Thursday, November 6, 2008

New and Improved

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

                        2 Corinthians 5.17

Extreme Makeovers and Touch-ups

Paul slips in this much-repeated gem about how Christ changes us as part of a far grander discussion: how Christ through us changes the world. Quoted independently, it’s easily misconstrued as a makeover—nothing about us remains the same. Many believers revel in, even poeticize, this concept. Indeed, a lot of us come to Christ in advanced states of brokenness, bruised and scarred by abuse, immodesty, and self-neglect. Over time, His love and power bind our wounds and heal our scars, and we’re not who we used to be. Yet it’s conceivable more of us than not come to Him in a less dire condition. In these cases, we experience something closer to a touch-up than an extreme makeover. If we take Paul’s statement by itself, we may feel slightly let down in how little changes once we decide to follow Jesus. A closer reading of chapter 5 reframes what he’s really talking about. And when we understand that, we’ll join our less fortunate brothers and sisters’ rejoicing, because what we learn certainly is something to shout about.


Paul begins with resurrection, reminding us the physical body is a mortal (i.e., vulnerable) “tent,” while the spiritual being aches for its true home, “a building from God… not built by human hands.” Our confidence, he says, rests in our eternal home. “We live by faith, not by sight” (v7). Knowing our earthly lives will be assessed to gain heavenly ones, “we make it our goal to please him” (v9). Increasingly aware of our ultimate responsibility to God, “we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to [you]… so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (v11-12). The love Jesus demonstrated on Calvary compels us to “regard no one from a worldly point of view,” Paul says (v16), because God recreated us and “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (v18).

The Great Do-Over

Let’s follow Paul’s logic: resurrection-recreation-reconciliation. What’s wrong with this? It’s in reverse! Verse 19 tells us, “God was reconciling the world the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Jesus’s sacrifice reeled the world back to Square One, to the Garden days, before Adam and Eve indulged their craving to decide right from wrong on their own and stuck all of us with a death penalty. According to Genesis 6.6, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” When one man, Noah, earned God’s favor, He scrubbed His first idea—obliterating the Earth and humankind by drowning—and chose a different method: giving Himself as an offering of reconciliation, recreating us one by one, and vacating our death sentence through resurrection.

Instead of deluging the world with water, God flooded it with His love, mercy, and grace. Our recreation in Christ amounts to something much more significant than a personal makeover. We're the crucial element in God's great do-over, leading players on the world stage. Everything we do, every life we touch, is part of His plan to restore the magnificence He fashioned out of darkness and dust. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5.20. Our Maker has redesigned us to be new and improved for one reason—to make His world new and improved, one recreated person at a time.

We are new and improved creatures charged with making a new and improved world.

(Tomorrow: Fox Hunting)


Anonymous said...

Tim, such valuable words and sentiments. It is so hard to remember that we are called to such heavenly responsibilities. We so often confine our God to appointed daily times and Sunday, not remembering that we are part of the recreation of the earth. We do well, to constantly remind ourselves of this calling, and think before we speak and act.

Tim said...

Hi, Sherry!

My mom says people who glory in their faith yet never act upon it are "too heavenly minded to do earthly good." I couldn't agree more with both of you on this. If our recreation in Christ turns our sights upward instead of looking around us to see what needs to be done, we've missed the point. We're changed so we can become agents of change in others' lives.

Thanks for your thoughts. It's always a great joy to hear from you.

Peace, Tim

Cuboid Master said...

Dear Ambassador Tim,

Thank you for this reminder that our every act as people of Christ serves to transform the world. It reminds me of the people I admire the most, people without fame or glory but consecrated to God and quietly following the footsteps of the Master. Those quiet ambassadors among us are true heroes. I met one such woman in South Carolina years ago. She was the daughter of a Black sharecropper, poor and uneducated but deeply bound to Christ. Until her death at the age of 89, she woke every morning at sunrise and walked barefoot to the tobacco fields to pick tobacco or tend the crops. When I visited her with a group of youth, she was full of love and hospitality. I will never forget how she shared her meager food stores with us and insisted we have a meal with her. Tears were in my eyes the entire visit. I was amazed at this woman's generosity. She embodied the love of Christ in everything she did, and she was truly thankful. People like her are the brilliant ambassadors of God's love among us. Truly, she had been recreated through Christ, and I know His Father delights in the beauty of her soul.

True love, reconciliation and altruism exist in this world through Him, the Son of God.

You always inspire me, Tim.


Tim said...

Cube, it's great to see you!

I grew up with a similar saintly soul, an elderly widow in our church. Mama Henderson had little to give financially, yet I doubt few people have contributed more to God's people than she. She always arrived early for service to take her regular seat near the back of the sanctuary. Every Sunday, before evening worship, I sidled up next her and we talked quietly. Without ever coming out to her, she knew my story and accepted me as I was--without explicitly saying so herself.

I think back on those precious conversations with Mama Henderson and marvel at how generously, obediently, and kindly she availed herself to me. I know indubitably that God placed her in my as my peace in the midst of the adolescent storms of growing up in a largely gay-hostile religious environment. Her unconditional love and interest in my spiritual maturation reassured me of His presence and acceptance. Much of what I've become springs directly from her compassion and wisdom. And I'm proud to admit that her spirit and understanding infuse a great deal of what I'm blessed to share here.

We're inspired by people like the lady you write of and Mama Henderson so that we in turn can inspire others. They take what we give and pass it on. It's exactly how God intended reconciliation to work. It's genius in its highest form.

Thanks for sharing this great example with us, Cube. Your comments always inspire me, too.

Peace and joy,