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” (Romans 5:10).
The reconciliation that needs to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in his own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.
The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).
While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to himself was to remove the obstacle that made him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
When the ambassadors of Christ take this message to the world, they say, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be recon- ciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Do they only mean: Change your attitude to God? No, they also mean: Receive the prior work of God in Christ to reconcile himself to you.
Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.
But when we hear the gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove his own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The deci- sive reconciliation happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.