Albert N. Martin
If you have a Bible with you, I urge you to turn with me to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5. In 2 Corinthians 5 the Apostle Paul has been writing about his own life and his own ministry. He’s been telling the Corinthians what makes him tick as a minister of the gospel, that he is driven by an ambition to please Jesus Christ. (Verse 9.) He is driven by the constraining love of Christ. (Verse 14.) Then he tells us in the language of the text in verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone; the new has come. And all this is from God.”
Now, I say I do not know of any other text in all of the Bible that more clearly focuses in on the heart of what true and saving religion is than does this text that I have read in your hearing.
The first thing we discover in our text is what we might call the essence or the heart of saving religion. What is the heart of saving religion? It’s given to us in these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ.” The heart of saving religion is nothing more and nothing less than to be in Christ. That is, to be united to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The word ‘Christ’ simply means ‘God’s anointed one.’ The one whom God anointed with the Spirit to be His Prophet to teach us, His Priest to forgive and intercede for us, and His mighty King to reign over us. In other words, the heart of saving religion is found when sinners are brought into a vital union with no one less than the Christ of Holy Scripture.
A Christian is someone whose mind has been instructed concerning the basic facts about Jesus, the Son of God. A Christian is someone who has come to understand that Jesus of Nazareth, though He is a true man, is more than a man. He is the very Son of God! A Christian is someone who has come to understand that as God’s anointed Prophet, what Jesus Christ speaks is indeed the very word of the Living God. The Christian is one who has come to understand—at least in some elementary way—that by voluntarily laying down His life and becoming a curse for us, taking upon Himself the sins of men, and in that position bearing those sins to the cross, Jesus Christ is the one, true, and final Priest of God. The One whose offering has forever atoned for sin; whose blood shed upon the cross is the only way of access unto God.
A Christian, you see, is someone who has come into a saving union with Jesus Christ the Lord. Our text says, “If anyone is in Christ.” That’s the very heart, the very essence of saving religion. It is to be IN Christ. Anything less that is not the real thing.
I ask you to notice in the second place: our text not only points us to the heart of saving religion, union with Christ, but it then points us to the effect of saving religion. Look at the text. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” That doesn’t mean that God’s going to come down and take your ugly face and make you handsome. It doesn’t mean that God’s going to come down and take the 5’7” man and make him 7’10”. When it speaks of the ‘new creation,’ it’s talking about the creation of the inward man, of the mind, of the spirit, of the motives, of the way we look at life; but it is a new creation!
Thirdly, now notice: Paul talks about the fruit or the manifestation of saving religion. Look at the text. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” that’s the essence. “He is a new creation,” that’s the effect. Now look at the fruit or the manifestation: “The old has gone, and the new has come.” He uses forms of the verb which say the old has passed away once, for all, and forever, and the new has come, it remains, and it will abide forever. In other words: it is not a surface-change, and it is not a temporary change.
What are some of the specifics of that change, the fruit of saving religion? What is some of the old that passes? What are some of the new things that come and remain? We’ll answer it right from this very passage by looking into the very context, the setting where Paul wrote these words.
First of all, the old view of Christ and His work passes, and a new view of Christ and His work comes and remains. If you have your Bibles, notice in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians a description of our old view of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Jesus Christ is so glorious, that is, He shines forth with such beauty, with such majesty as God’s Son and God’s gift in the gospel, that anyone who has eyes to see anything of the beauty that is in Him cannot help but have his heart run out like Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God! Oh, Jesus Christ, gift of the Father, here’s my heart, my life, my all! Take me. I am yours for time and for eternity!” But, you see, the devil blinds people’s minds. They see nothing beautiful in Christ to capture their hearts and to cause them to say, “For to me to live is Christ.”
But you know what happens whenever God brings saving religion to a sinner? Look at verse 6 of 2 Corinthians chapter 4. Look what happens. “But God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, made his light to shine in our hearts, to give to us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Here Paul describes his conversion and the conversion of every Christian in these terms: it is a work of creative light, and it’s light that shines upon the face of Jesus in our hearts! When we see Him we can only do what Paul did. When he saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus, his heart went out to Jesus without reservation; it went out to Him in love, in trust, in devotion. From that moment on his whole life was one in which he said, “I am not my own.”
My friend, if you’ve been made a new creature in Christ, your old view of Christ is gone. God the Holy Spirit has given you a new sight in Christ. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: the old view of Christ has gone; the new has come.”
Bible References: 2 Corinthians 5:9,14,17; 2 Corinthians 4:4,6
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