“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 (the four Gospels). 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, even 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. I remember that being the toughest thing about that night at the river—feeling the weight of my sin fall onto my shoulders. And when I felt its subsequent removal, it convinced me once and for all time that Jesus was real, and was the only way I could ever be made whole, and clean.
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?
I remember people used to testify all the time at the first church I attended. One time I heard the testimony of a young man who’d been to Bosnia during the war there. He told of shooting his weapon at what he thought was the enemy, and had been haunted by whether or not he’d hit or killed the person ever since. It was the only time he’d shot at anyone during his deployment.
He’d been punishing himself for that day, even though he did not know the ultimate outcome of his shot. It took a number of years, and a ton of pain before he finally surrendered his heart to God.
And began to heal.
Another man told about how he’d stolen from his children to get money for drugs. He hadn’t come to Christ until he’d literally lost everything and had been living in a park.
A woman had been a prostitute for nearly ten years, also a slave to drugs, and had come to Jesus in a detox center.
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 these people—these sinners. 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.
Yet 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 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.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But 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. I found myself, finally, in Him.
The old has gone, the new has come.
I was listening to this Brennan Manning sermon the other day, and he made a really great 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; and to acknowledge my acceptance. 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.
But 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, and nothing I could do on earth will make me worthier.
Yet I am loved, and because of Jesus, have a place in his kingdom. He is the bridge between me and His Father.
I try to think of it in terms of a picture—or series of pictures—I saw once in a dream, just before I left San Diego for good and came here to Arizona.
Imagine a pearl, lying in a freshly opened oyster, or whatever mollusk pearls come from. The pearl doesn’t look precious at all. It’s covered with sediment, and filth, and layers of built up junk.
A pair of hands come into the “picture,” the hands of a carpenter; rough, strong, but also incredibly gentle and sure.
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.