Bruce Banner is a small, meek, educated man. He is not a warrior. Bruce Banner is a scientist, and as a scientist, he is not very well known. The Hulk, however, is famous. He is huge, aggressive, and brave. He is a warrior. The Hulk lives inside of Bruce Banner and comes out from time to time to do what Banner cannot. When caught in a battle, Banner is useless, but the Hulk is a living weapon.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). I am so thankful for this truth. When I put my faith in Christ some 14 years ago I thought different, talked different, and had new passions and desires. I was truly a new creation. The trouble didn’t come until years later.
Rather than seeing myself as Shaun, a new creation in Christ; I saw myself as a new Shaun. I’ve had many people tell me over the years how impressed they are by how I have turned my life around – by how I have changed. That is a nice sentiment, but the truth is I have not really changed at all. Deep down, I am still Shaun. The old Shaun still lives down in there and is daily trying to claw his way out.
And, sadly, when he does make his way out, I am reminded of who I am apart from Christ. The old Shaun is the one waging war against the Spirit within me (Romans 7:22-23). The only hope I really have in living as a new creation is in putting the old Shaun to death daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). He needs to be stripped off regularly lest he deceive me into living according to my old, sinful desires (Ephesians 4:22).
Self-help books are popular. Everyone loves learning 10 ways to improve their marriage, sex-life, finances, and a litany of other things. We like to make changes to ourselves and pride ourselves in how well we have done; how far we have come along. Self-help is appealing to the world but an enemy to the child of God. It is when we believe in ourselves that we lose who we are in Christ.
Paul did not simply say we are new creations, he said we are new creations “in Christ.” Jesus is the strength that lies within. He is not only the One who makes us new, He is the newness in us. Jesus Himself said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) To be in Christ is to abide in Christ. To abide in Christ is to so live our lives in Him that He lives His life through us. And apart from our being in Christ in this way we can do nothing of what He can do through us.
In a self-help culture where we pride ourselves on our inner strength, the message of the cross is completely counter intuitive. At the cross Jesus did what we could not do by taking our sin on His sinless self and nailing it to the cross. He offered us His righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness. We add nothing to this exchange.
Further, Jesus then tells us to link ourselves to Him in such a way that He can live for us as we rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-29). What we struggle to do is to let Jesus be the all-in-all. We try to earn our righteousness. We try to live out His sinlessness. And we try to do this on our own to prove that we are strong enough.
The Apostle Paul struggled with this too. We don’t know what it was that he was ailing from – whether sin or infirmity – but we do know that he wanted to be strong enough not to struggle anymore. Jesus’ response to this Super Apostle is a lesson for all of us. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV) Jesus didn’t tell Paul to muscle up and pull his weight, He told him to let go and allow Him to do the pulling.
We don’t know how long it took for Paul to yield in this way to Christ, but we do know that when he finally did his tune was changed from help me be stronger to this: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NKJV)
Our greatest strength does not reside within ourselves. Even as new creations, we still need to remain in Christ. Apart from Him the old man lies lurking in the shadows, just waiting to make a comeback. Don’t make it your aim to be a better you. Make it your aim to see less and less of you. For, as with John the Baptist, the more I decrease, the more He increases (John 3:30). And the more He increases, the more of the new creation the world can see.