Monday, October 2, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 - Transformed!

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we PERSUADE (i.e. we influence, we try to convince) others... (skip to v. 14)

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In England there is a paper factory known for making the finest stationary in the world. One day a man touring the factory asked his guide “the secret ingredient” that made THEIR paper products so much better than their competitors. He was shown a huge pile of old rags and told that the “rag content was what determined the quality of the paper.”

A couple of weeks after his visit he received a package from the company containing the special paper with his initials embossed on it.   On the wrapper were THESE words, “Dirty rags… transformed!”

In a very real sense, the same can be said of each one of us.

We ARE what we ARE, not because of anything WE have done – no, it is all God - Who performs a MIRACLE in the believer’s heart – making something new and wonderful of THAT which was once ragged and useless.

THIS was the personal testimony of the Apostle Paul.   As we study his life, we find explicit detail of all that he was BEFORE he became a Christian.   A very serious, conservative, religious man, who knew the OT law by heart…  a man who was admired as a great teacher and protector of Jewish ideals….so much so that he felt called of God to persecute ANY movement that challenged his religious convictions.  He was sincere.  He was devoted...

...but according to the assessment of Jesus, he was lost and on his way to hell. Far from defending God, he was FIGHTING the Lord.

On his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, he was made to realize that all of his religious zeal, all of his works had done absolutely nothing to make him right with Almighty God. To the contrary, his good works almost guaranteed he would go to hell when he died, because he had convinced himself that he didn't need a Savior.

THERE, at the feet of Jesus, he saw his righteous works the way God saw them - as nothing more than a pile of sin-stained rags… Rags that only GRACE could transform!

Verse 21 is not only the key verse to the passage, it could have very well been the life-verse of the Apostle Paul. It reads, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That statement refers to the most amazing transaction in all history. THERE in 6 hours on the cross, 2 very important things happened:

First, Jesus paid for every sin, every wrong, every evil deed, word, or thought, I have EVER committed. “He who knew no sin” took upon Himself MY SIN.

I deserved the torture and agony of that cross – like the thieves on either side of Him…I am guilty of the crimes that nailed Him there! But HE Who knew no sin, became sin FOR ME! Every sin!! – yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s, He took upon Himself.

And as if THAT weren’t amazing enough, not only did He take MY sin, when I put my faith in Him, He THEN placed His righteousness upon me! As Paul declared, “that in him we might become the righteousness of God!”

He knew that paying for my sin was not enough to get me to heaven. I needed a righteousness, an ABSOLUTE perfection that I could not create or manufacture on my own – no amount of sincerity or religious effort on my part could EVER produce the righteousness that GOD requires.

So He GAVE me HIS perfect righteousness!

THIS life-changing message that Paul had once sought to silence, had become the Clarion call of His life. And in the verses we have read, Paul recalls the three things he received when he gave his heart to Christ.

1. First, when Paul gave His heart to the Lord, he received a New Mind. When a person is genuinely born-again, he will have A New Mind. As Paul looked back on all that Christ had done for him, he realized that his mind had changed in three important ways:

First, we see how Urgent he is in verse 11, when he says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” This “fear” is explained in verse 10 when he told the Corinthians, that one day, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to WHAT he has done, whether it is good, or bad.”

All that we have ever done, all the things that we thought were hidden from the eyes of others, will be put on display before Him. Our lives will be opened up before the omniscient EYES of the Lord. THEN, we will be seen for what we really ARE – not what we hoped people THOUGHT we were. When we stand before Jesus, there will be nowhere to hide. No do-overs or second chances. We will not be able to... deflect or excuse or compare our strengths with the weaknesses of others.

No! It will be just US and the Lord. And in Paul’s mind, that was all the motivation he needed to share the gospel while he still had time. // How URGENT he is…

THEN notice how UNMOVED he is in vv. 12-14. Even though his faith in the Lord Jesus had made him MANY enemies along the way, though belittled and beaten, he kept sharing his faith because “the love of Christ” gripped his heart. He was captivated, enthralled with how much Christ loved a lost and dying world. Indeed, there is no greater realization than “for God sooo loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him, should NOT perish, but have everlasting life!”

It was the Lord’s love for the lost that kept Paul going.

And third, notice how unbiased he is in v. 15. BEFORE he met Jesus, Paul was a very prejudiced man, convinced that the only people that mattered to Jesus were Jews… and not just Jews, but Jews LIKE HIM. BUT, when he discovered God’s heart for ALL people, his prejudice melted away. He learned that a man’s race is of no consequence to God. Neither is his financial status, or position in society. Jesus loves us all. EVERYONE is invited to fellowship with God through the cross of Christ.

This was his NEW MIND after coming to Christ. Gripped with urgency, UNMOVED, and unbiased.

I wonder, is THIS YOUR MIND? Has your understanding of the gospel so thoroughly gripped YOUR heart??

2. Secondly, not only had he received a New Mind, Paul had become a New Man. A new man. Notice verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ”

Years ago, a proponent of communism was addressing a large crowd in the city square. He spoke passionately of his cause. For emphasis he pointed to a drunken beggar staggering down the street in tattered clothes and said, “Communism would put a NEW SUIT on that man!” But someone in the crowd shouted back, “Yes, but only CHRIST can put a NEW MAN in that suit!”

From my earliest days as a Christian, I have LOVED this particular verse. Because it reminds me that no matter how bad I use to be, all the things I have done, the years of guilt and sin, are dead… buried… gone!

Notice first, the Condition of this newness – Paul says, “IF anyone is in Christ...” Paul had come to realize that all of his best efforts fell short of making him a new man.

Religion might make for outward reformation, but it can never perform inward transformation. No matter how many good things he might have done, no matter how respected he was, or how good he was in comparison to others, only Christ could make him new.

Those words, “in Christ” are used 130 times in the NT. And often those words precede the great blessings that are ours when we give our lives to Jesus. THIS is the condition – if you want a new life, if you want to be forgiven and have a home in heaven, IF you want the very best that God has to offer – you must be “in Christ.”

After the condition, he mentions the Creation of this newness when he calls the man in Christ a “new creation.” He is referring to that place where the Christian life BEGINS - when an individual makes a conscious, conspicuous decision to accept Christ… “at THAT moment, he becomes NEW.”

Can YOU remember a time in your life with absolute assurance that RIGHT THEN, you were made New???

Then THIRD he mentions the Consequences of this newness when he says, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

“Passed away…” You know what THAT means, don’t you? Died. That's what baptism symbolizes… the DEATH of the old man and being raised up totally new.   What ARE some of those things that died when you accepted Christ?

  • The old man of sin died. That person doesn't exist anymore.
  • All the crimes of your past... all the arguments Satan used to discredit and condemn you… ALL the things that stood between you and God – died. 
  • Your old appetites died. There was ONCE a time when you could sin without conscience, but not anymore. NOW you have a new desire. NOW you want to live for the Lord. Now you want to hear His word. You want to spend time with His people. 
  • You don’t run with that old crowd because the old you – died. ALL those times of feeling like you had no purpose or joy – all gone because you have become a NEW creation!

3. But, not only does Paul tell us of His new mind, and how he has become a new man,  third he mentions a New Ministry vv. 18-20, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself... Therefore, WE ARE ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” A new ministry.

Interesting how Paul ONCE preached WRATH – but now preaches Reconciliation! He ONCE told people they COULDN’T be right with God. Now his goal is to tell everyone how they CAN be made right with God.

God sure knew what He was doing when He decided to use people who have benefited from the gospel, to tell others who NEED it. God has given you a message to share. This is not about YOU – it’s about what HE DID FOR YOU! Listen, it doesn’t matter how much you know about the Bible. It doesn’t matter how LONG you have been a Christian – God can use you to reach others as you simply tell them all He has done for you!

Not only CAN you share, YOU MUST!! You are an ambassador. An ambassador is one sent to a foreign country to represent his government and the interests of his government. Sometimes ambassadors are sent to lands that are hostile to our country. And these agents are sent to engage in peace talks with them. THIS, according to Paul, is what God has called YOU to do.

You are a citizen of another country. God has sent you, in the interest of His kingdom, to a hostile world, bearing a peace treaty signed in the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We are sent to arrange peace between God and our friends, families, and neighbors.

THIS is our new ministry. Are you doing it???

So now you understand why I love this passage so much! The fact that God, in His grace and mercy, would save a person as sinful as me???

That He would give me a New Mind, one that desires to please Him.

That He would make me a New Man, cancelling my debt and sin’s power, giving me peace, purpose, and joy.

And to think, I now have a New Ministry??? where I get to tell OTHERS of what the Lord has done for me in the hopes that THEY will accept Christ and be born again??? What a joy to know that God is using US to make a difference in the lives of others – people are being saved… families are being changed… eternities are being affected.

In a very real way, God has taken the rags of our lives and made something new and beneficial of them.

And OH how He longs to do the same for you! It doesn’t matter how you have failed – the Lord still loves you and stands ready to forgive. And it’s not because of how good YOU are – it’s because of how good HE is. The only thing standing between YOU and forgiveness is your willingness to open your heart to Him. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…the door of your heart…and if any man will open the door, I will come into him, and will fellowship with him and he with me.”

Is there any greater thought than the fact that the Lord wants to fellowship with YOU?!?! He wants to make you NEW! Will you open your heart and invite Him in? We are going to give you that chance right now – so that YOUR DIRTY RAGS…might be… TRANSFORMED!!!