I suppose one of the most troubling verses in the whole Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (NASB).” I say that in response to the large number of sincere students of Scriptures expressing their concerns to me during my near 40 years of teaching Bible classes. I must admit that I too have had such concerns. In each case, including mine, we ask, “If all true Christians are supposed to be new creations—if old things are supposed to have passed away, why am I still drawn to the same sins that were in my life before I became a ‘new creature’? Why do I still have many of the same lusts and suffer the same temptations now as before I became a ‘new creature’? Does that mean that I haven’t truly become a new creature? Does that mean that I have not actually been ‘saved’?
Valid questions! So, since those concerns come up in the lives of so many of us, I was driven to the Scriptures in search of some answers. One of the first truths that jumped out at me was ‘doubt’. And, that particular Scripture causes many of us to actually ‘doubt’ our salvation. ‘Doubt’ is one of the most effective fiery darts in Satan’s bountiful quiver of weapons. If he can put doubt in our hearts, he has taken away our fragile faith. He has successfully robbed us of our sense of security; he has taken away the joy of our salvation. A perfect example of that is found in Matthew 14:21. There we find Jesus walking on the water toward a little fishing boat during a storm. You might know it would be Peter who jumped out of the boat to rush to Jesus. But when he began to sink, he lost his faith. Jesus asked him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt (KJV)?” And, just like Simon Peter, at the first sight of danger, we are so very prone to doubt.
A second truth that stood out to me was found in the third chapter of John. We are all probably familiar with that chapter, but for the sake of this study, let’s look at it again. A Pharisee named Nicodemus approached Jesus one night, asking Him how he could enter the kingdom of God, to which Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.(verse 3 NASB).” Whoa! Born again? How’s that? As you can well imagine, that confused Nicodemus; so he asked Jesus how could a man be ‘born again’, to which Jesus explained, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.“ (We will talk about that ‘water’ part in a subsequent blog.) Then Jesus continued, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6 NASB).”.
That simple proclamation, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” is key to our understanding what ‘new creation’ means. Let’s first discuss that ‘born of the flesh’ part. We are all obviously born of the flesh. But that also means that we will be living within our fleshly bodies from conception to the grave—no exceptions—no escaping—we’re stuck with it.. NOT GOOD! You might ask, “Why is that so bad?” Glad you asked. In Romans 7:18 we we are told why it is so bad, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing (KJV).” It is further explained in Psalm 51:5 where we read “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (NASB)”. Adding insult to injury we read of our fleshly birth, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father (John 8:44 NKJV)”.WHEW! The curse of our flesh is further described in Romans 3:11-12 “There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one (NKJV).” There you have it, our flesh doesn’t automatically disappear when we are ‘born again’. And as long as we are still living within the confines of our flesh we will continue to get hungry and thirsty, we will still continue to get sick and catch diseases and sadly, we will still be enticed by the lusts and sins of our flesh—from birth to the grave. So, it only stands to reason that if we are not born again, we’re sunk—God cannot and will not allow His permanent dwelling place to be tainted by the sins and lusts of our flesh. Our sinful flesh cannot enter into God’s perfect kingdom. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (NASB).
So, what’s the remedy? How can we overcome the curse of the flesh? How can we be born again—born of the Spirit? That’s where John 3:16 comes into play. When we trust in, rely on, and adhere to God for our salvation, we are ‘born again’. Only this time, we are ‘born of the Spirit’. Now the Holy Spirit lives within us, “… do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God (1 Corinthians 6:19 NKJV)”. When we are born again, we become two separate entities. We are now 100% flesh and 100% Spirit. Our flesh is born of the devil and our spirit is born of the Holy Spirit. Thus, at the end of our lives here on earth, we leave our sinful flesh behind. Our flesh remains in the grave. It is our ‘new creation”—our ‘born again’ Spirit that ascends into the kingdom of God.
We get a perfect picture of that phenomenon in the life of Jesus. His life here on earth also consisted of two separate entities. He too was 100% man and 100% God. His mother was of the flesh and His father was the Holy Spirit. While He was here on earth, He lived within the confines of His flesh. While living within the confines of His flesh, we are told that He was purposely “…led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1 NASB). Then, in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that He was “…in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (NKJV)”. WOW! Surely we can understand that if even Jesus Christ our Savior was tempted, why should we expect to escape temptation?
But knowing the frailties and weaknesses of our flesh, God gave us this wonderful promise, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV)”. Now that we are two separate entities, there is a daily war going on between our flesh and our spirit. But through our power as ‘new creations’ we are no longer slaves to the desires of our flesh; we can now say ‘no’ to Satan’s temptations and make it stick; we can get victory over them! That simply says that as ‘new creations’, sin no longer has dominion over us (Romans 6:14).
Thus, in conclusion: As new creations, are we still tempted? Yes. Will we continue to be tempted? Yes. Still sinful? Yes. But since our ‘new birth’, we now have an all powerful, heavenly ally living within us wherein we are able to resist the devil and watch him flee from us. PTL! However, there is one little caveat: this doesn’t work automatically. We still must do our part. He tells us we must change our mindset. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 ESV). Obviously, we must truly desire a transformation in our lives. Then, we must act on it, knowing that by His power we can and will gain the victory. As a result of our ‘new birth’ we can boldly face the enemy knowing that, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4 NASB).”
Thank you, thank you Lord for my wonderful new birth!