During our Wednesday night Bible study, we have been going through our church doctrinal statement. After many months, we are close to being finished with our revisions and amendments. For me, this has been a good time to study what we believe and to compare it with what God says in the Bible. Our most recent study covered a section called “the righteous and the wicked.” This part of our doctrinal statement shows the distinction the Bible makes between righteous and wicked people.
In the middle of our proposed statement, we have this. “God considers those who are in Christ to be righteous (2 Cor. 5:17-21) and those who continue in sin and unbelief to be wicked (Col. 1:21; John 8:23-24).” As we studied through 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, I was amazed at Paul’s teaching on the subject. We sinful people are considered to be righteous… even though we are not.
I later posted my thoughts online and had a number of responses that emphasized how uncomfortable people are with claiming to be righteous. We read the Scriptures and see the difference between the righteous and the wicked but know ourselves too well to want to claim to be righteous. And yet, God says that we are. But He adds an important thought to the explanation with the words, “in Him.”
That “in Him” statement is used multiple times in 2 Corinthians 5. In each case, it is used to show us that what we have as Christians is all because of Jesus. We are dead in Him. We are a new creation in Him. We are reconciled in Him. We are righteous in Him. You get the idea that we wouldn’t have anything if it were not for Him. This is true.
As we look at each of the statements, consider what God is saying and what you have in Jesus.
- We are dead in Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
Summary: Looking at what Jesus did for us tells us two things. First, since Jesus died for all, then all of us have died. In other words, since Jesus was dying as our representative, God now views every believer as having died on the cross with Him—we no longer deserve to die for our sins because we are dead in Him on the cross. Secondly, if Jesus died for us, we ought to be compelled by His love to live for Him instead of ourselves.
Before this death in Him and life for Him can make sense, we need to backup and think about our spiritual situation without Jesus. According to God, as revealed in the Bible, each of us is a sinner against God who deserves to die. And this rebellion against God comes with a cost. The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” How did this come about?
It all goes back to Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve sinned against God and were sentenced by God to eventually die. That sentence was given not only to them but was passed on to all of the human race. “When Adam was … in the garden of Eden, he was our federal head… . Adam deliberately disobeyed God. He came under the sentence of death, and when he did that, he took the entire human race down with him, for all were represented in him. You and I have been born into a family of death. All mankind now is under the sentence of death” (McGee 110-11).
With that in mind, we sinful people need God’s help to escape the judgment we deserve for our sins against Him. So let’s look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.
a. Because of Jesus, we died (14).
The first thing he tells us is that Jesus died for all.
That should be a comforting statement. Jesus, when He died on the cross, was “dying for all (not just the elect, as some suggest; cf. 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2)” (Lowery 567).
1 Tim. 2:5-6 – “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”
Heb. 2:9 – “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
1 John 2:2 – “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
So, when you look at these statements and compare them with 2 Corinthians 5:14, you quickly realize that Jesus died for all people.
The second thing he tells us is that we all died.
This statement took me some time to fully understand. It is easy to understand that Jesus died for all, but what does it mean that all died? People are living today and they were living when Paul wrote these words. So how could someone have died if they are alive?
“The simple meaning of the passage is, that the death of one was the death of all” (Hodge 512). Paul was communicating what the effect of Jesus’ death was. In Him (our representative), each of us is reckoned to be dead with Him. In God’s eyes, Jesus’ death is viewed as our own. This is why Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20). Paul had not been physically crucified at that point, but in God’s eyes, he was dead in Christ. “His death is taken in the place of ours so as to save us from death” (Hodge 511).
To sum things up: Jesus died for all, and all who believe in Him are considered to be dead with Him. This means that in God’s eyes, we are viewed as guilty sinners whose punishment had been paid in Jesus. This is a fact.
b. Because of Jesus, we should live (15).
You may recall that verse 14 began with the love of Christ compelling us. What does it compel us to do? The simple answer is that each one of us—who recognizes what Jesus did for us and who recognizes His great love for us—we ought to live our lives for Him.
Wait a minute! I thought we were dead! Okay, let’s talk about this.
Yes, in Him each believer died. His death paid the price for our sins. But did Jesus stay dead? Did He remain in the grave? No, He rose from the grave the third day. When the women came to the tomb to place spices around his dead body, they were surprised to see the stone rolled away and the body gone. The angels told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, meaning that He was no longer dead but was alive. It’s true. Jesus came back to life.
Verse 15 ends with an allusion to His resurrection: “Him who died for them and rose again.” He uses Jesus’ resurrection to show us that we should live our lives for Him because of what He did for us. Although we consider ourselves to have died with Him on the cross, we ought also to consider ourselves to be alive with Him in His resurrection. What should that look like?
“Now our lives should be devoted to Him” (McGee 111),
Instead of living for our own desires, we should live for Him who died for us and rose again. This means that every day we should think about how we can serve, represent, and speak for Him. We should be so thankful that He died for our sins that we never stop living for Him. He ought to be the theme of our daily life.
I recently heard from someone who was saved through a Christian treatment center. After going through some hard times, he wanted someone to help him get his life back together. Although he was looking for a different kind of help, he found what he needed in the Lord. And now he is happy to tell others about what God has done for him.
Think about your own life today. Do you understand that Jesus died for your sins? Do you understand that He took your place and died instead of you? Think about that. You could have spent eternity in the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels, but Jesus died for you so that you could escape that terrible judgment. How do you think that you should live your life now? Are you living your life for Jesus or for yourself? Let Jesus’ great love for you motivate you to live for Him.
We died in Him but now live for Him.
- We are a new creation in Him (2 Cor. 5:17).
Summary: To be “in Him” means that your faith is in Him and what He has accomplished for you by dying and rising from the dead. You are trusting in Him as the completed payment for your sins so that, according to God, you are no longer guilty. As a result of being in Him, you have become a new creation. Your old lifestyle has passed away and you have become a totally different person.
a. Because of Jesus, we are a new creation.
The new creation is something that only God could do. As the Creator, He has taken sinful people—who were spiritually dead to Him and with no desire to please Him—and made them a completely new person. This is called the new birth. Jesus spoke about this in John 3 when talking with Nicodemus. He told that religious man that “most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Basically, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he couldn’t change himself. It was something God would have to do.
When God got your attention about your sinfulness and your coming judgment, did you just flip a switch and change into a good person? No, you couldn’t do anything. But God could. As He convicted you of your sin, brought you to repentance and faith in Jesus, He then caused you to become a new person. You were born again spiritually. This is what “a new creation” means. God gave you new spiritual life.
Can you think of any example of people whose lives were transformed when they believe in Him? “No one was more able to reflect on that transformation than Paul who switched from a persecutor of Christ to a proclaimer of Christ (Acts 9:5, 20-22)” (Lowery 567). You may also think about the demoniac of Gadera, whose life was drastically changed by Jesus.
b. Because of Jesus, everything has changed.
When working with children, we used to sing, “The things I used to do… don’t do them anymore. … There’s been a great change since I’ve been born again!” That is true and is what Paul is saying here in verse 17. Old things have passed away and all things have become new.
Before someone is born again (or made into a new creation), his or her actions and attitudes are opposed to God. We read about them in…
Galatians 5:17-21 – “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…”
While sitting on one of the swings on the porch of Ashbrook Hall at Peniel Bible Camp, a woman came over and introduced herself. During the conversation, she shared with me how her life was changed by God. The attitudes she had before her new birth had caused lots of problems with people she worked with. But after God changed her, the same people noticed a big difference.
This is what Paul is talking about. The old life with its sinful attitudes and actions have passed away and have been replaced by a new way of thinking and acting. Instead of the works of the flesh, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Spirit in us.
Gal. 5:22-23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
God has spoken through the Bible. And He tells us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that there will be a definite change in the life of someone who has become a new creation in Him. Have you seen these changes in your life? Has the Holy Spirit been changed you into someone who is different than before? Have you noticed it? Have others noticed it? When God changes a person there will be evidence of that change because the old is gone and is replaced by the new when you are “in Him.”
The things we have talked about so far are both deep and comforting. We have seen that because of our sins we deserve death. But in Jesus, in Him, we have died. The price for our sins has been paid. That ought to give us something to talk about. We are no longer deserving of death because in Him we have already died. So how should we respond? We should live our lives for Him. Every day ought to find us singing, talking, and acting in ways that show our thankfulness for what Jesus did for us.
We also saw that in Jesus, in Him, we have been made a new creation. As you think about your former life before Jesus, you may cringe or be ashamed. This is a right reaction but not one we should meditate on for very long. We know that we were sinners who lived according to our sinful desires and attitudes. But in Him, we are completely different. We aren’t perfect, but what a change God has made in our lives!
I want you to think about this. Have you been changed by God? If not, there is still room in Him to be saved and made into a new creation. But it all must begin with repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you recognize your sinfulness and turn from it to Jesus, He will forgive you and change you from the inside out.
Hodge, Charles, A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians, Carlisle: Banner of Truth, orig. 1857-1859, reprint 1974, pp. 508-27.
Lowery, David K., “2 Corinthians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 567-68.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, pp. 110-14.