Developments in genetic engineering, mapping the human genome, gene therapies for treating diseases, and cloning frequently grab the news headlines. Whether such discoveries and technologies are a blessing or a curse continues to be debated. Certainly human understanding about the creation and formation of living things has reached new levels. The discovery of DNA and the way it determines our human development marked a significant turning point.
As Paul concludes his letter to the churches in Galatia, he summarizes his key point with these words: “for neither circumcision is anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (kaine ktisis)” (6:15). This assertion explains why he “boasts in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world stands crucified to me and I to the world” (6:14). For Paul a person’s rescue from this present evil age lies in identity with the Messiah’s death and resurrection. Only in this way can a person enjoy new life of an eternal quality. Out of this spiritual death arises the promise and power for new life – a new creation.
A quick scan of Paul’s letter reveals his preoccupation with this idea of a Jesus follower being a ‘new creation’. In the very first verse he described God as “the One Who raised him [Jesus] from the dead” (1:1). When describing his own conversion, Paul acknowledges that God “consecrated me from my mother’s womb” (1:15). The language of life and death describes how Paul in Christ no longer is dominated by the Law, but rather “lives for God” (2:19). The result is that “I no longer am living, but Messiah lives in me” (2:20). Consequently his present life is energized “by faith in the son of God”. In 4:6 the believer’s new status as an adopted ‘son of God’ arises because “God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’”. Paul uses the dramatic image of the Messiah being formed in the believer like an embryo (4:19). The reference to Hagar and Sarah focuses upon the believer’s identity with her son Isaac, “born according to promise” (4:23). His quotation of Isaiah 54:1 uses language of conception and birth. At the end of his letter, then, his definition of a Christian as “a new creation” coheres with these ideas of resurrection, the Messiah alive in him, sonship, the references to Isaac the promised child.
What does Paul want to emphasize through this final, powerful definition of a believer as “a new creation”? First, he demonstrates the essence of salvation. God in Christ is intent on re-creating people. He is not content to merely reform us; God intends to re-create us in the image of Christ. Second, Paul argues that Christianity is totally distinct from paganism and Judaism. The old traditions, rituals and beliefs are bankrupt and cannot deal with our ‘curse’. Third, I think Paul emphasizes the eschatological reality of our being in Christ. God has prepared us to participate with Him in his eternal purpose that extends beyond this age and into the next. Our baptism into Christ marks our transition into this state and condition. Finally, Paul wants believers to realize their new ethical ability and responsibility. Their new creation places within them a new DNA, a desire and empowerment to “walk in the Spirit”.
Research has revealed that in the embryo’s genes are packed all of the genetic information that will characterize the individual. When we repent and receive the offer of salvation from God that is based upon the sacrifice of Jesus, God plants a new DNA within us. The Messiah is able to live his life through us. God’s Spirit indwells us. The result is that our life expresses the character of the Messiah, the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit. While we still feel the influence of “this present evil age” because we continue to exist in this world, connected to it by our earthly existence, nevertheless we do not have to cater to “the desires of the flesh”, the sinful inclination.
Paul summarizes his idea later in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he declares that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come.” Because of what God has done for us, we live no longer for ourselves, but “for him who died for [us] and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today,
- consider the various ways in which your ‘new creation’ has changed the way you live and act.
- how does the idea of the believer as ‘a new creation’ link with other ways of defining our salvation – justification, covenant, rescue?
- if we are already ‘new creations in Christ’, how should this affect the way we view death?
- how can this concept of ‘new creation’ help you share your faith with another person? What hope does it enable us to offer through the Gospel?