“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” – 2 Cor. 5:17
During Brandon’s freshman year at Texas A&M last year, he lived in an apartment with some friends. It was nothing fancy, but in my opinion, 18-year-old college boys don’t need a fancy place to live, because A. they’re in college, and B. chances are strong to very strong they’re not going to clean it.
Anyway, the apartment was pretty modest, but more than adequate and definitely no worse than living in a dorm. After being down there a few months, though, he and his roommates started comparing it to the places a lot of their friends were living. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, to hear them tell it, their apartment was like living below the poverty level.
It was plenty big, but the A/C didn’t work great, the sink didn’t have a garbage disposal, the fridge didn’t have an ice maker, and there weren’t any ceiling fans or much overhead lighting. So the guys wanted to move and we told them that was fine, but the cost had to be about the same. You may not be aware of this, but there are places college students live these days that are like Disney resorts. We saw one place with a lazy river. A lazy river, y’all. Besides the fact that we don’t have lazy-river-apartment-for-our-college-kid kind of money, we want him to want to graduate in a timely manner.
So the guys found a really nice townhouse. It’s 2 story, 4 bedroom, 4 bath. It has granite countertops, light fixtures, ceiling fans everywhere, a little yard out back, a big kitchen with a garbage disposal and ice maker. It’s a pretty new place, too, so everything looks nice. And it doesn’t cost very much more than the apartment did.
But there’s a catch. These townhouses are right next to a wastewater treatment plant…and it stinks outside. Sometimes pretty bad.
This fact would be a deal-breaker for me, but not Brandon. He was just so happy for the change. On a day the stench almost knocked me over, Brandon, in all seriousness, said, “Mom, I don’t even think I smell it.” It made me laugh, but the truth of it is that what had changed on the inside impacted how he responded to the smell on the outside. He was so happy about the newness on the inside that what was outside didn’t change his outlook.
Here’s the thing: when the inside is new and good and right, then it impacts our perspective on everything. When the inside is new and good and right, then even when everything in the world around us stinks, our attitude and perspective about our purpose and calling in life remain the same.
2 Cor. 5:17 is one of those verses a lot of us know outside of its context. And honestly, it can stand alone as a testimony of Christ’s redemptive work in our lives. But it is interesting also to look at the context because Paul wasn’t just talking about our eternal condition when he wrote that verse; he was talking specifically about ministry and life.
For Paul, every thought and decision was compelled by Christ’s love on the cross. He’d been united to Christ through His death and resurrection. He was, without a doubt, a new creation. But that wasn’t at all the end of the paragraph. It was only the beginning.
In verse 16, he said, “I don’t look at things from a purely human standpoint anymore.” In verse 18, “Everything is from God.” In verse 19, “God reconciled us to Himself in Christ and then He gave us the message of reconciliation.” In verse 20, “We are ambassadors for Christ.”
The change that had taken place inside Paul caused changes on the outside.
We get it backwards. We try to do better in the new year by fixing up the outside. Maybe we think if we just work harder or be more awesome things will get better.
And it is no more effective than if Brandon tried to fix the smell outside his townhouse by putting a Renuzit air freshener on the front porch or spraying Febreze in the air every day on the way to his car.
2 Cor. 5:17 says in Christ we are a new creation. It doesn’t say in a good relationship we’re a new creation or in a good day at work or in our awesomeness or good ideas or best efforts. It doesn’t even say in a vacation to the Bahamas we’re a new creation. I mean, a vacation to the Bahamas sure can’t hurt, but it’s not the answer. Not really. Not long-term.
What is the answer then? How do we live like a new creation even on the days when everything feels old and smelly and we’re tired of trying? How did Paul keep it up? I mean, that guy had people throwing rocks at his head. He had more hard circumstances to obsess over than you or me (See 2 Cor. 11:23-28.)
How did he not burn out? Why didn’t he ever just start trying to fit in?
When Brandon moved into that new townhouse, he was so impressed with everything. He planned where to put things, he was excited to have people over, and couldn’t wait to share it with his roommates. He tweeted about it and posted a video tour. His focus for a period of time was completely on the inside of that house.
Paul was like that about Jesus. He was obsessed with the gospel. Throughout the New Testament we see it was his singular focus. So as the year wore on and following Jesus and living a holy life got hard, his outlook didn’t change.
Maybe holiness is something you thought about for a while, but over time it has just gotten easier to fit in. Maybe you don’t see many people around you who are concerned about holiness. Maybe you want your kids to be well-liked, so you found it necessary to erase some lines. Maybe we all do it, but if that’s true then we all need a new start.
When you obsess over the gospel instead of over your circumstances, there is newness and joy every day. When you obsess not over what you do or what happens to you, but over what Christ has done in you, it makes all the difference.
Most of the time, we don’t need our circumstances to change. We don’t need to work harder at being good. What we need is an obsession with the gospel. What we need is to be in Christ.
To me, that’s what New Start ’15 is all about. It’s not about trying harder to do holy things; it’s about looking for the wonder of newness in relationship with Christ every single day. No doubt about it – when that happens, we will be set apart.