She is His New Creation
There is a popular notion that the church originated from a decision by a handful of followers of Jesus of Nazareth to start a movement. In the same way as other world religions started and grew through human determination and effort, it is often assumed that the Christian church is just a hugely successful example of the same thing. But the Bible tells us otherwise. It is both interesting and significant, therefore, that Paul reaches for the language of divine creation to help his readers in Corinth grasp what the church actually is. He describes it as his ‘new creation’ and his choice of words point to the ultimate new beginning.
The church in Corinth was arguably one of the most confused and compromised of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament. Yet it is to that church and the people who belonged to it Paul speaks about their being part of God’s new creation by virtue of their being ‘in Christ’.
Many English translations manage to miss the full impact of this verse by translating it, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ with the emphasis being on what they are individually. Paul’s horizon is set much higher. The actually reads, ‘If anyone is in Christ, new creation!’ Paul wants his readers to realise their salvation is much bigger than a mere private and personal experience. Every time someone is joined to the Lord Jesus Christ through new birth, he or she is not only incorporated into the life of Christ, but into what one theologian colourfully calls ‘that bundle of life’ which all his people share in their union with him.
Different New Testament writers refer to this one reality using different word-pictures. John uses the language of new birth that Jesus used with Nicodemus (Jn 3.3-8). Elsewhere, Paul describes it in terms of Christians having been ‘raised up together with Christ’ (Eph 2.4-6; Ro 6.5). Here, he uses the language of ‘new creation’. Of course, they are more than just great images; they are great realities. The ‘birth from above’ Christians receive from the Holy Spirit is new life from God. The resurrection to a whole new life we are promised is as real as the resurrection life of Jesus himself. So too the new creation of which Paul speaks is every bit as real as the creation God brought into being in Genesis and what it will become when Jesus comes again to usher in perfection (Rev 21.5). Samuel Stone expressed it eloquently in his hymn about the church with the lines, ‘The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the word’.
It is impossible to overstate the deep significance of what Paul says here about Christ and his relationship with the church. The whole idea of being part of this new creation is intimately bound up with a person’s being ‘in Christ’. But there is more to it as well. It is, as we have already pointed out, what we are and ultimately will be corporately as his redeemed people that displays the whole new order of existence to which we now belong.
In Christ we have been given a new heart (Eze 36.26), a new mind (Ro 12.1-2) and a whole new orientation in life (Eph 4.17). Most significantly we have been given a whole new future as well. Even though as members of the church we live in this world, we actually belong to another world – God’s world. As Paul tells the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi, even though they and he were Roman citizens, because of their relationship with Christ, ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Php 3.20). And the full expression of what ‘heaven’ is will only become clear when Jesus Christ returns and ushers in God’s new creation in its full and final perfection – the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ (Rev 21.1).
Just as the race God made to bear his image was the centrepiece of his original creation, so – not surprisingly – his redeemed and renewed race will be the centrepiece of his new creation. The ‘Holy City, the new Jerusalem…prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband’ of which John speaks (Rev 21.2) is a vivid metaphor for a redeemed humanity. It is vital to realise that this new community does not exist in some kind of ethereal vacuum, but belongs to the renewed ‘natural habitat’ God intended for our race – a renovated world and universe – which has been set free from God’s curse (Ro 8.19-21) and becomes part of the ‘renewal of all things’ (Mt 19.28) that Jesus says will take place when he comes again.
When we begin to appreciate the church as God’s new creation, it helps us grasp where it fits into the grand scheme of things in terms of what has gone wrong in our world, what Christ has done to put things right and where it ultimately will lead when God’s saving purpose is complete.