2 Corinthians 5:17

21 07 2008

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

This verse has caused me a lot of trouble over the years (or maybe I just brought the trouble on myself). I would read it and assume that because my “godliness” hadn’t increased tenfold and all my bad habits didn’t disappear when I “became a Christian” (it could be said I was a Christian all my life, since I grew up in the church) that I (1) wasn’t really a new creature, (2) wasn’t really saved, and (3) was on my way to Hell unless I did something, fast (although what exactly I was supposed to do always escaped me, I had already prayed the “sinner’s prayer” about 50,387 times and I wasn’t sure what else to try).

My Dad’s Bible had a section in the back about how to minister to people effectively called “Guide to Christian Workers.” Ironically, a certain section in it served more than just about anything else to make my Christianity a living Hell at times. It was in the section titled “Convincement” meant to convince the new believer that they were actually saved (more irony). It was in the third subsection of this and was entitled THERE IS A NEW IMAGE. Anyway, it starts out with the 2 Cor. 5:17 verse (actually, I didn’t even remember that it did until a minute ago when I looked it up in my Dad’s Bible). It emboldens and italicizes the words he is which is irony in itself (I’ll explain later). Anyway, this is what the rest of this section says (forgive me if I’m breaking any copyright laws):

“A New Testament Christian is not a patched-up job, a reformed sinner. There is a new will; there are new affections; there is a new purpose because there is a new nature.”

Here’s the kicker:

“The emptiest and unhappiest occupation in the world is trying to act like a Christian when you are not a Christian. You do not gradually stop stealing. You stop stealing. It is miracle, not magic.”

Wow. Let’s break this down. This is what I was thinking:
“I’m extremely unhappy and empty because I fear that I’m not really saved. I look to this little Christian worker’s guide to help give me assurance. I read that once you are saved, you instantly stop sinning habitually. I am still dealing with many sins and sinful habits in my life. I must not really be saved. If you are not really saved, then you go to Hell forever and ever. I’m screwed… unless I do something NOW. I’ve already prayed to God/Jesus numerous times to save me from my sins and forgive me and come to live in my heart. What else can I do? I must not be trying hard enough. I must not believe enough. Maybe I’m one of the people who isn’t meant to be saved.”

Okay, maybe I never thought that last sentence, but it lurked in the back of my mind, mostly because I was too afraid to think it. These thoughts tormented me for most of my teenage life. I probably already mentioned this somewhere in one of my other notes, but I would get caught in a cycle of doubt salvation/become terrified of Hell/get help from pastor or friends or family/be reassured/doubt salvation…

What I didn’t realize up until about a year ago was that there was nothing I could do to be saved. You can pray the sinner’s prayer all day and not have a single thing change in your life. You can will yourself to be sincere all you want, but sincerity will not save you. You can truly be seeking and even want Jesus in your life (which I did. Believe me, I did), but unless God chooses to bless you with a personal experience with Him, nothing will happen. You can’t force it. God alone is the One Who chooses when you will be brought to the point where you will truly cry out for Him from the depths of your soul.

Terrible memories are coming back as I write this. NO WONDER I was so doubtful. NO WONDER I couldn’t trust God like I wanted to. NO WONDER I couldn’t believe with childlike faith. Any childlike faith I might have had was perverted by reading wonderful “Christian Guides” like this. One cannot believe with simplicity with the fear of Hell and separation and death and torture hanging over their heads (by the way, there is no separation in the commonly held view of Hell. If you hold to the Eternal Separation view over the Eternal Torture view, read Revelation 14:10. The “torment” in Hell happens in the presence of the Lamb. There is no separation from the Lamb, He’s right there). If praying the sinner’s prayer and trying not to sin and trying to love people and trying to focus on reading the Bible and trying to enjoy and learn from church are not enough to escape Hell, THEN WHAT IS? I tried so many things! Luke 18:22 says that the rich young ruler lacked one thing… maybe it was also what I was lacking. Maybe I had to sell all that I had and give to the poor. I never did that and had no real desire to do it unless I felt God was calling me to do that. But maybe I just had to do it and the fact that I wouldn’t was keeping me from fully experiencing salvation. (I’m sure those who wrote the Christian Guide had done that [sarcasm]). Nothing I tried was working and giving me the assurance I needed. According to my guide, God only works in one way, and if you aren’t saved in this one specific way (excessively detailed by the author[s]), then you’re probably not really saved and had better do something about it.

Okay, now where was I… oh right:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

The italicized words in the King James version are words that are not actually in the original text. They are added in to make the text more readable and understandable for the English speaker/reader. In other words, the italicized words “be” and “he is” are not actually part of the verse. Remember when I told you that the author(s) of my Christian guide emboldened the words “he is?” Funny they would try to emphasize that part of the verse, when it’s not actually part of it in the first place. In my particular (King James) version of the Bible, there is a (1) before the words he is which refers to a footnote. This footnote says “Or, let him be.” In other words, the verse could also be read as:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, let him be a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Hmmm, puts a bit of a different twist on the verse, doesn’t it? Could it be that instead of us automatically being completely cured of our sinful ways, this verse is calling us to make the qualities of this “new creature” become a part of us? Is it telling us to rely on God so that in our new Christian lives it will be that “old things are passed away… [and] … all things are become new?” Perhaps this verse means that it will not be easy to do such a thing, but that we must strive (not completely by ourselves, relying on God is absolutely necessary) to get rid of the qualities of the old creature?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people who, once becoming saved, really are immediately transformed and seem to give up very many of the sinful habits they’ve had previously, and I think that’s wonderful. Does that mean that this is how God works with everyone? A thousand times no! What of those who have been raised in the evangelical church system for their entire lives and have been “good little boys and girls,” with nary a public sin to be spoken of? What of those who were “saved” when they were five years old because their parent or pastor led them in a prayer and as adults are no longer sure of what they believe? What of those who live with a pharisaical spirit, who think that God is on their side (and only on their side) and everyone else is doomed? What of Muslims/Jews/etc. who live perfectly moral lives and love others more than the majority of Christians do? What happens when these people are saved? None of these people seem like they have any sin that needs curing. God works in different ways with different people. Some He will change gradually, others instantly, some won’t seem to change at all, but God is still working in all of them.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been “saved” most of my life, and had my “real salvation experience” at the age of 13 at a Christian speaking/music event. I remember shortly after that, I was very excited about God and I would look at the people around me and see sadness in their eyes. I wished that there were something that I could do to help them and show them love. But I never did. I was soon caught up in pharisaical thinking and the mindset of “I have to do this, this, and this and can’t do this, this, and this or I’m not really saved” and forgot about other people. Only in the past year or so have I begun to get back the love for people that I felt shortly after I was “saved,” and that was only after I abandoned the pharisaical, exclusionary way of thinking and the fear of Hell that had burdened me for most of my life.

Well, this note was only supposed to be a couple paragraphs about the verse, but it turned out that I wrote a lot more than I planned on. Oh well, I hope whoever reads this gets something out of it. I’ll close with the lyrics to a song by Michael W. Smith (words by Wayne Kirkpatrick) called “Calling Heaven”:

Chorus:
Calling heaven
Seeking mercy
Tell me there’s a place for these

What of the children who have never felt a love
Tender as the morning
Nursing the bruises
And the scars that never seem to go away

What of the babies who have never left the womb
Breathing in the lifeline
Angels in waiting
Gone before they could be given wings to fly

Chorus

What of the noble who are searching for the truth
With truest of intentions
And yet they’re jaded by
Hypocrisies behind cathedral walls

What of the humble and the meek that knew despair
And never got their moment
But sacrificed a life of comfort
So that others knew no pain

Chorus

What of the ones who call you Lord
But play the field
with faithless indecision
Forgive us father for we truly
Do not know what we have done

Chorus

(originally written 7/3/08 )

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