There are two verses I’ve found confusing in regard to one another: 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 2 Corinthians 3:18. The first reads, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (ESV). The second says, "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image." (NLT).
The contrast between them has left me wondering…am I a new creation, or am I in a process of becoming new? Not an easy question to answer. To pick one verse as true simultaneously says the other is not. That won’t work. Both of these verses must be true. But how?
The picture of marriage has helped me understand how these potentially opposing verses could coexist.
Verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:17 talk about something that’s been completed. Much like the day my wife and I were married. We exchanged our rings, said I dos, and signed the marriage license. At that moment we were married and couldn’t do another thing to be more married than we already were.
Where as verses like 2 Corinthians 3:18 describe a process of change. My wife and I, although we’ve entered fully into marriage, also began a process of learning how to be married. That takes time. For us, it’s meant growing in our understanding of one another and changing our living to be consistent with that of a married couple. You could say we’ve been learning to act like what we already are, married.
So just like marriage, there’s much that’s completed when we receive Jesus, and enter into the family of God. The old is taken away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). We’re transferred from the domain of darkness and placed in the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13). We also receive an inheritance and are redeemed (Ephesians 1:7,11), along with many other wonderful things.
But, like marriage, there is also a process of growth in our spiritual walk. As we walk with Him we’re changed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we learn of what we’ve received, the more we shed former behaviors for new ones—like changing clothes (Ephesians 4:22-24). And we learn that everything in life, good or bad, can be used by God to transform us into the image of His son (Romans 8:28-29).
Are you seeing, as I did, how verses that seem to contradict can actually be true at the same time? It’s true that we’re completely changed at the moment of salvation. But it’s also true that we enter a process of learning to live as changed people. How freeing to know that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, but quite simply, it can be both!
If I can encourage you in anyway, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Also, I’d love for you take advantage of all that’s available through ELM’s web site (elmco.org). There’s blog articles, resources including a list of recommend reading, an archive of past letters I’ve sent, and a calendar of upcoming events.
Until I write again, enjoy learning and growing in who you already are, a new creation in Christ!
Mike Roncaglia, Executive Director