In this sermon, Pastor Mike Riccardi asks and answers the question, “What makes someone a Christian?” Pastor Riccardi teaches from 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 three points concerning what constitutes a Christian:
1) The Christian is a new creation brought to life by God
2) The Christian regards Christ spiritually and not by the flesh
3) The Christian assesses others spiritually rather than by appearance or station
Pastor Riccardi ends his sermon encouraging non-Christians to be reconciled to God and for Christians to live unto God in all things.
Good morning and greetings to all of you. I bring you greetings from Pastor John MacArthur and the Elders of Grace Community Church. It’s a delight to be with you, to be back in New Jersey, seeing family, celebrating Christmas, New Years, and all these things. However, it is a wonderful privilege to be with you and minister the word of God to you.
I thank God for this church. I thank God for the pulpit and the Word that is expounded from it. I was speaking about Calvary to someone in the last several weeks and was just saying that when you have a church that knows the Gospel, knows what preaching is, and is eager to hear the Word preached and whatever it has to say, then you have a blessed congregation. You have that, and you are that. We thank God for you.
As Pastor Joe said, we’re going to be in 2 Corinthians 5. It’s New Year’s, right? It’s the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, and as we come upon this new year and season of new beginnings, I want to preach about the New Birth.
I want to begin by asking you: what makes someone a Christian? There is a lot of confusion over the answer to that question even within the church. What makes someone a Christian? At the most fundamental level, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ? How many people would say that what makes someone a Christian is family tradition or heredity? Similarly to how an Irish person is born Irish, those whose parents and grandparents were Christians are born Christian.
Others would say that it’s good manners, politeness, and a pleasant attitude that makes somebody a Christian. Someone who says, “please and thank you.” Someone who says “yes,” “sir,” and “no mam.” Someone who looks you in the eye when they talk to you. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
Others would say that being a Christian means you fight for the betterment of society. Christians fight poverty, they feed the hungry, or they devote themselves to working for social justice. Others identify Christianity with a political party, so if you were for limited government and economic conservatism, and if you’re against abortion and homosexual marriage, then you’re a Christian.
Some people are a little bit more religious in their definition of a Christian. They might say that being a Christian is living a changed life. It is the reformation of our morals. A Christian, they’d say, is someone who doesn’t cheat on their spouse or cheat on their taxes. Someone who doesn’t abuse alcohol or drugs. Someone who doesn’t use foul language.
Other people would say that the fulfillment of religious duties makes a Christian. You’re a Christian if you read your Bible, pray, sing worship songs, and attend church. Others say it’s a matter of fearing God’s judgment and believing that Jesus died on the Cross to save us from hell. Still, others would say it’s feeling bad about your sin that makes you a Christian. Everybody sins, but the ones who feel guilty and know what they’re doing is wrong are the true Christians.
Well, I’m here to tell you that none of those things makes a person a Christian. Now, it’s true that Christians mourn over their sin. It’s true that Christians read Scripture, pray, and are members of a local church. It is true that Christians are faithful to their spouses, don’t give themselves to drunkenness, and they discipline their tongues.
However, not a one of those things makes them a Christian. Christianity is not so natural of a religion that you can be a Christian if you clean up your life, your language, parrot out a few memorized phrases, and show up to church once a week. Man’s problem isn’t that our thinking, our speech, our behavior, or our politics just need to be refined a little bit here and there. Something is so fundamentally wrong with us that Jesus says in John 3, if we are to have any hope of seeing the kingdom of God, then we must be born all over again.
The call of the Gospel is not behavior modification. Sin has so infected and corrupted mankind that nothing less than the wholesale renovation of the soul is required for salvation. As Charles Spurgeon aptly observed, he said:
The Scriptures do not say ye must be improved, but ye must be born again.
What makes a man a Christian and what truly distinguishes a genuine believer in Jesus from those who are unsaved is regeneration, the spiritual recreation of one dead in sin and the divine impartation of spiritual life into the soul of a sinner. God speaks of the reality of regeneration in the New Covenant promise of Ezekiel 36:26-27 when He says:
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
What makes someone a Christian is the spiritual heart surgery performed by Almighty God wherein He removes your sinful heart of stone and totally transforms you from the inside-out, so that you’re thinking, desires, tastes, affections, and wills are entirely renewed. Your spiritual eyes, once blinded to the glory of Christ, have now been opened to behold the ugliness of sin and the beauty of Holiness as its comprehended in Jesus.
The sin that once tasted so sweet now brings nothing but bitterness. The sin that was so alluring, enticing, and satisfying now has no pull on your affections. It’s lost on you. The righteousness and virtue that you once had no taste for is now what you hunger and thirst after.
See, the Christian is the one who has been regenerated and has been made an entirely new creation from the inside-out. In our text, the Apostle Paul has something to teach us about the Christian’s experience of regeneration. In his comments, there is a section of his letter that really begins in 2 Corinthians 5:11 where he’s begun speaking about two driving motivations in his life that fuel and empower him for radically sacrificial ministry.
In 2 Corinthians 5:11, the first motivation is the fear of God. He lived his entire life in light of the fact that we all must appear before the Judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our every thought, every word, and every deed. Paul says he conducted every aspect of his ministry in full knowledge that every word on his lips and every intention of his heart lay open to the searching, omniscient gaze of the Lord Jesus. That drove him to live and to minister with the utmost integrity, so no matter what the false Apostles in Corinth were accusing him of, his conscience was clear before the Lord.
Then, the second driving motivation in his life is the love of Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:14:
For the love of Christ controls us…
Paul is compellingly motivated. He is absolutely driven by Christ’s love for His people as displayed in the Gospel. Then, in meditating on that love, Paul goes on to describe key components of the Gospel that so brilliantly displays the love of Christ for His people. He speaks about the doctrine of substitution in 2 Corinthians 5:14:
…that one died for all…
The one man, Christ, died on behalf of, or in the place of, His people as our substitute and the one who extinguishes the righteous wrath of the Father against our sin by suffering that punishment in our place. He speaks of the doctrine of solidarity or of representative headship. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14:
…that one died for all, therefore all died
That is to say that there exists such a union between Christ, the head, and His people, the body, that when He died to sit on the Cross, so also did His people die to sin. When He rose again to newness of life, so also did His people rise again to newness of life in Him.
Then, he speaks of the doctrine of substitution, solidarity, and sanctification. In 2 Corinthians 5:15, the very purpose of God’s saving grace, by which were justified in Christ, is that we might display His Glory by living a life of practical righteousness and obedience to Him:
and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
As Paul continues meditating on the theological truths of the Gospel, by which the love of Christ is displayed, he then turns to speak about the doctrine of regeneration. The sanctification that he speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5:15 to no longer live unto ourselves, but unto Christ is the result of this radical inward transformation of regeneration, which he addresses in 2 Corinthians 2:16-17:
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
When you become united to Christ by faith, one of the results of that union, in 2 Corinthians 5:16, is the way you view other people is entirely transformed because, in 2 Corinthians 5:16b, the way you view Christ has been transformed. Your view of Christ is transformed because you yourself have been transformed. Regeneration transforms the entirety of who you are.
In my mind, it’s easier to reason from cause to effect than from effect back to cause, so I’m going to treat 2 Corinthians 5:17 first where Paul describes regeneration, and then 2 Corinthians 5:16 where he outlines two results of regeneration, which will make a three-point outline.
First, we will consider that the Christian is a new creation. Second, that he has a new view of Christ. Third, that he has a new view of others. First, in view of his union to Christ, the Christian is said to be, number one, a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
If anyone is in Christ, if anyone has become united to Jesus Christ by saving faith in the Gospel, if anyone has died to sin and self in union with the One who died to sin once for all, then he is a new creation. There are no exceptions. This is definitional. There is no such thing as an unregenerate Christian. There is no such thing as being united to Christ in salvation without having been totally transformed, from the inside-out, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The definitive distinguishing mark of every true believer in Jesus is that he is regenerant, he has been born again, and he is a new creation. We need to be a new creation in Christ. Like I said before, something was so fundamentally wrong with us that we needed to be recreated. Apostle John records Jesus’ words that we need to be born all over again. Paul puts it plainly in Titus 3:3:
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
This is the natural man’s miserable condition. How are we going to get out of it? Is it to clean up our act, to modify our behavior, or to reform our morals? No. Man, by his nature, is so hopelessly corrupted by sin that he must look entirely outside of himself for salvation, which is precisely Paul’s answer in Titus 3:4-6:
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior
Paul said something very similar in Ephesians 2:1, as he reminds the Church of Ephesus who they were before salvation:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins
Not injured, not sick, but dead. Though we possess physical life from the very moment of our conception, from that very same moment because of our union with Adam, we are utterly devoid of any spiritual life. We are spiritual corpses and we come out that way. He goes on in Ephesians 2:3:
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
This is what we are by nature. Nothing at all has to happen to us to make us this way. By nature, we are children of wrath. We are born in such a way that if nothing and no one were to intervene, we would be just recipients of the wrath of God against our sin.
This is who we are, and so once again I ask: what is the remedy for such a hopeless condition? Is it a laundry list of religious duties by which we seek to earn the favor of God? That is impossible! What duties can a dead man perform? How can someone dead in trespasses and sins raise himself to life? He can’t. The one thing we need most is entirely outside of our power to perform, and that’s why Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:4-5:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
Sin has so infected the totality of our being, our minds, our hearts, our wills, and all of us that we come into this world spiritually dead. All our faculty is corrupted by sin. We’re spiritually blind as it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4:
In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
We’re spiritually deaf. Jeremiah 6:10 says:
Behold, their ears are closed and they cannot listen.
Jesus said in John 8:47:
…for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.
Not only are we blind and deaf, but our will and our affections are disordered and enslaved to sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says:
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick
We’ve already seen from Ezekiel 36 that Scripture says the natural man’s heart is a heart of stone. It’s cold and unresponsive to any meaning and Glory of divine truth. Sin has so pervaded our nature as to leave no part of us untouched by its corruption. We need to be born again. We need to be regenerated and renewed. We need to be made alive.
In Christ, we find God’s grace perfectly suited to our need. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul likens this work of new creation to God’s work of the original creation:
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Just as in the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” and by the creative power of His word, the galaxies leapt into existence. In regeneration, God’s sovereignly speaks into the darkened and dead heart, “Let there be light!” Instantaneously, He births the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ and spiritual life where it had not existed.
He cures spiritual blindness. He opens the ears of the deaf with this sovereign call to life. He removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He renews the affection, so that the new man hates sin and loves righteousness. Just as depravity was total and just as no part of our nature escaped the corruption of sin, so also is regeneration total. No part of our nature escapes the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
I want you to notice precisely how Paul talks about regeneration in 2 Corinthians 5:17. The phrase that the NASB translates, “he is a new creature,” is a smoothing out of the original. If you have the NASB, you’ll notice the words, “he is,” in italics indicating that they weren’t in the original language. Literally, the Greek read like this:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, new creation!
It’s an exuberant interjection like Paul could barely contain himself as he wrote. In using that phrase, it’s unmistakable that Paul wants to draw an inseparable connection between the regeneration of sinful individuals and the coming renewal of the entire creation. In fact, if it wasn’t for the very individualizing language at the beginning of the verse, “if anyone is in Christ,” it would have been very natural to hear Paul reference to the new creation as a reference to the new heavens and the new earth.
Those two concepts aren’t unrelated in Scripture. While the concept is spread throughout the New Testament, the Greek word for regeneration is only used in two versus. One is Titus 3:5, which we read already. The other is in Matthew 19:28 where Jesus speaks about the time of His second coming as the regeneration. Furthermore, Romans 8:19 explicitly ties the regeneration of the creation to the regeneration of mankind:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
The sin cursed creation is waiting eagerly for the time when the children of God will be revealed to be what Christ has redeemed them to be. Then, he says in Romans 8:20-21:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Just as the curse of creation was intimately bound up with the curse of man where the creation was first one man’s sin, so also is the redemption of creation inextricably tied to the redemption of man. The creation will be freed from the curse of sin when man is free from the curse of sin.
Now, the implications of that are astounding because what is happening in the renewal, recreation, and regeneration of a sinner when he comes to Christ is nothing less than the prefiguring and inbreaking of that final renewal, recreation, and regeneration of the entire cosmos. You see, Christ didn’t come only to save our souls. He came to save the entire creation, so there is coming a day when Christ will return. This entire world will be purged from sin and evil through the judgment of fire and recreated into this most blessed paradise in order to be a suitable habitation for the redeemed children of God.
Revelation 21 says there’s coming a time when the present heaven and earth will pass away, a time when every wrong will be made right, when every ounce of evil will be eradicated, when every tear will be wiped from the eyes of God’s children, where there will be no more death, where there will be no more mourning, and where there will be no more pain. As Scripture speaks of that time. It tells us what God is going to say on that day in Revelation 21:5:
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Paul says in our very verse that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. Salvation, by grace through faith in Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, is nothing less than a microcosm of the redemption of the entire cosmos. Nothing less than the glory of the new heavens and the new earth breaking into this present evil age in the reborn soul of the believer in Jesus. How great a Salvation with which we have been saved?
Just as there is an unspeakable difference between this creation and the next, so also is there an unspeakable difference between the unregenerate sinner and the one who has been recreated in the likeness of Christ. The old things are passed away; behold, new things have come. All of our blindness, all of our deafness, all of our deadness, and all of our uncleanness has been nailed to the Cross. Psalm 103:12.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Dear Christian, I ask you: was your life before Christ one of great shame? Was it one of gross immorality? Was it one of uncommon wickedness? Was there fornication and adultery? Was there drug use and imprisonment? Was there sexual perversion? I tell you that if you are in Christ, you are a new creation.
The old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. You have been transformed from the inside out. You have been closed in the righteousness of Christ and are being progressively transformed and conformed into His image? You can, therefore, cut all ties with the past and live in the freedom of the new creation. If you’re outside of Christ, if you’re laboring under the burden of sins such as those, then I just invite you to run to Christ, who opens His arms and says:
Come to me all you who are weary and heavy and I will give you rest.
Turn from your sins and lay them at the Cross of Christ. Trust in Him for forgiveness and for righteousness because it is only by saving faith in Him. If any man is in Christ, then anyone is made a new creation. Well, those glorious truths provide just a glimpse into what regeneration is. It is to become an entirely new creation.
As we move to our second point, working backwards from 2 Corinthians 5:17 into 2 Corinthians 5:16, we want to consider what regeneration results in. We see two results that Paul focuses on in 2 Corinthians 5:16. The first of which is that becoming a new creation necessarily leads to a new view of Christ. Let’s focus on the second half of 2 Corinthians 5:16:
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
What does Paul mean when he says, “we have known Christ according to the flesh?” He means that he once regarded Christ from a fleshly point of view and according to worldly standards, and by paying special attention to the way that things looked outwardly and externally rather than internally and spiritually. There was a time in Paul’s life when he judged Christ in accordance with the standards and values that derive from living life as if physical life in this world is all that exists.
There was a time when he looked upon Jesus as a poor, uneducated, vagrant, and illegitimate son of a carpenter from the no-name city of Nazareth as if anything good could come out of Nazareth, in Galilee of the Gentiles. He saw Him as a self-pointed, pseudo-rabbi, who was an anti-law, anti-Moses, Messianic imposter.
Paul saw Jesus as a weak, suffering criminal and as a crucified heretic, who died deservingly under the curse of God and whose followers were delusional fanatics that need to be systematically imprisoned and executed. Yes, Paul had known Christ after the flesh. He regarded Him and judged Him in a fleshly manner. Yet, he says:
we know Him in this way no longer.
Paul’s own experience of regeneration to come was an entirely new view of Christ when God shone the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ into Paul’s heart. He also shone a light from Heaven into his eyes that knocked him to the ground on the Damascus Road. Though Paul’s physical eyes were blinded for the next three days, his spiritual eyes were opened for the very first time. The scales that would fall from his physical eyes just a few days later, had fallen from his spiritual eyes when he saw the risen Christ.
In that moment, when the Lord God gave Paul eyes to see, ears to hear, and removed his heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh, the first thing that changed about Paul was his evaluation of who Jesus was. Though he knew Christ according to the flesh at the start of that day, now he knew Him in that way no longer. In the blazing light of Heavenly Glory, Paul saw that the Jesus he had been persecuting was the long-awaited Messiah. He was the holy One of God. He was the becoming One, the Savior of Israel. He was not a crucified criminal. He was the resurrected Lord of all creation. He was not the illegitimate son of a carpenter. He was the son of the Living God. He was crushed under the weight of God’s wrath, not for His own sins, but as the substitute and great High Priest for all those who would believe in Him.
He was the supremely glorious and surpassingly valuable Savior, whom Paul would eventually suffer the loss of all things and count them but refuse so that he might game this priceless treasure, who is Jesus Christ. The first result of regeneration is when Almighty God issues His sovereign decree for light to shine forth into the heart that is dead in sin.
When the eyes are opened, and the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh, the first thing that changes is the sinner’s view of Jesus. The natural man regards Jesus according to the flesh. He’s just a puritanical kill-joy, who threatens to punish you if you don’t do everything He says, or He’s a man who is deified by His followers. He’s a character in a story. He was made up as a psychological crutch, so that weak people could get through the day, or He’s just boring and uninteresting. Whatever claims He makes about Himself, just yawn. I don’t care.
It doesn’t even have to be negative. You can have an altogether positive evaluation of Christ and have it be a fleshly evaluation. So many today conceive of Jesus is a great moral teacher, an exemplary philosopher, an inspired profit, a non-violent, revolutionary, and political protest worthy of imitation, or just a good example of how we ought to sacrifice ourselves for those we love.
However, every one of those evaluations – positive and negative – have something in common: the unregenerate man or woman looks at Jesus and does not see the magnificent and matchless glory of the only begotten son of God. The dead heart looks Jesus, the most glorious person in the universe, and sees no beauty and no divine loveliness. Maybe a little bit of admiration since He’s a great teacher, but not the thrilling, compelling, and satisfying Savior that He is. Regeneration and regeneration alone changes that. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul describes the unregenerate person when he says:
in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
This is the sinner’s problem. This is what it means to be dead in trespasses and sins. Not that your motionless or stagnant, but that you were devoid of spiritual life that allows you to see the value of the glory of Christ that is revealed in the Gospel. The essence of spiritual death is spiritual blindness of the glory of Christ. Our spiritual perception is so disordered by sin that we look upon what is objectively delightful namely the glory Jesus and we are repulsed by Him.
Then, we see what is repulsive is mainly the glory of Satan himself and we’re enamored with it. We love darkness and we hate the light. We love filth and we despise Beauty. However, God shines the light of life into the blind heart. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says:
…the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
He gives us new spiritual eyes so that we finally see sin for what it is in all its objective ugliness, and we finally see Christ for who He is in all His objective beauty and glory. With our eyes finally opened, able to see, and evaluate things as they actually are, we turn away and repentant in discuss from the filth of sin, and we cling to our glorious Savior with the embrace of saving faith.
Peter, James, and John went up to the Mount of Transfiguration with the Jesus they viewed according to the flesh. As Christ peeled back the veil of His human flesh and His face shone brighter than the Sun and His garments were whiter than any launderer could whiten them, the disciples knew Him after the flesh no longer. Luke 9:32 says:
…they saw His glory…
In the same way, everyone who experiences the miracle of regeneration beholds a Transfiguration of Christ with the eyes of their heart. Whatever your fleshly evaluation of Him was, the veil over your heart is lifted and you behold Him as glorious. God, our very God, is fully God and fully man, the only mediator between God and man, the Lamb of God, our substitutionary sacrifice, and our merciful and faithful High Priest who has propitiate the Father’s wrath.
Whoever lives to make intercession for us, the resurrected and victorious One, the conqueror of sin and death. Above all, the supremely lovely One, Glorious, and Holiness clothed in the beauty and splendor of divine Majesty. One who is more satisfying than all that life can offer in all that death can take.
Calvary, I ask you: have you beheld Him as He is? Have you seen this Jesus? Has the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ invaded the dungeon of your depraved heart, and opened your eyes to His beauty? Is He your pearl of great price? Is He that treasure hidden in a field? Is He the one for whom you would gladly suffer the loss of all things if Christ should will it so?
Dear sinner, if that is not your heart’s testimony, cry to Him. Get on your face and lift your voice to Heaven that God might be merciful to you. To reveal to you the beauty and Glory of His son. The very first result of regeneration, of being made anew creation in Christ, is that your given a new view of Christ that embraces Him with a whole soul, trust, saving faith, and satisfaction.
The third point in our outline is a new view of others. Again 2 Corinthians 5:16 says:
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…
This is so important. If we know much about Christian theology at all, then we know that regeneration results in a changed view of Christ? However, what we don’t often hear, think about, or meditate on is that when we are transformed from the inside-out in regeneration and our assessment of Jesus changes, then so also does our assessment of everyone else in the world.
In regeneration, our entire person has been renovated. The old things have passed away. New things have come in every aspect of our life. One commentator puts it this way:
When a person becomes a Christian, he or she experiences a total restructuring of life that alters its whole fabric, thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.
John MacArthur says:
Old values, ideas, plans, loves, desires, and beliefs vanish, replaced by the new things that accompany salvation. God plants new desires, loves, inclinations, and truths in the redeemed, so that they live in the midst of the old creation with a new creation perspective.
This is what I like to call the wrecking ball of regeneration. When you become a new creation in Christ, all your goals, all your hobbies, all your ambitions, and joys in life are like a building that has been leveled to the ground by this wrecking ball of regeneration. In its place is an entirely new creation built by the spirit of God upon the foundation of Christ.
Now, with new tastes, new affections, new joys, and new ambitions. Along with all of that newness, comes also new ways of assessing other people, new canons of appraisal, and new standards according to which we arrive at our estimation of people. Just as Paul once knew Christ according to the flesh, just as he once esteemed, appraised, or evaluated Jesus according to the world’s preoccupation with outward appearance, so also Paul cognized, regarded, viewed, appraised, or valued other people according to the flesh as well.
However, he says from now on, from this point forward, since the time of his regeneration and conversion to Christ, we recognize no one according to the flesh. The one who is united to Christ and becomes a new creation in Him has put off those fleshly canons of appraisal, which judge men only on the basis of superficial, external matters.
I’m so jealous for us to understand, as a church, the implications of this and to apply them to our lives. Far too often, Christians have not distinguished themselves from the unregenerate in our personal standards of judgment and evaluation of others. We appraise people on the basis of their physical attractiveness. It is more pleasant to be engaging with people that we find physically attractive as opposed to those. We don’t. We appraise people on the basis of their style of dress. We’re impressed with the well-tailored suit or a nice dress, but we are just wondering why the guy in a t-shirt and jeans can’t dress up for church once in a while.
We judge people on their educational achievements. When somebody says, “I have a master’s degree in this… I have a doctorate in that…” Then, you say, “Oh, he’s an expert in his field. Wow.” We judge people on the basis of their social status such as the house, the cars they drive, and the clothes they wear. You judge people on the basis of their eloquence, their athletic abilities, their level of success in the business world, or their political affiliation.
In one of the saddest truths concerning the visible church, is that so many professing believers still allow their opinions of others and their understanding of their own identity to be shaped by their ethnicity and by the color of their skin. Friends, the holy spirit of God, by the inspiration of this text of sacred Scripture, is telling us that none of those things has any place in the mind of the one who has been regenerated and united to Christ. They are not the basis upon which we evaluate others, and they are not the sources from which we derive our own identity. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. In Christ, there is neither slave nor free.
Think for a moment about what a radical statement that is from the pen of Saul of Tarsus. This was the most promising young Rabbi in Jerusalem educated under Gamaliel, supervising the persecution and execution of Christian. This is the one circumcised the 8th day of the stock of Israel. He is a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, a persecutor, and blameless according to the ceremonial law. His only canon of evaluation was whether or not someone met the strict pharisaical standards of mosaic ceremonialism. If he did, that man was a brother. If he didn’t, he was a dog.
Now, there is neither Jew nor Greek. What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. Regeneration happened, salvation happened, and the new birth happened to him. Galatians 6:15 says:
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
If your circumcised or uncircumcised, it doesn’t matter. Your ethnicity doesn’t matter. Your religious rituals don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there has been a new creation. What matters is whether or not the person that I’m talking to thinking about evaluating. Is this person regenerate or not? Is he United to Christ or not? Is he a child of God or not? In Colossians 3:10-11, Paul says:
and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— 11a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
The regenerate man has been so dominated by Christ that it is the only point of reference for his view of anyone – whether or not they’re in Christ. The new view of Christ that’s born in those who have been made a new creation necessarily issues in a new view of others. This reaches even of the level of family. At the end of Matthew 12, Matthew records an incident where Jesus mother and brothers were willing to speak with Jesus after He finished teaching the crowds. Someone lets Him know, “Hey, your mother and your brothers are waiting out there for you,” and His response is stunning in Matthew 12:48-50:
But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus regarded no man or woman after the flesh, not even His own family. What mattered was whether or not they believed in Him. So friends, nationalism means nothing. You have a deeper connection to true Christians in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan than to any unbeliever here in America. Ethnicity is nothing. You have a more intimate union with genuine believers who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, or whatever than any unregenerate person who shares the color of your skin, parentage, or lineage of your heritage.
Even family in comparison to Christ is nothing. Jesus says that He has a family with the children of God than He does even with His own mother. Now, family remains, ethnicity remains, and gender distinctions remain, but all of those things are absolutely inconsequential in determining one’s status before God or his place within God’s Kingdom.
We regard no man after the flesh. We are not, as 2 Corinthians 5:12 says, those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. Where that really intersected for Paul was how the false apostles were persuading the Corinthians to do just that. To regard Paul after the flesh, to look down upon him and judged him accursed because of how severely he suffered in the cause of ministry. However, Paul says:
Look, those who are truly united in Christ and have been born again, they have been totally renovated and entirely renewed. As a result, they don’t judge men and ministries on the fleshly basis of external appearance, of outward success, of worldly power, and prestige. If they did, they’d have to judge Christ and His cross to be a failure.
Paul is saying that the false apostles are judging him the same way he used to judge Christ – after the flesh. In so doing, they’re giving away and demonstrating that they have not experienced the transformation of regeneration that that marked all those who are united in Christ in saving faith.
I tell you, brothers and sisters, that you and I make the same error as the false apostles in Corinth anytime we look at a man or woman and allow their appearance, their dress, their financial portfolio, their resume, or their skin color to determine our estimation of them rather than the state of their heart before God.
The man or woman in Christ is a new creation. One who has been totally transformed from the inside-out starting with his view of Christ and reaching even to his view of everyone else. This is what it means to be regenerate. This is what it means to be born again. This is what it means to be a Christian. So friends, the question you need to ask yourselves as you hear these descriptions of the true Christian is:
Have I experienced this radical disruption of everything in my life? Has the Holy Spirit levelled to the ground everything that I sought my identity in? Has He given me new eyes to see the glory of Christ? Has He given the ears to hear the wisdom of divine truth? Has He removed my heart of stone and given me new desires, loves, inclinations, and ambitions? Is He giving me a heart of flesh that hates sin and loves righteousness? Is Christ precious to me? Is sin repulsive to me or am I under its thumb? Have I renounced to evaluating others on the basis of fleshly externals? Have I renounced seeking my own identity in those things as well? Am I a new creation?
If not, dear friend, don’t try to convince yourself that there is spiritual life where there is only death. Don’t try to fabricate this new creation by trying to clean up your life. You can’t engineer the radical, supernatural change that must take place in your heart. You can’t raise yourself from the dead. Come to Christ in repentance and faith. Only He can accomplish what you need. Only He can make you alive. 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
As His ambassadors, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you to be reconciled to God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Dear brothers and sisters, if you are a new creation, if you have been reconciled, if you have become the righteousness of God in Him, and if by God’s great grace, you have experienced this glorious gift of regeneration, then, friends, live like it. Live like a new creation in 2019. Think about the salvation that you have been granted. The Heidelberg Catechism, question 60, says:
Although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
That is amazing and that is ours to confess because of nothing that we’ve done, so I ask you: is that saving God not worth a life of faithfulness? Is he not worth a life of diligent pursuit of Him in Bible reading every morning and maybe every evening in 2019? Is He not worth the disciplined pursuit of Himself in prayer and communion with Him? Is he not worth faithfulness demonstrated in a vital investment in your local church by not just being here, but by investing, participating, and sharpening one another, confronting sin in one another, forgiving one another, confessing to one another, Bible study and fellowship time?
Is this regeneration and new creation, does that not issue in the diligent mortification of sin? John Owen said:
Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts.
Are you going to use 2019 to get a stranglehold over your lustful corruptions and mortify sin in your life? You’ve been created again to do just that. Is this Gospel not worthy of proclamation? More than proclamation of begging, pleading, and imploring people, like Paul does, to be reconciled to Jesus your friend.
You are a new creation. Go out and tell others of this glorious Gospel. That they might become new creations. As we closed 2018 and look ahead to 2019, to year that God will give us mercy, may we live as new creations in Christ. Let’s pray:
Oh, Father, would You accomplish that very thing in Your people? Would You open eyes to see the loveliness of Jesus? Would You grant the miracle of regeneration even today and even this moment? For those whose eyes You have opened, would You open them afresh? Would You freshly overwhelm and ravish us with the beauty of Jesus, so that all the fuel for all our obedience and all of our discipline is fired by that Glory, so that none of this is drudgery or burdensome, but it’s a delight and a joy to follow Christ and discipleship. You can accomplish this by the power of Your spirit, and we ask You to do it in Christ’s name, Amen.