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.

He is the Potter; You are the clay.

He is the Potter; You are the clay. But, do you have a choice in the hands of the Potter?

Are you the clay, completely passive, turned whichever way – whether you choose that path or not? That is generally how this passage is taught: we’re the clay, He is the Potter, and what we think or want doesn’t matter.

And then we wonder why our lives are such a mess, why we’re in debt up to our necks, why our marriages are failing, and why we never have money to pay our bills. Typically, we blame our problems on someone else rather than formulating a budget or seeking after Jesus.

So let’s look at God’s perspective of your relationship to Him, where you’re the clay, and He’s the Potter.

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying,  

"Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you."  

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. 

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 

"Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. 

"Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.  At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;  {but} if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.  Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  {but} if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it." 

So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 

Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."’

But they will say, 

"It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart." 

Jeremiah   18:1-13

Clay Always Yields – Usually

Perhaps Jeremiah observed that the clay never opposed the Potter; that is our assumption. But the text does not say that the Potter spoiled or ruined the thing being fashioned, just that it was spoiled in his hands. So when that happened, the Potter started over and made the clay into something more pleasing.

In response to this observation, God stated,

Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as the potter does?” — that is to say, can God not make you into something else?

Although the rhetorical answer is yes, this is where most people leave the rails and get confused concerning the analogy, suggesting that our life is left to a capricious fate, seeing that God, as a potter, can mold us into anything He desires –

behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel,”

… but the truth is that He’s not going to. If we want to travel that road, then must assign all of our choices to Him as well: whether they be righteous or unrighteous in nature.

You Have a Choice

There is a vast difference between non-resistant, always yielding clay and us. God revealed this truth when He said, “Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” And Israel echoed the same truth when they said, in their refusal,

it is hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans …” — in other words, some types of clay are not suitable for the design chosen by the Potter.

Israel agreed with God that they were perfect analogs of the clay in the Potter’s hand, that they possess certain inherent qualities within their composition that tend to spoil the design. Perhaps the clay is a bit rocky or has dry spots that require extra water. Or maybe it is simply the wrong clay for the job.

However, God said He has the power to fashion them into whatever He wished, but instead, He would fashion them in response to their actions in His hand. So, in effect, the clay has a mind of its own, a free will, and God responds to our choices.

Yikes.

If that makes you bristle, then reread the following:

If that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. 

Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 

If it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.

Those are clear and indisputable truths regarding how God responds to man’s actions. And it follows perfectly regarding how we – as actual potters – react to the right or wrong type of clay.

Consider again, “if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it,

and

if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.”

In both cases, the object of God’s work (man) chooses a path they will take. And based on how man chooses, God provides a fashion suitable for the clay in hand – He changes His mind regarding the good or the calamity He initially chose.

Useful vs. Non-useful

The point of the story is twofold. First, the only time one is molded into a useful shape by God is when one behaves like good clay and yields to His desires. In the process of God making us into the image of Christ, there is a two-way communication. God leads in one direction, and we yield and follow.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24)

Secondly, one is not molded into a useful shape by God when one refuses to yield to His leadership. When we refuse to yield, by following our desires instead of His, we reap the evils of what we have sown.

A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

As bad clay will do, the pot of Proverbs 29:1 did not retain its shape as it dried.

So, the only time you’re an actual representation of the clay being made into something useful is when you yield to His will by taking up your cross and following Him.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31-32)

Let me ask this question: if you continue in His word, will you be a disciple of Him, will you know the truth, and will that truth make you free? Assuming the answer is yes, then what made you free? Grace made you free, God made you free, and your response to His power made you free.

On the other hand, if you do not continue in His word, are you then His disciple? Will you know the truth, and will it make you free? The answer is no: you are not His disciple; you will believe a lie, and the lie will put you into bondage.

It’s about how you choose to Respond

Therefore, you must answer this: do you really have no will in your relationship with God? Are you the result of fatalism, as generic clay in the hand of a capricious potter?

Truthfully, you do have a choice. Otherwise, God would not have said,

Oh, turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.

Look at your life, your circumstances, and your relationship with God. What do these things reflect? Are your circumstances a testimony of a refusal to participate with God or a testimony of your cooperation with God?

Please understand that I’m not advocating the health and wealth doctrine, for we are to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when {we} encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of {our} faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

But there are indicators of our choices all around us. Do you see the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the corruption of the flesh?

Take some time and determine if you’re following Jesus and refusing to be “conformed to this world.”

Determine if are you being “transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect?”

Allow God to make you into a useful vessel by cooperating with Him.