2 Corinthians 5:11-17
The New Has Come
Paul has been speaking of things visible and invisible, the latter holding the superior place as things invisible are eternal compared to the transitory nature of things visible. He will now expand on this idea, speaking of outward appearances as opposed to what is in the heart, of regarding people according to the flesh as opposed to the Spirit (though the latter term is understood rather than explicit), and being of the old creation which is passing away as opposed to being a new creation which is part of the new world that God has brought through His Son Jesus Christ. We must understand that the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God has radically changed not just the world but the reality of that world. We are not here speaking of “worldview” which Christians like to talk about and which certainly has its place; we are speaking here of how the coming of Christ has altered the very reality in which we live.
To begin, we count outward appearances as nothing. God said to Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). (Paul uses this antithesis in a veiled way so that the Corinthians will see the difference between his ministry and that of the traveling preachers who have been to Corinth attacking him.) As for Paul’s reference to regarding people, even Christ, according to the flesh, he means in our own thinking. He is not saying that we should not regard our Lord’s incarnation and ministry on earth as if it didn’t matter since it was his coming that provides for our salvation; he is saying that we regard Christ now not only as a man but as the divine Son of God who took our sins upon himself, and others not by worldly standards but as either brothers and sisters in Christ or people who need the Lord.
And as for being a new creation, there are few verses in all of Scripture that thrill the heart as 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” A new creation is what we become when the Holy Spirit does that regenerating work in us, creating a new heart within us, infusing within us a new principle of spiritual life, something within that was not there before which recreates us and make us new creations. And being a new creation is necessary in order to live in the new world that is coming—indeed, has already come into the world through the advent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). This world which seems so real is actually passing away. Do not cling to it; as a believer, you were reborn for so much more.
Similar to his letter to the church in Rome (6:12-21), Paul uses here language that, to the untutored, seems to preach a universalistic understanding of salvation or at least of the atonement. (Though we may agree to disagree on the latter, no Christian may believe the former and speak of himself as being in agreement with Scripture or the teaching of the Church down through the ages on that topic.)
Paul says that it is the love of Christ that compels him to say that as “one has died for all, therefore all have died.” We were already dead in Adam and in our own trespasses and sins, but Paul seems to say here that Christ’s death itself kills all people—and rightfully so. In that sense in which Christ died for all, all have died with him as all deserved that death. This “all” is certainly an all-inclusive, universal “all.” But he then goes on to say, “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Please note that it is only “those who live for him” who shall eternally live, not everyone ever born. This is why Paul is compelled to speak out of Christ’s love—because people need to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ. Those who do not believe die in their sin, because they are already dead in their sin by nature and by choice—but also because Christ’s death has worked not life but death in them as they have not believed on the name of the Son of God in order to live.
So the death of our Lord works both life (to the believer) and death (to the unbeliever). This, again, is why we say that there are two radically different worlds or realities: the one invisible, the other visible; the one eternal, the other passing away; one of the Spirit, the other of the flesh; one new and permanent, the other old and passing away. The invisible, eternal, spiritual, permanent, and new was introduced upon his resurrection and coming of the Spirit (though it has always been), while the visible, transient, fleshly, and old were introduced with the fall of Adam. And these are the two worlds, the two realities—but one is passing away while the other grows only brighter.
The resurrection brought the death of the old and birth of the new. Choose you this day which world you shall inhabit and become a new creation in Christ Jesus.