Much thanks to the RWH for having me back again to speak for the next several months. And thank you for inviting me into your home to listen. Today we consider a passage of God’s Word that teaches you and me who we are. It clearly points out the spiritual identity of a believer as opposed to those yet lost in sin and unbelief. We consider II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This passage is of extreme importance to the child of God, given what we find in our modern world and society.
The sinful world in modern times is rapidly redefining itself as it increases in sin and immorality. It presses hard against the church in its education, entertainment, and social media in an attempt to persuade the believer to redefine who he is too. Unbelievers want us to identify ourselves with them in their sin. A huge push today is to differentiate between the idea of sex and gender. The former, it is said, is biological while the latter, that of gender, is psychological. For example, I may be a male according to my biological makeup but my identity is that of a female. I am a woman caught in a man’s body. I am a woman. That is who I am. If I try to live like a man, I am living a lie. Because I am a woman! It is who I am.
Self-identity, you see? How may a person identify himself or herself? But what the world insists is a biological or psychological question really comes down to a spiritual question. Who am I spiritually? Fallen man in his unbelief attempts to redefine himself because he refuses to bow before the objective standard of God’s Word and the identity God has given him. He cuts himself loose from God and seeks to determine for himself who he is. This is why it is so important for us to determine what our true spiritual identity is.
This is a pressing matter. The wicked are in our face not only as we work and live in this world, but now also in their entertainment, especially in its games, movies, commercials, and social media. How long can God’s children today withstand the criticisms leveled against a holy life of dedication to God. Satan delights when the believer asks the question, “What’s wrong with this or that,” instead of asking the question out of the principle of the new life in him or her, “How can I please God in what I am about to do?” This is exactly where the world of unbelief leads us.
Over against this pressure of the world in identifying itself with almost every conceivable sin stands the Word of God before us. Who am I? Who are you? “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature!” Old things are passed away and all things are become new for the believer. Such we bear in mind today as we learn from God’s Word who the believer is—our true spiritual identity.
I. A New Identity
Few people even in the church are given to introspection, that is, to look inside themselves, to examine what makes them think the way or feel the way they do. That is introspection—an inner self-examination. What is it that I live for? What is it that lends purpose to my life? What motivates me to do what I do? What makes me happy? All of this has to do with an awareness of self—with who I am. All this has to do with our spiritual identity.
These questions need answering, and the answer is found in properly identifying who we are. The first—the very first—answer that must come to mind when asked who we are must be: I am a servant of Jesus Christ! That is our spiritual identity. It answers every important question we ask. What is my purpose in life? To serve Christ. What makes me happy in life? To serve Christ. What motivates me in life? What makes me think the way that I do or feel the way that I feel? My service to Jesus Christ. This is why the apostle Paul in his salutations to many of the churches identified himself as “Paul, a servant [or literally, slave] of Jesus Christ.” This is the point of the apostle in the Word before us today too: “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.”
But in order to identify ourselves properly we must first take a close look at who we were. Who was I before my salvation? David in Psalm 14 explains what God sees when He looks down from heaven upon the fallen human race. There is none that is good. There is none that understands and therefore seeks after God. There is none that does good, no, not one. This self-evaluation is necessary to understand our new identity in Christ. We were totally given over to sin. Our eyes were blinded to the things of God’s kingdom. Our hearts were darkened by unbelief. We hated God. We were His enemies who despised His commandments. Anything short of this description of who we were would end up in denying who we are now.
In short, when man fell into sin he became a narcissist. This word describes to a “t” what is true of fallen man, especially in the day and age in which we live. Narcissism is to be totally absorbed in self. It results in men doing what is right in their own eyes. This was the very temptation that led Adam and Eve to fall into sin. They thought that by eating of the forbidden fruit they would be able to determine for themselves what was good and evil.
But Adam and Eve were creatures of God’s hands. I emphasize the word creature. We learn in God’s Word we are studying that those who are in Christ are new creatures. The emphasis here is that man is, in fact, a creature of God’s hands. He is a creation of God. God alone is Creator. As Creator He has the sole rule and authority over His creation. No one can question His rule. Can the thing formed say to him that formed it, why have you made me thus? Of course not.
Every creature is subject to the rule of his Creator. God made all things for Himself and determines for His creatures what is right and wrong. Man as a creature has no right to question God or rebel against God. But he did. When he did, man ever since does what he wants to do and not what God tells him to do. Man has become a narcissist! He is infatuated with himself. His thought process is given over to self. He fulfills his own desires. This is the spiritual identity of fallen man! He fulfills his own desires! The immorality that abounds in our world is here because man is a narcissist. He does whatever he thinks will make him happy—even if it means giving in to the basest desires of his flesh. There is no objective standard to which he must conform himself. There is no rule of morality. There is no rule of righteousness. This is who we were when lost in our sin! We were without Christ in this world and alienated from God. We rolled around in the mire of sin as a pig in the mud and enjoyed every minute of it!
But now in Christ the believer has a new identity. Believers are new creatures. Our old identity has passed away and we are re-created after the image of God’s own Son. The light of salvation has shined in our hearts. This is our new identity! This is who we are. This is true of us because of a wonder-work of God’s grace. How did God give to us our new self? How did He give to us our new self-awareness? We who were dead in sins and trespasses have been made alive through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Christ has destroyed the power of sin over us when He died on the cross. He conquered sin and Satan. Then, by God’s grace, each of us has been efficaciously called by the Spirit of Christ and renewed in heart, soul, mind, and strength. Now, our risen Lord lives and reigns in us by His Spirit and grace. We who were wholly given over to sin are now become the servants of Christ. The question then arises: is this who you are? Is this who I am? Is it, I am here in order to satisfy my Lord and not follow after my own desires?
I ask this question at this point because what Paul writes in the passage we consider is—well—quite exclusive. Notice who are new creatures: “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature!” In other words, it is not our attachment to the church, or to our families and friends in the church, that makes us new creatures. But God’s Word specifically points out that we must be in Christ! That preposition “in” tells us a lot. To be in Christ means that we are united to Him. We have become one with Him. This is what makes a person a new creature, after all. We become one living organism together with Him. His life flows into us. All the benefits He earned on the cross become part and parcel of our lives—in fact, they are the very life that flows through us.
This means, of course, that God performs a powerful work in us. He binds us together with Christ. He takes us whose identity was loathsome and unites us to Jesus Christ by the bond of faith. By His power God grafts us into Jesus Christ. Then, having grafted us in, God by His grace also makes us fully conscious of this new life in us. Faith is a certain knowledge, that is, a heartfelt knowledge, a knowledge that gives us an inner peace. Faith is a hearty confidence, a conviction, a persuasion that causes a believer to look to the cross in every circumstance of life. That is what it means to be in Christ. A self awareness of who I am in Christ. I have been radically changed in my identity, who I am. Christ is now become the purpose of my life. Can you say that?
II. A New Life
Here is the test of whether we have such a self awareness: “old things have passed away, behold all things are become new.” My old life has passed away! The term passed away means “to loosen or dissolve.” Through salvation we have been loosed from our former life in which we were given over to sin and unbelief. That life has been dissolved when we were through salvation grafted into Jesus Christ. That life has become old to us, antiquated, no longer having any worth except to be cast away from us. What used to be of value to us when our old identity was that of damnworthy sinners is of no value to us with our new identity. The attitude of the believer has changed. He no longer lives to please himself. He lives to please God. His narcissism has been crushed through the hammer of God’s grace. He no longer sees the world as centering in him and his own desires. He no longer simply does what is right in his own eyes with no consideration of what the Creator demands of him as one of His creatures. He now hates sin and eschews the evil. When asked by the unbeliever why his values in life are so much different than the rest of the world, the believer answers, “It is who I am!” That translates into particulars too, does it not?
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:9-11, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” And such were some of you! This was true of our lives in the past—some of these things characterized us. That was when we were old creatures lost in sin. But now we are washed, sanctified, justified in the name of our Lord and Savior. These sins are no longer true of one who is in Christ! I know that many of us or at least some of us listening were born into the church and saved in infancy. But let it never be said that there was never a time in your lives that you were not old creatures given over to sin! According to our first births we are conceived and born in sin. Every one of us must be born again, regenerated by the Spirit, in order to be in Christ! Just because you cannot point to that time in life when you were regenerated, never forget that from which you have been delivered by the grace of God. We are believers! We are now servants of Christ and no longer slaves to sin! Do not take this new identity for granted. It is ours only by a work of God’s grace!
Oh, it is true, as we said, some in the church of Christ attach themselves to the church for the sake of family and friends and are not truly in Christ. These lead a life of hypocrisy, outwardly professing to be believers but who privately are fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, abusers, drunkards, and such like. The more the church increases in wickedness the more these will be found. These have lost their spiritual identity. But we must not lose our spiritual identity, fellow believers! We must know who we are and must live who we are.
Who are we? We are servants of Christ in whom all things are made new! We have a new and joyful life in Christ. Yes, we know our sin and misery. The sins of this world are appealing to our sinful flesh too, are they not? We have our struggles with the sins and temptations of this present world. But we must also understand that our sins are forgiven us in the cross of Jesus Christ. He has redeemed us from sin. He has made us righteous through His perfect work on the cross. We are deeply aware that we belong to that faithful Savior and He has removed our guilt. We know what He has done for us. We now know that we belong to Him and are servants to do His will. We bask in that knowledge of our salvation. That makes us happy in this life. In that knowledge we in thankfulness for our salvation fight sin. Life is made new. Our lives must go in a different direction than that of the world.
Consider what I brought up at the beginning of today’s broadcast. Oftentimes when confronted with temptation by others we want to ask ourselves, “Well, what’s wrong with it?” That is the wrong question. Instead, when we face temptation we must ask the question: who am I? What is my spiritual identity? Am I a servant of Christ who seeks to please Him and not myself? Then we find the correct answer to what we are contemplating doing.
May I make one who despises God and His commandments my companion and friend? The answer is this: what fellowship has light with darkness? What friendship is there between one who is still an old creature and one who is in Christ a new creature? Can two walk together unless they are agreed? What’s wrong with the immorality and the extolling of man’s power and greatness that we see in the movies of today? What’s wrong with listening to the ungodly music of today? I suppose we can try to go through all the reasoning and implications that prove these are wrong. But the answer is a lot less complicated: why would I who have been cleansed in the blood of Christ, sanctified and holy, why would I want to dig around in the filthy garbage dump of this wicked world for my entertainment? Or the question that children and youth often ask: why do have to go to church on Sunday. I could point out all kinds of passages that prove we need to. But the answer is quite simple, is it not? If I am in Christ and a new creature, it is my very desire to be in the house of God! There is no better place to be.
Who am I? What is my identity? That will determine how I live. You understand what God’s Word is teaching us here?
III. A New Hope
Now, there is incentive for us in our self-awareness. Our text gives us this incentive. It speaks of the hope of every believer. It does so when Paul writes of the believer as being a new creature or creation in Christ. If we were to examine this concept just a little deeper, we soon discover that having been shaped and molded now in the image of Jesus Christ, there is a new creation that awaits us as new creatures in heaven. We learn in Revelation 21 that in heaven former things are passed away. The sin that still so easily besets us, the temptations this world casts in our pathway, will all disappear. There will be no more sin. Our true identity as God’s people will be able to shine with no more old man in us to disturb our peace.
We will find that our true purpose in this life, our true striving, our true joy will be finally fulfilled. All things will indeed be made new. We will dwell in Christ perfectly and we will bask in the joy of a new creation: the new heavens and earth—a perfect place for new creatures. That joy and expectation of heaven gives us incentive to live as new creatures in an old creation cursed by sin. It gives us incentive because we now have hope. As new creatures in Christ we long for and wait for that new creation. We live for that home that awaits us in glory. It is the place of our desires, after all.
Who are you? How do you identify yourself? Has the old life passed away and has life been made new for you? Are we in faith bound to Jesus Christ? Then as servants of Christ we have our hope in heaven.