It has seemed to me for a long time that there must be something more to “a new creature” than just the generic definition of the new birth. Yes, a new creature is someone who has been born again but more than this the term involves the distinguishing of a person based on their new identity in Christ rather than by any former Jew or Gentile distinctions.
“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:16, 17.
When Paul said “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” he meant that even though at one time Christ was “not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matt. 15:24, and was “a servant to the circumcision” Rom. 15:8, yet we no longer know Him this way anymore. He is not just “the God of the Jews only” but “of the Gentiles also” Rom. 3:29. While preaching to the Gentiles, Peter affirmed that Christ is now “Lord of all” Acts 10:36 and Paul agreed “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.” Rom. 10:12.
Therefore, to “regard no one according to the flesh” is to no longer show partiality with regard to Jew and Gentile attributes because we no longer know Christ in this way—He is no longer sent exclusively Israel but is now Lord of all who call upon Him. When Paul told the Gentile Christians at Colossae, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” Col. 2:6, he was conveying a principle he taught in all churches: “But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.” 1 Cor. 7:17, 18. What he was saying is that believing Jews do not need to give up their kosher diet and keeping of the Sabbath while at the same time believing Gentiles do not need to begin keeping these Jewish mandates. Everyone should continue to walk as they did when they came to Christ which is why Paul went on to advise the Colossians, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” Col. 2:16.
It is within this Jew/Gentile context that Paul later says, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Col. 3:10, 11. Notice the terms “new man” and “created him.” A new creature is someone who is no longer regarded according to the flesh, i.e. “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free.”
Now listen to what Paul said to the Gentiles in Galatia “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” Gal. 6:15, 16. This “rule” is the principle he taught in all churches. And notice that “a new creation” here is juxtaposed with circumcision and uncircumcision. A new creature, therefore, is a person whose identity is in Christ and whose relationship with God is no longer regarded by whether he is circumcised and walking according to Jewish practices or is uncircumcised and not walking this way.
A parallel statement earlier in Galatians helps shed some more light on this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” Gal. 5:6. This “faith” obviously has Jesus Christ as its object because of what Paul had already been teaching up to this point Gal. 2:16, 3:26. And this “love” must be the commandment he reiterated to them, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Gal. 5:14. It seems that a new creature is anyone circumcised or uncircumcised whose faith is in Christ Jesus and keeps His commandment of love. Again, this corresponds to another parallel statement to the Corinthians: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” 1 Cor. 7:19.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” In keeping with the meaning of the context, the “old things” are more specifically the Jew and Gentile dissimilarities that should no longer cause division since the barrier between them was removed, “and has broken down the middle wall of separation” Eph. 2:14.
That Paul was speaking of Jew and Gentile distinctions in Second Corinthians chapter five is emphasized even more as we read further: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” 2 Cor. 5:19. Christ reconciled everyone to God and not just Jews; “that He might reconcile them both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross” Eph. 2:16. Also, listen to how Paul interpreted Isaiah 49:6- 8 which he quoted in this passage:
Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, Princes also shall worship, Because of the LORD who is faithful, The Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.” Thus says the LORD: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages.”
Christ was given not only to “restore the preserved ones of Israel” but also “as a light to the Gentiles.” So when Paul quoted “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you” then subsequently declared “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Cor. 6:2, he understood this to mean that Gentiles are now accepted by God and can now be saved. This is why he said “if anyone [Jew or Gentile] is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:21-24. A new creature is a person in Christ who has been renewed back to the image of God from the original creation. We were created “according to God” or “in His own image; in the image of God” Gen. 1:27, which is “in true righteousness and holiness.” But sin corrupted the whole creation.
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” Col. 3:9-11. When God created man after His image in true righteousness and holiness, there were no selfish divisions between any people groups. Therefore a new creation is one who has been renewed back to the image of God and walks in love toward all—Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, or slave and free—without partiality. It is a moral transformation that takes place as we are “renewed in knowledge,” specific knowledge gained from Christ’s teaching: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” Eph. 4:20, 21.