Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Does this verse prove, as is often suggested, that all believers will live godly lives?
Let’s consider what the verse actually says. It indicates that all who are in Christ—all believers—are new creations. There is no such thing as a believer who is not a born again new creature. This new creation involves a passing away of “old things” and a renewal of “all things.”
Old Things Passed Away, All Things New
What does Paul mean when he refers to old things passing away and all things being new? Does he mean that alcoholics cease being alcoholics at the point of faith? That those caught up in the singles’ bar scene automatically stop their involvement once they trust in Christ? That businessmen who cheat in business suddenly stop cheating? That jealousy, materialism, resentments, covetousness, and strife end at the moment of faith? That once we come to faith in Christ all our inclinations to sin cease?
Some of these suggestions are clearly extreme. Only people holding to sinless perfection would accept the latter suggestions. However, many today suggest that Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is teaching that while a believer can and will continue to sin, he will not let sin dominate his life. Thus many suggest that there is no such thing as a Christian who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, crime, or any other grave sin.
The passage does not support this understanding.
If Paul means that believers cannot be dominated by sin, all sins—not just major sins—would be included. There could be no such thing as a believer—even a brand-new baby Christian—who was repeatedly jealous, hateful, covetous, materialistic, greedy, selfish, prideful, etc. In fact, if the old things which passed away were our sinful ways, no believer would commit even one sin.
Paul commanded believers not to let sin control and dominate them (Rom 6:12-13; Eph 4:17-31; Col 3:9). It should go without saying that he would not command us to avoid something unless it were a possibility for us.
Whatever Paul meant, he did not mean that once one comes to faith in Christ his struggles with sin are over and victory is assured.
What he did mean is evident by looking to the context and a parallel passage.
At the very moment of our rebirth all believers gain a new perspective on everything (notice that Paul speaks of all things, literally the all things in Greek)—and particularly on people. The verse preceding verse 17 indicates that we no longer see people in the same way: “we regard no one according to the flesh.” We see all people from the vantage point of reconciliation (vv. 18-20). We see fellow believers as fellow members of God’s family, as fellow reconciled people. We see unbelievers as people who need to accept the reconciliation available in Christ. We now can go the world and tell people to receive the gift of reconciliation and be saved (v.20). We are ambassadors for Christ. Our citizenship is in heaven and so is our new perspective on people and life.
If I am a Christian, this is a new world for me. I now have a different relationship to the world than I had before. The Cross has changed my world view. I now see the world through reconciliation glasses. By being in Christ my whole relationship with the world has radically changed. There is a different world out there for me. I now am an ambassador from heaven to earth.
The verse and the passage as a whole say nothing about sin in the life of a believer. That isn’t under discussion at all.
It should be observed that new believers will not necessarily fully recognize the truth of this passage. While it is true that all in Christ live in a new world, some may need others to teach them the truth of 2 Cor 5:16-21. They may need help establishing a reconciliation world view. Indeed, that is why Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 5.
Colossians 1:16-20 deals with this subject as well. It too speaks of all things (again literally in Greek, the all things). In fact, five times in five verses Paul speaks of all things. And, again, as in 2 Cor 5:16-21, he speaks of reconciliation of all things through Christ.
Colossians 1:16ff, confirms our understanding of 2 Cor 5:17. The five references to all things clearly look at everything in our world and universe. Indeed, in Col 1:20 Paul speaks of the Father reconciling to Himself through Christ all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
(Note: Both 2 Corinthians 5 and Colossians 1 speak of all things being reconciled through Christ. This refers to Christ’s finished work on the Cross. He has already paid the full price for the reconciliation of every person who has lived and who ever will live. However, what is potentially available to all is only actually realized in those who accept the free gift of reconciliation. That is why we implore people on Christ’s behalf to be reconciled to God [2 Cor. 5:20].)
Believers live in a new environment. Our world and universe are different. A whole new realm opens before our eyes.
Second Corinthians 5:17 certainly has ramifications as to how we should live. Reconciliation perspective should dominate our thinking and actions. We should share reconciliation truth regularly as a way of life. We should live like ambassadors of heaven, both in our words and deeds. However, our passage does not assert how we will live. Victory is not guaranteed. Nevertheless, it is possible, indeed assured, if we daily focus on and apply the new world view which is ours by means of our reconciliation in Christ.