Fresh Start, Week 1 — The Freshest Start Sermon Rewind

We started the Fresh Start series with a series that focused on the signature New Testament verse about new beginnings, 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!



The challenge, of course, was how to ensure that that verse — as great as it is — did not become a stand alone.  Context is everything, after all.

So after building an argument around the notion of “has beens” as well as the Corinthian habit of judging by appearances, the message landed at this bottom line:

In Christ, who you HAVE BEEN is not who you WILL BE.


So there are few worse things in the world of sports, entertainment, music, politics, and celebrity than to be referred to as a “has been.”  In fact, that’s only a little better than being an “also ran” because an “also ran” never really WAS.  But a has been is someone who USED to be in demand, successful, significant, RELEVANT and now … merely an afterthought.  If thought of at all.  You think long enough and you might be able to come up with more than a few has beens … the list might just include people like Vanilla Ice & Billy Ray Cyrus in music, Brian Bosworth in sports, Kirstie Alley in acting, and you can more than likely fill in a whole lot of other blanks. Folks whose best days are behind them and have landed in that hole of irrelevance.  Of course I hope to God that I am never a has been preacher … or that you’ll ever be a has been teacher, IT professional, engineer, or homemaker.

            So a has been with some inevitability is preoccupied with who they HAVE BEEN.  Got that?  Has beens dwell on the good old days of who they have been in the glory days.  Billy Ray Cyrus no doubt longs for the days when he was in idol and not a punch line.  But I bet there are people here who have come to church with a lot of thoughts of who you HAVE BEEN.  Goodness, for a lot of you it might even be the thought that YOUR best days are behind you … that the highlight of your life is STILL that conference title, that state championship, that being named to the Homecoming court.  You peaked in high school & you don’t see much indication that you’ll ever really surpass that high.  It’s who you have been.

            But then I know for others that sense of nostalgia is colored with more pain than glory.  Who you have been is fraught with trauma.  Some of you from the earliest ages have been a victim of different kinds of abuse.  It’s a label you’ve given yourself and others have placed on you.  It sticks.  Then a few others here are the victimizers – the villains in various kinds of family dramas.  And only a select few people even know, but you do.  Maybe others here who you have been is not quite so heavy.  It’s divorced.  Addicted. Ex-con. Mistake prone. Clumsy.  Stoned.

            For a bunch of you it’s even doubting.  You want to believe and embrace but you can’t quite get over the hurdle.  And along those same lines, some of you it’s “enlightened” – you come here on occasion or even all the time but deep down you think you’re a little too sharp, a bit too educated to really believe something as primitive as biblical faith.  All over what I’m talking about is this reality: who you HAVE BEEN is chock full of wandering, regret, and longing.  And you, like many others come to church for some kind of reset a fresh start … and for a bunch it’s a re-re-RE-start because you’ve had these kind of good intentions before.

Really, what I’m saying is this: for some of you the past was so good you think you’ll never live up to it.  And for others, it was so bad you’ll never live it down.

            Which is why I believe all of us need a dive into what Paul says in his second letter to the church at Corinth.  Now: notice I said his SECOND letter to that church which means that the first one didn’t really work.  The people in that contentious, slightly bawdy church question his cred as an apostle.  They judged by appearances and by that measure Paul failed to measure up.  They firmly believed that when you look at people what you see is what you get. Leopards don’t change their spots, that kind of thing.  And … they wanted to be both Xn and pagan at the same time.  Jesus was an accessory to their outfit but he wasn’t the whole ensemble.  Honestly, probably like a lot of folks here who at some point invited Jesus into your heart but then never gave him ownership of everything else.  And if that’s you, that’s OK, you’re in pretty good company.

            And one other thing is not altogether clear in this letter: is Paul trying to get the Corinthians themselves RIGHT with God or is he giving them a strategy & language for persuading others to get right with God.  Are they evangelized or evangelizers?  I suppose the ultimate answer to that is YES.

            But look how he starts this section in 5:11:

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.

 Again, does he hope to persuade THEM or make THEM PERSUASIVE?  Yes, is likely the answer.  Check 5:12:

12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.

See?  The Corinthians were very much into appearances & he wants them to know up front that when it comes to people touched by Christ there is MORE to what you see than what you get.  And then 5:14-15:

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

I love that.  Jesus’ “love compels.”  Not his wrath.  Not his judgment.  His love and what results for people who embrace it is this radical new purpose for living.  One died so that all will live for the one who died. 

            And Paul is gaining steam, building momentum as he gets to 5:16a:

 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

Wait.  Hasn’t he just said something like that in 5:12?  Yes!  He has!  How you view others – by their appearance, according to their past – determines how you view YOURSELF.  When you label others with “they’ll never change” you’re really saying it about yourself.  And, according to 5:16b, that’s even how Paul himelf viewed Jesus at one point: Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

            Then, then, there is this apparent non-sequitir in 5:17, a verse that in Xn circles is SO FAMOUS AS A STAND ALONE that Xn Halllmake has a slew of cards with this emblazoned on them (AV) and

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

 It’s glorious, beautiful stuff that fits nicely on a card, and I remember when Julie came to a place of faith in college a mutual friend gave her one of these.  Precious, thoughtful gift that fits so well with Fresh Start.  But please remember something … these verses never stand alone; they’re never separated from what comes before and after.  When you dig a little bit all around you get so much more.  And what’s been before?  People are more than they seem; folks are not destined to repeat their history (5:12 & 15!).  And in light of that, what is Paul saying here to a church that he wants to both evangelize and turn into evangelizers? 

            That ANYONE – turn to your neighbor and say “that must include you” – who is IN CHRIST (transfers trust from self and accomplishments & morality to Jesus and his crucifixion & resurrection) is a NEW CREATION.  Not a new addition.  Not an improved version.  An entirely new creation,  comprehensive and thorough.  I even love the Behold! Or Look!  Such a contrast with judging on appearances.  With Jesus invades, the past no longer determines the future; appearances no longer decide reality.  Old gone.  New come.  Both for how you look at others and maybe even more importantly for how you speak to and view yourselves.  For everyone who feels shackled by your past, that you’ll either never live up to it or that you will never live it down

            If that’s you, you have arrived here not by accident.  God has brought you here to rebuke the lies that the devil has told you regarding the power of yesterday to control tomorrow.  It’s this, it’s more than caterpillars & butterflies, it’s In Christ, who you have been is not who you will be.  Jesus takes every victim, every addict, every too-enlightened-to-believe, every has been everywhere and says NOT ANY MORE. YOU’RE NOW MY BELOVED.  That’s your fresh start.  Your freshest start.  What he declares over you today he will begin developing in you tomorrow.  It’s not turning over a new life.  It’s turning into a new life.  You’ve bought the lie that you’re shackled into your past; the blood of the cross and the emptiness of the resurrection is the truth that sets you free.  In Christ, who you have been is not who you will be.

            You know how this newness worked with me?  When I was a teenager I couldn’t look people in the eye.  I was embarrassed by acne, felt shamed by my excessive skinny-ness, and just managed to avert looking people in the eye.  But I became a Christian – this 5:17 move from “in the world” to “in Christ” happened suddenly & dramatically – and all of a sudden I stood up straighter and maintained eye contact.  My handshake went from a dead fish to firm & strong.  People noticed the difference like overnight.  I had a reason and a purpose. In Christ, who you have been is not who you will be.

            And remember, all this happens when you are IN CHRIST.  What does that look like?  Well, here’s my experiment with a cup of coffee (clear container).  I’m gonna pour some cream in.  Now: where does the coffee end and the cream begin?  Who knows?  The cream is now IN the coffee.  And that’s what happens when your life becomes defined not by your appearances and not by your accomplishment but by your Advocate.  By the Savior.  By the reality that you are loved, died for, resurrected, and awaiting his return.  That’s IN CHRIST and he becomes your reason for living and there are times when it’s not exactly clear where you end and where Jesus begins.  It’s so much like what happened to Lee Strobel with his young daughter:

“Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.”  What was she saying?  She was five; she hadn’t been to seminary. All she knew was that her dad used to be this way: hard to live with.  But more and more her dad is becoming different.  And if that is what God does to people, then sign her up.  So at age 5, she gave her life to Jesus.

            With that, I’ve got some great news:  YOU CAN’T CHANGE!  Huh?  How is that great news?  Remember context?  And context includes what comes after!  Look at 5:18:

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

 In other words, Paul says, what I am talking about is so momentous, so freeing, that it can’t have human origin or human power.  You can’t changed.  You can only BE CHANGED.  So yield yourself to that.  Stop trying to change yourself and instead turn your will and your life over to the care of God as embodied in Jesus.    In Christ who you have been is not who you will be. 

Because here’s more really great news.  A lot of you who have messed up in life and you had to turn to your family for help, for a fresh start, and then your family (parents) gave you that second chance?  How’d they do it? With some strings attached.  If you … when you … How about you …  And not only with strings attached but with a whole bunch of reminders of just how much they helped and how much money they spent.  It’s natural, it’s universal.  But not so with God!  His freshest start and without strings and free of reminders.  The farther you’ve gone, the deeper his grace!  He doesn’t ignore your past, he doesn’t pretend it away, he redeems it.  And then he makes your tomorrow totally surpass your yesterday.  If he can’t do all that then he can’t do anything.  In Christ, who you have been is not who you will be.

            I believe Paul is so passionate about this because 2 Cor 5:17 is his autobiography.  He’s the one who viewed Jesus from a human point of view, after all.  It’s why he persecuted the church, helped to kill Stephen before Jesus happened.  But when Jesus happened to Paul he went from accomplice to apostle, from persecutor to proclaimer, from murderer to missionary.  He wasn’t doomed to repeat history because God had already redeemed it.  He was given his fresh start the moment the scales fell off and he moved IN CHRIST.

            Listen: for some of you the past was yesterday.  Last night.  And you realize you’ve been playing at Jesus for a long time.  You’ve had a toe in, maybe a foot, but never the comprehensiveness of IN CHRIST.  And that’s why you keep running in circles, making the same dumb decisions over and over again.  Having the same emptiness over and over again.

            How about today ends that chapter and starts a new one.  We don’t look at you with worldly eyes.  You’re not who you’ve been. You are loaded with potential. Filled with beauty.  Slate cleaned.  Record expunged.  Labels discarded.  Savior embraced.  Would you like that … today?








“Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.”  What was she saying?  She was five; she hadn’t been to seminary. All she knew was that her dad used to be this way: hard to live with.  But more and more her dad is becoming different.  And if that is what God does to people, then sign her up.  So at age 5, she gave her life to Jesus.