I am not a Butterfly

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

When trying to find an analogy for the new life in Messiah, preachers seem to always pick the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis as their prime example and best proof-text of how to explain what it means to be a “new creature.”   They apparently think it’s a good analogy because it demonstrates a creature of one type becoming a creature of another type, which does seem to fit the pattern being described by Paul in this instance.

It No-Worky-For-Me

The problem, as I see it, is that I’m not a butterfly. I don’t understand what it means to be a caterpillar, to gorge myself on leaves, spin a cocoon, and hope for the best, that I might later emerge as a butterfly and flutter about a flowery field. I don’t know about you, but that’s just not in my realm of possibilities, let alone personal experience.

I suppose the main problem I have with this analogy is that it requires too much imagination. While we can clearly observe the changes that have taken place in the metamorphic process, I really have no idea what it’s like from the perspective of the caterpillar nor from the reborn butterfly. I can assume that the caterpillar likes to crawl around on trees and eat leaves, for that’s what I know of its existence. I can further assume that the butterfly likes to flutter about in the wind and light upon various types of flowers for lunch and dinner.

But, can Legalism be the end?

The butterfly and the caterpillar do different things by mode of their basic natures. We could say that the spirit of both creatures is entirely different. But for the struggling child of God, the one who doesn’t understand the nature of their battles, they will take this metamorphic example and force themselves into different behaviors. They clothe themselves with Man’s righteousness and Man’s laws: don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t handle (Colosians 2:20) or my favorite Baptist mantra: “don’t drink or smoke or chew, or go with those that do.”

And so they will begin the journey of self-righteousness and self-flagellation, from which springs the ever so prevalent attitudes that we associate with the sanctimonious.

In the end, we try to apply the new life things we learn from our pastors and Christian cultures by delving into legalism. We observe others, read the Bible, and consciously pick out the right stuff to do, tacking them onto our personalities while hoping and working to make them stick.

A Better Way

Is there a better analogy? I think there is, and I believe scripture provides the appropriate picture.

And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“At last – this is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:22-24

New Creatures in Marriage

When two people are joined in marriage, a new covenant is born within each of them.  They have together a new relationship, a new life.  Their motives change from serving self-interests to serving one another.  The old ways of sharing their heart with different people have been discarded: they now share intimacy with only one person – their spouse.  Before marriage, they lived alone, now they live together.  Before marriage, they sojourned alone, now they sojourn together.  Before marriage, they longed for someone to share their life, now they no longer search for that special companionship. 

You see, the marriage covenant transforms us into new creatures: the old things pass away a little at a time, and the new behaviors appear.

But it also does something else: it shows us that there are things that we carry with us into this new life. The attitudes and beliefs that must be discarded.  While the metamorphic example of the caterpillar is very good at demonstrating the complete and radical change which does take place at the new birth, it lacks what the picture of marriage provides.

The marriage picture =helps us understand that the core of our existence, our new life, is now a new relationship with God that we must tend, cultivate, and protect.

Without a doubt, there are sometimes things that Jesus will completely and radically deliver us from, while there are other things that He leads us through a process of dying to self. But through the process of learning who God is and who we are in Christ, we are delivered from the harmful aspects of our past selves.

And the same is true in marriage.  There are those of us who just have not integrated some of the parameters of the new relationship, but we have a mate who is more than willing to help us see our errors and failures in our understanding of the relationship.  And through grace – that being their willingness to lovingly show us our errors and our response in becoming a new person – we’re able to grow in our relationship with our spouse.

In Summary

So the next time you’re considering what it means to be a new creature, consider the marriage relationship and what exactly it means. Scripture encourages us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that {we} may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Marriage is just like that: we are no longer conformed to the ways of solitude but are continually being transformed into that which is good, acceptable, and perfect for life with a spouse.

The renewing of the mind is a process, it is a journey of relationship with God that we must choose to participate in. It is exactly like renewing our minds in marriage: there is a relationship that requires cultivation, attention, prayer, and grace.