One of my pet hates is when I hear people taking Bible verses out of context. You can make the Bible say anything you like if you take a verse or a line and quote it on its own without considering the wider context in which it appears. Like the Puritan preacher who denounced the lofty hairdressing of the time, taking as his text “topknot, come down.” When the Scriptures were examined it was found that he was misquoting Matthew 24:17, “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house.”
By misquoting the Bible you can even prove there’s no God. Scripture says, “There is no God.” Yes, those four words are found in the Bible. The actual quotation is this: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 53:1). Instead of saying God doesn’t exist, the Bible says the exact opposite!
One of the verses I most often hear misquoted is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This verse is frequently ripped out of context to teach that, when you become a Christian, you become a totally new person – that the old has gone and we become completely new. While it is certainly true that when Jesus becomes our Lord and Saviour He forgives our past, our point of conversion does not make “all things new.” We don’t become instantaneously perfect. That’s why the Bible speaks of sanctification – the process of change that is activated by the Holy Spirit and continues for the rest of our life (see Philippians 1:6).
So what is the context of 2 Corinthians 5:17? In this chapter Paul the apostle is teaching on how our view of God and people changes when we become Christians. His theme is the fact that God has reconciled everyone to God through Jesus: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” In verse 16 he says, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” What does this mean? Paul is referring to the way we view God and people before we become Christians and the fact that our view changes when we are converted.
Before I became a Christian I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in God and, to me, Jesus Christ were very expressive swear words. Then I had a powerful experience in which God showed me that He is real and that He really loves me. He didn’t count my sins against (in other words, He didn’t wait for me to become perfect before He accepted me). With unconditional love He came into my life and started a process of change that is still taking place.
Before I became a Christian I lived a very selfish life. I’ve always liked people but I didn’t look for opportunities to help anyone. My life was all about MY happiness, MY satisfaction and ME. After becoming a Christian that all changed. Suddenly I was a new person. The old selfish Rob Buckingham had gone and the new Rob Buckingham was interested in helping people, making the world a better place, and letting others know that because of Jesus, they can be reconciled to God as well – that He won’t count their sins against them either, and neither will I.
That’s what Paul is teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Not that we become perfect but rather that our attitude to God and others becomes new when Jesus is in our lives.
May I encourage you, as you read and study the Bible, to always consider the context of the verses you read. Ask yourself what the original author wanted to communicate with his original readers and then find how that truth or principle can work in your life today.