I’ve heard rumors that a prominent person is a new Christian. The stories in the newspaper and on television are ambivalent. Some of this person’s actions are consistent with his old life, others show that something has changed. Is the rumor true? Or is it just a rumor?
If I judge myself, I can identify with this contradictory behavior. As I grow in my faith, my actions are more like the Word of God says they should be, but when a new Christian, the up and downs were frequent. Other people may have noted a change in me (I could see it myself), yet if they could compare then to now, the change would be much greater.
God isn’t concerned about the outer appearance so much; He looks at the heart. In my heart, Jesus Christ had arrived. In my heart, my allegiances have changed. In the flesh, my behavior was up and down, but in my heart I was a new person.
We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:12–17)
When someone becomes a Christian, the change is first and foremost in their heart. The old life passes out of existence. However, this is something like moving to a new house. The scissors used to be in the third door on the left, but now they are in a different place. The bedroom was down the hall, but now it is off the sunroom. Getting around involves an adjustment, even some confusion in trying to focus on where things are now. In time, life will run more smoothly yet this new situation requires a different mind about everything.
Actually, a new Christian has a different mind; the mind of Christ. His thoughts are in His people and stir up such changes that even the new Christian feels a bit turned up-side-down, never mind those who observe that new Christian’s new life. It takes some time for it to become more consistent.
For this reason, God tells us not to judge the salvation of others by their say-so. It is better to watch for a new life evidenced by changes of thought and by new attitudes produced by the Holy Spirit. These are known as spiritual fruit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22–26)
These verses describe the attitudes of a new creation. They also describe what needs to be done with the old ways that are now ‘passed away’ — they are to be put to death, separated from that new life. God’s people are to live according to the mind of Christ and keep in step with the Holy Spirit.
However it is possible to still live in the flesh, following old ways such as pride, picking fights, and jealousy. That does not mean a person is not a Christian; it simply means that person has some crucifying to do and some growing up.
I can defend new believers who stumble and fumble. I must also deal with old ways and former desires whenever they crop up. I’m to take all that dead stuff to the Cross in confession and repentance, and let God forgive and cleanse me.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
This is His means of saving me from sin. He knows how to remove the echoes of the old life and bring forth the resounding victory of the new!