If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor. 5:17)
There are a number of aspects to salvation. Salvation isn’t just getting out of hell and into heaven. There are many different things which make up what we refer to broadly as salvation — things which themselves are great and marvelous, and which together make up a mighty work which only God could conceive and carry out, and which, like all His works, depends only and entirely on His purpose and power and not on anything in the work or its result.
Some of these things are legal or forensic. Justification immediately springs to mind, for this is where God, sitting as Judge, declares that one is just in His sight. Other things are positional. Sanctification is the main thing here — we tend to think of sanctification in its progressive aspect, where we day by day grow in grace and knowledge and come more and more into conformity to Christ, but it is also the work of God setting us apart forever to His service, as the pots in the temple were sanctified and thereafter could never serve any other purpose.
Paul, in the text, speaks of salvation in its creative aspect. And this is something that I have come to think many Christians don’t fully realize or understand. In salvation God doesn’t merely make legal rulings, or what we might call, for the purpose of discussion, religious decision, but He also engages in creation. Just as in the beginning He created the heavens and the earth, in salvation God creates Christians.
The apostle here first names those whom He’s describing. He says, “if anyone is in Christ.” That is the first thing that must be, or else none of the rest ever will or can follow. Just as you must first be in the car if you’re to drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and just as you must first board the airplane if you wish to fly from LAX to Inchon, so you must first be in Christ if anything else that pertains to salvation is to be true of you.
This is another positional aspect of salvation. Your position must be in Christ. The Bible says, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) These are the two great positions we must be aware of. Every single person in history is either in Adam, or in Christ. This is what the theologians call federal headship. Another way we could refer to it is representation. As a resident of the United States, I live in a congressional district. Periodically there is an election to choose who shall represent that district in the House of Representatives. I live in a state, and there are elections to determine who shall represent that state in the Senate. And of course very four years we have a presidential election, to determine who shall represent the citizens of the entire country in the executive branch.
Perhaps the president is the best example here, for when he declares US policy, he is, in effect, saying that the entire United States, with all its individual citizens, is behind him, and he represents them. Of course in actual fact any number of citizens may find that the president’s position does not represent them — at times so many, and so unhappy with the stated policy, that protests erupt in such volume that the president must back down. But that doesn’t alter this concept of representation, or to get back to the theological term, federal headship. And we know that word “federal” — we speak of the federal government, because it is in fact a representative government. We usually mean by it simply the government of the United States, but the term carries within it the idea of representation.
We are, by our natural birth, in Adam. That is, he is our federal head, and what he did, we did in him. When he fell, all whom he represented fall too. It is important that we understand this. It isn’t merely that as Adam’s descendants we inherit from him a sinful nature, though that it absolutely the case. No imperfect father can beget perfect children — as all the fathers, mothers, and wives who read this will testify even if the children don’t.
There is Adam’s federal headship. For Paul to speak of those who are in Adam, must mean this, because first his statement doesn’t make any sense otherwise, and second if he isn’t referring to Adam’s federal headship then he can’t be referring to Christ’s federal headship either, and if he’s not speaking of that, then his whole argument here falls apart. If the statement that in Christ all will be made alive means that He represents them, and in His death, burial, and resurrection they die, are buried, and rise again to new life, then the same principle must apply to the first part of the verse — “in Adam” must mean representation, it must mean federal headship.
So then we must be in Christ. We are born in Adam, and receive what he, as our federal head, merited from God. We must undergo a change of position, from in Adam to in Christ. As long as we remain in Adam, we receive what he procured on our behalf; it is only when we move to the position of being in Christ that we can then receive all that He procured on behalf of those who are in Him.
But once we are in Christ, Paul says in our text, we are a new creature. Another way to render this would be a new creation. The Greek word here is ktisiz (ktisis), and it means, in this context, a created thing. It is the word Paul uses in Romans 8:22, when he says that “we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” What he is saying, then, is that when someone is in Christ, God has made him brand new. He isn’t what he was before. He is a new creation just as light was a new creation in the beginning of time.
Before God said, “Let there be light,” there wasn’t any such thing as light in the sense of photons carrying energy around at frequencies our eyes can perceive. But after He said it, light did exist — a new creation. It is in exactly this sense that Paul says that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. When we enter Christ, something new comes into existence that never existed before. A saved person is a thing which never existed in all the history of the universe — not that no one was ever saved before, but that this particular saved person came into being at this point (though the individual may not know just when that point was), having never existed before from eternity past.
Now what does this mean for the one who is, now, a new creation? It means that he has a new nature. Sticking with light, we know that it has a particular nature. It travels at a given speed in a vacuum, and — so the laws of physics tell us — it can never travel any faster nor any slower. And even though it seems contrary to reason, physics tells us that even if an observer is traveling at 99.99999999999999999999999% of the speed of light himself, if he measures the speed of light coming to him from a distant star, it will still prove to have that invariable velocity. Why is this true? Because it is the nature of light to travel at that velocity, and that velocity only. If it traveled more slowly it would be acting contrary to its nature, and that is an impossibility. A created thing — even living, breathing, thinking creatures — can only act according to its nature, and not otherwise.
In Adam, we act only according to our fallen nature, and are incapable of acting any other way. But when someone is in Christ, He has a new nature. He is a new creation, and though the old nature remains during our sojourn on this earth, so that Romans 7:15-24 describes the experience of every Christian, there is a new nature, one which is fundamentally different from the old one, and which therefore naturally behaves in fundamentally different ways.
The reason this is so important is that it is this new nature which God looks at when He considers a Christian. The old nature is dead, though it still kicks and screams and causes us misery; in the phrase which has become popular in recent years, the old nature is a dead man walking. There’s a sermon by Leonard Ravenhill which years ago I had on tape, and recently I listened to again on YouTube, called, if I remember correct, “What Is Your Life?” In this sermon Ravenhill refers to Luke 14:27, and then points out that in Jesus’ day if you saw someone carrying a cross you knew one thing about him — he wasn’t coming back. Someone who was carrying a cross out of the city was shortly going to hang on that cross, and the only way down from it was death. Truly such a person was a dead man walking — and so it is with our old nature. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24) The old nature — the flesh, as Paul calls it — is dead as surely as any criminal bearing his cross, and God doesn’t consider it in His view of us.
Instead, He regards us as we are in Christ. And what we are in Christ is a new creation. And that new creation is, as I’ve said, fundamentally different from the old. The old nature loves sin, and seeks it out; it wallows in sin, and isn’t happy unless it is in some way sinning against God. It is this old nature which won’t worship God, but instead looks assiduously for anything else to put its affections on. It is of this old nature that Jesus said, “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matt. 15:18 & 19) But the new nature hates sin, and loves God. It wants to rid itself of lingering sin, it feels grief when the man sins, and it seeks God as surely and as diligently as the old nature seeks anything other than God. The new nature would rather spend one day in the house of God than thousands of years anywhere else. The new nature seeks the pure milk of the Word, it wants to draw near to God, it would rather die for the Lord than live apart from Him. The new nature is the exact opposite of the old, and therefore behaves exactly opposite of the old.
And this means that things which the old nature would do at the drop of a hat, and drop the hat itself, the new nature wouldn’t do ever, under any circumstances. Jesus said that “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29) Some have said yes, that’s true, but those who are in God’s hand can jump out. Never mind for the moment the fact that this is the same as snatching one’s self out of God’s hand, and is therefore — by Jesus’ statement — an utter impossibility.
Let’s consider what sort of person would ever contemplate this jumping, much less do it. For such a person to even consider it, that person would have to be outside of Christ, because all who are in Christ are new creations. Only the old nature would want to depart from Christ, only the sinful nature would partake of the great benefit of His salvation and then reject it. Someone who’s saved, someone who is in Christ, someone who therefore has a new and godly nature, would never jump no matter how easy it might be, and never would even think of doing so. Just as my nature is to love my wife, and to never even want to leave her, and just as a hawk’s nature is to soar above the land and not burrow beneath it, so my nature as someone who is in Christ is to cling to Him, to love Him, to seek Him out, to listen to Him, to desire to be more and more like Him every day.
And what’s true of me as one who is in Christ, is true of every single person who truly is in Christ. Not one person who is in Christ lacks that new nature, for Paul said that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. To paraphrase what Charles Spurgeon said in the New Park Street Pulpit (7:8), which anyone does God mean? anyone, and every anyone. The old hymn says that Christ receiveth sinful men, without saying that these sinful men must have any other qualification, and it’s true. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), and that’s the sole qualification — every sinner who comes, and any sinner who comes to Him, He will save. Who is a new creation? Anyone who is in Christ. Anyone who is in Christ. Let someone come into Christ, no matter who he is, and he becomes a new creation — a brand new person who never existed before, with a brand new nature which is the exact opposite of the old nature.
The key, then, is to be in Christ. Let that condition exist, and all the rest follows. And how does one get into Christ? By grace, through faith. The five solas of the Reformation include sola gratia and sola fide — by grace alone, through faith alone. Paul said, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8) Grace, faith, salvation, all are gifts of God, all come from Him, and so nothing we do or are, nothing we can do or be, nothing of our own will or efforts, causes us to be in Christ. Those who are saved are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)
We don’t suddenly, one day, out of the blue, decide that we’re going to get into Christ. Either God places us there, or we’re not there at all. This is the baptism of the Spirit that so many have worked up odd theories about — the Spirit baptizes us into Christ, literally immerses us into Him, just as on earth someone immerses a new disciple into water. The earthy ordinance symbolizes the spiritual reality; what a human being does with the new Christian and water, the Holy Spirit has already done with the new Christian and Christ. It is that work of the Holy Spirit which puts someone into Christ, and in Christ He is a new creation. It is the Lord’s work and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Giue glory to the Lorde your God before he bring darknes, and or euer your feete stumble in the darke mountaines, and whiles you look for light, he turne it into the shadowe of death and make it as darkenesse. Jeremiah 13:16 Geneva Bible