April 3, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NRSV)
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
As Christians, we live in a kind of multiverse. Though we affirm the painful reality of our mortality, at the same time we believe that in Christ there is a new creation. Thus we live in the tension between the old and the new, the mortal and the immortal. When we get a taste of the world to come, this gives us hope and helps us to press on in this life for God’s purposes and glory.
This devotion is part of the series: Treasure in Clay Jars.
On this Tuesday of Holy Week we continue our devotional series based on 2 Corinthians 4-5. Today we encounter one of the most stunning passages in all of Scripture.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 is striking, not only for what it says, but also for how it relates to its context. As you will recall, in chapters 4 and 5 of 2 Corinthians Paul has been talking about the limitations of our mortal existence. Our bodies are “clay jars” in which we experience “affliction” (4:7-8). We are “always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake” (4:11). Our “outer nature is wasting away” (4:16). Our bodies are an “earthly tent” in which we “groan” as we long to be “clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (5:1-2). Repeatedly in this passage, Paul contrasts our mortal, temporary, and pain-filled existence with the immortal, eternal, and glorified existence in the age to come. Though life is hard now, God has “given us the Spirit as a guarantee” of the future that is yet to come.
But then we come upon something both surprising and groundbreaking. Paul notes that though he once saw Christ from a human point of view, now “we know him no longer in that way” (2 Corinthians 5:16). “So,” he continues, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17). Given all that Paul has said about the limitations and losses of our mortal existence, we might have expected him to say, “If anyone is in Christ, there is hope of a new creation. The time will come when everything old will pass away and everything will become new.” But that’s not what Paul writes. Rather, he puts all of this in the present time. The new creation is now. Everything has become new now.
How are we to make sense of this unexpected elevation of present-day life? Does this conflict with what Paul wrote earlier in 2 Corinthians? No, it doesn’t conflict with what he has written before. But it does dramatically illustrate the tension we experience in this life. As mortal beings, we experience all that goes along with our mortality: temporality, impermanence, suffering, affliction, and wasting away. Thus we yearn for the future when mortality will be replaced by immortality, when death will be swallowed up by life. Yet that’s not the whole story. Even in the midst of our mortality, we begin to experience the life of the age to come. We are welcomed into relationship with God by God’s grace in Christ. We are given the gift of God’s own Spirit, who guarantees our future inheritance and allows us to enjoy a bit of that future even now.
Thus, when we put our trust in Jesus Christ, when we are “in Christ” by faith, we live as if in two worlds. Though were are still resident in the old creation, we begin to experience the new creation. Though we feel the oldness of ourselves and our world, we also understand that “everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This notion of living in two worlds can feel pretty odd to someone like me. But I expect other people – especially those in the rising generations – will have less trouble with this unusual perspective. Why? Because so many of their favorite movies these days are based on the multiverse. These multiple universes show up in films such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the recent Academy Award winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once. People who easily envision multiple realities will find the Christian multiverse less puzzling than those of us who are tied to a singular reality. For them, as for the Apostle Paul, our lives are part of the old creation and, at the same time, the new creation.
Someday, we will live fully in the new. For now, however, we live in the tension between the already and the not yet. We experience God’s grace but struggle with shame. We experience God’s power in our lives yet often feel powerless. We know that we shall live forever even as our bodies waste away. We begin to enjoy the newness of all things even though they can feel awfully old. As we live in the tension between the already and the not yet, our experience of what is new gives us hope. And hope helps us to keep going in this mixed-up world, a multiverse world both old and new.
How do you respond to the truth that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”?
When have you experienced in some small way the life of the age to come, or what we often call Heaven?
In what ways have you begun to experience the newness of being in Christ?
Talk with your small group or a wise friend about how you make sense of 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Gracious God, we read 2 Corinthians 5:17 with gratitude and wonder, and maybe with some confusion. It sounds so amazing that if we are in Christ “there is a new creation.” It’s fantastic that the “old has passed away” and “everything has become new.” But . . . . sometimes we don’t feel so new. And the world around us seems to be going anywhere but toward newness. So, we wonder how we’re to make sense of the new creation in Christ. We wonder how we can experience this new creation even now.
We know, Lord, that we live in the tension between the already and not yet of this existence. Sometimes it’s hard to wait for what is to come, especially in a world so filled with injustice and pain. Help us, we pray, to be patient. Help us to have hope. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit who allows us to sample in advance what is to come.
In the meanwhile, Lord, help me to live more as a new creation and less as an old creation. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Banner image by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: New Creation!.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.