God, our creator, can be known. He wants His children to know Him. That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus, who was God with us, appearing in flesh. Think about this: Those who knew Jesus when He was on the earth, knew God clothed in a human body. To see and know Jesus was to see the Father and know Almighty God. Amazing!
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [he is] a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).
The fact that you and I didn’t live in those days when Jesus appeared on the earth does not mean that today we cannot know the Almighty God and Father through His Son. We can!
Understanding our union with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection is foundational to living new lives with Him moment by moment. On the cross, Jesus died so that all of God’s children would die to living in sin and to living for self, both of which are done in their individual bodies. In Scripture, that man who dies is called the “old man.” When God raised Jesus from the dead, Paul understood that a new man was created and brought to life. In a previous letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “By God’s doing are you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor.1:30). God incorporated into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ all of His people throughout all of history and justified them. In Hebrews 10:14, Paul wrote, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
So Paul’s view of his fellow believers changed. He no longer looked at them bound in the flesh with all of their sins and weaknesses, because God doesn’t look at them in their sin, but in the perfection of Christ. His view of Jesus Christ also changed. He recognized the body of Christ not as a fleshly body, but as a new body composed of all of those whom God gave to Him. This is the new man, the new creation of which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5. This new man is filled with the life of Jesus, united together by the mind, spirit, and love of Christ Jesus, and is in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ (Col.3:10). So believers, understanding that they died when Jesus died, now forsake their own individual lives in this world and journey together in life with the purpose of knowing God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. This understanding is foundational to our lives being actually transformed in how we think, what we do, and how we relate to others.
Grasp the line of reason
Please take another look at the Scripture above and grasp the line of reason. It is absolutely vital to understanding what Paul said in verse 17. Also note the brackets around the words he is. The reason the translators of the New American Standard Bible put those words in italics is that those words are not in the Greek text. They are suggesting that those words are implied or that the addition of those words make for easier reading. However, in this case, I think those words miss Paul’s primary point. Let me explain.
First, let’s look at the principle Paul stated in verses 14-15. It appears to me that Paul wanted to communicate that it is the love of Christ living within us that controls the way we live with each other. When Jesus died, we all died to living for our individual selves. On the basis of that great truth, Paul stated that he no longer looked at people as individuals “in the flesh,” but rather “in the Spirit,” aspart of Christ Himself. The old way of looking at things passed away and there was a new way that God gave for Paul—and all of us—to look at Jesus and other believers: as, all together, the new creation—the new man. The old way of looking at things passed away and there became a new way that God had given for Paul to look at Jesus and other believers.
The popular idea that Paul was telling each individual follower that now they are individually a new creation is contrary to the primary point he communicated in the previous verses. It is true that when we become Christians, our lives are made new. Old ways of living are repented of and are thrown off, and we discover a new way to live. Many Scriptures describe that new life. However, Paul’s point was not that you, individually, are a new creature. Paul’s main point was this: If you are in Christ, you are a part of a new creation, a new man, created by God in Christ. And being a part of this new man brings you into a new way of living because you are united with others who are united with Christ just as you are. He wasn’t conveying that Jesus was newly created, but that God created a new body for Him to inhabit and reveal Himself through.
Understanding this now enables us to understand the main point of verse 17. We are to know Jesus in a new way—through the members of His body.
This idea may be new to you. Verse 17 is an explanation of a new way to nowknow Jesus. Since He lives in a new body that His Father gave Him which consists of believers, He now reveals Himself as members of His body love each other.
There has never been a creature like this in all of creation. This new creation isn’t an individual, it is a body with many diverse members in various states of sanctification. If a person is in Christ, he or she is a part of this new creature through which Jesus Christ is now revealing the Father. Therefore, to know each person in Christ is now to know Jesus in a new way. We are learning new things about Jesus that we could not have known were He still in His human body.
Paul wrote this as the basis for unity and reconciliation with those members of Jesus’ body in Corinth who were at odds with him and with each other. They were looking at him as an individual and judging him based on his weaknesses in the flesh. Paul was tempted to do the same with them, but he couldn’t because the love of Christ within him controlled him. Jesus’ love restrained him from looking at those brothers and sisters as separate from him, as individuals.
Furthermore, he viewed them as aspects of Christ’s nature and character, and as such they presented opportunities for him to learn more about the person, character, and love of Christ! If God put these people in His Son, then Paul knew he ought to look at them as God does—reconciled, redeemed, forgiven, and perfectly complete in Christ, rather than reacting to their individual weaknesses, sins, and fleshliness.
All these new things are from God so we can know Him
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
This new way of knowing Christ through the members of the body is a new way of living and relating to one another. Instead of selfishness and individuality, the love of Christ flows through us and controls us. What does this mean? What are we to do with this incredible truth?
I am now to look at my brothers and sisters in Christ and remind myself that I am looking at the body of Christ. Additionally, I should ask myself, “What can I learn about our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as I relate to my brother or sister in Christ? What new thing is God giving me to understand about Him as I get to know and love this person?” Imagine with me what a difference this would make in a marriage or in the church if Christ’s “new body” were to grasp this amazing truth!
All of the problems that occur in relationships are based on the old ways of the old man who died—in a word, because of selfishness. God has given us a new way to relate to one another. Here are a few of the new things God has given to us in this new body of Christ, the new creation:
- If God reconciled my brother through Jesus, then God is at peace with him in whatever state he presently is in. He can change him when He wishes. Therefore I also may be at peace with my brother as God is. To not love him with the same love as our Father has for him is to be at odds with our Father and my brother. If I have a problem with my brother, then I am not at peace with our Father, and I need to be reconciled to His will and ways as part of the body of Christ.
- If God hasn’t enlightened my brother to something I understand, then Jesus is extremely patient, kind, forbearing, and forgiving. Now that I think about it, Jesus is incredibly patient, kind, and forgiving to me when I am in darkness and self-centered. I will love my brother like I’ve been loved by Jesus by being patient, forbearing, kind, and forgiving.
- If my brother offends me through his self-centeredness, I understand that Jesus wants to transform me as His love flows through me to another part of His body. He has willed that my brother and fellow member of Jesus’ body be forgiven and healed by His love which controls me. I’ll know the love of Christ better through this offense and experience. Every offense against me is an opportunity for me to know the love of Christ and express His love, for His joy and glory.
- The more useless and weaker a member of the body of Christ is, the more the grace and love of Christ should be manifested and exercised toward him, which makes the whole body stronger and healthier. This kind of exercise takes faith that produces determination, focus, patience, prayer, and reliance on my Father if I am to love as Jesus loves. But as I grow in these ways, I will see the greatness of the grace of God. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.
- If my brother disappoints or hurts me, I have the opportunity to show the reality and power of my relationship with Christ and the true basis for our relationship—the love of Christ. As I reject selfish reaction and judgment and instead forgive, love, and do good to my brother, I am proclaiming the gospel again, knowing firsthand what Jesus did for me, and making much of the cross and its power to conquer sin and all that separates us from God and each other. This “proclamation” through love produces security in every relationship, drives out the cancer of selfishness in the body of Christ, conquers bitterness, and brings healing and glory to God through Jesus Christ.
There is much more to know about Jesus as we journey together through life as the body of Christ. I’m eager to share more each month of this year in these Chariot newsletters. I just wanted to prime the pump, so to speak, and stimulate you to think differently about your relationships in the body of Christ from the normal, fleshly ways that we tend to think.
You can teach the concept of a body with many members as opposed to selfish, individualistic thinking through a couple of simple demonstrations. Our lives are connected to one another, and what happens to one is meant to impact all of the others.
The first demonstration you can do with your family is to select a volunteer. Take a pair of pliers in one hand and the hand of the volunteer in the other. Assure your helper that you are not going to hurt them. Very gently grip the little finger of his or her hand with the pliers. Now ask, “If I were to apply pressure on your finger until it hurt, do you think the rest of your body would react? What might happen?” Open it up for family discussion. Then ask, “If I were to do this to this person, would the rest of you react to me? Why?” Help them to see the truth that we really are connected to each other and that what happens to one has a ripple effect on others. We are never isolated and should never think of ourselves as individuals who can live for ourselves.
As a second demonstration, have everyone in the family form a line and hold hands. Then try to pull or push one of the members out of the line. What happens to the rest of the members in the line? Next, ask one of the members to sit down and then jump up and down while still holding hands with the others. How does this affect the group?
I’m sure you can think of other demonstrations or examples that illustrate the principle that Paul was teaching the Corinthians: The love of Christ compels us to no longer live as selfish individuals, but to look at one another as members of our own body and of the body of Christ. God’s purpose for this new creation in Christ—a creature unlike any other—is that we will know Him more fully and experience His love more powerfully.
I pray that God will use this lesson to give you a deeper understanding of God and His love for you through Jesus Christ. Remember, when you look at another believer, you are looking at Jesus’ body. May you experience the same love that He has for them as you relate to them.