Most people can relate to the experience of getting a new car—whether it is one with no miles on the odometer or a gently-used vehicle. It is new to us, a big investment, and usually something that we have been anticipating for a while. When we find the right car, everything comes together: it looks great, drives well and smells nice. The only problem (besides the payment) is—it doesn’t stay that way.
It doesn’t take long before the newness wears off. The car gets a scratch or a ding on it, the smooth ride becomes a little bumpy, and the headlights turn dull. And one day as you get in you notice that the new car smell has been replaced by a stale odor of some kind.
This problem isn’t limited to automobiles. It applies to everything from new houses to new clothes. What excites us when we try it, looks marvelous when we buy it, begins to immediately deteriorate and depreciate right away. The computer we purchase is outdated almost from the time we leave the store. The book we bought immediately becomes “used.” New is wonderful—it just doesn’t last long.
In the New Testament, there are two words that are used predominately for new. One is “neos.” Neos is a quantitative term used for something new in time like a fresh coat of paint or a new day. The other word is “kainos” and it is a qualitative term. You move into a different neighborhood. It wasn’t built recently so it is not neos, but it is different in several ways from your previous neighborhood so it is kainos. When a person enters college it is neos (for a while) but it continues to be kainos because the curriculum and requirements are different than high school.
When Paul speaks of disciples as “new creation” (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17), he uses the word kainos because it is not the fact that they have recently become followers he is emphasizing (that may or may not have been so), but the truth that in Christ their life is now of a completely different quality. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Unlike cars, houses, and clothes, this newness doesn’t deteriorate or depreciate. Time has no effect on it. The newness disciples experience has nothing to do with chronology and everything to do with their relationship with Jesus (i.e., being “in Christ”). Life has changed radically and as long as they remain in Him, they remain radically new.
What’s involved in this newness? It consists of everything that goes along with being a child of the King—forgiveness of sin, the Spirit’s presence and work in our lives, citizenship in heaven, a glorious future, etc. In other words—life as it was meant by God to be (John 10:10). We are no longer trapped in our old existence, we are liberated through the new life God has given us.
This is important to remember because we don’t always feel “new,” do we? But our feelings aren’t to be the ultimate arbiter of reality. They are real; they just aren’t always accurate. It’s always preferable to look at our experiences in light of the biblical witness rather than trying to shape God’s word to conform to our experiences.