Burden for the Lost
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (5:16–17)
The overarching reason Paul defended his integrity, the one that incorporated all the rest, was so that he could continue to reach the lost. He passionately longed to see people come to saving faith in Christ. In the pagan cultural center of Athens, for example, Paul found that “his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). To the Romans he wrote, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:13). In his first inspired letter to them, Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that his mission was “to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17); in fact, as he wrote later in that epistle, “I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
But perhaps the most poignant glimpse of Paul’s burden for the lost comes in a shocking statement in his letter to the Romans:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Rom. 9:1–3)
So intense was the apostle’s desire to see his lost fellow Israelites saved that he was willing to forfeit, were that possible, his own salvation to bring that about. Not surprisingly, his constant “desire and … prayer to God for them [was] for their salvation” (Rom. 10:1). Paul’s burden for the lost moved him to defend his integrity, lest he lose his credibility and with it his ability to effectively preach the gospel.
These two verses define when Paul’s burden for the lost began. The conjunction hōste (therefore) points back to verses 14 and 15, which describe salvation. After his conversion, the way Paul viewed people changed radically. From then on, he did not recognize (oida; lit. “know,” or “perceive”) anyone according to the flesh; he no longer evaluated people based on external, worldly standards, as the false teachers did (cf. 2 Cor. 5:12; Gal. 6:12). The proud Pharisee, who once scorned Gentiles, and even those Jews outside of his group (cf. John 7:49), now looked beyond mere outward appearances. His prejudice and hatred gave way to a love for all, including “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman” (Col. 3:11).
Not only did Paul’s view of people change but also his view of Christ. He had once known Him according to the flesh; he had made a human assessment of Him, concluding that He was merely a man. Worse, he had decided Jesus was a false messiah; a heretic and a rebel against Judaism; one worthy of death. As a result, Paul dedicated his life to persecuting His followers. As he later confessed,
So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9–11)
Yet after his conversion Paul knew Him in this way no longer. The assessment of Paul the apostle was radically different than that of Saul the Pharisee. No longer did he view Jesus as an itinerant Galilean rabbi and self-appointed messianic impostor who was the enemy of Judaism. Instead, he saw Him for who He really is, God incarnate, the Savior, the Lord of heaven, the true Messiah who alone fulfills all Old Testament promises and provides forgiveness for sin. The transformation in Paul’s view took place in one blinding moment when he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. And when his assessment of Jesus changed, so did his assessment of everyone else. He knew that the same profound change that took place in his life would take place in the lives of all those who put their faith in Christ.
Therefore, in a conclusion also deriving from verse 15, Paul wrote, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. God’s grace and mercy are wide enough to encompass anyone, even the most vile, wicked sinner—even the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15–16). But God is only “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26; cf. Gal. 3:26). His substitutionary death becomes their death, and His resurrection life their life.
The familiar Pauline expression in Christ succinctly and profoundly summarizes all the rich blessings of salvation (cf. Rom. 8:1; 16:3, 7; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 4:21; Col. 1:2, 28; Philem. 23). Everyone who is in Christ becomes a new creature (cf. Gal. 6:15). Kainos (new) means new in quality, not just in sequence; believers’ “old self was crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6); they have therefore laid “aside the old self … and put on the new self” (Eph. 4:22, 24; Col. 3:9–10).
The transformation wrought by the new birth is not only an instantaneous miracle but also a lifelong process of sanctification. For those so transformed, everything changes; the old things have passed away. Old values, ideas, plans, loves, desires, and beliefs vanish, replaced by the new things that accompany salvation. The perfect tense of the verb ginomai (have come) indicates a past act with continuing results in the present. God plants new desires, loves, inclinations, and truths in the redeemed, so that they live in the midst of the old creation with a new creation perspective (cf. Gal. 6:14). That perspective, as it is nourished and developed, helps believers gain victory in the battle against sin and conforms them to the image of Jesus Christ.
So Paul defended his integrity in order to preach with boldness, knowing that he was trusted. In addition, his reverence and gratitude to the Savior who had done so much for him, his deep concern for the church, passionate devotion to the truth, desire for righteousness, and longing to see the lost come to the Savior compelled him to maintain his integrity. Because he did so, he could confidently challenge the Corinthians, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
17. Therefore if any man is in Christ. As there is something wanting in this expression, it must be supplied in this way—“If any one is desirous to hold some place in Christ, that is, in the kingdom of Christ, or in the Church, let him be a new creature.” By this expression he condemns every kind of excellence that is wont to be in much esteem among men, if renovation of heart is wanting. “Learning, it is true, and eloquence, and other endowments, are valuable, and worthy to be honoured; but, where the fear of the Lord and an upright conscience are wanting, all the honour of them goes for nothing. Let no one, therefore, glory in any distinction, inasmuch as the chief praise of Christians is self-renunciation.”
Nor is this said merely for the purpose of repressing the vanity of the false apostles, but also with the view of correcting the ambitious judgments of the Corinthians, in which outward disguises were of more value than real sincerity—though this is a fault that is common to almost all ages. For where shall we find the man that does not attach much more importance to show, than to true holiness? Let us, therefore, keep in view this admonition—that all that are not renewed by the Spirit of God, should be looked upon as nothing in the Church, by whatever ornaments they may in other respects be distinguished.
Old things are passed away. When the Prophets speak of the kingdom of Christ, they foretell that there will be new heavens and a new earth, (Isaiah 65:17,) meaning thereby, that all things will be changed for the better, until the happiness of the pious is completed. As, however, Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, this change must take place chiefly in the Spirit, and hence it is with propriety that he begins with this. There is, therefore, an elegant and appropriate allusion, when Paul makes use of a commendation of this kind, for the purpose of setting forth the value of regeneration. Now by old things he means, the things that are not formed anew by the Spirit of God. Hence this term is placed in contrast with renewing grace. The expression passed away, he uses in the sense of fading away, as things that are of short duration are wont to fall off, when they have passed their proper season. Hence it is only the new man, that flourishes and is vigorous in the kingdom of Christ.
17 Paul next states the second outcome of the death and resurrection of Christ. Whenever a person comes to be part of the body of Christ by faith, there is a new act of creation on God’s part. One set of conditions or relationships has passed out of existence (parēlthen, aorist); another set has come to stay (gegonen, perfect). And v. 16 indicates that the principal area of change is that of attitude toward Christ and other people. Knowledge “from a worldly point of view” has given place to knowledge in the light of the cross (cf. Gal 6:15). When a person becomes a Christian, he or she experiences a total restructuring of life that alters its whole fabric—thinking, feeling, willing, and acting. Anyone who is “in Christ” is “Under New Management” and has “Altered Priorities Ahead,” to use wording sometimes found in shop windows or (in England) on road signs.
17 Again Paul states a consequence, “so that,” which flows from the spiritual death and resurrection of those (vv. 14–15) whom he now characterizes in the singular as “anyone [who is] in Christ,” who is “a new creation.” For that person the things of the former times, and especially the worldview, are in the past. “Look,” he says, “the new has come.”
Thus the first of the two sentences in this verse is brief and proverblike, and the second is subsidiary to and dependent upon it. In the first, the words “so then” (with which the previous verse also begins) introduce the pithy sentence of six words that sums up the entire passage vv. 14–16. In this conditional sentence the “if”-clause is “if any [one is] in Christ,” and the “then”-clause is, tersely,43 “new creation.” The result is a memorable text of unsurpassed power in the writings of Paul.45
In the second sentence the subject of both parts is “the old [things].” The verbs in the two parts are significant. In the first “passed away”47 (NIV, “gone”) is aorist, indicating a single action, now completed, pointing (1) to the end of the former dispensation, and (2) to the end of the former life of the person who is now in Christ. In the second “become”48 (NIV, “come”) is perfect tense, indicating a past action with continuing effects. The triumphant “look,”49 followed by the perfect tense (“become”) and the antonym “new,” combines to make the impressive statement, “behold, the old things have become and are new.”
|So that, if any[one is] in Christ,
||a new creation.
||The old [things]
The two sentences together emphasize the eschatological centrality of Christ. “In Christ” the old ends and the new—a new creation—begins. But this eschatological centrality is tightly connected with the soteriological centrality of Christ. Christ is the “one” who “died and was raised for all,” the “one” in and for whom “all” who have “died” now “live” (vv. 14–15). The crucified and risen Christ is the divine agent of universal salvation, the divider of history into two aeons, the “no longer” aeon when all things were “old” and the “now” aeon when all things have become, and are, “new.”
But this “new creation” is coterminous with the “new covenant” mentioned earlier (3:6); together they divide history into two epochs. The “old” things of creation and of the “old covenant” (3:14) coincide, as do the “new” things of the “new covenant” and the “new creation.” The inauguration of both the “new covenant” and the “new creation” occurs “in Christ,” and at the same time, that is, when he died and was raised for all, bringing to their respective ends the “old” in the former creation and in the “old covenant.” The “old” in the former creation are the things to which those who are “in Christ” have “died,” that is, to the godless, self-centered living, “according to the flesh,” of those “in Adam” (v. 15; cf. Rom 5:12). The “old” in the “old covenant” relates to law-keeping as the method of relational acceptance with God, which Paul also characterizes as “according to the flesh” (Rom 8:4). Both the “old” in the former creation and the “old” in the “old covenant” have “now” passed and “no longer” govern those who are “in Christ.” Those who are “in Christ” are—and are to be—governed by the Spirit (cf. Eph 5:18).
While the blessings of both the “new covenant” and the “new creation” have “come” in Christ, as proclaimed by his apostolic servant Paul, they remain hidden until the universal resurrection (4:14); they are not yet “by sight” (5:7). Nonetheless, the “new creation” may be entered now, through the word of God, the gospel, “by faith” (5:7). This openness to all is indicated by the “if anyone …” with which the verse begins.
Who is this “anyone”? As with the entire passage (vv. 14–17), Paul is speaking in the first instance of himself. These few words are Paul’s spiritual autobiography and testimony in a nutshell. The very openness and brevity of the expression “if anyone …” are eloquent expressions of Paul’s sense of the love and mercy of Christ toward him, the persecutor of Christ’s people (4:1; 5:14). The words “if anyone” mean “yes, even such a one as me” (see 1 Tim 1:12–16).
Thus, this verse may be understood in both an objective and a subjective sense. Objectively, it is Paul’s declaration that “in Christ,” by faith, he has entered the “new creation” in which the “old” things have “passed away” and have become “new.” Work on the “building from God,” which will be his at the general resurrection, has already been begun (4:17). This process of “edification,” which began at the moment of incorporation “in Christ,” will continue quietly and unseen throughout life until the final moment of revelation and glorification (see 3:18; Rom 8:19).
Subjectively, this verse summarizes the changes in Paul’s own life. Love for others is now his controlling motive in place of self-interest (v. 14), which he had expressed in zealous persecution. Serving the one who had died and been raised for him has taken the place of self-centered living (v. 15). True understanding of Christ and of his people has replaced ignorance and error (v. 16). The Creator who once said, “Let there be light,” has more recently shone his light into Paul’s darkened heart, making him a new creation (4:6). The subjective personal revelation, experienced “now,” is the sign of the objective “new creation” to be revealed then.
Nonetheless, as throughout this passage, Paul is also speaking representatively for all. Implicit in the words “if anyone” is the gracious evangelical invitation and summons to “all” for whom the “one” died and was raised (vv. 14–15) to enter “into” Christ by faith-commitment, to enjoy the benefits, objective and subjective, that will “now” hold true for “anyone” who responds. The invitation and summons, which are implicit in v. 17, will soon be made explicit, though in the different terms, “be reconciled to God” (v. 20).
5:17 / Paul draws a general conclusion (Therefore, hōste) from the fact that, since his encounter with the resurrected Lord on the way to Damascus, he no longer knows Christ according to the flesh as a crucified messianic pretender. The contrast in verse 16 between Paul’s old and new ways of perceiving Christ prompts a further contrast between old and new that makes Paul’s experience prototypical of all believers. Being in Christ (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:14; 5:18; Gal. 1:22; 2:17; 3:26; 5:6; 1 Cor. 1:4; 15:22; 2 Cor. 3:14) or “in the Lord” (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:12; Gal. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:22, 39; 11:11; 15:58; 2 Cor. 2:12) results from having been baptized into Christ by faith (Gal. 3:27), so that one now forms part of the church, which is the “body of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–31; Rom. 12:4–8; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:16–19; 3:15; Eph. 1:23; 4:4–16; 5:23). Believers are personally united with Christ, who is a corporate figure like Adam and indeed his typological counterpart (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22, 45).
Being in Christ (“the last Adam”) causes one to be a new creation. In the “postexilic” time of distress, Nehemiah’s prayer (Neh. 9:6–37) takes creation as the ground for hope (v. 6). If the God who elected Abraham and led Israel out of Egypt is really the creator God, then he can and will lead Israel out of the present situation of degradation and distress (cf. R. Rendtorff). In Isaiah, the expectation of Israel’s restoration as a second exodus redemption included the idea that God would make “new heavens” and a “new earth” (Isa. 65:17–19; 66:22–23; cf. 1 En. 45:4–5; 72:1), and that there would be a return to the ideal conditions in Eden (Isa. 51:3; cf. Jub. 4:26 [no sin]). Within this new creation, “all flesh” would come to Zion in order to worship God (Isa. 66:22–23). Obviously, we are dealing here with much more than individual transformation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18 [“the world”]). Paul calls believers a “new creation” (cf. also Gal. 6:15) because they, with the rest of creation (cf. Rom. 8:19–22), undergo a physical and spiritual transformation (see on 4:7–5:15), which is an act of creation on a personal level (see the allusion to Gen. 1:3–4 in 2 Cor. 4:6).
Paul’s radical distinction between the old (ta archaia) and the new (kaina) is also drawn from Isaiah. This in the context of Israel’s future redemption from exile, which recalls the exodus from Egypt, Isaiah 43:18–19 reads: “Do not remember the former things, and do not consider the old things (ta archaia). Look (idou), I am doing new things (kaina) which will now spring up, and you will know them. And I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.” This ot text plays a major role in the nt (cf. O. Betz). Paul identifies these “new things” with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the world. In the process, he recalls the “old (palaia) covenant” and the “new (kainē) covenant” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14, which is also understood in the traditional context of the second exodus redemption. The condemnation of the law that sent Israel into exile under the “old covenant” (and expelled Adam from Eden) is being reversed.
17. Therefore—connected with the words in 2 Co 5:16, “We know Christ no more after the flesh.” As Christ has entered on His new heavenly life by His resurrection and ascension, so all who are “in Christ” (that is, united to Him by faith as the branch is In the vine) are new creatures (Ro 6:9–11). “New” in the Greek implies a new nature quite different from anything previously existing, not merely recent, which is expressed by a different Greek word (Ga 6:15).
creature—literally, “creation,” and so the creature resulting from the creation (compare Jn 3:3, 5; Eph 2:10; 4:23; Jn 3:3, 5, Col 3:10, 11). As we are “in Christ,” so “God was in Christ” (2 Co 5:19): hence He is Mediator between God and us.
old things—selfish, carnal views (compare 2 Co 5:16) of ourselves, of other men, and of Christ.
passed away—spontaneously, like the snow of early spring [Bengel] before the advancing sun.
behold—implying an allusion to Is 43:19; 65:17.
Ver. 17.—Therefore. If even a human, personal, external knowledge of Christ is henceforth of no significance, it follows that there must have been a total change in all relations towards him. The historic fact of such a changed relationship is indicated clearly in John 20:17. Mary Magdalene was there lovingly taught that a “recognition of Christ after the flesh,” i.e. as merely a human friend, was to be a thing of the past. In Christ; i.e. a Christian. For perfect faith attains to mystic union with Christ. A new creature; rather, a new creation (Gal. 6:15). The phrase is borrowed from the rabbis who used it to express the condition of a proselyte. But the meaning is not mere Jewish arrogance and exclusiveness, but the deep truth of spiritual regeneration and the new birth (John 3:3; Eph. 2:10; 4:23, 24; Col. 3:3, etc.). Old things; literally, the ancient things, all that belongs to the old Adam. Behold. The word expresses the writer’s vivid realization of the truth he is uttering. All things. The whole sphere of being, and therewith the whole aim and character of life. The clause illustrates the “new creation.”
The effects of ministry: new creation (5:16–17)
Twice in verses 15–16 the apostle uses the words no longer. This means that for the person who is now in Christ through the ministry of reconciliation certain things are no longer true. Such a person no longer lives for self (verse 15), no longer regards Christ from a purely worldly point of view (verse 16). These things which are no longer true belong to the old which has gone, replaced by the new creation (verse 17) which has now come (verse 16).
The astronomer Copernicus, who was among the first to understand that the planet Earth was not the centre of the universe, has lent his name to what we call a ‘Copernican revolution’ as a description of any kind of radical rethinking. The apostle Paul is no less famous for his Damascus Road experience which changed the whole direction of his life. Even though he was an outwardly religious man, everything had revolved around him. Formerly he had lived an egocentric life as the centre of his own universe. But now (verse 16) this is no longer (verse 15) true. He no longer lives to and for himself; now he lives to please the one who loved him, who died … and was raised again for him. Christ, not Paul, is the new centre of Paul’s universe; egocentricity has given way to Christocentricity.
What Paul underwent through the Damascus Road event others come to as a result of the ministry of reconciliation. What ordinary believers experience is no less remarkable, since the human will is so entrenched in egocentricity, a point well made by C. S. Lewis. ‘What mattered most of all’, Lewis observed, ‘was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism and lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word “interference”. But Christianity placed at the centre what then seemed to me a transcendental interferer.’ Lewis, like Paul, was a famous convert to Christianity and he rightly saw how profound is the change from an egocentric to a Christocentric lifestyle.
In writing we once regarded Christ from a worldly point of view (literally, ‘according to the flesh’; verse 16) Paul is, at the same time, referring both to the newcomers and to himself. The Christ proclaimed by the intruding ministers was, apparently, entirely circumscribed within the covenant of Moses—a Jewish, law-keeping Jesus. Their high view of Moses (3:12–15) necessitated a low view of Jesus. Before the Damascus Road event Paul’s knowledge of Jesus had also been ‘according to the flesh’, not in the sense of having known the historical Jesus, but of having a false and superficial view of him. For Paul, Jesus had been a dangerous messianic pretender whose crucifixion was proof that he was indeed the accursed of God—for the Scriptures said, ‘Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.’
But from now on, he writes, he regarded Christ in this way … no longer (verse 16). At and since Damascus he became convinced (verse 14) that in reality ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (verse 19, nasb). It became clear, in an instant, that the glorified, crucified one could only be the Son of God who in death received God’s curse; not a false Messiah, but the divinely appointed agent through whom forgiveness and reconciliation would be mediated to sinful humanity. How shallow and erroneous Paul’s earlier views of Jesus were compared with the new and profound appreciation of the unique figure who alone was qualified to ‘die for all’! Paul’s stern opposition to the new ministers arose out of his conviction that Christianity stood or fell depending on one’s view of the person and work of Jesus. False views of Jesus have been promoted throughout history, including in these present times. Such views must be as firmly opposed in our generation as they were then by Paul if the true gospel is to have its power to mediate salvation.
While Paul’s reference to a new creation (verse 17) summarizes the changes which occur within the life of any believer (if anyone), these changes are dramatically focused within his own life. Love was now the controlling motive (verse 14) in place of hate. Serving the one who died for him had taken the place of selfishness (verse 15). True understanding of Jesus, his identity and achievement, have replaced ignorance and error (verse 16).
The apostle’s use of the vocabulary of the creation narratives of Genesis is striking. It is implied that unbelievers (as Paul had been), are blind (4:4) and live in a darkness analogous to the primal darkness of the first verses of the book of Genesis. Just as God spoke then, and there was light, so too God now speaks the gospel-word and once again there is light, though it is inward within the heart (4:6). As by the agency of the word of God the world was made, so now, by the word of God, the message of reconciliation, people are remade. In expressing the great and profound changes that occur in the life of anyone who is in Christ Paul not only affirms that there is a ‘new covenant’ (3:6), there is also a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (verse 17).
We should note, however, what is not said about the new creation. It does not mean ‘living happily ever after’ or a trouble-free existence. The new creation in no way immunizes people from life’s problems or pain. If in relation to humanity generally the new creation was inaugurated at the first Easter, in relation to individuals it begins with the acceptance of the message, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ For both mankind at large and individuals in particular the full force of the ‘new creation’ will not be experienced or seen until the end of history, at the return of Jesus in glory. Meanwhile, since sin and its outworkings have not yet been abolished, everyone will continue to undergo, in varying degrees, difficulty and hardship—including those in whom the new creation has begun.
We are aware of the reality of the new creation through our new perception of Jesus and the accompanying, radical, Christ-centred lifestyle. For many people like Paul, Augustine or Luther the effect of the new creation has been dramatic, both within their own lives and also upon the people of their generation. There is also, however, an important aspect of the new creation which does not lie within our conscious experience, and which we apprehend by faith and hope. This is ‘the building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands’ (5:1), which God began to construct when we began to be ‘in Christ’. This process of ‘edification’ or ‘upbuilding’ continues quietly and unseen throughout our lives until, at death, when ‘the earthly tent we live in’ is pulled down, God presents us with a new home. When that occurs, the new creation, which to that point had been spiritual and psychological, will become physical and visible. The two aspects will be fused together in a perfect and indissoluble union.
17. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The old things passed away, and look—the new things have come.
Verses 16 and 17 are the logical conclusion of the preceding passage (vv. 14–15), are analogous, and show both a negative and a positive contrast (vv. 16 and 17 respectively). Because these two verses convey a parallel message, the last one depends on and is influenced by the first. The Greek clauses are short and in translation have to be augmented with the verb to be in the first sentence.
Let us look first at the word so, which introduces a summary of what Paul has been saying earlier about the unity believers have with Christ. He died for them and was raised, and they in turn live for him (v. 15). When Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ,” he expresses the fact that numerous people in Corinth and elsewhere are true believers.
Next, the phrase in Christ occurs some twenty-five times in Paul’s epistles and signifies the intimate fellowship believers enjoy with their Lord and Savior. To be in Christ connotes being part of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:27), and Christ brings about a radical transformation in the believer’s life. Instead of serving the ego, the Christian follows Christ and responds to the law of love for God and the neighbor.
Some translators want to see balance in this sentence and thus link the word anyone in the first clause with the pronoun he (“he is a new creation”) in the second. But most expositors, rightly so, see the new creation not as being limited to a person but as extending to the total environment of this individual (compare Gal. 6:15; Rev. 21:5). That is, when people become part of the body of Christ at conversion, their lives take a complete reversal. They now abhor the world of sin and former friends are hostile to them. Their preconversion lifestyle is history, and “the old things have passed away” (see the parallel in Isa. 43:18–19). For converts, the life in Christ is a constant source of daily joys and blessings; the body of believers provides them with ready support and help; and self-assurance and trust certify the genuineness of their composure.
Scholars debate whether Paul borrowed the phrase a new creation from the rabbis of his day. Even if he did, these Jewish teachers never associated this phrase with moral renewal and regeneration. According to them, renewal occurred with respect to remission of sins, but not in the sense of the transformation that Jesus Christ brings about in the life of believers. For converts to the Christian faith, the old things no longer attract, for new things have taken their place through Christ. Although temptations always surround them, believers pray the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13), and they know that God supplies strength to resist evil.
5:17. Paul asserted that every person who is in Christ—who is joined to him in his death and resurrection—has become a new creation. Paul drew from Old Testament prophetic language, describing the new world that God would bring at the end of the age (Isa. 66:22). This language also appears in the New Testament (2 Pet. 3:13). “New creation” describes those who follow Christ because they have begun the transformation that will eventually lead to their full enjoyment of salvation in the new heavens and new earth. Christ’s death and resurrection introduced a foretaste of that new world to come.
Paul’s ministry was compelled by the display of Christ’s love on the cross. Paul had been united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus had been inwardly renewed and regenerated. The apostle truly was a new creation. In this changed state, he began to look at people differently. Prior to coming to Christ, Paul would not have thought about the Corinthians much. He certainly would not have worked and sacrificed for the Gentiles in that church. But now the shadow of Christ’s cross fell across his view every time he looked at other people. He saw believers as new creations in Christ and unbelievers as people in need of Christ. This perspective shaped his ministry.
5:16–17. Paul described two consequences concerning the death of Christ. (1) His conversion experience gave him a new perspective on Christians and Christ. Gone were the days when Paul appraised them according to the flesh, from a human perspective. The death of Christ means that Christians are regarded as spiritual brothers and sisters rather than as just members of certain ethnic, social, or economic groups; Jesus is regarded as the Messiah rather than a messianic pretender. (2) The old era of the law ended with the death of Christ, and a new era in salvation history has arrived. When people become Christians, they are in Christ and view everything from a new perspective.
16–17 One result of Christ’s death and resurrection is that Paul has a new outlook: From now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view. Attributes and achievements which formerly he would have laid great store by, he now regards as unimportant (cf. Phil. 3:4–8). It also means that he regards Christ in a new way. In his pre-conversion days he judged Christ using worldly criteria and came to the wrong conclusion, but he does so no longer. Something of Christ’s great significance is seen in the fact that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, so that it may be said, the old has gone, the new has come! To be in Christ is to be participating already in the new creation. It is true that for the time being the old still persists and the new has not yet fully come (cf. Rom. 8:18–25; Gal. 5:16–26). However, in the present passage it is the newness of life in Christ now which is being stressed, not the tension involved in participating in the new creation while still living as part of the old.
5:17. No one was more able to reflect on that transformation than Paul who switched from a persecutor of Christ to a proclaimer of Christ (Acts 9:5, 20–22). He was in Christ (a phrase Paul used repeatedly in his epistles to speak of a believer’s spiritual relationship to Christ) because he believed the message of the gospel and was identified by faith with Christ (2 Cor. 5:14–15; cf. Rom. 6:3–4; Gal. 2:20; 6:14). To be in Christ is to be a new creation (cf. Gal. 6:15). This new creation is brought about by the Holy Spirit, the Agent of regeneration (Titus 3:5) and the Giver of divine birth (John 3:3, 6–8). God’s new creative work, begun in each one who believes in Christ, will one day be consummated on a universal scale (Rev. 21:4–5). The old life of slavery to self and sin has gone (2 Cor. 5:16; cf. Rom. 6:6–14; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). The new life of devotion to Christ means that one has new attitudes and actions (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14–15; Rom. 6:4; Eph. 4:23–5:2).
5:17 If anyone is in Christ, that is, saved, he is a new creation. Before conversion, one might have judged others according to human standards. But now all that is changed. Old methods of judging have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
This verse is a favorite with those who have recently been born again, and is often quoted in personal testimonies. Sometimes in being thus quoted, it gives quite a false impression. Listeners are apt to think that when a man is saved, old habits, evil thoughts, and lustful looks are forever done away, and everything becomes literally new in a person’s life. We know that this is not true. The verse does not describe a believer’s practice but rather his position. Notice it says that if anyone is in Christ. The words in Christ are the key to the passage. In Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Unfortunately, “in me” not all this is true as yet! But as I progress in the Christian life, I desire that my practice may increasingly correspond to my position. One day, when the Lord Jesus returns, the two will be in perfect agreement.
5:17. Paul’s conversion gives him a whole new way of looking at things. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is (or there is) a new creation. In Greek there is no subject or verb in the final clause. While the NKJV supplies he is, some other translations suggest there is (HCSB; see also TNIV and The New Geneva Study Bible). The latter is preferable. The believer enters into a new creation. In this new creation old things have passed away and all things have become new. The believer belongs to a new family (the Church), should have a new way of looking at people (v 16), and should be driven by a new motivation (v 14). In other words, the believer’s perspective should have dramatically changed. However, Paul is not suggesting that Christians will automatically have this perspective or will live accordingly. He is talking about positional truth here.
5:17 in Christ: Paul is presenting the results of Christ’s death for the believer and the believer’s death with Him (v. 14). Because believers are united with Jesus both in His death and resurrection, they participate in the new creation. That is, they receive the benefits of being restored by Christ to what God had originally created them to be (Gen. 1:26; 1 Cor. 15:45–49). All things have become new: A believer’s life should change, because he or she is being transformed into the likeness of Christ (3:18). Instead of living for oneself, a believer lives for Christ (v. 15). Instead of evaluating others with the values of the world, a believer looks at this world through the eyes of faith (v. 16).
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