if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
God Says You Are A New Creation
One of the most popular verses in Christianity is 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a
new creation. The old has passed
away; behold, the new has come!” In my conversations with people
about this verse, whether those in Christian addiction recovery programs or
those in churches, I have not found one person who understands the meaning of
this verse in context. I have not heard one pastor or Bible teacher teach its correct interpretation and application in context.
This is sad for two reasons:
Reason #1: because the power of this verse flows from its true meaning, and the true
meaning is discovered in its context.
Reason#2: because it reflects poor teaching by pastors and the lack of their understanding of the Bible.
Let' take a closer look at the context.
The Context Of 2
Paul’s Competence In
Teaching The New Covenant
The context of this verse is Paul writing about people who are living under the old covenant of law, while rejecting the new covenant of grace. Paul is writing to identify and correct this problem by contrasting the old covenant of law with the new covenant of grace while also defending his teaching on the new covenant of grace.
Corinthians 3:6 Paul says, “He [God] has made us competent as ministers of a new
covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the
Spirit gives life.” In this verse, Paul states God enabled him, and those
he was in ministry with, to teach with competence the new covenant of grace.
His competence is not teaching the
letter, meaning the old covenant of law, or the Ten Commandments. Paul says his
competence is teaching the new covenant of grace where a person is declared by
God to be righteous, where God is no longer counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19), and where the Spirit of God comes to live in a person,
giving him life from the dead.
In 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, Paul says
Now if the ministry
that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so
that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its
glory, transitory though it was,will not the ministry
of the Spirit be even more glorious?If the ministry that
brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that
brings righteousness!For what was glorious
has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.And if what was
transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
The Old Covenant of Law Compared To
The New Covenant Of Grace
verses, as well as verses 3-6, Paul explains that the Ten Commandments, the
letters engraved on stone which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, resulted
in condemnation and death. However, the ministry of the new covenant brings
righteousness and life. Furthermore, Paul states the ministry of the new
covenant of grace is more glorious because it surpasses in greatness the Ten
Commandments with its condemnation and death. In these verses, we also learn
the ministry of the new covenant is eternal, compared to the temporal ministry
of the letters engraved in stone.
Corinthians 3:12-16, Paul writes:
Therefore, since we
have such a hope, we are very bold.We are not like Moses,
who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the
end of what was passing away.But their minds were
made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read.
It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.Even to this day when
Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the
Lord, the veil is taken away.
Many Can’t See The New
Covenant Of Grace
In these verses, we discover a veil
covers the hearts of many when the old covenant is read. This means that people
can’t see that the old covenant or the Ten Commandments bring condemnation and death. Rather, they
believe we should continue to live according to the Ten Commandments because
they believe the commandments bring life. They do not understand the Ten
Commandments, the old covenant engraved in letters on stone, actually bring
death (Romans 7:7-24).
According to Paul,only those who have turned to the Lord and are “in Christ” are able to see the Ten Commandments bring death and the new covenant of grace brings life and that they do not live under the laws of the Ten Commandments. Those who have not turned to the Lord can't see this.
There are many, many people today who claim to be in Christ, who claim to have turned to the Lord, but who have not turned from the Ten Commandments. Sadly, they reject the teaching of the new covenant of grace by continuing to believe they should live under the Ten Commandments. Their minds are dull to the truth of the new covenant. A veil covers their hearts. When they are taught the Scriptural truth of the new covenant, they reject the truths of grace and continue to believe a person should live under the old covenant law of Moses, specifically the Ten Commandments.
You Have To Be Bold To
Teach About Grace
Paul had to be very bold in teaching
this because the religious people of his day persecuted him for teaching about
the new covenant of grace.
Today, teachers of grace must be very bold,
too! Persecution still continues from the religious people of our day who claim to be believers in Jesus but who believe we should live under the Ten Commandments and who reject the teaching of the new covenant of grace. I have
been persecuted by these people, of course not to the level of Paul...not even close, for
teaching on the new covenant of grace. However, it is important teachers of
grace continue to be bold so we can reach more and more people with the good
news of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 4:15).
In 2 Corinthians 4:7-16, Paul writes about the incredible difficulties he went through to reach as many people as possible with the good news of grace. However, he considered his difficulties worth it. He writes in 2 Corinthians 4:15 the following:
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Paul referred to the ministry of the new covenant of grace that God had given him as a treasure in jars of clay. The treasure was the good news of the new covenant of grace and jars of clay was his earthly body and the earthly bodies of his companions in ministry that contained the valuable message of grace (2 Corinthians 4:7).
We Reflect The Grace Of Jesus
As we seek to understand 2
Corinthians 5:17, let’s continue to examine its context. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the
Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with
unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his
image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
are also quoted quite often, yet very rarely understood in context. What we see
in these verses is that when someone turns away from the condemnation and death
of the old covenant of law and turns to the Lord in faith, having accepted the
gift of righteousness given freely by God in his grace, the Spirit of the Lord
Jesus comes to live in this person (see Galatians 4:4-6). When the Spirit of
the Lord comes to live in this person, he is set free from the condemnation and
death of the old covenant of law. This person now contemplates, or deeply
focuses on the greatness of Jesus. As he contemplates on the greatness of Jesus
revealed in the new covenant of grace, the Spirit of the Lord begins to
transform this person into the very image of Jesus. This person begins to
reflect the grace of God seen in the person of Jesus.
The Spirit Writes On
The old covenant of law, the Ten Commandments, never changed
the hearts of people. It only brought condemnation and death. But on the hearts
of people who turn to the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:16), the Spirit of the Lord writes the truths of the
new covenant of grace (2 Corinthians 3:3) so that they begin to reflect the
very image of Jesus. The Spirit begins writing on our hearts the truths of
grace. The Spirit writes that all of our sins are fully forgiven forever, that
God is not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19), and that God remembers our sins no
more. He also writes that we are justified by God, righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21), under
no condemnation from God, at peace with God, are dearly loved children of God,
and we are saved forever, having eternal life.
By understanding 2 Corinthians 3, we can now understand 2
Corinthians 5:17 and experience the power of the truth contained in this one verse.
Again 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore,
if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!”
As we seek to understand this verse, let’s ask a few
1. Who are those who are in Christ?
2. What does it mean to be in Christ?
3. What does a new creation mean?
4. What is the old that has passed away?
5. What is the new that has come?
Who Are Those Who Are In Christ?
Those who are “in Christ” are those
who have turned away from the condemnation and death of the old covenant of law, the Ten Commandments,
for justification, and who have turned to the Lord, having received by faith
the new covenant of grace. They can now see the surpassing glory of the new
covenant of grace, and are being transformed into the very image of Jesus by the
Spirit as they contemplate the greatness of what the Lord has done for them
through grace, and as the Spirit writes on their hearts the truths of grace.
Their hearts overflow with thanksgiving because of grace (2 Corinthians 4:15).
They are now new creations, meaning they are recipients of all God has freely
done for them in the new covenant of grace through Jesus.
Since they are now
recipients of the new covenant of grace, they have a new identity. They are
no longer identified with the law in being under condemnation and death, but
are now identified with the new covenant of grace in being forgiven and
righteous, having the Spirit of the Lord living in their hearts. The old
covenant has now passed away, and the new covenant has now come. This means they
are now free from living under the condemnation and death of the letters
engraved in stone, the Ten Commandments of law, and now live every day in the
surpassing glory of the new covenant of grace as forgiven and righteous people.
What The Incorrect Teaching
About 2 Corinthians 5:17 Leads To
So often, 2 Corinthians 5:17 is
taught in the following way to those with addictions:
If any person is
addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc… and comes to faith in Jesus, he has a new
identity. He is no longer identified as an addict, but as a new creation in
Jesus. He is now a new person. The old person and the old addiction has passed away and the life
without the addiction has come. He used to get drunk, but now he doesn’t. He
used to do drugs, now he doesn’t. He used to watch pornography, but now he
doesn’t. He used to gamble, but now he doesn’t.
To those who aren't addicted, but who come to faith in Jesus, they are taught the following about this verse.
In your old life, you used to live sinfully. In your new life in Christ, you now live morally.
These interpretations and applications
of 2 Corinthians 5:17 miss completely the contextual interpretation and
application, thus diminishing the power
of the verse. It also causes a misunderstanding of this verse, leading many
battling addictions and sin right back into their addictions and old lifestyles.
Since I Have Sinful
Desires, I Must Not Be A New Creation
For example, if someone is taught
that since he has come to faith in Jesus the old life of addiction is gone and
the new life without addiction has come, then, when the desires of the flesh
return, he assumes he must not really have come to faith in Jesus or be a new
creation. He concludes that if he had come to faith in Jesus and was a new
creation, then he would no longer have those sinful desires. He then begins living
under the law of condemnation and death, experiencing guilt and shame,
eventually concluding he has not really come to Christ and is not a new
creation. He then, operating from a misinterpretation and application of 2 Corinthians
5:17, returns to a life of addiction, eventually giving up completely.
What The Correct
Teaching Of 2 Corinthians 5:17 Leads To
If he really
understood the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17 in context, as well as other
biblical truths we have looked at so far in this book and other truths we will
look in later chapters, he would not beat himself up with guilt, shame, and
condemnation, thus fueling the addiction, but he would live in celebration of
God’s grace, empowering him to live free from the guilt, shame, and
condemnation that fuels the addiction.
The old in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not referring to a person's old lifestyle of addiction or sin, but refers to a religious person seeking to become righteous before God by trying to live morally as he earnestly follows the Ten Commandments. The old is not referring to a morally rebellious person but to a morally religious person. The old that is gone is the old way of trying to become righteous before God by obedience to the Ten Commandments, which bring condemnation and death. The old that is gone is the old way of relating to God through the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments.
The new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not referring to a new moral lifestyle a person begins to live after coming to faith in Jesus, but refers to new identity in Christ which is the identity of being forgiven and righteous before God, a person in whom the Spirit of Jesus lives, and has been made alive spiritually in contrast to the one who lived dead and condemned by the Ten Commandments. The new is the person who has been freed from the law of condemnation and death, again...the Ten Commandments, and who now lives by the new covenant of grace where all of his sins were counted against Jesus and where God is not counting his sins against him.
The one who is a new creation in Christ no longer lives under the old covenant of law since the Spirit of Jesus lives in him. The one who is a new creation now lives under the new covenant of grace. For the one who is a new creation in Christ, the old covenant of law is gone and the new covenant of grace has come. A new covenant for a new creation!
Behold this truth, as Paul writes...look in amazement at it!
If you have come to faith in Jesus by turning away from the Ten Commandments to become righteous before God, you are a new creation, you have a new identity not associated with the law but established in Christ. The old covenant of the Ten Commandments is gone. The new covenant of grace has come!
What Does Being A New Creation In Christ Really Mean?
If you have come to faith in Jesus, you are a new creation in Christ. You have a new identity. The old covenant of law, bringing condemnation and death, has gone and the new covenant of grace, bringing righteousness, forgiveness, and life has come. You no longer relate to God under the guilt and condemnation of the Ten Commandments. You now relate to God under the forgiveness and righteousness of the cross, where grace overflows to you. The Spirit of the resurrected and ascended Jesus now lives in you, leading you through life, bringing you eternal life, and freeing you from the law which brought condemnation and death.
This Blog is an excerpt from Brad's book, Addicted To Grace. For more information on his book, click below:
To read more on the context of 2 Corinthians 5:17, click below: