A New Creation
Gay or straight, republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, man or woman, black or white, pro-choice or pro-life: these are all familiar labels we hear many people identify themselves as are used a pejorative to label someone else. It’s called identity politics and it’s not healthy because in these categories we narrowly define ourselves and each other. But more importantly, it is not healthy because we deny or forget our basic identify as human beings and as Christians. How many of us have openly identified ourselves, or “come out” as Christians?
The Apostle Paul addresses identity politics in today’s Epistle reading Galatians 6:11-18, designated for the Sunday before the Elevations of the Precious Cross which we celebrate September 14th. 15For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. He made the point earlier in the same letter:
26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28).
St. Paul is not trying to obliterate distinctions but rather put an end to identity politics. All of the various affiliations that we label ourselves or others with, reveal our weak and misguided attempts to effect change in the world and in ourselves. In other words, we are trying to become new creations without Him who created us.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris: A New Creation (Treasures from Paul’s Letters vol.1, p.25) states that science and technology is changing and improving faster and faster, and it’s changing the world we live in. But the question remains, “Have we humans changed?” Norman Cousins once said, “Man has exalted change in everything but himself.”
But this is where change is needed the most. If we humans do not change, if we are not born again, if we do not replace our selfishness with self-sacrificing love, then all the changes and improvements in science, technology, and politics will make no difference. Rather, they will become (we will use them as) the instruments of our destruction.
Change and improvement in our physical health is a good thing. But the most important or necessary change is in the character of human beings. Psychiatry, psychology, sociology, education, government, politics have tried and ultimately failed to achieve substantive and lasting change in our character. Only Christ can produce this kind of radical change, so as to make us a new creation.
Why? Because the only one who can recreate us in the One who created us in the first place. At the beginning, God created us in His image and likeness (Gen.1:26). Two thousand years ago, the Son of God became incarnate, taught, ministered, died on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to re-create humankind. Today, through baptism, chrismation, healing unction, repentance, confession and the Eucharist, Christ can recreate us into our original mold, the image and likeness of God.
The Scriptures are a record, a history, not of theories about change, but rather about lives that were changed. Jacob goes from a cheat and liar to become a righteous patriarch of his people. Moses goes from a hot-tempered murderer with a speech impediment to a patient leader of a chaotic crowd in the wilderness. The impetuous braggart Simon who denies Jesus, becomes the great faithful Apostle. Likewise, Saul of Tarsus who helped kill and persecute Christians, becomes a follower of Christ and the greatest of the Apostles, preaching peace and love.
Becoming a new creation in Christ is not about just claiming a new identity. It is about a fundamental change in our character that reaches down into the core of our being.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2Corinthians 5:17)
20But you have not so learned Christ, 21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
But this fundamental change in being is not easy. The Apostle Paul himself struggled with this necessary change and he wrote about it in his Epistle/Letter to the Christian community in Rome.
15For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15-24)
In conclusion, perhaps we are aware that many times the Church Fathers compare the Church to Noah’s Ark. When Noah’s family and the animals enter the ark, they are saved from the flood and destruction. Likewise, those who enter the Church today are saved from the universal destruction of sin and death. But the work of the Church is higher and more positive than Noah’s Ark. Why? Because Noah brought brute animals into the ark, and when the flood had receded, he released the same brute animals into the wild. However, as St. John Chrysostom notes, under the leadership of Jesus Christ, the Church takes in brute sinners and turns out saints or holy people.
In today’s Gospel reading from John 3:13-17, we hear that, 16"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. In order for us to be saved by Christ, we must first be baptized and chrismated, we must die to sin, put on Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. But these are not singular events. Rather, they are accomplished in a daily, life-long struggle through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and then regular refueling on Sundays and weekdays worshipping God the Holy Trinity and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. We cannot become a new creation without the Church but Christ and His Church cannot impose change upon us. We must seek it, accept and receive this change. When you walk out of this church on Sundays will you be a new creation? Amen!