God is a Creator. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in them out of nothing (Genesis 1:1-31). “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (v. 3). In a similar way, God creates spiritual life and light in the hearts of men, and actually changes the human heart so that it can receive Him (Ezekiel 36:26). This is called regeneration, and occurs by the Spirit of God (John 3:5-8). The regenerated person believes and is “in Christ” at which point he has become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is a new entity, the same way that a newborn baby is a new person. The old man has gone away, and a new man has arrived.
What does this mean, in practical terms? How is this experienced? What does it feel like to become “a new creation”? Is it scary, or like an out-of-body experience? Are we brainwashed by God? What does it mean to be regenerated, and be given a “heart of flesh” as the prophet says? Becoming a new creation is not like brainwashing; there is nothing frightening about it. It is more like being restored to health. When Adam and Eve sinned, human beings lost their close connection to God. Regeneration restores that connection, making it possible for God’s Spirit to indwell us and flow through us as it was meant to.
However, there are challenges also to becoming a new creation. The flesh, or the physical body and mind, is influenced by Satan, and by the world, and by its own habits built over a lifetime. This flesh fights the “new man” that is created. It was friends with the old self, but the new self is aligned with God’s Spirit, and the flesh can no longer be in control. This creates conflict within (Romans 7:14-23) that the unregenerated person does not experience. Thankfully, God delivers us over time from this “body of death” and does not condemn us when we lose the fight with the flesh (Romans 7:24-8:1). Instead, He continually works on those He has regenerated. We are in a constant state of re-creation (Hebrews 10:14) until we reach heaven and we are glorified, no longer to struggle with sin (Romans 8:30).
The new creation is described in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The word “therefore” refers us back to verses 14-16 where Paul tells us that all believers have died with Christ and no longer live for themselves. Our lives are no longer worldly; they are now spiritual. Our “death” is that of the old sin nature which was nailed to the cross with Christ. It was buried with Him, and just as He was raised up by the Father, so are we raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That new person that was raised up is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as the “new creation.”
To understand the new creation, first we must grasp that it is in fact a creation, something created by God. John 1:13 tells us that this new birth was brought about by the will of God. We did not inherit the new nature, nor did we decide to re-create ourselves anew, nor did God simply clean up our old nature; He created something entirely fresh and unique. The new creation is completely new, brought about from nothing, just as the whole universe was created by God ex nihilo, from nothing. Only the Creator could accomplish such a feat.
Second, “old things have passed away.” The “old” refers to everything that is part of our old nature—natural pride, love of sin, reliance on works, and our former opinions, habits and passions. Most significantly, what we loved has passed away, especially the supreme love of self and with it self-righteousness, self-promotion, and self-justification. The new creature looks outwardly toward Christ instead of inwardly toward self. The old things died, nailed to the cross with our sin nature.