We return this morning in our study to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, and the message number four in this section on, “A Ministry of Integrity.” Second Corinthians chapter 5. We began this study with verse 11 and it will take us all the way down to verse 17. As I said last week, the most valuable commodity the preacher possesses, or for that matter the most valuable commodity that the Christian possesses is reputation because reputation is the foundation on which all believability is erected. And believability or trust is essential for authority and it’s essential for influence.
Paul, as you well remember, zealously protected himself from anything that might discredit him. He was concerned to continue his ministry to the very end, to run all the way to the finish line, to complete the task that the Lord had given him. In fact, he told the Ephesian elders at Miletus that he only wanted to finish the work the Lord had given him.
That was his purpose in this world. And in order to do that he had to make sure that his integrity was sustained. And so anything that might discredit him, anything that might shatter people’s trust or destroy his credibility was of great concern. And it should be for any servant of the Lord, or for that matter for any Christian who wants to have an effective ministry and an effective witness.
Now the first feature of such self-protection is to guard yourself from sin, obviously. That is the first feature of self-protection. And Paul expressed that back in 1 Corinthians when he wrote the first letter to the Corinthian church and said that he – he beat his body into submission because he didn’t want to become disqualified. He dealt with the sin in his life. He dealt with it dramatically. He dealt with it drastically. When he says “I beat my body into submission,” it’s almost like the words that Jesus used when He said, “If your right eye offends you, pluck it out. If your right hand offends you, cut it off.”
In other words, deal drastically with sin because of its tremendous impact. And so the first way in which we protect our integrity, of course, is to deal with the sin in our lives, guarding ourselves from iniquity. Spiritual leadership is for those who have pure lives, blameless and above reproach. As the Old Testament says, and it’s God who speaks, “He who walks in a blameless way will minister to Me.”
But secondly – and we haven’t been talking about sin because that’s not the thrust of the text. The second front on which you have to guard your integrity is not only from sin but against false accusation. And this is really true. Anybody who is in the ministry knows this. On the first front, you guard yourself against sin. On the second front, you have to guard yourself from those who would accuse you of iniquity of one kind or another, which accusations are, in fact, false but can be equally destructive. Because if people believe them, it doesn’t matter whether they’re true or not, correct? And so, anybody who wants to maintain a reputation which allows ongoing effective ministry and integrity is going to have to defend himself not only against sin but against the false accusations of those who unjustly accuse him or her of sin.
It was important to Paul not only to guard his life against sin, but to guard his reputation against false accusation and lies. And that is exactly what had happened in Corinth, as we know. And so he writes this letter called 2 Corinthians to defend his integrity. It is important to him that people not believe the lying false teachers who were discrediting him unjustly. So as we have noted many times – and I don’t want to keep going over this, only to remind you and set the framework for our lesson each week – we remember that he wrote the epistle to defend his integrity against these who had infiltrated the church at Corinth and told all kinds of lies about him. They were trying to dethrone him so they could take his place and then teach demonic doctrine.
But as we noted also, defending oneself, including Paul, is a tricky thing since it may provide more ammunition for your adversaries because they then may say, “Well, you see how proud he is, you see how self-commending he is, you see how self-exalting he is.” And so they would accuse you further of being self-serving, self-commending and use your best efforts at defending your integrity against you. So Paul is caught in that very delicate condition. He must defend his integrity for the sake of his future ministry and the honor of his Lord. At the same time, he does not want to be seen as self-serving and anything other than meek and humble.
He has been attacked with lies and when he responds to those lies by affirming the truth, he is attacked again as one who commends himself for selfish reasons. And he even had to answer that. And so we know now that if he is going to continue to have a ministry of integrity and believability and credibility and impact and power and influence, people must believe in him. And so what he does in this letter is reveal his motives.
If I were to title this – this letter with one simple title, I would title it, “A heart wide open,” a heart wide open. He says that here. He says, “Our heart is wide open.” And that is exactly what this letter is doing. He’s just pulling at – back everything and saying take a look at the depths of my heart and see the integrity there. My conscience is clear. My life is pure. My motives are clean. And he reveals that in these tremendous chapters of this epistle. Here he gives the motives, the incentives, the reasons for his ministry. And we’re looking then at a very important passage right in the middle of this letter in which he shows us the motives for a defense of his integrity.
Why would he be so concerned to defend himself? We’ve been learning that. Let’s go back to verse 11 and just pick it up there, the little phrase, “we persuade men,” near the front of the verse is the key. He’s not talking about preaching the gospel or preaching some doctrine. He’s talking about persuading people about his integrity. He’s talking about answering the lying critics. We persuade men, we endeavor to make this persuasion for a number of reasons.
Reason number one, reverence for the Lord, verse 11, “Knowing the fear of the Lord,” or having reverence, or respect, or worship for the Lord. He desired to exalt the worthy One he worshiped with a life that was given in devotion and unending faithful service. And so it was his desire to honor the Lord and exalt the Lord that caused him to defend his integrity. He would never want to do anything to bring – bring reproach upon the Lord he loved.
Secondly, concern for the church. We saw that in verse 12. He wanted his friends to be able to speak in his behalf and to defend his integrity for the sake of the unity of the church, the growth of the church and the witness of the church. So he says “We’re not trying to commend ourselves to you. We’re just giving you an occasion to be proud of us.” In other words, we want to arm you to answer the critics “that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.” And this was all for the sake of the unity and the witness of the church.
Thirdly, he was motivated by devotion to the truth. The false teachers had accused him of being a fanatic, zealous, even passionate to the point where he was insane. And he said if it’s true that I am beside myself, it is for God. And when we are of sound mind, it is for you. In other words, he was saying the truth is the issue here. We preach it with passion because it comes from God. We quietly, calmly, meekly and patiently try to get it into your lives because it’s so important for you as you live. He was committed to the truth from God and that’s where he got his zeal for people and that’s where he developed his patience. And so he says everything was for the sake of the truth.
Reverence for the Lord, concern for the church, devotion to the truth. And then last time, we looked at the fourth one of these motives, gratitude to the Savior. In verse 14, remember now, he said, “For the love of Christ constrains us, having concluded this that One died for all, therefore all died.” He is so grateful for the love of Christ that saved him that he must continue to serve the Lord with integrity. He was overwhelmed by the love that Christ exhibited because Christ died for him when he was yet a sinner. When Jesus died, he died for Saul of Tarsus. When Jesus died on the cross, the sins of Saul of Tarsus were in him. He paid the penalty for Saul’s sins. He substituted His death for Saul’s death and all others who died in Him.
This was an overwhelming love. This was an overpowering grace to a blasphemer who hated the very Christ who died for him. It was the love of Christ that would not let him go, as the hymn writer said when he said, “O love that will not let me go.” In a sense, I guess, Paul really had no choice. It was like he was in a vice. He was held fast by the love of Christ. He was pressured by it. It is more than a sort of a categorical imparity of – imperative of duty. It is the magnet of an irresistible love. He has yielded himself to that love and he is driven by it. It’s, I suppose, like a mother who is the slave of her sick child, not out of duty but out of affection. She cannot help herself because she has a mother’s heart. It was this kind of pressure, this kind of high pressure that created a mighty energy in the life of Paul.
Because the Lord had loved him so greatly, he loved in return. And the love for the – the Lord had for him pressed against him hard. It harassed him so that he had no rest, save in pushing on for Christ. Christ’s love let him have no peace, no rest. Therein you see the master passion in the ministry of Paul. Now, it was that love that drove his whole life. To be loved so greatly elicited from him an immense amount of gratitude. So he defended his integrity out of reverence for the Lord, concern for the church, devotion to the truth and gratitude to the Savior for His love.
Let’s come to number five then, this morning. He defends his integrity out of desire for righteousness, out of desire for righteousness. This follows clearly the previous point and is inextricably linked to it. Christ not only died for us, as he says in verse 15, and we died in Him, but He also rose again for us and we rose in Him. Look at verse 15. “And He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
Now, let me just help you to see the tremendous truth that’s in this verse. He died for all. That is “He died for all who died in Him” – as we saw in verse 14 – “that they who live” – now, what does that presuppose? That death was not permanent. If you died in Him, you would also rise in Him because He rose. So he says He died for all that they who having died in Him and now live should no longer live for themselves but for Him, the One who died and rose again on their behalf, or as their substitute.
This takes you immediately back to Romans 6 again where Paul goes through this with such clarity. “Do you not know” – verse 3 – “that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been immersed into his death. Therefore we have been buried with Him into death” – in order that, verse 4 – “as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.”
Verse 8, “If we died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Verse 10, “For the death that He died He died to sin once for all, but the life that He lives He lives to God, even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” So you die in Him, you rise in Him. That is the marvelous miracle of salvation. When Christ died, those for whom He died, those for whom He was a substitute died in Him and rose in Him and now live in new life.
Paul meant that very thing also in Galatians in that familiar text – we go back to it so often. He says in verse 19 of Galatians 2, “through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” So he died and he lives. But it’s not anymore just Paul. In fact, it’s Christ living in me. I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me. That is the heart of what Christian truth teaches, Christian doctrine. You have died, Colossians 3:3, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life is revealed, you also will be revealed with Him in glory. You died in Him, you rose in Him, you’ll be glorified. That’s the simple truth here. Our dying in Christ was not only a dying to sin, but it was a resurrection – here’s the key – to righteousness. Because now that we’re alive in Christ and we have a new nature and a new life and the Spirit dwells in us, we live not for ourselves. He says they no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again as their substitute on their behalf. It is a tremendous thing to realize that when you died in Christ, you rose to live a righteous life. We no longer live for ourselves.
That’s why Paul would say in Acts 20 again, it doesn’t matter what happens to me. It really doesn’t matter. I don’t count any of these things a concern to me because I don’t consider my life dear unto myself. My life doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I do what God has committed me to do. All that matters is that Christ lives through me. And so he says, “For me to live is Christ.” That’s all, that’s all that matters. His will, His purpose, His goals, His glory, His honor, His purposes, His truth. That’s all, nothing more, nothing else. Saul of Tarsus is truly gone, dead, buried and Paul the Apostle lives and it is a new creation with a new direction.
So living for self was forever gone and the – the people in Corinth needed to know that. They needed to know against all these accusations that he was not selfish, he was not self-commending, he was not self-aggrandizing, he was not in this thing for his own achievement, his own prestige, his own wealth, or whatever else. He will defend his integrity against these liars so that he can continue to demonstrate that he lives for Christ because that is the model.
What did he say? “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ,” he told the Corinthians. Back in chapter 11 of the first letter, “Be ye followers of me because I am following Christ.” He is everything. If I live I live to the Lord, if I die I die unto the Lord. Whether I live or die I’m the Lord’s. That’s all there was in his life. There was nothing else but to live for Christ. The life I live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me. And so, like all true Christians, Paul lived for Christ. The question is only a question of degree, and he lived for Christ to the maximum degree.
If you take away his integrity, if you destroy his integrity, then his reason for living is crippled. If he is seen as one who dishonors Christ and lives selfishly, then you have broken his heart because the most important thing in his whole life was to live for Christ. And if you say he’s not, you have cut him most deeply. In fact, in Philippians 3:14 he says, “I press on toward the goal which is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” And what is that goal and what is that prize? To be like Christ. All he ever wanted was to be like Christ. That was the goal, that was the prize. That’s what he pursued.
Certainly Peter had this clear focus in mind when he said in 1 Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body,” – there’s the idea of substitution again – “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” That’s it. And it’s not just that now we want to, it’s now we can because we have a new nature, a new creation, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It’s the same thing Paul had in mind in Titus 2:14, it says that “Christ Jesus gave Himself for us” – there’s that substitution idea again – “that he might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
He didn’t only want to save us from hell, He wanted to transform us into pure and righteous people. It’s the same as Ephesians 2:10, “We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” He died on our behalf. That took care of our sin. He rose on our behalf. That took care of our righteousness. And Paul is defending his integrity by saying, “I only live for the Lord, I only live for righteousness’ sake, not for myself.” Anything less than that was unacceptable to him. He wants to continue to serve the Lord with every part of his being. He wants to continue to offer himself as a living sacrifice. He defends his integrity because he wants to live for his Lord and he doesn’t want anybody to think he’s not.
And again that’s almost like the first point when he talked about reverence for the Lord. And I mentioned at the time that one of the hardest things to deal with when people criticize you is the assumption that you have selfish motives. That is a very difficult thing to deal with. I remember that one time in the patio out here, a number of years ago a man walked up to me who happened to be at the time an elder at Grace Church here, and he looked me in the eye and he just said to me, “I want you to know there’s something I know and not many people know it. But I know it and that is you are in the ministry for the money.”
Now that was a shock to me, first of all, especially about twelve years ago when we were just kind of making ends meet. But what shocked me so much was, I asked him, “Could you demonstrate why you feel that way,” because I was so devastated by that statement. And he didn’t have any facts, it was just some intuition or – or some criticism he had picked up somewhere. And I went away thinking, “I’m absolutely helpless if someone is going to try to destroy me on the basis of the – of the reason – of the fact that they think they know my motives,” right? You could assign any motive you want.
How can a man defend himself when his motives are attacked? Because that’s not visible. I’ll tell you one thing, I went away and I went before the Lord and said, “Lord, if there’s anything in my life that would indicate that that is indeed a motive, You’ve got to deal with me.” But when your motives are attacked and you search your own heart and you can’t find that kind of motive there, it becomes a very distressing thing because now the assumption is that instead of living for righteousness, you’re living for yourself. And as soon as people begin to believe that, that is the end.
And so Paul has to defend himself against such an attack on his integrity that would say he lives for himself when, in fact, he lives for the Lord. Frankly, no one had any legitimate reason to question his sincerity or his virtue. But they did. And he answers them. He was compelled to live a life of integrity by reverence for the Lord, concern for the church, devotion to the truth, gratitude to the Savior and then the point I just gave you, desire for righteousness. He says, “He died for all those who died in Him, that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” All of us know that we live for Him. Well, there could be more said about that but let me get you to the last point.
One final motive for defending himself. And this one is so important I wanted to spend a significant portion of our time this morning on this. His last reason for defense – and, by the way, I originally told you there were five, but I added this one. I pulled this passage in to the prior one because I think it belongs there. The last one is the sixth, burdened for the lost, burdened for the lost. You know, when you come right down to it, in the end all of the rest of these defenses of his integrity are so that he can continue to minister with the effect that people are going to be converted, right? I mean, in the end that’s the whole reason.
The – the very reason that he wanted to carry on his ministry in reverence to the Lord, concern for the truth, and the church, the reason that he wanted to, out of gratitude to the Savior, give his life, the reason he wanted to live a righteous life was in order that he might reach lost people. He had a compassion for sinners. We know that. He had a tremendous burden for those who were headed to hell. That longing for their conversion is expressed, by the way, in many places. And I’m not going to take the time to give you all of them, but I will just suggest it to you. This man was a very passionate man. He had the heart of an evangelist, he wanted to see people come to Christ.
In Acts 17:16, here’s a good indication of it. “While Paul was waiting for them at Athens,” – he’s all alone here, there’s no committee, no one is observing him, no one is listening to him, he’s not with anybody, he’s all alone and here is a commentary inspired by the Holy Spirit and it says – “his spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols.” He tore him up to see a city of unconverted idolatrous people, so he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present. He couldn’t keep silent. And so, he went after the Jews and he went after the Gentiles, reasoning with them about the things of God and about the gospel.
In Romans chapter 1 he says in verse 13, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you and have been prevented thus far in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” What is that? That’s converts, people who are converted, saved. He said I wanted to come in order to have some fruit. “I’m under obligation to Greeks and barbarians, to wise and foolish, thus for my part I’m eager to preach the gospel to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” See, he was a very passionate evangelist and he wanted to preach the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 in verse 17, he said, “Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” And even though they called it foolishness, he preached it anyway. In chapter 2, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and I came not with a superiority of speech or wisdom, but simply speaking of Christ.”
In the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians, again you get this same picture. Verse 16, “If I preach the gospel I have nothing to boast of, I’m under compulsion. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” I have a stewardship entrusted to me, he says in verse 17. And then, perhaps, most telling of all, back to the book of Romans in chapters 9 and 10, two very direct statements. Chapter 9, “I’m telling the truth,” – verse 1 – “in Christ, I’m not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Why? “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren.”
That is – that is passion when you can wish that you could give up your own salvation for the salvation of those of your own people. Wow. Chapter 10 of Romans, “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” Now he had a burden for the lost. He had a passion to see people converted. And if he lost his integrity and lost his credibility and his influence, then he would lose the ability to be impactful as a preacher of the gospel.
Now, let’s go back to our text. The passage I’m about to show you, in verses 16 and 17, is indeed one of the most unique in this whole epistle. It is a marvelous passage. And it tells us – listen carefully – when that burden for the lost began. When did Paul begin to feel this way? Verse 16, “Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh, even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” Now that is a very interesting verse. The word “therefore” points to a consequence from the previous. The previous verse about having died and we died in Him; Christ then coming alive, we live in Him and we are now not living for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
Therefore, from now on – the point being, since we were in Christ redeemed, since we died and rose again and entered new life, therefore from then on – since the time of conversion, is what he’s saying. Since the time when he entered into the substitutionary provision of Jesus Christ personally by faith, since his salvation, since the moment of his conversion he has begun to walk in newness of life. And at the very time he began to walk in newness of life, from then on, we recognize no man according to the flesh, or literally we know, oida, we know nobody according to the flesh.
What does he mean? He says since conversion we no longer evaluate people externally. Got that? By virtue of this new life has come a new oida, a new knowledge. And that new knowledge, or that new perspective is a spiritual knowledge, spiritual sight. And he is saying we no longer see people purely from the outside. We no longer see them purely from the physical perspective. In fact, for believers, all of our evaluations, all of our judgments, all of our assessments of people which were once simply in the light of their physical appearance, their topical superficial behavior, their social orientation, their personality, that’s not how we evaluate them anymore. No more.
That’s how unregenerate people evaluate. We can’t do that anymore. You can be introduced to somebody who is a very lovely person, a very gracious person and, perhaps, a very refined person and everything about them charms you. But as a believer, when they go away there is one profound lingering question in your mind. And that question has nothing to do with their social graces, and it has nothing to do with how they are dressed or what they do or how they fit into your world. It has to do with their relationship to whom? To God. Because you can’t any longer see people purely in the flesh.
You may have a neighbor who is very kind. You may have an illness in your family, the neighbor comes over and does everything beyond the call of duty to show a love and kindness to you and you may feel very, very attracted and affectionate toward that neighbor, but you will never in your mind be contented. In fact, the more affection you feel the more distress you will feel until that neighbor you know has a right relationship to the living God. Is that not true? Because you don’t view people that way any longer. You can’t take people at face value. You can’t just walk away and say, “Well, that’s really a great person.” In fact, perhaps the more impressed you are about them, the more deeply burdened you are for them.
You may have the same situation on the other side of the social scale. You may see someone who is a derelict, who is a bum on the streets, who is a drug – or a drug addict or an alcoholic, and you can’t just sort of push them aside and say, “Ah, those kind of people, we need to put them somewhere and get them off the streets and get them out of the way.” You can’t treat those people superficially either. When you look at them there’s an ache in your heart, isn’t there, because you understand the implications of their life style for eternity. We don’t see people according to the flesh.
And Paul is saying I don’t judge anybody that way anymore. That is all in the past. Back in verse 12, you remember, he said there are those people who take pride in appearance and are not concerned about the heart, but I’m not one of those people. I’m not satisfied with the outside. That is not enough. That is not sufficient. I’m concerned about the inside. There are those who – he’s talking about the Pharisees in Galatians 6:12 who liked to make a good show in the flesh. False teachers apparently are trying to judge this way. In Paul’s case, you remember they said his – his speech is contemptible and his personal presence is really unimpressive.
But Paul doesn’t see them the way they see him. Since his transformation in Christ, from now on, he says, from that time on, no longer can I estimate people according to worldly standards. No longer do I see people the way I once saw them. You know how I used to see them? I used to see them like I saw myself, circumcised the eighth day, of the nation Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, zealous for the Law, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, right? All that external stuff. And he says when I came to Christ, I saw all that as dung, Philippians 3, manure, filth, garbage, rubbish. I don’t see people that way anymore.
Now, that had tremendous implications. In fact, as he looked out over the world of his own day, he saw things differently as every believer did. First of all, he would no longer – no longer resent Gentiles the way Jews historically did. The ancient order of prejudice and hate was out of his heart. In its place there came a new love for men of whatever race. In Christ Jesus, there was neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, male nor female.
The middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was broken down by the cross of Christ and Paul felt himself a debtor both to the Jew and the Greek, to the Greek and the barbarian. It was the crowning glory of his ministry that he was a Jew who went to the synagogue in order that he might gain a group of Jews for Christ that could evangelize the Gentiles and make of the two one body. This is a complete revolution in Paul’s world. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Greeks despised those barbarous outsiders. The proud Romans scorned those whom they conquered. There were all kinds of social barriers. But those all disappeared and Paul just saw eternal souls.
Furthermore, he could no longer judge by external features. He looked at the heart to discern its spiritual condition. Even among believers he couldn’t be content with some superficiality. That’s why he wrote these passionate letters. It wasn’t enough for the Corinthians to be converted. He wanted them fully sanctified. And when he writes to the Colossians, he says that he is so devoted to that that he will continue to admonish every man and teach every man with all wisdom in order to present every man complete in Christ. He has a whole new perspective, completely transformed. He is deeply burdened for souls now.
Now, in further discussion of his argument here, look what he says in verse 16, “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” And that’s what changed everything. You see, once he had a human acquaintance with Jesus, does that mean that he met Him personally? No. It just means that he made a human assessment of him. He had come to a conclusion about Jesus as a man. We have known Christ according to the flesh.
All he knew was there was this Jewish man named Jesus who created a tremendous amount of furor among the Jews because He contradicted the Law and the prophets. At least they thought He did. He intruded into their temple activities, even overturning the tables and throwing out the money changers several times. He was an insurrectionist and a rebel and a heretic, according to Paul.
He simply judged the human Jesus. He judged Him as a man worthy of death. And not only was He worthy of death but so was everybody who followed Him. Paul from the human viewpoint concluded that Jesus was a false Messiah, that this man was not the true Messiah. He never overthrew the yoke of Rome, He never led an insurrection or a rebellion against Rome, He led one against the Jews religiously. He was a blasphemer, He was a dangerous teacher of heresy and everybody who followed Him was worthy of death.
That was his human assessment of Jesus and so he gave his life to making sure he carried it out by imprisoning and executing Christians. In fact, back in Acts 26 where he gives his testimony before Agrippa, he says, “I thought to myself” – in verse 9 – “that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem. And not only I – did I lock up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.”
It may well have started, by the way, with the stoning of Stephen because they laid their garments at the feet of this very man, Paul, when they were stoning Stephen; took their cloaks off so they could throw the rocks with more freedom. “I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme and being furiously enraged at them I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” Amazing, isn’t it, how passionate he was? All of this, you see, because he made an assessment of Christ that was purely human. So, he says we have known Christ according to the flesh.
But the assessment of Saul the Pharisee was quite different than the assessment of Paul the apostle. Yet he says at the end of verse 16, “Now we know Him thus no longer.” We don’t have that view anymore of Jesus, no longer do I view Jesus as a Galilean Jew who was the enemy of Judaism, who deserved to die as did all of His followers. No longer since becoming a believer. Now he says He is God incarnate, the Savior, the Lord of heaven and He is the only one who can deliver men from sin and I see men as sinners and thus comes the compulsion for ministry.
This new knowledge of Jesus Christ then which he gained on the Damascus Road, remember? And what happened? When he was blinded by Jesus and fell into the dirt he said, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” And, all of a sudden, the One who had been designated as a heretic was designated as Lord. And when his assessment of Jesus changed, his assessment of everybody else changed too. Now, he realizes what is really at stake. Eternal souls.
That takes us to verse 17, a very familiar, very popular verse committed to memory by many, “Therefore,” – and the therefore tells us the sequence is coming just one after another, “Therefore,” in verse 16, “Therefore” in verse 17. So it goes back to verse 15 where Christ died and we died with Him, where He rose and we rose in Him, and that new life causes us never to see anybody else the same. And it also causes us to realize, in verse 17, “If any man is in Christ he is a new creature, the old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”
What is this? This is just the most obvious response, the most obvious conclusion from verse 15. Listen carefully. If the death and resurrection of Christ had such a profound change, produced such a profound change in Paul’s life, therefore, he concludes if any man is in Christ, he’ll have the same kind of profound change. Old things will pass away and new things come. What’s he saying? He’s saying I realized at the very beginning that what had happened in me could happen in any man who was in Christ. You see that? That what had happened to me could happen to any man in Christ and would, no matter who she is or who he is, no matter how wicked.
And God delights in – in taking the chief of sinners, blasphemers, the worst, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors. Here is the wideness of God’s mercy that gave Paul his evangelistic commission, I concluded that if any man is in Christ he also will be a new creature, just like I was. And that’s how he began to view everyone. Either they were or they weren’t in Christ. What Paul had experienced, any man in Christ could experience. This new knowledge, this new perception, this new wisdom. Now, you – you had spiritual insight. You didn’t live for temporal things, you didn’t live for earthly things, you didn’t evaluate people on the – on the surface.
You – you lived for the Kingdom, you lived for Christ and you saw people at the heart and you saw them in their relationship to God, not in their relationship to each other. This new life is for any man who is in Christ. That’s the key. That’s the key, being in Christ. Being united to Christ, as Romans 3:26 says, that He is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ you are in Christ, His substitutionary death is your death and His resurrection life is your life, and now you live a new life. And in that new life, he says as clearly as possible, you are a new creature, you’re a new creature.
The expression “in Christ” sums up briefly and as profoundly as possible the inexhaustible significance of man’s redemption. It speaks of our security in Him who has Himself borne in His own body the judgment of God against our sin. It speaks of acceptance in Him with whom alone God is well pleased. It speaks of assurance for the future in Him who is the resurrection and the life and the guarantee of our inheritance. It speaks of the inheritance of glory in Him who is the only begotten Son, is the sole heir and, therefore, we inherit only in Him.
It speaks of participations in – participation in the divine nature in Him who is the everlasting Word. “In Christ.” And when you’re in Christ, you’re a new kainos, new in quality. Not just new in sequence, new in quality, new in creation, at a new level of excellence. “New creation” is a term Paul loves. He used in it Galatians 6:15, “Neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision but a new creation, that’s everything.” A new creation. That’s what God wants to do, recreate you in Christ. In fact, in Ephesians 4:24 he calls it “putting on the new self.”
The rabbis, by the way, in the Old Testament era, and even in more modern times used this term “new creature” to describe someone whose sins were forgiven. Paul may have used it with that in mind because it does encompass the forgiveness of sins since they were paid for in the death of Christ as our substitute. So dying and living with Christ has made Paul new. It has made him new. It has given him new knowledge. He will never view Christ the same and he will never view people the same, and anyone in Christ will have the same newness. The whole world changes, doesn’t it? Everything changes. In fact, he says it as simply as he can, “The old things passed away, new things have come.”
Now this newness, by the way, is a reality but it’s a process. And the ever-increasing understanding of this newness and expression of this newness is what we call “sanctification.” And it goes on until glorification when the fullness of that newness becomes reality. But look at the little phrases with which he closes verse 17, “old things passed away.” Now you don’t need to get too particular here, too specific. What he means is when spiritual issues became real, when spiritual sight became clear, when we who used to be dead were now alive to the spiritual realm, when we saw Christ for who He really was and we see people for who they really are, old ideas and old values and old plans and old loves and old passions and old desires and old principles and old beliefs are gone. They’re gone.
It doesn’t mean no more evil or no more sin. It just means that God has planted new desires and new loves and new inclinations and new appetites and new truths and new values, and they are nourished and developed and they triumph over the remaining flesh as we continue to be transformed into the image of Christ. You know, you need to keep that in mind. Sometimes people talk about being a Christian. And when you confront them with being a Christian it’s not – it’s not atypical for them to say something like, “Well I’d have to give up so much.”
And the illustration that I often use with people like that is, “Well let me tell you. Just imagine you have a table, take the biggest table in your house, put everything on it that has value, or write it down. Put it in a big list and then give it a value. On that table you’ve got this and this has so much value, and your job, your career, your children, your house, or your friends, your experiences of vacation, your possessions, your car, whatever. Your bank account, your savings, your insurance, whatever you have in your life. And maybe you even want to put honesty and uprightness because you learned that from your parents. Just put everything that’s on your table and give it a price.
Now when you become a Christian if you think that what you’re going to do is have to throw away all that stuff that has so much value, you’re wrong. What’s going to happen is, as soon as you are in Christ, immediately God will give you new price tags. And all of a sudden everything will be reevaluated. And you won’t give up anything, you’ll reevaluate everything. And that’s exactly what he means here. Old things pass away. The old ideas and values and plans and loves and desires and passions are gone.
I mean, was there ever a more passionate man than Paul before he was converted? Yes, Paul after he was converted. But his passion was redirected, new price tags, new values, everything gets reevaluated. I mean, you look at the average non-Christian and they look to becoming a Christian and they’ve got – let’s say they put on their little table of values, church, zero; reading Bible, zero; prayer, zero. I don’t want to do all that stuff. I’ll have to turn that in for going to the bar three times a week and the things I really – but the point is, all the – all the price tags change and all the stuff is completely reversed in terms of its value.
The other side of it is expressed “new things have come,” it’s a perfect condition in the Greek which means it’s a continuing condition of fact. New understanding of spiritual reality, new understanding of spiritual truth, new understanding of time, new understanding of eternity. We now live for eternity, not time. All of a sudden now we can say with the psalmist in Psalm 119:97, “O how I love Thy law.” The one who is in Christ sees all things new, he has a new outlook on everything. And this is the true perception, by the way, this is reality.
We, as Christians, live in the midst of the old creation but we have a new creation perspective. That’s why we are told again and again to set our affections on things above and not on things on the earth, Colossians chapter 3. The old world is gone, all of its standards, motives, judgments, values are gone and a whole new world exists for us. God’s perfect standard of holiness is before us and to it we look. We don’t meet it, but we seek it.
I was trying to think of a way to illustrate that. And I thought that God’s perfect standard for us now is like the stars. You’ll never be able to touch them and that’s okay, with your hands. But like so many navigators through the centuries, you can look to them as your guide and if you follow them you’ll reach your destiny. God’s truths are the stars by which we navigate. We don’t touch them. We never reach perfection in this life, we’ll touch them in the life to come. But we follow the path that they lay out for us to our destiny.
Well Paul had experienced all of this, you see. This total transformation just totally overturned his entire life. And he realized that it could happen to anyone in Christ. And so it became the thing for which he lived, to bring people the gospel so they could believe and be so transformed as he was. Is that reason enough to defend your integrity? I mean, that’s all he lived for.
And so, he defends his integrity out of reverence for the Lord, concern for the church, devotion to the truth, gratitude to the Savior, desire for righteousness in his own life, and to fulfill his burden for the lost. Right there in this almost center of this epistle you get in touch with a heart wide open. Accuse me, if you will, here’s my motives. And I’ll defend myself not for my sake but for the sake of these grand and glorious truths. His motives were pure. He was a person of integrity.
This, beloved, is the kind of integrity to which all of us need to aspire. And that’s why Paul could say so confidently to the Corinthians – and I close with this. “Do not go on passing judgment, don’t you pass judgment before the time, wait till the Lord comes who will bring both to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” Don’t you judge me, don’t you judge my motives, leave that to God. But here they are as honestly and truthfully as I can give them to you. His motives for all that he did in his life were pure. The question is are yours? Are mine? We can’t settle for anything less. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You so much for this tremendous insight into a man who has by Your inspired Holy Spirit, by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit been set up as our example because he said, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” Lord, we would have such passion from within, such reverence for You, such concern for the church, such devotion to the truth, such gratitude to the Savior for the love that sent Him to the cross to die in our place, such desire for righteousness and such a burden for the lost that we would maintain integrity at all costs on the first front which is dealing with sin in our life, on the second which is dealing with those accusations that are false.
I pray, Lord, that You’ll save all Your faithful people not only from sin but from false accusation so that their life is not discredited and so that they can go on and have an effective ministry and discharge the stewardship You’ve given to them. Thank You, Father, for all that You are doing and continue to do as Your truth works in us. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
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