2 Corinthians 5:17 says,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
This verse teaches us that if anyone is “in Christ”, he is a new creation, and the old is gone and the new has come.
Let’s break this verse down in its context by answering some questions.
What does it mean to be “in Christ”?
What is the new creation?
What is the old that has gone?
What is the new that is here?
The context of this verse begins in 2 Corinthians 3.
The writer of 2 Corinthians is Paul.
God made Paul a minister or teacher of the new covenant (3:4-6).
The new covenant is a covenant of grace (4:15)
The new covenant is that God was in Christ reconciling the people of the world to himself, not counting our sins against us (5:18-21).
The new covenant is Jesus taking our sinfulness, and, in exchange, giving us his righteousness (5:21).
The new covenant is the Spirit of Jesus living in our hearts and transforming us from the inside out (3:17-18).
The Spirit of Jesus gives us life (3:6).
The Spirit of Jesus writes upon our hearts the truths of the new covenant and frees us from the old covenant of law (3:3).
The new covenant is freedom (3:17).
The new covenant is eternal (3:10).
The new covenant is in contrast to the old covenant 3:1-18).
Whereas the new covenant is a covenant of grace that came through Jesus, the old covenant is a covenant of law which came through Moses (3:7-15).
The old covenant was written on stone, the Ten Commandments (3:3, 7).
The Ten Commandments kill (3:6).
The old covenant brings death and condemnation (3:7-8).
The old covenant is bondage.
The old covenant was one time glorious, but it is no longer glorious compared to the new covenant (3:7-11).
The new covenant has replaced the old covenant (2 Corinthians 5:17; see also Hebrews 7:18-22; 8:6-13; Hebrews chapter 9; 10:8-10)
This means that God does not relate to people through the old covenant of law any longer, the law which was given through Moses, he now relates to people through the new covenant of grace, which came through Jesus.
This is what is meant in 1 Corinthians 5:17 by the old is gone and the new has come.
The old covenant of law, bringing death and condemnation is gone, and the new covenant of grace, bringing forgiveness, righteousness, and life has come.
Who is able to participate in and enjoy the new covenant?
Those who are in Christ.
Those who are in Christ embrace and enjoy the new covenant of grace.
Those who are in Christ are called a new creation.
They are a new creation because...
...the Spirit of Jesus lives in their hearts (3:17-18),
...they have life (3:6),
...they are righteous (3:9; 5:21),
...they are experiencing God’s complete forgiveness (5:19),
...they have been reconciled to God in a love relationship (5:18-21).
What does it mean to be in Christ?
Let’s let 2 Corinthians 5:13-16 answer that question.
“We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant. It has not been lifted, because only IN CHRIST can it be removed. And 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.”
These verses teach us that a veil covers the minds and hearts of those who seek to relate to God through the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments.
When the old covenant, or the Ten Commandments, is read, the minds of people who haven’t come to faith in Jesus remain closed and their hearts remain covered.
They see the Ten Commandments as needing to be obeyed, rather than seeing the Ten Commandments as God’s method to increase sin and show us our sin so that we will discover how sinful we are and how much we need a savior - Jesus (Romans 3:19-20, 5:20; 7:7-25).
These people are religious people.
These people are seeking to be righteous before God.
Yet they are seeking to do it in the old way...through obedience to the Ten Commandments, which means they
have not turned to the Lord and are not in Christ.
The above verses clearly teach that those who are in Christ, who have turned to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
This means those who have turned to the Lord, those who are in Christ, can see clearly the Ten Commandments, the old covenant, is a ministry of death, condemnation, and bondage, and the new covenant of grace is a ministry of life, forgiveness, freedom, and transformation.
To turn to the Lord is to turn away from relating to God by the old covenant of law, the Ten Commandments, and to turn to relating to God by the new covenant of grace, all that God has done for us in Christ.
The person who has turned away from the old covenant of Moses and turned to the Lord, who established the new covenant of grace, is said to be in Christ.
So according to the context, to be “in Christ” is to have turned away from the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, in relating to God, and to have turned to the Lord where one relates to God through the new covenant of grace.
2 Corinthians 5:17, in context, means:
If anyone is in Christ - having turned away from the law of Moses, the old covenant, the Ten Commandments and has turned to the Lord who has established the new covenant of grace.
He is a new creation - the Spirit of Jesus lives in his heart and will produce a transformed life, he has life, he is righteous (God sees this person as if he or she has never sinned, never broken the law, never broken the Ten Commandments), he is experiencing God’s complete forgiveness, he has been reconciled to God in a love relationship.
The old has gone - the old covenant, the law, the Ten Commandments is gone. Gone is death and condemnation. Gone is this old way of relating to God.
The new has come - the new covenant has come, grace has come, forgiveness has come, righteousness has come, life has come, and the Spirit of Jesus has come to eternally live in our hearts and to transform us from the inside out.
Only those who have turned to the Lord, those who are in Christ, those who relate to God based upon the new covenant of grace, in contrast to the old covenant of law, can see these amazing, wonderful, life-changing truths.