In today’s epistle reading Saint Paul uses a phrase that has influenced me pretty much my entire life . . . Paul states to the church in Galatia . . . may I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
The theme of, ‘new creation’ is used throughout the Bible but, especially in Paul’s letters to the churches in the new testament . . . but the one that got my attention was this verse, part of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth . . . 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.
This phrase . . . a new creation . . . became for me a focal point as I struggled in my early teens to know where God was leading me in my life. I thought to myself that, if indeed I was a new creation by accepting Jesus into my heart, why was it that my old self, my will, could not help but show itself at every turn? Why was it that I felt ‘New’ only part of the time?
The thought of a new creation haunted me on many levels as I began to consider why God would save me from death, only to abandon me now and then? How could I put off my inner feelings of self in order to put on the whole armor of God as a soldier of Christ for Christ’s sake? Also I thought, what is a new creation and how could I discern a person who is . . . from one who is not?
During this time of reflection on the word of God, I got the feeling that I wasn’t living up to the promises of God. My faith was weak and my belief was fleeting. At the time, in the mid-eighties I was a life insurance salesman and had a chance to discuss life and death with many people, both young and old. It seems that all people, whether they are believers, or not have questions that need answering . . . and often I found myself ill prepared to answer them. The final straw was a nine year old boy who was killed by car here in West Seneca . . . and as fate would have it, he was insured by our office. It is one thing to deliver life insurance proceeds to the grieving family of an eighty year old who has passed peacefully away in his sleep, but it is quite another to face a grieving mother or father on the accidental death of one of their children. There simply are no words that can be expressed. Again, my faith failed me and I felt it was time for me to leave that job because I knew that I could not fix the circumstances life and death . . . but I knew I could fix other things . . . maybe for a better world.
I left to establish my own company, doing something I really loved to do, which was refinishing old furniture and wood work. And since I was in the business of restoring things to new, I decided to name this venture New Creation & Company. And so for ten years I took what was old, decrepit and abused and restored it to its original shining beauty. Instead of having to explain what could not be, I was able to prove to myself and to my customers the possibilities of what could be, if only they believed.
It was also during this time that I was studying for the diaconate and found it a logical and compelling jump from restoration of wood to reconciliation of a penitent heart, because they were part and parcel much the same thing. I came to the realization that each of us is born with a unique character. We also exhibit a reputation, one (but sometimes more than one) that we choose for others to see. Much like a solid wood door whose character might be maple or oak; its finish can be almost anything from pristine lacquer to worn out, decrepit and old. But regardless of the finish, whatever people might see, the character of the wood remains . . . forever . . . unless it is subjected to abuse, to rot or decay. Jesus came to show us that when one’s character and one’s reputation are equal . . . that is . . . when ‘what you see is what you get’ . . . that is when you are close to being a new creation in the eyes of God.
So how do we go about doing this? How can we know for certain that what I am projecting and what ‘I am’ are coming closer together as an authentic Christian? There is a test and it is the Bible.
As you may already know our modern world detests authority but it worships relevance. So to further use these two words in relation to the Bible is to claim for it one – the authority which many people fear it has, but wish it had not, and two – relevance which many people fear it has not, but indeed, they wish it had. The orthodox Christian conviction in Anglicanism is that the Bible has both authority and relevance – to a degree quite extraordinary in so ancient a book – and that the secret of both is in Jesus Christ. Indeed, John Stott teaches us that we should never think of Christ and the Bible apart from each other. ‘The Scriptures . . . bear witness to me,’ Jesus said (Jn. 5:39), and in so saying he also bore his witness to them. This reciprocal testimony between the living Word and the written Word is the clue to the Christian understanding of the Bible. For our Lord’s testimony to it, assures us of the Bible’s authority, and its testimony to Him of its relevance.
The authority and the relevance are his and his alone.
So when Jesus spoke today in the gospel lesson when he said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”, he was not speaking as a new creation, a person newly born of the spirit, but as the Creator of you and of me and of all things.
And so I found on my own quest that the willing submission to the Bible must be for all of us the starting point if we are to become a New Creation in God’s eyes. For in submission to the truth, the face and reputation we present for others to see is completely stripped away to reveal the character that we sometimes are caused to believe we have to hide from others.
Submission to Scripture is for evangelicals a sign of our submission to Christ, a kind of test of our loyalty to him. Even our incarnate Lord, whose own authority amazed his contemporaries, subordinated himself to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, regarding them as his Father’s written Word. So if the scripture was relevant to Jesus as the authority of God the Father, who are we to deny its relevance in our own lives?
Why do you suppose there are so many detached from the scriptures in our own day if they are indeed the Word of God? Why do so many reject God’s Word but accept the words of others who simply relay conjecture and theory as scientific truth? Could it be because they do not trust the men who wrote the scriptures in the first place?
The men who wrote the Bible were not historians in the modern sense, writing with scientific detachment. They were instead, and in a sense, theologians, writing from a divine perspective. They were not morally and spiritually neutral; but they were deeply committed to God’s cause. The Old Testament history books were once regarded as prophecy, and the four testaments of the life of Jesus are not biographies but gospels written by evangelists (preachers), who were bearing witness to Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John selected and arranged their material according to their own unique theological purpose. Moreover, their purpose arose naturally, much like this sermon, from their individual temperament, their background and their God-given responsibilities to the people of God. Man and message were and are related to each other. To me it is no accident that Amos was the prophet of God’s justice, Isaiah of his sovereignty and Hosea of his love; or that Paul was the apostle of grace, James of works, John of love and Peter of hope; or that Luke, the only Gentile among them, stressed the worldwide embrace of the gospel. The Holy Spirit communicated through each of them a distinctive and appropriate emphasis for each and every one who reads from the Bible’s pages.
From the Psalm today we read . . .
I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
And to those who have ears let them hear. Amen