Jesus’ resurrection was the dawn of New Creation in power. Yet we see signs of new-creation power already in Jesus’ incarnation, life and ministry, and sacrificial death. His victorious resurrection was the decisive vindication of his life and death and the beginning of the New Age of the Spirit.
Who and what was this risen Jesus? Not restricted by space, time, and physical limitations, yet surely not a ghost, either (Lk 24:39)! Not disembodied soul, but truly risen human Savior in victorious power. Jesus was and is the New Creation, the manifestation in power of the New Covenant in his blood.
New Creation, New Covenant
New Covenant and New Creation are the two sides of one wondrous reality. In order for there to be New Covenant in fullness, there must be New Creation.
The New Covenant is the beginning of the New Creation. Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor 5:17). What?! We do not yet see everything made new, as promised. But Paul here is thinking the way we should think when we consider new life in Jesus Christ. New Creation has begun! It has arrived really, but not yet fully. Already, but not yet.
In this sense, New Creation, the kingdom of God, the reconciliation of all things, creation healed, new heaven and earth, all things joined together under Jesus, full salvation, are all ways of speaking of the same reality, saying the same thing. New Creation began decisively with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. New Creation begins decisively for each of us as we experience new birth, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, and all that means immediately as well as in the mid-term and in long-term ultimate history.
New Creation in Four Dimensions
Second Corinthians 5:17 is the key New Creation text. The NIV brings out clearly Paul’s meaning: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” Paul stresses the categorical difference between the old way and the new—the old age and the new age of resurrection power.
But Paul doesn’t say just what he means by “new creation.” We discern the meaning, however, by viewing the larger biblical context in which Paul is writing—especially the full Old Testament plan or oikonomia of salvation, understood now in light of Jesus.
The Old Testament shows that the world’s problem—the problem of sin—is fourfold. It is a broken relationship with God, with ourselves, with other people, and with the land. Through Messiah, God brings comprehensive salvation—a full, fourfold cure, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20 KJV). New Creation through Jesus Christ means reconciliation with God, within ourselves, with other people (social reconciliation), and with the land.
New Creation is as big as all the vast New Covenant promises throughout the Old Testament.
1. New Creation: New Life in Jesus Christ
New Creation in Jesus Christ is, first of all, the new birth, new life in Christ. New Creation is indeed “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).
Men and women are created in God’s own image with an inborn capacity to know God and enjoy covenant relationship with him. New Creation is the “activation,” so to speak, of that capacity. It is the establishing a covenant walk with Yahweh—Creator, Savior, faithful Covenant Partner.
New Life in Christ is New Creation, not just pardon. Christians are “born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). New Creation in Jesus Christ is best described as a new birth or a resurrection from death, like Jesus’ own. Paul writes: We “have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Forgiveness is not nearly radical enough to describe New Creation in Jesus Christ by the Spirit! A forgiven corpse is still dead. A fetus, even if conceived in sin, does not need to be forgiven; it needs to be born. This Jesus taught (think of Nicodemus in John 3). This is why New Testament writers reach for the metaphors of birth and resurrection to describe New Creation in Jesus.
New Creation is a living relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ by the Spirit. It is a life, a rising from spiritual death into the life for which man and woman were first created. We have been born “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).
2. New Creation: New Society
Christians in Western cultures, especially, must guard against thinking New Creation is an individual experience only, each person on a separate, private stroll with Jesus. This is a theological and practical error, and it leads to wrong behavior.
The Bible is clear that to be a Christian is to be in covenant relationship with God the Trinity and with God’s people. No one can be joined to Jesus the Head without being joined with his Body, the church. John Wesley said there are no solitary saints—Christianity is a social faith.
Jesus spoke of his disciples as friends, family, community. Paul says we are members of the same body, co-membered together: “we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom 12:5); “we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25); “members of his body” (Eph 5:20).
So New Creation is a new social and cultural reality, not a private or individual one. Nor it is real only spiritually. New Creation is a new cultural dynamic. It touches every fiber and filament of human existence.
In the Old Testament, God called patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses in order to form a people. God’s plan of salvation is to form a new people, a new social and cultural reality, the nucleus and basis of new society leading ultimately to total New Creation. We see in the Old Testament how being God’s covenant people touched every area of life—clothing, food, hygiene, the treatment of earth and its creatures, financial relationships, as well as worship practices and social relations. In the New Testament, Jesus takes this even deeper, as we see most profoundly in the Sermon on the Mount.
New Creation means New Community. This why the church is so important. New Creation is social, dynamic, transformative, “fermentive,” reproductive, organic, ecological. It has the character of the creation in Genesis 1, whose inborn nature or DNA was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. New Creation is surging life.
New Creation means new social relationships in several senses. First, as we have seen, it is a new relationship with God the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. Second, it is new relationship with Jesus’ Body, the church. But this extends further as Christians, both intentionally and unwittingly, build life-giving relationships with non-Christians in the neighborhood, the family, the workplace, the school—in short, the full sphere of social relationships. The more like Jesus Christians become, the more naturally and effectively they build community. This has large implications for culture.
Ultimately, we may think of New Creation community in six dimensions: (1) Community with God through Jesus Christ by the Spirit, (2) community with one another in the local body of Christ, (3) community with the broader church within one’s region or nation, (4) community with the global church throughout the earth, (5) community with all God’s people in heaven and on earth, through all time—the “communion of saints,” and (6) solidarity with the entire human family on earth and with all creation. This last is eschatological—that is, it exists now only in small and partial ways. But it’s a sign pointing ahead to all creation healed once all sin is judged and creation is fully restored (as I show in Salvation Means Creation Healed).
3. New Creation: Inner Healing
The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 shows how estrangement from God brings inner alienation—a division and disease deep within the human soul and psyche.
Being alienated from God, others, and the good earth, we become strangers to ourselves. For all these relationships are interrelated. Sin makes us “double-minded” (Ps 119:113; Jas 1:7, 4:8), inwardly disconnected rather than integrated, whole.
Salvation though starts us on the road to inner healing, the wholeness that comes from reconciliation with God, the earth, and other people.
Wholeness is relational. We learn this most fundamentally from the reality of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit in ongoing communion of love-filled giving and receiving.
God intends that we learn such wholeness first of all in family. A key function of a healthy family is to create healthy persons. A normal, healthy bonding with mother and father in the hours, days, and weeks after birth produces children who are at peace with themselves and thus able to live peaceably with others and with the world.
This is God’s plan. But sin disturbs this creation intent right from birth. Some families are more healthy, others less so. But every person grows up with the inner dis-ease of sin, of inner dividedness, that can be fully addressed only by salvation through Jesus Christ.
New Creation in Jesus Christ comes to our inner selves in three ways. First, in the New Birth, the alienation from God is healed; “justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Second, in consequence, we begin to experience a new set of social-spiritual relationships in the Christian family, the church. This gives broader meaning to our lives. New Creation means being less and less focused on ourselves and more and more on others as we grow in our relatedness. Thus “speaking the truth in love, we [are enabled to] grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15). This is New Creation and the opposite of individualism and self-focus.
This third dimension of New Creation will come to fullness with Jesus’ return, when all creation is healed and the whole earth is finally filled with the love and grace of God.
4. New Creation: Earth Flourishing
The fourth dimension of New Creation is the restoration of all things through the work of the Holy Spirit—all things reconciled in Jesus (Col 1:20). This is not just for the far-off future! New-Creation reconciliation with the earth begins now, with new life in Jesus and in the Christian community.
Christians are creation-healed people. They look at the earth with all its wonders and all its creatures with New-Creation eyes. Christian discipleship means rediscovering God’s covenant with the earth (Gen 9) and living it out in our daily routines.
New Creation in Jesus connects us with the original physical creation in the way God intends—the way revealed in Genesis 1 and 2, and as re-envisioned in the earth covenant God institutes in Genesis 9. New Creation means reconnecting with creation—the earth with its wonders and creatures; the universe in its mystery and grandeur—not separation from creation. Biblical New Creation is not the divorce of spiritual things from earthly things, but the integration of all things in the Spirit as envisioned from the beginning, in creation’s original ecology.
Creation as God made it is healthful, life-giving. A daily sign of this is the way plants produce oxygen (which animals need) and absorb carbon dioxide (which animals exhale). Another is the way human life is enriched by the beauty of birds, trees, flowers, mountain landscapes, ocean vistas—the artistry of our Creator.
God made humans to live in an ongoing, life-giving relationship not only with him but also with his world. In recent decades, scientific research has been showing more and more ways humans benefit from unprogrammed interaction with the created order. Spending time amid the beauties of the “natural world”—that is, creation—strengthens physical and emotional health and guards against problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). We actually suffer physically and emotionally if we don’t tend to our nature-relationship. Richard Louv reports a growing body of such evidence in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Updated and Expanded Ed., Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008).
This New Creation perspective should shape discipleship. We really need to know and appreciate how God’s world works, physically as well as spiritually. If we don’t learn how ecosystems work, we will never learn how the Gospel works. This is in essence what Jesus teaches in his parables, as well as in the Sermon on the Mount. In God’s world, all creation (physical and spiritual) is one integrated whole.
This fourth dimension of New Creation—the flourishing of all creation—is an essential component of the fullness of New Creation, the fullness of God’s reign. It is not a superfluous extra. We celebrate the wonder of Jesus’ resurrection, of our new life in Jesus, necessarily including the new relationship with all creation that our New Covenant relationship with God establishes.
New Creation means all creation healed. This began with Jesus’ spacetime resurrection. It continues now amid struggle, suffering, and setback—but also great signs of redemptive, healing power in our own lives, in community, and in our new relationship through Jesus with the whole created order.
Here in sum is the consistency and comprehensiveness of God’s salvation plan, all God’s covenants working together for good in the grand biblical redemptive story.
New Creation Hope
Jesus’ resurrection was not just another chapter in the ongoing story of salvation. It was radically new: The breaking in of a new reality, a New Age—the beginning of the story of all creation restored.
The mystery of this New Age, this new covenant creation, is that it overlaps with the age that is now passing away. For the present, a full understanding of the New Creation that God is bringing is beyond our full intellectual grasp. But we experience its reality through the real presence of the Holy Spirit within us, in Christian community, and in signs of God’s reign that emerge from time to time.
New Creation in fullness means being fully at home, reconciled—at home with the Triune God in his lovingkindness and covenant faithfulness; at home with our neighbors in the human family; at home with our inmost selves; at home with the earth and its creatures—with all creation. Healthy, holy symbiosis.
The Apostle Paul speaks of “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5). He doesn’t mean “going to heaven,” a future life in heaven. Rather he’s alerting us to full, complete salvation now presently secure, safe from earthly forces—held on deposit, so to speak—until the time of its full realization. The “mystery” of the gospel, Paul says, “is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Jesus himself is our hope (1 Tim 1:1). We eagerly await his return.
The Apostle John says when Jesus is fully “revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). We are assured that our certain hope is unending life with Jesus, in full fellowship with the Trinity, in creation restored—new heaven, new earth—New Creation in fullness, ever flourishing.
Other New Testament Scriptures affirm this with other expressions and images. God’s unchangeable word encourages us “to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:18-20). The forever-risen Jesus, our “forerunner,” has entered his glory, and will unite us with him in the redeemed, healed creation.
So the Apostle Peter exclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:3-5).
Inheritance, a word with rich Old Testament meaning, suggests the kingdom of God in fullness, when God’s people “inherit the land” (Ps 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; Mt 5:5) and all earth blossoms under the blessing of God. Therefore, Peter says, “prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Pt 1:13) in his final return to earth. We have now received grace, and we will receive grace in the gracious fullness of the kingdom of God in its completion.
So our hope is not merely for personal salvation. It is for the full coming of God’s kingdom which, as Peter says, will “be revealed in the last time.” Christians tend to think of salvation hope too narrowly. It is natural that, in grateful praise, we speak of the hope and full assurance of our personal salvation. But Scripture instructs us to see our own salvation within the larger story of full New Creation, of creation healed and liberated for ongoing joyful, creative service in God’s garden, the new heaven and earth. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us . . . lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. . . . since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, [offering] to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:1-2, 28-29). Our sure hope of salvation is our clear call to ongoing discipleship here and now, fortified by the hope in which we stand.