Summary: A reminder of the change that God has worked in us through faith in Jesus. This change takes away our guilt and motivates us to live for others, not ourselves.
Do you still marvel at the transformation? People in the community do. A week ago Saturday a man pulled up in the church driveway, got out of his truck, and started pacing around the parking lot with a bemused look on his face. When I went outside he gestured at the church with tattooed arms and said, “What happened to the old building? I grew up in the neighborhood but haven’t been around in a while. Wow. What a change! Is it still the same congregation? I just can’t over the difference!” Do you still marvel at the transformation like that guy did? If not, I’d probably just have to show you a few pictures of the old church and you will marvel again at what an improved facility we are now enjoying.
But according to our Epistle Lesson this morning, the Apostle Paul wants you to know that it’s not just our building that’s new – so are you! You too are a new creation. Do you still marvel at that transformation? If not, it’s probably because you have forgotten what you once looked like without Christ. Today the Holy Spirit reminds us what a difference Jesus has made in our lives. Understanding that change will make a difference in the way we interact with one another.
Listen to a passage which describes what we used to be like before being brought to faith in Jesus. Paul wrote, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Those without faith in Jesus are foolish because they don’t understand what’s really important in life. Money, fame, good looks, artistic, musical, and athletic skill, all considered to be important by most, will not help you on Judgment Day. Even now as Christians we often spend more time striving after those things than we should.
Before we came to know Jesus we were also deceived when we believed perhaps that there was no God and that this world just kind of happened by accident, and that we evolved from other life forms. We were also enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. Our goal was to gratify our sinful nature, but doing so was never fulfilling. That crazy party with lots of booze was always followed by a hangover so that we probably vowed, “I won’t do that again.” But then we were back at it the following week - slaves to our passions and pleasures.
We also lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another, says Paul. We once had a hard time rejoicing at anyone else’s good fortune. We would not enthusiastically tell our spouse about the promotion of a co-worker, but would explain why the management didn’t know what it was doing by promoting this individual. Little did we realize, or at least we didn’t want to admit, that others were saying the same thing about us in private. That’s the kind of dog-eat-dog world we live in.
But Jesus came to break that cycle. Paul wrote: “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…” (2 Corinthians 5:14). I was recently reading about Genghis Kahn, the ruthless Mongol ruler who lived in the 1200’s. When he and his armies attacked a village, they wouldn’t quit until everyone in the village was dead. Only then would they move on to attack the next target. God’s anger over sin is like that. He won’t quit until every sin and every sinner has been brought to justice. No, God isn’t ruthless like Genghis Kahn; he’s simply righteous and therefore can’t stand any kind of selfish behavior we might display. God is like a gardener that will not rest until every pest has been eradicated and can no longer threaten his tomato plants.
But God is also merciful and doesn’t look at people as pests. We are, after all, the crown of his creation. That’s why he sent his Son to become one of us. That way when God took out his anger on Jesus for our sins at the cross, Jesus’ death became our death. When Jesus died it was as if we all died so that God’s anger could now move away from us, like Genghis Kahn riding away from a village where he thought all the inhabitants were dead.
But the thing is we’re not dead! We’re now very much alive thanks to Jesus’ self-sacrifice. So now what? Paul tells us. “Christ’s love compels us… that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:15, 16a). What’s translated as “compels” actually means “squeeze.” Jesus’ love for Paul moved him into motion the way squeezing a tube of toothpaste will move the toothpaste onto your toothbrush. And what exactly was Jesus’ love squeezing Paul to do? To no longer live for himself. That’s also God’s will for us now. That means that we will no longer simply leave our toys or our art supplies where we were playing with them because someone else will tidy them up. Nor will we simply step over the dirty socks in the entryway because they’re not ours. It means that we will use our money to support the work of the church, and not just spend it on ourselves. It means that we won’t always try to get attention, but will give other people our attention so that we can figure out what they need and how we can best provide it.