The Apostle Paul talks to the Corinthians, and in chapter five he tells them what it means to become a new creature in Christ. Unfortunately, the middle eastern way of speaking (2,000 years ago) is not comfortable, nor common in our way of speaking today. This article quotes the entire chapter, but I focus on the principles of change that come about within a person when they get involved in the gospel of Christ.
In Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth, he is taking for granted that they already know and understand certain principles of the gospel. A brief review of those principles that lay behind his comments might make it easier to extract the lessons we need from these verses in chapter five.
Let’s start with the first five verses of the chapter. I recommend you read the commentary then the verses, then reread the commentary. If you do this a couple of times it may begin to click for you and make more sense. Those in the middle east speak more figuratively than we do. Our Western style of speaking and writing is very direct and logically laid out. That is not their way of communicating. We generally state the end of our argument then lay out all our reasoning, step by step to support it. They tend to start with supporting arguments and gradually work their way to their main point at the end. Because it is not our way of thinking it can be frustrating to be patient enough to read all the way to the end to see what point they are trying to get at. When we look at their way of thinking it is tempting to accuse them of dancing around the point without actually stating what it is. This can be exasperating at times.
I’ll talk about these verses in a block, instead of verse by verse.
We were clothed originally with a body of spirit by God, our heavenly Father. It is His object and purpose to cloth us, His spirit children, with eternal glory, which comes with a glorified resurrected body. “Our earthly house of this tabernacle” is our body. If you were to remove our body, we would still have our body of spirit. Our spiritual body was made without hands, meaning it is not mortal, nor a product of anything man can do in mortality. Our spiritual body is a spiritual creation made by God, not the works of the flesh.
Being as eternal as our heavenly parents who gave us our spirit body, we long, and “desire to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” This refers to our resurrected body, that body that will have glory which will last forever. If we are not clothed with eternal glory, will we not, figuratively speaking, be found naked – not being clothed with glory? It is God who has given us the promise that we can be clothed upon with eternal glory, and to this end He has also given us the Holy Spirit.
1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
In verse six replace “confident” with “of good cheer.” (It’s in your footnotes.) The end of the sentence doesn’t come until the end of verse eight, so try to think of all three verses in one big thought. Basically it is saying that we can be happy knowing that while we are here in mortality, in our mortal bodies and are absent from our Father in Heaven, we have to live by faith, instead of by sight. We would prefer to be absent from our bodies and instead be with Him.
Whether we are in His presence or are absent from Him, we recognize that we need to be acceptable to Him. All of us will have to appear before the Christ to be judged for all that we have done while here in mortality, both the good and the bad.
6 Therefore we are always confident (of good cheer), knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
I have included (in red) the Joseph Smith Translation of verse thirteen. Without his translation of this verse, it doesn’t make much sense. These three verses lay out to the saints of Corinth the role of the apostle. Their fear (think respect and reverence) of the Lord causes them to seek to persuade all men to come unto Christ. The apostles give glory to the Lord in their teaching because they have reverence (fear) of the Lord, and they are sober or serious with the people for the sake of the people’s salvation.
(Mind you this is my take on these verses. I’m sure others would see other teachings in these same verses, so don’t think that what I say is all there is to what can be derived from a study of these passages.)
11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
12 For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
13 For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. JST 2 Cor. 5:13 For we bear record that we are not beside ourselves; for whether we glory, it is to God, or whether we be sober, it is for your sakes.
This portion of the chapter refers to specific doctrine found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It refers to the doctrine of premortal existence. When we chose to leave the presence of our Father and come to a fallen world, we were cut off from His presence. Without a Savior and Redeemer we would be lost to Him forever. The role of our Redeemer was to pay the eternal price for the sin (disobedience) of all God’s children, thus balancing the accounts of heaven so we weren’t left forever owing a debt that none of us could pay. Christ paid this debt for us, so He now owns the rights to the disposition of our souls, but the laws have been satisfied as far as our Father in Heaven is concerned. Christ suffered the punishment for all our sinful ways, and the Great Law Giver has deemed the debt settled. That debt has now shifted from us needing to pay our Father in Heaven for our sins to needing to satisfy the demands of He who paid our debt for us, the Savior.
In essence, our lives are no longer our own. We are owned by Christ (We agreed to this arrangement in the pre-existence). He bought and paid for our souls with His atoning sacrifice. By dying for us then rising again from the grave, He opened the door for us to be granted the gift of resurrection. We would all live forever, because we are eternal beings. But we wouldn’t have resurrected bodies if it hadn’t been for the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is why we say He was born to die. His death and resurrection was the end goal of His part as the Savior in the plan of salvation. It is through the judgment and resurrection that He is able to clothe us with immortal and eternal glory.
We knew of Christ as a mortal. But once He rose from the grave He was a new man, a glorified and eternal creature. It was through His atonement and resurrection that He is able to also make new creatures of us. Read the verses below and then I’ll continue my point.
14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Left to ourselves in mortality the scriptures tell us how our fallen state creates within us a fallen nature. We are corrupt, and our corrupted desires lead us into sin (willful and disobedient practices). Without Christ in our lives we have no choice but to follow Satan and become even more corrupted, thinking evil continually. But when we come unto Christ and accept His commandments and make covenants with Him, the Holy Spirit can change our hearts. As we seek to be obedient to the commandments the Spirit changes our disposition so we desire to do evil less and less, and desire to experience the things of God more and more.
It is an eternal truth that all things spiritual come as a gift from God. We cannot change the nature of our hearts any more than we can will ourselves to grow younger. Spirituality must come from God, and it is given only to those who express, and make an effort to keep God’s commandments and follow the Spirit. As we seek to draw closer to the Lord, the Spirit enlightens our minds, softens our hearts, and gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses. This is how we become new creatures in Christ. It doesn’t happen overnight, it is a process that takes continual work and effort. The change can only happen as quickly as we are willing to give our hearts, without reservation, in obedience to the Lord.
These last few verses partially explain the role of the leaders of the Church. God could have required payment at our hands for our sins, but that would have left us cut off from His presence forever, because none of us have the capacity to pay for our own sins. Nor do any of us have the capacity to live perfectly, without sin. This is why we need a Redeemer, someone who is without sin to satisfy the demands of justice violated by the sins we commit when we act willfully against the commandments of God.
The only way God could reconcile this discrepancy between His laws and our behavior was through a Mediator – Christ. The responsibility to teach this doctrine to the children of the world has been committed into the hands of those called of God to be the leaders of His Church. They literally have the “ministry of reconciliation.” God pleads (beseeches) us to repent and follow Christ through His chosen ministers, the Apostles. By following God’s ways and taking advantage of His atoning sacrifice we demonstrate or become the “righteousness of God” through Christ, our Lord. We glorify God by following Christ through the ministry of His servants.
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Becoming new creatures in Christ is a figure of speech, as well as something very literal. We don’t change our skin or grow a new head, but we do something just as apparent. When we repent and seek to follow the Holy Ghost each day of our lives, our attitudes change, our disposition changes, our habits change, and our good virtues increase as quickly as our vices disappear.
We become new creatures by learning to love to study the gospel as found in the holy scriptures. We become new by learning how to love those who are difficult to love, and to forgive those who we feel have hurt us unjustly (or even justly). We walk in a newness of life by learning that obedience to the laws of God brings joy, not restriction and restraint. For restriction and restrain from hurting ourselves is a good thing.
The key to the verses in 2 Corinthians 5 is found in the comment in verse nine where he says that whether in or out of the body our desires should be that we will “be accepted of him.” Until we put in the work and effort it takes to become new creatures in Christ we will never be accepted of him. By seeking to follow the Spirit, to obey God in all things, and by learning to find joy in becoming like Christ and our Father in Heaven, we not only change and become “new” in the best possible sense of the word, but we also become acceptable to God. We become the kind of people He will welcome home with open arms.