2 CORINTHIANS 5:17-20 (NIV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Do you feel like a new Creation? Why not?
You are a new creation – and that has consequences
How many here were oldest child growing up?
Then likely you heard this phrase: “You are the oldest, so you should know better. Be the example!”
I’ll admit that got tiresome at times. Maybe you even said, “I don’t wanna be the oldest!”
But there you were – and that role carried with it certain responsibilities…
This morning we read “You are a new creation because God reconciled us, therefore be ambassadors and reconcile others to God.”
Paul writes that you are a New Creation because of God’s reconciliation, and therefore you should be God’s ambassador to a world that is not yet reconciled to God.
A NEW CREATION
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
In the passage we just read, God’s Word tells us we are a New Creation!
In today’s marketing-saturated world, “New” usually means “We changed the colors on the packaging!” or “We put less stuff in the bag!” We’ve been conditioned to be suspicious about stuff with “new” on the label.
But we all know about things that really are new – and how wonderful they are:
•A newborn baby
•A new house
•A new car
Each is appealing because it’s unstained – no scratches, no defects – all promise and possibility!
But maybe your sense of newness is worn off? Maybe you feel instead there are a couple of hundred thousand miles on the once “new” car? Maybe it’s burning oil, the transmission is shot, and probably will overheat this summer?
How can we be “new” when we certainly don’t feel new?
First, let’s define “new”:
•New means existing only for a short time;
•it can also mean something that’s occurred lately, or maybe it’s a new possession;
•new may simply be different…
We’ll keep that in mind as we look into what Paul means when he says we are a New Creation and the implication of that newness to our lives (this list is not exhaustive!):
Freed from the curse of the law: the new is distinct from the old, which was under the curse of sin, was subject to God’s righteous judgment, was separated from God, and lived for self.
The Veil is removed: the old way of serving God through sacrifices and ritual and form – which in Colossians we learn “…are a shadow of things to come” were set aside when Jesus’ work was finished: Matthew 27:51 “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
A New heart: we are new in that we have something new implanted in the soul which never was there before;
•It’s not merely an improvement, but the replacement of old with new – As John Gill wrote in 1740: “…here is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with...”
•Ezekiel 36:26 (New International Version)
•Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
We have a new family: a new family replaces old relationships – not that we abandon our natural family, but we learn we have a bond with fellow believers that goes beyond mere relation.
•Matthew 12:50 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
We’re freed from bondage: we can relinquish dependence on external things such as riches, honor, power, position, and status fades as we learn to trust Christ for all in all.
We have hope after this life: we have hope in a new Jerusalem, the new heavens, and a new earth, and the restoring of all things – as we read in Romans 8:21 “… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
•Philippians 3: 20 “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
So we are new -- in many ways -- and this has tremendous implications to us and our purpose here on earth.
In the next two verses we read:
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
There’s a lot there, and there is not time to go into all the theological implications of these verses, but I want to focus on our responsibility to the ministry of reconciliation.
“Reconciliation” has two meanings – one is about relationships, the other is about alignment:
•the re-establishment of cordial relations or
•getting two things to correspond – such as getting the checkbook to reconcile to the bank statement
We’ve all experienced relationship reconciliation– when two who were once separated return to fellowship. Maybe you were forced to make up after a fight? Or maybe you or the other person took the first step and said “I’m sorry…”
In Richard III, Shakespeare perfectly captures the struggle of one who yearns to be reconciled:
’Tis death to me to be at enmity;
I hate it, and desire all good men’s love.
Isn’t this the case? We don’t like being at odds, constantly angry and upset. In fact, we fool ourselves when we “stick to our guns” and place our pride before relationship. And we are relieved when we are reconciled, and things are made right, and we re-establish “cordial relations.”
The finished work of Christ provides a way for us to re-establish cordial relationship with God.
Romans 5:8 “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Adam and Eve lived in paradise – no thorns, no thistles, no mosquitoes, no death – and God would come walk in the Garden and talk with them as we talk to each other.
But Adam sinned, and the fall broke that relationship, and the curse that came with disobedience affected everything – our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with creation – everything.
Verse 18 says we are now reconciled to God – and that reconciliation – though not yet complete – begins the restoration process.
Reconciling also means we get re-aligned – no longer are you focused on the world’s values of power and status – you align yourself with what really matters.
“Paradise” is more than warm breezes and no bugs – it will be a place where relationships are in perfect harmony, where the lion lays down with the lamb, where even the trees sing!
(It’s what we were made for – don’t buy the line “death is a natural part of life “ –it’s not. Death is the final enemy we will all face, but those in Christ will rise again and be with Him in paradise forever!)
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let s the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord...
Thus our message – our lives – must evidence that every person can be reconciled to God – and that there is a final restoration coming, and that the work can begin today.
We are a New Creation, who are now ministers of reconciliation.
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
An ambassador represents his sovereign (whether the sovereign is a king or a nation).
•Ambassador’s message is accepted if:
oAmbassador is consistently loyal and has always represented the King’s interests in the past
oMessage rings true – you can imagine the King saying the words the ambassador is saying
•We are Christ’s ambassadors – representing the King
oWhen an ambassador stands before a foreign court, he or she is representing the King and the nation. What the ambassador says, the King says.
oAn ambassador is independent, but always responsible for everything he says and does – and so is always on duty.
Illustration: In 1980, when I was a young airman in the Air Force, I was stationed in Denver, CO. One Saturday five of us decided to see the new Star Wars movie at the best movie theater in town, over on the “rich side” of Denver. We waited in line for hours, and then finally shuffled in and paid for our tickets. A guy behind us started complaining to the manager that we had “cut in line” and “were causing trouble,” but nothing was further from the truth.
Nevertheless, just before the movie started, the manager came and asked us to leave. We were beyond shocked. Then a policeman came down the aisle. He leaned in close to me and said, “Please just follow me – I’ll explain outside.”
We followed him to the lobby where the officer told us “Fellas, I’m sorry – I’m retired from the Air Force – but they don’t like Air Force guys here – and will cause a ruckus. Do yourselves a favor and leave so this doesn’t get out of hand.”
Our haircuts, clothes, and demeanor gave us away. We learned the hard way that even off duty; we represented the US Air Force. If we “fought for our rights” it would reflect poorly on the Air Force. So we subsumed our own interests for the good of the service – and we didn’t even get a refund.
Of course that wasn’t easy – I lost six bucks and didn’t get to see the latest Star Wars movie and was treated like a second class citizen because of what I represented. When they saw us they saw “Air Force” – not Dan and Eric and Pete.
But maybe those people that complained had dealt with “Air Force” guys before – maybe they were noisy and obnoxious and looking for trouble – it wouldn’t be the first time young military types were off base and caused problems.
We all represent Christ, but some of us forget that we are always “on duty.”
But remember that you are an ambassador of the light – light reveals: John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
Sometimes people aren’t happy to be exposed to the light: John 15:18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
Sometimes ambassadors bring bad news – but if that’s what your king demands, than that is the message you present. It’s not your message – you are an ambassador.
So, we’ve seen that we are a new creation and this has implications – we are to live differently and thus bring the message of reconciliation to others, since we are ambassadors for a new world, a new kingdom where paradise is restored and Jesus reigns.
So what must we do?
•We are a new creation. Thus we are ambassadors, representing God with all integrity, and actively reconciling people to God
Well that sounds good – so let’s just close there and be done – right?
Not so fast.
If I left you with a message of “Be a better ambassador”, you’d soon find out that no matter how hard you try, you are just never good enough. The harder you try, the less results you see.
Instead of ambassadors we become security guards over our own lives: “Oh yes, everything is fine! Pay no attention to that – everything is fine – nothing to see here – move along…”
Why is that?
There are a number of reasons, but chief among them is that if you are “trying hard,” you’re working in your own strength. You’re not living as a “new creation” – you just put some paint on the worn spots and dumped a bottle or marvel mystery oil in the crankcase.
•Very soon your own righteousness will become a snare – “See how good I am? I’m glad I’m not like all those other people…”
•Luke 18: 9 “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Well, wait – if it’s not how good I am – then what?
•We must take the focus from ourselves, and instead focus on Jesus, the Ambassador who perfectly represented the Father in all he said and did.
•He said we are a new creation! -- When we fail to be the new creation that he said we are, we reject the work he completed.
Unless I place full faith in Him, I will be an ambassador of myself – my good works, my uprightness, my morality – and not a representative of the King.
The only way to be what we are to be is to abandon hope in self, and rely instead on Him.
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Only when I see that God has already accepted me – has already paid the ultimate price for me -- can I deal with the real reasons I fail to live up to the high requirements of my post.
I learn that I put other things ahead of Christ because I think they will give me more security and worth than He will.
Only after I give up my own puny proofs of righteousness and worth and acceptability do I become free to grasp on to him and his finished work.
Those of you who are Christians: You know deep down inside you’ve been trying very hard. But it never seems to work. You are always disappointed in the results. And so you think, “I must try much harder!”
Have you become a new creation? Are you an ambassador for the King?
You are a new creation:
•Are you bound to things? Old ways? Old Habits? Power? Prestige? Status? Image?
•Have you placed your full trust and confidence in his finished work? Or are you trying to earn your way?
You are a new creation, because God has reconciled you to himself…
Those who aren’t Christians, or maybe you think you are, but you’re not sure: Maybe you’ve encountered some poor ambassadors in the past, and you think, “What’s the difference? All those church people are hypocrites…”
Well, just because the ambassador wasn’t a good representative doesn’t mean you can avoid the message from the king.
But – you might think – “Why do I have to be reconciled to God?” After all, I haven’t done anything to him…”
Yet the Bible tells us that we are all under sin -- all are guilty “… there is none righteous, no not one…” and fact our righteousness – or sense of being all right – before a holy God is as filthy rags.
Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitfully wicked – who can know it?”
Have you ever let words slip that surprised even yourself?
Have you ever expressed anger or bitterness or hatred or meanness that shocked others that know you – maybe you even shocked yourself?
“Sin” is not merely the collection of bad acts – in fact; those are merely symptoms of a deeper problem – the problem of self as God –making self an idol.
Martin Luther – the father of the Reformation – wrote that ultimately, all sin is idolatry. What he meant is that we will do whatever we can to protect and guard the self, and sacrifice any relationship, any outside force that threatens the self.
We have all chosen (and re-affirm daily) to reject God and to make our own joy and happiness our highest priority. We do not want to worship God and surrender self as master – even though we designed to live forever in happiness and joy and fellowship with Him -- instead we cling to idols, centering our lives on things that promise to give us meaning: success, relationships, influence, love, comfort, status, power, wealth, beauty….
Worshiping other things besides God leads to a loss of meaning. Even if we achieve these things, they cannot deliver satisfaction, because they were never meant to be “gods.”
We end up defining ourselves in terms of our achievement. We must have them or all is lost; so we are driven to work too hard, or they fill us with terror if they are jeopardized.
To live for anything else but God leads to breakdown and decay.
You must place your trust and confidence in his finished work.
Be reconciled to God.
Give up the warfare and learn what real love is, so that you can become a new creation too, and join the countless millions who have and are looking forward to that ultimate reconciliation, when all will be restored, and the multitudes will join in praise and even the trees will sing.
I invite you to Christ – come seek Him and his righteousness, and everything else will be added to you.