In II Corinthians 4 and 5, the apostle Paul is encouraging believers in their life of faith. He reminds his readers that they have the treasure of the gospel and the treasure of eternal life in “earthen vessels.” Earthen vessels are not impressive to look at, but earthen vessels are necessary so that the “surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves” (4:7). He also reminds believers in Jesus that “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (4:18). Thus, believers are a people who “walk by faith and not by sight” (5:7).
To a people redeemed by God in Christ, Paul then declares in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” The language Paul is using here is “new birth” language. Paul is announcing that the one who is in Christ is one who is “born again,” a “new creation,” as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3-6. The word Paul uses for “new” means “new in kind.” This is not something that is new in the sense of time (i.e., something that is young or temporally new), rather, something that is new in the sense of quality, a new kind of thing. The person who is in Christ has put off the old man and has put on the new man “which according to God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). This new creation involves a new will to seek the things of God, new desires to do the will of God, a new mind to think the things of God, a new purpose to honor God and to serve Him, and a new love for God and for the neighbor. The one who is in Christ truly is a new creature, having been born again from above by the Spirit of God.
But what does it mean to be “in Christ”? A person who is “in Christ” is a person in whom the Spirit of God has mercifully worked repentance and faith in the promises of God. To be in Christ is to be united by faith with Christ in His death and resurrection. This “united with Christ by faith” is a miraculous work which God does through His means of grace, the gospel in Word and sacrament (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 6:3-6). God comes to the repentant, helpless sinner and by His gospel works faith in the broken-hearted. At that moment, a person becomes “in Christ” and becomes a “new creation.” What an amazing work of God!
In this life, the person who is in Christ continues to walk by faith and not by sight. This means that believers in this life don’t readily see the changes that God has worked. God declares believers to be saints, yet they continue to struggle in this life with sin. God promises victory to the believer, yet often in this life the believer appears to be defeated. He is promised strength, yet he experiences weakness. He is promised life, yet he experiences death. And so through Paul God reminds the believer, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” What is seen is temporal, what is not seen is eternal. This is our comfort and certain hope.
Dr. Phil Haugen [AFLC Schools faculty] will step down as full-time faculty this spring.
This article first appeared in Kinship Magazine, Spring 2019 Edition.
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