Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1197
January 18, 2015 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
Dr. Ed Pettus
“A New Creation”
When I was 19 years old, in 1979, I attended a concert with a few friends. The musical group was called The Pat Terry Group, a Christian group of three guys. Pat was the lead singer, song writer, and played the guitar. He was one of the influences that got me into playing. I had been with a friend of mine a few months before this concert and he had shared his faith story with me but I had not considered much about what that all meant. I had gained a few friends who were Christians, but I had never been a part of any church and certainly would not have classified myself as a believer. During the concert, Pat Terry took some time during the concert to talk about Jesus and accepting Christ into your heart. He invited everyone to bow their heads and pray with him and then with every head bowed he invited us to accept Jesus. He asked those who had accepted Jesus and prayed with him for that to raise our hands. It was a strange sensation because my arm felt heavier than normal, but I managed to raise my hand. God had been working in my life long before that night, but I kind of mark that date as a new beginning in the faith. Pat asked us to tell someone what we had done and I did so with my friend. Ever since then the Lord has been leading me through a journey in the faith and in ways I would have never imagined back in 1979.
One of the first things I began to do was to memorize scripture. The people with whom I became involved were varied - Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, and even a Presbyterian! Part of the practice we all shared was memorizing scripture. We kind of got a reputation around our small college campus to the point that we were called the “God Squad”. I got heavily into Bible study and primarily that was in Revelation and the End Times - Daniel, Ezekiel and other places, but what that interest did was to get me into the discipline of Scripture study. So part of that practice was to memorize. The college thing then was to share a verse that was your favorite or special to you, a practice that new believers find fascinating, nothing wrong with it! But we even thought it got to be a bit silly partly because we were always sharing that verse at retreats or Bible study sessions. Some of us decided to make some obscure verse our special verse. Mine was Matthew 24:28, where the corpses are there the vultures will gather. So special!
One of the verses that did kind of shape my idea of evangelism was 1 Thess. 2:8 that you had become so dear to us that we shared with you not only the gospel but our very lives. That became a model for sharing the gospel in that we share more than just the gospel message itself, but share of ourselves to other people. We seek to befriend people and earn the right to be heard, to share the gospel with them. Another verse that I memorized early on was 2 Cor. 5:17 that those who are in Christ are a new creation. All things old are gone and the new has come.
I consider this verse a foundational verse for Christians – the realization that in Christ something tremendous has happened to us, something on the level of creation. That whole notion of raising my hand at a concert brought something into my life. I had no clue what was missing. At that moment a new creation began. Think about creation. So often we take it for granted, that God created the world and all things in six days, but more to the point of this message, he created by speaking things into existence. God said, “let there be light,” and there was light. God speaks us into a new creation, a new creature. We begin a new kind of existence when we are in Christ. God reaches into our existence and touches us with a word that creates something new. God’s grace has touched us to cause something spiritual to happen, a transformation. This verse indicates a beginning toward sanctification, developing that new creation to reflect the love of Christ. We are seeking to be holy, righteous, even perfect, or complete, in Jesus Christ. So, this verse is vital to our awareness of who we are in Christ. One of the reasons memorizing scripture like this is important is to get this word into our hearts and minds in such a way that we cannot help but know it deep within as true. It should be known in the marrow of our bones that we are new creatures in Christ.
You probably remember the Andy Griffith character Earnest T. Bass and a woman called him a dreadful creature. Earnest heard it and kept hollering at Andy, “She called me a creachter!” Yes, we are new creachters in Jesus!
This chapter in 2 Corinthians speaks of our earthly existence and the body we now have compared to the body we will have in heaven and how we yearn to be with Christ but that we can have confidence in that Christ is with us by the Holy Spirit. We groan in these bodies, but there is a promised future, a looking forward to a new body, just as we realize in Christ we are a new creation in spirit. Paul is the one who said, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Gal. ). Now Paul did not want to die, but he knew that whether we live or die, we are God’s and we seek to please God.
I want to draw your attention back to verse 14. In the ESV the phrase is the love of Christ controls us, but this control is in the sense of compelling us and leading us. It is not a control in the sense that it forces us in any way. But it is a love so compelling that we cannot help but desire to live in that love. It is the love we see in 1 Corinthians 13 – “4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When we live in this love, the love of Jesus Christ, we come to see even more the reality of 2 Corinthians 5:15 that we do not live for ourselves.
Look in 2 Cor. 5:15…We do not live to make more money, to be socially on top, not for self achievement, not even for our own self esteem, but we live for Christ. Whether we live or die it is all for Jesus Christ. But we know that our tendency is to live for ourselves. We look out for number one. We deserve a break today. I’ve got to get mine while I can. How is this going to affect me? This is why we need to confess our sins so often, because of our desire to live for self. We revert to the old and ignore that in Christ we have been made new. God does not just clean everything up to the point that we never are tempted again or never struggle with the old nature, we still struggle. But what has happened in regeneration is that we are now capable of choosing the right – something we could never do in our old nature. We are still able to sin, but the deeper we work into our newness in Christ, the greater we will be able not to sin.
When I think about being in the love of Christ and not living to ourselves I remember the verse about taking captive our thoughts. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 10…
2 Corinthians 10:1-6
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
We face spiritual enemies and as new creations in Christ we seek to take every thought captive so that we might obey Christ. This is the goal – obedience – the goal of our new life. We take thoughts captive by making scripture our thoughts! Think biblically! This is so foreign to the world and becoming more foreign to our nation. Some are even warning that our way of thinking is extremists. But we cannot really think in this manner unless we have this word in us, written on our hearts.
When we think biblically we begin to think and act as a people who are new creatures. We allow Christ’s love to shepherd us along and we do not consider our needs alone. We begin to act and live as the new creation that God has made us.
We are a new creation…I’ve said what I needed on that, the next topic for Paul is that since we are new creations God has made us ambassadors of this message.
God has given us a ministry – it is a ministry that is first of all a proclamation. That is why Paul writes in verse 19 that we have a message. The ministry is the message…
This is our message! Christ has rescued us, taking the sin that was ours and taking the judgment upon himself. Christ has set us free and the only thing he asks of us in this passage is to share that message with others.
Have you seen the Kevin Costner movie version of Robin Hood, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Morgan Freeman plays Azeem who is in prison with Robin and after they escape, Azeem, who is a Moor, proclaims that he owes Robin a life debt for saving his life in the prison. He vows to protect Robin Hood until his debt is paid by saving Robin’s life. His vow means that he is living, not for himself, but for Robin Hood. Christ has set us free and we are now living for him and not for ourselves. We live in the presence of the Spirit and the gospel is life so that we come to a place where sharing our life is indeed also a sharing of the gospel and the sharing of the gospel is sharing our very life.
All of this is from God. We were separated from God he took the initiative to bring us back into relationship with him. Now, I added two verses from the next chapter because Paul here emphasizes something of the urgency of our proclamation. “Now it the day of salvation.” Sometimes we read that and we live to ourselves by thinking “yes, I am saved,” and we leave it at that. I’m ok with God and we rest in that as if we have nothing left to do. But we are the ones called to call others to be reconciled. Their day of salvation is upon them just as ours has been. Today is the day, every day is possibly the day that our testimony helps to usher in another of God’s chosen into the fold of believers.
You and I are new creatures in Christ, but as we know and see that does not mean that all our problems are over, nor does it mean that we can just sit back and rest in our salvation. We are ambassadors for Jesus Christ as his new creations. A friend of mine who went to China for a short visit jokes about secretly serving as an ambassador to smooth relations between the USA and China. Well, we are also in that role, no joke, to help reconcile relations between people and God. Let us go and make disciples proclaiming the message that the old can be made new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.