The Center of Redemptive History Creates in us a New Creature. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

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The Center of Redemptive History Creates in Us a New Creature

2 Corinthians 5:16–21

16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,

19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

21 What kind of cosmic action did it take for God the Father to make God the Son sin for us?  What kind of submission by the Son did it take for him to take on and become our sin before the Father?   The acceptance of God the Father was the only one who mattered.  Jesus did not die to bring the mob to accept Himself. Jesus knew that they would reject Him.  No, Jesus died to become our sin and to take the payment of our sin before the Holy Father.

16 Paul’s former knowledge of Christ would have been his life as a Pharisee where he knew Christ and rejected him. Here Paul is alluding to his former view of Jesus as a blasphemer, whose following he had sought to destroy.


For this One Paul, having died to his former life, now lives, in obedience to his apostolic calling.  This is the One he “now knows” and whom, by inference, he calls upon his readers to know.


17 “if any in Christ new creation – six words, a memorable text of unsurpassed power in the writings of Paul.   In the second sentence the subject of both parts is “the old (things).” The verbs in the two parts are significant.

In the first “passed away” is aorist, indicating a single action, now completed, pointing to the end of the former dispensation, and to the end of the former life of the person who is now in Christ.

In the second “become” is a perfect tense, indicating a past action with continuing effects. The triumphant “look” followed by the perfect tense (“become”) and the antonym “new” combines to make the impressive statement, “behold, (look) the old things have become and are new.”


5:17 “if” This is another FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL sentence (like those in vv. 13 and 16.)

“in Christ” This is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors to describe the Christian. It speaks of our position in Christ.





“new creature”




“new creation”




“new being”


The term ktisis is used in a variety of senses in the NT. The lexicon by Louw and Nida lists the following possibilities.

  1. creation (the act of creation, cf. Mark 13:19; Rom. 1:20; Eph. 3:9)
  2. creature (that which is created alive, cf. Mark 10:6; Rom. 1:25; 8:39; Col. 1:15; 23)
  3. universe (all that was created, cf. Mark 13:19; Rom. 8:20; Heb. 9:11)
  4. institution (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13)
  5. authority (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13)

“the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” Notice the purposeful interchange of verb tenses.

  1. “old things passed away” This is AORIST tense and it refers to a completed act in past time. This refers to conversion.
  2. “new things have come” This is PERFECT tense which refers to a past completed act with abiding results. This refers to discipleship.


This concept of “new” is part of OT terminology for the eschaton. The OT prophets spoke of this new age.

  1. “new things” (cf. Isa. 42:9; 43:19; Jer. 31:22)
  2. “new covenant” (cf. Jer. 31:31–34)
  3. “new heart, new spirit” (Ezek. 11:19; 18:31; 36:26)
  4. “new name” (cf. Isa. 62:2; 56:5; 65:15)
  5. “new song” (cf. Ps. 96:1; Isa. 42:10)
  6. “new heavens and new earth” (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22)


The two sentences together emphasize the eschatological centrality of Christ. “In Christ” the old ends and the new – a new creation – begins.  But this eschatological centrality is tightly connected with the soteriological centrality of Christ. Christ is the “one” who “died and was raised for all,” the “one” in and for whom “all” who have “died” now “live.” The crucified and risen Christ is the divine agent of universal salvation, the divider of history into two aeons and “no longer” aeon when all things were “old” and the “now” aeon when all things have become, and are, “new.”


‘Old things have passed away and, look, new things have come into being.’ His meaning is that for the Christian the present world remains visible but is in principle a thing of the past.  ‘Passed away’ translates a Greek verb signifying the replacement of something that is exhausted and redundant by that which retains its freshness and usefulness


Subjectively, this verse summarizes the changes in Paul’s own life.

  1. Love for others is now his controlling motive in place of self-interest, v. 14, which he had expressed in zealous persecution.
  2. Serving the one who had died and been raised for him has taken the place of self-centered living, v. 15.
  3. True understanding of Christ and of his people has replaced ignorance and error, v. 16.
  4. The Creator who once said, “Let there be light,” has more recently shone his light into Paul’s darkened heart, making him a new creation 4:6.
  5. The subjective personal revelation, experienced “now,” is the sign of the objective “new creation” to be revealed then.

Paul Barnett, NICNT, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Eerdmans, 1997

No longer does Paul regard his Savior as a ‘man of sorrows,’ a fit target for ridicule.  ‘Yet now’ is strong: because there has been an irreversible reversal, so to speak, in the apostle’s thinking he expounds the Lord as ‘Christ’, the divine Messiah rather than simply as ‘Jesus.’


An altered appreciation of the Savior has led to a revised estimate of those who follow Him. The Lord has chosen many who appear to be nonentities so that no man might boast in His presence. 1 Cor 1:27-28. In short, Paul has purposed to know no man in a worldly manner, the way in which he contemplates Jesus determining how he casts his eyes upon the church.  What the saints are in God’s sight is all that matters and truth is that they are ‘in Christ’ v. 17. No one is higher and no one is lower.  Through the lens of the gospel we are all new creatures in Christ not again to be known as we were in the flesh but as who we are in Christ.


The central idea of the new creation is that the believer is a component of the new order into which redemption leads, ‘new’ in ‘new creation’ signifying fulfillment.  Although the church awaits the appearance of the Savior, as indicated powerfully in the earlier part of chapter 5, a co-ordinate reality is that the age to come has already penetrated the present system and has done so in the persons of Christian peopleWe are, as it were, invaders in a doomed territory, simultaneously sounding the death-knell for the old and ringing in the new.  Peter Naylor, A Study Commentary on 2 Corinthians, Evangelical Press, 2002


Paul testifies of new ways of knowing that is “now” possible.  Christ is thus the divider of history; the one who is “in Christ” who has died and been raised, belongs to the “new creation” and in consequence is a “new creation.”

Paul and believers generally are encapsulated within the two great elements in the gospel, Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore anyone who is in Christ is “now” part of the new creation. Christ has overwhelming universal and eschatological significance for those who are “in him” providing Paul with a foundation for all that he will say in the passage following (5:18 – 6:2).

We were all “in the flesh” before Jesus came into our lives.  Paul’s knowledge of Christ before Christ came into his life was different than the Jesus he knew after Christ came into his life.  Prior to conversion the only Jesus Paul knew was the one of the flesh, that is, the Christ talked about who lived and died in Paul’s lifetime. After salvation, Paul knew Christ according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.  The Christ Paul came to know was so much different from the Christ he knew before salvation.  After salvation, Paul did not know Christ according to, or in, the flesh any longer.

So it is with all believers.  Before Christ comes into our lives we are only in the flesh and can only be known as fleshly people.  We dwell in the flesh, live amongst those of the flesh, and have no spiritual understanding.  When Christ comes into our lives He quickens, makes alive, our spiritual being that died in the Garden.  We suddenly find ourselves understanding things we never understood, liking new music centered on Christ, enjoying other Christian people, wanting to be involved in spiritual activities and so on.  We do not know each other according to our flesh any more, thankfully, but we now know each other according to the indwelling, life-giving Spirit of God.  Therefore, we are new creatures!  Who we were has passed away.

Romans 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Redemption allows believers to view all of life and history in a new Christ-centered light. Human history turns into salvation history. Israel’s history must be understood in light of Him![1]

5:18 “Now all these things are from God” It is God’s love that sent the Son into the world (cf. John 3:16). Salvation is totally from God (cf. John 6:44, 65; Eph. 2:8–9), but believers must respond and continue to respond to the new covenant in repentance, faith, and good works (cf. Mark 1:15; John 1:12; Acts 20:21; Eph. 2:10).

“reconciled” This is a major theological truth. The word basically means to exchange or change and thereby to bring together that which was alienated. Rebellious humans have been brought back into fellowship with God through Christ. God exchanged Christ’s righteousness (cf. v. 21) for their sin. Christ died in our place (cf. vv. 14, 21).

This context (vv. 16–21) and Rom. 5:10–11 are the definitive passages on this theological term. Sinners are now friends, even family, with the Holy One. Restoration of the fellowship damaged in the Fall (cf. Gen. 3) has been made complete in Christ.

“and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” Theologically this is parallel to vv. 14–15. Jesus became believers’ reconciliation, now they must become the means of sharing the gospel of reconciliation with others. Believers share in Jesus’ death and we share in His ministry (cf. v. 19). Christlike service is the goal (cf. 1 John. 3:16).[2]


“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” Isaiah 65:17, Paul is saying that the promises made by Isaiah and the rest of the prophets have already begun to be fulfilled.  There is more to come but the new creation has begun in us.

Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the cosmic event which is the culmination of all of redemptive history has come upon us. The new creation has broken into the present age and we experience it in the fact that God is writing his laws upon our hearts and we have come to acknowledge the Lordship of the coming Davidic King.

  • Tell the story of creation, the Fall, sin’s way, God’s way, God’s promise – John 1:29, “It is Finished, Pentecost, the growth of the church leading to the eternal home of the redeemed. Thus, the pinnacle of history was Calvary and the resurrection.  We are made new because of this pinnacle in history.
  • Ultimately, although we were dead in trespasses and sins, we have now been raised from the dead and given new spiritual life so that we no longer evaluate things according to the standards of the old fallen world order.



  • The cross of Christ and His subsequent resurrection truly was the center of the greatest change the world has ever known. We do not glibly say that the resurrection changed everything for indeed it did!  From Adam to Christ man was separated from God and spiritually dead to God.  From Christ forward men and women could be brought back to spiritual life in Christ with full understanding of the difference.  Jesus Christ came to make all things new and in Him we are new creatures.
  • Revelation 21:5 begins with our salvation and continues, at the end of this age when we – new creatures in Christ – are propelled into our new eternity.


Ellicott’s Commentary

The old things of his life, Jewish expectations of a Jewish kingdom, millenial dreams, heathen philosophies, lower aims, earthly standards—these things, in idea at least, passed away from him at the time when he was united with Christ. We may trace an echo of words of Isaiah’s that may have floated in the Apostle’s memory: “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold I make new things” (Isaiah 43:18-19).



  1. The unchangeableness of character, especially of faults. Jeremiah 13:23.
  2. The great hope for individual renewal. 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  3. The completion in a perfectly renewed creation. Revelation 21:5.



  1. Those of us who have come to Christ know how lost we were apart from Him.
    1. You would not have wanted to know me and I would not have wanted to know you. Sin had corrupted our flesh and all who knew us in that condition would have seen areas of our lives that were not desirable.
    2. In that condition, we did not know Jesus Christ other than at Christmas, at Easter and in swear words. We might have known about Jesus but we certainly did not know Him and had no real desire to do so.  ( I wanted to be with friends, be with girls, go to parties where the parents weren’t home, smoke, steal, and act like everyone else I knew.)  Jesus Christ was nice to consider but while I was in my fleshly life I certainly did not know Him.
    3. In that fleshly condition, hanging out with Christians was not something we longed to do. We did not want to hear their preaching, and their goodness was convicting.  If someone we knew really got “saved” they were someone to make fun of and to avoid.  We did not want to know Christians in the flesh.
    4. Although going to hell wasn’t something we wanted, being a real Christian was even less desirable. We were trapped in the flesh with no desire and no way to get to a holy God.  (For me, I knew all of the answers in my head but my heart was cold and rebellious to God.  I was deceived on the one hand was a deceiver on the other.)


  1. When we heard the call of Jesus in our soul and under conviction of sin called out for mercy, God both saved us and made us new creatures to live new lives in Him.
    1. Before salvation I could only look at true Christians with both wonder and ignorance. How could anyone really be like that?  I certainly couldn’t; until the Lord Jesus came in and changed my life putting His desires, His loves, and His hates into me.
    2. Suddenly, I hated who I was before. I grieved over the people I had sinned with and sinned against and sought to make things right with as many as I could. (They now thought I was the crazy one.)
    3. In an instant of time I wanted to follow my new Lord and not my old flesh. And while the transition took some time and is still happening to this day, my life no longer reflects who I was before Christ came in.
    4. Now, I know Christ in the Spirit. His Spirit is in me and communicates with my spirit confirming truth and dispelling doubts and fears.  I now know Christ as His new creation and do so with joy.
    5. Now I know other believers in the Spirit. Those whom I avoided before are now my brothers and sister, my best friends in this life.  We no longer know each other in the sinfulness of our flesh, thankfully, instead we know each other in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the joy of the Lord.
    6. Being one with Christ I am now one with all who are Christ’s who share His Holy Spirit with me. We have instant communion, instant friendship, and instant shared worship of our Saving Lord.


  1. We now see life totally different. We see those around us as we used to be and desire to see them reconciled to God as we now are.
    1. The God who saved us by reconciling us to Himself now works through us to bring the message of reconciliation to someone else.
      1. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. v. 18
      2. We have been made ambassadors of God. v. 20
    2. Christ, the center of time and the center of salvation history, is in us, we are in Him. He who came to seek and save those who are lost wants to use our arms, our legs, our hands, our mouths, our eyes, and our ears to see those separated from Him, go to them, give them His love, and speak to them of His reconciliation.
    3. We are not saved just to go to heaven. Whoever sold you that bill of goods did not understand the purpose of salvation.  We are saved to reconcile others to God the very way that we were reconciled to Him.
    4. The old me had no care for the lost around me, not really. I didn’t want my friends to go to hell but I didn’t want to change so they would.  The new me, the new creature in Christ, sees everyone differently.  Christ looks through my eyes and tells me to care for this one or for that one.  He called me and you to be ministers of His reconciliation.


If you are in Christ today then you are a new creature.  Old things are passing away and all things in your life are continually becoming new.  The old man of sin is no longer in control and the new man, made alive by the Spirit of Christ, is in control as your new Lord.

The question here is not “are you saved?”  The question here is not “are you a church member or have you been baptized?”

The question today is this plain and simple,

  • “Are you a new creation with Christ within?”
  • Has your cold heart of sin been replaced with a new heart of flesh?
  • Are you on your way to heaven because you have a part of heaven already in you?
  • Are you a new creation having been made new by the person of Jesus Christ within your heart and life?


If you answer “yes” to this question, then are committed to the ministry of reconciling others to the Jesus who has reconciled you?  If you are a new creation who has been reconciled to God then the blood flowing through your veins and the impulses pushing through your brain should care that those you know and those you don’t know become this new creation by being reconciled to God.

Are you a new creation, reconciled to God?

[2] Utley, R. J. (2002). Paul’s Letters to a Troubled Church: I and II Corinthians (Vol. Volume 6, pp. 241–242). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

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