A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on April 17, 2022.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:14–21).
Like many catastrophes, the Fall came without warning, but unlike many catastrophes it came with deceptive subtlety. In the midst of the Garden, Satan in the form of a serpent deceived Eve, who sinned by eating the forbidden fruit and shared the temptation with Adam, who ate too. And so fell our ancestors, and the human race, “from their original righteousness and communion with God,” and as a result they “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all parts and faculties of soul and body,” as our Confession of Faith puts it. In the history of human tragedies, the first was the worst.
As subtle as the temptation was, the devastation was not, affecting man’s relationship with God, one another, and creation, and consistently evidenced in the breaking of God’s law. In the hearts and minds of the fallen, the Lord our God is not loved with all our heart, soul, and mind; we are, substituting self as sovereign. In the hearts and minds of the fallen, our neighbor is not loved as we love ourselves; we are, substituting myself for yourself.
This is, of course, not a new development. We have not evolved to our current state of selfishness but have lived for ourselves since the Fall. We have not progressed over the arc of history but are as fallen as Adam and Eve. Consider, for example, the actions of our first parents. Though they had once enjoyed uninhibited communion with their Creator, after they sinned they fled, trying to hide from the omniscient One. Rather than confess their sin and repent, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and both indirectly blamed God. You see, self-preservation is as old as sin, because from the Fall sin became more than a deed; it became our identity. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
For this reason, what we need most is not a good example or a better way to live. What we need most is salvation—not only from the wrath of God but from ourselves. Therefore, when Paul explains to the Corinthians the atoning and liberating effect of Christ’s death, he adds, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15). The self must be dealt with by death, but only Christ’s death will do.
The Death of the Living
Describing the motivation of his ministry, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us” (5:14), a truth for the apostles but also for all who are in Christ. But what does such control mean, and why specifically the love of Christ? Paul explains that “one has died,” that is Christ, “for all,” that is all who believe on him, and “therefore all have died” (5:14), that is all who are in Christ. So, the love of Christ, as evidenced in the expression of his sacrificial death, is a controlling force in the Christian’s life: We deserved death; Christ died in our stead. “In this is love,” John writes to the church, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NET). And this love affects what we think, say, and do, but it also impacts literally who we are, our identity.
By virtue of our union with Christ, through faith we have died. In our standing before God, we are counted as righteous, so in this sense God considers our old life with the old self as over, dead: “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). And this informs how we live in Christ. Paul describes this personally to the Galatians when he confesses, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). What Paul describes is the connection between our death in Christ and our ongoing death to self.
Yet, how often do we consider our spiritual enemy to be elsewhere? We may think, for example, that it is the culture in which we live. So, we wage our culture wars with legalistic zeal, and we may even cleanse our culture yet live for ourselves. Or, we may separate ourselves from culture, going monk mode. Surely, we won’t be found hiding at home, set apart from the world? Yet, there we are, still living for ourselves.
Our problem, you see, is not elsewhere but here, in the intimacy of our sinful flesh, tempting us to live for self rather than for “him who for our sake died and was raised” (5:15). What we know our flesh knows. Where we go our flesh goes. You can’t outrun or hide from your flesh, but you can deny it, crucify it, mortify it, to the point it is daily defeated. For, the life we live by faith in the Son of God, we “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
The Life of Dying
But dying to self is only half of what Paul says in verse fifteen. The other half deals with our life in Christ’s life: We who no longer live for ourselves live “for him who for our sake died and was raised.” Yes, Christ died for our sin that we might be eternally forgiven and reconciled to God, but also “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Therefore, our mantra for living for him is “He is risen” (Matt. 28:6 KJV). He who served us in death we serve in life, literally with our lives, and he who was raised to life is the Life in which we live.
This of course changes the way we see Christ, how we see others, how we see ourselves. And if you are in Christ, you have witnessed this firsthand. As a Christian, have you ever noticed that you see life differently than your unbelieving family and friends? Of course, there are points of common interest and shared perspectives that are common to life. But then there is a divergence, isn’t there? As the love of Christ controls us, leading us to actively die to self and live for Christ, we see certain aspects of life in a different light.
For example, we regard Christ differently. We do not consider him merely a good teacher or role model, or even as Paul once did, an adversary. No, we see Christ for who he is, not only the historical prophet of Nazareth but the Son of God and Savior of sinners.
Likewise, we do not regard others “according to the flesh”; that is, from a human point of view. We see our unbelieving family and friends as those in desperate need of salvation, and we see all who are in Christ as new creations. It’s true, as Paul explains, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17). This is how we regard all who are in Christ, including ourselves.
But there is more in Paul’s reference to “new creation” than may first be apparent. Certainly, Paul is describing the new birth and the life that follows, but also a glimpse in us of what is to come. Translated literally, the first half of verse seventeen would read, “if anyone in Christ, a new creation”: “new creation” describes who we are but also the first fruits of the new creation to come. In the eighth chapter of Romans Paul says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 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” (Rom. 8:20-21). What creation longs to be has already been revealed, in part, in us, who have obtained freedom, the first fruits of the new creation.
When John saw the end of time, he saw that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). This is the day creation longs for, released from subjection to futility, unshackled from its bondage to corruption, which has already begun in all who are in Christ, the children of God. Christ’s resurrection then commenced the revelation of the new creation in us. We often think of Christ’s resurrection and the new creation statically, two separate events of past and future. But no! Christ’s resurrection started what is currently unfolding as the gospel advances around the world.
Yet, we may wonder: Isn’t the new creation something we long for, patiently wait for? Well, yes, of course, but we don’t wait to live it. We are the sprouting buds of Spring destined to flourish into the Summer foliage of glory. Just as the old creation will one day pass away and the new creation will come, for us, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Fact: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (5:17).
Reconciled to Life to Live
While the word has been overused almost to the point of irrelevance, the new creation that Paul describes is a bonafide miracle, just like Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We who were dead in our trespasses have been made alive together with Christ by God’s grace through faith (Eph. 2:5). And, “All this,” Paul says, “is from God,” with relational purpose: Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God reconciled us to himself. This too is a miracle. That which was lost in the Fall by the first Adam has been restored by the second Adam. This God has done monergistically for our good and his glory.
This message of reconciliation is good news. No longer are we separated from God, but “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:3a). But such a glorious reconciliation is not one of compromise. God did not let our sin slide; his definition of holiness has not changed, nor will he accept anyone who is not perfectly righteous.
No, reconciliation with God comes only through forgiveness of our trespasses against God’s perfect law, a forgiveness in which our sins are covered, a forgiveness in which the Lord will not count our sin (Rom. 4:7-8). But such forgiveness is predicated upon the satisfaction of God’s divine justice, which praise be to God was satisfied in Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Such is our reconciliation to God: perfect and complete. And because he who died for us so also lives for us, for life is in him, then we are reconciled to Life to live.
If hearing this good news, you realize you have never believed it, then as Paul implored the Corinthians, so I implore you, “be reconciled to God” (5:20). Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, trust in him as he is freely offered in the gospel, and you will be saved, even this Easter Sunday! Or, if you like me are in Christ but find yourself tempted to live for yourself daily, then know our daily life is one of repentance and faith: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). For, we are new creations, transformed to live for him who for our sake died and was raised. For all who are in Christ, the new has come.
 Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 “The Westminster Confession of Faith” 6.1, in The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Lawrenceville: Christian Education & Publications, 2007), 26.
 Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 126.