Reading: Num. 3:11-13; 1 Cor. 15:20; Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:6; 12:23; Rev. 1:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15; Gal. 4:19.
Here we have the thing which, with God, is the all-governing concern and interest, the thing which matters most: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15).
That is a great discriminating statement which is far-reaching and embraces a very great deal. We might quite rightly paraphrase that statement of the apostle by saying, 'Now in Christ the thing which matters is a new creation'!
The Constant Theme of New Testament Writings
There has always been a tendency from the beginning to forget that and for Christianity to become something else, or a number of other things. The New Testament is very largely occupied with the endeavour to set that right and to counter that persistent tendency. These apostolic letters all have to do with things which had come in as interests, concerns, and ends in themselves - Christian things, but which at least tended to cover over and smother the basic and pre-eminent reality and necessity of Christianity: a new creation. The letters to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Hebrews, all deal with an external system of rules and regulations of legal observances, things that you should do or should not do - things which had come in and were smothering this great, central, supreme reality; and you know how in these letters the apostle seeks to correct that tendency.
The New Creation Not Reached by Works of Law or Outward Observances
He does it in a very thorough way in the letter to the Romans. Very exhaustively he points out that in Christ Jesus you do not get through with God by works of the law, however exhaustively and zealously you may give yourselves to the carrying out of them. The thing that matters is a new creation. Romans 6 is the great divide between an old creation struggling to answer to the law of God in its own resources and failing to get through, and the new creation in Christ which goes right on in Life.
In the letter to the Galatians it is the same thing coming up in another way: the attempt of Judaisers to impose again upon the Christians the old ritual of Israel, saying, 'Except you be circumcised, you cannot be saved; you must conform to these regulations if you want salvation'. That is what it amounts to; and so they attempted to bring these Christians back again into legal bondage by the imposition of this strait-waistcoat of Jewish ritual. The answer of the apostle is, "Now in Christ circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but a new creation." That is the thing that matters.
In the letter to the Hebrews it is the whole great system of outward worship as represented by the temple service, the priesthood, the sacrifices and the whole range of that order, and again the Judaisers were seeking to bring back the Christians to that earthly, external and temporal form of things. The argument of the whole letter comes up in this very rich, significant and suggestive fragment in Hebrews 12, "Ye are come to... the general assembly and church of the firstborn ones." You know what that means. "Now is Christ risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20), "the firstborn from among the dead" (Col. 1:18). The argument of Hebrews is that that whole system of temple worship is dead works. Chapter 6 states that precisely, "repentance from dead works". The dead works are religious works in relation to the temple order as an outward system. "But ye are come to the general assembly and church of the firstborn one" (Heb. 12:23). That is in relation to Christ risen from the dead, the dead works having been buried in the grave. It is only another way of saying that the thing which obtains and matters in Christ is a new creation. In the whole matter, the point is that in Christ Jesus everything is inward and spiritual, not outward and temporal.
The New Creation Transcends All Earthly Distractions and Dispositions
When you come to the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, it is still this matter of the new creation, or a new creation man, creating "of the twain one new man" (Eph. 2:15). But the connection is different in these letters. It is not here the connection with Judaism alone, although that is touched. The range and relationship are wider. Here, not only the distinction between Jew and Gentile, but all earthly distinctions are involved: Jew, Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; that is, all the distinctions and differences of nationalities and human constitution as found in this world order in its broken up state. Now in Christ Jesus, the apostle says in effect, there is none of that at all; it is all gone in His grave and there is one new man "where there cannot be Jew and Greek" (Col. 3:11). Not where there are representatives of all - a glorious conglomeration which for a little while here on earth seeks to maintain mentally the attitude that we will not take any notice of one another's differences nor refer to one another's titles - but where they have gone and something entirely new supersedes; where there cannot be Jew and Greek and all the rest, but Christ is all and in all. One new man in Christ Jesus, not a composite man. This one man has not got the coloured face of a negro and other features of all other races to make up one composite man. This is not a Noah's ark. This is one new Man.
In Colossians other things are touched in the same connection: "But now put ye also away all these: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth; lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other. If any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:8-13).
It is the new man again, in Christ a new creation, and that affects all our dispositions in our relationships with one another. Lie not one to another, put away wrath, anger, malice and so on; all those things which divide belong to the old man. In Christ there is a new creation.
You turn to the position at Corinth. You find that while these matters are dealt with, there are still other realms in which the new creation is made to apply. At Corinth even spiritual factors, such as the apostles themselves, were being allowed, or even used, to divide the Lord's people: "I am of Paul", "I am of Apollos", "I am of Cephas." And then spiritual gifts were being allowed to work out in exactly the opposite direction to that for which they were given. Spiritual gifts were given by the Lord for the building up of the one Body. That is the argument of 1 Corinthians 12. But at Corinth these very gifts were having the opposite effect. They were being made ends in themselves, objects of ambition and display, and the apostle had to deal with the baneful, disruptive effect of even supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. He met it with that classic of 1 Corinthians 13.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing".
Love is the great feature of the new creation, this love of Christ.
All True Service is Related to the New Creation
You see then, that it is a new creation which matters; that is the thing which is pre-eminent. We could add a great many things to the list of secondary things which tend to take its place. I would add here, for instance, that it is not churches or assemblies of the Lord's people which are most important. You can get those in outward form without the new creation, and in getting them you will have a good deal of the old creation to disrupt them and to make the fulfilment of the very object of their existence impossible. The thing which matters is the new creation; and it is not the assembly that is going to make the new creation, but the new creation which makes the assembly.
I am, as you recognise, right down on basic, fundamental beginning things. We have enough experience to know that it is possible to advance a great way in truth, New Testament conceptions and practices, and then to meet with so much of the old creation as to render the whole thing valueless. It is possible to have people gathered together in assembly life and find so much of the old creation there that the very purpose of that existence is defeated. So I beg your patience in reiterating that the thing which matters is the new creation, and all service to the Lord is connected with that. If you forget everything else, remember that. All service to the Lord is related to the new creation.
We have been thinking very much about the Levites. When the firstborn in Israel were involved in that terrible moral and spiritual disaster at Sinai, the Levites were taken in their place and became, in representation, the church of the firstborn ones. The very purpose of their existence, the thing which characterised their history, was their service to the Lord; so that that service was based upon this new creation thought of God, the new creation in Christ who is the firstborn among many brethren. Thus all service has to do with the new creation.
Development to Fulness is the Purpose in All Creation
It was like that at the beginning. Adam was created and set to work in relation to the creation to bring it through to its consummate fulness. Though it was without sin and morally perfect, it was not perfect in the sense of having reached the full end which God intended. It was capable of development, cultivation and expansion. He was to reproduce after his own kind and the creation around him was to be brought through to a perfection which was in God's mind. That was his work, his service to God. It was as though God gave him a sphere and resource and said to him, 'Now bring that to perfection for Me; realise all its potentialities. I have put life into it, now I give it to you to bring that life out in all its forms and possibilities, for My pleasure and satisfaction'. That was the service of Adam to God. In Christ Jesus God takes that up in a spiritual way. In Him is a new creation life, uncreated, Divine Life. If we are in Christ a new creation, we have that Life. Those around us who are in Christ possess it. Our service to the Lord is to bring out to fulness that Life which is in ourselves and in our fellow-believers.
So many people seem to think that the new creation ends when the new birth has taken place, and that that is all that matters. Not for a moment would we take away from the importance of getting people born again, but it must be emphasised that this is only the beginning of the new creation. By Adam's sin a blight came upon the creation which resulted in the Divine thought as to fulness being set back. The new birth sees the removal of the blight in order that fulness should be possible. The new birth is not an end in itself. It is great service to get people born anew, but service according to the Bible has also a great deal to do with bringing the born-anew ones to full growth.
The Development of New Creation Life is the Test of All Service
"My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be fully formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). That word 'fully' is not in our translation, but it is in the Greek. "Till Christ be fully formed in you". The apostle is saying: 'You made a good beginning, you started in the Spirit, but you have not gone on. Who has cast the witch's spell over you and brought you under arrest? And now I am in travail again, not that you should be born again, but that Christ who is in you should be fully formed.' We remind ourselves again of Romans 8:29, "Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son." So that all service to the Lord, though it may be many-sided, has one object and there is no service to the Lord outside of this: the new creation.
I wonder if the significance of that really comes to our hearts? I am quite sure that, sooner or later, we shall be brought back to this, and in a hundred different ways the Lord will bring it home to us. It is not a matter of your teaching and knowledge, your range and grasp of Divine mysteries. It is not how much of the Bible you know or how much of it you can transmit as information. It is not a matter of how many meetings you take, and so on. The one thing that matters is how far is the new creation effected, how much of the new creation is coming into being in yourself and others? All this other will pass. The new creation will go on. For you and me, therefore, the thing that really does matter is a new creation - that which is altogether new and other than we are by nature. It is Christ, Christ Himself.
The New Creation is Wholly in and of Christ
That leads us to the whole significance of Christ. He is called again and again the Firstborn, "the firstborn from the dead", "the firstfruits of them that are asleep", "the firstborn among many brethren". That is the significance of "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last" (Rev. 22:13). That is, that from beginning to end, the whole purpose of God is bounded by Christ. The first thing that matters is Christ, not as in Himself alone, but as in us, and the thing which matters all the way through is Christ in us, and the thing which matters at the last is not how much we have done, but Christ. "Christ the end, for Christ was the beginning; Christ the beginning for the end is Christ". I say the whole significance of Christ is bound up with this thought of a new creation. It is a new creation in Christ.
He makes His beginning of a new creation in us when we are born again. The deepest reality of the born-again child of God is that Christ has become resident within. I do wish that we had a more literal translation in our version of the words of the familiar passage in 2 Cor. 5:17 - "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature", "If any man is in Christ... a new creation". The big difference is the difference between our being past ourselves as we are by nature. Now there is Another who is altogether different from ourselves resident within to take pre-eminence and steadily to gain the upper hand over us, to bring down under Himself what we are by nature and to make increase through the days and the years of what He is, the old creation thus giving place to the new.
The New Creation is Really New and Other than the Old
Evidence is borne to that whenever there is a true new birth. Now, when there is in an individual case or, as in the case of the church at Pentecost, a whole company, the act of new creation if it is a true, genuine experience, for the time being everything is other than it was. In a most marvellous, glorious way, it is all other than it was, and people are led by that to be very extravagant in things they say at such times. We have heard people in the first flush of their new birth make the most extravagant statements about things. The old sin has gone, the old man has gone, they will never meet him again, they will never sin again! The change is so marvellous, they have said farewell for ever to that old life, it will never cross their horizon again! That is alright as an experience. For the time being it is so with the individual. It was so with the disciples at Pentecost; it was so with Peter and James and John, the heads, the pillars of the church at Pentecost. But I do not go very far on in the New Testament before I find the old man in Peter. Paul comes up against that old man in Peter and has to withstand him to the face. And a great many of us for the time being have almost been knocked off our feet by the sudden re-appearance, after the experience of the wonderful change of conversion, of that old man in ourselves. There seemed to be the fading of the glorious vision, and the enemy has immediately stepped in and said, 'You see, it was all a nine days' wonder, imagination, emotion, hysteria; you are no different from what you were!' Most of us have experienced something like that.
What is the explanation? It is this. God always gives witness at the outset to the great reality of the new creation. He lets us know that it is a new creation indeed, that it is altogether different from the old. With the church at Pentecost, for the days immediately subsequent everything was ideal. They were living on the ideal Christian level. But neither the people nor the churches of that day lived there always. It is a sad story, mixture coming into evidence in the churches and even apostles dissembling. But the Lord had given the evidence that this new creation is a new creation. It is not a patching up of an old thing. It is real, it is genuine, it is not a nine days' wonder, it is not a glorious illusion. Down through Christian experience from time to time that primal glory does break out in the heart. Saints come together in blessed fellowship after a long time of strain and suffering and isolation, and they feel something of the old joy of being in Christ a new creation. So from time to time we discover it is still there, an abiding reality. But my point for the moment is that the Lord does let us know that to be in Christ Jesus is not mere hysterical experience, but a new creation. It is very real, so real that we long to abide in it for the rest of our days.
The New Creation is Not Ourselves, but Christ
But then we have to learn, under the tuition of the Holy Spirit, that we are not that new creation, but Christ is. I am not talking now about our standing. Before God, in our standing we are looked upon as Christ is, not as we are in ourselves. But I am talking now about actual state. We, in our actual state are not a new creation. The people who think they are, are the most mistaken people. You will find that they very soon come to a point of arrest in their knowledge of the Lord, in their progress and ministry. But the point is that we, in the whole fabric of our being, are not a new creation. The new creation is in Christ and Christ is in us, and we have to be conformed to the image of God's Son. The new creation has to grow and increase in us, and the old creation must decrease as He increases. That is the whole course of Christian life and experience, "till Christ be fully formed in you" (Gal. 4:19).
Yieldedness to Christ means Increase of the New Creation
When do we recover and taste again of the first glory of the new creation experience? Every time we let go something of the old creation, in acceptance of Christ in some way. When we first accept Christ basically and for all, the Lord bears witness to the new creation in a very full and striking way, but from time to time our old nature comes into conflict with the Lord, and then the glory seems to fade. For example, it may be in the matter of love for some other child of God. We may be having a bad time about it, finding it very difficult to show the love of Christ towards them and to get rid of that which has come in between us and them. There is a cloud over things and the new creation is not as joyous a thing as it was. But when we come right through in sheer victory in the Lord, saying, 'Now, Lord, it does not matter what it costs me of humiliation, if I have to be weak, meek, foolish and despised, nevertheless I must show the Spirit of Christ, who showed good for evil!' When we get through to that position, we know in our own hearts that the new creation is a new creation; we have a fresh taste of that original joy of new creation life. Clouds go; the outward situation is no different, but inside things are different. That is very simple, but that is the new creation. It is there, it is in Christ, it is what Christ is and it is as He prevails in us that God's end is more nearly reached when He shall be all and in all.
I want the Lord to say something more than these words to our hearts. I want you to stand back with me in the place where we recognise quite clearly, and once and for all, that the thing that matters more than anything else in God's universe is that we are becoming Christ-like. All true service is that. It is the bringing in of Christ. That is what is going to serve and satisfy God; not our work or our knowledge, but the bringing in of Christ. In that new creation God will find His ultimate delight, and He will be able to say concerning it, in a way far transcending even that declaration over His first creation, "It is very good!" It will be a great day when God can look upon us and upon His whole creation as it will be then, and can say, not merely as to position but as to condition, "It is very good!" Do you not long for that day when the Lord can look at you and say, "It is very good, I am well-pleased, you satisfy Me wholly"? That is a high standard, but that is conformity to the image of God's Son. That is the new creation in Christ, to be to God's pleasure.
God is Concerned Only with the Expression of His Son
Let us then recognise that our service as firstborn ones, sons of Levi, has to do with this whole matter of the increase of Christ. It is just a matter of creation. Be careful of advancing beyond that. If we do, we shall find that we have a great deal to pull down. To come right down to bedrock, the only thing that God can build upon is His Son, and the only thing that He can build with is His Son. He builds on what is His Son and He builds with the features of His Son, and there is no other building in which He is interested or engaged. I mean this. As we have the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that is a great building factor in the hands of God, for "love buildeth up" (1 Cor. 8:1). As we have the patience of Jesus Christ, that is a great building factor; God builds with it. We know that impatience is a very destructive thing. I suppose it is in that realm that we have learnt many of our strongest and deepest lessons. We cannot hurry God, and our attempts to do so betray our impatience. What a thing it is to appreciate the patience of God. Oh, for more patience! It is a building thing. If you are impatient with me, you are going to retard my spiritual growth, not help it. You will help it by patience. Where should we be but for the patience and longsuffering of God with us? We owe everything to His patience, forbearance and longsuffering; and so it will be in the church. The building will be by that feature of Christ.
And so the whole range of what Christ is in His features is the material with which God builds His church; not doctrines, not legal demands - thou shalt and thou shalt not - not the prescribing of forms. No, none of that. "Now in Christ neither circumcision availed anything, nor uncircumcision". You can change that and say that neither baptism nor 'unbaptism' avails anything. It is not circumcision, baptism or any other 'ism' that finally matters, but what these things are intended by God to signify. Baptism signifies something and it is what it signifies that matters, not the baptism. Circumcision signified something and it was what it signified that mattered. You may baptize, you may circumcise, wholesale, and miss the whole point.
Paul carries that further. Here were these Judaisers trying to bring non-Jews into the Jewish sect and make Jews of them. Paul says it matters neither way; it does not matter whether you are a Jew or not; he that is a Jew is one inwardly, not outwardly; circumcision is a thing of the heart. So to be a Christian is a thing of the heart; that is, to be one who belongs to the Lord. He is not one who embraces Christianity, and decides to be called a Christian. A Christian is a new creation; that is something inward. That is the thing that matters.
God's Supreme Concern: The New Creation in Christ
I do feel it is important to get down to this matter. We can advance so far into a false position, and that is where all our problems arise. All the letters of the apostle Paul had to deal with the problems that arose because Christian things had been taken up as things in themselves and the basic thing had been lost sight of. Christianity is a new creation, a Christian is a new creation, the church is a new creation - not this and that and something else, but a new creation. Do not have a church that is not a new creation. If you do, you have something to get rid of and that is not easy, for this old creation holds on tenaciously.
The Lord take the word, simple as it is, and truly write it in our hearts. What matters more than anything else is a new creation in Christ.