"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
This week, we are going to focus on only one verse of this section, and that's the first sentence in verse 16: "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh." Hanging over our understanding of this verse is this word "reconciliation." It is such a beautiful word, and in its definition, there are undertones of the gospel. To be reconciled means to accept that which was not previously desired.
Before you came to faith in Christ, you were dead in your sins and our trespasses in which you once walked. You did not desire God, nor did He desire you in that state. But as Romans 5:8 says to us, "God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." With Christ's sacrifice on the cross, He has taken our sin, and He clothes us in His righteousness (as verse 21 will go on to explain, and we'll get to that in a couple of weeks).
Having come to faith in Christ, you have repented of your sins and God has forgiven you. When He looks at you, He does not see the filthy, rotten sinner deserving of hell. He sees the righteousness of His Son. And we are received by God not because of anything we did, but because of what He did for us. We desire God because He desires us. As 1 John 4:10 says, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
Reconciled to God and to His People
Not only have you been reconciled to God, but you have been reconciled to God's people. We read in John 4:19, "We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."
This is why church attendance is so important. How else can we grow in our love for the family of God if we are not meeting regularly with the family of God? If you have been reconciled to God and to His people, you will want to be a part of God's people. If you do not want to be part of the people of God, you do not love God's people, you hate them.
Someone might say, "Oh, I love the people of God. I'm just not crazy about those people." Sorry. As you didn't get to pick and choose which family you were born into and which siblings you had, you don't get to pick which family you are born again into and which siblings you have. You don't choose who's in God's family. He does. God has adopted you into this family, and He has shown you through the visible church whom it is you are to love.
Over and over we are given in Scripture an instruction to love and grow with and mature with the people of God. You are not alowed to stay a babe in the faith. Your maturity benefits the rest of the body of Christ. Beginning in Ephesians 4:12, we are "building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."
In this way, the church is a safety. When a church is committed to teaching the sound words of our Lord Christ, we keep one other from going off course and getting tossed around by false teaching and worldly philosophy. My heart trembles for those who leave this church because they don't like the teaching. They abandon the steady, upright ship of sound doctrine and follow whatever dingy false teacher blows in their ear the right way, potentially making a shipwreck of their faith.
We protect and take care of one another. Ephesians 4 goes on to say that "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
If you think you are the more mature among your brothers and sisters, you have an obligation to consider their need for spiritual maturity. Romans 15:1-2, "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." We as the body of Christ consider one another spiritually.
From Now On, Therefore...
"From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh." Why do we regard no one according to the flesh? Because we've been reconciled. We've been reconciled to God and to one another. Once we were hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3), but since coming to Christ, we are a new creation. The old has passed away, and the new has come.
In the previous verse, 2 Corinthians 5:15, we read, "He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised." The "all" for whom Christ has died, in the context of this verse, is His church. Those who are not part of the church have not been reconciled. Those who are part of the church have been reconciled. They've been reconciled to God and to the people of God. Now we as His church have been commissioned with the ministry of reconciliation.
When we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, essentially what we are preaching is what Paul says here in verse 20: "Be reconciled to God." When Jesus began preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17), what He was saying was essentially, "Be reconciled to God." Not just when we preach the gospel to unbelievers, but even when we correct a brother or sister who is walking in sin, we are saying to one another, "Be reconciled to God."
Since we who are in Christ have been reconciled -- once at enmity with God and now we are friends of God, through the forgiveness that is given in Christ Jesus -- once at enmity with one another and now one in Christ Jesus -- we regard no one according to the flesh.
What does it mean that we once regarded one another according to the flesh, and now we regard no one according to the flesh? To "regard" means to consider or think of someone a certain way. The Greek word here is oidamen which means to perceive something as though you would see it with your physical eyes.
We might think of the expression, "I see what you mean," or "I see what you are saying." You're not physically seeing what a person is saying, but you now understand what they are saying with such clarity, it's as though you could perceive it with your physical senses, but with your mind's eye. In Romans 12:2 we are told to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and Philippians 2:5 says to have the mind of Christ.
So having a mind that is being renewed and conformed to Christ, we regard or we see no one according to the flesh. Now, there's certainly a sense here in which "no one" refers to the body of Christ. There's no one in the church whom we should regard according to the flesh. That's been the context of this passage, and that certainly applies. But let me ask you: having been given a mind that is being conformed to Christ, is there anyone whom you should regard according to their flesh?
When you look at a person, you may deduce that this person is either saved -- from the judgement of God by faith in the person and work Jesus Christ -- or they are not saved, and are therefore still under the wrath of God. Your concern is for their soul. You consider the soul, not the flesh.
Not the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their nationality, whether they're a republican or democrat, a nerd or a jock, a K-State fan or a KU fan, or even if they're a man or a woman. You see a person who either knows Christ or needs to know Him. This is how you regard every person you meet. You regard their spiritual position with God, not their physical position in the world. And so in this way, you regard no one according to the flesh.
Regard No One According to the Flesh
To regard someone according to their flesh means that you would consider their place in the world according to worldly standards and values as though their present physical life is all that matters. But it doesn't matter. In the eternal scheme of things, your skin color, your nationality, even your native tongue -- these things will not matter in eternity. When the book of Revelation says that people from every nation will worship God, what's described for us is not different colored people in different languages singing praise. They are one people lifting up one voice. Even now, we who are the church are called "a chosen race" and "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).
My friends, race and nationalities are a result of the fall. Different languages and even different skin colors happened after the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 when God confused the languages of sinful men and they scattered to settle in different places over the whole earth. This resulted in the different nations, each speaking a different language.
People who settled closer to the equator, where the weather is hotter and the sunlight more direct, over time their skin, hair, and eyes became darker. People who settled further north, where the weather is cooler and cloudier and the sun is less offensive, their skin, hair, and eyes became lighter. Groups of people that lived in close proximity with one another began taking on similar physical traits. But every single person on earth is still descended from one man, and that's Adam.
As Paul preached to a bunch of pagans in Acts 17, God "made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place." Paul went on to say, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the whole world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead."
When it comes down to it, and as I've heard Dr. Voddie Baucham preach, there are only two races. There's the race of the first Adam, and there's the race of the last Adam, who is Christ. We who are part of the race of the last Adam are reconciled to God, and we desire that those who are of the race of the first Adam be reconciled to God. In this way, we regard no one according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. We consider the soul of the individual, not their outward appearance.
Colossians 3:9-10, "Having put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."
Galatians 3:26-29, "In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ hav eput on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave not free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."
Now then, what are the practical implications of this? Well, we've talked about one already -- that we would view one another as either recipients of the gospel or someone who needs to receive the gospel. There should be no prejudice when it comes to preaching the gospel. There should be no prejudice when it comes to living out the effects of the gospel. We are all one in Christ. There is no regard according to the flesh.
And understand, when I say that we regard no one according to the flesh, I'm not saying there aren't boundaries. You would not raise a son the same way you would raise daughter -- at least you shouldn't, much to the chagrin of our culture. The Bible does detail for us roles that God has specifically for men, and roles that He specifically has for women. Men will not ever give birth to babies. God has designed that right only for women.
But when it comes to if a person is saved or if a person is not saved, or when it comes down to who is a recipient of the kingdom, these things are not determined by the flesh. Women are just as much inheritors of the kingdom of God as men are. Whether you're male or female, single or married, young or old, a pastor of a layman, everyone who is in Christ is an heir of the kingdom. Your flesh does not determine your eternity. Jesus does.
But those who are of the world do regard others according to the flesh. And here is where we must be careful. Though we are citizens of heaven, we still traverse this earth in bodies of flesh, and we are susceptible to the temptations of the flesh.
Romans 8:5 says, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." Galatians 5:17 says, "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."
If you are in Christ, you want to regard no one according to the flesh. But as you wrestle with the flesh, there is a temptation to regard others according to the flesh. You probably already did that this morning. You saw someone walking your way you didn't want to talk to, so you ducked down another hallway to avoid them. You must resist the temptation to be so prejudiced, for to regard your brothers and sisters in the Lord according to the flesh will divide the body of Christ, not unify it.
The Social Justice Movement
There is an incredibly persuasive movement in the western world today that has made its way into the church. It is known as the social justice movement. This is a radically prejudiced movement that regards others only according to the flesh, and its arguments are so sneaky that it has taken hold of the church, even our own Southern Baptist Convention.
Now, I want to be careful here, because in saying that the social justice movement has taken hold of the church, I am not saying that those who have been sucked into it aren't Christians -- that they are of the flesh and not of the Spirit. That is not what I mean to say. But though they have a desire to please God, in their flesh they have stumbled into something worldly minded, not heavenly minded.
They are like Peter who was rebuked by our Lord saying, "You are thinking with the mind of man and not with the mind of God." The church needs to be alerted to the dangers of the social justice movement so that they would repent of it and return to being a kingdom-minded people. Likewise, I say this to you to warn you not to get sucked in to such a worldview of the flesh.
To quote again from Dr. Voddie Baucham: "If the social justice movement went by its actual name, young Christians would not have been lured into it. Because the social justice movement is actually cultural Marxism under a new name. There's no such thing as social justice, people. Because in the Bible justice never has an adjective. There's justice and there's injustice, but there are not different kinds of justice. Something is either just or it is unjust."
The social justice movement is about putting people into various constituencies, which would be like voting blocks or demographics, only these constituencies are labeled according to their social struggles or their victim-status. Human dignity is taken from those people who have less of a victim-status and it's given to those who have more of a victim-status. It is arbitrary and subjective. It's tribal, motivated by cultural outrage and a sense of "I'm not getting what I deserve."
Another name for this is intersectionality, which works like this: Are you a white male? Then you are a person of privilege, and you don't have a very high victim-status. Are you a less privileged single black mom? You're single, you're black, and you're a mom. There's three victim statuses right there, and you are worthy of more human dignity than the white male. Are you a gay young man questioning your gender identity? Then you've been living under oppression with the least amount of opportunities, and you deserve more dignity than all the rest. We will even change the laws to accommodate you.
Going through these examples, perhaps you recognize that the character of people is being determined not by who they are as individuals but by the constituency that they belong to. The social justice movement has as its highest goal to achieve a certain equality between these different groups, which they will never actually attain. Someone will always believe they are not getting what they deserve. The only way that people will be reconciled to one another is through the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the only way. Unity cannot happen without the gospel.
Right Theology Unifies, Wrong Theology Divides
Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church in the Atlanta area, made the statement earlier this year that unity was more important than being theologically correct. On the contrary, there is no unity without right theology. Theology is everything. If you've ever made the statement, "Well, I'm a spiritual person, I'm just not very theological," you've just made a theological statement. Whenever you open your mouth and talk about God, you are being theological. If your theology is not grounded in right orthodoxy, you might be a heretic. There is no unity without Christ. Yet people will go on trying to force unity based on appearances and not right biblical doctrine.
I've read dozens of articles implying that if my church does not have a certain ethnic variety, then we're still racially segregated and not fulfilling the great commission. Folks, I have nothing to do with the color of people in my church. That's a work of the Spirit of God. When I stand up here, I don't see shades of melanin. I see people who need to hear the gospel today. If you have ever walked into a church, and you have judged that church because everyone's skin was the same color, I've got news for you. The church you're attending isn't racist. You are!
At the conference Together for the Gospel held earlier this year in Louisville, KY, David Platt, outgoing president of the International Missions Board, said, "Why are so many of our churches so white? Why are many of our institutions, seminaries, and missions, so white? Why is this conference so white?" If this truly troubled Dr. Platt so much, I wonder why he didn't give up his position as a speaker and let someone else preach who wasn't so white.
Now, there are churches in America where racism exists. I could even tell you stories. But these are matters that need to be handled the same way we deal with any sin in the church -- following the guidelines that Christ has set before us for confronting sin in an offending brother (Matthew 18:15-20, Titus 3:10-11). We handle these things on a case by case basis. As Paul instructed, we should not consider one another as enemies, but warning each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:15).
But the social justice mindset takes individual responsibility out of church discipline. Everyone belongs to certain groups and everyone's experiences in that group are the same. Whatever one person has experienced, everyone in that group has experienced, whether good or bad. Furthermore, everyone's sins are the same. If a constituency is labeled as being at fault for the struggles experienced in another constituency, then everyone in that first constituency is guilty.
For example, the secular notion of "white privilege," which insists that white people in America inherently have a societal advantage over black people, with more opportunities and privileges irrespective of wealth, gender, or other factors. The social justice movement considers white privilege a cultural fact, as undeniable as water is wet. White people just have it better, and they owe something to people who aren't white, especially black people whose ancestors were enslaved by white people. If you deny this, you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.
What if a black man denies that white privilege is a thing? Well, according to Matt Chandler, Pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, TX, that black man is probably "trying to win approval or position." That is an incredibly prejudiced and disparaging comment. Even black people are not allowed to disagree with this approach or they are an embarrassment to their own race.
Samuel Sey, a Ghanaian-Canadian ministering in Toronto, has been outspoken against the counter-biblical narrative of intersectionality, white privilege, and social justice. In an article he wrote this past week, he said, "My inbox is full of angry words from white people who use racial slurs against me because they supposedly love black people."
This isn't unifying the church. It's tearing us apart. The Holy Spirit warns, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people, who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth" (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Tell me that doesn't describe what's happening.
Following the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Thabiti Anyabwile, a Southern Baptist minister in the Washington D.C. area, wrote an article entitled We Await Repentence for Assassinating Dr. King. In the article he said, "My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents in this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice."
Yes, you heard that right. Your parents and grandparents were complicit in the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. -- not James Earl Ray, who actually pulled the trigger. If we truly want to be reconciled to one another, you need to apologize for Dr. King's murder.
Again, in the social justice mindset, you're part of a constituency, and you're responsible for all the actions of everyone else in the constituency that someone stuck you in. This relational mentality is beneath us as Christians. When we're slanderous of one another in this way, suspecting one another of evils another person isn't guilty of, it causes dissension and constant friction. This is not the ministry of reconciliation -- it is division.
This past week, Intervarsity Press, one of the largest publishers of Christian books, announced an upcoming book entitled, Can White People be Saved?
At The Gospel Coalition Women's conference last month in Indianapolis, a break-out session for women of color was held, and ahead of the conference it was explicitly asked that white women not attend. Folks, this wasn't okay when white people were guilty of this kind of segregation, and it's not okay for black people to do it either -- especially under the banner of "the gospel."
On July 4, Dr. Eric Mason, part of the Acts 29 network and a pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, said that when we forget about racial injustice and slavery in the United States, "we miss a key component of the gospel!" What does that mean? Racial injustice and slaver are key components of the gospel? Does that mean that we have to teach people about Civil War era slavery in order for them to truly be saved?
Ray Orlund Jr., one of the contributors to the study notes in the ESV study Bible, said this past May, "Moses renounced his social privilege, choosing to be mistreated with God's people. He didn't just decry his privilege; he crossed the line and left it behind, identifying with outsiders. And the Bible calls this saving faith."
Friends, not only is that not the story of Moses, renouncing social privilege and identifying with outsiders is not saving faith. It's bordering on heresy to add to the gospel in this way. I could give you more examples. This is happening over and over and over again. The language of the culture is beginning to infiltrate how the gospel is preached. This is not just affecting issues concerning race, it is also affecting issues concerning gender, and it is affecting issues concerning sexuality.
Just a few days ago, Brandon Robertson, a pastor in San Diego and a contributor to NBC and Time Magazine, said, "Folks think that they must either choose racial justice or LGBT+ justice. BOTH are inextricably linked and without justice for both, you’ll achieve justice for neither." The social justice movement is just another back door to usher in LGBT inclusivism. If we're not careful, we're playing right into the devil's hands.
Reconciled Through the Gospel
Now, I will grant you that some people are born into more privilege than others, and some have lives that are harder than others. That reality is certainly not lost on me. If you are born in the United States of America, you're already born into a position of privilege compared with most of the world.
But the Bible does not say it's the job of the church to ensure everyone has equal opportunity and privilege. The church has been called to preach the gospel. You are never promised your earthly situation will improve when you come to Christ. In fact, Jesus said the road will get more difficult when you become His follower. Broad is the way that leads to destruction and many will find that way because that's the easy way (Matthew 7:13-14).
As you walk this narrow way, you have the privilege of walking with others who have been called to this path. The Bible assures us that God is with us every step of the way. As we read at the start of our study in 2 Corinthians, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
You've been comforted, so you might be able to comfort others who need comforted. And no matter how dire your situation gets, you need to remember, "that this was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:8). Maybe your earthly situation won't improve, but your heavenly situation has certainly improved.
The Bible says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace which surpasses all understand will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7). And need I remind you, Paul wrote that when he was in prison for preaching the gospel.
We must love each other as individuals, not as constituencies. In Romans 12:15, we are told, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly." Show no partiality. Regard no one according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit of our God, in whom we have been reconciled through Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 4:1-6, the Apostle Paul wrote, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."