10 Things You Should Know about being Reconciled to God2
We hear and say much about redemption justification and adoption and forgiveness of sins. But when was the last time you heard a sermon about the doctrine of reconciliation? What does it mean to say we are reconciled to God? What does it mean when we appeal to non-believers to be reconciled to God? In this post we’ll look at ten things we all should know about this glorious truth.
(1) The most well-known biblical text on reconciliation is 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. There we read:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
Another important text is in Romans 5.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:10-11).
See also Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:20,22.
(2) We must first reckon with the objective dimension to reconciliation. I can’t recall where I first heard it put in these terms, but I’ve found helpful these different, but related, kinds of reconciliation.
First, John persuades Frank and Tom to give up their anger against one another. John, being a third party, reconciles the two men to each other. Second, Tom persuades Frank to give up his anger against Tom. Third, Frank gives up his own anger against Tom. But we need yet another category to describe what God has done for us. We soon discover that the action God took to reconcile us to himself is of a different order from these three more commonly known forms of reconciliation.
(3) At his own initiative, God removes that which is the cause of his anger against us, namely, our sin. He removes the cause of spiritual alienation by transferring his wrath against us to a proper substitute.
Thus, the objective element in reconciliation refers to the activity of God whereby his enmity or wrath against sinners is consumed by another, namely, our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation, therefore, is the restoration of relationship and spiritual harmony by the removal of whatever was the cause of alienation (i.e., our sin).
(4) The Apostle Paul breaks down the elements in this reconciling work in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. He tells us, first, that it is wholly of God (v. 18a). God took the initiative to sovereignly make possible this reconciliation. Second, he tells us that this is a finished or completed work v. 18b). Third, he tells us that being reconciled means that God does not impute or count our sins against us (v. 19a). Finally, this truth constitutes the message of the gospel that we are responsible to declare to a lost and dying world (vv. 18c,19b).
(5) There is also a subjective dimension to reconciliation. The subjective element refers to the fact that the activity in Christ whereby God disposed of his enmity against us must be received by faith. That is to say, we in turn, by his grace, must dispose of our enmity against him.
(6) Perhaps no one has unpacked and explained this better than James Denney. He writes:
“What is it that makes a Gospel necessary? What is it that the wisdom and love of God undertake to deal with, and do deal with, in that marvelous way which constitutes the Gospel? Is it man's distrust of God? Is it man's dislike, fear, antipathy, spiritual alienation? Not if we accept the Apostle's teaching. The serious thing which makes the Gospel necessary, and the putting away of which constitutes the Gospel, is God's condemnation of the world and its sin; it is God's wrath, 'revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men' (Rom. 1:16-18). The putting away of this is 'reconciliation'; the preaching of this reconciliation is the preaching of the Gospel.
When St. Paul says that God has given him the ministry of reconciliation, he means that he is a preacher of this peace. He ministers reconciliation to the world. . . . It is not the main part of his vocation to tell men to make their peace with God, but to tell them that God has made peace with the world. At bottom, the Gospel is not good advice, but good news. All the good advice it gives is summed up in this – Receive the good news. But if the good news be taken away; if we cannot say, God has made peace, God has dealt seriously with His condemnation of sin, so that it no longer stands in the way of your return to Him; if we cannot say, Here is the reconciliation, receive it, -- then for man's actual state we have no Gospel at all.
When Christ's work was done, the reconciliation of the world was accomplished. When men were called to receive it, they were called to a relation to God, not in which they would no more be against Him – though that is included – but in which they would no more have Him against them. There would be no condemnation thenceforth to those who were in Christ Jesus” (James Denney).
(7) In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we find the foundation of reconciliation and of every saving blessing that is ours:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Here we see, first of all, the role of God the Father in the death of God the Son (Ps. 22:1,15; Isa. 53:4,6,10; cf. Jn. 10:17ff.; Heb. 10:7-10). It was the Father who nailed the Son to the cross (Acts 4:27-28). It was the Father who reckoned the Son guilty of the sins of those for whom he died.
(8) Equally important is the reminder that the Son was not an unwilling victim. He freely and voluntarily and in love offered himself up as a sacrifice for us. See John 10:17ff. and Hebrews 10:7-10. Those who would speak of the death of the Son as an example of “cosmic child abuse” are bordering on blasphemy. The cross of Christ was an altogether loving and collaborative effort on the part of the three persons of the Godhead.
(9) It was not for his own sin that he was judged and died. The Son, whom God made to be sin, “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the sinlessness of God the Son, see John 8:29,46; 9:16; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pt. 1:18-19; 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 3:5; Acts 3:14; 4:27-30. That as God he is without sin goes without saying, “but what is of vital importance for us and our reconciliation is that as Man, that is, in His incarnate state, Christ knew no sin, for only on that ground was He qualified to effect an atonement as Man for man" (Philip Hughes, 212).
(10) Finally, how was Jesus “made” “to be sin” for us? To answer this question we must pay heed to three ways in which sin may be considered. First, sin may be considered in its formal nature as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4); i.e., sin as an act. In this respect we are sinners. Second, sin may be considered as a moral quality inherent in the person who sins; i.e., the sin principle (Rom. 7:14-25). In this respect we are sinful. In neither of these senses can it be said that Jesus was “made . . . to be sin” for us, for he neither committed sin (and thus was not a sinner) nor possessed a nature infected by it (and thus was not sinful).
Third, sin may also be considered in its legal aspect, principally as guilt; i.e., the liability to suffer the penal consequences of the law. It was in this sense, then, that Jesus was “made . . . “to be sin” on our behalf. Said Thomas Hooker:
“Such we are in the sight of God the Father, as is the very Son of God himself. Let it be counted folly or frenzy or fury or whatever. It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this: that man hath sinned and God hath suffered; that God hath made himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God" (Thomas Hooker).