Sometimes, in this consumer culture of ours, we seem obsessed with the new. We wait with bated breath for the next iPhone or iPad release; we’re impatient with our old cars; we pounce on the latest and coolest gadgets.
Moreover, we live in a state of constant technological flux. In our house, for example, we have one laptop that runs Windows Vista, another that runs Windows 7, and a desktop we bought only a year ago that ran Windows 8, was quickly upgraded to 8.1, and is now running version 10. (Don’t ask me what happened to Windows “9.” I’m still assimilating the fact that some techies insist that 8, 8.1 and 10 are really versions 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4.)
It’s ironic, then, that we often cling to old, outmoded ways of thinking even after reality has changed.
“Conversion.” We use the word to describe what happens when someone becomes a Christian, praying to accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior. But what’s really converted or changed? Is it now You, version 1.1 — basically the same person with a few tweaks — or truly v 2.0 ?
According to Paul, it’s 2.0 and then some.
In a well-known and oft-quoted verse from the book of Romans, Paul counsels that we should not be “conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (12:2, CEB). These aren’t just instructions for others, but a description of his own experience, as reflected in Second Corinthians:
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. (2 Cor 5:16, NRSV)
Literally, Paul says that he no longer knows Christ or others “according to the flesh,” that is, according to worldly ways of thinking. He may well have been remembering his own conversion on the Damascus road. Up to that moment, he had considered Christ to be a fraud, and his followers subversives. But that single fateful encounter turned his world inside out.
You may have had the experience of assuming things were one way, and then finding out you were wrong — dead wrong. Depending on the importance of the error, everything may suddenly look different: your whole perspective undergoes conversion.
Imagine, then, Paul (or at that point, Saul) the Pharisee scoffing derisively at the idea of a crucified Messiah: Everyone knows that someone who dies that way is cursed by God. This Jesus, the Messiah? Sacrilege.
Then he meets the risen Jesus, and the light of revelation begins to shine: He was indeed cursed — but that’s the point. I was the one who deserved the curse, and he bore that curse for me.
That’s why the post-Damascus Paul writes: “we are convinced that one has died for all… From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:14, 16, NRSV) — especially Jesus himself.
Jesus is not who Paul thought he was. Does that humbling lesson generalize? Could it be that our ways of thinking about ourselves and other people are still worldly, still needing conversion, still stuck in version 1.0?
We’ll push the question further in the next post.