Jesus Frees Humanity for a New Life

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 10 August 1988, the Holy Father spoke of St Paul's teaching that redemption by Christ, acting with the power of the Holy Spirit, creates a new man. 

It is worth repeating what we have said in recent catecheses when considering Christ's salvific mission as liberation and Jesus as liberator. What is involved is liberation from sin. Sin is the fundamental evil which imprisons man from within and subjects him to the slavery of the one whom Christ called "the father of lies" (Jn 8:44). At the same time, it involves liberation for the truth, which gives us a share in "the freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). Jesus said, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8:36). The freedom of the children of God derives from the gift of Christ; it endows us with a share in the divine sonship. It confers a share in the life of God.

Consequently, whoever has been set free by Christ not only has his sins forgiven but is raised to a new life. Christ—the author of human liberation—is the creator of a new humanity. In him we become "a new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).

In today's catechesis, we clarify further this aspect of salvific liberation which is the work of Christ. It belongs to the very essence of his messianic mission. Jesus spoke of it himself. In the parable of the Good Shepherd, for example, he said, "I have come that they (the sheep) may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10). He is referring to the abundance of new life which is a sharing in the life of God himself. Again in this way the newness of the humanity of Christ is realized in man as being a new creation.

That is what Jesus says in figurative but evocative language in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar. "'If you only knew the gift of God and who it is who is saying to you "Give me to drink," you would have been the one to ask and he would have given you living water.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, you have no means of reaching down and the well is deep, how could you get this living water?' Jesus replied: 'Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give, will never be thirsty again. The water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him welling up to eternal life'" (Jn 4:10-14).

Jesus also repeated this truth in similar words to the crowd, when he was teaching them during the feast of Tabernacles. "Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me and let whoever believes in me come and drink. As Scripture says, from his breast shall flow a river of living water" (Jn 7:37-38). Rivers of living water are an image of the new life in which men share by virtue of the death of Christ on the cross. The tradition of the Fathers and the liturgy understand in the same sense the text of John which stated that from the side (the heart) of Christ, after his death on the cross there came forth blood and water when a Roman soldier struck his side (cf. Jn 19:34).

According to an interpretation which is dear to many of the oriental Fathers and now accepted by different exegetes, rivers of living water shall also flow from the breast of the man who drinks the water of the truth and grace of Christ. "From the breast" means from the heart. A new heart is created within man as the prophets announced very clearly, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In Jeremiah we read: "This will be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel when those days arrive, says the Lord. I will plant my law and write it in their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33). Ezekiel states even more explicitly: "I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you and make you live according to my precepts and make you observe and keep my laws" (Ez 36:26-27).

It is a question therefore of a profound spiritual transformation which God himself works within man by means of "the breath of his Spirit" (cf. Ez 36:26). The rivers of living water of which Jesus spoke mean the source of a new life which is life in the spirit and in truth, a life worthy of "true adorers of the Father" (Jn 4:23-24).

The writings of the apostles, and in particular the letters of St. Paul, abound in texts on this subject. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old creation has passed away, behold the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17). The fruit of the redemption wrought by Christ is precisely this newness of life. "You have put off the old nature with its practices and you have put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge of God after the image of its Creator" (Col 3:9-10). The old nature is the one subjected to sin while the new nature is the one which, thanks to Christ, recovers its original dignity of being made in the image and likeness of its creator (Col 3:9-10). Hence this energetic exhortation of the Apostle to overcome everything in each one of us which is sin and the inheritance of sin: "But now you, of all people, must give up all these things: getting angry, being bad-tempered, spitefulness, abusive language and dirty talk, and never tell each other lies..." (Col 3:8-9).

A similar exhortation is found in the Letter to the Ephesians: "You must give up your old way of life, you must put aside your old self which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God's way in the goodness and holiness of the truth" (Eph 4:22-24). "We are in fact his work, created in Christ Jesus to live a holy life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it" (Eph 2:10).

Redemption is therefore the new creation in Christ. It is a gift of God—grace—and at the same time it implies a call directed to man. Man must cooperate with the work of spiritual liberation accomplished in him by God by means of Christ. It is true that "through this grace you have been saved through faith, not by anything of your own but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit" (Eph 2:8). Certainly man cannot attribute to himself salvation, that saving liberation which is a gift of God in Christ. Yet at the same time one must see in these gifts the origin of a constant exhortation to act in such a way as to be worthy of such a gift. The full picture of the saving liberation of man involves a profound awareness of the gift of God contained in the cross of Christ and in his redeeming resurrection. At the same time, it involves an awareness of one's own responsibility for that gift: an awareness of the moral and spiritual commitments involved. Here we touch upon the roots of what we can call "the ethos of redemption."

The redemption accomplished by Christ, which acts with the power of his Spirit of Truth (the Spirit of the Father and of the Son) has a personal dimension which is directed to each individual. At the same time, it has an inter-human and social, a communitarian and universal dimension.

This is a subject which we see developed in the Letter to the Ephesians where the reconciliation of the two "parts" of humanity in Christ is described: that is, of Israel, the chosen people of the old covenant, and of all the other peoples of the earth: "He [Christ] is the peace between us and has made the two into one and broken down the barriers which used to keep them apart, actually destroying in his own person the hostility caused by the rules and decrees of the law. This was to create one single new man in himself out of the two [races of men] and by restoring peace through the cross, to unite them both in a single body and reconcile them with God. In his own person he destroyed hostility" (Eph 2:14-16).

That, then, is the definitive dimension of the new creation and of the newness of life in Christ: liberation from division, the breaking down of barriers which separate Israel from the others. In Christ, all people are the chosen people, because in Christ man is chosen. Everyone without exception or difference is reconciled with God and, as a consequence, called to share in the eternal promise of salvation and of life. The whole of humanity is created anew as a "new man" in God's way in the goodness and holiness of the truth" (Eph 4:24). Reconciliation of all with God through Christ must become the reconciliation of all among themselves as a communitarian and universal dimension of redemption, the full expression of the "ethos of redemption."