Misled by a Butterfly (And How It Almost Ruined My Understanding of the Gospel)
Jul 21, 2013 1452
When I was around 8 years old I saw a film that showed how caterpillars turned into butterflies. I was really impressed by that; you know, how first there is this grub, crawling along the ground, and then it does its cocoon thing, and then emerges as this gloriously beautiful butterfly, fluttering off in a riot of colour. The film featured this verse: “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!” (2 Cor 5:17, CEB). I thought that was awesome, and I really wanted to be that butterfly. That’s why I still remember it today. What an amazing concept!
But as the years went by, I found that verse more and more discouraging. Why? Because even though I considered myself to be a believer in Jesus, I didn’t feel like a new creature; in fact, I felt like the grub. I was still myself, with the same personality, still sinning. So where was the bonus of being a Christian?
If you read this verse in its context, you will see that Paul is talking here about us being ambassadors (v.20). And where there are ambassadors, there is a King. And where there is a King, there is a Kingdom. You see, the King of the Universe had walked with humanity, and was now risen from the dead. The new creation, of which we are part, is the kingdom of Jesus.
Now, the only way that you can get into the kingdom of Jesus is to have a clean record. 2 Cor 5:19 tells you that the way only way to have clean record is if God doesn’t count your sins against you. The only way. Full stop.
And 2 Cor 5:21 tells you exactly how it is that God doesn’t count your sins against you: because “God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.” That is how the kingdom of God has come to this world. This is how the kingdom of God has come to your life. The result is that your status is changed: you “become the righteousness of God” in Christ.
This is the gospel, and when we accept it, it’s like being born again: born again into the Kingdom of Christ. And when you are part of the Kingdom of Christ, you get citizen rights. You can have a real relationship with Jesus as your best friend. And when Jesus walks with you in life, things change.
This passage tells us that when we become part of this new creation, God gives us a new job description. We become the ambassadors of Christ, the agents of reconciliation in this world between people everywhere and their God, and simply… between people everywhere. Because the gospel is all about reconciliation.
According to what Paul tells us here, what changes in us is how we see people, and our attitudes toward others. Paul says in v.16, “from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards?” Why? Because Christ hasn’t treated you according to human standards, but according to the standard of infinite and Divine mercy. As a result, we can never look at others in the same way again.
The change that life in the kingdom of God brings is not an obsession with character perfection, or with our efforts with becoming what we cannot become in this life. The change is that we become agents of reconciliation, empowered by the Spirit of God; we become agents of grace, mercy, and kindness. You are still yourself, and I am still myself, but our attitudes towards each other will change. After all, the One who has delivered us has given us new job descriptions, as representatives of the King of Reconciliation.