Three New Perspectives That Can Change Your Life
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
January 31, 2021
“I have felt so discouraged & tempted to lose hope.”
Those words arrived in an email from a woman who heard me on the radio. She fears that her faith in Christ is not strong enough. She prays for her sons who are not following the Lord. After 14 years of prayer, she wonders if she should give up on them. Added to that are worries related to last year’s convulsive events, especially the spread of the Coronavirus.
We all wonder from time to time if our prayers matter. We know we should pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), and we know God honors persevering prayer (Luke 11:9-10). But sometimes it’s easier to say, “Lord, I can’t hold on any longer. You’ll have to take it from here.”
We need a new way of thinking that doesn’t drag us down.
We need a new way of thinking that doesn’t drag us down. Until we see things from God’s point of view, we will continually make mistakes. We will drive into the ditch, we will turn down dead-end roads, and we will give up too soon.
That’s the point Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. In these two verses, he explains how he changed his mind about others, Christ, and himself. If we do what he did, our lives will be changed forever.
Let’s look at each one of these three new perspectives.
A New View of Others
“From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective” (v. 16a).
Some people watch birds.
I would much rather watch people.
You learn so much by watching how people dress and act and talk. Some people dress up for church; others paint their faces for a football game.
Sometimes when I have a layover at a major airport, I’ll grab a seat and watch the passing parade of humanity. Suppose I’m at O’Hare Airport in Chicago or Kennedy Airport in New York. In that case, I can see hundreds of faces of every color, and I can hear voices speaking in 50 different languages. Sit there long enough, and it feels like you’ve seen the whole world pass in front of you.
We like to judge people “according to the flesh” (the literal rendering of Paul’s words). We divide ourselves by height and weight and skin color and ethnic background. We judge people by how rich they are (or how rich they look). We pay attention to how they dress and what sort of car they drive. It matters to us where they live and where they work and who they know.
We judge people by how they look
That’s what 1 Samuel 16:7 means when it says, “Man looks on outward appearance.” Even though the Lord spoke those words 3000 years ago, they remain true today. Check out any of the magazines on sale at the supermarket checkout stand. They focus on the young, the rich, the famous, and especially the beautiful. Homely people must do something heroic (or criminal) to appear in those pages. They do it because people want to know where the celebrities went last night, what party they attended, who they went with, and what amazing (or scandalous) things they did.
That’s how it is in our world.
We all do this to some degree. We make snap judgments on how people look and dress, and what kind of car they drive and who they hang out with. That extends to things like culture and language and skin color, and a host of other outward characteristics.
In context, Paul means something like this: “Before I came to Christ, I took pride in my Jewish background. I constantly compared myself with the other young men I grew up with to see how I stacked up against them. I didn’t have much use for the Gentiles and none at all for the Christians I knew. But now all that has changed. The things I once bragged about, I count as a loss (Philippians 3:4-8). It doesn’t matter at all. How can I hate someone for whom Christ died? If Jesus died for all, then I must love all people, even those most different from me.”
No room for prejudice!
If we know Jesus, there is no room for hatred, bigotry, or racial prejudice. We can’t accept or reject people based on skin color or whether they speak our language.
If we allow our vision to be narrow, we will confine ourselves to those who look and think and act like us. That robs us of the beauty of the whole body of Christ.
We look at the outward. God looks at the inward.
We value popularity. God values character.
We look at intelligence. God looks at the heart.
We honor those with money. God honors those with integrity.
We talk about what we own. God talks about what we give away.
We list our accomplishments. God looks for a contrite heart.
We value education. God values wisdom.
We love size. God notices quality.
We live for fame. God searches for humility.
Our view is shallow. God’s view is deep.
Our view is temporary. God’s view is eternal.
So we ought to pray, “Lord, help me to see others through your eyes. Amen.”
A New View of Christ
“Even if we have known Christ from a worldly perspective, yet now we no longer know him in this way” (v. 16b).
Who was Jesus to Paul before his conversion?
He was a renegade, upstart rabbi who made blasphemous claims about himself. He came from a questionable family background, gathered a ragtag band of troublemakers around him, and tricked people into thinking he was the promised Messiah.
Before Paul came to Christ, he was perfectly happy in his career as a rising Jewish leader and an avid Christian-hater. He felt no remorse over his persecution of the followers of Christ, and in fact regarded it as his service to God. He had no desire to come to Christ and felt no need in his heart. His religion satisfied him in every way, and he saw no need for anything else. Was Paul interested in becoming a Christian? How many ways can you say no? He wasn’t looking for Christ, but Christ was looking for him. Only God could save a man like Paul. And that’s exactly what God did.
Christ was looking for Paul
Acts 8:1-3 tells us that Saul (Paul’s Hebrew name) went from house to house in a sort of reverse evangelism. Knock, knock. “Any Christians here?” If the answer was yes, he dragged them out of their homes and had them put in prison. His heart was full of rage against anyone who claimed to follow Jesus of Nazareth. He was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” when he was on his way to Damascus to root out the fledgling Christian movement (Acts 9:1-2). He thought the best way to defeat Christianity was to kill all the Christians. In his zeal he had no peer—either as a student of the Law of Moses or as a fierce opponent of the church of God.
He was a religious fanatic. A bigot. A zealot. A man wholly given over to his hatred of Christians. He would stop at nothing to prevent this new movement from spreading.
That’s what Paul means when he says he looked at Jesus from a “worldly perspective.” The text literally says he looked at Jesus “according to the flesh.” Paul saw a rabblerousing troublemaker who needed to be stopped.
Not every unbeliever looks at Jesus that way. Many today see Jesus in a more positive light, as a good example and as a great moral teacher. Some would say he worked great miracles. Others might call him “a” son of God, meaning he is one among many “sons of God” throughout history. But they would not say he is the Son of God sent from heaven to earth. They view him as “a” way to heaven but not “the” way to heaven, as if there are many saviors and many roads to eternal life.
Some people hate Jesus!
Some hate him.
Others admire him.
Some consider him one among many religious leaders.
But as C. S. Lewis remarked, you can’t logically stop short of the truth about Christ. Perhaps he is a liar, or maybe he is a lunatic, but you must bow the knee and confess that he is the Lord if you follow the evidence. There is no room in the middle for people who say, “He’s just a great teacher.” Jesus didn’t leave us with that option.
So we ought to pray, “Lord, help me to see you as you are—the Son of God who gave yourself for me. You are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Amen.”
A New View of Ourselves
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (v. 17)
But then we come to the crucial question. How does a man like Paul move from being a spiritual terrorist to a sold-out follower of Jesus? According to Galatians 1:23, the news of Paul’s conversion stunned the early Christians. They heard that “the man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
It was a miracle only God could perform.
Once he hated believers. Now he seeks their fellowship.
Once he hated the truth. Now he lives by the truth.
Once he hated the gospel. Now he preaches the gospel.
Christ makes all the difference
Christ has made all the difference.
Note the way Paul puts it. If anyone is “in Christ.” There is a world of truth hidden in those two words. We can divide the human race into two categories:
You are either in Christ,
Or you are not in Christ.
As long as Christ is outside of us, all he has done for the human race is of no value to us. It is not enough to say, “I attend Grace Church,” or “I love to sing the hymns,” or even “Pastor Ray baptized me.” It’s not enough to say, “I believe there was a person named Jesus who lived and died 2000 years ago.” But is he dwelling in you? Does he live in you? We experience Christ in us only as we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Savior.
A Christian is a person in whom Christ now lives. That leads me to ask a question with eternal implications. Are you in Christ. and is Christ now living in you? I heard the story of one of Napoleon’s soldiers who was wounded by a shot to the chest. As the doctor operated to remove the bullet just above the heart, the soldier remarked, “Two inches lower you will find the emperor.” If we opened your heart, would we find Christ dwelling there?
Let’s notice three crucial points from this verse:
We need a “new way of seeing”
First, the only way to be a new creation is to be in Christ. Paul is not talking about creating a “brand-new you” through some sort of self-improvement. He’s not a first-century Tony Robbins unleashing the power within. The only “power” within us by nature is the power of sin. Left to ourselves, we disobey, go astray, and in general make a mess of things. If a person wants a new life, he must first be “in Christ.” That’s a shorthand way of saying, “You must be born again.”
Second, the new creation starts on the inside, in the heart, where life makes up its mind. By itself, the heart is full of deceit and evil intentions (Jeremiah 17:9). God gives us a “new heart” in place of the old one. He replaces the heart of stone with a heart of flesh. That “new heart” gives us a new desire to serve God and results in new affections where once we only desired to please ourselves.
Third, the new creation results in a new way of seeing. Ephesians 4:23 tells us to be renewed in our thinking. Thomas Watson says that when an artist begins to paint a face, he starts with the eyes. “When God newly draws us and makes us new creatures, the first thing He draws in our souls is a new eye.” We see things we never saw before.
Your heart has eyes that can be open or closed. When the eyes of your heart are closed to the light of God, you stumble blindly through life, making one dumb choice after another. You fall into sinful patterns, you break God’s laws, you make the same mistakes over and over again, and you enter one dead-end relationship after another. When the eyes of your heart are shut, you lack moral vision because the light of God is shut out of your life. That means you can see and be blind at the same time. There are lots of people like that in the world. Physically they can see, but spiritually they are blind.
But when you come to Christ, you have eyes to see what you never saw before.
So we ought to pray, “Lord, thank you for making me a brand-new creation. Help me to live like one who has been made new from the inside out. Amen.”
“I Needed a Pilot”
We received a letter from a prisoner in Virginia who read my book An Anchor for the Soul three times. This is part of what he wrote:
Somehow a copy of your book ended up in my hands. I read it and enjoyed it. I reread it every few months and just finished it for the third time. But this time, it was……different
I’ve been a seeker for the last 2 years. I’ve been reading through the Bible, reading through spiritual books left and right, going to jail “church,” and doing Bible study courses. But there has always been something not there. A pit or hole dead center in me I couldn’t fill. I believed in God, knew about Jesus, believed the Bible, so what was wrong?
As I was reading chapter 4 “A Man Called Jesus,” it hit me. I knew about Jesus. But I didn’t know Him! You paint a picture of Him that even I can understand. Plus you go on to explain faith and salvation so perfectly, that I finally get it! I had never really trusted in Jesus fully.
Then he mentioned an illustration I used in the book:
You kept mentioning an airplane pilot and it hit home. I don’t ever second guess a pilot when I get on a plane, which I have several times. I have faith he will get me where I need to go and in one piece. Now if I can be so unthinkingly faithful of a human, why couldn’t I lay my entire trust in Jesus?!? I picture life as a plane and me as the pilot. I have no clue how to fly, and as I look around I see the wreckage of a failed attempt. I needed a pilot!
That led to this moment:
So as of today, August 26, not only did I invite Jesus into my life, I sincerely asked Him to fly the plane. I also spent almost an hour in prayer. I mention that because my prayers usually last less than 5 minutes and I struggle with that. I felt, well, clean afterwards.
He signed his letter this way:
The ex-fence sitter and new child of God.
That’s the difference Jesus Christ makes. This prisoner has become a “new creation” through the new birth. Suddenly he sees all things new. As the song says, “Once I was blind, but now I see.”
We are new but not new all at once
That brings me back to where we started. All of us come into the world spiritually blind. But the kicker is, we don’t know it, which is why we continually do dumb things that hurt ourselves and those around us. We lie, we break our promises, we sin in the darkness, we harbor bitterness, and we pretend to be better than we are. Even after we come to Christ, those patterns of sin stay with us. That explains why Christians struggle in so many ways.
Here is part of what I wrote to the woman who felt her faith was weak:
The issue is not how strongly we believe because our faith wavers and our feelings change. The great question is this: Do you believe Jesus did enough to save you completely? When he died on the cross for your sins, and when he rose from the dead to give you new life, was that enough? Or do you need to add anything to what Jesus did?
I know you already know the answers. Jesus is enough! His death is so vast, so great, so amazing that there is nothing that you or I could ever do to add to the value of what he did for us. If Jesus is enough, then you and I can sleep well tonight.
God answers our weakness with the strength of his Son. If we are “in Christ,” we are new creations. Crippling fear belongs to the “old things” that have passed away.
Christ came to set us free. We shortchange the gospel when we apply those words only to unbelievers. Even the strongest Christians (whoever they are) battle sin daily. If we say we don’t, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
We all need a pilot!
If we live in fear, we need a new perspective.
If we judge others according to the flesh, we need a new perspective.
If we stop praying, we need a new perspective.
It’s not wrong to pray, “Lord Jesus, you have made me a new creation. Help me to live like it today.” That’s a prayer God will hear and answer. It means you believe 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true.
Like the prisoner said, we all need a pilot. Thank God, we have one!
God help us to live like new creations because Christ makes all things new.