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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Newly Created

We are starting a new year. This is a point in time that many people use to make a new start. We make resolutions, deciding to do less of something in the future, or to do more of a particular thing than we have done before, such as phoning Grandma every week. We may even decide to do things that we have never done in the past, like taking up a new hobby. The New Year seems to be opportunity to draw a line under certain aspects of our lives, and commit to a different pattern in future. It is as if we say, ‘2020 has passed. I cannot bring it back. I don’t want to. In 2021 things will be changed.’

The apostle Paul is speaking of similar things in this chapter. He says, ‘the old has gone, the new is here’. However, Paul isn’t writing about life changes that are made at the start of a new year. Paul is talking about life changes that are made at the start of a new life. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we start a new life. We are probably familiar with the conversation that Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus which is recorded in John 3. Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council. Jesus referred to Nicodemus as ‘Israel’s teacher’. This was one of the jobs that Nicodemus had been given by those around him. It was part of his role to teach the Israelites from God’s word. Much like a teacher at school will stand at the front of the classroom and teach their pupils about a particular subject, Nicodemus stood in front of the Jews and taught them from the Old Testament scriptures. The subject that he taught was ‘God’. But Nicodemus had been observing Jesus. It had made him conscious of his own lack of understanding. Jesus hadn’t been appointed to a teaching role by the other religious leaders, but Jesus taught profound truth and performed miracles. Nicodemus reached a wise conclusion, telling Jesus, ‘you are a teacher who has come from God.’ Jesus opened up the truth to this man. He said, ‘’Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”’

Some Christians use these words of Jesus to describe themselves in a concise way to others. They tell them, ‘I am a born again Christian’. I do like this expression. It invites further questions. It did with Nicodemus. He replied to Jesus with the words, ‘’How can this be?’ It can be a hard concept to understand but it is a vital truth. There are no other types of true Christian, only born again Christians. We ‘must’, as Jesus tells us, we ‘must be born again’. Paul expands on this doctrine again and again in his various letters to the churches. In Romans 6:4 he says, ‘we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ It is a new life. It is a new life in Christ Jesus. Paul uses these words in our text, ‘in Christ’. He says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come...’ The new creation isn’t coming. It has come. This is really important. Our understanding, of what this new life is, needs to be rightly ordered. Some will teach us that Christians live a new, reformed, life in order to be accepted by God. This is not the truth of the bible. The wonderful truth of the bible is that believers in Jesus are already accepted by God. This is seen in our chapter today, in the verses following our text.

Verse 19 says, ‘...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.’ Verse 21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ ‘In Christ’ is a very special place indeed. Here, our sins just do not count. When God views us, what standard of life does he see? He sees his own excellence. Through Christ we are made right – completely right according to our Lord’s perfect standard. So, if we have received a perfect standard of life in Christ, why do we then need to live a new life? Do we need to? Paul believes that we do. In Ephesians 4:1, he urges Christians to ‘live a life worthy of the calling you have received’.

The circumstances of 2020 have provided us with an illustration that we perhaps didn’t have before, that can help our thinking on this. Last year, pupils in A-Level and GCSE exam years didn’t have to sit their exams, due to the situation with COVID-19. Instead, they were awarded grades based on mock exam results and teacher assessments. Let’s say that I was one of those pupils. I was taking my A-Levels and wanted to go to a top university to study a degree that was highly sought after and over-subscribed. Oxford had offered me a place but I needed perfect grades. Two ‘A-stars’ and an ‘A’ would not do. I must get three ‘A-stars’. Unfortunately, in the previous two years of study, I hadn’t been putting the effort in. I was destined to fall well short of the required mark. But, I have a very kindly teacher. He calls me in. He tells me that I haven’t made the grade but that he wants to do something extra-ordinary for me. He knows that I want to get to Oxford and he is going to give me the grades that I need. He has another student whose work is perfect. But that student has given up his courses and donated his coursework. ‘I am going to hand in the results of someone else’s college life as though they were yours. You will get perfect grades. You will be accepted.’ Then he tells me something else. ‘There are a few months left before you leave. I am going to be setting some coursework. I want you to make every effort to ensure that the work that you produce matches the grades that I am giving you.’ Would I? I think I would be powerfully compelled to.

The gospel should powerfully compel believers to live a worthy life. I was falling so far short of the mark before. In love, humility, obedience and a whole load of other subjects I had no chance of passing God’s final examination. It would have been ‘Z minus’ across the board. I could not have entered heaven with those results. But then he offered me the grades that rightfully belonged to the perfect life of his perfect Son. I gratefully received them. Then he says, ‘Now live a life more worthy of those grades that you have been given.’

In 2 Peter 1, the apostle lists things that need to be built up in the Christian’s life, such as goodness, self-control, perseverance and love. Peter then uses these words, ‘make every effort to confirm your calling and election.’ When a healthy baby is born, they are on a developmental pathway. They will grow and learn and mature. But they don’t reach a point where people suddenly decide that they are human. They were already human at birth. Their development proves the reality of what they were at the start. So it is with the Christian, born again to this new life. Our development, our growth in grace (2 Peter 3:18), is not what makes us a Christian. But it does confirm what we already were. It is important that we grasp just how new this new life is. The bible uses the language of great contrast to help us. Romans 6, again, reminds Christians that they have been ‘brought from death to life’ (v.13). We could pick from a multitude of verses which use the contrast between darkness and light to describe the change that has been brought to the believer’s life. Ephesians 5:8 says, ‘you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.’ These things should help us to see that the new life is one of wholesale change, but we often struggle with this concept. This chapter that we are concentrating on today is very much connected with the previous chapter. In 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, Paul uses the language of contrast. It contains teaching about a change of focus that should come with the new life.

In the NIV, chapter 4 has the heading, ‘Present weakness and resurrection life’. The Christians at Corinth were experiencing difficulty. They were well aware of their ‘present weakness’. Trouble will come when we follow Jesus. As Christians we can be surprised by this. We can even question whether we have got it wrong. Is it worth it? Paul often deals with this in his writings. The apostle Peter does the same. He says, ‘do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter is reminding believers that trouble in the Christian life is inevitable. Indeed, it is necessary. When we suffer, particularly for carrying the truth of Jesus in our lives, we are united to the sufferings of our Lord and Master, in our own experience. Also, Peter wants us to focus on what is to come, which is glory. Paul says the same thing in these chapters. Paul talks about present weakness, in chapter 4, using words that should be easy to understand. He likens believers to ‘jars of clay’. We are fragile and easily broken. He talks of being hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down (v.7-9). Then he says something extra-ordinary, ‘we do not lose heart’ (v.16). Why? Because of where we are focusing. We should not be focusing on ‘present weakness’, but on ‘resurrection life’. ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (v.17-18). Moving into chapter 5, Paul continues this theme. He likens our present earthly body to a ‘tent’, a temporary dwelling that is quickly taken down. He reminds us that we have an ‘eternal’ dwelling promised us. Paul believes that we should be ‘longing’ for this ‘heavenly’ promise (v.1-2). This is a really helpful word. What Paul and Peter are encouraging us towards is ‘heavenly’ mindedness – a new mind for a new life. As Christians, it is important that we engage in an ongoing process of consideration. Changes of times and seasons (as Tim mentioned last week) can be helpful in this. We may use this New Year period to consider our lives. It is important that we identify those things that belong to the old life. Otherwise, they will just creep back in. What is there in our thinking that doesn’t fit with the thinking of those that have been born again to follow Jesus? What is there that is earthly minded that requires change? I think that all too often I am inclined to just apply a ‘bible patch’ to my life.

What do I mean by this? Well, suppose I identify something in my thinking that is essentially earthly. What should I do? I should beg the Lord to help me remove it; to consign it to the past altogether. Instead, I try to modify my thinking and behaviour, to alter it somewhat, so that it is a bit more in line with bible teaching, so I don’t feel quite so challenged by it. What I’m left with, though, is an earthly mind-set that has been patched up, rather than a new, heavenly mind-set. Wholesale change can be so difficult and painful. It can be really hard work. Patching up our thinking is that much easier. But at some point this will really let us down. I like riding my bike. Every so often I get a puncture, usually when my inner tube is pierced by a thorn, and the air starts to leak. I can be slightly obsessed with things, such as numbers. Endeavouring to see how many repairs I can make to a single inner tube causes me great delight. My record is ten patches on a single tube. Eventually, however, the tube has to be replaced. If the tube is pierced again, too close to an existing patch, it cannot be repaired. Let’s assume that I have an inner tube with several repairs. I need to repair it again but a friend of mine disagrees. ‘That tube needs slinging, I’ll buy you a new one myself’, they say. What would I do? I would politely decline. How else will I beat my record? Would this be the right decision, though? It all depends on our way of thinking. If the most important thing to us is to navigate each journey, without being hindered, then changing the tube is the right decision. If I don’t, the next puncture may be unrepairable. I would then have to walk a long way home. My journey could be greatly affected. We need to make these right decisions in our Christian lives. Let us not be happy just patching up our thinking with a few things from the bible. As a cyclist, I should accepting a new inner tube from my friend. As a Christian, I should be begging the Lord for that new heart and that new spirit that we have spoken of in Psalm 51 (v.10) and Ezekiel chapters 11 (v.19) & 36 (v.26). Because, without it, I will definitely come unstuck. The journey of my Christian life will be greatly hindered at some point. In 2 Peter 3, Peter returns to this same ‘heavenly’ theme again. He reminds believers that the here and now is destined to be ‘destroyed’. This question is posed, ‘Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?’ (v.11). If I was to sit down to make a sculpture out of clay, how focussed would I be? It depends. If I’ve been commissioned to produce a piece (very unlikely), that will be displayed in a gallery for a long time, then I would be extremely focussed. If I’m doing it because I have a spare half hour and just want to pass the time, knowing that as soon as I have finished I will throw the clay in the bin and it will be ‘destroyed’, then I won’t be too bothered about how good it is. If I try to create a tree but it ends up looking

like a cucumber, it just won’t matter. Often, as Christians, we place great value upon things that are going to be destroyed. I can get very troubled when things go wrong at work. The reality is that those things are going to be destroyed. They are extremely temporary. Yet I can often treat them as though they have eternal importance. But they don’t. Peter reminds believers, ‘in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3 13). Paul says, in Colossians 3 (1-2), ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ In Philippians 3 (13-14), Paul says of himself ‘one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ As we begin 2021, may our goal be the same as Paul’s goal. May we strain towards what is ahead. Because, in Christ Jesus, the heavenly prize is ours.



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