The following is a reflection revised from a previous version adapted for reflection at the end of the year
Following on from my previous reflection, I’d like to consider the connection between the grand theme of re-creation through de-creation and the believer’s individual 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.
For the believer, this de-creation is his or her death. Not physical death, at least not yet, but death nonetheless. 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 and die to sin.
But for those who die to sin, made possibly by the Spirit’s work in our hearts, there is a chance to 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 that cosmic re-creation that includes our physical transformation.
As we reflect in this advent season on the person and work of Christ, we need to be reminded that he was born of a woman, born under the law, so that we would be forever free from the law of sin and death. The new creation that Christ inaugurates, in a way, at the incarnation marks a decisive break with the old. That redemptive historical moment of the new creation breaking into the old is then experienced by every believer when they are regenerated by the Spirit. 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, a de-creation of sorts. Yes, we struggle with sin even after we are born again, but we aren’t mastered by the old self any longer.
On the contrary, we desire more and more the things of the new creation—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—because they are things fitting for our new life in Christ. But we not only desire these things; we are enabled to do them as well. The new self is fashioned after the image of the Son of God, and so we are enabled to strive for the same things as Christ—knowledge, holiness, and righteousness, among other things. These are the fruit that is yielded from us who were once barren and worthless branches. When we were united to the true vine, and as we abide in him, we bear fruit in keeping with the new creation.
So, as we celebrate the tidings of comfort and joy that are rightly announced at Christmas time, let’s allow these tidings to penetrate beyond the surface level so that we’re spurred on to live in light of the great work of the incarnate Son to bring us from death to life.