September 12: The Great Exchange

2 Corinthians 5:21. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Union with Christ is the great foundational doctrine of the Christian life. And 2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of the great scriptures that allows us to wrestle with what took place through Jesus to secure our union with Christ. Sometimes this verse is called the Great Exchange. Our sin was exchanged for Christ’s righteousness.

As Paul said back in 2 Corinthians 5:18, all this is from God. He is the agent through Christ. God the Father made him to be sin. But this was never an action taken against Christ, or in opposition to Christ’s will. God, through Christ, reconciled us to himself (5:18). Christ was the willing participant. In Jesus Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9). Therefore the redemptive plan of the Trinity was embodied by Christ.

The Great Exchange was devastating for Christ. What Paul says almost in passing, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, is fleshed out in it’s emotional horror in the gospels.

Luke 22:44. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Matthew 27:46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There are many questions that come with this verse. When and how was Christ made to be sin for us? At his incarnation? His crucifixion? What does being made sin even mean?

We know it does not mean that Christ sinned. Paul makes that clear right away – he knew no sin. For Paul sin is a power, a force that seeks to destroy humanity. It is not a list of wrong deeds or a list of omissions. I think Paul has in view here all of Christ’s life culminating in the cross. Christ took the place of humanity. He was the second Adam. He became the representative human being, he became sin. He was subjected to the power and influence of sin. Yet he never sinned. The climax of Christ’s union with the sin of humanity is the cross. On the cross Jesus was condemned as the curse bearer. As humanity’s representative, he took our guilt and our punishment of death.

Galatians 3:13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Our union with Christ is made possible by his union with us. He became our curse.

Warning: language and creepiness.

And now our righteousness is made possible by our union with him.

In him we become the righteousness of God. This is a complete transformation of our standing before God and man. We ARE righteous. Here again, like our reconciliation, we are the passive receivers of God’s righteousness, but also the active participants in God’s righteousness. Truly “to live is Christ” means becoming what we already are.

How can you celebrate the Great Exchange today? Have you thanked God lately for the substitutionary life and death of Christ? How can you live out of the righteousness of God today?

September 11: Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18-20. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation is one of the most important truths of the Gospel. Peace with God. Enemies made friends. Yet there was not a lot of reconciliation in the life of the Corinthian church. And Paul is begging for it at every turn. They needed to be reconciled to each other, to Paul, and even some of them to God.

Jesus himself was, of course, the great reconciler. His love and kindness brought people from all walks of life together. Jews and Gentiles both followed him. Zealots and tax collectors were side by side as his disciples. Men and women both sat at his feet together.

But Jesus was also the great divider. Jesus called his disciples to abandon family bonds for his sake. He insulted the pious. His own family called him crazy. His kinsmen crucified him.

And so here is the reality of reconciliation – we can only be reconciled through struggle. It was only through the cross that real and ultimate reconciliation could take place. There is no cheap or easy reconciliation. Reconciliation is a fight. It can only come by way of the crucified life. If you are going to fight for reconciliation, you have to be prepared to give your life.

How is this possible? Because Christ has given his life for you in order to reconcile you to God. We passively receive God’s reconciliation by grace – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. But then we are activated with the ministry of reconciliation.

The life of Christ in us gives us purpose. It gives our life a meaning. It allows us to participate in the life of God, the work of God. This is what it means to image him, to represent him to the world. This is what Paul is describing for us in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. We are ambassadors for Christ. We carry the message of God. The message of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the manifestation of the life of the cross. We reach beyond ourselves to others. We move past our comfort zones and open our lives to others. We get out of our fortresses of self-affirmation and enter courageously into the polarized world with open hearts and open minds.

We live in a divided world and an increasingly divided country. Racially. Politically. Religiously. Sexually. But the life of a messenger of reconciliation is a life of doing the extremely difficult work of graciously listening to the hurts of others, while at the same time revealing to them their need for God’s grace.

You see, there can never be true reconciliation without owning up to what was done wrong. If a husband insults his wife but then later that night washes the dishes, are they reconciled? If a parent screams at her child, but then later buys ice cream, are they reconciled? If one group of people enslaves another but then later provides increased “opportunity” without any acknowledgement of the past, are they reconciled? You know the answer.

This is why reconciliation with God and the ministry of reconciliation is such a struggle. Because it is not just everyone playing nice. It is an acknowledging of a deep hurt. The hurt we have caused God. But also, for many, it is acknowledging the feeling of being hurt by God. This too must be worked through with great care and patience and grace. As the messenger, your lifestyle of love and acceptance will image the love and acceptance of God and maybe even begin to heal those wounds.

“To live is Christ” is to be reconciled to God by his justifying work. But beyond this, it is to spread the message of reconciliation that proceeds from God through each of us as those united to Christ. It is a hard work, the work of the cross, the work of dying to self as both the messenger and the one receiving the message.

Have you received the reconciliation of God? Are you a messenger of reconciliation? Do you tend to push for an easy reconciliation without doing the hard work of helping both sides to recognize their true offenses?

September 10: The New Creation

2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Who doesn’t love this verse? It is truly one of the most glorious summations of “to live is Christ” that we have in scripture. Let’s start by breaking it down:

Therefore – connects Paul’s thinking. Why do we persuade others? Why do we fear God and love others? Why do we minister?

anyone – this applies to all who are in Christ.

in Christ – our new position. All that is Christ’s is ours.

new creation – the age to come. The restoration of all things. Our ultimate hope.

the old has passed away, behold the new has come – in Paul’s thinking Christ’s death and resurrection ended the old age and inaugurated the new.

The New Creation is the culmination of our faith: New Covenant, new earth, new bodies, new hearts, new minds, new desires, new love, new life. It is an idea that runs throughout Jewish prophecy.

Isaiah 42:9. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;

Isaiah 48:6. From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.

Ezekiel 11:19. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

Revelation 21:5. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Jewish thought saw a day coming at the end of the age when God would usher in a new age. The Messiah would come. The dead would be raised. The judgment would take place. Only then God would re-create. The shocking thing about Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is that he is calling us the New Creation TODAY.

How can he get away with such a radical re-interpretation of prophecy and scripture? Because of the Christ event. Christ is the New Creation. He already has inaugurated the new age. Now, because we are in Christ, we too are the New Creation. We are already judged. We are already raised. We are already transformed. We are already reconciled.

But not yet fully.

The New Creation has come, but not in its fullness. Here’s my best attempt at an illustration:

On D-Day the paratroopers landed in France behind enemy lines to fight the occupying German army. Liberation had come, but not in its fullness. Hours before the landings on the Normandy beaches, the paratroopers fought to neutralize German strongholds. The soldiers landing on the beaches had to fight by faith and not by sight. They could not see the airborne troopers, but they believed they were there. The moment the airborne dropped, the battle was raging, and at the same time the battle, even the war, was won.

The indwelling Christ is your paratrooper. Even though we know the war is won, the landing of Christ into your life has actually triggered the greatest battle of your life. And it is raging in your very own soul.

And so here is where we must pump the breaks on 2 Corinthians 5:17. Yes, we are the New Creation, but we are not to see this as a chance to grasp for glory apart from the cross.

It is easy for us within our Christian culture to let the idea that “I am a new creation” be simply another form of self-help. A way to “be a better person.” To accomplish my goals. “Because I’m a new creation and I can do all things through Christ, I can now do anything.”

This is not what it means to be the New Creation. To embrace the reality of the New Creation within us, we must embrace the reality of our transformation by way of the battle of the cross. We must embrace that our changing is from the inside out. We must look deep inside. We must fight to repent. Repent of what is revealed inside of us. And then embrace grace and hold tightly to the cross of our Savior.

“To live is Christ” unites us to Christ and to the future New Creation right now. All of our hopes are already achieved in our spirit by our union with Christ. Love has become the great motivator of our hearts. And yet the New Creation unleashes the war in our souls that the cross has won and that only the cross can win daily.

What evidence is there of the New Creation in you? Remember your answer does not need to be triumphant…is there evidence of a battle? But of course it can be triumphant too! How does our union with Christ bring the hope of the New Creation to your life right now?

And here’s some New Creation music…enjoy!

September 9: Reorientation (a new way to see everything)

2 Corinthians 5:15-16. he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

How do you see life? Yourself? Others? Jesus?

Based on everything Paul has been saying about eternity, and glory, and new bodies, and living by faith and not by sight, the question for us today is how do we see everything?

Paul used to see the Christ, the Messiah, according to the flesh. The Messiah was supposed to be a political boss, a warrior to overthrow Rome and restore a Jewish empire. But that was not how Paul saw Jesus. Jesus was cursed. He was shamed. He was a dangerous enemy of God. But now Paul regards him thus no longer. He sees Christ as God. He sees him as Lord and Savior.

Union with Christ reorients how you see everything, because it changes how you see Jesus.

If you see Jesus only as a good example to follow, a wise teacher, a guru, a prophet, then you will see yourself and others only in the “flesh.” You will compare, and judge, make excuses, and shame others.

If Jesus is just your example, and not your savior, then you will have to be your own savior. You will have to be other’s savior. If Jesus is just your example, and not your judge, then you will have to be your own judge. You will have to be other people’s judge. To behold such a Jesus will never bring glory, only condemnation. And a lot of stress.

This is actually how many of us Christians are living. We function as Savior and Judge of our own lives and the lives of others. We live for our own good, our own comfort, our own peace, and our own happiness. We feel shame and guilt whenever we fail. We reject grace for ourselves and fail to extend it to others. We judge. Hard. We condemn. We self-justify. Make excuses. Basically we view everything by law not grace.

But, as Paul Barnett says, “in Christ our egocentricity gives way to Christocentricity.”

“To live is Christ” reorients my view of Christ. He is life. He is not simply my example; he is my savior. He doesn’t just display righteousness; he is my righteousness. He is my everything. I depend fully on him for his grace each and every moment of each and every day. And he gives it freely.

“To live is Christ” reorients how you see yourself – that those who live might no longer live for themselves. I have been freed by Christ’s grace – he died for all. That includes me. I have been freed to submit my life in the service of others. This is Christ in me. This is the hope of glory. Glory through love. Love as self-sacrifice.

“To live is Christ” reorients how we see each other – we regard no one according to the flesh. We worship performance. Status. Wealth. Celebrity. Achievement. It’s how we do school. Work. Play. Everything. You are valuable if you can perform. Your worth is in your ability to overcome. To achieve your dreams.

This week the internet exploded when Nike released this new ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick.

Pause: This is not about Colin Kaepernick (I actually saddens my heart that we can’t enter into the pain of our brother). This is not about kneeling or flags or the NFL. This is not about boycotting Nike.

Here’s the problem with the Nike ad: It’s LAW.

“Don’t just be the fastest in your school, be the fastest ever.” “Picture LBJ wearing your jersey.” “You don’t have to be like anybody, to be somebody.”

This is regarding according to the flesh. And Christ takes us beyond this. Nike is leaving no room for grace. For failure. For messiness. Only the religion of performance. Good old fashioned, pull yourself up from your boot straps, justdoitism.

But this is no longer how we are to see each other. Christ allows us to see the value of every person, even when they don’t seem valuable. The slowest on the team. The failed dieter. The dropped pass. The out of tune. The ordinary. The repeated failure. The sinner. You know people like you and me. In Christ we all have the same past, and future. We have the same worth. And we all have the same weakness that needs to be embraced it we are ever going to learn to embrace grace.

You actually DO have to be like somebody to be somebody. His name is Jesus. Thank God there’s “to live is Christ.”

How do you see Jesus? Yourself? Others? Where do you find yourself regarding others according to the flesh? How can union with Christ reorient how you see all of life today?

September 8: Controlled By Love

2 Corinthians 5:14-15. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Here is one of the most straight forward statements concerning the nature of our union with Christ that we will find in this letter and maybe even in all of the New Testament. This is the beautiful basics of our union with Christ.

Jesus has died for all….therefore all have died.

He died for all….therefore we no longer live for ourselves.

What happened to Jesus happened to us. What Jesus did we do.

We are in Christ (all have died) and Christ is in us (we no longer live for ourselves).

Jesus died for all, therefore all have died. This is a tricky statement. The first all speaks to the great truth that Christ died for the sins of the whole world. He died for everyone. But the second all here most likely means all Christians. Why? Because the phrase all died is a reference to our union to Christ’s death, and the phrase those who live, is a reference to our union with Christ’s resurrection. Both of these are only true of Christians. Jesus died for everyone, but only those who by faith receive his life have died with him and been raised to new life with him.

All of this is foundational to our lives. Paul is connecting the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary death FOR us and the doctrine of our union with Christ – our own death and resurrection WITH Christ. These two amazing doctrines combine to demonstrate Christ’s love for usHow do we know Christ’s love? He died and was raised for our sake.

But this is much more than just a demonstration of love. Our union with Christ makes his love the new controlling force in our lives – For the love of Christ controls us. The love of Christ, or the life of Christ (Christ is love) is now what moves, rules, and determines our lives. It is the beginning and end. The source and the goal. Christ’s love is life.

This is because love is the greatest power at work in the universe. To know that you are accepted and received. To know and experience forgiveness. To have someone be for you and never against you. A love so great it would give its life in dying. A love so great it would give its life in living. Nothing is more powerful.

Paul says the love of Christ controls us. We resist the idea of being controlled. Aren’t we free in Christ? Yes, free to be controlled. Listen, you are already controlled by love, we all are. Everything we do, we do for the love of something, usually ourselves. But the love of Christ is far greater than the love of anything or anybody else. In Christ, we submit to the greatest lover of all time. Only the love of Christ is both eternal and perfectly good. All other loves come to an end. All other loves fail. But not Christ’s. His love has no boundaries. No deadlines. No conditions. No prenuptial. No divorce. No break up. No cheating.

“To live is Christ” both demands and empowers us to live a life of sacrificial love for others. It demands it because it is what we were made for. We were made to love outside of ourselves. We were created to be image bearers, not narcissists. Submitting to the controlling demands of love will actually free you from the prison of self. God knows this. And because he loves us, he not only demands our love, he empowers our love. How? By loving us first. By giving his life for us and to us. It is the knowing, receiving and experiencing of this great love that frees our hearts to deny self, take up the cross, and follow after Jesus on the ultimate adventure to restore creation and display the kingdom of God by our love for others.

Are you controlled by the love of Christ? Can you see evidence of this in your life? Have you received the love of God in and through Christ? How does meditating on your union with Christ allow you to experience Christ’s love and to love others like Christ at the same time?

 

September 7: Fearing the Love of God

2 Corinthians 5:11. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

We are hard-wired for the fear of the Lord. We were made for it. We were created to fear God. To serve him. Worship him. Love him. To respect him as our judge, and honor him as our king. The fear of the Lord is a life altering, reverential awe of God. It changes everything. How we see all and do all of life.

The fear of anything other than God, will never produce the life changing awe that is required for you to move forward in life. To worship anything other than God will leave you uninspired, unmotivated, and uncaring. Because only God is worthy of the fear and respect that is needed to satisfy our heart’s biggest desires.

Why do we fear God? Because he is glorious and powerful, right? But what makes him so glorious, so powerful? His forgiveness, grace, and love. We fear God because deep inside we know that we need his grace and love. To fear God is to see our neediness, our dependency, our inadequacy before him. We fear God not to earn his grace and love, but because we have experienced his grace and love.

Psalm 130:4. But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

What motivated Paul? In 2 Corinthians 5:11 he says it is the fear of the Lord. But it was also the love of Christ. Look what he says just three verses later.

2 Corinthians 5:14. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;

Paul places the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ side by side. He unites them as his motivating force. Why? Because the love of God produces the fear of God.

Love is the most glorious and powerful force in the universe. Even stronger than death itself. Love conquers all. Love moves all. Love is eternal. Love is awe inspiring.

And love is terrifying. Yes, it is love that will save a soul. But it is that same love that will destroy a soul.

Song of Songs 8:6-7 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.
7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.

The love of God will either rescue you or destroy you. It is not mere sentimentality or attachment. The love of God is holy. It will expose all evil and destroy it. It is a double-edged sword.

The same love of God built an ark and it flooded the earth.

The same love of God parted the Red Sea and it destroyed the army of Pharaoh.

The same love of God forgave David’s sin and it required his son’s life.

The same love of God put Jesus on the cross and resurrected him from the tomb.

The love of God will be revealed and it will reveal everyone. Those who love God and his Son will be purified by the flame of God’s love. Those who hate God and reject his Son will be consumed.

Why do we persuade others? Because we know the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ. A love that must be reckoned with. A love that won’t let you stay where you are. A love that will either restore you, if you will receive it, or destroy you, if you remain hell bent on thwarting the purposes of God’s grace.

“To live is Christ” means that we have experienced the restorative power of Christ’s love. This is a fearful but glorious thing.

Do you fear the love of God? Have you received it? Does it bother you that God’s love is both a sanctifying and destructive force? How does union with Christ allow God’s love to both sanctify and destroy you each and every day?

September 5: The Judgment Seat of Christ (who’s excited?)

2 Corinthians 5:10. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Tonight at dinner with some family and friends I asked them what they thought of the Judgment Seat of Christ. The words “scary,” “terrifying,” “I don’t understand it,” and “we never think about it” were all used. The words “Oh yeah can’t wait for it,” and “that’s funny, I was just thinking about the Judgment Seat today,” were not used.

Paul’s line of thought here in 2 Corinthians has been on our eternal glory in Christ, which far outweighs our affliction in the present. He has called us to look to the unseen things that will last forever, including our new body that we will receive at the resurrection. Until then, we all with unveiled face are being transformed into Christ by beholding the glory of Christ (3:18).

One day this ongoing transformation will be revealed. At the Judgment Seat. The bema.

In Roman cities, trials were held at the bema: a seat on a platform where the local governor would hear and judge cases brought before him. This actually happened to Paul in Corinth. He stood before the judgment seat or bema of Gallio. And it happened to Jesus at the bema of Pilate. Now Jesus sits on the eternal bema.

I know the Judgment Seat of Christ can be “scary” for many of us, or just plain confusing. And I was tempted to skip this verse and not even try to blog about it. But I humbly offer today’s submission. Let me give you some thoughts about the Judgment Seat of Christ in 3 groups of 3 thoughts.

What Paul doesn’t say about the Judgment Seat of Christ.

1. He doesn’t say when it will happen. We can assume that it will happen after the resurrection of the dead. But we should probably be careful about drawing out detailed timelines of the future.

2. He doesn’t ever seem to imply that in Heaven some Christians are stacking up more rewards than others, like it’s an elementary school field day.

3. He doesn’t ever mention any kind of punishment. In fact, our union with Christ means that we are never condemned, never punished, never shamed, and never held accountable for our sin.

John 5:24. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 pictures us before Jesus but not coming under his judgment. Why? Because we have his eternal life. His own zoe.

What Paul does say about the Judgment Seat of Christ. 

1. Christ is the judge. God is the righteous judge of all humanity (Gen. 18:25, Romans 2:6). But God the Father has handed over judgment of humanity to the son.

John 5:22. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.

Humanity will be judged by the God-man, Jesus. Why? Because it is what we do with Jesus that determines our eternal status.

2. Each person will be judged individually – we all….each one. No hiding behind your parents, or your pastor, or your friend, or spouse. Each of us will look Jesus in the eye.

3. What we do today matters. In fact, everything we do in the body, until the day we die, matters. Jesus will look at everything we have done in light of the faith that was behind it. Things done from faith in the grace of God will be classified as good. All else as bad. I can imagine we are all in for some big surprises here.

Exactly what Paul is describing is a bit hard to understand. He literally says that we will “receive back in the body what we have done in the body.” We also know that we will have a glorified body as we stand before Christ. I wonder if Paul is describing some sort of new understanding of all that we did in life. Will we, like Christ, be able to see the truth about all that we did? Will we be able to classify each action, thought, and word of our life correctly for what it really was – good or bad? Grace or works? This means an eternity free of all self deception, false guilt and pride.

Receiving the grace of Jesus our judge.

1. The Jesus who died on the cross is the same Jesus who will judge us. We will be judged by the crucified Christ and through the crucified Christ. And the crucified Christ will do what he has always done – bear our burdens while revealing our self destruction.

The Judgement Seat is the place of our appearing, that is, our revealing. We will be unveiled. And what will be revealed is the cross. All that we did by the power of the cross will remain. All that we did without the power of the cross will be annihilated by that same cross.

I can imagine that this will be a great and glorious day, as Jesus our Savior honors us for our faithful endurance through the suffering of a life lived apart from him for so long. Now face to face in all his glory we will see his faithfulness, and he ours. We have finally been fully transformed. Thank you Jesus!

2. The Judgment Seat of Christ is where God’s grace will be revealed. The fact that any of us will even survive the judgment of God through Christ is nothing but shear grace. But we will do more than just survive it. We will be glorified through it.

Listen, stop being afraid of the judgment of Jesus. Trust me, you want Jesus to judge you. It is at this Judgment Seat of Christ that we will find the Mercy Seat. The place where the final judgment is “Father forgive them” and “It is finished.”

3. Try to live your life in light of this day. Think about your day, your week, your month. What arguments have you had? What has made you angry? Worried you?

Now imagine yourself talking about these things in front of your crucified Jesus on judgment day. They suddenly seem pretty small don’t they? Even absurd. Will you try to justify these arguments, these broken relationships in front of him? These worries? Then why are you justifying them today?

“To live is Christ” means your total transformation into Christ. And that transformation will be realized at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Who’s excited?!

What do you think of when you think of the Judgment of Christ? Are you resting in his righteousness for that day? Are you excited to finally be made whole and fully alive?