[Therefore,] if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. —2 Corinthians 5:17
The Corinthians sometimes held Paul in contempt because his external appearance was unimpressive. Paul writes to them that they should not judge him or any Christian based on the worldly, external standards of judgment. They must look at the heart. And what’s true of the heart? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Paul’s new creation language recalls the words of Isaiah the prophet:
so that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth,... because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness." (Isaiah 65:16-18)
Isaiah prophesies that the time is coming when Israel will forget about the hardships of God’s judgment and of captivity. God will make a new heavens and a new earth that will be so full of glory and goodness that all the past troubles will no longer come to mind. When God creates anew, it will be a time of great rejoicing.
What is remarkable about this prophecy is that it is all oriented toward the future. And yet, when Paul talks about new creation, he says that the new creation has already entered into the experience of anyone who is in Christ. If you know Christ, it is true that there is an inheritance laid up for you in the future that will not spoil or fade away. It is also true that you already have the Holy Spirit working within you and remaking your heart and mind into the image of Christ. You no longer scoff at the things of God (or are indifferent to them). Why? Because old things have passed away. Instead, you rejoice in the grace of God in your life. Why? Because new things have come.
Your outer man may be decaying and passing away, but your inner man is being renewed day by day. The inward reality is that the Holy Spirit has already taken what was spiritually dead and made it alive.
Paul says this is true of every Christian. You can’t just look at their external characteristics and tell what they really are. Judgments based on external characteristics that can be viewed with the eyes are absolutely worthless. You have to train yourself to see what is unseen and in the heart.
One day, the glory of God is going to cover the earth like the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). In the meantime, that new creation is already breaking into people’s hearts through the gospel. It is small and inconspicuous in many ways, but it is nevertheless true. The most important thing about you is not what I can see with my eyes but what God can see with His—that in your heart, the new creation has come, and all the old things have passed away.
No matter what external characteristics you have, your external characteristics aren’t the most important thing about you. The most important thing about you, Christian, is that you are a new creation through the Spirit of God working inside of you, the child of God. That work may go unnoticed by the world, but it does not go unnoticed by God. For that reason, Paul doesn’t regard anyone according to the flesh. His estimation of people is bound up with whether they are in the flesh or in the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh are going to perish. Those who are in the Spirit will live forever, no matter what their external characteristics are.
If that is how Paul regards people and if that is how God regards people, then why would we ever do any differently? Why would we ever dismiss someone because their external presentation seemed weak or undesirable in some worldly sense? We must never do that, and Paul is saying that his readers must never do that to him.
What external characteristics do you wrestle with in yourself, or in others?
Ask God to give you eyes to see how He is at work making you a new creation.
Praise God this week when you notice that though your outer self is wasting away, your inner self is being renewed day by day.
Denny Burk is Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also serves as an associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, and is the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Denny is the author or co-author of several books including Transforming Homosexuality and What Is the Meaning of Sex? He is married to Susan, and they have four children ages 16, 14, 12, and 9. His children are making their way through the Fighter Verses passages every weekday morning and regularly use the Fighter Verses songs.