I remember wrestling with the truth that I am a new creation. What does it mean to be new? Adding to my uneasiness was the fact that, according to David Needham, this really means in the Greek that I am a new species. When we became Christians, God made us a new species. How can this be? I often don’t appear to be new! I may not necessarily experience freedom from old temptations, old desires, nasty thoughts, and wounded emotions.
Tony Evans says that one reason it is so difficult to accept that we are new is that we live in an old house—a house filled with spiders, cockroaches, creaking parts, fading paint, etc. But the question remains: Are we new simply on the basis of our having been forgiven? Are we new because we have a new life? Or is there more to being new?
Some of the grace-life writers have said that my nature has been exchanged. Therefore not having the old nature (old man), but having instead a new nature (new man), qualifies me to be called a new creation. Certainly there is truth in that. But still, the fact that the new creation can repeat the behaviors of the old creation will lead many to say we still have the old nature (old man), and therefore we are a new creation simply because we are forgiven. Those who claim we are dual-natured have a more difficult time explaining that we are a new creation!
All the members of the Association of Exchanged Life Ministries hold to the belief that we are a single-nature creation, not dual. We believe that the Bible clearly teaches we are no longer in Adam, but in Christ Jesus. No longer slaves to sin, but slaves of righteousness. No longer condemned by law, but justified by grace. A dual identity would mean that we are simultaneously both in Adam and in Christ Jesus, slaves to both sin and righteousness, both condemned and justified.
Much of the answer to our question, I believe, has to do with the fact that we live under a new operating system: we are now under grace, rather than law. The criterion for acceptance has changed. The criterion God gives for our name has changed. The basis upon which He gives me identity has also shifted from law to grace.
Under law (the achieving system for righteousness) my identity is found in the law. For example, if I testify falsely in court and am duly found guilty of perjury, then under the law I am labeled a perjurer. The law has now determined my identity. Likewise, if I steal and am found guilty under the law, I am a thief. Similarly, the law can label me a sex offender, a felon, or a drug peddler. Other laws written by man also label people; for example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual establishes criteria (law) for diagnosing people as having conditions such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, pedophilia, etc. Based on these diagnoses, people are then labeled as schizophrenics, obsessive-compulsives, alcoholics, pedophiles, etc.
However, Christians are not under law for identity in God’s economy. Only non-Christians are. Therefore God labels only non-Christians according to their behavior. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, not the covetous, not drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God." Identifying these offenders by the term "unrighteous" makes it clear that Paul is referring to non-Christians.
When people come to Christ, God no longer labels them according to their behavior under law. He now labels them according to a different criterion. The new operating system is that we find our label in a person, i.e. in Christ. We find our identity in Him!
Therefore under law I was a sinner (Romans 5:8); under grace I am a saint (2 Corinthians 1:1), regardless of whether or not I sin. Under law I was the unrighteous (1 Timothy 1:8-10); under grace I am the righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). Under law I was a slave to sin (Romans 6:17); under grace I am a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18).
Thus, seeing myself as a new creation is now possible even though I still sin; the fact is that I am no longer what I do (under law), but I am who I am in Christ. Behavior is important, but at the same time it is irrelevant to being a new creation. God has changed the criterion for identity from what I do in my thinking, feeling, choosing, and acting (body and soul) to who I am in my spirit, which is where I am joined to Christ. What a marvelous idea! What a wonderful plan. It’s simple, but oh so profound! Perhaps this is how His wisdom makes foolish the wise of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20).