And so, God’s goal is to rejoin heaven and earth, God and man.
We see this thought reflected in New Testament language about Christians. For example —
(2Co 5:17 ESV) 17 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) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Now, think of these verses as a First Century Jew might. “New creation” is clearly a reference back to the old creation — the heavens and the earth made by God at the beginning.
God promises to re-make each of his children to be suitable citizens of the new heavens and new earth. To live in a renewed world, we must be renewed people.
It’s not just that our sins are forgiven. Jesus went around forgiving Jews freely. But they didn’t become new creations.
No, it’s the presence of the Spirit within us that makes us more than forgiven, more than saved, more than conquerors.
Because it’s the Spirit who transforms us to become like God and Jesus —
(Col 3:10 ESV) 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
(Eph 4:22-24 ESV) 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
(2Co 3:18 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(Rom 12:2 ESV) 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The goal, therefore, is that our minds be transformed to become more like that of God and Jesus, and this is by the power of the Spirit.
That puts a different spin on the very familiar —
(John 3:3 ESV) 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
We want to take “born again” to mean “baptized” or “become moral.” But that misses the real point.
(John 3:5-6 ESV) 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Quite plainly, actually, Jesus says that to be “born again” is to become born of the Spirit. We are to become spiritual beings.
Literally, “born” is better translated “conceived.” To be “conceived again” is to have one’s DNA re-wired, to be re-coded from the inside out. It’s become a new creation.
The born again/conceived again/re-created Christian (there is no other kind) is given some of the substance of God himself. Just as Jesus was literally born of the Spirit, we are re-born of the Spirit, re-conceived of the Spirit, so that we become beings capable of becoming very much like Jesus.
The goal, you see, is not heaven. It’s Christ-like-ness. It’s for Jesus to be formed within us. It’s for us to become sons of God by becoming like the Son of God.
(Rom 8:14 ESV) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
(Rom 8:15 ESV) 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
(Gal 4:6 ESV) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
And that implies a dramatically changed relationship with God. God is our Abba, Father because we’ve been re-created as his sons.
Thus, salvation is about entering into a familial relationship with the Creator of the Universe. “Sons of God” means more than “people who go to heaven when they die.” We are his beloved children, part of his family, members of his household, under his protection and covered by his devotion.
So? Well, this then makes sense of such passages as —
(John 17:20-21 ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
What on earth does “that they may be in us” … “just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you”? How can we be in union with God and Jesus just as they are in union with each other?
Well, by being one together. That would be a really good start. But it’s not enough for humans to be united to each other. We have to be united in the right way.
In what sense are God and Jesus united? Well, before you answer “hypostatic union” or some such metaphysicality, think in terms of John’s Gospel. How does the Gospel present Jesus and God being united?
Clearly, the emphasis throughout John is on their united purpose and mission. There may be other elements, but the emphasis over and over is on Jesus’ fulfilling God’s sending mission and doing as he has been asked by the Father.
Therefore, for Christians to enjoy Triune-like unity with God and Jesus, our hearts must be conformed to the purposes of God. And that means we really, really need to understand God’s purposes. Or we just might be severely disappointed.