Nature of Saving Religion
Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold, all is become new.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
The Essence of Saving Religion
“Therefore, if any man be in Christ”
Paul is speaking of the new creation which is wrought by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is known in its essence. Paul shows several things in this verse in relation to regeneration.
First, he addresses the essence of saving religion in the phrase “in Christ.” This phrase is used at least 240 times in the New Testament. The greatest question that could be asked to help a person determine his state before God is this: “Are you in Christ?”
- In Christ speaks of our union with Christ, that we are united to Him in true conversion.
- In Christ speaks of our justification, that God has declared us righteous and forgiven.
- In Christ speaks of our adoption, that He has freely made us His sons.
- In Christ speaks of our sanctification, that we are holy and continue to be made holy.
Everything that God has for the Christian is “in Christ.” Paul says, “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The essence of saving religion, then, is being “in Christ.” A Christian is someone who is savingly joined to Christ.
The Effects of Saving Religion
“He is a new creation”
This verse also points to the effects of regeneration in saving religion. The new creation is the work of the Triune God. God the Father planned it. God the Son purchased it by His death and prayed for it. And the Spirit applies it effectually. We can explain what the Spirit does, but how He does it, no man must pretend to know.
We do know that the effect of His saving work is that of our being a new creature–a new creation. Something happens to us and in us. John Wesley expressed it this way: “It’s something that happens on the inside and manifests itself on the outside.”
It is God commanding the light to shine out of darkness into one’s heart. This inward light is a knowledge that never grew on Adam’s tree. It is the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is not religious patch-work, for the sons of Adam are so far gone that even God won’t patch them up.
Before the supernatural work of regeneration, the world’s standards and values dominate a person’s being. The center of his being is self. Sometimes it is well-disguised, but nevertheless it is something less than a new creation–no inward change.
True and saving religion changes the whole man–inwardly first, and then outwardly. The whole man is affected–his mind and thus his thinking; his affections or emotions and thus his feelings; and his will, thus his actions.
True Christianity, whatever else it may be, cannot be less than right thinking, right feeling, and right actions in relationship to God.
The Evidences of Saving Religion
“Old things are passed away; behold, all is become new.”
The evidences of saving religion, or being in Christ, are always present. Negatively, old things pass away; positively, all things become new. Before conversion, a person is dominated basically by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, as 1 John 2:15-17 says. The lust of the flesh is an inordinate desire to enjoy the things of this world; the lust of the eye is an inordinate desire to have things; the pride of life is an inordinate desire to be somebody. Such is the unregenerate man.
The primary evidence of being in Christ is that the power of these controlling factors is broken in one’s union with Christ. Old things become new, or to put it another way, new things now come. There is a new purpose for living, a new path of obedience, and new practices. All things become new. That is the evidence of being in Christ. The person who is in Christ is renewed inwardly, not perfectly or finally, but in some measure in every part of his being.
His understanding is renewed, so that the man recognizes the gospel to be the wisdom of God; he now discerns the reality of the things of God. His heart and affections are renewed. The law of God is written within him, so that he loves God and he loves God’s image in His children. He hates sin and all that robs God of His glory. The outward members of the person are renewed. The tongue, the eye, the ear, hand, and feet–those members which once were abused are now improved as weapons of righteousness.
The one who is a new creation has a new purpose. There is a new path of obedience to God, to Christ’s commands, such as baptism, public worship, reading and subjection to the Word of God. He now walks in Christ’s ways and follows the Lamb wherever He goes.
The new creation also has new practices in all his relationships. New interests govern his life because he has been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
He has been brought into a new state with respect to his relationship with God. It is an entirely changed relationship from the state of death and wrath as an enemy of God to a state of peace with God as a son, heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ. This is no small change.
The new creation, the Christian, comes under a new Teacher–the Holy Spirit. This Teacher gives him new views of himself, his nature and character, his sins, duties, trials, and his eternal prospects. He gives new views of God’s law. The Christian now sees it as his friend, directing him along the right road to travel. The Christian is given new views of Christ, and what He did and why He did it. There is clarity regarding the Gospel itself. He sees that the gospel is always relevant as long as men sin and die.
The new creation (the Christian) enters into a new conflict in his own soul. It is the conflict mentioned in Romans chapter 7. This is a conflict between sin and the will. While the conflict in the unconverted person is between sin and the conscience, for the Christian, it is a conflict between sin and the will. The difference between the two (sin and the conscience and sin and the will) consists entirely in the position of the will. In the unconverted, the will is on the side of sin, and both sin and the will are opposed to the conscience. In the new creature, the will is on the side of conscience, and both are opposed to sin. One should never believe any teaching which says that one can come to a place that there is no more conflict with sin.
This great change of the new creation, being in Christ–a change so great, that there is only one thing that can bring it about. Only the Almighty operation of the Holy Spirit can effect this necessary change, and how He exactly does it, no one knows. What He does can be known, but how He does it is a mystery in the Christian faith. Such is the truth of 2 Cor. 5:17–the new creature in Christ.