Friday, September 01, 2006

A new creature, living for... himself?

Early in my Christian life, I was involved with the Navigators, a Christian group that encouraged me to memorize verses through things like the "Topical Memory System." The TMS was five sets of 12 verses each, arranged around themes like "Live the New Life" or "Rely on God's Resources."

The first verse of the first set, the card labeled "A-1," was 2 Corinthians 5.17, which is in today's New Testament reading. In the New American Standard version, it reads:

Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away. Behold, new things have come!

Although I memorized that verse all by itself -- and as far as individual verses go, it's not a bad one! -- it naturally doesn't stand in isolation; it's part of a passage where he talks about the work of evangelism. This is a great passage, where he lays out the mission he's so dedicated to:
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation....
2 Corinthians 5.14-18
and he explains what that ministry is: that God himself provided, at great personal cost, a way for this sorry dark world to make peace with him.

Here's how I understand this passage. First, Paul says that Christ's death for us all means we were all as good as dead, and that we shouldn't live for ourselves but for Christ.

What do you think about that? We shouldn't live for ourselves but for Christ. Here's what I think: that these two (living for Christ, living for myself) have some overlap; it's not always an either/or thing. For example, why does Paul preach the gospel? This passage here says Christ's love compels him to do it. In 1 Corinthians 9 he says it's involuntary: "for I am compelled to preach," he says. So is he doing it for Christ or for himself?

And do people become pastors or missionaries because they feel their lives belong to Christ and that's where he's called them? Or is it really because they have a need to be needed by others, or because they're desperately trying to escape the sense of meaninglessness gnawing at their souls?

Well, their motives might be mixed. Scratch that -- their motives almost certainly are mixed. Mine always are. Paul's were, too -- after reading Romans chapter 7, I am sure of it!

But I'm OK with that, and I think you should be too. First of all, if through childhood loneliness or whatever, someone gets a gnawing sense of meaninglessness, or a deep desire to be needed by someone, can God use that for something good? Can he even use it to advance the gospel and to build his kingdom? Of course he can! And the same thing goes for someone who feels compelled to preach (for good reasons or bad).

And when someone chooses a life direction that accomplishes God's purposes while at the same time fulfilling a desire or need within his own soul, is he living for himself or for Christ? Well, to the extent that anyone else has anything to say about it, I say it's some of both.

Back to the passage, and I'll be quick because I've already written a lot for today... Because of this transaction, where we were all as good as dead and then Jesus died for us, Paul says, people are not what they look like on the outside. He talks about how people thought of Jesus based on worldly standards of achievement, and how that has now changed.

And that's why if anyone is "in Christ," then he is a new creature, or a new creation. And what an amazing thing that is -- to be a new person, to be "born again" (that is in the Bible, by the way - in John 3; it wasn't invented by the 20th century "Jesus movement").

So let me wrap this up with an analogy that I probably heard somewhere. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we might say it's a new creature; it has a new nature so to speak. Though it has the same DNA that it always had, the expression of that DNA is now a butterfly expression rather than a caterpillar expression. When I became a Christian, my DNA didn't change. Most of the circumstances of my life didn't change. But my skills and strengths, my hangups and weaknesses, are expressed in a different way and for a different purpose than before.

Am I living for Christ then? A little bit. Well, OK, maybe "Some."

But I'm living (at all) more than I'm "living for Christ." That is, I'm living out who I am. By God's grace, "who I am" is becoming more like Christ, so the "living out" pleases Christ more and more. At least I hope so! Well, I believe it's so, by God's promise.

[posted 9/4]

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