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2 Corinthians 5:12 says,
12 We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart.
Paul had been talking about the inner man and the outer man, the two identities which we have been given. Those who identify with the outer man, that is, their fleshly identity, are men who “take pride in appearance.” They take pride in the righteousness of their flesh man. They take pride in their mental or physical abilities. They take pride in their titles. They take pride in the color of their skin.
These characteristics fall under the category of “appearance.” They are not necessarily bad in themselves. They simply are not characteristics of the inner man. The question is whether you are your flesh man that was begotten by your earthly father and birthed by your earthly mother, or your spiritual man that was begotten by your heavenly Father. Who are you?
Paul wanted believers everywhere to take on the new identity that would make them children of God. He said in 2 Cor. 5:11 that he hoped his inner man was being manifested to the church and that they would recognize that he was speaking from the perspective of the inner man of the heart. He then drew a contrast between himself—that is, his inner man—and those fleshly people who took pride in the appearance of their outer (fleshly) man.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:13,
13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.
We who believe in the two identities and who have shifted our consciousness to the new creation man “are beside ourselves.” This is a figure of speech picturing the fact that we are separate from the old man and live alongside him. When Paul says, “it is for God,” I believe he means to say first that this shift of identity is for God’s sake or for God’s benefit. Likewise, “if we are of sound mind,” it is for the sake of the church or for the benefit of the church. It is a win-win situation.
Paul may have smiled when he wrote this, knowing that the concept of the two identities might cause some to think that they were insane. Paul had no word for schizophrenia, but certainly, he had witnessed those who suffered from that mental disorder. Luke, Paul’s scribe, was a doctor and would have known about such things as well.
Schizophrenia comes through fear and pain, but a believer’s new identity comes through love. That is the difference. So Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:14, 15,
14 For the love of God [tou christou, “the Anointed One, Christ”] controls [sunecho, “to hold together, compress”] us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
Paul says that the love of Christ holds us together, pressing us from every side. When a rancher drives cattle into a chute, where animals are constrained and can no longer freely move, the Greek word to describe this is sunecho. So also we are constrained by the love of Christ, for the power of His love gives us no choice but to walk in the identity of the inner man.
It is interesting also that sunecho has the connotation of being sick, in that sickness constrains a man from normal activity. In Acts 28:8 we read,
8 And it came about that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted [sunecho] with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.
Perhaps Paul was suggesting that some would view the concept of two identities as a sign of mental illness. But in reality, since it is based upon the love of Christ, rather than upon fear, pain, or some emotional trauma, it is actually evidence of having a “sound mind.” The mind of Christ is, indeed, the only truly sound mind that one can have.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16,
16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh [i.e., the outer man]; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
In other words, we should know people by their new identities, not by their fleshly identities which were given to them by their earthly parents. Even Christ Himself, who walked the earth in human flesh, should now be known by His spiritual identity. Those who knew Him and walked with Him in the flesh must shift their perspective of Him, knowing that He changed after His resurrection.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says,
17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Most people have read this verse out of context and interpret it in terms of having a new way of life. It is certainly a new way of life, but Paul was actually revealing the basis of that new way of life. The Christian life is based upon a change of identity. When one is begotten by the Spirit, a “new creature” (new creation man) is conceived. This is a new consciousness, a different person.
The old man of flesh is dead and has therefore “passed away” insofar as we are concerned. The flesh has not really died insofar as one’s fleshly perspective is concerned, but legally speaking, the one that our earthly parents brought into the world no longer exists. Therefore, we ought to view others, not according to the flesh, but according to their new identity.
Shall we then view nonbelievers according to their new identity—even before they have been begotten by faith in Christ? If they do not recognize the new identity available to them, shall we do so? Paul says, “from now we recognize NO MAN according to the flesh.”
In other words, we ought to recognize everyone as future believers, no matter what their condition is at the present time. We need not fool ourselves into believing what is not true, but on a legal (spiritual) basis, we should use the law of imputation, calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17, KJV).
We may be confident that all will eventually repent and be begotten by their heavenly Father, if not in this life, then certainly in the next age when they are summoned before the Great White Throne. Every tongue will swear allegiance to Christ at that time, calling Him Lord, which no man can do except by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:3).
Our view of others is shaped by the New Covenant, for we recognize that God has sworn an oath to make believers out of all mankind. Only by understanding this can we truly “recognize no man according to the flesh.” Without understanding that God intends to save all mankind—and has the power to do so—it is hardly possible to recognize great sinners as being destined to be sons of God.
Having a new identity, living according to the inner man, and recognizing no man after the flesh, equips us for the ministry of conciliation. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:18, 19,
18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled [katallasso, “conciliated”] us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation [katallasso], 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling [katallasso] the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation [katallasso].
First, the Greek word katallasso means “conciliation.” The word apo-katallasso means “reconciliation.” Most translations do not make this distinction. In any estrangement, two parties become enemies. Katallasso is a one-sided “conciliation.” When the other responds favorably, the two are “reconciled,” and this is called apo-katallaso.
Here Paul uses katallasso, because it describes what Christ did on the cross while the world was still estranged from God. Romans 5:8-10 says,
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… 10 For if while we were enemies, we were conciliated [katallasso] to God through the death of His Son….
Jesus conciliated the world “while we were enemies.” This is God's plan, which the world might perceive as CRAZY. Who would ever do such a thing? No one sues for peace when it is in his power to break the back of the enemy! Is God mentally ill? Well, from a worldly perspective, yes, and so are we, for we are “beside ourselves.”
But we who are Christ's friends have been given the ministry of conciliation, proclaiming to those enemies that He is “not counting their trespasses against them.” That is conciliation. It is one-sided, because it has to start somewhere. No war can end until one party stops fighting and conciliates the other by asking for peace.
Hence, we are Christ’s ambassadors in this peace process, for 2 Cor. 5:20 says,
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating [His enemies] through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled [katallasso] to God.
We are the ones carrying the white flag toward enemy lines with a message of peace, saying, “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be conciliated to God.”
The message is not “turn or burn.” The message is conciliatory, not threatening. If and when they respond, then their conciliation, combined with ours, becomes a reconciliation (apo-katallasso).
Paul spoke of this reconciliation in Colossians 1:20-22,
20 and through Him to reconcile [apo-katallasso] all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 21 And although you were formerly alienated [estranged] and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled [apo-katallasso] you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
So here Paul gives us the big picture, telling us the final result of Christ’s death on the cross. He says that all things in heaven and earth will be reconciled to God. If anyone doubts the scope of this reconciliation, he should read the context. Paul defines “all things” in Col. 1:16. It includes all that God has created.
Yet in 2 Cor. 5:18-20, in the context of our calling as Christ’s ambassadors, Paul sees many enemies in the world, people who are still fighting God, even though conciliation has been made at the cross. He uses the word indicating a one-sided “conciliation,” because there is still a need for a response to complete the “reconciliation.”
The New Covenant, of course, ensures that the power of God’s love will succeed in bringing about the conciliatory response from the world. This takes time, and during this time, we are called to bring this message of conciliation to those who still think God is their enemy.
God will win in the end, not by threatening the world with eternal fire and torture, but with the message of the love of God as demonstrated by Christ’s death on the cross.
Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 5:21,
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The Hebrew word for sin is khataw. For example, Gen. 18:20 says,
20 And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin [khataw] is exceeding grave.
The same word is used also of a “sin offering,” as we see, for example, in Exodus 29:14,
14 But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering [khataw].
All of the sacrifices prophesy of Christ’s death on the cross. This verse is no exception. The bull was to be offered “outside the camp” as “a sin offering.” So Jesus carried His cross outside the camp (i.e., outside of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives). We too are admonished to follow His example in Heb. 13:11-14,
11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin [or a sin offering], are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
Many things might be said about these verses. The main point is that Jesus Himself became the sin offering prophesied in Exodus 29:14. He was “burned” (not literally, but by the “fiery law,” (Deut. 33:2, KJV) outside the camp, or outside the gate of the city.
The lesson to be drawn from this, the author says, is that we follow Christ outside the city of the earthly Jerusalem, because “we are seeking the city which is to come.” That city is the New Jerusalem, which is our mother (Gal. 4:26) and the mother of all the inheritors of the Kingdom.
This passage illustrates the fact that khataw has a dual meaning. It can mean “sin” or “sin offering.” Though Paul was writing in Greek, he was expressing Hebrew thoughts and ideas. Hence, we ought to understand 2 Cor. 5:21 to mean,
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Yet the double meaning of khataw provides Paul with the opportunity to draw the contrast between Him becoming a “sin” and us becoming “the righteousness of God in Him.” It is a play on words that most people do not understand unless they study the Hebrew word khataw.