Salvation as Re-creation
The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable natural processes that God designed. Something so unlovely turns into something so beautiful. The grubby caterpillar puts off its old self, so to speak, and puts on a new and beautiful self. It doesn’t lose its individual identity, though. Whether caterpillar or butterfly, the monarch, for example, is always Danaus plexippus.
Following on from my reflection two weeks ago, I’d like to consider the connection between the grand theme of re-creation through de-creation and the believer’s salvation. Whereas the prior reflection focused on the re-creation of this world into the new heavens and new earth, for this reflection I’ll focus on how the believer’s salvation is the first fruits of cosmic re-creation. But before we can talk about re-creation, we need to think about de-creation.
For the believer, this de-creation is his or her death. Not physical death, at least not yet, but spiritual death. In the same way that the world was destroyed by the flood waters in Genesis and in the same way that the world will be consumed by fire at the last day, we, too, must be destroyed before we can be a new creation. The unlovely caterpillar cannot become the beautiful butterfly unless it puts off the old caterpillar self. You are not a believer until you have died to sin. The Apostle Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:1-4). The unlovely you cannot become beautiful unless you put off the old self, or die to sin.
But for those who die to sin, which we know is only accomplished by God working in us, we can then walk in newness of life. The destruction, or de-creation, of our old rebellious selves gives way to a new creature, or new creation. And this new creation is the first fruits of cosmic re-creation. Paul later says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23). To have the first fruits of the Spirit is to have spiritual vitality, a spiritual newness of life even as we wait for a physical transformation.
Paul’s comments in Romans 8 bring up transformation of the physical variety. Briefly, I’ll say that this physical transformation will be a tremendous benefit of our union in Christ. It should be noted that physical death is not necessary for physical transformation, for Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (15:51). What’s necessary is the coming of Christ. Nevertheless, the benefit will be this: our fallen bodies will be de-created and then re-created into immortal bodies free from defect and anything unclean. That, for sure, is a reward for faith in Jesus Christ.
However wonderful that great day will be when our bodies are transformed, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we have the first fruits of the Spirit today. We are presently new creatures in Christ Jesus, and this has great bearing on how we perceive ourselves. I’ll end this reflection with one thought on the present application of this idea that our salvation is re-creation.
When you have undergone the spiritual version of transforming from a caterpillar to a butterfly, you don’t long to be a caterpillar anymore. If butterflies could talk, I doubt that they would tell us of their longing for the days when they crept along eating leaves. I have a hard time believing that a butterfly would regret adding flight to its natural abilities. When Paul says, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17), he tells us that we aren’t our old self. There has been a break with the old self, which has come to an end. Yes, we struggle with sin even after we repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. However, we aren’t mastered by sin any longer, and we certainly ought not to pine for the days when we sinned with a high hand against God. God forbid that I look back fondly on the lifestyle I lived before Christ made me his. Instead, we ought to joyfully exercise those new abilities God has given to us now that we are new creatures. Butterflies don’t disregard their wings; they use them! God has given us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—things which we could not practice in earnest before—so let’s use this fruit, for God has made a new creation to glorify himself.