Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
– 2 Corinthians 5:16–17 –
Paul speaks about regeneration in this passage. If anyone is in Christ—if anyone has become united to Jesus Christ by saving faith in the Gospel, if anyone has died to sin and self in union with the One who died to sin once for all—he is a new creation. Working backwards, from cause to effect, the second half of verse 16 notes that the very first result of regeneration is a new view of Christ. As unbelievers, we all once regarded Christ from a fleshly point of view, according to worldly standards, paying special attention to the way things looked outwardly and externally rather than internally and spiritually. But the regenerate regard Him in this way no longer. When Almighty God issues His sovereign decree for light to shine forth in the heart that is dead in sin, when the eyes are opened and the ears unstopped, when the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh, the first thing that changes is the sinner’s view of Christ. We see Him for who He is, in all His beauty, glory, and suitableness to our need.
Working backwards even further to the first half of verse 16, Paul speaks of a second result of regeneration. Not only does the regenerate sinner have a new view of Christ, but he also has a new view of everyone else. When we’re transformed from the inside out in regeneration, and our assessment of Jesus changes, so does our assessment of everyone else in the world.
The Wrecking Ball of Regeneration
In regeneration, the entire person is renovated. The old things have passed away; new things have come—in every aspect of our life. Murray Harris says, “When a person becomes a Christian, he or she experiences a total restructuring of life that alters its whole fabric—thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.” John MacArthur writes, “Old values, ideas, plans, loves, desires, and beliefs vanish, replaced by the new things that accompany salvation. . . . God plants new desires, loves, inclinations, and truths in the redeemed, so that they live in the midst of the old creation with a new creation perspective.” In other words, when you become a new creation in Christ, all your ambitions and your hobbies and your joys—everything about you—are like a building that has been leveled to the ground by the wrecking ball of regeneration. And in its place is an entirely new creation, built by the Spirit of God on the foundation of Christ, with new tastes, new affections, and new joys, and new ambitions!
New Canons of Appraisal
And along with all of that newness comes new ways of assessing other people, new canons of appraisal, new standards according to which we arrive at our estimation of people. Just as Paul once knew Christ according to the flesh—just as he once esteemed or appraised or evaluated Him according to the world’s preoccupation with the outward appearance—so also he “recognized” or “regarded” or “viewed” or “appraised” or “valued” other people according to the flesh as well. “But,” he says, “from now on”—that is, since the time of his regeneration and conversion to Christ—“from this point forward, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” By definition, then, the one who has become a new creation in Christ has put off those fleshly canons of appraisal which judge men only on the basis of superficial, external matters.
This is a lesson the church needs to learn. It’s an especially valuable lesson for us given the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election, and the tensions that exist in American society today. Far too often, Christians have not distinguished themselves from the unregenerate in their personal standards of judgment and evaluation of others. Virtually instinctively and subconsciously, we regard men and women according to the flesh. We appraise people on the basis of their physical attractiveness, their style of dress, their educational achievement, their social status and level of “success,” their political affiliation. And one of the saddest truths concerning the visible church is that so many professing believers still allow their opinions of others, as well as their understanding of their own identity, to be shaped by the color of their skin.
But the Holy Spirit of God, by virtue of the inspiration of 2 Corinthians 5:16–17, tells us that none of those things has any place in the mind of the one who has been regenerated and united to Christ. None of them. They are not the basis by which we evaluate others, and they are not the sources from which we derive our own identity. No, in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” In Christ “there is neither slave nor free.”
Neither Jew nor Gentile
Think about what a radical statement that is from the pen of Saul of Tarsus. This was the most promising young rabbi in Jerusalem, educated under Gamaliel, supervising the persecution and execution of Christians. This is the one circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; a Pharisee, a persecutor, and blameless according to the ceremonial law. Time was when his only canon of evaluation was whether or not someone met the strict Pharisaical standards of Mosaic ceremonialism. If he did, he was a brother. If he didn’t, he was a dog. And now: “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” What happened?
I’ll tell you what happened: Regeneration happened. The one who boasted in his eighth-day circumcision says: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor [is] uncircumcision [anything]; [the only thing that matters is] a new creation” (Gal 6:15). Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised: doesn’t matter. Your ethnicity doesn’t matter. Your religious rituals don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there has been a new creation. What matters is: Is this person regenerate or not? Is he united to Christ or not? Is he a child of God or not? Does he stand yet in need of forgiveness of sins or not?
Colossians 3:10 and 11: Paul says we’ve laid aside the old self, and have put on the new self (the old has gone and the new has come, 2 Cor 5:17). And that new self is “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.”
See, the regenerate person has been so dominated by Christ that the only point of reference for his view of anyone is whether or not they are in Christ. The new view of Christ that is born in those who have been made a new creation necessarily issues in a new view of others.
And this reaches even to the level of family. Someone lets Jesus’ know his mother and brothers were waiting to speak with him. His response is just stunning: “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matt 12:48). Jesus regarded no man or woman after the flesh. Not even His own family. What mattered is whether or not they believed in Him.
The Blood of Christ is Thicker than Water
Nationalism means nothing. You have a deeper connection to true Christians in Iraq, in Iran, in Syria, in Afghanistan, than to any unbeliever in America.
Ethnicity is nothing. You have a more intimate union with genuine believers who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, than to any unregenerate person who shares the color of your skin.
Even family, in comparison to Christ, is nothing. Jesus says He has a thicker bond with the children of God than He does even with His own mother!
Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that national citizenship doesn’t exist, that ethnicity is somehow erased, or that familial ties vanish. But all of those things are absolutely inconsequential in determining one’s status before God or his place within God’s kingdom. They are not how we see others, and they are not how we see ourselves. We regard no man after the flesh. We are not those who take pride in appearance rather than in heart (2 Cor 5:12).
Where this really intersected for Paul was how the false apostles were persuading the Corinthians to regard him after the flesh—to look down upon him and judge him accursed because of how severely he suffered in the cause of ministry. But Paul says, “Those who are truly united to Christ have been born again! They’ve been totally renovated! Entirely renewed! And as a result, they don’t judge men and ministries on the fleshly basis of external appearance, of outward success, of worldly power and prestige! If they did, they’d have to judge Christ and His cross to be a failure!” Paul’s saying, “The false apostles are judging me the same way I used to judge Christ—after the flesh—and in so doing they reveal that they have not experienced the transformation of regeneration that marks all those who are united to Christ in saving faith.”
And brothers and sisters, we make the same error anytime we look at a man or woman and allow their appearance, their résumé, their political affiliation, or their skin color to determine our estimation of them, rather than the state of their heart before God. In our time, when accusations of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and other epithets are being hurled back and forth, may Christ’s people live out the reality of their regeneration, and regard no one after the flesh.