Would you like some newness in your life? Where can you find it?
Scripture reveals that right now, wherever you are, you are filled with newness! When did this happen? At your conversion? At your baptism?
What if I was to tell you that you were filled with newness when you were created by, for, and in Jesus Christ (Col 1:16-17; Eph 2:10)?
Karl Barth’s exhilarating reading of the Genesis account relates that from the moment the God of Light stepped past the shadowy chaos of Gen 1:2 in order to create, he has already taken upon himself all the damage that the darkness will inevitably do; his creation is therefore also redemption—we are created by our redeemer (“the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world” Rev 13:8)! As soon as Christ steps past evil to create, says Barth, the old things are already old, and the new things are already new. In fact, Christ’s work connects all of our experiences of newness all the way back to creation.
Take 2 Cor 5:17 for instance: “anyone in Christ is a new creation, the old is gone, the new is come.” Without the context above, this text could sound as if things are simply cut and dried in sequential fashion, and that the old is no longer a factor. Instead this is a proclamation that in Christ we are new, that the state of creation has been reiterated by redemption, and that the old doesn’t have a future. The fact that the old, fallen self and the new, risen self simultaneously co-exist in this world is not hard to prove, and the biblical words “oldness” (used once) and “newness” (used twice) help us not to be trapped by the purely sequential understanding. We’re all conflicted persons, living in the overlap of newness and oldness. What irony, as new creatures in Christ we can, at the same time, find ourselves enslaved to oldness!
But this is no endless tug of war. In Genesis 1, “and it was evening and it was morning” is repeated over and over to remind us that it is light which is primal and ultimate, not darkness (see also I John 1:5, John 1:5). When the “oldness” sweeps in—after new creation just as after creation—it promises what it can’t deliver, to produce freshness from staleness. It seeks to convince us that neither God nor his creation is fully good. As children in the truth and light, we continue to fall for the lie of the deceiver, setting a self-destructive course. But as the morning still outruns the evening, Genesis truth spills into these New Testament words: “where sin increases, grace increases all the more” (Rom 5:20).
We were created in Christ, and we’ve been recreated in Christ. Newness is Jesus’ gift to you. You can’t find it by looking within. But to know the one to whom you have always belonged is to discover who you truly are. As hidden or inaccessible as your “newness of life” (Rom 6:4) may seem, the “newness of the Spirit” (Rom 7:6) who lives in you will reveal it to you.
As we keep putting ourselves under the sound of the gospel and gathering in Christ-centered community, the Word will enliven us in newness. Individual “conversion” and sacraments like baptism testify to the expansive “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) narrative of which we are a part in Christ’s death and resurrection. These are important celebrations of newness, charting a “new” course for a life marked by gratitude. Life in the Body of Christ helps us to resist the small, “old” narrative of living for ourselves (2 Cor 5:14-15) and to remember the bottom line: that no matter who we are or what we’ve been through, we are a new creation, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done!
Jeff McSwain is the Founder and current Director of Ministry Formation at Reality Ministries, Inc, in Durham, NC (founded 2007). The non-profit’s mission is “creating opportunities for teens and adults with and without developmental disabilities to experience belonging, kinship and the life-changing Reality of Christ’s love.”
Jeff has two degrees from St. Andrews, an MLitt (2002) and a PhD (2015). He has published various articles and two books, Movements of Grace: The Dynamic Christo-Realism of Barth, Bonhoeffer and the Torrances (2010), and most recently ‘Simul’ Sanctification: Barth’s Hidden Vision for Human Transformation (2018).
Keen to stay at the interface between systematic theology and practical ministry, in the last ten years Jeff and his wife Susan have helped plant a new church, CityWell, and launch the North Street Neighborhood, an intentional community (17 houses) near downtown Durham where people of various abilities share life together.