In 2 Corinthians 5:17, some translations state, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature.” But Paul is actually saying much more than this. More accurate is the New Revised Standard Version, which indicates that it is not simply the individual who is a new creature, but in fact, “there is a new creation!” Or, as the New English Bible puts it, “there is a new world.”
That’s a pretty big difference. Apparently what Paul means to say is that when one is joined in baptism with Christ anywhere, an entirely new creation is coming into existence—much more than an individual merely having a change of heart.
What God has done in reconciling the world to Godself in Christ is to put to death all the divisions that arose from our separation from communion with God—thereby initiating a new humanity. However, the temptation that continues to deceive the church is not only to read this passage too individualistically, but also to forget our position in this new reality.
The new humanity resulting from our reconciliation to God and to one another is not a whitewashing of all persons into the culture and identity of the dominant group. It actually works in the other direction. As Gentiles, we are grafted into the Jewish body of Jesus, whose rejected life constitutes the new creation.
Beginning with the recognition that we are Gentiles first—and thus, outsiders graciously included into the reconciling work of God—can help destabilize a privileged white culture. It allows us to see that the new creation is not ours to impress upon others, but something we have been invited into as foreigners.
Today, it may be that white folks must learn first to recognize our precarious position and in doing so, rediscover how we might be ambassadors of unity in justice.
1. How might recognizing my own gracious inclusion into the people of God allow me to engage racial division in new ways?
2. Does my view of God’s new creation infuse my interaction with others, especially those who don’t look like me?
3. What is my first step toward embracing a ministry of reconciliation in a church and society plagued by historical and ongoing racial divisions?
Dan Rhodes is Faculty Coordinator of Contextual Education and Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Justice at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago.