There’s this strand of thought in the New Testament that we rarely talk about (well, several such strands are out there, actually). You see, Paul likes to talk about Christians as being a “new creation.”
(2Co 5:17 ESV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
(Gal 6:15 ESV) For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
What on earth does he mean by this? At first, it’s pretty easy to blow past the words and just figure he means “new and improved” because our sins have been forgiven — which is true and important enough. But is that all he means?
“Creation” translates ktisis, and the New Testament writers always use this word — as a verb or noun — to refer to Genesis 1 in some sense.* How are Christians, as “new creations,” like the first creation?
Well, we can easily see from what we’ve already covered that God has been working for thousands of years to restore mankind — male and female — to his image and likeness. His Temple needs an image to show the world the true character and nature of its God!
And it needs a class of priests and kings to be the hands and feet of God to serve the Creation and the billions of others who were made in God’s image but are not yet in the process of being restored to its fullness.
Therefore, when God saves us by faith in Jesus, God does a miracle — a “mighty act,” as the prophets like to say — to transform us from “without form and void” to the very “image” of God! It’s about much, much more than forgiveness.
What else would be required? Well, forgiveness makes us pure enough to come close to God (because God hasn’t left us!), so that we can be in loving, intimate relationship. We can walk together with God “in the cool of the morning” as Adam and Eve once did. Indeed, we can be with Jesus as the apostles were.
How? Well, we’ll get there.
You see, we have to first reflect a bit on the new heavens and new earth promised by Isaiah in chapters 65 and 66 and by John in Revelation 21 – 22. That’s another “new creation” so much like our own that they must be related.
(Rev 21:1-5a ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Read the text carefully. Heaven comes down to earth so that God may dwell with man!
The English hides a couple of nuggets of gold. “New” translates kainos rather than neos in each case. As a rule, neos means entirely new, as in “made from scratch,” whereas kainos is usually used of something renewed or restored. Thus, the “new covenant” is the kainos covenant, not an entirely, brand new, made-from-scratch covenant, but the old covenant renewed, fulfilled, and transformed.
Hence, the “new heavens and new earth” result from the merger of heaven and earth — which purges the unredeemed portions, the adulterations of the old, with fire and renews, fulfills, and transforms the remainder into newness (kainos). And so when God says he’s making all things “new,” this is what he means.
And in v. 5, “makes” is, you guessed it, poieō — borrowed directly from Genesis 1:1. God is redoing his Creation — new and better than before, because this time Satan will be in the Lake of Fire, and so no one will be tempted to fall from grace.
This makes sense out of the otherwise very difficult —
(Rom 8:20-23 ESV) 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Sin — resulting from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 — corrupts not only humans but the entire Creation. After all, it pulls heaven and earth apart, when they were meant to be together!
Paul can thus speak of the Creation itself anticipating the return of Jesus, because then it will be purified and transformed, made into what it was always meant to be — just like us.
Paul refers to the Christians as “firstfruits” — that is, the early harvest. We are “new creations” in exactly the same sense that the afterlife will be the “new heavens and new earth” — except sooner and not yet complete. God’s still working on us.
The technical term (which you may forget immediately) is “inaugurated eschatology,” that is, the end times (eschatology is the study of the end times) have already begun — and God has already begun the renewal process.
N. T. Wright offers this analogy. It’s like D-Day. As a matter of military strategy, the German armies were defeated once the Allies established a beachhead in Normandy. Germany could not win a two-front war with the USA and other allies fully engaged. But they fought on — even at the famously deadly Battle of the Bulge. All the way to Berlin, even though defeat was beyond obvious.
Thus, Jesus’ death and resurrection is D-Day. If you’ve read the book to the end, you know that God wins, because he’s already defeated Satan and all the other powers arrayed against him. And yet they fight on against inevitable destruction. That’s the nature of evil.
The outcome is not in doubt, but the battle still has to be fought, and there is a lot of enemy territory yet to be captured. But it will certainly happen.
What does it mean to be a “new creation”? Well, that we’ve already received a preview of heaven. In fact, the world has already received a preview of heaven — and we’re it! A portion of God has already come to earth to live with man in the form of the Spirit — and Jesus himself walks the earth today through his body, the church.
How well are we doing with that?
How well do we represent God as his image in his temple? How well are we serving as his priests? As kings who will one day share his throne?
In fact, how on earth can Paul think of us as “new creations” when we are so very far removed from what we will be?
* Interestingly, this Greek usage is not taken from the Septuagint of the canonical Old Testament (which prefers to use poieō to refer to God’s creative work, meaning to do or make, but from the Apocrypha (which was also part of the Septuagint), where allusions to Gen 1 are routinely translated with ktisis. I wonder whether ktisis, a much more precise word, wasn’t coined in this sense until the translators got to the Apocryphal books, much later in history than when they translated the Torah.