The older I get, the more I realize that the most quoted verses in the Bible don’t tell the full message.
Now, I don’t mean the Bible is lacking whatsoever. What I mean is that those verses are part of a greater context that is sometimes missed. Or, at least, sometimes missed by ME.
While I can recall a LOT of Bible verses, I’ll admit, I haven’t studied every passage surrounding each of those verses. It usually happens by accident. I’ll be reading my Bible and randomly come across a verse I’ve heard a million or so times… and my mind will be blown. Not by that verse, but by the verses around it. Where have these been hiding?!
Has that ever happened to you?
It actually happened to me, yet again, just the other day.
My Daily Devotional
Every morning, I listen to the audio of First 15 Devotional, and a corresponding Bible passage. A few days ago, that passage was 2 Corinthians 5. (Quick side note: I love using First 15 because it includes a prompt to read a full Bible passage instead of only sharing a few verses.)
Anyway, I’m reading 2 Corinthians 5, and get to verse 17.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve likely heard this verse, or some paraphrased version of it. And if you’re not a Christian, it wouldn’t shock me to learn that you’ve heard a Christian quote it. It’s one of those verses that succinctly describes the transformation of a believer in Christ.
Preceding verse 17 are verses that describe how Jesus died to cover the penalty of all sin for all people, and that those who believe are symbolically dead to the life they lived before believing. That is “the old” that verse 17 mentions. And “the new” is who you become in a relationship with Jesus. No longer helpless under the power of sin. Free to live for God with the promise of eternity. A new creation. Born again. Forever changed.
That alone is powerful, right? But, let’s look at verse 17 again, along with verses 18-20, because I, for one, was not expecting them to be there. Maybe that’s an odd way to put it. What I mean is, verses 18-20 were already familiar to me, but my brain apparently forgot they immediately follow that well-known verse about being a “new creation.”
Putting all four verses together packs an even more powerful punch!
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us…2 Corinthians 5: 17-20 (ESV)
So, what do verses 18-20 mean?
The first thing that struck me was how these verses come right after verse 17. Right after it’s established that anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. Here’s what they tell us:
Through Christ we are reconciled to God
This is proof of what I mentioned above, about “the old” vs. “the new.”
If you are a new creation in Christ, your sins, or “trespasses,” are forgiven and your relationship with God is completely restored. Instead of seeing your sins—past, present, and future—God sees perfection, all thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection that paid the penalty for (you guessed it!) all sin for all people.
Christians are called to share our story of reconciliation
This takes the idea of being a new, reconciled creation one step further.
I don’t know about you, but before I make a purchase that could majorly affect my life, I read reviews about other people’s experiences. And, in some cases, I analyze before and after photos. If the reviews are 5-star, or the transformations look incredible, I’m much more apt to invest.
That’s why God entrusts Christians with “the message of reconciliation” (verse 19) because a Christian’s testimony is just like a 5-star, before and after review.
If you are a new creation in Christ, you are the BEST example of a life transformed to any non-believer who needs that living proof.
Christians are God’s ambassadors
Verse 20 says it matter-of-factly. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ…” The word “therefore” makes it clear that this applies to anyone who meets the “new creation” criteria.
Just like a political ambassador, sent to a foreign country, God sends Christians out into the world to be His official representatives. That takes sharing the message of reconciliation to a whole other level. This isn’t some casual request; this is a serious responsibility.
If you are a Christian today, it is your duty as an ambassador of Christ to share your story of reconciliation, from old to new.
Isn’t it ironic?
The irony of me writing this is that I am already sharing my story of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ. I just didn’t realize that all four of these verses—being a new creation, being reconciled to God, having a ministry of reconciliation, and being an ambassador for Christ—are literally back-to-back in the Bible.
So, the next time I hear, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” you can bet I’m going to remember what comes next. My responsibility to tell my story as that new creation.
My story of reconciliation to God
Because I became a Christian around the age of four, I think it’s important to note that the most powerful part of my “new creation” story didn’t take place at the time of my salvation. I mean, how much change can you expect from a four-year-old? There simply wasn’t much difference between “the old” me and “the new” me. It all just felt like new. Maybe you can relate.
But, being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll live a perfect life. Growing up I tried. Oh, did I try to be perfect, but that only lead to progressive destruction. Not an end to my belief in God. Not a loss of my salvation. But, destruction, nonetheless. I’m talking a 10-year eating disorder, divorce, running away from my life like the Prodigal Son of Luke 15, and overall being further from God than I’d ever been since I was four years old.
I say this to speak to any Christians who are reading this. Your reconciliation story is not limited to the day you became a Christian, or the circumstances surrounding that day. Maybe that IS the most powerful old to new transformation for you. But maybe it’s not. Maybe, like me, your story took some turns, and you experienced God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness at a different point after salvation. Don’t be afraid to tell that part of the story.
For me, I didn’t fully understand God’s grace till I chose to run away from Him, even while I was a Christian. He waited patiently for me to return, and when I did, He forgave me. Why? Because Jesus took care of that long before I was born. Once I became a Christian, I was reconciled to God and NOTHING I did could change that truth. NOTHING I did could separate me far enough from God to nullify that reconciliation.
That is the story I tell as God’s ambassador. My “old” to “new.” Again, my rebellion as an adult didn’t void my salvation. It only amplified the grace and mercy and love of God.
Want to hear more of my story? You can listen to me share it on my friend Janice’s podcast, The Journey With Janice.
To all my fellow Christians, I pray that this inspires and encourages you to share your story. To be that ambassador for Christ. And… (if you don’t already) to read full passages of scripture 🙂