My most favorite verse as a kid was 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come,” (ESV). As a kid, that verse stuck with me more than any other, even John 3:16. However, I did not fully understand that verse at the time, and only recently did I seek to know really what Paul was writing. I found it insightful and helpful to examine the context, and so I quickly want to show you what I discovered. Like any other verse in the Bible that is so easily plucked from the roots of context, it shrivels. It isn’t all that it was ever meant to be. The context of this verse goes way back to chapter 4, though there is an immediate context just before Paul penned the words.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote that the god of this world has blinded the people from seeing the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus (cf. v. 4). In essence, the unbeliever is much like the beginning of this created universe. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deed,” (Genesis 1:1-2a, ESV)… In his original state, the unbeliever is empty and dark. However, at any moment God can illumine the unbeliever just as he did creation. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV).
What we then see is a new work of creation. We are re-created from dark and empty to full of light and meaning. That means all of life is different! Look at what follows. It is not that life is grand all the time, but life takes on new perspective. “But we have this treasure [the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV)… The reason for having this treasure is for us to show God’s surpassing power. God is glorious; not us. God’s power is glorious; not ours. Thus, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies,” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, ESV). One of the greatest differences that comes with moving from death to life–darkness to light–is that we realize that life is not about us, but about God and Christ. All of life is about them. We exist for their glory and their adoration.
That doesn’t mean that we do not feel the effects of this mortal life. Affliction is real. Perplexity is genuine. Persecution happens. Martyrdom occurs. “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). How we long to move from our temporary residence of this body to a permanent one.
When I was 8, most of my family and I moved from Indiana to Georgia. We had planned on buying a newly-built house and move in the same day as signing. However, after packing up all our belongings and driving down, we found out there was a little known law that made it illegal to buy a house while making payments on another house in a different state. We couldn’t close on the new home, and so my parents, thinking our Indiana house would sell quickly, went and bought a tent. We lived–yes lived–in a tent at Jellystone Camp Ground for a few weeks. Then we “moved” to High Falls Camp Ground. For six weeks, we lived in a tent. It was clear that our house wasn’t going to sell, so my parents upgraded to an Airstream trailer. For a year we lived at KOA campgrounds. After a year, my dad became pastor of a small church that had a parsonage. It was ok living in a tent, better living in a trailer, but great to live in a house. We could not wait to move from the tent to the trailer, but then again from the trailer to the parsonage. In the same way, Christians who know their permanent dwelling, cannot wait to get there even in the midst of being content where they are.
Again, this contentment comes from His light shining in our hearts. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him,” (2 Corinthians 5:9, ESV). Because we have the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we seek always to please him. But beyond that, we seek to bring others to him so they too can live in such glorious knowledge. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others,” (2 Corinthians 5:11a, ESV). But the climax comes in verses 14 and 15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (ESV). The love of Christ controls us. The question though: is Christ the object of love or the subject of love? Is it Christ giving the love or is it Christ receiving the love. It’s ambiguous and probably purposefully so. Christ’s love for us and our love for Christ controls what we do. When we love someone, we find ourselves doing things for them that we never thought we’d do. When someone loves us, the same thing happens. It is no different with Christ. Why? Because we have concluded (there’s that idea of knowledge again) that he died for us and so we are to live for him.
That’s what Paul was getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:17. All that we have gone over (and more!) is summed up in this one little verse. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” The interesting thing is that “he is” in this verse is added. The RSV adds “there is” and is probably right because it is not simply that the believer is a new creation (though he is), but there is set before him a new creation. He is a small part of something newer and grander. The old (creation/order) is passed away. Behold! Look! Understand! The new (creation/order) has come to the one whom God said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” He has and is making all things new.