Summary: In Christ the old order of things, 'subjected to futility' and 'in bondage to decay' gives way to the 'new creation.'


Going the Distance -- Part 1

January 9, 2011

Isaac Butterworth

2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 (NIV)

5:16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 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. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

It is a new year, and we find ourselves hoping that it will bring new possibilities and new opportunities. Some of us make what we call New Year’s Resolutions. We hope to start over in some area of our lives. We may want to change our diet or adopt a new exercise program. We may want to conquer old habits and choose different behaviors. In any case, we use the beginning of a new year to begin something new or to begin again in a new way. We may even want to start over with God.

When we want something different, we are hoping for a change of some sort. Every scratch betrays an itch. Every desire for something new reveals a dissatisfaction with the old. The current state of affairs is intolerable. So, we long for a preferable future.

Second Corinthians 5 is a perfect text for a new year. In verse 17, it says, ‘The old has gone, the new is here!’ And that is hopeful, isn’t it? Especially when we understand what ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ are. Paul wrote these words, of course, and he wasn’t talking about the ‘old year’ and the ‘new year.’ He was talking about the old creation and the new creation, an old order and a new order.

In another place Paul talks about the whole creation being ‘subjected to frustration’ and in ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom. 8:20, 21). And that’s certainly the creation as we know it, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that the way it is with the natural order of things? Just look with me at three examples of this frustrating bondage: one, our experience of ourselves; two, our relationships with others; and, three, our perception of God.

In the old order of things, we experience alienation in all three areas. We live self-centered, self-indulgent lives, but we never gain any satisfaction from such self-preoccupation. Jesus once said that ‘whoever wants to save his life will lose it’ (Mk 8:35), and, on another occasion, he said, ‘The man who loves his life will lose it.’ And grasp as we will at keeping intact some scrap of ourselves, we suspect that Jesus is right, that we have lost something dear.

In our relationships with others, we see the ways of the old creation, the old order of things, and how it leads to estrangement. We rely on...what? manipulation, deception, coercion, indifference, and all kinds of other strategies to get what we want or what we think we need. But all we really get is a feeling of isolation and the fear that we may really, after all, be alone in this world. And we were not created for that -- an idea that we’ll return to in a few minutes.

As for God, we reject him as he is, and we remodel him to suit our ends. We want him to be a kind of cosmic Santa Claus and fulfill our every desire. If he seems unwilling or unable, we forsake him and try to get our needs met elsewhere. If he makes demands on us, we resist him or treat him with indifference. Some of us believe in him; some of us don’t. And some of us who do relegate him to the inessential, the negligible, the dust bin of hopes that didn’t quite pan out.

That’s the old order, the old creation. But it wasn’t always that way. Go back to Genesis. Go back to the beginning, and what you’ll see is, when God put the finishing touches on creation, he stepped back and looked at it, and ‘it was good’ (Gen. 1:25); in fact, ‘it was very good’ (Gen. 1:31). So, what happened? How did it get distorted? How did the good creation become the ‘old’ creation? How did it become ‘subjected to frustration’ and in ‘bondage to decay’?

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