READ : 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
The gospel proclaims the wonderful news that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Knowing that will change both how you live, and what you live for.
What is it that makes some people such effective servants of Jesus Christ? Most of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ try to be ministers for him. We want to do good to others. We try to love and serve our neighbors, to bear witness to the good news of the gospel, to be agents of peace and reconciliation. We know we are, or at least ought to be, Christ’s ambassadors, to use an expression of the Apostle Paul. But some of us seem to do a much better job at that than others. Have you ever met a truly outstanding ambassador of Jesus Christ? Well, you’ll get a chance to a little later in today’s program. But first, let’s think about just what it is that most qualifies us to have an impact for good on those around us.
Having the ability to influence people for Christ isn’t necessarily a matter of having a lot of natural gifts, or an appealing personality, or a superior intelligence. But there is one thing you do need to have in order to make a difference as a servant of Jesus Christ. You need to have experienced a personal, life-changing encounter with Christ himself.
IN CHRIST, A NEW CREATION
Listen to this powerful gospel truth, proclaimed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Being “in Christ,” as Paul says, means belonging to Jesus Christ and to his church by virtue of a faith relationship with him, and that changes everything in a person’s life. It gives us a sure future after death; the Bible says that eternal life begins here and now for everyone who is in Christ, that is, who receives him by faith and believes in him. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:13). Being “in Christ” also gives us a new purpose for living. The fact that our personal future is guaranteed by God has a profound impact on how we live in the present. Since we know we are going to heaven to be with the Lord when we die, our goal while we live here and now is to please him. “So whether we are at home or away,” says Paul, “we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). And what that means specifically is a life lived in service to others in Christ’s name, on his behalf.
THE COMPELLING LOVE OF CHRIST
This was the hallmark of Paul’s own life, of his missionary service in the cause of the gospel. Listen to how he explains what motivated him:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
What made Paul give so much of himself, spending his very life in order to tell people everywhere about God’s saving love in Jesus Christ? He was not driven by guilt or greed or fear. He was motivated by love. “For the love of Christ compels us” (v. 14). That could mean the love Christ had for Paul. Paul was so filled with a sense of Jesus’ love for him that it shaped his every move in life. Or Paul could be referring to the love that he, Paul, had for Christ. The apostle’s heart so overflowed with love for his Lord and Savior that he only wanted to live for Jesus Christ. But we really don’t have to choose between those two meanings. The love of Christ is his love for me, and my love for him, and both together are what make me want to spend my life in service to others in his name.
This compelling and controlling love of Christ that comes to dominate the life of his followers all stems from a basic conviction we have about something that has happened. It can be traced back to Jesus’ death and the meaning of that death. “The love of Christ compels me to do what I do,” wrote Paul, “because I am convinced that one died for all . . . so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them . . .” (vv. 14-15). “Christ died for me”; there is the foundation belief upon which all Christian gratitude, love, devotion and service are based. When Paul says that Christ died for us, he means Christ died instead of us, as a substitute in our place. In Christ’s death we died; that is, all we who are united to Christ by faith are “united with him in a death like his” (Rom. 6:5). In a sense, if Christ has died for us, we have died with him – that means the old me has been put to the cross – and therefore we really must live for him. How could we do anything else? So Paul’s motive for service is the grateful love for Jesus Christ which was aroused by the cross where Christ died for him. How could Paul live for himself any more, knowing all that had happened at the cross? And if you and I believe in Jesus Christ, if our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” then how could we possibly think of living for anything other than him?