WORDS OF SALVATION
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY EIGHT: RECONCILIATION
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.
 Reconciliation is God's initiative - Romans 5:6-11
Romans 5 teaches us that:
- when we were powerless, Christ died for the ungodly,
- while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and
- when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.
This clearly indicates 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. 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.
For Paul, this 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 work in 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.
 Reconciliation initiates a completely new set up - 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2.
In 2 Corinthians 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 (2 Corinthians 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 a deserved punishment.
- 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' (2 Corinthians 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. 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).
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 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.
 Reconciliation involves the removal of 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 his 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. 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 bearing the guilt of sin,
- no longer bearing the condemnation of sin,
- no longer 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 removal of all the impediments that prevented a right relationship between God and man.
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' (2 Corinthians 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.