Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:17 The Old Has Gone, The New Has Come!

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

When Jesus Christ comes to us he says, “It is time for something new.” He does not say that it is time to shed certain practices from your life or to add religion to your life. It is time for a totally new beginning, new life, new hope, new strength and a new vision. It is time to be made a new creation. That is what the gospel says.

Genesis chapter one moves from a situation in which the earth was “formless and empty with darkness over the surface of the deep” to one in which the heavens and the earth have been completed “in all their vast array.” In other words, the account moves from chaos to unimagined ordered splendour, and all by the word of Almighty God. That is the work of God in creation. Later this same Lord sets to work in redemption upon all his people, as numerous as the sands on the shores of the seven seas. They are also in darkness, empty of any saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, yet with the very same power with which he made the universe he transforms them too, making them new creations fit for the new heavens and the new earth. Everything about these people becomes new. The response of the apostle Paul to this miracle of grace is his cry, “The old has gone, the new has come!” In what does the freshness of the new creation lie?

1. THE OLD COVENANT GIVES WAY TO THE NEW.

Paul has identified himself as a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). Throughout the Old Testament, from the beginning of his dealings with men, God operated in terms of a covenant. You know what a covenant is, a commercial contract between two business partners. It is a treaty between two separate nations, a form of binding agreement which they solemnly ratify. It is a marriage commitment between a man and a woman. Those are examples of covenants, and so today in my relationship with God there is a contract between God and my soul; a treaty between myself and the Lord; a marriage bond between the Christian and Jesus Christ. God has established this covenant. He has made solemn promises in which he has pledged his steadfast determination to do for me what he says. There is a most binding obligation on his part, a word given which he will not renege, which establishes a sense of mutual commitment between us. God can never revoke what he has sworn to do with everyone who is in Christ. The moment we become new creations there is an oath which God will not break; there is a marriage which he will not allow to be dissolved; there is a contract which is irreversible.

If anyone is in Christ all the promises of God become to that person Yea and Amen. That is, they are utterly certain. Our sin is totally forgiven. Our salvation is infallibly assured. In this covenantal commitment lies our security, and our perseverance as children of God, because God has made a contract with our souls. Toplady says it so memorably:-

The work which His goodness began, The arm of His strength will complete; His promise is Yea and Amen, And never was forfeited yet. Things future, nor things that are now, Nor all things below or above Can make him His purpose forego Or sever my soul from His love.

Nothing will fail of all that God has promised to do for us. We must never lose sight of the divine covenant. There is nothing more fundamental to the whole structure of biblical religion. We Christians have to learn to see our own security not in terms of our religious emotions, nor in terms of our fluctuating feelings, nor with reference to our varied experiences but in terms of God’s commitment of himself to every person who is in Christ. Our whole security is based on that.

But we are not any longer under the old covenant but we are under the new. We are somewhat aware of the nature of the new covenant. It has been made by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ who said in the shadow of his cross at the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (I Cor. 11:25). That is the new, but what is the old covenant? It is not the covenant with Abraham. In the Abrahamic covenant God promised the patriarch that he would have a seed, and through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The promise, of course, was Christ and his salvation. What God declared to Abraham has come to us Gentiles “though Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gals. 3:14). So “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gals 3:29). In other words, that covenant has never been revoked, or cancelled. We are receiving the blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham at this very moment. There is little that is old about it. Its blessings are new each morning, for every day in all the nations of the world more people are the beneficiaries of God’s covenant with Abraham.

So what is the old covenant? It is the covenant made on Sinai. That is a covenant of pure law, yet it is always a covenant serving the interests of grace. It locked the world up until Christ was revealed and men might be freed from the condemnation of the broken law by faith in him. “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gals 3:24). The great contrast between the old covenant on Sinai considered simply as the law, and the covenant of grace in Abraham and in Christ is this: the old covenant on Sinai said, “Thou shalt.” The new covenant says, “I shall.” This is the newness of the new covenant. The old covenant was pure demand, and unless you kept its demands you incurred its anathemas. In fact, that was where Israel stood in Paul’s day. The Jews had violated the demands flagrantly. They lay under the curses of Deuteronomy, and under the judgment of the broken law which said simply, “Thou shalt.” So long as men were going to live under an economy which bleakly said, “Thou shalt” then there could be nothing but the wrath of a sin-hating God.

Then in his grace God established a new covenant in Jesus Christ who is its very enfleshment. He established it to deliver men and women from that old covenant which said “Thou shalt not,” and he brought them into a new economy in which the Lord said “I shall.” In this covenant the burden was borne by God. He took the initiative. He provided everything that he demanded. God reveals the righteousness. God erects the altar on Golgotha. God takes the Lamb from his own bosom. God directs the condemnation that is rightly ours to his Son. God undertakes to choose and call and keep and glorify. It is a sovereignly conceived covenant of divine gift and divine initiative and divine accomplishment. Not only the concept of this covenant but its achievement in every detail is all God’s work. Men are virtually frozen like Abraham was when God made the covenant with him, lying prostrate and almost comatose, spectating as the firepot moved up and down between the avenue of the divided sacrifice. “Let this happen to me if I fail to keep my word,” says Jehovah. “I shall fulfil my promise to bless you and your seed. I take this responsibility on myself.” So too in the new covenant God’s Son obeys the law by himself, and suffers its judgment by himself, and all alone he cries, “It is finished.” He has accomplished salvation, in other words, all that that covenant requires of us to become its beneficiaries he has obtained for us. He conceived of this covenant, and he effects this covenant, and he applies it. He sees the whole process through to its glorious completion.

So in the new covenant we have moved right out of the whole ethos of God demanding – “Thou shalt do this” – into a very different ethos – “I shall do it.” In the new covenant God says, “I shall make sure that they all know me, every single one of them whom the Father has given to me, starting in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and then unto the ends of the earth, and unto the end of time, I will bring to each one of them the saving knowledge of my dear Son and make them new creations.” That is what this new covenant does.

In the new covenant God says, “I shall forgive their sins.” No law ever said that. Sinai never promised that. Moses said, “The soul that does these things shall live by them.” It had thundered out its denunciations against all those who transgressed. But the new covenant said it would forgive not the respectable, not the sincere, and not the religious but the ungodly, simply on the initiative of God, if they but came and trusted in the Lord Jesus. The new covenant made a promise of full and gracious forgiveness.

In the new covenant God says, “I shall give them a new heart, and I will write my laws in their hearts.” The law was a marvellous ethical and ritual system, of great beauty and force, yet it was weak. Why? Because our flesh is weak. The system foundered on the rock of human depravity and the alienation of man’s heart from God. Man couldn’t change, any more than the Ethiopian change the colour of his skin. The law could define man’s duties with the most precise accuracy and profundity, and point out all the terrible consequences of disobeying and the wonderful rewards of obedience. It could plead with them to comply but it foundered on the obstinacy and resistance of the sinful human heart, alienated against God. But under the new covenant God gives to his people a new heart, whose instinct is to delight in and obey its Lord. God gives the moral and spiritual energy to do what God himself requires. So whatever God requires, even if it is to love him with all one’s soul and mind and strength, God can enable us to obey.

Great Britain and the allies at the end of the First World War in 1919 made a treaty with conquered Germany at Versailles in which they imposed on that proud nation an extraordinarily heavy body of conditions. That covenant was to produce the absolutely opposite effect, because the German nation didn’t have the heart to meet those harsh terms, and that covenant foundered upon the national character of Germany. Let us imagine if the allied powers had been able to work within the hearts of the German people and impose upon them the necessary motivation and good will and compliance then the covenant would have been kept. But that is what has happened in the new covenant of grace. God has been able to make infallibly sure that the inferior partner – we believing sinners – will comply with his terms. He gives all those in Christ who are his new creation the actual obedience which he demands of us. “The old has gone, the new has come!”

2. THE OLD MAN GIVES WAY TO THE NEW MAN.

It is worth rehearsing this theme again because the soundest men have disagreed over this point. The old man is not the same as the ‘flesh’ or the sinful nature. Old man is what we were before we became Christians, while the ‘flesh’ is the sin that remains in every Christian – and will do so until we get to glory. In fact, we have to battle with the flesh, and daily put to death the sin that is still in our members. That is a crucial truth, but it is not the truth about the old man and the new man. The Christian’s old man has ceased to be. He died. It is not that today he is in the process of being crucified in a long lingering way. He has been co-crucified with Christ and so he is dead, and he no longer exists. You can go hunting for him where he used to hang out, in the counsel of the ungodly and the way of sinners and in the seat of the scornful but you will no longer find him in those haunts. If you ask his former buddies the whereabouts of that old unbeliever they will tell you that they have not seen him for a long time. He has gone away, never to return. “Try the church!” they will say mockingly. Each Christian has made that decisive break with what he used to be.

Let me use this illustration: there is that old filthy pair of dungarees at the end of its life which we last wore while lying under the car trying to stop an oil leak. Before the end of the day when it was time to go to bed we took those dungarees off. We did not lie between the white sheets in that defilement. We did not put our pyjamas on over them so that we wore both dirty dungarees and clean pyjamas at the same time. We changed and bathed, and then we put on the clean clothes. So too the Christian has once replaced the old man with the new. “Ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man” (Ephs. 4:22 KJV). The old man has been laid aside like a dirty garment, and we will not put him on again. Those old work-clothes were disposable and they have indeed been disposed of. Grace will not let us wear them again.

Augustine the great theologian of Hippo in north Africa had been an immoral man before he was converted, and then the great change took place. A year or two later he was walking through a town when one of his old girlfriends spotted him. “Augustine!” she cried after him. “Augustine! Augustine. It is I!” “But it is not I,” he cried back and kept walking. The old Augustine had ceased to be. There is a death which it not the other constant putting to death of our day-to-day mortification of sin. This death is an event not a process. It is the irreversible putting off of our worldly, unregenerate, Satan-controlled, sin-dominated self which occurs in every Christian at conversion. This has made each one of us radically and irreversibly different.

One of the great dangers with the concept that a Christian is both old man and new man was that this could become a cop-out for our own responsibility for our own sins. Whenever we did something wrong we could blame him as the scapegoat. That lie or that lust was the old man, and so he became the receptacle for all our misdemeanours. We simply evoked him and we pleaded, ‘Old Adam was too strong for young Melanchthon’ – that is what the youthful Philipp Melanchthon claimed. But when we turn to the New Testament we meet a different concept, that in fact there is no old man left to blame, to bear the responsibility for our misconduct. The old man has ceased to be, and such sin as there is is the sin of the new man, and we have to face that fact, in all its ugliness and anomalousness.

We are forbidden running to God and pleading, “The new man is still what he has been, pure and transparent and holy. It was the old man that did it.” There is simply no old man to blame. The old man was crucified, dead and buried. He has ceased to have any existence, and my sins are those of the new man. If we should in alarm protest, “But surely that is impossible,” then that is exactly what God wants us to say. How can the new man behave in this iniquitous way? How could Demas love this present world? How could Peter refuse to eat alongside his Gentile fellow church members? How could Paul and Barnabas divide over Mark? Yet those new men did. And when I sin there is nobody but the regenerate new man to blame for my wickedness. I am not two persons, or two selves. I am one person, just one new man and he carries the whole responsibility for my sin.

That means, for example, that we have been delivered from sin in the sense that it no longer dominates and lords over the Christian dictating to him how he is to live. Once it did, and it told him to ignore God, forget about Jesus Christ, never pray, don’t even think of going to church, ignore the fact of death, don’t bother to read the Bible and forget you have a soul. There was a time, before the Christian was converted, when he obeyed sin in all those details. How different things are now! Sin rages within him – yes – but it does not reign as a dictator. It is absolutely impossible for sin to be king in the Christian believer. It is no longer in control. The believer is not spiritually impotent, utterly incapable of doing any spiritual good. The tyranny of sin over the old man has been broken. The influence of sin has not been totally eradicated but its lordship has ended.

The new man has an aversion to sin. Now what he hates that he does! Oh yes, he does it, but he hates doing it. He cannot shake off the sin that besets him so easily, it goes on troubling him, but he has a radical aversion to it. Moreover the new man fights against the sin that remains and that sin fights against him. There is a new struggle in the new man. There can be no total victory before we see Jesus. There is no secret that any person or any movement or any convention in the entire world possesses of total eradication before the event of the second coming, but in the new man in every Christian there is a new aversion and a struggle against sin which was not present in the old man. In our pre-Christian days we knew absolutely nothing about that battle.

More than that, the new man cannot sin a sin which is unto death. Now that is a mysterious phrase, but it must mean that there is a sin which results in the sinner going to hell, lost for ever. The new man is prevented by the power of grace from ever committing that sin. Though he fall seven times he gets up and asks the Lord for forgiveness. God has made it impossible for the new man to reject Christ and his salvation, though he should backslide dreadfully, grace will restore the new man. Not all who profess to be new men will be restored, but all who are new men in Christ will most certainly be restored. He is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. God keeps him trusting, believing, looking, returning, repenting and asking for pardon and new strength. It is absolutely impossible for the new man to cease following Jesus Christ his Saviour.

It is possible for us to go on in pitiless self-examination and expound and expatiate upon all the sin of which we are conscious in ourselves. But whatever the believer is and whatever power sin may exercise still in his life, he is not the man that he was. The unregenerate man – that has ceased to be. The believer is not old man and new man. He is not a man with a new heart plus old heart. He has, and he has only, a new heart. He has only the one nature, the one human nature, transformed by the grace of Almighty God. The man dead in sin, the carnal man – that man has absolutely ceased to be. That is our past. Our new creation and our union with Jesus Christ makes a decisive break with what we used to be. “The old has gone; the new is come!”

3. THE OLD CLEANSINGS GIVE WAY TO A NEW PURITY.

In the Old Testament before holy living ever became a matter of morality or character it was first a matter of relationship, especially of relationship to God. In the Old Testament there are holy vessels, and holy buildings, and holy ground, and a holy city, and a holy people. Now that cannot possibly have meant that those utensils and geographical locations had undergone some spiritual metamorphosis. It meant that they were dedicated to God – the consecrated lampstands and show-bread and lavers etceteras were the possession of Jehovah and for his use. They had been set apart, separated to him and his service.

Then there were the ceremonial washings and cleansings that these holy people had to perform. When priests were consecrated then their whole bodies had to be cleansed in the laver. Every day their hands and feet had to be washed, and sometimes their clothes had to be cleansed. Then the Pharisees took this up and said every true Jew, every day, and before every meal had to ceremonially cleanse himself before eating, and if you had walked down a busy road you might have touched something unclean so you had to wash your whole body. So men’s thoughts were focused on the rituals of constant washing. That, in their mind, was what religious purity was all about. We saw it in January this year at the gathering of 25 million Hindus in north India. It was referred to as the “largest gathering in the history of humanity.” They went there to seek the Hindu god Lord Vishnu’s elixir of immortality in the churning waters of Mother Ganges while Jupiter is in Aries. This festival called Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years and it consists of sacred bathing at the junction of the Ganges and the Yamuna.

In Christ’s new covenant there is no longer a part of the world that is ‘holy’, no river that is ‘holy’ nor one ethnic group that is God’s special people. All the people of God, Jew and Gentile alike whose faith is in the Lord Jesus are God’s purchased possession. They have been separated from the world, and from what is common and profane. They have become the possession of God – “vessels unto honour for the Master’s use.” The redeemed of the Lord no longer belong to the world. We are God’s property.

Now there is no need for daily ceremonial washings. They have been made clean once and for all. Corinth was a notorious seaport full of temples and priestesses, and Paul found it necessary to warn the church, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed…” (I Cor. 6:9-11). Paul is not saying that they were daily cleansing themselves from that old life-style. He is looking back to one great event in the past of these Christians when they were converted. He is saying to them, “Never forget what happened once and for all to you. You were washed.” He is talking about the defiling influences of sin that clung to their hearts and minds and consciences so that there were occasions when they felt particularly defiled. Their sins seemed like scarlet. Their souls were indelibly stained by what they had been, and all great Neptune’s ocean could not make them clean. ‘What can wash away my sin?’ That is the simple question facing every man.

Paul says, “I know what you were, but, remember you went to the laver of Calvary and have been cleansed. All the defilement of that lifetime has been washed away. The sins that were as crimson are now as white as snow. You have been washed.”

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.

(William Cowper)

Brian Ellis and his team of workers seek to help the street children of Manila. There is a teenager I met who at thirteen had been gang-raped. She was taken in and cared for, and told of the real cleansing that there is in the Lamb of God, and that having obtained forgiveness herself for her sins could find grace from God to offer forgiveness to those who had so savagely defiled her. Then her Christian life goes on. Girls like that are not encouraged to spend sessions each week rehearsing their lives and what had happened to them. They have been washed. They are now clean girls and they are not to excuse any falls in terms of an eruption of ongoing defilement. They are now pure because the blood of Christ has purified them. That is what they are encouraged to believe, because that is in fact their status. The great explanation is this, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7).

I know a fount where sins are washed away;
I know a place where night is turned to day.
Burdens are lifted, blind eyes made to see,
There’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.

How disdainful the Lord Jesus was of the Pharisees whining that his disciples had eaten food without first ceremonially washing. Where does sin originate? Do you pick it up when you stroke a dog, or when the shadow of a pig crosses your feet? Is it external and enters through the pores or through the eyes or mouth? The Lord said to Peter, “whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body. But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean”” (Matt. 17-20). Get your heart cleansed by the blood of Christ and you are clean. A man once rang the bell of the Manse and when I asked him in he told me he would like me to baptize him. His girl-friend had become pregnant and had chosen to have an abortion. She had also ended the relationship, but it was he who was feeling defiled by all this, and so he asked me if I would baptize him. I told him that water baptism was merely a symbol and that true cleansing came in the cross of Christ. That washing dealt with the source of our problem, a dirty heart out of which lust and cruelty came. This inner fountainhead has to be dealt with so that the waters would run purely from that time on. He came to church for a while until he felt less guilty, but then he ceased his quest for cleansing, though I still speak to him.

There is a once for all cleansing from the guilt and defilement of sin when we are joined to Christ by faith. This results in the believer being every whit a clean person. There is that wonderful dialogue recorded in John 13 before the Passover meal. The Lord Jesus takes a towel and basin of water and begins to wash the feet of his disciples and to wipe them. He comes to Peter who says, “‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus answered, ‘A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean,'” (John 13: 6-10).

The Lord Jesus is saying, “Peter, you left all to follow me. Peter, you believe that I’m the Christ the Son of the living God. You are a believer. You have been washed. When a man has showered and goes to a friend’s party he doesn’t need to shower again when he arrives. He just needs to ‘wash his hands’, as we say, after his journey there. So please understand, Peter, that the Christian life is like that. You have been washed once and for all for the whole of your past. All the crimson stains of the years gone by have been cleansed. If you go from a shower to carry out some bins you don’t need to go back into the bathroom for another shower. Just wash your hands. There is no need to keep on bathing and showering and washing to deal with daily contact with dirtiness. So too when the garment is clean it does not need to be put into the washing machine again, and again. So you just need a little daily washing of your hands, that is, the sins of today need to be cleansed. So we know that if we confess the sins of today he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Peter, please understand, ‘A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean, And you are clean’ (John 13:10).

So when the devil would remind us of what we have done and point us to his remedies of the penance, and the pilgrimage, and the scourge, and the hair-shirt, and the confessional, and baptisms, and purgings we say, “I have been washed. I do not need another trip to the laver of regeneration. I am the new cleansed man in Christ.”

4. THE OLD APPROACH TO GOD GIVES WAY TO NEW ACCESS.

How hard it was to approach God in the Old Testament. There was the Holy of Holies and into that little room, behind the veil, just once a year, for a short time, the High Priest alone entered with the blood of the sacrifice. Then before that room there was the Holy Place with the table and lampstand and altar of incense and into that place the priests alone had access. Then there was the first court in which there was the great altar and to that place only Jewish men had access. Then there was behind a wall the outer court to which the Gentiles and women had access, but they could come no further. That was the old approach to God.

How different is the new, and the blessed privilege of access to God is one of the foremost emphases of the New Testament. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Roms. 5:1&2). Again, “In Christ, and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephs. 3:12). “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us … let us draw near to God” (Hebs. 10 19&20). This is the joy of membership in any human family that the children have every entitlement and encouragement to go to their father, and that privilege is unaffected by differences in social status, finance, or IQ. The child’s father may be a pauper, or he may be a millionaire. He may be a slave, or the president of the USA, it makes no difference. The child has the right to go and talk to its father.

So it is for all who are in Christ Jesus, they may run into the presence of Almighty God and cry Abba Father. They do not have any restrictions of access at all, women and men, children and adults, novices and old saints, backsliders and people of high obedience and love may come into the immediate presence of God. None of us has to begin prayer by a discrete cough to draw God’s attention because he is busy, or by an embarrassed knock on the door of heaven hoping that they can gain an audience. They may go to him easily with assurance and know that the smiling face of their Father is there to welcome them.

It is natural for us to say, “But the cherubim hide their eyes in his presence. The Triune God is so glorious, and august, and holy, and awesome.” True. But having said all that, God bids us welcome to come to him with boldness and say, “Abba Father,” with the confession of our sin, and in the expression of our desires. Now every child can expect to be supported by his father according to his father’s resources and willingness to give. So it is with God, and yet we often get muddled when we measure God’s willingness to give by our own feelings of spirituality, and worthiness. There are times when we feel that now he is going to bless us because of some sacrifice we have made or some duty faithfully done. But then there are days when we feel the very reverse: “I can’t expect anything from God today after the way I have behaved.” Does a child’s conduct alter his relationship with his father? Is he his father’s son only when he is being good? He is always the beloved child of his father. There are often days when we say at the end, “Here I am again Father. Sorry about this afternoon …” Then in the wonder of his paternal pity he forgives us for that day. We don’t need the ritual bathings.

This day’s sins, O pardon, Saviour,
Evil thoughts, perverse behaviour,
Envy, pride, and vanity:
From the world, the flesh, deliver,
Save me now, and save me ever,
O Thou Lamb of Calvary! (George Rawson)

We are given a marvellous picture of the boldness of the mere child of God in Ephesians 3. He comes to his Father and asks for his blessing conscious that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephs. 3:20). Sometimes we stagger at the greatness of our petitions. Sometimes the devil says that we are too bold and being too presumptuous. But Paul says that if we can put language to them our Father can grant them. If you can think them, or imagine them, or conceptualise them then God can answer because he loves his Son so much and wants to glorify him. Indeed, your expectations should be that your Father will grant more than all we ask or imagine. Indeed your expectations should be that if you have an audience with the mighty Creator, and he loves you, that God will answer ‘immeasurably above’ what you are asking him for. You see how the apostle stretches the resources of the Greek language by saying that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. But he hasn’t finished; he says this, that we have to judge what we may ask from him by this criterion, the power that is now at work in the whole church world wide, millions of people everywhere, and God is redeeming and sanctifying, protecting and strengthening every single one of them at this moment.

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much. (John Newton)

The searching question is this: are we taking advantage of the privileges that are ours? Are we going to our Father and telling him what’s on our mind? I have the impression that some of God’s children rarely do so. Maybe there is a barrier of guilt, and they have got into patterns of living in which they have deliberately left him outside. Maybe they think they can handle by themselves everything life is going to throw at them. Maybe some hyper-fatalism has crept into their religion and they think that no matter what they ask, or speak, or pray about makes no difference because God will act in a predictable way. Then, what happens if you ignore your earthly parents for months and years? Will there not be a predictable cooling off, a forgetting of the greatness of your debt to them, a loss of affection, and a feeling of weariness because of these irksome responsibilities of having to keep in touch with them. So it is when you ignore God all you have is yourself and other sinners.

All the glory of heaven is being near to God, and I am saying to you and to myself, what kind of heaven will it be for you if there is nothing in it but an access to the God we have been keeping out of our lives for so long? We will certainly not appreciate it, because heaven is all about God being in the midst. It is about being with Christ, “being absent from the body but present with the Lord.” And we are being searched here concerning the wonderful new blessings of being in Christ, and amongst the greatest is having free access to the living God. “The old has gone; the new has come!”

5. THE OLD RESOURCES GIVE WAY TO THE NEW.

The old resources were a land, an inheritance, peace and prosperity. If they obeyed the Lord their land would be “flowing with milk and honey” and they would experience long life. Sometimes a church looks longingly back to those days, and it makes such old covenant benefits the heart of its message, and it proceeds to dangle it before people as rewards if only the audience is able to work up enough faith, or send enough money in the form of what these preachers call ‘seed-faith’ (more truly to be considered as ‘sucker-faith’), to these millionaire evangelist-healers who are all, without exception, crooks and liars. We no more need healers than we need priests. Go to God, and take your loved ones to him.

What are the new resources of all who are in Christ? Our roots go right down into the vitality of a living and reigning Saviour. “From the fulness of his grace we have received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). The tense is past and completed. Every single Christian has received already one blessing after another. We are not only pardoned for all of our sin, past, present and future, and given energy to struggle against it, but mercies without number flow into the lives of all of us morning by morning so that every single Christian can say, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phils 4:13). I can bear any burden, and endure any pain, and overcome any temptation, and climb any mountain, and cross any desert – all without any assistance at all from American healers to whom we will send not a single penny – but these blessings all come “through him who gives me strength.” He is the source of every good and perfect gift. We attribute everything to him.

Many people in the British Isles have been struck with the story of Nigella Lawson and her late husband John Diamond. They became national icons in their own right, she as a TV cook and personality and author of “How To Be a Domestic Goddess” and he as the broadcaster and journalist with what she calls a ‘showy-offy character.’ In the latter years he gained a sad fame and sympathy because he suffered with cancer of the mouth and bore it all very bravely writing a book about it, but steadfastly resisting all the Christian counsels he was sent. He was a stoic. For the last few years of his life he was not able to speak, communicating with a notepad and ink pen. He died in March and there were pages of obituaries and tributes written about him in the press by his fellow stoic journalists. Nigella tells of the final message he scribbled to her on the day he died. He wrote, “How proud I am of you and what you have become. The great thing about us is that we have made us who we are.” A man who is in a relationship with the living and blessed God would never dream of thinking that what he had achieved was through his own skill and wit. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (I Cors. 4:7). The Christian will say, “God has become my Father, and I acknowledge that it is because of this that I am the beneficiary of everything I am and have.”

As we face today the challenges of our own providence, the onslaught and devices of Satan, the disappointments caused by fellow Christians, and the demands of following the Lord we are facing these temptation not as followers of Moses but as followers of him of whom it is said, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). We do not face these things as mere human beings, frail, limping, staggering sinners but as new creations in Christ. We are not ordinary people, we are those to whom the Creator has made over all the vastness of his resources. And it is with that confidence and encouragement, and impelled by that dynamic, that we can face the demands of the great commission, and the life of glorifying and enjoying God as our chief end.

It seems to me that as we face the challenge of the ten commandments that if we confront them as mere men and women, fallen and depraved, then those ten words only mock us. The power of Moses cannot assist us in any way. Or, if we come to the opening chapters of the New Testament and are facing the great teaching of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount as mere fallen sinners then that sermon taunts our helplessness and we cry out with the disciples, “Then who, Lord, can be saved?” Or if we face the terrible challenge of Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 in the native strength of our own humanity then again that teaching only tantalises. But if we face the decalogue, and Romans chapter 12, and the letter of James as new creations in Christ, renewed irreversibly and definitively by the power that made the atom then we face the challenge with hope and also with modesty, in the persuasion that by God’s grace we can do these things, not perfectly but as new men strengthened by divine grace. So the Lord is saying to us in this text that everything is new about the Christian, and we have no right to tolerate small expectations or low levels of achievement. If the energy that created the stars is at work in us then we are never to stop attempting great things for God and expecting great things from God.

The Christian is totally and absolutely new, so that when a person sees the Christian life, and he tries to analyse it and measure it by all the criteria of this world, social, economic, genetic, environmental, psychological, political – he is at a loss to explain it. He has to say, “This is something different. You do not find this in any other category. Something new has come.”

I wonder how often the way we live – the patience we show, the grace not to retaliate, the endurance we display, the strength to tackle irksome duties – makes the watching world say, “This is new.” You remember when Peter talks about the impact Christian wives are to make on their non-Christian husbands to impress them and save them he seizes on such graces as purity and reverence. You think of how little our world values purity and reverence. The younger generation have no idea what purity and reverence are, and so you see how such graces stand out in the 21st century. They haven’t learned these things from the media. There is nothing in the world that can exegete these people. They can only be explained by the grace of God. The old ways and old attitudes have gone and everything is new. Here are ordinary men and women, and they are living lives that can only be understood in this way, that the one who said, Let there be light, and there was light, is working gently, deeply and lovingly within them, sanctifying and elevating them, his strength made perfect in their weakness, and making them more than conquerors. If you should say to them, “Well, we think you’re great,” they would reply, “Ha! It is his gentleness that has made me great.”

20th May 2001 GEOFF THOMAS