SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/New! -- Not Just Better
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 12:00 AM
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
The Scriptures plainly teach us that any person united to Christ is transformed into a "new creature" - or, as some translations read, -- made to be a "new creation". So how is it that so many professing believers settle for just being 'better'? - marginally or even significantly more improved over their former selves? Perhaps the problem stems from the fact that here, within this fallen world, almost nowhere are we confronted with such a transformation as that of which this verse speaks. Therefore, we have little frame of reference to assist us in the understanding of what is promised. So we end up settling for something infinitely inferior and satisfying ourselves with modest improvements to our personality or behavior -- never even coming close to perceiving how far short of the intended goal we fall.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote: "Niceness - wholesome, integrated personality - is an excellent thing. We must try . . . to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up "nice"; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world - and might even be more difficult to save."
Do you understand what he was saying? 'Niceness' isn't the objective! All the superficial improvements in a person's nature can never take the place of the radical transformation spoken of here in this verse. That's why Lewis went on to write: "For mere improvements is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature . . . (which) will soar over fences which could never have been jumped".
Now do you begin to see the difference? God's plan for our redemption was never simply to improve on the old theme - but to create something radically new - utterly different. The Apostle John hints at this transformation when he writes: "It has not appeared as yet what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him".(1 John 3:2) The Apostle Paul joins in by speaking of God's eternal purpose in the following manner: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brethren."(Rom 8:29) God's plan all along was to do something that surpasses the limits of our wildest imaginings - by radically transforming us into the likeness of Christ Jesus and by making us sons and daughters. Now does that still sound like only a mild improvement to you?
Looking back into the opening scenes of Genesis and reading of Adam in his original state of righteousness - I have to confess that it's difficult, if not nigh near impossible, to even begin to imagine what that must have been like. I read the pages of the gospels where the people, over and over again, are absolutely "amazed" by Jesus. They had never met anyone like Him before. Never had they witnessed anyone doing what He did with such ease. Finally I begin to attain at least an initial grasp of what is promised. Oh what a wonder to think that this is what God has purposed to do here in this world - right here in my life and yours.
"A new creature" - "a new creation" - is what God desires and plans. It was to this end that Christ Jesus came and died. It is toward this great goal that the indwelling Spirit of God even now labors within us, as believers, seeking to transform us from the inside out. Yes, at times I lament the progress I see. Many are the occasions when my actions, thoughts and affections are not anywhere similar to that of Jesus. And even more convicting is the realization that even my best efforts - my most significant, self-proclaimed 'improvements' - in truth are so corrupted and flawed as to make it nearly impossible for anyone to see anything of Christ Jesus in them at all. Lewis, writing further about that "winged horse," admitted "there may be a period while the wings are just beginning to grow . . . and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders - no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings - may even give it an awkward appearance."
Perhaps that's where I am even now - in that awkward stage where something of the transformation (by God's grace) has begun to show - but the full reality of what God is doing and what I shall one day become cannot yet be perceived with any degree of clarity. Only by looking to Christ Jesus and resting our eyes upon Him and our hope in Him do we begin to see what God has purposed to accomplish. In Christ we are given God's definitive proclamation of what He has in mind for your life and mine. Using Lewis' illustration - the wings may not yet be there, but even now we can know for certain that one day we shall soar to great heights. At present, if may be inconceivable even to imagine getting through just one day modeling the nature and behavior of Jesus. But one day we shall be like Him to the praise of God, our Father!
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.