Paul and New Creation

Paul adopts the same Jewish background in announcing the gospel of Christ as John does (see section above: John’s Gospel of New Creation.)

Paul presents the gospel in creational terms. In 2 Cor 3 the light of Christ shines on our hearts. This happens through the Spirit who was present in creation. The same God in creation comes to us through the same word, giving us his glory: shekinah. This is referring to his light dispelling darkness in the first creation. So in 2 Co 5:17, anyone in Christ is new creation. This is clearly Hebrew creational faith, with Spirit, word and light all present in the gospel message, just as they were in Genesis 1. The purpose of Paul is not to present the gospel in Greek terms of the gospel being merely for our inner man, or spirit only. That was the Greek error in the Corinthian church. Rather, it is a gospel that confronts the whole of creation and transforms it, including our material world and domestic cultures.

Paul’s Hebrew creational gospel is seen throughout his letters. Take Ephesians for example. In Eph 1:10 God’s purpose in acting through the kingdom of Christ in our present gospel age, is to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth. He is bringing heaven and earth together, just as we see in Revelation 21-22. Another translation says he is gathering together all things in Christ. The clear purpose of this is the healing of creation, of our world. It’s a gospel about our creation, not just our individual spirits going to heaven. This calls us to a dynamic discipleship that is transformative in our lives so that we become community people. We know that Christ’s lordship calls us out of our own lives to act in the whole world he is reconciling through his body. Lordship calls us to the Lord’s purpose.

In Ephesians 2 we see Paul’s temple faith. God has returned to his creation through his shekinah and is building a new temple, composing of all who believe, Jew and gentile. What does Paul mean by this? In Hebrew faith, the temple could mean only one thing: that God was once again present with his creation to transform it, to bring heaven and earth together, through his own body among us. We often look at this chapter as meaning that we go to church and that is all. But to Paul it is much more than just about our church life together. Just as it was with Adam and with Israel, the purpose of the temple is to renew the life of the world. The temple is where God acts from to make all things new on earth. This is taken without saying in Paul’s Jewish world at the time of his writing.

In chapter three Paul repeats the mysterious plan of God. He shows that God the creator of all things is now renewing his creation by uniting all people in one body of love. The purpose is to bring all people and all things under his covenantal caring promises for transformation. Paul is declaring that Christ is now Lord and reigns over all nations, just as Daniel 7 said would happen. God is revealing his wisdom to the principalities and powers in higher places. This means both rulers on earth and the spiritual powers, who both challenge Christ’s rule by dividing people. God overcomes them through his wisdom in the church: the wisdom by which Christ defeated them on the cross, overcoming our self-centred natures, to share and care for those different to ourselves. This cuts off the powers’ ability to wreak destruction by acting through our self-centredness. Paul is clearly announcing Hebrew gospel of world renewal: the purpose of Christ’s coming.

Paul continues in Ephesians 3 and 4 calling us to unity in the depths of love, not forcing uniformity. Christ descended into the grave and then ascended to heaven, “that he might fill all things”; that he might destroy the power of sin and death and unite heaven and earth together in his new healing creation. Our growth in knowledge, love and unity thwarts the powers who lie in wait to deceive and divide.

Disunity between denominations serves the enemy by testifying against the love and lordship of Christ in the world. When we side with nations, political groups, or with any group, against others, even against sinners, we give allegiance to these powers that seek to divide and conquer Christ’s gathering rule and healing of the world. The powers hotly contest the reconciling/transforming purpose of the church. We are to stand against them, not giving place to the devil (opposer) in our flesh and relationships. We aren’t to confront worldly powers with worldly strength, but we are to witness to them through the community love of the gospel, which is even shown towards our enemies, laying down our lives rather than taking life. This is how God’s wisdom is revealed and how it transforms his creation. It renews by heavenly wisdom.

Paul speaks of this wisdom in Corinthians. It is foolishness to the world, which trusts in worldly strength. But it is by this wisdom as shown on the cross that God is bringing to nought the powers of the world. Again, we see here Paul’s gospel. The powers in the world are being displaced by Christ through his church. The world is being transformed by the church, which bears witness through its weakness and suffering. The suffering translates into resurrection power. By our non-retaliatory suffering, but rather our rejoicing and our care for those who persecute us, the Spirit bears witness to the world of Christ’s new community and self-giving rule. This is what changed the Roman Empire from within.

In Corinthians Paul highlights the nature of these worldly powers that Christ is bringing to nought. He shows the powers of the world have their seat and operation from within the hearts of men. Chapter by chapter Paul highlights them within the church, so they may be brought to nought in us first. This is the church’s modus operandi for changing the world: allowing the Spirit to change us, rather than us accusing the world.

The powers God is bringing to nought include those in our own character, and our own behaviour. This is where the powers are seated and work from. Paul lists these powers in Corinthians: a divided party spirit, disunity, immorality, greed in taking others to court rather than suffer wrong, neglecting the poor, showing spiritual superiority, not accommodating the traditions and views of others: anything against the kingdom of love.

All these are self-centred, community-destroying powers. When communities are destroyed, then individuals suffer. God, through his new reign in our hearts, is opposed to this suffering. God does not overcome these powers violently, but through our renewed hearts. If God overcame with violence and not with mercy we also would be destroyed. These are the powers God is bringing down through his church, as he renews our own lives within the church towards each other, and then sends the church as a new body to be witnesses into the world. God is implanting us with his reconciling powers of the fruit of the Spirit.

In Colossians Paul merges creational and sonship themes together to proclaim a new world. Christ is the exact imago Dei, image of God. Normally, we look at a statement like this and think that it means Christ is divinity. It does, but this misses Paul’s point. Paul means that God is present in Christ to reflect his likeness into making a new world. That is what “image of God” meant in Adam. Adam was to rule over God’s creation. Christ has come to rule over God’s new creation of heaven and earth. Christ is the “firstborn” over all creation. “Firstborn” means he is the heir from among men who inherits the rule over creation, in fulfilment of Daniel 7. In this way the world is brought under God’s sovereignty and put right. Paul is declaring Hebrew gospel of new creation.

But “firstborn” has a double meaning in Hebrew text. It relates to Proverbs 8, where God brought forth his wisdom first to supervise his creation work. Wisdom in Hebrew tradition was the very presence of God in and over his creative acts. So as firstborn, Christ is not only heir of creation, but also the creator himself come in the flesh. This is Paul’s Hebrew incarnational view. Simply said, God put on flesh in Christ, just as he came in his wisdom at creation.

The wisdom reference also has another meaning. In Proverbs 8 wisdom cries out in the street. It not only forms creation, but also fills our hearts to love our neighbour. Wisdom leads us to order our communities on goodness, just as by it God ordered his creation. Paul’s reference to wisdom shows he is speaking of the gospel in Hebrew terms: wisdom that fashions our current world and communities the way God intended before the fall.

Looking through Colossians 1 we see all the same terms John used in his Gospel. Paul speaks of Christ coming as word, light and wisdom. He created all things in the first creation, but in the gospel he returns to reconcile his entire creation. All things in heaven and in earth that he created, he has reconciled. This isn’t speaking of universal salvation, but it’s showing that in the cross, God united heaven and earth with the purpose of bringing the whole of his creation under this covenantal blessing and renewal.

But this isn’t just a nice piece of theology. The point is our about calling. Paul is describing the nature of our call to the church at Colossae. God has called us to partner with him in his new creation, to display the values of his new kingdom now in our lives and fellowship, even in this present dark age. Just as he called Adam to partner with him in his rule over the first creation, he calls us to partner with him in the spread of resurrection life in his new creation. This is clearly Paul’s point. We are receiving a commission, just as Adam did in the Garden.

Our call is to live prophetically, showing the nature of God’s coming eternal kingdom, when death sin, hatred, competition, violence and cheating are all gone. The church is the herald of this new world by showing it now. It is the window for the world to see into God’s new kingdom. By the Spirit’s power the world sees this new coming kingdom already begun in us. It has dawned by the resurrection of Christ bodily and in our hearts. We live this new love in fellowship and amongst our enemies in a celebration of joy today, while we await its full revelation in the final resurrection at Christ’s coming. Our renewed lives and new communities of love are prophetic of his final reign over all things and a renewed world.

But Colossians has yet another impact upon the church in Paul’s time. In declaring the sonship of Christ, Paul is also refuting the sonship of Caesar. Caesar claimed to be ruler of the world. Rome used terms like “gospel” and “faith” and passages like Daniel 7, to speak of the Caesars’ heavenly call to build a new world community, to renew the earth, but by its Roman force and justice. Rome passed a law in the senate claiming that Emperor Claudius was the divine Son of Man who ascended to heaven to rule the nations. Paul is refuting such claims.

Paul’s letters are subversive. In showing Christ’s self-giving redeeming act he subverts our self-interest, inherent within our hearts and cultures.  In showing Christ as the builder of a new creation Paul subverts our lack of concern for this world and for other people within it. In showing Christ is true Caesar of the new world, Paul subverts the claims of human empire, which lead to the oppression and prejudice against other people. Since Christ is Lord he calls us not to rebel against government, but to fulfil it by loving and respecting all people. This is what Paul goes onto describe in the rest of his letter to the Colossians.