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10. The New Creation

Chapter 10

The New Creation

Port Dickson, Malaysia
December 31, 1986

Don’t leave this camp saying, “I still don’t know what it means to be a Christian”

I have been enjoying this camp because of its cozy atmosphere. Some of our other camps are so big that I don’t know who’s who. Our last camp in Hong Kong was so big that I knew only a fraction of the people there. If the people there felt lost, I felt lost too. But this camp is cozy because you get to know one another. It could be described as a “family” camp. I would like all camps to be family camps.

This camp has a very important theme: The New Creation. This topic is so vast that I was wonder­ing if I could do it justice in one message.

I have seven points today. As I was glancing at my watch, I was won­dering how we are going to get through the seven points. I usually don’t like to preach a message in point form because it makes the message sound like a lecture. I don’t want to give a lecture but to speak the word of God from my heart. But in view of the vastness of the subject, I am somewhat forced to present it in point form in order to help us understand the meaning of the new creation.

It is vital for us to see that the new creation has to do with the very foundations of the Christian life. Many Christ­ians today don’t under­stand the basics of salvation. And when we speak of the new creation, we are talking about the basics of salvation. By God’s grace, I hope that nobody will leave this camp saying to himself or herself, “I still don’t know what it means to be a Christian.” If that is your situation after the camp is over, I would feel that I have failed to fulfill the task given to me. So let us proceed with this vital subject. For your eternal well being, I ask that you concen­trate and under­stand what the Word of God is saying to you and me.

Point 1: Creation ex nihilo: Bringing into existence what had not existed before

My first point centers on the word “creation” itself, for it would be futile to talk about the new creation if we don’t even know what creation means. A common pitfall is to think that we understand the meaning of a word when we don’t. So before we even talk about the new creation, let’s just talk about creation. What is your concept of creation?

We often use words in a vague, imprecise way, so it is important to be precise about the meanings of the words we use. When we say that an artist is creative, what do we mean by that? We mean that he or she produces works of art that are original, and not mere imitations of works done by others. The word “creative” implies a new work that has never been seen before. We would use the word “creation” of a work that has an artistic concept to it that nobo­dy had thought of before. A music com­po­ser is said to be creative if his works have not been composed by anyone else before.

But what does “creation” mean in the Bible, the Word of God? This question is vital to an understanding of salvation. In the Bible, creation is the act of bringing into existence something that had never existed before. It is not merely a new idea, a new painting, or a new song that we might describe as “creative”. In fact, the music, the words, and the artistic ele­ments of a creative work have existed all along, but are now rearranged into a new form, what is popularly called a “creation”.

But that is not the Biblical meaning of “creation”. In the Bible, creat­ion is the act of bringing into existence something that had nev­er existed before even in its constituent parts. By contrast, human works of creation require the prior existence of its constituent parts. If there were no such thing as music, the composer wouldn’t be able to compose new music. Certain elements would have to exist before­hand which the artist would rearrange or shape into a new form. But that is not “creation” in the Biblical sense. To repeat: In the Bible, creation is the act of bringing into existence some­thing that had never existed before.

There is a technical term for this in theo­logy, and since theolog­ians are fond of using Latin, this term is creatio ex nihilo. This term is not hard for speakers of English to under­stand. The English word creation comes from the Latin creatio, a creating. The word ex means “out of,” as in exit. The English word “nil” (in baseball, three-nil means a score of 3-0) comes from the Latin nihilo, which means nothing or zero. So creatio ex nihilo means creation out of nothing.

When a person is born physically, he or she did not exist prior to conception. The Bible does not know of any doctrine of reincar­nat­ion, yet some Christians are unclear about this. We did not exist in some prior shape or form or person before we were conceived, which later came back into the world in a new form. Perhaps you were a cow before, but thanks to karma or something else, you are now a human being. Hopefully the next time around, you will come back as a human being and not a mosquito because of wicked­ness. But the Bible knows of no doctrine of reincar­nation. When you are born, you come into existence for the first time.

A Christian is not just a morally reconditioned person

It is crucial for us to understand that being a Christian is not a matter of moral re-educat­ion, but, as Paul says, of being a new creat­ion. When you become a Christian, you are not merely refashioned into a copy or reproduction of something that already exists.

In England, those of us who cannot afford a new car would often buy an old car, some would say a piece of old junk, and take it to a body shop to be fixed up. There they overhaul it and overlay it with shiny metal, and this old junk comes out looking beautiful! They cover the rust spots, put in fiberglass, smooth out the dents, spray-paint the body, and the car comes out looking beautiful! The old junk has put on a new appearance.

But when you turn on the engine, the car sputters along. The body looks nice but the engine doesn’t run well. So you take it to another shop to recondition the engine. They remove the engine, overhaul its valves, replace its piston rings, and now you have a recondit­ioned engine!

Is this what becoming a Christian is about? Is the church a spiritual body shop where you show up at the front door in bad shape, with a knock here, a dent there, and rust all over. And the church says, “Come right in, and we’ll fix you up!” Then the church coworkers work on you, spray you down, and give you a polish. Then you look great, just like a car with a splendid body job.

What does it mean to be Christian? This question is fundamen­tal to a correct understanding of biblical teaching. Is becoming a Christian like the case of an old tramp sitting on a street. He is dirty all over, his beard is unkempt, his hair is a mess. So I pull him along, put him in a bathtub, and apply Lysol to kill the germs. Now he’s nice and clean! But he has no teeth! So I put a set of dentures into his mouth, and now he looks beautiful when he smiles. He used to have a toothless smile, but now his teeth are white and beautiful. His hair is thinning, so I give him a wig. A new man? Yes, in a certain sense. But this is not what salvation is about.

My illustration may be lighthearted yet is dead serious because it describes a common notion of the new creation. Most people agree that it’s good to go to church. There they wash you up, apply cosmetics to your wrinkles, and restyle your hair. Previously you looked unsightly, but now you come out looking nice.

Transferring this picture to the moral plane, we have a sinner who lives self-destructively. He gambles, drinks, takes drugs, and commits crimes. And where does the church fit in? The church is a rehabilitat­ion center for “sin addicts”. The pastor and the church workers are special­ists who work on sinners. We put on our white coats, examine the sinner, and diagnose his case: “My friend, you are in bad shape, so we will fix you up. We will give you a good spirit­ual wash, a spiritual wig, and spiritual dentures, and then you will look like a new man!”

That is not what salvation is about. The problem with refurbish­ing a car, rehabilitating a down-and-out, or morally revamping a sinner, is that deep down inside, they are unchanged. Most Christ­ians don’t understand this crucial point in practice, for they think that becoming a Christian is a matter of getting rid of sinful things, with sin often understood as bad moral habits. Many think that becoming a Christ­ian is to rid oneself of bad moral habits to become a decent guy.

Our church in Liverpool, England, had a thriving Sunday school. Because many other churches had no Sunday school, our church’s mini­bus would pick up children at their homes and take them to our Sunday school. Then we would send them back. We invited the parents to come to church, but many said, “No thanks, but it is certainly good for children to go to church!” And we were thinking: If you don’t go to church, why would you want your children to go to church? “Because church is good for children. There they learn good morals and become decent people.”

Their concept of the church is that of a moral re-education center. They don’t want moral re­-education for themselves because they think they don’t need it. But the kids belong to a new generat­ion that is into drugs and other things, so a church can teach them good habits, and prevent them from descending into drugs.

If that is your concept of being a Christian, you might as well describe the “spirit­ual life” as “moral life.” Most people don’t know the difference between the spirit­ual and the moral. The two are related but not identical. Are you merely a morally reconditioned Christian? Or are you a new creation?

I am not in the business of rehabilitating people who have bad moral habits, or making a non-religious person religious. I’m not in the busi­ness of turning people into religious fanatics. God called me to preach the gospel which has to do with the new creation.

The New Testament says that a true Christian is a new creature. Recall the bit of Latin you have just learned, creatio ex nihilo. When you become a true Christian, you are not just a morally recondit­ioned person but someone with a totally new life! The life you now have is something totally new. It had never existed before. It was brought into being by God’s power.

If being a Christian is just a matter of moral re-education, I think any decent non-Christian will do just as well. It doesn’t take a Christ­ian to achieve this. Without beating around the bush, we should call the church a moral re-education center. Some churches are not even that. They are simply social centers where the elderly people come for tea, and the young peo­ple come to play badminton. We shamelessly attract people with those things: “Come to our church because we have a badmin­ton court.” Why don’t they just rename their church “Christian Social Center”? You can even drop the word “Christian”.

Someone once told me he had forgotten what YMCA stands for. It stands for Young Men’s Christian Association. The only part that is still true about this name is the A at the end—“Association”. You can drop the Y because it is no longer limited to young people, for anyone can join the YMCA regardless of age. And YMCA is no longer only for men. When I was staying at the YMCA in Singapore, I saw women going in and out. And I don’t know how the C for “Christian” fits in, for you can learn judo, Chinese boxing, pottery, and other things at the YMCA. Maybe they should drop the Y and M and C, and just call it A, for Association.

This is true not only of YMCA but also, to a great extent, of churches. They have gone into social activity and doing good deeds, which is fine. I have nothing against good deeds. As a church, we have done our share of good deeds. But that is not the primary pur­pose of the church. When some Cambodian refugees were in desper­ation and had nowhere to go, our church in Montreal was one of the first to sponsor ten people to Canada, covering all ex­penses. I am not belittling the commit­ment to the poor and needy. In fact we have a good reputation with the Canadian government, and have received a letter from the Minister of the Interior that expressed thanks and appreciation to our church for sponsor­ing so many refugees. No, I am not against any of these things. But this is not the primary purpose of the church.

Are you a new creation in the true sense of “creation”? When you became a Christian, did God give you a new life which you did not have before—not just a refashioning, or a resuscitation, or a polishing of the old life? Did you receive a totally new life? That is the first point on “creation”.

Point 2: A new creation is possible only by God’s power

Our second point: Creation from nothing, creatio ex nihilo, is not something that man can do. That is not the case with a music com­position because music notes have long been in existence, and the composer simply arranges them into new forms. Our creations or inventions or discoveries are simply remanipulations and rearrange­ments of existing things. These are things that humans do very well.

But I am not preaching a gospel that can be accomplished by man. When we speak of creation out of nothing, it is something possible only by God’s power. I glory in the gospel because, as Paul says, it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).

It is good that people can learn badmin­ton, judo, or shaolin boxing. I have nothing against these activities because I myself had played some of these sports in the past. But these are purely human activities, even good social activities. I have nothing against giving Bible studies to teach people to be nice and decent. I have nothing against being nice and kind, but that is not the gospel! The gospel is God’s power to bring into your life a new life that did not exist before, something that neither I nor anyone else can achieve in you. It is God’s power that makes a new person out of you.

It is sometimes hard to tell between a morally recondit­ioned person and a new person with a brand new life. We might think of a young boy who goes to church, and his mother says to him, “Benny boy, ever since you’ve been going to church, you’ve become a nice boy!” But brothers and sisters, every religion tells you to be decent people. The Buddhists tells you to be nice people, and also the Muslims even if they kill one another in the war between Iran and Iraq. But Christians are good at killing one another too as we have seen in Northern Ireland, to our shame.

The new creation stands in opposition to sin

I am not a nice guy in the eyes of many people. I don’t even pretend to be a nice guy because speaking the truth is not always nice. If somebody points out your sins, you might retort, “That’s my private business. You shouldn’t tell others that they are sinners. You’re not a nice guy.” Anyone who talks about sin is not a nice guy. It is better to talk about pleasant subjects and use psycho­logy to create positive feelings as many pastors in North America are doing. Sin is negative, and we mustn’t talk about negat­ive things. Think positively, and leave sin out of the picture. So what do you do when people come to church? You say to them, “You are wonderful people, lovely people, beautiful people!” The more adject­ives we use, the better they feel: “It is so nice to come to church. I’m feeling better now.” Then we tell them, “You need more self-esteem. We just heard that your boss stepped on you at the office. Shame on him because you are such a wonderful person!”

I am not exaggerating this because I have personally heard this kind of message preached by a well-known pastor in the United States. Everybody just loves it! The amount of donations he gets for this kind of preaching is staggering.

Do you like to be told that you’re a sinner? Of course not! That’s negative thinking. You like to be told what a nice and wonderful person you are, and what great potential you have. If I preach like this, the crowds will start coming in.

But if I preach a message on sin, people will say, “I was feeling great before stepping into the church, but after listening to his preaching, I got so exhausted. He hammered me for an hour! I barely managed to crawl out the church door!”

Some time ago, a professor from Taiwan visited our church in Montreal for the first time, and came out spiritually beaten black and blue. Later he told me, “I was telling myself that I cannot take this! The message exhausted me. After listening to your first mess­age, I decided to never return. I don’t know why, but the following Sunday, God’s power some­how got hold of me, and dragged me back for another round of beating. I said to myself that this time I’m really not coming back. But the next week I came back for the third round, which was more like a 15-round boxing match! I got black swollen eyes.”

The gospel that Paul preached, the gospel that I preach, the gospel that, above all, my Lord Jesus preached, is unacceptable to the natural man. When has it ever been acceptable to the natural man to take up his cross, the instrument of his own execution, and follow after Jesus? It takes God’s power to enable a person to accept the message of the cross. Human talk and persuasion cannot achieve this. I have no intention of talking anyone into this, for I would have done the gospel a disservice if anyone becomes a Christian because of my persuasion, eloquence, or human wisdom.

But God’s power grabbed hold of that professor, and he came back to church week after week until the power of the gospel, the power of God, made him a new person. By the way, he had been a Christian, even a Christian leader, for many years in Taiwan. I think many of you from our Montreal church would know whom I am talking about. He has since become a new person. I was very touched because he is a Christian leader in Taiwan, at a well-known university where he teaches. He had been coming to our church faithfully, and is now a new creature in the process of spiritual growth. Many months later I asked him, “Would you like to share something at a prayer meeting?” Do you know what his answer was? He said, “I once believed that I knew what it is to be a Christian, but now I’m unfit to share the gospel. So I cannot giving a sharing, at least not until I become more mature.” My heart was touched by his humility. It took the power of God, and only the power of God, to accomplish this.

God, our Ancestor worthy of our worship

Yesterday I told you that I greatly believe in ancestor worship. I did not say “ancestors” (plural) but “Ancestor” (singular with the capital “A”). Some of you may say, “How can that be? God is our Creator, not our Father in the sense of ancestor.”

But in Scripture, the two metaphors “creation” and “birth” are inter­change­able. Let me give you an example of this from Psalm 90:1-2 to show you that creation can be spoken of as birth. I will read it out to you just for the sheer beauty and power of this psalm for worshipping God:

Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mount­ains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God. (Psalm 90:1-2, HCSB)

The creation of the mountains and the earth is depicted as their being “born” from God rather than “created” by God, for the two meta­phors are interchangeable. Neither is possible except by God’s power, which is why the new “birth” and the new “creation” are interchangeable concepts.

Adam was not born from God physically or literally, but was created by God. But because these two metaphors are inter­change­able, Luke can, by the Spirit’s inspiration, speak of “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38)!

Hence I believe in Ancestor worship. Worship our Ancestor who gave us birth in the first place, through Adam, son of God, from whom we all came. If somebody says, “Let’s worship our ancestors,” you can say, “Great, let’s get on our knees and wor­ship our Ancestor! We worship Him every day! What do you mean once or twice a year?” So any time they want to worship their ancestors, we will just say, “Great, let’s get on our knees and worship our Ancestor,” even quoting from the Psalms, “From everlasting to everlast­ing You are God!”—the One worthy of our worship and ador­ation. The problem today is that people are not worship­ping their Ancestor. We worship all the wrong objects, which is why the world is in such trouble.

I am not a nice guy because, as I have said, being a Christian doesn’t mean being a nice guy all the time. My daughter Grace and I were walking along a walkway of the apartment building where we were staying in Hong Kong, and we saw that four of the six households on that floor were burning joss sticks at their front doors to some god whom they hope will make them rich. When Grace looked at the joss sticks placed over an empty biscuit tin, I said, “What a pity that they burn incense to the god of the biscuit tin!”

I can be blunt like that, so please forgive me for not holding back from saying how some people hope to get rich by a god who can only afford to live above a biscuit tin! These gods must have a poor appetite or are half-starved because the people in Hong Kong would give them some leftover noodles from time to time, or some oranges.

What are we worshipping with these joss sticks? Spirits? Our ancestors? But only one Ancestor is worthy of our worship: God, “the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph.3:14-15). In this verse, to be named means to come into existence. Every family in the world, your parents and my parents, your ancestors and my ancestors, all came from the one Ancestor. I am not talking about Adam but Adam’s Father, God of all gods, Father of all fathers. Don’t you think we ought to worship Him? Was I exagger­ating when I said that the problems in the world today can be attributed to man’s failure to worship their one Ancestor?

To summarize: Our second point is about God’s power. We are not saved by own efforts in trying to be a good person. The new creation is by God’s power, for it is His power alone that saves us. Anyone who thinks that I preach a salvation by works has either misunderstood my preaching or never listened to it. Through all the years, I have always put my trust in a gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. I have always put my faith solely in the God who has given me new life, the God of the new creation.

Point 3: The new creation is a hidden mystery

Thirdly, why do we use the term “new creation” when “creation” already implies something new? Saying “new creation” seems to be redundant, like saying “a new new thing”. Paul speaks of the new creation in order to contrast it with the old and material creation that exists round about us. It is a con­trast of the new and the old, though the old, like the new, was also brought into being out of nothing (e.g., Romans 4:17).

But the new creation is a wonderful mystery! Here I need to clarify the word “mystery” which occurs many times in the New Testament but is often misunderstood. I won’t read all the relevant Bible passages, but only 1Corinthians 2:6-7:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, how­ever, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predes­tined before the ages to our glory (1Corinthians 2:6-7, NASB)

Note the words “to our glory” at the end of this Bible passage. Such is the vastness of God’s love for us that He wants to glorify us! God’s love for us is also seen in the word “predestined” which means establishing a plan that had been deter­mined or preplanned before the creation of the world. What is being predestined is not so much the person as much as the plan. I have already explained this in an earlier message, and I won’t go into it again.

Here I stress the word “mystery”. In the Bible, a mystery is some­thing that is hidden, as it says in this passage. If something is hidden, you cannot see it. The physical creation is visible, not hidden, for you can see it all around you, whereas the new creation, which is spiritual, is hidden. You need spiritual perception to see it, which is why it is called a mystery, though not in the sense com­monly associated with detective novels. In the Bible, a mystery is something that is hidden and made known only by God’s revelation. The mystery is now revealed in the gospel. But even so, you cannot see it because your eyes have been blinded by sin. Whereas the old creation is visible to all, the new creation is hidden, and you must search for this new creation if you want to be part of it.

I can develop this point in great detail for it is a very import­ant theme in Scripture. The Lord Jesus gives the parable of the hidden treasure which God hid in the world (Mt.13:44). There is also the parable of the pearl of great price (13:45-46) whose great value can be discerned only by a pearl merchant with a trained eye. Paul says that the gospel had been hidden all through the ages, and has now been revealed. But you need to have eyes to see it.

It is wonderful when people can discern it, like this professor from Taiwan whom I mentioned. He was beaten black and blue by the Word of God, so why did he come back week after week for another round of beating? It was because God’s saving power revealed the truth to him.

This professor said to me, “I have come to realize that I was not loving the truth. This is why I was offended when I heard the mess­age of God’s power in salvation. It hurt my pride, and I didn’t want to come back. But God helped me to see that it is the truth, and that if I didn’t come back the following week, I would be running away from the truth.” So he got another round of beating from the Word of God.

The word of God is a sharp two-edged sword that penetrates the heart (Heb.4:12). It wounds in order to heal, and kills in order to give life. But it is hidden, and many cannot see it. But this professor was granted to see it. Can you tell whether the gospel is true or false? I cannot talk you into believing that it is the truth. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. God forbid that anyone be persuaded to become a Christian because of my skill in reasoning or argumentation. Paul says, “I come to you not with human eloquence or wisdom to per­suade you to become a Christian. No, I come to preach to you the crucified Jesus and God’s power of salvation” (cf., 1Cor.2:1-2).

Point 4: The new creation is in Christ

This takes us to the fourth point. Where then do we find this new creation which is hidden? It is found only in Jesus Christ. Salvation and the new creation are found “in him”. To be a new creation is to be “in Christ”. Our camp theme, written on the cover of the hand­book, is: “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2Cor.5:17). You cannot be a new creation outside of Christ. This new life, this power of God to save, is found only in Christ. Are you in Christ? Have you seen God’s hidden wisdom in Christ? Becoming a Christ­ian is to put on Christ, that is, to enter into Christ. Does it sound like mystical language? It is not mystical at all.

How then do I enter into Christ? The Bible speaks of two things. First we must believe. We enter “into” Christ through faith. This comes out in the Greek text but not in the English translations. The English translations usually say “believe in Jesus,” but the Greek says “believe into Jesus”. Faith in Jesus Christ is God’s way of saving you. You enter into Christ, putting on Christ, to be saved. We are saved by grace through faith, not by our works or achievements (Eph.2:8-9).

Second, we enter into Christ through baptism. By the Spirit of God we are baptized into one body, the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13). At bap­tism, we are buried with Christ and united with him through death to our old life, to be raised with Christ by the working of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:3-5). That is how we enter into Christ and put on Christ, and how God gives us new life, transforming us to be like Christ. For those of you who will be baptized today, you will, on this day, be given no less than the privilege of entering into Christ through baptism. Thanks be to God!

These two things, faith and baptism, must come together, not bap­tism alone nor faith alone, but faith expressed in commitment at baptism. I say this on the authority of Scripture.

Here we have the Greek preposition eis which means “into” and which is applied to two concepts: we believe into Christ, and we are baptized into Christ. These are not two separate things as though we believe into Jesus as the first step, and then get baptized into Jesus. Faith and baptism must come together if baptism is to be meaning­ful and faith is to be meaningful.

You may ask, “If I believe into Christ, am I saved?” The answer is “no” if you have not confessed your faith in God publicly. At baptism we make a public commit­ment.

In the New Testament, the way to confess your faith publicly is at baptism. It takes courage to confess your sins in public, and to declare your pledge of allegiance to God, dying to your old sinful life, and putting on Christ as your new way of life. I mean, you’re not going to be secretly baptized in your private bathtub, are you? Where did John the Baptist baptize? In the River Jordan, before the crowds.

Point 5: Made new by God’s Word and God’s Spirit

How does God bring into being the new creation? This is where the con­trast between the new creation and the old creation is important. But first, how did God create the old creation? In the remaining time, I cannot give you all the refer­ences, but if you read Genesis 1, you will see that the old creation was brought into being by two means.

First, God created the old creation out of nothing, ex nihilo, by His powerful Word. God spoke “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). This is also true of the new creation, for Paul has Genesis 1:3 in mind when he says:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)

At the old creation, the first words were, “Let there be light.” Paul likewise says that God brings the new creation into existence by the power of His Word. Where do we find His Word? In the Bible you’re holding in your hands.

The new creation is wrought in us when we let the creative Word speak to our hearts. It is not accomplished by our own intellectual analysis of the Word.

Many in our full-time training teams have studied food science. They can give you a chemical analysis of foods by looking at their struct­ures under a microscope. Some people do the same with the Bible. They look through their intellectual microscopes to study the Bible, saying, “Let’s examine this preposition and that grammatical construct­ion.” That is fine. By all means study “biblical” food science, but that is not going to save you. If food scientists never eat food, their scientific knowledge won’t save them from starvation. Likewise, you can study at a seminary five or ten years, analyzing every word in the Bible, but that won’t save you.

When I studied Hebrew with my professor in England, I thought to myself: “Wow, this man knows biblical Hebrew so well that he can probably read it backwards!” I could only read Hebrew in the forward direction, and not very well at that. Do you think that because he knows the Old Testament in Hebrew that he will be saved? I was concerned about him, wondering if he knows God and His salvation in a real way.

Similarly, you don’t become healthy just by studying food science. How will food benefit you if you don’t eat it? The Word of God is described as food. Jesus says in answer to Satan’s temptations, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, citing Deuteronomy 8:3).

Are you a new creation? Not until you genuinely say to God, “I will live by every word that You have taught us.” Can you do this? My beloved, if you cannot, then you are deceiving yourself. I don’t care how active you are in church, or how many years you have studied at a seminary. I put no confidence in my six years of biblical and theological studies. That won’t save me one bit, and won’t help me one bit in becoming a new creation.

Some of my former class­mates are now pastors in the Anglican Church, called vicars. Some are now bishops in the Anglican Church, sitting in the House of Lords in England as “the Lord Bishop so and so”. But spiritually they are as lifeless as the wood of this pulpit, I’m sorry to say, without any ill feelings towards them. Did they study theology? Yes they did. But do they live by God’s Word? They are like those who study food science but don’t eat food. You become a new creation only if you let God’s Word go into your heart day by day, which is where the Word of God belongs in the first place, and not it in your head. So the life-giving Word is the first thing that will make you a new person.

I said that two things brought the old creation into existence. One is God’s powerful Word. What is the other? It is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God was hovering over the creation (Gen.1:2). God’s Word and God’s Spirit always work together. There is a theological expression for this: “in and with the Word”. The Lutherans love to use it. It simply means that if you try to separate the Spirit from the Word, and study the Word intellectually, that Word will kill you. But if the Holy Spirit is working “in and with the Word,” it will bring you life.

There will be more theologians in hell, proportionately speak­ing, com­pared to all other Christians. Their condemnat­ion will be great because they are experts in the Word of God. I’m not person­ally condemning them for I too have gone through formal biblical and theological studies. I fear and tremble before God, and can only say, “God, have mercy on me!”

My point is to let God’s Word speak to our hearts, and to live by every word that God has spoken.

Point 6: A new person delights in God’s Word

What happens to you when you eat? Is eating dinner a tiring chore that makes your body ache all over? Not at all. Why then do you find studying the Bible so arduous and boring? Many admit, “I fall asleep when I study my Bible.” But do you fall asleep at your meals, snoring in front of the plate? You must be in a very bad physical condition for that to happen. It means that something is wrong in the way we study the Word of God. We use the word “study” which sounds too much like an intellectual activity, and that bothers me.

I too have spent much time studying the Word. But I must live by the Word. I have never found eating food exhausting, not even when I’m tired. Studying is tiring, but eating is easy and refreshing. It is when we are tired that we say, “Let’s go out for a meal.” While you are eating, your energy comes back. New energy and new power are coming back through the food. Your blood sugar level rises.

Why do you find studying the Bible so tasteless? Why do you fall asleep when reading the Bible? Something is wrong. Yet you say that you are a new creation?

When I was a young Christian, I had trouble reading the Authorized Version, that is, the King James Bible. The Bible that my friend gave me was the Authorized Version, which uses an old style of English from four centuries ago. I had trouble understand­ing it: “What does this mean? What kind of sentence is that? I don’t understand what it’s saying.”

But later I was given a new Bible translation, and I said, “Oh, this one is easy to understand! Praise God, now I understand it!” But in those early days when I did not understand the KJV, I still determined to study the Word of God. I let it speak to my heart. Whenever I could not understand it—partly because of my spiritual dullness and partly because of my difficulty with the older English—I would kneel on the concrete floor, and say, “God, I will remain on my knees until you feed me from Your Word. I’m your child, remember? And I’m hungry!”

Is there a father or mother who says, “My child is hungry, but I won’t give him any food apart from this whole wal­nut”? The child tries to bite through the shell, and the parents say, “Oh silly! Learn to crack the walnut if you want some food.” No parent deals with a child like this. I knelt before God and said, “Lord, I am hungry. Please feed me from Your Word.” And He has been feeding me ever since. It’s wonderful!

The psalmist says, “But his delight is in the law of Yahweh, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). He meditates on God’s word day and night because he delights in it. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Is that your experience? Or do you have a hard time understand­ing God’s Word? The problem is that you have been doing it the wrong way. Read God’s Word and let it speak to your heart. Once it speaks to your heart, it will do wonderful things. If you don’t understand it, ask God to teach it to you. Let the Holy Spirit open it up to you. That doesn’t rule out human teachers, but without the help of the Spirit, you won’t understand the Word even if you have the best human teachers in the world.

Point 7: The new creation is saying “yes” by faith

We close with the seventh point. Since the new creation is found only in Jesus Christ, I must enter into Christ by faith in order to be a new creation. But what does faith mean?

First, faith involves making a choice. All this has to do with the mystery I just spoke about. God has hidden the gospel to test just how much you really want it. If you truly want a certain thing, you will seek it. Jesus says, “Seek, and you shall find” (Mt.7:7). The word “seek” implies that something is hidden. If it is not hidden, you wouldn’t need to seek it.

We see again the contrast between the old creation and the new. In the old creation, we were given physical life through no choice of our own, for it was something that was bestowed on us at birth. We could not say yes or no to it. Some people wish they had such a choice before they were born, since they wish they had never been born. But that is foolishness. Your physical life is a pre­cious gift. But if you make a mess of it, don’t blame God or your parents. Physical life is a wonderful gift. And how much more wonderful is the gift of spiritual life that God gives you! But the difference is that He won’t give it to you without your choosing it. This time you will have to make the choice between believing or not believing in God.

Faith is simply saying “yes” to God, unbelief is saying “no” to God. It’s as simple as that. I won’t make it complicated. Indeed, volumes have been written on the subject of faith that use terminology the average reader would not understand.

Some time ago, in my pursuit of a doctorate, I wrote a doctoral thesis on the meaning of faith. I thank God that He saved me from this foolish pursuit. I have a friend who is now teaching at a theolog­ical seminary, whose doctoral thesis was on the meaning of faith, the very subject of the thesis I wrote but did not submit. It is a fact that many have collected doctorates on the subject of faith. Yet I am reminded of 1Cor.1:20: “Has not God made foolish the wis­dom of this world?”

We must preach the gospel in such a way that it can be under­stood by people with little or no education. Faith is simply saying “yes” to God. The moment you say “Yes, God,” you are exercising faith, for you cannot say this from your heart if there is no faith. If while listening to God’s Word you say “Yes, God,” even if quietly, you have faith. But if you say “No, God” while listening to the preaching of God’s Word, you have rejected the gospel. What you have is unbelief rather than faith.

Faith is simply saying “yes”. I won’t go into all the relevant Bible references, but we can look at one verse:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” (2 Corinthians 1:19, NIV)

Paul is saying something simple: “The gospel which I preached to you is ‘Yes’ in Christ, faith in Christ.” There is nothing sophisticated about it. Yet many scholars are baffled by simple phrases such as this one. I think God speaks to fools like me. I would like to be a fool so that God may speak to me, for if I’m too clever or sophisticated, I wouldn’t be able to understand what He is saying.

The next verse, 2Corinthians 1:20, says: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” When I say Amen to somebody’s prayer, I am simply saying “Yes” to it. That’s it. There is nothing fancy about it. So when I say “Amen” to a prayer, I’m saying, “Yes, God, may it be so.”

God gives new life to your burned-out engine

I love to share this story, and some of you may have heard it before. Pastor Joe was living in Montreal at the time, and we were driving my old car which was in dire need of a reconditioned engine. We were driving it from Toronto to Montreal, and Joe took the wheel so that I could rest a bit. I said, “Joe, go easy on the car because it is suffering from old age. We might not make it to Montreal because the transmiss­ion is falling apart.” We were going along, and sure enough, as we were within 100 miles of Montreal, the transmiss­ion packed up. Smoke was billowing out of the gear­box. We had to get out fast because the car looked as if it was about to catch fire. We drove onto the highway shoulder, and got off. The whole gearbox was going up in thick smoke. After the smoke had cleared, we got back into the car and thought, What are we going to do? We were stuck in the middle of the highway. It was night time and pitch dark. Canada is a vast and sparsely populated nation, not like here in Mal­aysia where there is always a car passing by. If you get stuck on a high­way in Canada, it could be a long time before somebody passes by. But even if they pass by, what can they do? The transmission was burned out, and we were sitting in the dark.

I said to Joe, “Why don’t you pray, and we commit this whole matter to God?” So he began to pray: “Dear God, we commit the situation into Your hands. We are only 1.6 kilometers from the next gas station. Will You please grant that this car will drive the remain­ing distance to the gas station?”

I gulped and thought, “Dear me! What is my dear brother pray­ing for?” Joe is a mathematician by training. He had never studied engineer­ing, for if he had, he would have known that a gearbox that is burned out is really burned out! It won’t even go two feet, much less 1.6 kilomet­ers. And when he says Amen, will I say ‘Yes’ to it? What am I going to do?”

Some people say Amen as a tradition or ceremony. You had better not say Amen too fast because you might get what you ask for. I’ve heard people say to God, “Break me, smash me, crush me,” and I thought: You just said Amen to that prayer! Soon you will know that God is the living God. Do you really want to be broken, smashed, and trampled on? When you go to your office and get the very thing you asked for, will you say, “Amen. Praise God! You answered my prayer!” ?

One sister made exactly that kind of prayer. She wanted to become a better Christian, so she prayed, “God, smash me, break me.” And the Lord gave her six months of smashing and breaking until she begged God, “Lord, I’ve had enough! I can’t stand it anymore! I know that You are the living God!” The next time you pray or hear a prayer, you had better be careful before saying “Yes” because God will take you at your word.

Faith is simply saying “Yes” to God’s Word so that the Holy Spirit may implement that Word in your life. Are you a new creat­ion? You can be, even today. What do you have to do? Just say “Yes” to God: “God, I say yes to you, and will follow Christ.” But don’t play games with God.

The Lord Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes” (Mt.5:37). If you say yes, let it be yes because God will hold you accountable if you say yes but it is really a no. Christians get into all kinds of trouble with God because they say yes, but it was a half yes. In this church we teach total commit­ment because that’s what the Lord Jesus teaches: “Let your yes be wholly yes, not yes with a little bit of no.” Total commitment means a total “Yes”. I hope I have made the matter clear and simple for you to under­stand so that you may know that God is the living God.

You are probably wondering about Joe and the car. As I was struggling with Joe’s prayer, I thought to myself: “Dear brother Joe knows nothing about engineering or gearboxes. That’s why he can pray this kind of prayer.” Then I said to myself: “My so-called knowledge has become a stumbling block. Is it too much for God to move a car with a burned out gearbox? Is it too much for God to move it another kilometer down the road?”

You see, before we prayed, I put the car into gear, stepped on the gas, but it did not budge. Yet Joe prayed, “Please move it 1.6 kilometers.” After he had finished the prayer, I looked to God and said, “But isn’t God the God of the impossible? Here is something that is impossible, so this is going to be a creation out of nothing. God will have to move the car by His power!” Then I said “Amen”. It was one of the toughest Amens I had said in my whole life! I had just said, “Yes, God.”

Do you know what happened with the car with a burned out gearbox? It went all the way to the gas station, more than one kilometer down the road! And do you know what happened next? When it arrived at the gas station and came to a stop, it would not budge another millimeter! But God had already answered the prayer. Joe did say “to the gas station,” right? So we were at the gas station, right in front of the garage door!

God can give you a new life. Your engine may be spiritually burned out and non-functional. In the Bible, death on account of sin does not mean non-existence but non-functional.

Like the car that died, our spiritual gearbox may be dead and non-functional. But is anything too difficult for God who created all things? To this day, the incident is still a mystery to me. It hap­pened only 2 or 3 years ago, and every time I think of it, I marvel. How can a car move without a working gearbox? Ask any mechanic to explain this to you. It’s incredible! But with God, nothing is impossible! If you say “Yes” to Him from your heart today, you will be a new creation. God will do something in your life as wonderful as creatio ex nihilo. He will bring new life into you, and you will know that He is the living God.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church