STUDY TWELVE: RECONCILIATION
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
We studied previously the concept of substitutionary atonement, drawing attention to the sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Reconciliation is the result of that substitutionary atonement, the end product of the work of Jesus Christ. Let us consider what the Scripture says about it.
A. THE MEANING OF THE WORDS
The verb – katallasso – means to change from enmity to friendship. In reference to the relationship between God and man it occurs only five times in the New Testament [twice in Romans 5:10, three times in 2Corinthians 5:18-20].
The verb – apokatallasso – which means ‘to reconcile completely, to change from one condition to another, so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace’ [Vine], is used only in Ephesians 2:16 and Colossians 1:20-22]
The noun – katallage – refers to ‘a change on the part of one party, induced by an action on the part of another; in the N.T. the reconciliation of men to God by His grace and love in Christ’ [Vine]. This word is used only four times – Romans 5:11; 11:15; 2Corinthians 5:15,19.
A.1 The concept of enmity
The use of the concept of reconciliation presupposes an existing condition of enmity and/or hostility between man and God. We have seen this separation and division in previous studies, and it is this existing negative and hostile relationship that makes salvation necessary.
Task #1: Read these verses
How do they describe the relationship between God and man before conversion to Christ?
Describe the concept of God having enemies in the following verses. What do they do that makes them his enemies? What is the fate of these enemies?
Over the centuries people have questioned whether this enmity is on the part of man towards God, or on the part of God towards man. Some refuse to think of God in terms of ‘enmity’ towards man, but Leon Morris rightly points out:
‘It is important to be clear that there is, on the scriptural view, a definite hostility on the part of God to everything that is evil. Throughout both Old and New Testaments we come across a multiplicity of passages speaking of the ‘wrath of God’, of the divine activity in punishing evil, of the demand for the follower of God to ‘hate evil’, and many similar things. Thus, quite apart from details of interpretation of particular passages, there is strong and consistent teaching that God is active in His opposition to all that is evil…
‘If God really made the universe a moral universe in which punishment follows sin, then He cannot be exempted from responsibility when it does so. We may choose to call the result the outworking of the wrath of God as the scriptural writers do, or we may prefer some other way of putting it, but the important thing is that we do not overlook the fact. Scripture is insistent that God reacts in the strongest possible way to men’s sin. …
‘… the very fact that Christ had to die to reconcile men to God is a witness in itself to the hostility from the divine side, especially since His death is a death which avails for us. “One died for all”, says St Paul, “therefore all died” [2Cor 5:15]. But why should all die? Surely this points to a divine hostility, a divine hostility made manifest in the sentence of death. …
‘ … there is a very real hostility on the part of God to all that is evil’. [p223-5 – The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross’]
B. RECONCILIATION IS GOD’S INITIATIVE - Romans 5:6-11
Task #2: Read Romans 5:6-11. Discuss and answer the following questions.
How does Paul describe pre-conversion human beings in Romans 5:6 to 10?
According to 5:9, what are we saved from through Christ?
Which words indicate the inability of man to initiate a move towards God?
From verses 6 –10 what indicates that it is God who took the initiative to remove the enmity?
From God’s side, what motivated his move to remove the enmity?
What enabled this reconciliation to be implemented?
Discuss and identify the permanence or impermanence of reconciliation.
Because of this reconciliation what does Paul state is the attitude of the reconciled person to God?
Romans 5 teaches us that:
- when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly,
- while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,
- when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, and
- we needed to be saved from God’s wrath.
In both occurrences of ‘reconciled’ in verse 10 the verb is in the passive voice – indicating something that has been done to us by another, outside party.
Thus both Paul’s description of our pre-conversion state, and his choice of the passive voice, clearly indicate that reconciliation is something in which God took the initiative. We were unable to make a move towards God - we were powerless. We were disqualified from making a move towards God - we were sinners. We were unwilling to make a move towards God - we were his enemies. We were, in fact, under God’s wrath. All that was necessary to achieve reconciliation was done by God, through the death of Jesus Christ, while we were still in a state of disempowerment, disqualification and rebellion, and the rightful objects of his wrath.
For Paul, this divine initiative in and implementation of reconciliation is the reason the Christian believer possesses peace, assurance and joy. Our reconciliation with God is not the result of our own efforts or performance; it is exclusively the result of God’s reconciling initiative in and through the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have peace with God [Romans 5:1]. Therefore, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God [Romans 5:2]. Therefore, we have confident assurance of salvation [Romans 5:10]. Therefore, we rejoice in God [Romans 5:11]. All of this is the sure possession of the believer because it depends in its entirety on the initiative God took to reconcile us to himself.
We need also to note that ‘reconciliation’ is something that is ‘received’ [5:11]. It exists objectively – provided in the death of Jesus Christ – and it is given to us along with Jesus Christ. Like forgiveness it is not an on-again-off-again state fluctuating with our fluctuating spirituality. It is a permanent gift, a permanently changed relationship with God that depends not on us but on the gift and initiative of God in Christ. Paul stresses this point strongly in verses 10 and 11. There is a permanence and objectivity to reconciliation of which, it would seem, the Roman Christians needed to be reminded. So also does contemporary Christianity.
Task #3: Implications of reconciliation
Reconciliation is the result of God’s initiative: What are the implications of this for your daily relationship with God. Take Romans 5:10-11 into account in your conclusions.
C. RECONCILIATION INITIATES A RADICALLY NEW RELATIONSHIP - 2Corinthians 5:14-6:2
Task #4: Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2. Discuss and answer the following questions.
How is the concept of substitutionary atonement expressed in this passage? [It is in 3 verses.]
What is the relationship between reconciliation and substitutionary atonement?
Which verses teach that those who are ‘in Christ’ are in a radically new relationship with God, and how is this expressed?
Discuss and describe the significance for reconciliation, of the phrase ‘not counting men’s sins against them’ [verse19].
What is there in this passage to indicate that the Corinthian believers to whom Paul wrote had not fully understood, or had lost sight of, this concept of reconciliation?
In 2Corinthians 5:16 Paul remembers the time when he and others regarded Jesus Christ purely as he appeared to the human eye - the Greek text translates according to flesh. With his mind still blinded by Satan [2Corinthians 4:4], Paul [then Saul, the unbeliever] considered Jesus a human being blasphemously claiming to be equal with God. When the risen Lord revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus [Acts 9] Paul underwent what in modern speech, could well be called a complete, comprehensive, all-embracing paradigm shift. His understanding of Christ, his understanding of man’s relationship to God, his comprehension of the way of salvation, his attitude to others, his value system - everything was radically changed. Seeing Christ differently he now sees everything differently.
No longer does he judge Christ by human criteria.
No longer does he view the death of Christ as the just punishment of a blasphemous man.
No longer does he sum people up on the basis of their performance.
No longer does he judge a person’s relationship with God on the basis of their personal sins or personal righteousness.
Just as his vision of the exalted Lord Jesus changed for ever his knowledge and assessment of Christ and his cross, so too has it changed forever his attitude to and assessment of people: ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ [2Corinthians 5:17]. Literally, the Greek text translates if anyone is in Christ, new creation. If anyone is in Christ it’s a whole new ball-game, a whole new set up, a whole new world. The old order has gone away. The new has come.
The person who knows who Jesus Christ really is [5:16] also understands that those who are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ in which he bore our sin [5:21] exist in a completely new relationship with God. Outwardly, according to the flesh, Jesus looked just like any man, yet he was God. Outwardly, according to the flesh, believers look just like any other humans, yet, because of the reconciliation achieved by the sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ, they live in an entirely new set up. No longer do they have to strive to attain and maintain God’s acceptance on the basis of who they are and what they can do. No longer are their sins held against them [5:19]. No longer does the death penalty for sin hang over them [5:14,15]. No longer is there a state of enmity between them and God.
This new set up, this new creation, in which the believer lives because of reconciliation, is called ‘the time of God’s favour’ and ‘the day of salvation’ [6:2]. It is the gift of God’s grace [6:1], and Paul exhorts us not to receive it ‘in vain’. Let us not give lip service to this wonder of reconciliation, then go our way as if nothing has changed, as if we are still under God’s wrath, as if we still have to relate to God and to each other on the basis of our performance, still held accountable, and holding others accountable, for sin, still maintaining divisions and enmity because of perceived sin or righteousness. All has changed, everything has become new, because of the reconciliation we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Task #5: Personal reflection
Reconciliation is referred to as being ‘through Christ’ and accomplished ‘in Christ’. This reconciliation, which is in place for every believer, was achieved by God through the sacrificial, substitutionary death of his Son. Read 2Corinthians 5:20 and 6:1-2 again. Seriously consider the urgent need for contemporary Christians to be urged to ‘be reconciled to God’ and to not ‘receive God’s grace in vain’ – because they have failed to understand and to live in the liberty and joy of this ‘time of God’s favour’ and ‘day of salvation’. Search also your own heart: are you living in the reality of this radical new relationship with God, or do you relate to God as if some of your sins are still being counted against you, as though God’s wrath is still upon you? Note any personal comments below.
D. RECONCILIATION: THE REMOVAL OF ALL IMPEDIMENTS - Colossians 1:19-22.
This new relationship with God in which we live in a state of reconciliation is possible because of the removal of the impediments which had made it impossible for God to accept us and for us to live in the presence of God. Prior to Genesis 3 an unimpeded relationship existed between man and God. Sin - rebellion against the authority of God and rejection of his word - severed that relationship, bringing about the situation of powerlessness, disqualification and enmity which Paul defined in Romans 5. From Genesis 3 onwards sin stands as a barrier between man and God, separating man from his Creator, his Source and his Goal.
Into this hopeless situation comes God’s initiative in Christ. Here in Colossians 1 Paul expresses it this way: ‘For God was pleased ... through him to reconcile to himself all things ... by making peace through his blood shed on the cross’ [Colossians 1:19,20]. That incredible action of God at Calvary was God’s eternal plan, God’s deliberate choice: God was pleased. His decision, his choice, his pleasure, because of his great love for us, was to implement this inconceivable process of reconciliation which would involve the removal of all the sin that impeded the restoration of relationship between himself and his sinful creatures.
As we have seen in relation to justification/righteousness and substitutionary atonement the death of Jesus Christ was a death for our sins. He bore the legal penalty due to us. Sin no longer stands in between us and God. Sin can no longer separate us from God. Those who are united with Christ by faith are united with him in his death for sin. Their sin is paid for. There is no more condemnation. There is no more separation from God.
But that is not all. That is but the first part of the reconciliation package which God gives to us in Christ. We read here in Colossians that whereas, before our conversion, we ‘were alienated from God and were enemies in [our] minds because of [our] evil behaviour’ [1:21], now, reconciled to God by the death of Jesus Christ, God presents us to himself ‘holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ [1:22]. Those who are reconciled to God through the death of Christ stand in the presence of God, not only with their sin forgiven, but also clothed in the pure and perfect righteousness of Christ [note a similar concept in 2Corinthians 5:21]. Not only is the impediment of actual negative sinfulness removed, but also the impediment of lack of positive righteousness. All that stood against us - both our sin, and our inability to ever be what we ought to be - is removed in this act of reconciliation through Christ.
The believer stands in the presence of God
- no longer under the wrath of God,
- no longer bearing the guilt of sin,
- no longer bearing the condemnation of sin,
- no longer alienated and cut off from God by sin,
- no longer having to keep 100% of God’s law 100% of the time in order to be accepted.
We stand there rather reconciled –
- with our sin taken out of the way,
- with all that perfect righteousness of Christ counted ours,
- holy in his sight, without blemish, free from accusation.
For this reason Paul says in Colossians 3:3: ‘you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.’ Reconciliation, this grand initiative of God, this whole new set up in which we now have peace with God, is the permanent removal of all the impediments that prevented a right relationship between God and man. All of this is an objective truth for all who have genuine faith in Jesus Christ [1:23].
Leon Morris comments:
‘In these passages it is clear that the root cause [of hostility and enmity between God and man] is the sin of man which inevitably arouses the opposition of a holy God. If there is to be harmony then that sin must not be glossed over, but really dealt with. In one aspect the work of Christ was doing away with the enmity, and He did this by dealing with sin. He judged it. He met the demands of a righteous God concerning it. He defeated it and took it out of the way. Notice that this is a distinctively Christian idea. The other religions of the world, in either ancient or modern times, lack a deep sense of the purity and holiness of God and of the ill desert of sin. It is a thought unpalatable to man that God’s holiness must be taken seriously in any attempt to solve the problem of reconciliation. Only the Christians thought of forgiveness as something so wonderful as almost to be unbelievable. Only the Christians saw the necessity for the tremendous moral energy of the cross for it to be effected. ‘ [p250-251 The Cross in the New Testament.]
Task #6: Practical impact of Colossians 1:19-22
What is the practical impact of Colossians 1:19-22 for your daily relationship with God and your assurance of salvation? Are you depending on this complete reconciliation provided by God or are you still looking at your sins as impediments in your relationship with God?
E. IMPLICATIONS OF RECONCILIATION
E.1 We are no longer God’s enemies
For those who have received Jesus Christ and the salvation that he obtained for us, the enmity between man and God, God and man, has been removed forever. This removal of enmity is clearly expressed in:
Colossians 1:21-22: ‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.’
Romans 5:10: ‘For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’
2Corinthians 5:17: ‘… the old has gone, the new has come!’
E.2 We should therefore live in the reality of this reconciliation
Reconciliation with God is, like forgiveness, something that every true believer, already has [Romans 5:11]. We have already received it from God. It is not something in us, but something that God grants to us because of the death of Jesus Christ. Here again we need to read and believe Romans 8:31-39. God is for us. Nothing that happens in this world is ever again an indication that he is against us. All that could ever be held against us has already, once-for-all, been held against his Son [2Corinthians 5:14-6:2]. We are therefore exhorted by Paul to never again live as those upon whom and over whom God’s wrath still hangs, fearful of God’s retribution, fearful of God’s anger, fearful of God’s punishment We are rather to rejoice in God [Romans 5:11]; we are to be reconciled to God – to live and move and have our being as those who know that there is now no condemnation, no wrath, no judgment yet to be borne by us.
In the light of this wonderful fact of reconciliation, and knowing the natural tendency of our hearts to relate to God on the basis of our own merits, Paul writes: ‘we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain’ [2Corinthians 6:1]. Let us receive this gracious gift of reconciliation from God’s hand, and let us live in God’s presence with peace and joy because of it.
Task #7: Personal inventory
Having learned what the Scripture teaches about reconciliation, list areas of your perception of your relationship with God in which you need to repent of a mindset which has minimized or ignored this powerful gospel fact.
Substitutionary atonement, forgiveness and reconciliation: all are ours through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
A QUOTE FROM DM BAILLIE:
‘Now when we turn from that long story [the Old Testament] to the Christianity of the New Testament, we find this extraordinary climax. On the one hand we find the Prophetic message of absolutely free forgiveness to the penitent sinner carried much further than ever … We find Jesus teaching that God not only freely forgives the sinner who turns to him in repentance, but goes out in quest of the sinner who has not repented, as a shepherd goes out into the wilderness to find the one lost sheep. On the other hand we also find the New Testament writers speaking of the long sacrificial tradition as having at last found its climax and fulfilment; but in such a way that its meaning is completely transformed, because now it is God Himself that makes the sacrifice. All the old terms are used, which we translate as sacrifice, offering, expiation, propitiation, atonement, reconciliation, and which meant so much to every Israelite who had a sense of sin. But now they have received a radically new interpretation, not only because they are applied figuratively to that Christian sacrifice which was not in the literal sense a sacrifice at all, but because it is ultimately God Himself that is regarded as bearing the brunt and paying the price. That is the remarkable witness, in many different forms, of the New Testament. Here is the ‘reconciliation’ which wipes out our trespasses, but we contribute nothing to the process: ‘It is all of God’, [2 Cor 5:18] who provides the means Himself. Just as Abraham ‘did not spare his beloved son’ but was ready to sacrifice him for God, so God ‘did not spare his own Son, but gave him up [we might almost translate “sacrificed him”] for us all ‘ [Romans 8:32]. Here is the sin-offering, but now the victim and the priest are one, and they are none other than the eternal Son of God, through whom He made the worlds, ‘the effulgence of his glory and the impress of his substance’ [Hebrews 1:1-3]. Here also is the lamb sacrificed for the sins of men; but this Lamb is ‘in the midst of the throne of God’, this ‘Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world’ is none other than the eternal Word, the eternal God, by whom all things were made’ [Revelation 7:17; John 1:1,2,29].
‘Thus the two strains that we distinguished from the age of the Prophets onwards, become one in their Christian climax: the strain that tells of God’s readiness to pardon freely and abundantly, and that which persistently speaks of the need of costly atonement. God’s forgiveness, as now understood in the New Testament, outruns all human attempts at expiation, because the expiation is made in the heart and life of God Himself, the Divine Shepherd, who goes out into the wilderness in quest of the lost sheep. … the atonement for our sins takes place in the very heart and life of God, because He is infinite love; and it is out of that costly atonement that forgiveness and release come to us. [p177-9 God was in Christ]