The Cross and the New Humanity

What does it mean to be “Born Again”? The church has taught that it is the reformation of the self, a renewal of the flesh that will become more inclined to God. But did the cross do something even more?

Have you ever confessed your sins to God or asked for forgiveness and promised, with hands intertwined and eyes shut tight, to never fall into that sin again? You know that God forgives because He is a good and loving God, but you hope that your confession and vow give you the much-needed strength to fight and walk the hard, narrow road.

But what are the chances of you tripping into that same vice again, or falling into another habit that needs its own act of repentance and confession? For every trip and fall, you will seek reformation. With every act of sin, a new grant of forgiveness. For my whole life in the church, I have heard that this was the life of the Christian. A life of confession, repentance, and striving for purity. “Come and rededicate your life to God today.”

They say that being born again happens once, but in the actual lives of religion’s followers lies the question: can one lose their salvation? If one can lose their salvation then being born again would be something that can become corrupted or reversed. The Spirit of God cannot become corrupted, therefore being born again, in the Christian religion, must mean a reformation of the flesh and not a new creation of the Spirit of God.

In my life as a Christian, being born again happened roughly every morning. I would wake up, think of all the sins I had done the day before, and repent of them. Even if I couldn’t think of any, I’d repent anyway. Christianity had made me wholly sin conscious and when I failed or otherwise wanted that sin, I’d condemn myself.

With the Gospel of Grace, I realized that all of this confession and repentance had nothing to do with sin. It was all about me. It was about my standing with God, my place of fellowship with Him, and my worthiness towards Him. The sin itself was never truly dealt with because the damned thing kept coming back into my life.

This image reflects that of the Passover lamb, slicing its throat for the reformation of the people but never fully dealing with sin itself. However, the cross did something more. The cross went deeper. It wasn’t the quick and merciful death of the Passover lamb but an excruciating six hours of torture. The cross didn’t deal with the person, it dealt with the sin and the humanity bound to it. The suffering and death of Christ went straight to the root of the problem because no matter how many times we confessed, became reformed, and moved on we were still corrupted at our core. 

This is why Paul, and only Paul, took us back to Adam. Paul related the failure of Adam with the success of Christ’s death. The old humanity born in Adam had to be taken out by the roots, pinned to the cross, and become effectively dead. Peter and the Apostles were never taught this or even learnt of it because as Israelites their calling had to do with the flesh. They had to repent of the cross and work towards the resurrection of Christ because they never realized what the cross meant. Not so for the rest of us. Martin Zender notes,

The gospel of the Circumcision does not get humanity by the root. Rather, it remakes humanity. It takes the raw material of the present creation and fashions it anew. This is what being “born again” means. “Born again” puts God’s spirit into Israelite flesh, so that Israel can at last enact God’s commandments. Being born again merely spruces up the old humanity; it reforms it. No wonder the other writers always struck me as reformers; they were reformers. Modern so-called men of God always wanted me born again. I never embraced that. I needed more. My root was wrong. Fix me today, and I am back in a month to re-confess my sins, as the Catholic church did to me. They never extracted my sin by the root. Their fix was a Band-Aid; ten “Our Fathers” and ten “Hail Marys,” and I was back next month—back on the wheel like a gerbil. The root never left me.

Zender, Martin. The First Idiot in Heaven: Secrets of the Apostle Paul (And why the meek merely inherit the Earth) . Starke & Hartmann. Kindle Edition.

Paul’s evangel, that of the Uncircumcision (see again Galatians 2:7-8), does not relate to the flesh. Unlike Peter’s, Paul’s evangel does not pertain to the earth but to the celestial, where fleshly distinctions and advantages are not counted for (“There is neither Jew nor Greek”) and the old humanity is rendered dead.

For the love of Christ is constraining us, judging this, that, if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died. And He died for the sake of all that those who are living should by no means still be living to themselves, but to the One dying and being roused for their sakes. So that we, from now on, are acquainted with no one according to flesh. Yet even if we have known Christ according to flesh, nevertheless now we know Him so no longer. So that, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! There has come new. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, CLNT bold mine)

Paul stated that because of the death and resurrection of Christ we are acquainted with no one according to the flesh. Christianity had me concerned otherwise. In the church, I was still acquainted with my flesh and its repentance. By fighting off the old man daily I was living for myself, concerned only for my own right standing. But under the cross, there is nothing to fight. The flesh had been crucified with Him and so the old man shall concern me no more. The cross took the old humanity, ripped it up by the root, and put it to death with Jesus. Therefore it is now considered dead. We are therefore the righteousness of Christ. 

Who rouses Him from among the dead, you also being dead to the offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He vivifies us together jointly with Him, dealing graciously with all our offenses, erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away out of the midst, nailing it to the cross, stripping off the sovereignties and authorities, with boldness He makes a show of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:13-15 CLNT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

The problem with modern Christianity and the reformation is that it believes the flesh can and must be reformed and born again. It is entirely sin conscious in the lives of believers and unbelievers alike, effectively denouncing the work of the cross. 

…if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died…..all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14,18 CLNT)

The above can only be right if what Paul says is true: Jesus Christ died for our sins. A corpse cannot be reformed, and thus those under Paul’s evangel are free from ever having to worry about reforming the flesh again. The death of Christ is our death, His entombment is our entombment, and His resurrection is our resurrection (Romans 6:4,7). With Paul, sin and the flesh is no longer fought against or thought of, but has been considered crucified with Christ, for the one who dies has been justified from sin. Zender notes how utterly radical the Gospel of Grace really is,

Justification from sin goes so much deeper than forgiveness, which was the only thing available to Israelites, through law. Forgiveness says: “You did wrong, but we will overlook the penalty.” Justification says: “You did not even do wrong. In fact, you are right.”

Zender, Martin. The First Idiot in Heaven: Secrets of the Apostle Paul (And why the meek merely inherit the Earth) . Starke & Hartmann. Kindle Edition.

A pastor I knew once shared a story about a man who came into the church feeling defeated from his own sin. “I give up!” he cried. “I cannot ever please God. I keep falling into sin again and again.” What did our pastor tell him? The sermon was about the ways our righteousness and moral standing can be the light that will reach people. Not the good news of Christ’s salvation and atonement, but the ways we have overcome our own sin. If we can reform the flesh, then you can too. Watch how we do it. 

This man reached a powerful point in his life. He gave up. He knew he couldn’t reform the flesh and so He stopped trying to fight it. This is exactly the place God wants us to be. When we have reached the end of ourselves and our own efforts then Christ can become our all in all.

The result of this? You can be weak and free from sin. You can be free from sin while smoking a cigarette. You can be free from sin while watching pornography. You can be free from sin while cussing. You can be free from sin while drinking. I say this, not to encourage destructive habits and overindulgence, but that when one knows the love and freedom of grace sin will no longer hold any power, for it is the law and prohibition that creates temptation and the enticement of sin (Romans 5:20, 7:8). When one realizes that they can do and even enjoy all of these while being free from condemnation the Lord can form them in the way He pleases, according to His sovereign will and purpose (Philippians 2:13). This is so because God is looking at a new creation and not a temporarily reformed version of the old, still condemned in sin. The burden is no longer ours to carry.

My pride will say otherwise and I suspect that is what modern Christianity is built upon. If I can abstain from all manner of vice then I can reach a higher place and become the good and faithful servant, something the world could never attain. Perfect righteousness is the endgame of the Christian religion. But that is not the Gospel.

The Gospel removes all physical advantage, sets everyone on the same level (Romans 3:10), and proclaims that while we were all still sinners Christ died for us. The Christian’s end is our beginning, for we were declared righteous in spite of works of the flesh. This is why the cross will reconcile all of creation back to God. It is not and cannot be effective for the elect alone, for if anyone is a sinner whose root can be traced back to Adam then the price of sin has been paid on the head of Jesus and they will be justified. All of creation will be made new because that is what the cross accomplished and not because there is anything in you and I that deserves it. Indeed, Paul states the opposite in one of the most shocking and profound truths the world has ever heard,

Yet where sin increases, grace superexceeds…. (Romans 5:20 CLNT)