Humanity in Christ: ‘Old’ and ‘New’

Trying to come up with a concise 3-4 sentence statement on the relationship between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ humanity created in Christ (with particular attention to sanctification) is not easy. In the hope of getting some help with this one, I offer the following scribbles:

To be sure, there is a narrative continuity (historical and physical) between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. Just as with the ‘new’ and ‘old’ creation itself, the ‘new’ Humanity is the healed and restored ‘old’, born again in holiness with the promise of no return. This continuity depends entirely upon the continuous activity of the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit who acts in both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. Understood individually, ‘Jason’ remains ‘Jason’, and is not made into ‘Jeremy’ or ‘Jenny’, but the ‘new’ Jason is ‘born again’ into life – holy and eternal – in such a way that his history is sanctified with him.

Some might be tempted to say, citing Galatians 2:20, ‘Isn’t Jason made into Jesus? Doesn’t Jason die?’ If 2:20a was the end of the story, there may be some argument to be made here, though the problems that such a conclusion might create have humungous consequences for how we are to understand creation. However, even in this one verse, it seems, Paul goes on to qualify in v. 20b what such a life of crucifixion might entail. Whether we go with the subjective genitive reading or not makes no difference here. A literalist reading of v. 20a creates problems that I don’t think are implied in the text. Are the KJV and the NJB helpful here?

  • ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (KJV)
  • ‘I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me’ (NJB)

Taken with v. 19, yes ‘Jason’ dies. He dies to a particular way of being, that is, being after himself. The new person created in Christ is fundamentally restructured away from a personhood of ‘self-centredness, ‘closedness’ and alienation, towards one of reconciliation, and a new ‘openness’ of self-giving love to neighbour. They are a person lifted from the centre of their own egoism and planted with Christ in God. Life itself is now defined by faith in the Son of God. (Whether we translate here the ‘faithfulness of the Son of God’ or ‘faith in the Son of God’ (NIV), in either case it is Paul (not Saul, to be sure) who is living in it … ‘in the body’!). With all its continuity, however, there is something ‘new’. In Christ, God really has created new life and not just patched up an old laspe. The new shoot comes out of an old stump, even if the old stump is dead and unable to bring forth any life of its own.

An implication: While there is a sense in Campbell, Moberly and Barth that everything important for Humanity happens in Christo – i.e. that Christ has done whatever is necessary to consummate the perfect condemnation of sin – I also want to maintain with Forsyth and Gunton that if we are to take seriously not only the dignity of creation but also the respons-ability of the moral order, then genuine human response to God is imperative and cannot be offered vicariously. Although apart from Christ’s work such response is impossible, Christ does not do it all for us.

To be sure, all Humanity is in Christ and his act, and there can be no experience of assurance except by trust in an objective something, done over our heads, and complete without any reference to our response or our despite. But while salvation does happen over our heads, and attests to the tetelestai cry from the Cross, this does not mean that salvation happens behind our backs: while no one can believe by themselves or unto themselves every person must believe for themselves if grace is to come home.

So Yes, I believe that in Jesus Christ, who never leaves his incarnation, Humanity is gathered up into the perichoretic life of the Triune Family; but this happens without loss of creaturely status. There is no blurring of Creator-creature distinctives. God remains God. Creation remains creation. It is God who makes Creation. It is God who keeps making creation. And it is God who keeps creation creation. Some accounts of theosis appear more than a little skewed here.

Any thoughts?

One comment

  1. Jason,
    Thanks for offering your thoughts on new life here. They are helpful to read and it is encouraging to see another beleiver wrestle with the question of what part the creatures play as they relate to their Creator. Since I started out beleiving in my own belief, trusting in my decision, it has been wonderful to get to know Jesus as the vicarious man, the last Adam who has done and is doing and will do what is necessary for my salvation. And yet, I then ask, “Where do I fit into the relationship and what does triune God desire and require of me?” My answer: to beleive in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to receive the gift of Himself that he has offered. As you say, His gift makes it possible for us to receive. It’s fun trying to put this in words, but I can’t ever quite express it. Thanks for the many posts on you site that are helping me see God more clearly.


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