16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God2 Corinthians 5:16-21
It is easy for us to see situations and other people from a certain perspective. Put commonly, everyone has a ‘point of view.’ But if we are truly in Christ, then our perspective, our point of view has to change. But what are the characteristics of this new perspective?
In my last post on 2 Corinthians (entitled “What Are You Living For?”), we saw that our lives are to be oriented around the lordship of Christ such that we bear witness to Christ in all we undergo. As we learn to give ourselves away as he gave himself, we participate in his resurrection power that brings forth life in us. Filled with God’s life, our lives reflect God’s redemptive, self-giving love, and this gives us confidence in all circumstances because our greatest riches are found in Christ alone.
But now, let’s think out the implications of this conviction. Specifically, are we as confident in Christ as we say we are? How does the realization that our whole lives are now reoriented and conformed to Christ change our approach to difficult situations? To heartbreaking realities? To difficult people? To our enemies?
It is easy to talk the talk of being in Christ, but the practical realities of trials and trying people are the real test. Remember: the Paul who is speaking is one who has undergone many tests, and now writes to a congregation that is testing his patience, and surely God’s own. So, how do we endure?
Paul gives us the first step in the way of instruction in verse 16: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” The idea here, I believe, is that the Jesus in whom we have hope is the same Jesus who is actively at work in us and in all things around us. God in Christ isn’t absent when waves of suffering assail us, but is actively involved in directing all things towards rescue and salvation. We know this because we’ve seen Christ who died, and is now raised.
And because Christ lives, especially in us through the testimony of the Spirit operating in us, how we view others or how we view our present reality no longer have the question mark of uncertainty. To know Christ, and to be in relationship with him brings with it an understanding that death and decay do not have the final say, and that the life of God present in Jesus is at work in us. In short, we have a confidence and hopefulness that no headline can smother.
This change in perspective, in point of view, leaves us oriented toward an alternate goal, a different end point than what conventional wisdom allows. For the Christian, what looks like death and suffering in the form of a crucified man is, in fact, the opening salvo in God’s new reality breaking into the world wherein the powers of sin and death are defeated. For us, every situation and every person is an opportunity for God’s redemption to shine.
And if this is so, then Paul’s conclusion in verse 17 flows naturally from the premise: if anyone is in Christ, new creation! Being in Christ brings with it this radical reorientation of perspective where death no longer reigns supreme; the rules and limitations have been reset, and all is new! What threatens, in God’s time and by God’s redeeming power in Christ, will ultimately bring life because God has purposed to give us all these good things in Jesus.
In fact, that is exactly the point Paul makes next in verse 18: all this is from God. The gift, this reorientation, this redemption, this life from death, this love that will not let us go; all of it is from God who establishes peace with us through the shed blood of his Son, Jesus. We are reconciled, and the penalty of alienation and death once at work in us no longer shackles our hearts and minds. The war is over. As I said, with God in our corner, people and circumstances no longer have the shadow of an existential question mark hanging over them.
Yet, even as our point of view has shifted here, from uncertainty to security in Christ, Paul challenges us in verse 19 to look further. What was done for us in Christ wasn’t just for us. It turns out that we were caught up in a plan, laid down in the mind of God long before we existed, to reconcile all creation from its patterns of decay and disorder to a status of peace, order, and life in relationship to God. It turns out that what God was doing for us in Christ was, in fact, a cosmic rescue plan.
Nations far off, and nations near; people who wouldn’t know Adam from Moses; a world locked in a self-defeating history spiraling towards doom; a created order that seems to be defined by predation, domination, and survival advantage; all these things are purposed by God to be reconciled to himself, and we have been given a front row seat to the show. Not only that, we’ve been given the job of proclaiming this kingdom that has been inaugurated, inviting others into God’s presence so that they might experience his healing and restorative love in Jesus Christ. We are, as Paul tells us, ambassadors for this new kind of kingdom.
And as ambassadors, Paul tells us in verse 20, God is making his appeal through us. Just as Jesus was ground zero for new creation, we are also being made new, and in us, God is putting on a show for the whole world to see. As new people, a new creation, a new humanity is being birthed within us by the Spirit whereby God is calling all things into reconciled peace. We have been given the privilege of being witness bearers of the Lord of the cosmos, Jesus Christ, who exercises his power by giving himself, even to the point of being made sin, or being made heir to the curse of sin, so that we might all be elevated in dignity and status. As we are reconciled to Christ, not only is our point of view shifted to new horizons and possibilities, we start to see in entirely new spectrums of light colored by the gift of life given us by the Son of God who loved us and gave his life for us.
Now to everyday matters: As I was writing this many months ago, my family was in quarantine. My son had coronavirus, and while he was asymptomatic at the time, there was no guarantee he will remain that way. Moreover, the likelihood was high that our whole family had been exposed. Given that we have four generations (my wife and I, our two children, my mother, and my grandmother) living under one roof, this was a terrifying prospect. Would they get sick as well? Would I have to officiate the funeral of someone I loved dearly? Would my wife bury me?
I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t worry at that time. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that human life is fragile and uncertain. From a human point of view, it would have been easy to succumb to panic and fear.
Yet, it is exactly to situations like these that Paul’s words speak a truth we desperately need to hear: we no longer regard these things from a human point of view. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but in Christ, I know the one who holds our tomorrows in the palm of his hand.
This is the assurance Paul offers us in this letter, and it is also the invitation. We do not have to be slaves to the unknown. We are reconciled. In our living, as well as in our dying, God is reconciling us to himself in Jesus Christ. That means we can be bold. We can be hopeful. We are called to be resurrection people! That’s a point of view everyone ought to have the privilege of seeing.