The scriptural theme of our study is 2 Corinthians 5:16-17:
"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!"
Note: The material for this article is derived from Paul and the New Creation by Judith A. Stevens, whose dissertation at Union Theological Seminary in New York was on the Paul's letters to the Corinthians.
Paul believed each follower of Jesus was a New Creation, a term he used refer to a disciple of Christ. In his letters, Paul described three basic characteristics of such a person:
Paul's audience was believers, not unbelievers. He wrote to direct these New Creations in Christ toward some activities and away from others. He used catalogues of vices and virtues to teach which personal qualities were appropriate (virtues), and which were to be avoided (vices). Some of the virtues that he held up were called "fruit of the spirit" These qualities were:
Of course, no person automatically exhibited all of these fruit as soon s/he encountered the risen Christ. Just like a fruit grows on a tree, these qualities developed over time.
The first three fruits, love, joy, and peace, were the most significant of the nine. Paul underlined the necessity of love in (1 Corinthians 13) [standard link]. He said that, without love, even a very good action was not a fruit of the Spirit.
Christian virtues were the result of the Spirit which motivated and empowered believers. The fruit of God's Spirit was to be exercised within the social context of the body of Christ.
Paul used the metaphor of the body of the crucified and risen Christ to promote unity and caring. Solidarity, not uniformity, characterized this unity. Since the body was determined by its parts, both its wholeness and unity lay in its diversity.
Paul advocated a communal system of care that met the needs of each member. His intent was for each person to experience the freedom to be a whole member of the body, with personal integrity intact. Members were to receive honor and respect based not on their social rank but on their status as partakers of the one sacramental loaf. Those of the body who were weaker should be compensated so that they, too, shared power and were free to be virtuous body members.
The freedom Paul advocated was for each member to be free to be who s/he was, not in an individualistic sense, but as a whole person who was gifted by the Spirit and treated with respect and mutual love by the other members.
Paul's description of a New Creation begins with a person's initial transformative encounter with the risen Christ. Paul provides lists of potential virtues each disciple holds as a result of the encounter. He also gives guidelines for the community in which each believer is to practice those virtues. For Paul, these three components provide a full picture of Christian personhood. (Read more background on the New Creation.)
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