speaks our name. He says, “Come to me.” And He powerfully implants the life of Jesus Christ in our heart by a mighty power, by His own voice and word. We are a new creation if we are in Christ.
That is the essence of what it is to be a Christian. Get that down into your soul. To be placed in Christ as your Prophet, your Priest, and your King; to be made a new creation; to be taken out of death into life by the sovereign power of the great Creator.
I do not have time today to go on to tell you what the apostle says next, namely, that old things are passed away and all things are become new.
The apostle there is referring to the fact that this change is not a superficial or temporary change. It is very permanent and irrevocable. And if you read the entire context, beginning in chapter 4 and on through chapter 5, and keep that idea before you, you will see how the apostle works it out. He will show you there in these Scriptures that the old view of Christ which finds no beauty in Him is past away. Now the Christian sees Christ as precious and beautiful. You will see there also that the apostle shows that the old focus is passed away. The old focus was upon the temporary, upon the earthly, upon earthly things as being the end-all. But now those things are passed away and the Christian, as a new creature, has an attraction for those things which are eternal at the right hand of God.
Still more, you will see that the old which passes away is that sinful pride in self. He says in verse 15 that we henceforth no longer live unto ourselves, but we live unto Him who died for us and rose again. The old that is passed away is that life which is centered in our sinful pride. A life which is centered in pleasing our own selves, in thinking our own thoughts, in saying with Pharaoh, “Who is Jehovah that I should obey him?” That is passed away and now is reprehensible and vile to us. And the new has come, namely, that we live unto Him, all to Him. Not to sports, not to popularity, not to gambling, not to drugs, not to self. The old is passed away. And the new has come.
That is a Christian. He is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new.
It is not in man. It is not in the sinner. Salvation is not in the work of a man. It is not by the power of a minister or evangelist who can work on you and get you saved so that you come to the front and you say a few words after him. No! True religion is in God. All things are of God. There is nothing in you, nothing in any man that makes you a new creature. All of God. God must create you, anew.
Where were you when He created the heavens and the earth?
Declare it if you were there.
Did you add something?
What do you have that you have not received of Him?
It is of God, of grace in Jesus Christ.
What a wonder!
Are you a Christian?
Put yourself before this Scripture: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That explains it, says Paul. That is the reason for my life as an apostle and a minister of Jesus Christ.
True for you?
Then, blessed are you, and may God preserve you in it. And may every area in your life show that you are a new creature in Christ, a creature made unto the glory of God.
By Carl Haak