In a previous article, we talked about what it means to be born again. One reason why the imagery of being born again is good is because we were radically transformed in that moment we made our commitment to believe in Jesus.
Paul says it this way,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
That verse is especially meaningful for Lisa and me. Though, to be fair, we like to refer to ourselves as NewCREEations. (It is for freedom that Christ made us CREE? Bad joke, I know.)
Really this whole idea that we have been made into a new creation in Christ is huge.
When we look the word Paul used for new, we see that we are new in respect to form. That means the new you is recently made. It’s fresh, recent, unused, and unworn.
You’re like a brand new car hot off the assembly line.
And you’re also new in respect to substance. The creation you are now in Christ is of an entirely new kind. You’re unprecedented, novel, uncommon, and unheard of.
So we could say you’re like an off road Lamborghini heavy freight truck. Sports car, off road, cargo hauling… I don’t know. The analogy kind of breaks down there.
But the point is you are something entirely new and never seen before.
The question I have to ask when I see that is this. What was made new at that moment?
I think that’s a good question. I mean I was 6’2” before I was born again. I’m still the same height. I had blonde hair and blue eyes before I was born again, and still do.
My weight didn’t change.
So the new creation did not happen in my body. At least not initially.
We’re three part beings, body, soul, and spirit. So what about my soul?
I still had a lot of the same habits and preferences after I was born again. I still like coffee and chocolate. I still liked to read, and watch good movies.
Mostly things didn’t change in my soul very much at all when I was first born again.
That said, there were a couple notable exceptions to that. For one, my language cleaned up pretty much overnight. I was a sailor, a naval officer. So the clichés about swearing like a sailor kinda fit. For whatever reason, that pretty much stopped overnight.
The other was the drinking. From the moment I was born again, alcohol no longer had a hold over me. Now I wish I could say I never took another drink from the time I was born again. But that’s not how it happened for me. I’ll talk about that here in a little bit.
My point here though is that, for the most part, the change, this new creation, didn’t seem to take place in my soul.
That means it must have happened in my spirit. Ezekiel talks about this where he prophesies that God will put a new spirit within us.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.— Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NKJV)
It’s in our spirit that we are made a brand new creation in a moment. Then we enter a process where our soul gets transformed as we renew our minds to the truth of what happened to us when we were born again.
Old Things Passed Away
Before we go into that transformation process, let’s go back to 2 Corinthians 5:17. Notice that Paul also says that the old things have passed away. That means we are no longer controlled by all those old behaviors anymore. Those old behaviors may still be in our habits. But they no longer control us like they use to.
The Bible says we are no longer slaves to sin. Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace”?
That’s not true.
It is true that it used to be our reality. We were sinners. Sin is what we did because that was who we were.
But now we belong to an entirely new kind of being, what the Bible calls saints.
The truth is you were a sinner. You were saved by grace. Then you became a new creation and now you are a saint.
Sin Identity is Past Tense
I mentioned drinking. Truth is, I used to be a drunk. There’s a whole long God-story about getting to the end of myself through alcohol and being born again.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) does a lot of good for a great many people. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t take. They told me I needed a “higher power” to quit drinking, which I completely understood. I’d failed miserably trying to quit in my own strength. Where they lost me was when they said, “just pick one.”
That didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t see how a potted plant, or a coin, or whatever had any power to keep me from drinking.
Fortunately someone introduced me to Jesus not long after. He is a higher power I can believe in. When I did, everything changed for me!
Another issue I have with AA is something they preach pretty hard: “once a drunk, always a drunk.” In Christ that’s not true!
We see this in the Bible. In First Corinthians chapter six, Paul mentions a whole bunch of ungodly behavior starting in verse 9. Drunkards are included in that list. So I can identify with that.
But look at this next thing Paul says there,
And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.— 1 Corinthians 6:11 (NKJV)
Notice that is all past tense. Every bit of that has happened already. Where did it happen? In our spirit.
Once we are born again, we enter a process where we work that salvation which happened in our spirit out into our soul and then even into our physical bodies.
This is what Paul was talking about when he said we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
In our spirit, all of this is a done deal. But our soul has some catching up to do. This process is also what Paul was talking about when he told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
The moment I was born again, my desire for alcohol immediately left. Unfortunately, I immediately moved to another state to start a new job and didn’t get into a church like the folks who led me to Jesus instructed.
Even worse, I moved into an apartment right across the street from a liquor store.
I’m guessing you can see where this is going.
It wasn’t long at all before I went back to drinking, only at this point I’m doubly miserable because my behavior wasn’t lining up with my new identity in Christ. It was several months later before I finally got it. There were things I needed to do to cooperate with what God was doing in my life.
I needed to renew my mind, and train my soul in this new way of living which didn’t rely on alcohol. It took some time to build new habits in my life.
I think that’s the part about the new creation that many people don’t realize. It takes time.
Yes my spirit was renewed in an instant. But my soul, and even my physical body, is still in process. It’s being sanctified even as we speak.
I still say and do things that make me cringe at times. “Did I really just do that?”
But even when I do, I know the truth. I have been washed, sanctified, and justified. I’m already good in God’s eyes. I just need to keep renewing my mind to these truths of my new identity in Christ.
Put On The New Man
Now that we are a new creation, we have the choice to set that old creation down and step into this new creation that we have become.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.— Ephesians 4:20-24 (NKJV)
Paul tells us to put off the former conduct. We are to set aside our old ungodly worldly way of doing things.
Actually, the way Paul phrases it in the Greek, he says we already have put the old man off. We already set it aside. it’s past tense. This is how the Holman Christian Standard Bible says it:
It makes sense. That old us is dead. It’s history. It wasted away. Paul says it “grows corrupt.” The word he used literally means it is shriveled up and withered. It’s who we were, but not who we are now. Why would we want to wallow in all that mess, when it’s all history, and a bad history at that?
The trouble is, most Christians don’t realize that they have, in fact, already set that down. They think they are still carrying all that junk. Because they don’t realize that old man is not who they are anymore, many times, they spend a whole lot of effort trying to get rid of something they no longer have in the first place.
We don’t need to focus on what we’ve already let go of. In fact, it’s harmful to us if we do.
What You Focus on Expands
Here’s an example of what I mean.
When I was a youngster, about ten or twelve years old, the house we lived in was on a busy state highway. The speed limit was fifty five miles per hour, and there were a fair number of trucks.
So it was a big deal to me that my parents allowed me to ride my bicycle to get around.
The shoulder on that road was about four feet wide, or so, to provide a little separation from the traffic.
One day I saw a rock in the shoulder up ahead. It was a bit bigger than my fist today. So there was plenty of room on either side for my bike tires to pass the rock without any problem. To be extra safe, I came up with a plan that my young inexperienced mind was sure would guarantee I didn’t hit it and fall over into the traffic.
I stared intently at that rock to make sure I missed it.
You can probably guess what happened. I hit the rock and fell over towards the traffic.
Fortunately for me, there was a gap in the traffic and I scrambled back over to the side with nothing but a scrape on my knee and a massive rush of adrenaline from the fear of getting hit by a car.
But I learned an incredibly valuable life lesson:
What you focus on expands.
Our perception of the things we look at most intently grows to the proportion we continue to focus on them. This is why Paul gives us a list of positive and uplifting things to think about in Philippians 4:8 and tells us to meditate on those good things.
It’s also why if you look at that passage in Ephesians again, the bit about the old man is past tense, while the bit about the new man is in the active present tense.
You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.— Ephesians 4:22-24 (HCSB)
We don’t need to worry about the past. Instead, let’s focus on the present along with the glorious future we are heading towards.
So many times as Christians we get so wrapped around the axel about all the bad stuff we’ve done in our past. We even fixate on the bad stuff we’re dong right now. But that is exactly the wrong way to deal with the problem.
The way to fix any behavior issue I have in my own life is to focus on my true identity in Christ. When I renew my mind, when I put on the new self, then any behavior issues I have will automatically sort themselves out.
Let go of your past. It’s jut an anchor weighing you down and holding you back from realizing the glorious destiny God has planned for you. Instead, learn your identity in Christ. Discover your destiny. Cling to the future that God has in store for you.
I don’t need to worry about that old self that was crucified with Christ because I am born again. I am a brand new creation in Christ!!
And so are you!
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.— Ephesians 5:8 (NKJV)