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A Communal Perspective on Regeneration and the New Creation

One of the typical proof texts presented for the doctrine of regeneration is 2 Cor 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (ESV). While this passage has much to do with the transformation that happens in the life of the believer when his or her mind is enlightened and will renewed, this verse is often taken in an individualistic direction that misses the full weight of Paul’s message. There is also a broader, eschatological sense in which this verse must be understood, and Herman Ridderbos draws this sense out in his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology. He writes,

When he speaks here of “new creation,” this is not meant merely in an individual sense (“a new creature”), but one is to think of the new world of the re-creation that God has made to dawn in Christ, and in which everyone who is in Christ is included. This is also evident from the neuter plural that follows: “the old things have passed away, the new have come,” and from the full significance that must be ascribed here to “old” and “new.” It is a matter of two worlds, not only in a spiritual, but in a redemptive-historical, eschatological sense. The “old things” stand for the unredeemed world in its distress and sin, the “new things” for the time of salvation and the re-creation that have dawned with Christ’s resurrection. He who is in Christ, therefore, is new creation: he participates in, belongs to, this new world of God. [pp. 46-47]

When Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,” we can also point and say “there is the new creation.” In being called out of darkness into the kingdom of God, believers are part of the new creation—God’s overarching plan of redemption that culminates in Christ’s return and the resurrection of believers unto glorified bodies. We should never forget the work of the Spirit in individual lives, but we ought also remember that each individual salvation account is part of a larger sweep of redemption. This communal and biblical-theological view of redemption is the explanatory context for the ordo salutis, the application of redemption to individual believers.


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