Description / Transcription
O Lord, our cry comes before You and we say with the psalmist, give us understanding according to Your Word, deliver us according to Your Word. Our tongues will sing of Your Word. We have been singing of Your Word for all Your commandments are right. We long for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is our delight. Speak to us, we pray, and give us ears to listen. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this evening just two verses. 2 Corinthians chapter 5. Just two verses, but two wonderful, life-altering, culture-shaping verses.
2 Corinthians 5:16 and 17. “From now on, therefore, we,” this is the Apostle Paul speaking by the inspiration of the Spirit, speaking of Christians, “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.”
Over the next three weeks, starting tonight, we want to look at three doctrines. So you see the title in your bulletin, “Deep Theology for Daily Living.” Each of these three doctrines at the end of chapter 5 are eminently practical and doxologically fruitful. That means they’ll help you be a better Christian and they will help you know and love God more.
Tonight we’re looking at the doctrine of regeneration. Next week Zach will be preaching, we’ll look at reconciliation. And then in two weeks I’ll be preaching on justification. Or you could put it like this: We will be looking at the blessing of being a new creation in Christ, the blessing of a restored relationship through Christ, and the blessing of an imputed righteousness from Christ.
Tonight, then, regeneration.
Here’s a simple definition: Regeneration is the work of God by which a person is supernaturally inwardly changed and renewed. Regeneration is the work of God, a sovereign work of God, by which a person is supernaturally and inwardly changed and renewed. You can think of certain synonyms: New birth, being born again. Sometimes we use the word “conversion,” that can be a synonym, though conversion often speaks of our actions in this to repent and believe.
Regeneration means to be generated again, to be born again, to be made into something new. And it is a work that God does unilaterally, supernaturally, and sovereignly.
He does it unilaterally, meaning He does not do it with our cooperation. He does it sovereignly, He alone does it. And He does it supernaturally, this is a miracle.
If you are here, or you’re watching tonight, and you truly from your heart believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you have been born again, and it is a miracle, a divine miracle. Whether you say, “Well, I grew up in the church and I’ve been around this stuff forever,” nevertheless, it takes a divine and supernatural miracle that you what is anything to cooperate, any contribution from yourselves, have been made into something new.
When God created the world, He created ex nihilo, out of nothing. He did not say to the nothingness, “Help Me out” because it was nothing. He said “let there be light” and there was light. And so He spoke by the power of the Spirit and the Word into your life, if you’re a Christian, and said “let there be light” and there was light. That’s what we saw several weeks ago in 2 Corinthians chapter 4. This is the doctrine of regeneration.
And I want to make two simple points, one point from verse 16 and one point from verse 17, and just to warn you, we’re going to spend most of our time on the first point, so don’t panic.
Number one: Because we have been changed by God, we do not look at others in the same way. That’s our first point. Because we have been changed by God, we do not look at other people in the same way.
Look in your Bible. You see this in verse 16, “from now on, therefore we regard no one according to the flesh.” The phrase “from now on” is a reference back to verses 14 and 15 where we read that Christ died for all therefore all died, thinking of Christ’s death for all His chosen ones, all Christians. Now both of these facts are in view in verse 16. Paul is saying because Christ died and rose again and because in union with Him we died and we were brought to newness of life, because of these two events, we look at things differently. The world is different because of the work of Christ on the cross, and we who believe in Christ are different people because of the cross, and having died with Christ, having been raised with Christ, how can you not look at people differently?
If you could look into the Greek you would see that this phrase “according to the flesh” modifies the verb “regard.” So Paul is not saying we no longer look at people simply as flesh, he’s not saying we look at no one as flesh. Obviously, we are still flesh, though we’ll see that there is an implication here that we learn we’re much more than flesh. What Paul is saying rather is that we no longer regard people in fleshly ways.
The NIV gets the sense of this verse: “We regard no one from a worldly point of view.” That’s the idea.
To regard one another according to the flesh means we look at people the way the world would have us look at people.
So you and I need to put on new glasses as Christians. As you’ve heard me say before, I wear these glasses, it’s not a fashion statement, it’s not the Kevin DeYoung brand. I need them or I cannot see. I will be just all, oh, wow, what a good-looking group you are now. [laughter] It’s just all big fuzziness. I need this to see things as they really are. And when you are a Christian, you look at people from a different perspective. You’re shaped by the Bible. As born-again Christians who believe in Christ crucified, we don’t look at people according to the flesh.
Now what does this mean? It sounds very spiritual. What does it mean?
Well, the answer to that is found in the word “therefore.” When you see a “therefore,” you ask what is the therefore there for? The “therefore” connects and directs our attention to the previous verses, in particular three places where a new way of looking at one another is implied.
So if you’re taking notes, this is all under the first of the two points, but here are going to be three sub-points.
We change our viewpoint in three ways. First, we no longer judge others by outward appearances. Where do I get that? Well, look up at verse 12: “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you cause to boast about us so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.” So this is one of the ways in which we look at people differently.
Worldly people size up each other based on worldly standards, whatever those values may be, given the individual; high cheek bones, muscles, shapeliness, a certain kind of furniture in your house, the size of your backyard, the connections you have, the power you wield, the people you know, whether you can run fast and jump, whether you have degrees or not. That’s how the world sizes people up. Let’s connect on LinkedIn and let’s try to find out how we can network. Does anyone use that anymore? We can network this thing out and find out the ways that we can help each other.
Now let’s be honest. Let’s not pretend that we don’t see things that the world sees. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we don’t notice what people look like or we don’t notice if people have more money or people are smarter or not, we notice. This is why it’s frustrating if we say well-meaning, “you know, I’m colorblind, I don’t see color.” Well, colorblind in how we treat one another, but let’s be honest, we can see if people are white or black or Asian. If our eyes are working properly, we see those things.
So it’s not that Paul is saying you become so spiritual that you don’t even recognize outward appearances, but rather we do not regard them.
You see that in verse 16: “We do not regard people.” That means we don’t size them up, we don’t judge them, we don’t assess their value, we don’t put them into a box, we don’t determine whether we like them or not, we don’t give them deference or ignore tem based on outward appearances.
Now we get that. We learned those things as a kid; don’t judge a book by its cover. If we’re honest, though, we all have certain types of people that we have a hard time giving a fair shake toward. For some it may be those who are exceptionally beautiful or rich and you immediately resent them and you don’t like them from the moment you see them.
For others it’s poor people, or a certain class or status of people, that seem to you unclean or ungroomed.
It may be based on a person’s weight or their accent or whether they seem very elite, the sort of person who works in a tall building somewhere, or they seem redneck, or the sort of people that are quick to judge you, you would be quick to judge them.
We all do this. We love to put people in categories. That’s a rich person, she’s a Boomer, well, he’s just a millennial, we know what they’re like. They’re Gen-Z. He uses a PC and not a Mac, eww. They live in Myers Park. They homeschool. They go to public school. They’re white. They’re black.
It is easy to regard people by mere outward appearances. Not only do Christians act like the world when we do this, we end up judging people the way the world judges, but there should be a difference, especially when we are prone to assume the worst sort of stereotypes or characteristics of someone’s group identity. No one wants to feel like they can’t get a fair shake in life because someone says, “Ah, we know what people are like where you’re from. We know what people are like from that part of town. We know what people of that color are like. We know what police officers are like. We know what pastors are like.”
Whatever your category is, no one likes that.
There should be a difference for us as born-again Christians because we worship a God who came to earth and did not look the part. He did not look like the sort of God who would be God.
You see this in verse 16: “We once regarded Christ according to the flesh.” Now Christ was God, man in the flesh, but it means we regarded Him according to worldly characteristics. Paul persecuted the Church. Many people looked at Jesus and they saw, “Well, that’s another man, that’s another prophet, we know His mom and dad, the carpenter’s son.”
Many people looked at Him and from outward appearances He seemed to be a failure, died a criminal’s death on the cross, rejected, despised by His countrymen. He had nowhere to lay His head. We have no record of any book that He ever wrote. His friends deserted Him at His hour of deepest need. He was killed between two thieves. Surely a man with so much baggage, so many controversies, the scrawl would have been “Controversial Jesus dies a shameful death” and people, we would have run away from Him, as almost everyone did.
They thought He didn’t keep the Sabbath, He didn’t love the temple, He didn’t care about ritual purity, He was a blasphemer, a crazy man, a dangerous man, maybe a demon-possessed man. They had Jesus figured out, sized up, nailed down, literally nailed down. But they were regarding Him according to the flesh.
And Paul says we don’t regard Him that way any longer. We know Him to be the Son of Man and the Son of God. We see Him now high and lifted up, exalted at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. We know Him to be the lion of the tribe of Judah, the lamb who was slain.
And so if we have learned the lesson, hopefully we have, not to regard Christ according to worldly ways, or we would vastly miss who He was, what He was about, what He could do for us, why would we size up one another and risk the same mistake, judging people according to the flesh?
We’ve all heard the phrase “identity politics” and whether it’s from the right or from the left, there is a great impulse, and it’s really nothing new. There’s always been a great impulse to try to define yourself by your tribe, which is blood or soil or color or language, just that’s our tribe, and you’re in the tribe and you’re good, you’re out of the tribe you’re bad. And the way we establish tribal identity is to establish with a negative polarity. We feel better about ourselves and we feel worse about them. And the way that we can feel closer to one another, there’s nothing to drive people closer together than a common enemy, than hating the right people, hating the people that they think hate them. This is endemic to the human spirit. We’ve been doing it since Adam and Eve.
And Paul says we don’t regard people according to the flesh. Now obviously when you become a Christian you don’t cease to be white or black or Asian or Hispanic. You don’t cease to be male or female. You don’t cease to be young or old. It’s not that you lose all other identities, but listen, you gain a new greater, better, more important, eternal identity. You are a new creation in Christ. It does not obliterate every other kind of identity, but it is one that is greater, better, more significant, and I dare say that we will not have any progress in this country, or in our churches, with reconciling people who have been estranged until we find not all of the things that would set us into different boxes, but all the things that we have in common.
We were born of the same parents, we all descend from the same two people, Adam and Eve. We all descend from the same two people. We all are born into this world with the same sin nature. We all are in need of the same Savior, and if we’re Christians especially, we have all been made new again as new creations. So we don’t regard one another in worldly ways.
Second, we no longer see people as mere flesh and bones but as immortal beings who will stand before God.
Look at verse 11; this is where I get this: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” And the fear of the Lord refers back to verse 10, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”
So you follow this logic, we all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, therefore knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others.
And Paul then says we don’t regard each other according to the flesh.
What’s the connection? You are not just a clump of cells. You never were. Even when you multiplied that first time to be two cells in your mother’s womb, you have continuity. You are that same life, that same person.
And because we will one day stand before God as His creatures, as His image-bearers, as ones who have to give account to God, Paul says therefore we persuade people, because we are not ordinary creatures. We are creatures made after God’s image who have an immortal soul and will stand before God for eternal life or eternal death.
And this is what it means not to regard people after the flesh. We must always remember.
The woman, men, and I know it can go the other way, but more often this way, the woman, men, that you are about to lust after in your mind, in a glance, on the internet, that is a woman created in the image of God who will stand before God Almighty with an immortal soul.
The man you are about to hate in your heart, the child you are about to ignore, the politician that you would just as soon never existed, that church member you’re tempted to brush off, all image-bearers with an immortal soul who will exist in eternity, in heaven or hell.
As C.S. Lewis has said, if we really had our eyes open to see men and women nigh unto deity, a little lower than the angels, each one of us walking among us, we could scarcely believe who it is we are interacting with. The world does not look at people that way.
The world won’t even dare to say a child, a baby, in the womb. It’s fetal activity. Fetal heartbeat. They will use euphemisms to avoid speaking of life. Even outside the womb. So many people would think of you as just the product of your genes, just stimulus and response, molecules doing their thing.
Or they may look at you as simply customers, consumers, to boost the bottom line. Some would say just evolved organisms, no more rights than a 3-toed sloth or a stalk of wheat.
Or in a bureaucratic world you might be reduced to nothing but a Social Security number, a taxpayer ID number, another cog in the machine, another code to enter into the computer. If you call the customer service line for help, you may be another phone on the line and the call may be recorded for quality purposes.
The world looks at people as a means to an end, a way to get a promotion, to make money, to have your ego stroked, to feel good about yourself, to have your sexual organs stimulated.
The Bible says when we regard people according to the flesh, all we do is see people as either opportunities for our happiness or obstacles for our happiness. This is one of the things, kids, this is part of what it means to grow up. Sadly, some people don’t ever grow up, but part of growing up is you learn to realize the people in your life are not just there as obstacles to your happiness or opportunities to your happiness. They have their own life, their own value. The world looks at people and says that’s a way to get a promotion, that’s a way to make money, that’s a way to have influence, and even as Christians we can be tempted to see people like that. Maybe we’re not so crass, but I’ve certainly thought of people that way, as someone who’s standing in the way of me getting my sleep, or me having my leisure, me having my comfort.
But as Christians, born again by the Spirit, controlled by the love of God, who know the fear of God, Paul says we do not regard people according to the flesh. We see each other in the image of God, who will stand before God Almighty, someone created as you were, and this ought to help us overcome our fears, our suspicions of people who are unlike us, help us overcome perhaps deep wounds or deep experiences that lead us to feel very hard toward other people.
My grandfather, now with the Lord, he fought in World War II. He was an airplane mechanic. He was in the Pacific theater. He saw a lot of intense action as maybe some of you did, or parents, more likely, or some of your grandparents, like mine. And he was in difficult situations, saw difficult things, saw death around him, was there and he was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific theater. He came back from the war as most people did, and wherever they were fighting, and he did not think highly of the Japanese. He thought they were fierce, thought they were cruel. They had been for those years enemies. Later in life, at his church, my grandfather learned to work with a ministry reaching out, of all people, to Japanese immigrants in the community. The Gospel had worked on his heart and taught him not to see people according to the flesh, but to see people as those who he had more in common with than was different from.
Even those who according to ethnicity had been so difficult at a season in his life, he learned to see as people that also needed the Gospel just as much as he did, and he needed the Gospel just as much as they did.
We’re all born sinners, we’re all made in God’s image, we’re all in need of a Savior. I wonder if that’s how we really view one another. Do you see across this room people who will be resurrected either to eternal life or eternal death? Do you see people all across this room with an immortal soul? Someone who will stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Or do you just quickly size them up, a race, an ethnicity, a social status, a gender, an ideological opponent, someone you like, someone you don’t like?
When we have been born again we do not regard people according to the flesh.
Third, we no longer see our brothers and sisters in Christ as sinners chiefly but as new creations. This is the third way in which we see each other differently. I get this from verse 14 and 15, that Christ died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all that those who live might no longer life for themselves.
Something has changed. We’re not living for ourselves now that we’ve been made to live again in Jesus. Christians still sin, we talked about that this morning. We all sin. We certainly don’t want to be blindly affirming of everything we do as Christians. But think about what it means that as a Christian you have already died.
Sometimes you’re tempted to look at those people and they’re so annoying. Boy, aren’t there are a lot of annoying people in life? And aren’t you just so glad that you’re not that annoying person for anyone? I mean, we have to be honest. I’m sure there are people in this world, I could say people in this room, but I’ll hope maybe not, but probably, I mean, there’s just people, they’ve had conversations before and it’s been around, “Can’t Kevin see what’s wrong with Kevin?” There are people, there’s a lot of people on the internet who’ve had that conversation. But I’m talking about people who actually like me and have had that conversation. Of course they have. They see that.
We’ve all had those conversations about people, and it doesn’t mean you have to blind to it, but think about it. Your Christian brothers and sisters, you may think to yourself, oh, boy, at your worst moments, you think “I wish they would just, all the things that they’ve done, how frustrating they are, they ought to die.” You wouldn’t say it, but you might feel it, and then you come to this verse. Oh, they already have.
So the Christian that drives you crazy, the brother in Christ who frustrates you to no end, the sister who just seems to know all of your buttons, she wakes up in the morning, “how can I push my buttons,” is a child of God for whom Christ died.
It’s one of the reasons we should be patient with each other, gracious towards one another. How often have I thought when I do something dumb on the road and forget the turn signal or don’t see the car behind me and cut somebody off, and I think oh, I hope they understand that I just, I’m having a hard day, or I hope they understand that it was an accident, I didn’t mean to.
That’s how I want them to treat me, but oh boy, when they do it, you just say, “How do those people even get a license? How are they allowed on the road?” I don’t want to extend the same sort of patience.
Our world talks about tolerance, but tolerance is a relatively weak virtue. Tolerance just puts up with people. We’re called to something more than just to tolerate people. Because the love of Christ controls us, we’re convinced that Christ died and therefore everyone in Christ has died in Christ. Is that what you see when you look around this room? We will never make progress with our divisions, and I don’t mean genuine theological divisions that we should not paper over, but I’m talking about the divisions that have to do with personality or misunderstanding or divisions of race or gender. If we are to get past those, it will only come by focusing on the Gospel and by focusing on who we are and who we have been made to be. The old is gone, the new has come.
Which leads to point number two, and I promise that this one will be much, much shorter.
I said in point number one because we have been changed by God, we do not view people in the same way, and then here’s the second and last point: Because we have been changed by God in regeneration, we do not look at ourselves in the same way.
You see verse 17: If, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” that invites the question, okay, what does it mean to be in Christ? Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” 83 times in his letters. It’s a big deal. To be “in Christ” means you wear the Christ jersey, you go by the Christ name, you’re on Team Christ, you’re a part of Business Christ, you share in His life, death, and resurrection. His Spirit is in you.
In Christ, therefore, you have a new identity, a new principle, a new nature, a new heart, a new motivation, a new spirit. The old has gone, the new has come. The Spirit is at work in us to do what the law could not do.
So let’s finish by being even more specific. Not only because of the coming of Christ has the world changed, and you now see that the new age has dawned upon this one and Christ’s kingdom is here and coming. All of that is true in a cosmic sense. But we can be more specific. If you are in Christ through faith, it’s not just that with Christ a work of new creation began on the planet, that’s true in a way, but for you specifically new creation has begun.
Do you understand that? Heaven has already begun here on earth because you in Christ are a new creation. And God means for us to live in that. When Satan entices you to bitterness or greed or sexual immorality or anger, you need to hear the Spirit of God whispering in your ear, “You’re a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. That’s not you anymore.”
When Satan reminds you of sin and shame and he tries to steal from you, life and joy, and offers his accusations and condemnation, you need to hear the Spirit whispering in your ear, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The devil says you deserve to die, you tell the devil I already did.” When Satan tempts you to despair, telling you you can’t change, you were made that way, no one can help you, you must remember the power at work to raise Christ from the dead is now at work in you who believe. The same power that brought Christ back to life is at work in you. When Satan encourages you, “Give in to those desires, do what feels good, God wouldn’t want you to be unsatisfied or unhappy. Listen to the voice of your own self.” No, listen to the voice of the Spirit. Christ speaking in your heart, saying “I died for you so that you might no longer live for yourself, but for the One who for your sake died and was raised.”
So you are a different person in Christ. You look at the world differently. You look at people differently, and you ought to look at yourself differently.
Of course we’re sinners. We realize that. But there is something at work within us, and it may be better to say there is someone at work within us.
And so you can wake up with a smile, not because you found the god deep down within you, that’s old gnosticism. No, but because God found us, and He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
We so often as Christians get this backwards. We think I have to change once I am changed and I’ll then believe I’m okay and then I’ll be happy. The Gospel says get it just the opposite. Be happy, because in Christ you’re a new creation. In Christ, you’re changed. Believe you’re changed, go out and live like you’ve been changed. That’s the motivation for holiness throughout the New Testament: Be who you are. You gotta understand who you are, now be who you are. The old has gone, the new has come.
Listen, brothers and sisters, are you regarding people from a worldly point of view? Am I? Sizing people up based on outward appearances, external factors? How are you looking at each other in this room? How are you looking at yourself?
Oh, no, no, no. This is not a self-help seminar. A self-help seminar tries to get to the same end by bypassing all of the actual power to get to that end a self-help guru just tries to tell you things that you know are not true: “You’re a good person, everybody loves you.” Well, neither of those things are true. “It’s all going to turn out well for you. If you believe it, your dreams will come true. You can do anything you want.”
That’s not true. The self-help guru wants you to get to a place of happiness and joy and it removes all of the power to actually land there, because the power is in the Gospel to say yes, you’re a sinner, but you have been made new.
Do you believe what the Bible says about you in Christ? You don’t have to live for fear of man. You don’t have to live people-pleasing, angry, sex-obsessed, self-absorbed, pity party you, because that you died. That old man, that old woman, has no place in this world. That one kicked the bucket. That one died on the cross. That self is in the grave, so don’t look at yourself with so little hope, with so little possibility of changing. You are a new creation in Christ.
Believe it, enjoy it, live like a Christian, and let’s look at each other as Christians should.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, the Gospel never ceases to amaze. If our amazement ceases, that is on us, not the Gospel. We never come to the end of what the Gospel can teach us, how the Gospel can shape us, how the Gospel can change us and in fact change our church and even our world. So we praise You that we are new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come. Hallelujah. Amen.