Being a New Creation, One in Christ
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”—2 Corinthians 5:16-17
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:27-28
These two passages from the Apostle Paul cast a vision for a New Humanity and a New Creation that echos into our current context as if it were uttered a day ago. I’m moved by Paul’s new vision for humanity and creation and how it is so needed and so necessary right now. But I do think that we need to be conscious that these words are much easier to say than to do. I think what Paul is calling the Corinthians to and the Galatians was deeply radical at the time he wrote it and even more now. But I do find hope in his words because if we live into them, we will overcome the evil ways of the world and find a new way to live.
Though Paul had a specific occasion in which he wrote—that would make it clear with what human points of view the Corinthians saw each other, or what worldly categories separated people in Galatians—I believe when we take his words now, we need to consider the human points of view we see each other in today. Similarly, we need to imagine who the Jews and Greeks are today, who the slave and the free are. Paul is calling us to see each other beyond these categories, as new creations, or as “children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26).
What are today’s human points of view?
So the question for us today is do we see each other in ways that are not as New Creations and not as Children of God. The answer is, of course, yes. I will only speak for my experience, but my brown skin has meaning that God didn’t assign it. I was born into a world that had given skin color meaning. I look different and I was treated differently. I remember the shame I felt every summer growing up when I would hang out by our neighborhood pool and my white friends’ skin would turn red, and mine would just get crispy. I knew the darker I got, the more embarrassed I would be, and the worse I would be treated. A lot of that is internalized within me and within my culture. Colorism is a real thing and I have carried that burden with me my whole life.
And people have told me that they don’t see me any different because of my skin color. They’ll say something like, “I don’t care if you’re purple.” (I don’t know why it’s always purple, to be honest.) Or they’ll say, “I have a lot of black and brown friends.” On one hand, I don’t think that’s an adequate interrogation of the sin of racism, which covers everything in our society. But on the other hand, Paul’s call for a new humanity just doesn’t come down to individual behavior.
Paul is writing letters to churches about teaching them a new way to experience and see the world, that’s different than the one they’ve been taught. And in the United States, and I’m not saying this from a sociological perspective, I’m saying it from a personal one, my skin color is assigned meaning. If we are to graduate to living as a New Creation, to not considering each other from a human point of view, we need to make sure we offer our skin colors new meaning.
We can’t be post-racial without being anti-racist
The reason I’m suggesting we offer our bodies new meaning as opposed to say, no meaning, is because we need to be intentional about building something new. We need to be intentional about our New Humanity and our New Creation. It’s not enough to say you aren’t racist. We need to fight racism, we need to be anti-racist, if we are committed to not seeing each other from “a human point of view.”
What I believe Paul is talking about above is controversial in our present age: a post-racial society (or a post-racial church), one where our skin color doesn’t have a fundamental meaning. An important part of liberation, though, from the often deadly meaning it has been assigned, is allowing a new meaning to be formed. And so we need to make space for people, especially those who are oppressed for their skin color, to declare that it is good; that it matters. That’s why saying “Black Lives Matter” is a way to get closer to our New Creation. I’m not saying my skin color has a fundamental meaning, but I’m erasing the meaning it’s been assigned. When I say it is good, I’m rejecting the idea that I’ve been told and that I’ve experienced that it’s bad. I’m saying that a way to graduate it from the meaning the dominators gave it, is to declare it as something else. The possibility of assigning new meaning though can be risky, as we’ve seen, because we’ve seen how supremacy can be dangerous. Declaring your skin color or culture as superior is antithetical to the New Creation. And so while pride about our skin color, if we are oppressed, is a way forward, it is temporary while we fully live into a time where we are all children of God.
Even Paul appears to have some trouble with this
For me that means naming my oppression out loud and being heard about that. When I speak the truth about myself and my experience, Christians will often tell me I’m condemning white people or being judgmental, or they’ll accuse me of now seeing my oppressors as “children of God.” It is sinister, and I think often unconsciously so, how Paul’s words above can be twisted to favor the status quo. I say it’s unconscious because I think Paul himself falls into this trap in Galatians 4.
Now, I know I am getting into some tricky territory here, but in Galatians 3:28, Paul plainly says that there is no “slave or free.” In 2 Cor. 5, he insists on not regarding one another from a worldly perspective. But in chapter 4 of Galatians, he recalls a story of Hagar and Sarah. Paul’s greater point in Galatians is about freedom from the Law of Moses, which he calls the “disciplinarian” in chapter 3. In Chapter 4, Sarah personifies the freedom from the law, and Hagar personifies enslavement to it. From verse 24: “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.” Now Paul admits it’s merely an allegory, but he still uses it to distinguish between slave and free (Hagar, as the story in Gen. 21 goes, is freed by Abraham and given a nation and protection by God). Paul is offering a new interpretation, but in some ways he falls into the old way of thinking despite his insistence on a new way of thinking. Paul is sort of enslaved, himself.
My point here is not to say Paul was wrong or throw out Galatians, but to allow us to be gracious with one another as we move into this new way of thinking. It will take time to live into our New Creation together, and it will be painful and difficult. It’s painful for people of color like me to acknowledge the meaning that our skin color has been given, and the experiences associated with that. Trust me, I would rather avoid it all. But I think it is also going to be painful for the people who benefited from my experience, or ignored it, or even participated in assigning it, to acknowledge that. Because as much as my brown skin had meaning that I didn’t assign it, so did yours, no matter its color.
Let’s be courageous and shed the meaning the world gave our skin colors
As I said above, I could choose to ignore the meaning of my skin color, but that is harder for me because I’m faced with it daily, not just because I experience racism, but because I live in an area where a lot of other Arabs don’t. I’m accustomed to trying to fit in and ignoring that experience because that was how I survived. But Jesus is saving me that. I don’t have to adapt to the present world’s circumstances or ignore my own experience because I don’t have to consider myself from a worldly point of view.
For many white people, though, the challenge is greater. What they need to do is listen to the experiences of people of color who speak about the meaning given to their skin color that God didn’t give. Likewise, they need to also think about the meaning their skin color was given. If Paul’s statements are true, our bodies, so to speak, have been given meaning in our society that we need to work against. In order to move and live into the New Creation, we need to acknowledge this and work on it. If all we do is deny this reality, whether we deny it in ourselves, or in the world, I think we fail not seeing each other from a human point of view. Ignoring that there is a human point of view we can see each other in is markedly different than living into Paul’s vision.
So I hope we will all take the brave steps we need to take to move beyond the defeating the meanings assigned to our skin color. It will be hard, but because Jesus’ grace flows abundantly, we can try and fail without condemnation. I want to reiterate that when people who have been oppressed for their skin color share that experience, it’s important that we hear them and work to change that experience. If all we do is defend ourselves, I’m not sure we’re going to work out our New Humanity. If all we do is deny the experience of the people around us—or find a token brown person who says he’s never been oppressed—we are looking to justify ourselves. I don’t think Paul wants us to justify our old way of doing things, but build a new way. If we can’t name who the Jews and Greeks are, the slave and free, if we can’t see the human points of view that our world offers us, we will have no luck in building in a new one. So please, take the step of courage with me. The New Creation is here; let’s live fully into it.