Paul, in answering the charges made against him by false teachers and brethren in Corinth, declares that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17). The particular change, of which he had just spoken; i.e., knowing “no man according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16), is one indication that a transformation has taken place in “any man” who is “in Christ.” At one time, in the days before his conversion, Paul judged Jesus by external standards in the light of the teaching he received from Gamaliel, and thus concluded that Jesus of Galilee was not the Messiah (Acts 22:3 ff; Phil. 3:4; Acts 26:9). Now he no longer judges Jesus by such standards. He is a “new creature” old things have passed away and all things have become new. Likewise, it was time for the Corinthians to quit judging him in much the same way. They were placing too much emphasis on externals and should have been emphasizing the spiritual. They were Paul’s letter, written in his heart, known and read by all men; . . . written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:2-3).
Many, as the Corinthians, fail to grasp the significance of what it means to be in Christ and the transformation of life and character that goes with such change. Upon examination of this passage one can learn some truths that will help him appreciate and understand what it means to be “in Christ.”
If Any Man
Though Paul is directing his remarks to a specific group of individuals, those designated as being “in Christ,” his words infer that any person can become a member of this group. The group may be limited in number, but the invitation to join is universal. This invitation was extended by the apostles in their “ministry of reconciliation” as they preached the “word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Today their word has been left for us in permanent form on the pages of the New Testament.
While the invitation is extended through the “word of reconciliation” one must make a conscious choice as to whether or not they will accept the offer to “be reconciled to” and “receive the grace of God,” namely, the forgiveness of their sins (2 Cor. 5:20 cf; 6:1). In Romans 5:1,2 one is said to obtain their “introduction by faith into this grace” and as a result has “peace with God.” Such actions on the part of an individual infer a change of heart.
Be in Christ
This change of relationship occurs when one comes “into Christ.” When a confessed believer submits to the will of God, be repentance and immersion in water for the remission of his sins, he is brought into this union with Christ and enters a new relationship (Rom 10:10 ff; Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:26, 27). He is now reconciled to God “through the death of’ Christ and no longer considered an “enemy” (Rom. 5:10).
Reconciliation with God is possible only for those “in Christ,” since he is the means by which one is made acceptable to God the Father. They will be “saved from the wrath of God” that will be poured out on all unbelievers at the judgment (Rom. 5:9 ff; Jn 3:36; 1 Thess. 5:9). It is this latter group that has been “destined” for this fate.
One chooses his destiny, either by electing to be among those “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ and “glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30), or those that will experience God’s eternal wrath (2 Thess 1:7-9). God allows men to exercise their free will, but they will have to accept the consequences of their choice. That is why the apostles extended the invitation to “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
A New Creature
When one has been reconciled to God he is described as being “a new creature” or “a new creation.” He is now a product of God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). Old things have passed away, all things have become new. In the words of Isaiah: “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new” (43:18-19).
There is the tendency for many “new creatures” in Christ to look back to the past and long for their former manner of life. Such thoughts and desires must be expelled from the mind. Paul forgot what was behind him in his life in the Jews religion and reached “forward” and pressed “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). So too, the “new creature” must not entangle himself in the defilements “of the world” of which he has “escaped” (2 Pet 2:20). Such a step backward indicates a lack of love and appreciation for the new found blessings “in Christ.”
Conclusion: The world, being under the power and control of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), does not and cannot make a man “new.” It is the desire of Satan for a man to keep “the old self’ and continue to be “corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22). One day there will be “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet 3:13), but it will only be populated by those that are new creatures in Christ. Therefore, it would be in the interest of our soul to become a new creature in Christ and remain faithful to him during the time of our stay on this earth so we might inhabit the “new heavens and new earth” with Him (Rev 2:10).