“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
—2 Corinthians 5:16-19
The celebrated novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” That’s not some allusion to old-fashioned mannerisms, or how no one seems to be calling their children Edith or Lionel anymore—it’s a pointed remark upon the way that people change over the course of their own lives, and not just in shrinking, and becoming gradually more intolerant of loud music. It’s in the sense that your younger self wouldn’t know what planet your older self was from. Your younger self wouldn’t understand the language they spoke. Your younger self wouldn’t even recognise your older self as being the same person unless they were presented with a map of how they got there, a bullet-pointed chronology of the events that took place between then and now, and a ‘how-you-got-old’ YouTube video tutorial. The fact is, you’ve changed.
Of course, life is all about change. Seemingly seismic sea changes occur all the time, from small political revolutions that seem to revolve again far too swiftly, to cultural paradigm shifts: like sound and colour in movies; the analogue age to the digital age; or ourselves, child to adult. We grow, we change, and if we’re fortunate, those changes are part of an evolution, growing towards something… a pattern of flourishing behavior that we can see for ourselves. It’s encouraging for us to see things from that perspective, to perceive a positive and upward movement in our quality of life and relationships. To see improvement. It’s encouraging, but sadly we don’t often get that kind of experience in the world at large, and when we do, it’s either through the kind of focused planning and single-minded drive that takes all the fun out of it, or through sheer blind luck. So which would you prefer as a route to consistent contentment? Clinging to ambition, or counting on the arbitrary? The world has no real answer for you there, and why would it? It’s not designed to make you happy, and when a system isn’t fit for purpose, the only real way forward is to hack and bludgeon it into a shape that kind of works, or cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Of course, the biggest paradigm shift in Scripture was the change of covenant, of Testament, old to new. The Old Testament gave us a relationship with God based upon visitation. He would appear to people in fire and thunder, speak in miraculous voices. Great miracles would take place, armies would rise and be defeated. Giants fell, seas divided, signs and portents were everywhere. Although visitation still occurs, life after the New Testament is a different thing. We have progressed from a culture of visitation to one of habitation. God sent His Son to take on all of the burden, the hideous weight, of all of our sin and transgression, past and future, and gave us the gift of His presence in our hearts and in our lives. The people of God went from being a single, but fractured nation, surrounded by enemies but visited by power and blessing, to something astonishing. In today’s parlance, the message went viral, as the newborn Christian church swept like a wave across the world. In only a few centuries, Christianity went from being the upstart and underground movement acting as a thorn in the side to the established religion of a vassal state, to the official religion of the Roman Empire itself. We became a people never seen before…no longer a people blessed because we were the chosen of God, but a people chosen by God because we were blessed, a people without borders, beyond race or nationality or any other arbitrary limitation that the world attempted to set.
Life is all about change, and the paradigm shift between Old and New Testament, between a visitation and a habitation culture, has given us a schism between our old selves and our new selves in Christ. The Resurrection wasn’t just an awe-inspiring supernatural event, it was a metaphor for how we were intended to be from now on, a plan and a pattern and a message and an exhortation that we were to be reborn.
Your old self is dead. That was the person you were in the world, the world of the carnal. That was an unexamined self, prey to circumstance, passed from pillar to post with barely time to pick itself back up again before it was thrown onward again. That was a self that constantly fell victim to inconsistency, to inconstancy, to the weakness of allowing others to dictate how it felt and how it acted. But Jesus took on our old selves, all of them, when He died at Golgotha. He died, and He took all of us with Him, and when He was reborn, when He rolled that stone away from the grave and walked away, we walked with Him then, too.
Our old selves are dead, and they’re gone, and the problems that beset them in their tortured journeys through the world are dead and gone too. So why are we still clinging to the past? Why do we still allow judgement and condemnation to follow us, dogging our tracks? We’re not here to work on the problems of our old natures. God killed them off for a reason! Jesus has already dealt with those problems. We are a new creation. All of the old is passed away—that’s a fact, and also a promise. Jesus didn’t just die for us, he died as us, and the question we must always ask ourselves when faced with judgement is, was Jesus judged for the sin that He took on? Did God pour out all of His anger; enact His full punishment on His Son? Of course He did. So…there’s none left for us now, then? This judgement that haunts us is our old selves, our dead selves, because those selves and that judgement died with Jesus on the cross.
So stop robbing the grave. Stop digging your old self up, time and time again—it’s a really odd thing to keep doing! There’s no need to keep confessing. The past is another country. You are a new self. We are new selves. Every issue in our lives is in Christ, because we are in Christ, and if we are then so is our situation, our circumstances.
How can we tell whether we’re acting in our new selves, or falling under the spell of our dead lives? Our new selves are positive, where our old selves are negative. Our new selves are active participants in life, where our old selves too often allowed themselves to be passive and kicked about by circumstances. We are now movers and shakers, instead of the moved and the shaken. We think brilliantly now, and brilliant thinking tells us that we don’t need to pursue achievement any longer. Blessing isn’t something to be sought after, to be earned. We are already blessed. We have already achieved. We’ve won. That’s why we give thanks, why our new lives are marked both by joy within, and rejoicing without. We give thanks because we know the outcome in advance, and we know that the outcome is favor. It’s God’s favor for us.
Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Our new lives are marked by blessing, just as our old were scarred by condemnation. As we bless others, so we attract blessing and favor in our own lives. Our new lives are all about blessing, favor—and encouragement. Positivity, seeing the best path as the only solution, striking out through new territory with a song in our hearts—that’s the art of thinking brilliantly.
So God won’t judge us on sin, not when that sinful self has been dead and buried for over two thousand years. Instead, He’ll evaluate us on our fulfillment of our potential in Him. Think to yourself. Is there more to be done? Have you done everything possible to deliver on what He’s given you, the promise made to you and the provision made for you? Because it’s no longer enough for us to ask for what we need to get through the day ahead. Newborns and toddlers ask for what meets their needs. We’re growing, evolving, changing. The more we become, the more God wants to give us. Our inheritance is unlimited, and as we grow and mature in Christ, we graduate to new levels of expectation one by one, replacing one paradigm of blessing with the next as we flourish and evolve in the Spirit. The world calls that ambition. We call it the Kingdom of Heaven. The past is a foreign country. We do things differently here.