There is no mix of old and new in a believer. Though a Christian experiences a mix of old and new, it is only from not seeing the truth yet. God does not see believers as combinations of old man and new man; He only sees the new man, even if the new man is still uninformed about being a new creation. Birth and identity are everything; all else is a lie and passing deception as revelation takes the place of appearances.
This is God’s word and work, not man’s. He says so (2 Cor. 5:18). If you were sitting face to face with God, He would say, “I have caused your old man to pass away and made you a new man. I did this in Christ. Christ is the reconciliation. Tell others the same.” Where trespasses continue, the new man still believes the lies that accorded with the identity as the old man. But they do not fit now.
I used to think that when Paul says, “be reconciled to God” that he intends nonbelievers (5:20). The verse looks like an appeal to be saved. Certainly the Bible is read by anyone, and a verse like this can speak to an unsaved person. However, Paul is writing the Corinthian church. You would not think that the Bible would say “be reconciled” to Christians, but the reason is that the recipients of the letter were not reconciled in their minds yet to what God is reconciled to in His mind about who we are.
The thrust of the passage is for Christians to move on, not to something deep and for a few great saints, but to what anybody’s ordinary ID card would say, for example a driver’s license or access card to a privilege. ID cards are common. They make us feel special, but the notion of identity is as common as citizenship is. Hardly a worse fallacy has beset the church as that of a Christian having two natures. God says we have one – His.
Seeing ourselves or others according to the flesh can only produce frustration without resolution. Actions and supposed motives will remain hidden and dark, without clarity, and only lead to either soul/body indulgence or to legalistic attempts to control the self and others. Under either deception, Christ may be the savior to a believer but after that, not much more than an example from history to imitate. Mental assent to the historical Christ makes him a real person but not a living one in believers now. Why would Christ have appeared on earth with such power and revelation only to be a moral example of conduct, another code? Why would he have appeared only to have been a one and only of its kind, a vine with no branches or a head with no body? Did he not intend to come back to earth in everyone who is born again?
The surface church does not see this and hides behind resolutions and various human failings that seem good reason to shrug the shoulders and trudge on in the same old way with a life not infused with miracles and astonishing turnabouts from sin. Worse than particular sins is the baseline lack of seeing that Christ by his Spirit draws us to his faith, saying, “Come along with me. Say that I am keeping you.” The Gospel is that a believer is “a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). As light pours in on this, clarity comes by revelation that the old man was not an independent, flesh person, but a satanically driven, old man who was dead in sin. This man had to be crucified, not reformed.
To be “in Christ” is to be in his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—putting us in his ongoing life. You look the same and have the same personality, but now there is light shining out of you. The man in the mirror has the same earthly form, but the Spirit within radiates that “old things passed away”. When Paul said, “Be reconciled,” he wrote a church that did not yet see who they were (5:17-20).
Love drives us all. Worldly poets and musicians know this in their deluded way; the love celebrated is temporary and sensual. It is at best a mutually self-serving pact. For the Christian, love drives him because “God is love” (1 John 4:8). All creation can be no other than love either in a rightly used or misused form; but make no mistake, love in self-centered or sacrificial form drives us.
In the lost and carnal, the hurts and pains of love gone wrong lead to all addictions and forms of retaliation that make up what the Bible calls sin. In Christ, however, love takes the form of the Cross; and in Christ, and he in us, love can be nothing other than the Cross. Really, heaven is no more, no less, than the Cross manifested in the children of God and all redeemed creation.
It is love itself that makes the difference, not the appearance of love. Appearance oriented people think others all play the same game since they cannot imagine any other way. Thus, carnal onlookers thought that Paul had to be self-centered just like they were, and furthermore out of his mind for insisting that he was only for Christ and for others ( 2 Cor. 5:12-13). That is how it works: when finally in your right mind in Christ, the fleshly thinking of others will is seen for the grief and insanity that it is—nothing but satanically driven, supposedly enlightened self-interest. The Cross is a wisdom all its own, making no sense to those not born of being crucified with Christ as their only hope.
Paul says that to be out of one’s mind is unto God, i.e. out of the natural mind and into the mind of Christ—a sound mind that is for others (2 Cor. 5:13). To be considered out of our minds is hard to take. It forces us to the mind of Christ (Wisdom) to know that we are of sound mind—still for others despite how they see us.
Love casts out fear, right? Yet “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). There is fear that shrinks back in unbelief, and there is reverent fear that takes action. Wrong fear promotes disrespect, recklessness, and cowardice, whereas proper fear is bracing – the foundation of sobriety and alertness.
To have proper fear means to wake up, attentively recognizing that life is not a big, indistinguishable blob but instead is a series of dangerous challenges that only wisdom can guide us through. Thus, the God-lover is the one who knows enough fear to recognize that every word and action are being recorded for future review at the “judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). The Gospel does not mean lack of accountability; it means Christ’s merciful judgment of his own to divide what is of him and what is to be discarded – not carried over into eternity. It is a program of waste management, and the stakes are high since waste is sorrowful.
Paul used his fear of the Lord to “persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11) but not with fleshly rhetoric of mere politics or commerce. It was his fear of God on behalf of others who were wasting away in a sleepy state of denial. We are not to think, “I should speak to that person” as if driven by guilty compulsion. Rather, silence is rare and precious; but, when the fear of the Lord comes over us, overshadowing us to persuade others, we know it in our conscience because the prompting is evident in us where our spirit hears from the Spirit. We know, and God knows, that the motive is pure (2 Cor. 5:11).
Hopefully, the hearer hears from the same spirit to Spirit center; otherwise, we will be misinterpreted as arrogantly trying to control things. That is a risk one must take when our conscience is clear and known to be guided. Fear of the Lord means seeing the inner radar, not the outer one of appearances. Trust it.
It is odd to say we are one spirit with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17) yet “absent from the Lord” while “at home in the body” (2 Cor. 5:6). No Christian wants to be absent from the Lord. The very word absent brings up memories of absences from school and classmates, or from family. Absence implies pain. However, union with Christ gets us through life’s messes and tragedies. Without the presence of Christ’s resurrected and ascended life in us, we would give way to discouragement and eventually despair. Yet we are absent from the Lord while in an earthly body.
How interesting that the Bible reckons being present with the Lord to mean absence from the very body that He uses as His presence on the earth to call others into the body of Christ for salvation and the maturation. In other words, we grow to maturity while we are absent from the Lord. What a concept. It is extraordinary.
Evidence for the rightness of this is added by Jesus telling his disciples that he had to go away so that he could send the comforter (John 14:28). Clearly from Pentecost and the explosion of the Spirit into the lives of the disciples and the expanding church, God means to get a lot done while we are absent from Him. The good news is that the absence is temporary and is for our solidification in how to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). God works from the inside out, getting us settled in Spirit life against every imaginable appearance.
This is why Paul uses the word courage twice (5: 6, 7). Life is built on opposites, one swallowing up another, so the exhortation is to let the Spirit swallow up fear so that we move on with the plan. Every good soldier has to fear his commander more than the enemy, meaning, the beginning of wisdom is never outgrown, namely “knowing the fear of the Lord” (5:14). This curtails rash claims that God doesn’t know what He is doing. The cliché is right: Father knows best.
It’s nice to live in a house, but regarding our bodies, Paul calls them “earthly tents” (2 Cor. 5:1). As we age, that makes more sense. Grief makes itself known, and people get their bucket lists going of things to do and experience before mortality wins the inevitable battle. There is no reason for stoicism here. Paul sure wasn’t a stoic: “in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (5:2). He even calls us naked in our present condition.
Humans instinctively want to be clothed with more than the mere skin of earthiness. Something is missing, and it was lost in the fall when our first parents let their heavenly clothing get away from them by cutting themselves off from the seven fold Spirit as their clothing (Isa. 11). Man’s body, both male and female, had flourished in a gown of Light. This was the perfect union of the glorious God and the human. No darkness, sin, or fear gripped man in his body, soul, or spirit in any way. Only by forcing a separation did these intruders take hold and leave man naked and ashamed.
Salvation brought a newly born spirit, and now the new man lives in an old body. This body is washed with “pure water” (Heb. 10:22) and so not defiled, though still mortal. Now the body is a cleansed and fit instrument for the Spirit to manifest Christ’s life in the present world (Rom. 6:13). Still, though, it is a tent life and a mortal body, one in which “we groan, being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:4). The reason is simple – to learn the life of faith, first for ourselves, and then walk kept from sin by God’s keeping so that we can witness to others how to find this for themselves.
How in a mortal body can one walk free from sin and in hope of a new body, while beset with old lusts that keep knocking on the door and a nonstop devil who lies continually? This is the miracle of faith that sees the new world coming.
Difficult things feel like they will last forever, too heavy to endure. Troubles are just too hard and last too long. No wonder the yoke of Jesus is restful to receive. His yoke is light and his burden easy (Matt. 11:29-30). No human yoke is like that, and certainly not the devil’s yoke.
Time alone cannot bring relief. When depressed, it seems to take forever between the ticks of the clock. The pain of affliction feels consuming. In the little book of Habakkuk is a big thought. God calls the prophet to get up high on a watchtower for an encompassing view. The news was not good. Things were going to get worse before they got better. However, Habakkuk saw that “the just shall live by his faith” (2:4).
Faith is in the “things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). The fall closed Adam’s spiritual eyes, and the Cross reopens them for those who believe. Another world comes into view, that of the kingdom of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that to see the kingdom of God one must be born again, which means literally that. Until a new birth, this world looks to be the only one except for maybe a vague sense of heaven in the future, but with the new birth, heavenly things become more real and feed a person more than earthly concerns.
This does not mean that earthly trials are not severe. It means that we learn to measure them against eternity and glory. This is why, no matter how oppressive a thing is, it comes under the category of “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17). Nothing but faith carries us over to that view. In earthly terms, such talk is sheer madness and insanity, but in faith language, it is the release into seeing wonderful purposes accomplished that will bring memories lasting forever. Taking up the Cross daily does not mean that we like suffering but that our true love is for what is eternal and glorious. What appears a waste now is eternal treasure.