Thoughts about an important Bible verse

During the early years of my life in Christ, I memorized the Bible verse that says; if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Cor. 5:17)  I accepted it as true because I believe the Bible is true.  However, inside I didn’t feel like a new creation, a new person, so it made me wonder; am I really saved?  After receiving Christ, I saw changes in external things like my language, personal habits, etc.  However, it was troubling that the internal attitudes like pride, lust, and materialism were only partially affected.  I wondered if something was wrong with me because it didn’t seem like that verse was true in my life.  I was told that it would take some time, but that is not what the verse says.  By faith, I believed that I was now In Christ.  So why wasn’t I, “a new creation” with the old having “passed away?” Either I was not In Christ, or I needed a better understanding of what that verse meant.  So over the next few months, it became a priority to resolve this dilemma.  God graciously led me in a surprising way because things unexpectedly started to make sense after I was prompted to re-read the Genesis creation story.  It was a story that I knew well, but this time new insights were revealed which gave me a direction to pursue.

As I started to gain some clarity, there were other implications, but this paper is only addressing a couple of them.  First, it helped me understand how God can declare me to be a new creation, which I now accept as fact.  Second, it helped me reconcile a number of other verses that seemed to be conflicting.  They will be covered in some detail in part two of this paper.  For now, I’m eager to share the journey that caused me to become firmly convinced that I am truly a new creation, a new person in Christ.

The Bible says in Genesis chapter 2 that God created Adam by forming his body from the dirt.  Then He breathed His Spirit into that lifeless body and Adam became a living soul, created in the image of God.  Since God is a triune being, Adam became a tri-unity comprised of a body, soul, and spirit.  It follows then that since we are the children of Adam, we also are tripartite beings with a body, soul, and spirit.  We are definitely an integrated whole person, but each has a unique role to play.  So let’s examine the function of each part of us.  Our body gives us consciousness of the physical world through our five senses.  The soul and spirit are not as easily distinguishable, but Scripture makes it clear that they are distinct and different.  Our soul is the realm of self-consciousness or self-awareness and consists of our mind, emotions, and will and is what gives us personhood.  Before salvation, our human spirit gave us God consciousness, but when it is regenerated, it’s the place where God lives in us.  So now, we have the first glimpse of what part of me became a new creation, namely, my spirit.  However, let’s unpack it a little more by taking a closer look at this multifaceted being we call our self.

Before I go on, let me acknowledge that some theologians believe that the soul and spirit are the same thing.  I respectfully disagree with their conclusion and will explain why I don’t hold that view.  In the late 1960′s, prayer, the study of the Scriptures, and what the early Church fathers taught formed my view of this subject.  Additionally, Ray Stedman confirmed my conclusions because he was a Bible teacher that I trusted.  As mentioned earlier, the soul and spirit are closely related, but the Bible makes an explicit distinction between them.  In 1 Thes.  5:23, it’s very specific.  “May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.”  (NLT)  But Scripture also acknowledges that at times it’s difficult to discern the difference between the soul and spirit.  However, it does identify each and says that the Word of God will help us differentiate between them.  Heb. 4:12 says:  “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit…”  (HCB)

So now, let’s return to the question that was troubling me.  The issue was not what happens eventually, but rather what happens the instant we accept Jesus as our Savior.  The Scripture uses a number of terms to describe what takes place at that moment, but the one we are exploring here is that we become, “a new creation.”  The following thoughts are an overview of my journey to discover if that was actually true for me.

BODY: It didn’t take prayer and Bible study for me to know that it was not my body that became new.  That was obvious and undebatable.  However, I am looking forward to the new body I’ll receive when I see Jesus.  (1 Jn 3:2)

SOUL:  So next, I evaluated my soul to see if it had become new.  Romans 8:29 gave me hope because it declares that the purpose of God for every believer is that they are conformed to the image of Jesus.  The question then is, when does this happen, when I was baptized into Christ or when I get to heaven?  I knew that the soul consists of the mind, emotions and will so I needed to look at each of them.

MIND: The Apostle Paul made it clear in Romans 12:2 that my mind was not made new at salvation.  That verse tells born-again believers (new creations in Christ) that they need to have their minds renewed.  That would not be necessary if they were made new at salvation.  By the way, our mind is not our brain.  That’s because the brain is part of our physical body and our mind is something that can’t be found with an autopsy.

EMOTIONS:  So next, I evaluated my emotions to see if they were made new when I received   Jesus.  My personal experience plus knowledge of a multitude of dedicated believers tells me that the answer is a definite no.  It would be wonderful if receiving Jesus meant that a person whose emotions have been damaged would experience immediate and total healing.  That does happen sometimes but only in very rare cases.

WILL:  Our soul has one more very important component, but it also was not made new.  At birth, God gave each person free will, and He doesn’t remove it when we’re placed into Christ.  He leaves us with the privilege as well as the responsibility of making decisions about our life.  His desire is for our will to be subject to the Holy Spirit who now resides in us.  Life works best when our will is surrendered to His best intentions for us, but He allows us to make decisions that we think best.       That’s wonderful, but we can’t escape the fact that every choice has consequences.  Our will, (our decider), gets input from the appetites of our body as well as our mind and emotions.  But it’s also influenced by external sources as well.  God’s will for every believer is that the leading of the Holy Spirit will take precedence over other influences.

SPIRIT:  So if it wasn’t my body or soul (mind, emotions, and will) that passed away and was made new, that leaves just one possibility, my spirit.  (Gal 2:20)  I am confident that it is my spirit that is a “new creation” and to explain why I believe that I’ll start with a bit of history.  The soul and spirit of Adam were created in the image of God.  However, the consequence of original sin created a totally self-centered soul and a spirit that is separated from God.  That is the soul and spirit that I inherited at birth.  However, when I received Jesus, Scripture tells me that my spirit was reborn, but my soul was not.  My human spirit was replaced by the Holy Spirit of God,and the result is that my spirit was re-created/regenerated.  (2 Tim 1:14)  Now, He tells me to; “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Phil. 2:12-13) My understanding of that verse is that we are to cooperate with God as He works to make our soul congruent with our spirit.  The key word is “cooperate” with God as He does the work of transforming our soul by a process called “sanctification.”  I must remain soft and pliable so God can continue His work within me, but my primary focus is my new identity in Christ.

By faith, I believe this.  But too often I subconsciously revert to thinking that the real me is my soul and body, which has not yet been renewed.  My tendency is to let my mind and emotions tell me that since I still have wrong motives, thoughts, and actions, I am not a new creation.  The solution for this is to trust my feelings less and to believe by faith what God says about me.  So it’s completely a faith issue.  And that’s a good thing because the Bible tells us, “Without faith it’s impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6)  Over time I have come to strongly believe that in my spirit I’m a new creation while my body and soul retain the human frailties that resulted from the disobedience of my grandparents, Adam and Eve.  (Eph. 1:13-14)