In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul sums up the big picture of God’s mission with one key word: reconcile.
THE RECONCILED BECOME RECONCILERS
God did two things for Paul. First, he reconciled Paul to himself through Christ, and second, he gave him “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). This is an amazing statement. The reconciled become reconcilers. Reconcile means “to bring back to friendship after estrangement, to harmonize.” The picture is to re-establish an original peace that once existed.
In Paul’s writings, God is always the reconciler. Those in need of reconciliation are hostile human beings—us (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 5:10-11). The initiative is with God who changes a relationship of enmity to one of friendship, and this is accomplished through Christ, through his death on the cross.
GOD INITIATES RECONCILIATION
The essence of the message Paul proclaimed as a minister of reconciliation is spelled out in verses 19-20: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ…” The text can mean, “God was inChrist, reconciling the world to himself” or “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ.” The first focuses on the incarnation (“God in Christ”) and the second stresses redemption (“God was reconciling”). Either way, one thing is emphatic: “Godwas reconciling to himself.” God is the initiator of reconciliation. The recipient is the world, and this means that reconciliation is comprehensive and all-encompassing.
By dealing with our sin at the cross, Jesus made reconciliation between God and humanity possible, as well as reconciliation with one another.
Reconciliation occurs because “God does not count their sins against them” (v. 19). To “count against them” in the world of commerce referred to calculating the amount of a debt. Today we might think of charges on a credit card for which we are held legally responsible. Here it means not posting debts to our account that should rightfully be ours.
GOD SENDS HUMAN AMBASSADORS
Paul was to serve as one of Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador was and is someone who represented the interests of his or her nation abroad. In the Old Testament, the range of duties included offering congratulations, asking favors, making alliances, and protesting wrongful actions. Paul was similarly appointed by God to administer the gospel on Christ’s behalf. It is as though God himself were making a personal and direct appeal through Paul to others (v. 20).
WHAT IT MEANS TO “BE RECONCILED”
Reconciliation is both an accomplished fact (v. 18) and a continuing process (v. 19). Although it is a done deed as a result of Christ’s work on the cross, it nonetheless must be personally appropriated. This is where Paul and the gospel ministry fit into the picture. He (and we) function as God’s agents in proclaiming what has been accomplished. To use Paul’s language, God has appointed us to preach the word of reconciliation (v. 19) and so we proclaim: Be reconciled to God (v. 20).
Two important things need to be noted. First, the verb is passive. It is not that we must reconcile ourselves to God. Rather, we are to be reconciled, that is, to accept what God has already achieved. Second, our job is not to bring about reconciliation, but to announce what has already occurred. In a real sense, we are the town crier or herald proclaiming a news item—good news—of earth-shaking significance.
HOW IS RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE?
The reason trespasses are not credited to our account is that, for our sake, God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (v. 21). Christ had no sin. He was tempted as we are “yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15); one “set apart from sinners” (Heb 7:26).
How was Christ “made sin” for us? There are three major ways:
- The first is to understand made sin as “treated as a sinner.” As our substitute, Christ came to stand in that relation with God which normally is the result of sin, that is, estranged from God and the object of his wrath
- The second is to identify made sin with Christ’s assuming a human nature. Through the incarnation Christ was made “in the likeness of sinful man” (Rom 8:3)
- The third is to interpret verse 21 sacrificially as “made to be a sin offering.” This draws on the Old Testament notion that God made the life of his servant a guilt offering (Is 53:10)
So closely did Christ identify with the plight of humanity that their sin became his sin. By dealing with our sin at the cross, Jesus made reconciliation between God and humanity possible, as well as reconciliation with one another.
Want to work towards world peace? Follow Paul’s lead and tell people about the peace and reconciliation that Jesus has already accomplished.
Always seeking your joy,