(2 Corinthians 5: 5-21)
Back when I was a practicing criminal defense attorney in Tyler, Texas, I used to spend quite a bit of time visiting with my clients, most of whom were sitting in jail under excessively high bonds, listening to them tell me how unfair life was. Some lamented that they just didn’t know why they were being punished for making a mistake. I would quickly correct them and tell them that a mistake was not paying attention and walking into the wrong restroom. Certainly embarrassing, but nobody gets hurt. Every once in a while, I’d have a truly remorseful client who would say that if they could do it all over again, they’d do it differently. All they needed was a do-over. A do-over is like a mulligan in golf. You get to take another swing without suffering a penalty for the previous errant shot. It’s like that slice, duff or hook never even happened. The guy with the scorecard just lets you tee it up again.
If you remember last week, we talked about sin. How if we repent and ask God for forgiveness, our sins are forgotten, blotted out. They’re in the past and God does not count them against us. We are a new creation. We get a do-over. In consideration for this do-over, God gets our trash and we get a shot at a new life. Our slate has been wiped clean. I did some contract law when I was in private practice and I can tell you who is getting the benefit of the bargain in this exchange.
In our scripture reading for today, the Apostle Paul had just finished telling his readers that their earthly body, their tent, was only a temporary dwelling place and that when it is torn down they will have a permanent home that is not handmade, one that is eternal and located in heaven. He says that the one who is preparing us for this move is God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has given us the promise of living with him in eternity, a new home, a new body, one free from pain and misery. We can’t move in yet, but the Spirit is God’s down-payment. We can’t wait to go home. We get homesick. But the time is not right. In the meantime, we live by faith and not by sight. While we’re away from home our goal is to be acceptable in his sight as we do his work and his will here on earth.
Paul then says something that really got my attention. He says, we all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad. I can tell you from experience that good things generally don’t happen in court. Usually, there was a period in between being convicted of your guilt and punishment. I would tell my clients that we, i.e., they, should use this time wisely to do some things that might mitigate their punishment. You know, get clean, get a job, go back to school and work on that G.E.D., you know, self-improvement. I had a client, who did not heed my presentencing advice, appear before the judge who asked what he had been doing between being found guilty and awaiting sentencing. His reply, which by the way was the wrong answer, was: “nothing, I was waiting to see what you were going to do.” I am not kidding, you could hear people in the courtroom gasp. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear the angels gasp when I stand before Jesus. If you don’t think this can happen, remember what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16: 27; For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he (or she) has done.
While eternal life is a free gift given on the basis of God’s grace, each of us will still be judged by Christ. This judgment will reward us for how we have lived. God’s gracious gift of salvation does not free us from the requirement for faithful obedience. All Christians must give account for how they have lived. If you remember, last week we talked about the transformation process and how it didn’t begin until we asked God for forgiveness. Now we have the Spirit with us helping us work through the transformation process. We know this because it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of scripture, convicts us of our sin, restrains us from selfish behavior, or prompts us to love. These are our reminders that the Spirit is present and at work.
Paul continues by talking about how the love of Christ controls them, because they have concluded that one died for the sake of all, therefore, all died. He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. Everything that Paul and his companions did was to honor God. Not only did the fear of God motivate them, but Christ’s love compelled their actions. Job 28: 28 says, Look, the fear of the Lord is wisdom; turning from evil is understanding. Psalm 25: 12 says, Where are the ones who honor the Lord? God will teach them which path to take. At this point, Paul transitions by saying, So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
As Christians, we are brand-new people on the inside. The Holy Spirit has given us new life, and we aren’t the same anymore. We are not reformed, rehabilitated, or re-educated. We are re-created, living in vital union with Christ. At our conversion we are not merely turning over a new leaf; we are beginning a new life under a new master. Paul tells us that all of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, Paul says, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. God brings us back to himself, reconciles us, by blotting out our sins and making us righteous. We are no longer God’s enemies, or strangers or foreigners to him, when we trust in Christ. Because we have been reconciled to God, we have the privilege of encouraging others to do the same, and thus we are those who have the “ministry of reconciliation.”
Paul concludes this portion of his letter by telling the reader that we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us he tells them. He begs them as Christ’s representatives to be reconciled to God. He stresses that God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become righteous with God. John Wesley said that we can’t keep this good news to ourselves, but must become ambassadors for Christ to the whole world, God making his appeal through us.
So, there you have it, our transformation into a new creation in Christ begins with our repenting of our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness which God, through his infinite mercy, love and grace, freely grants. Because we have asked for God’s help, the transformation continues within us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is right there reminding us through scripture, convicting us of our sins by helping us to realize our bad behavior, helping us refrain from selfish behavior and prompting us to love others. As this transformation develops we begin to see people differently. We work not to judge them by human standards but to see them as Christ sees them. We see them too as a new creation in Christ. Their old self has gone away, and look, a new person has arrived. They got a do-over.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for our new creation, our new selves and the life we now experience in you. Thank you for your forgiveness and unconditional love, even during those times when we fail you. Help us, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be the kind of people you would have us be, the kind of people who sees others as you see them, people who also have the potential to be a new creation. Use us to be your ambassadors, your representatives here on earth charged with the mission of making disciples of your Son, Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world. In the name of your son, the Good Shepherd, we pray, Amen.