Challenge or Promise?

Are you up to another short quiz today?

©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

I heard, “Yeah, bring it on!”—so here we go. This is an easy-peasy one—we’ll even make it open book.

Just complete the following sentence, found in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV). “Therefore if any man be in Christ …”

  •  A.  “… he can become a new creature.”
  •  B.  “ … he will become a new creature.”
  •  C.  “… it doesn’t matter if he becomes a new creature.”
  •  D.  “… he is a new creature.”

The correct answer is D. But even though we know that, we act as though the answer is A, B, or C. Maybe that’s why we keep flunking this test in real life.

Answer A is the roll-up-your-shirtsleeves theory of sanctification. We grit our teeth and determine to overcome those areas that make us somewhat less than holy. When we fail, we pick ourselves up, dust off our derrieres, and try again.

Answer B is quite prevalent among Christians today. “I’m an imperfect human,” they say, “and I can never be anything else until Jesus comes and takes away my sin.” Problem: The text doesn’t put off this new life. It doesn’t reference the second coming or any other future point. It says, “He is a new creation.” Present tense. Now.

Answer C is the not-my-problem approach to the Christian walk. “Yes, I know this little peccadillo is wrong, and someday I’ll have to give it up. But Jesus hasn’t shown me that the time has come yet.” Okay, let’s think about this. Would we accept this reasoning from a newly converted murderer? (“Yeah, I know I’ll have to stop killing people someday, but Jesus hasn’t shown me that I have to do that now.”) And if it doesn’t justify “big” sins, how can it justify “little” sins? If God is powerful enough to expunge murder from the heart, can’t He also cleanse us of less hair-raising faults?

The problem with these approaches is that we’re mistaking this text for a challenge and focusing on the second half—what we see as the goal. But it’s really structured as an if-then statement: IF any man be in Christ, THEN he is a new creature. In other words, it’s a statement of causality. We should be focusing on the first half of the sentence—the cause—in order to bring about the consequence.

©iStock.com/boggy22

©iStock.com/boggy22

To make this more concrete, let’s look at another sentence that’s structured in the same way. Let’s say I go to my dentist with the problem of bad breath. He examines me and concludes, “There are no abnormalities; so IF you brush your teeth, THEN your bad breath will go away.” Which focus will solve my problem? Should I fixate on the consequence and buy breath mints? Or should I consider the cause and buy a toothbrush?

Similarly, God never advised us to be concerned about becoming new creatures. Instead, He said that, when we focus on being “in Christ,” we would become new creatures. In other words, becoming holy is not a challenge. It’s the promised consequence of keeping our eyes on Him. So when I’m confronted with new reminders of my sinfulness, it should drive me to Jesus’s feet. Trying to scrub my own soul clean is the wrong response; not only is it ineffective and frustrating, it’s impossible.

Jesus knew our tendency as do-it-yourselfers. Up to His dying day He tried to correct our misunderstanding. It was so important to Him that it’s what He emphasized just before He died, when people generally talk about the important stuff.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me … He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you (John 15:4-7, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Summary: Abide, then bear fruit. Abide, abide, abide, then bear fruit. Abide, then get results. Do you think maybe Jesus was trying to tell us something?

What do you think?

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