“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
I’ve read second Corinthians lots of times–next to Romans, I probably read it the most out of everything in the New Testament after the synoptics. It’s a beautiful book, and teaches volumes about healing. And every time I read it, I have to stop and think about the above passage for a good long while. The thing is, aware of my salvation as I am, most days I don’t feel like a new creation. Most days I feel all crudded up by life, and by my own inclination to sin.
For me, part of becoming a Christian–maybe even the largest part–was being made aware of my sin. Prior to that awareness, I thought I was golden because I was a pretty good guy. I was nice to old people and animals. I should be good, shouldn’t I? Nothing to worry about?
At the first church I attended I heard the testimony of a young man who’d been to Bosnia during the war there. He told of riding through a town in a Humvee and shooting at what he thought was a sniper. His shot was true, and he’d killed the person, only to find out it was a youth, with no gun. He’d been punishing himself for what he felt was murder ever since, even though the Army held him blameless. He put his body through all manner of badness before he surrendered his heart to God.
Another man told about how he’d stolen from his children to get money for drugs. He’d sold their toys for a few small rocks. He hadn’t come to Christ until he’d literally lost everything and had been living in a park. He’d then done nearly everything imaginable to get drug money, including burglary, robbery, and assault. He’d stopped short of killing, but not by much.
A woman had been a prostitute for nearly ten years, also a slave to drugs, and had come to Jesus in a detox center.
A man had beaten his 2 year old daughter, and had lost his family because of it. The child had recovered, but his marriage hadn’t. This man found Christ through the love and witness of the church’s pastor.
There were countless stories like this, and I didn’t feel like I could relate to any of them. Still, they made me feel better about myself because I never did anything even remotely like that stuff. I acknowledged my need for a savior, but felt that I had lots of time (and much less work to do to get one) because I was a good and decent guy. God would not condemn someone who was nice, now would he?
For years I thought along those lines….years.
But when I had that experience at the river, when I became aware that I had in fact been (and remained) a sinner, when I asked Jesus to take that burden from me, I was still aware of the person I had been before, even though I wasn’t entirely him anymore.
So even though I knew in my head that I was made new, I did not necessarily feel that way. I still don’t. How can I be new when I feel so old? How can I be clean when it takes steel wool to scrub off my sin?
Here’s the thing I’ve been trying to think about, and remember.
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 6-8
So even before I knew him, while I was still wallowing in my filth, while I consoled myself with huge quantities of food, or alcohol, or empty relationships, God loved me just as much in that state of disgrace as he does now in a state of grace, having been forgiven.
Before I existed, He died for me. He could have simply pardoned me, like a governor sparing a convict on death row. He didn’t do that. He assumed the punishment for my guilt, and paid it himself. He walked the green mile for me. And whether I like it or not, whether I accept it or not, I am a new creation.
The old has gone, the new has come.
I was listening to this Brennan Manning sermon the other day, and he had a really good point. He said that until we can accept acceptance, we aren’t really a believer. I think part of my problem is that very thing: it’s hard for me to be accepted. I would convince myself that either my friends did not really accept me as I was, or if they did, once they found out the real me, they would bail like everyone else did. I thought the same thing about Jenny, even after we’d shared our hearts with one another. I just could not get past those feelings for the longest time.
It was much the same with God. I have always had difficulty accepting His acceptance, and His love. No, I don’t deserve it.
The wages of sin is death.
I have it anyway–I have his acceptance. And even if I had not ever seen Him as he desires to be seen, and accepted Him as abba, I would still have his love.
8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
He died for us.
He died for us.
He died for me.
I am not worthy of Him, nor would anything I could do on earth make me worthier.
Yet I am loved, and because of Jesus, have a place in his kingdom.
Anyway, I plan to work on being a new creation….and trying to see myself the way God sees me. It’s a continuing mission, and it will never end.
I think of a pearl, lying in a freshly opened oyster, or whatever mollusk pearls come from. All crudded up with sediment, and filth, and layers of built up….junk.
Jesus removes the impure jewel from its shell, resplendent in its rough beauty, dripping with water, tendrils of slime leading back to the shell. He holds it in his hand, ignoring the slime, and layer by layer, peels away the filth, grime, and sediment, until the thing in his hand is no longer rough, but shining.
A pearl of great price.