"A New Creation"

Scripture:  Galatians 6:1-16 

ALL CAPS

With the advent of computers, - and eventually email, instant messaging, and social networking – a lot of modern social interaction has moved to written word.  Which, if you think about it, is sort of strange, since telephones were such a big deal and drastically changed the way that people communicated over distances…  And now we communicate over distances by writing messages to one another, and we act like it’s something new. 

Anyway, with many of our interactions moving back to written form, new norms have been established to govern how we talk via computers.  One of these unofficial rules is that using all capital letters for a whole phrase or sentence has become the equivalent of shouting in face-to-face interaction, and is considered very rude.

The fact that I have been conditioned to read all caps as shouting becomes apparent to me every time I message back and forth with my dad on Facebook.  He apparently never learned the rule about not using all caps, because that is his go-to form.  And though his words may read, “Hi Cody, how are you?”  I read them as, “HI CODY, HOW ARE YOU?”  It’s actually nearly impossible for me to read something written in capital letters without hearing my inner voice shouting the words in my mind.

Paul’s Large Letters

I share all of this because I actually tend to read Paul’s words at the end of this passage in the same way as I read messages from my dad.  Paul writes in verse 11, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!”  It seems that Paul is writing in the First Century equivalent of bold or italic writing – or, heaven forbid, ALL CAPS.  He is writing in extra large font to make sure that the Galatians understand these final verses have an extra emphasis, and that they should be taken very seriously.

With that in mind, I want to re-read that section of the passage:

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

There is sentence in there that really catches my attention. It sticks out because all throughout this letter, Paul has been talking about how big of a deal it is whether the Galatians follow the Law or not, and whether or not they choose to be circumcised. But then… Here at the end… In what is often seen as the climactic sentence of this entire letter, Paul seems to change his tune. He writes: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” The phrase is even more confusing in the Greek, where Paul doesn’t even finish the phrase: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but – new creation!” I almost wonder if Paul was just so excited and passionate about getting this written down that he forgot to finish his thought.

Can you imagine what the Galatian audience must have thought when they first read this, without the help of later interpreters to add in new words to finish Paul’s thought for him?  “A new creation what?”  A new creation will come?  A new creation has begun?  A new creation…  is impossible?  What is so important about this ‘New Creation,’ Paul??”

A New Creation

Perhaps I give Paul too much credit, but I tend to believe he had a reason for saying most of the things that he said.  So I really don’t think that it was a mistake that he left this phrase seemingly incomplete.  What, exactly, this “new creation” means is a question to be answered throughout our lives as we continue to be transformed by God in Christ, as we seek to be made perfect in Christ, and as we seek our the Kingdom of God on Earth. 

This is hardly an idea that is unique to the Letter to the Galatians.  Paul has made similar comments about “new creation” and a “new humanity” in a few of his other letters.  In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote: “[Jesus] has abolished the Law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create one new humanity in the place of the two,” meaning the abolishment of the distinction between Jew and Gentile.[1]  In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”[2]

The idea of a new creation is essential to Paul’s understanding of the work of Christ.  This “vision of new creation is fundamental to Paul’s theology; he proclaims not just the salvation of [individual] souls, but also God’s redemption [and transformation] of [the whole of] creation.”[3]

What is at stake, Paul says, is much bigger than whether or not to observe the Jewish Laws, and it’s bigger than the circumcision controversy. Christ didn’t come so that we could quarrel over the proper place for Law observance – in the grand scheme of things, that is neither here nor there.  What is truly at stake is nothing less than the transformation of the entire kosmos, for which Christ was crucified.  In taking the circumcision controversy out of the equation, Paul reminds us all that this “New Creation” isn’t about what we do, but rather about what God has already done and continues to do in and around us.

What Does It Look Like?

But the question remains…  What, exactly, does “a new creation” mean?  And what does it look like?

When we take the entire book of Galatians together as a whole, we find that this new creation is manifest in three different, but overlapping, ways:  the transformation of the individual, the transformation of the community, and the transformation of the entire kosmos.

Individual Transformation

First, we as individuals are transformed and made righteous by the faith of Christ.  Because of what God has done in Christ, we are justified and given the opportunity to respond and seek to become more and more like Christ.  In the words of Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.”[4]

As individuals, our very nature has been transformed so that we are not bound by the desires of the flesh or the power of sin and selfishness, but we are instead guided by the Spirit of God.

Christian Community Transformation

Second, the “New Creation” involves a transformation of the Christian community.  A transformed community is a community centered not on emphasizing its differences or what makes its members unique, but is centered instead on unity in Christ. This “new creation” is a corporate reality, a community whose members are characterized by their accepting attitudes and actions toward one another.[5]  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[6]

The transformed community is characterized by an attitude of mutual love and service, shared responsibility, and constructive criticism.

World Transformation

Finally, taking the “New Creation” seriously means believing that the entire world has been transformed by the redemptive work of Christ.  With the death and resurrection of Christ, a whole new world has been created, which exists simultaneously with, and in contention with, the passing world.[7]  In the language of Paul, the “present evil age” has been redeemed and transformed by the presence of Christ. 

t is our job, as transformed individuals living within transformed communities, to participate in the continuing transformation of this world into the fullness of the Kingdom of God…  By loving and serving one another without exception, and continually seeking to act with the mind of Christ.

Conclusion

If you feel like this is all a lot to take in and it seems like these are impossibly high expectations, you are not alone.  Fortunately, all signs point to transformation as an ongoing process in our lives, and God doesn’t seem to expect us to become perfect overnight.  God is not finished with us yet – thanks be to God.

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything – but a new creation.”  May it be so. 






[1] Ephesians 2:15-16 (NRSV), emphasis mine

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)

[3] Richard B. Hays, “Galatians” in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 345.

[4] Galatians 2:20 (NRSV)

[5] Charles B. Cousar, “Galatians” in Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1982), 155.

[6] Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)

[7] Cousar, 155.

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