“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 2 Corinthians 5:17–19 (NRSV)
When you grow up in the White American Evangelical branch of Christianity, as I did, you end up with a lot of baggage. One of the pieces of baggage you can easily end up with is a morbid focus on the “End Times.” You can’t see it, but those two words are capitalized. I was a teenager during the heyday of Hal Lindsay and “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsay was the first to really popularize the theology that was later taken up by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their “Left Behind” series of novels. As Young Upright Christians™, we were expected to read Hal Lindsay’s books and take them to heart. Telling people about them, about their coming doom, was how we would bring the lost to Christ.
I used the term “morbid” because there was so much attention paid to the horrible things that were supposed to happen to unbelievers during the “Tribulation” — also capitalized. There is a kind of schadenfreude baked into this worldview. Hey, look! Those non-Christians (or sometimes, “bad” Christians) are gonna get theirs when Jesus comes back! And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, for sure.
Unfortunately, this approach, based mostly on misreading the Revelation to John and parts of the book of Daniel, totally misses the point of Jesus coming and dying in the first place. There is often little attention paid to the real mission of Christ.
You see, Christ didn’t come to save a few people and to torture and destroy the rest. He came to redeem all of creation.
Not destroy but redeem.
A large part of Old Testament theology was the faith that God would, at some point in time, set everything right again. That everything that is now broken would be corrected, that Creation itself would be made new. That everyone, not just Israel, would become the recipients of God’s grace, so that in the words of the prophet Amos, justice would “roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
St. Paul, a Hebrew of the Hebrews as he called himself, picked up on this theme, and it flows throughout his letters. And if we look at the life of Christ, we can see him work toward redeeming the world. So often we tend to focus on the creeds, and they are important, but they only focus on a few things: The nature of God, Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. Don’t get me wrong — in his death, Christ took the step necessary to redeem all Creation and begin the reign of heaven on earth. And in his resurrection, that work was vindicated.
But what is missing in the creeds is the period of time in which he was simply…living. In his life and teachings, he taught us what it was like to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. To live as if that kingdom has already been completely realized.
“If anyone be in Christ there is a new creation.”
I like this translation better than some others. First, it redresses the male-centric language used in earlier translations. But I also like it because it subtly moves away from the focus on individual, personal salvation and piety that has been the focus of much of modern Christianity. It gives us a more expansive view of that new creation. It describes a person who, in Christ, has become connected to the new Creation, to the giant “reset” that has been promised. A person who is in Christ becomes a part of the new creation that Christ is in the process of building.
I was taught that having people come to Christ out of fear of Hell was a valid tactic for saving souls, but over the years I have become convinced that God doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want people to come because of terror at what might happen if they don’t. He wants them to come out of love.
We are called to be part of Christ’s new creation. We are called to take our places in God’s Creation as caretakers of and priests in that Creation. We are called to come to Him in love and then show His love to the world, not try to frighten the world into obedience.
That is the invitation that Christ extends to each one of us. Come be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of love. Take your place in the New Creation.