Preached by Jason Abbott
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
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. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1. Do you think of yourself as a new creation (v. 17)?
In C. S. Lewis’s novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace Scrubb is the annoying, snobbish, and just downright unlikable cousin of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie. Throughout the movie, you grow to dislike him more and more for his meanness and his self-righteousness!
Then, on an island in his greed, Eustace puts on an enchanted bracelet and is changed rather fittingly into a dragon. He’s had the personality of a lizard all along and now he has the body of a lizard to go with it. In short, while he looks different (as if he’s been changed into something new), Eustace actually simply appears physically as what he’s been all along—a surly old dragon!
Well, Eustace hates this physical revelation of what has always been true of his personality. He hates being a dragon and longs to be a boy again. He is sorry for how he has behaved toward the others; he is humbled by being and by recognizing himself to be a dragon.
Finally one night he has a visit from Aslan, the lion who is king of Narnia. Aslan instructs Eustace to take off all of his scales—to scratch off his dragon skin. So Eustace does, but he finds he has another dragon skin underneath. Then, he does it again, but he finds still another dragon underneath that skin. Finally, Aslan explains that he (Aslan) is the only one who can take off Eustace’s dragon skin. Let me read how Eustace explains what happens to him next:
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.1
In one sense, Eustace is a boy again. Yet, in another sense, he is a completely new creation because his heart has changed forever. He apologizes to those he has hurt. He is willing to sacrifice for the other passengers on the voyage. In short, he has been transformed by his meeting with Aslan that night! He is not the same boy he used to be!
This is something like what Paul is describing to us here in 2 Corinthians when he says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (v. 17).
What is Paul saying here? He’s saying that when “a person comes to be part of the body of Christ by faith, there is a new act of creation on God’s part. One set of conditions or relationships has passed out of existence…; [and] another set has come to stay….”2If you are a follower of Jesus, do you believe this?
Look, every time God chooses to save another sinful and rebellious person, he invades another portion of this fallen world. Therefore, if you are a believer, you are part of God’s conquered and newly created order! You are his new creation! And as part of his new creation, you have been dedicated for a glorious purpose! As a new citizen in God’s eternal kingdom, you have been called to a noble and indelible service! As the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church members at Ephesus:
You’ve been newly created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them(Ephesians 2:10).
Do you believe this? Do you see yourself in this way?
2. Do you think of yourself as a new creation missionary (vv. 18-20)?
If you are a believer then (it is my conviction) that you must! For, Paul says that in Christ Jesus we are called into God’s good news proclamation service! Look at what he writes here:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (vv. 18-20).
Now, someone might object that Paul limits the work of preaching this message “of reconciliation” to himself and the other Apostles. They might argue that the us and the we pronouns are referring only to Paul and the other Apostles. “After all,” they might ask, “isn’t Paul imploring the Corinthians to ‘be reconciled to God’ here (v. 20)? Certainly those he’s speaking to aren’t part of the ‘us’ or ‘we’ entrusted with ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ since they haven’t been reconciled!”
However, attempting to defer the calling—to be ambassadors of reconciliation in this way—backfires in the end. For, if those in Corinth that Paul is imploring to “be reconciled” aren’t believers then it makes sense that they don’t yet have a “ministry of reconciliation” either.
Furthermore, was it only the Apostles who were reconciled to God? For, it seems that being reconciled to God comes with a calling to “the ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18b). In other words, according to these verses, limiting the proclamation of the gospel to a select few people would also entail limiting the reception of the gospel to a select few people who then receive that ministry.
No! Clearly, those who are reconciled to God in Christ are also called into God’s service as ambassadors of Christ—envoys of reconciliation! You are called!
Now, what does that look like? What precisely does it mean to be an ambassador of Christ, a minister of reconciliation?
Well, as the language Paul uses suggests, it looks like being an ambassador. It means we represent and speak on behalf of Christ Jesus. We say what he has told us to say. We do what he has told us to do. We are essentially the mouth piece and the hands and the feet of Jesus Christ in a foreign territory! We are the representatives of God in an enemy land!
Consider Foreign Service for a moment. If the United States sends an ambassador to a hostile country—Iran or North Korea or Venezuela, for example—that person’s job is to clearly represent American interests there.
However, suppose the person appointed cutoff communication with his or her direct superiors and began to say whatever he or she thought was best. Suppose this person said whatever he or she wanted to say in the name of the United States. What kind of ambassador would this person be?
In short, that person would be a terrible ambassador and would quickly be relieved of his or her position. However, even though such a poor representative might lose his or her job, still damage would have been done to both our nation’s reputation and to our nation’s relationship with the other country. In fact, it might destroy all hope of moving toward trust and peace with that hostile nation!
If we are to be good ambassadors of Christ Jesus then we must keep clear lines of communication open between us and our superior. If we are to be excellent representatives of God’s ministry of reconciliation then we must deliver the message of reconciliation and peace that he has sent us to deliver to his enemies. Nothing short of this will do!
So, how do we keep those clear lines of communication open? How do we make certain that we are truly being ambassadors of Christ?
Well, I can think of (at least) three essential ways by which followers of Jesus can work on being good ambassadors. These are three ways by which we keep solid and dependable lines of communication open between ourselves and our head, Christ Jesus. Here are the three things which every faithful ambassador of God should be doing.
- We can know whom God is and what he requires of us—what he wants us to do in and to say to this rebellious world—through the study of and meditation on his word, the Bible. So Paul explains to Timothy:
All Scripture is [God breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
- We can know whom God is and what he requires of us by prayerfully asking God to instruct and lead us each day of our mission. This is why Paul prays for the Colossians. So he tells them:
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).
- We can know whom God is and what he requires of us—how he’s calling us to live—through consistent participation in intimate fellowship with other followers of Jesus. This is why the author of Hebrews stresses the importance of fellowship to his readers. He says:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…(Hebrews 10:24-25).
In the end, each of us will fail miserably as an ambassador of Jesus Christ unless we are hearing from him and being directed by him! It is for this reason that we must read and meditate on his word, the Bible; that we must pray for his direction in and empowerment of our service; and, that we must transparently fellowship with other ambassadors of Christ. These are essential characteristics of any good ambassador of God!
Finally, we come to our third and final question, and it builds off of the previous two questions. It is simply this:
3. Do you think of yourself as a new creation missionary of God’s righteousness (v. 21)?
Listen to what Paul writes at the end of this passage:
For our sake he [the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (v. 21).
Many times when I talk with Christians who are hesitant to do outreach for God, they explain that it is because they don’t feel adequate. They suggest that they don’t know enough, or that they aren’t skilled enough, or that they are some other kind of not enough. However, nothing could be further from the truth!
God is pleased to use you no matter what your skill is or your skill is not! In fact, to suggest that you don’t have the ability is to regress or fall back into the old religion—the religion of human works! At the heart of this “not enough” concern is the idea that you will fail God and be less valuable for having failed God! Here (I firmly believe) Paul is warring against such thinking about our calling to the ministry of reconciliation.
In this last verse, Paul is re-centering our view of ourselves on justification. What do I mean by that? I mean that “Paul says that ‘in Christ’ the believer in some sense actually shares the righteousness that characterizes God himself.”3Paul empowers our ambassadorial work for and in Christ through the good news that Jesus Christ’s righteousness is now our righteousness! That the Son’s righteousness is your righteousness. “This is a bold restatement of the nature of justification.”4
Well, where did your sin go? It went to the cross with Jesus! And, it died there—never to rise again!
The next time you are concerned with your inadequacies bathe that insecurity in the justifying work of Jesus Christ! You are characterized by the righteousness of God! The Father sees Jesus Christ when he looks at you! He values you according to the righteousness of Christ Jesus! In him, you are more than adequate to live as an ambassador of reconciliation!