Christ’s Finished Work: New Creation

Most Christians would have heard of the term “new creation”. They will first encounter it in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old have passed away; behold the new has come” (ESV).

When people decide to follow Christ, they will experience a spiritual transformation. Once dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), they will be made alive towards God. Their hearts of stone will become hearts of flesh. Their conscience will be cleansed, and renewed to a new sensitivity. This immediate and supernatural transformation is the work of the Spirit of God.

The old life of guilt, alienation from God and others have passed away and the new creation has come. They have entered into intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and this relationship is so deep and profound, it is termed “union”. They will realise that they have actually begun a life-long journey of transformation towards the likeness of Christ. 

This renewal is not merely individual, God is interested in forming a vast community of made-new people of all ethnicity, race and languages – a new society or humanity that has broken all barriers of race, gender and status, and that spans time and space. It is the church universal that is God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works so that the unbelieving world would see the grace and majesty and wisdom of God displayed in the church. A new creation indeed!

God’s new creation came to us in power through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Whereas Adam failed by disobedience and his descendants suffered all the consequences, Christ the last Adam, the ideal Adam, succeeded by his perfect obedience to God, and became the first of a new humanity that will live under the abundant blessings of his finished work.  But there is still more. This humanity that will live in union with God forever will inhabit a new earth and heaven.

God also intends to redeem and renew the whole world he created, which has been “subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8: 20- 22)”. This earth was not as God created and intended it to be. It has been corrupted and polluted by the curse and by sin. This subjection of the earth to degradation is described as a groaning in pain like in the pains of childbirth. This wait will end at the “revealing of the sons of God” (verse 19), when the kingdom of God is finally birthed or consummated, at the glorious return of Christ.

I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate”(Revelation 21:1-5 The Message).

New creation is one of the blessings of Christ’s finished work and it gives us a wonderful hope to look forward to. Besides that it gives us a glimpse of God’s heart of love and his incredible intention for an eternal intimacy with us. This vision of hope will certainly strengthen us to weather the storms of life whether hardships, persecution, suffering, or death.

This is part of a planned series of writings on the topic, “The A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”. I am writing it alphabet by alphabet. Thus far the others that I have written can be found HERE.


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Christ’s Finished Work: Eternal Life

Did you know that eternal life has two dimensions? We often find it referred to in terms of duration or quantity of life. This is certainly one dimension. Eternal life is conscious, perpetual, unending, forever existence with God in eternity. It is life in Christ beyond death. We Christians believe after we die we enter an intermediate state where we are conscious of Christ’s presence (2 Cor 5:8), to await the second coming of Christ, when the dead will be bodily raised to life (John 11:25-26). For those who are still alive when Jesus comes again, their bodies will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:51,52; 1 Thess 4:17). Christians would be spared the judgment for Christ took our judgment on himself on the cross, but we will enter into our eternal reward, and dwell with God in the new heaven and new earth. This is our Christian hope, the eternal hope.

The Second Dimension

However, there is a second dimension to eternal life – the here and now dimension!  The apostle John speaks of eternal life as a present possession of all who believe in Christ: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). This eternal life has to do with quality of life not quantity of life, with abundance of life not duration of life. According to John’s gospel, it is a life of acquaintance and friendship with God: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John17:3). This knowledge is an experiential knowledge of personal relationship, friendship and living interaction with the true and living God, not mere theories about who God is.

It is the kingdom life of the age to come brought forward when Jesus came preaching and inaugurated the kingdom. He brought the life of the age to come, for people to taste it in the here and now, as administered by the Holy Spirit. Another way to describe it is “God’s kind of life”. As the seed, so the fruit. God’s life is a seed that brings forth his kind of god-like life and character.

By Faith in Christ’s Finished Work

This precious possession can only be gained by faith alone. It is a gift of God that we cannot deserve or earn (Rom 6:23). We receive it by placing our faith completely in Christ to save us and give us eternal life (John 10:27,28).

The first Adam was placed in the garden and put to the test. He was to obey God and access would then be given to the tree of life. He did not. Instead, he disobeyed God so he was blocked from access to the “eternal life”. Christ is the second Adam and was sent to do what the first failed to do: perfect obedience. By obeying the Father, even unto death on the Cross, Christ won back access to the “eternal life” and now gives it to all who believes him (Phil 2:8; Rom 5:18,19). Thus it is the finished work of Christ that restored to man the access to the life that Adam forfeited, and the cross of Calvary is indeed a “Tree of Life”, for all who believe in Christ’s finished work receives eternal life in the here and now, and which continues beyond physical death (John 11:25,26). 

The implication for us is that we need to learn to draw deep from the wells of eternal life. The more we deepen our friendship and experiential knowledge of God, we more we will taste and see that eternal life is precious in the here and now, a foretaste of the life to come.

Lord, thank you for your obedience to the cross that brought us eternal life. We want to draw near to you and know you more. We want to know what you feel, what you think about different situations, and what you want of your church and of our lives. Help us to live day by day, with an awareness that you want love our company and want to be a part of our everyday mundane life. Amen.

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Psalm 88: The End Psalm

Last Tuesday evening, my cousin went home to be with the Lord. She had fought a long-drawn battle with cancer for many years. Her treatment reached a stage where the Assisi Hospice at Thomson Road became the best place for her to spend the last weeks of her life.

I confess that I struggle to journey with people who are seriously ill or dying. I admire those who compassionately, patiently, faithfully journey with the dying. They suffer with the dying friend over every setback and regression, and rejoice with them over every step of progress and hope. They hold their hands, look at them in the eyes, listen to them, serve them gently and generously, act and speak kindly to them. I know everyone has limited strengths, but I cannot help but feel totally inept compared to these Mother Teresas. Most of the time, I feel helpless during a visit, and empty, worn and down after it. I sit, I listen, I hear stories and confessions, I serve the bread and wine, I sing, read scriptures, and pray, I leave, and I hope my presence somehow helped.

Kubler Ross observed five stages of loss among the dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I can recognize these stages in varying forms and expressions among those about to go home to God too. I do not try to control or fix them, but just notice them as they appear, disappear and re-appear as time went on till the sick persons come to a place where they are at peace and are willing, even wishing, to go to their loving God and Saviour as soon as possible.

Interestingly, during this period, I have come to Psalms 88 in my regular meditations. I felt drawn into its depths. It is such a sad, depressing, dark, heart-breaking psalm. I learned in seminary that such psalms are called “lament” psalms and served a liturgical and communal purpose for the Jews throughout history. I observed that this psalm does not have a hopeful ending to it unlike other such lament psalms. It is bereft of hope, except the address of the Lord as “God of my salvation”. 

This psalm is of one who has suffered from his youth throughout his life and feels like one who is abandoned by God, shunned by friends and about to die. I wrote on my Bible the emotions present: despair, guilt, anger, trapped, despised, bargaining, bewildered, lonely, abandonment, assaulted, hopelessness. As I meditated on this psalm it dawned on me that some of these emotions may have been felt by my cousin as she laid in the hospice. These range of emotions would possibly be experienced by those suffering and waiting for death. The psalm gave a painful but real sense of one who felt close to death. As I look from outside at all the pain and tears and pleas in the psalm, it moved me to be keenly aware of my frailty, my hour.

The darkness and pain of this psalm was not relieved by the three prayers (ver 1,9,13) that prefaced the three sections. The black sheet can only be lifted by a knowledge that these psalmists do not have: the blessed revelation of what Jesus death and resurrection accomplished for us who live under the new covenant. The curtains open to let in the Light that dispels all darkness and shadows, when we who know the grace of the Lord Jesus, affirm the great hope of a resurrection similar to that of our Lord who died and rose again. This hope alone can transfigure everything at any hospice and any deathbed.

Is the psalm 88 of any use then in this era of the new covenant? Yes it has its uses. For one it provides a contrasting background that highlights and demonstrates the complete and final victory of Good Friday and Easter over suffering and death. If there is no black night, we would never have been able to fully appreciate a beautiful dawn or sunny day!

I also feel the psalm can be a useful passage to pray with for people who are at the end stage of life. It will help them to express their struggles and longings, and to surface and process the authentic and real emotions and struggles they find difficult to label. It may trigger memories and emotions that the person can then reflect upon and talk with the Lord about. As this is done, ideally with a spiritual director, one can by God’s grace find a place of perfect peace, assurance and hope as he or she waits to be hugged and taken home by their heavenly Father. 

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Japan Earthquake: Judgment of God? Door of Hope?

Japan tsunami

Tokyo governor’s political hari kiri

On March 14, 2011, just three days after an earthquake of 9.0 and tsunami struck north-eastern Japan, the Tokyo governor issued a statement he might regret and pay a political price for. The earthquake, he proclaimed, was divine judgment on the Japanese people. It was “tenbatsu”,  the unerring and inevitable divine retribution on the wicked, in particular the “gayoku” (egoism, arrogance) of the Japanese people. Shintaro Ishihara, 79, a novelist, stage and screen actor and champion of the Japanese political right, is serving his third term as governor. Not a smart thing to say but he is known for being a lightning rod for sweeping and flammable remarks.

Chinese new media polarized

The Chinese netizens welcomed the destruction of this proud people who refused to repent and apologise to the satisfaction of the Chinese, for their WW2 invasion and atrocities in China. A huge outcry and battle has ensued in the Chinese new media, between those who rejoice and welcome the wrath of nature on the recalcitrant Japanese and those who felt that in such natural catastrophe the only appropriate response is compassion, not giving vent to pent-up historical and hysterical anger.

Preach it!

So far no preacher has said it is the judgment of God for Japanese wickedness. At least no notable one that has generated Jesus weepsinternational publicity. In 2005, Pat Robertson the fundamentalist TV evangelist said Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on some past court decision that favoured abortionists. And the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 was said by both Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to be God’s punishment on America’s support of the abortionists and gays.

The experts

Seismologists say it is part of a pattern. Earthquake specialists see this earthquake as part of the third cluster of earthquakes the earth has seen. The two previous clusters were in the 1830s and between 1952 and 1965. What have been observed are not just the clusters but also the increased frequency of earthquakes although part of the increase could be explained by increased number of seismographs that had been set up.

The Bible and the End

There is always talk about the end of the world when such major catastrophes strike the earth. This should not be surprising because Jesus said, “See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:6-8). Japan earthquake and tsunamiBirthpangs is a powerful metaphor that denotes increasing frequency and intensity of contraction pains in the mother about to give birth to new life. Jesus said that wars, famines and earthquakes will be like birth pangs, increasing in frequency and severity before “the end” came.

Interestingly St Paul also spoke of the groaning of the whole creation as in “the pains of childbirth”.  In Romans 8:19-22, he pictured the whole of creation under the weight of bondage to decay and frustration from God’s verdict on the sin of Adam. It’s under great strain and in labor. It is groaning. To be liberated. To give birth to a glorious new age: where the children of God in their resurrection bodies dwell with God in a new heaven and earth.

Romans 8: 19: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Harbinger of Christian Hope

The use of birth pangs of a mother in labour harks back to Jesus own metaphor of the end of the age. Wars and famines and earthquakes in various places. In increasing severity and frequency like the birth pangs of a pregnant mother about to give birth make all things newto new life. If this is so, the Japanese 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, tragic and sad as we may feel about it, is but one in a series of catastrophic events that will wrack the earth with greater ferocity and quickening rhythm. And it is but a harbinger of the consummation of the Christian hope, a precursor of the age to come, when the children of God will be revealed in glorious power and divine vindication. The dead would be raised, the judgment delivered, and the new earth and heaven inherited and inhabited by the redeemed of the Triune God. What a blast that would be!

Let me emphasize that this world is not hurtling out of control into self destruction but moving purposefully toward a glorious end: the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the great judgment, the new heaven and the new earth. This is our sure and steadfast hope. Maranatha!

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