Knowing the God of Reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21)
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (NASB).
1. God has dealt decisively with all that alienates us from Him. Christ’s passion answers every facet of our ruin, estrangement and alienation. In Christ, “God was reconciling the world to Himself.” In His death on Calvary, Christ Jesus took into His own Person all of the alienation due our sin. God has taken the initiative in our reconciliation (Rom 5:10).
Believers wrestle with a sense of acceptance with God. To understand reconciliation is to comprehend the fact that Christ is the believer’s eligibility for love, favor, belonging, adoption, and eternal blessing. Progress in the knowledge of God is inseparable from reckoning Christ as our qualification for life, love and favor.
2. When Christ gave His life on Calvary, in addition to physical death, He experienced the consequences of sin that bring agony to the soul. Shame, separation, crushing wrath, isolation, alienation, and abandonment washed over His person. The growing believer recognizes that Christ’s identification with the consequences of our sin was for the purpose of exchange (2 Cor 5:21).
When the Christian lives upon these truths of Christ, the suffering Substitute, he is able to commune with God in a more consistent manner. Agitations of conscience must first be dealt with by the cross. “Even one sin ricocheting around in the conscience is enough to weaken our confidence to draw near to God” John Owen.
3. The display of Christ crucified has the power to dash the sinner’s weapons (against God) from his hands. The proclamation of Christ crucified is able to scatter darkness from the heart and flood the soul with light. The message of the cross alone can remove enmity from the sinner’s heart. The “word of reconciliation” is foreign to the thinking of the unbeliever. As ministers of reconciliation, believers announce the glorious news that God has dealt with everything on His side that produces estrangement – God’s righteous requirement of death and separation to the sinner has been met in our suffering Substitute. Now God is free to receive into favor and friendship the person who believes and repents.
The conscience of man is not oriented toward mercy and forgiveness – it operates upon a strict principle of justice. In order for God’s “verdict” of acquittal to be the loudest voice in our conscience, we must “preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday.”
4. The cross of Christ is the key revealer of the Godhead. God can only be known by means of the work He has performed in the reconciliation of sinners. We have come to know the glory of God; the knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:3-5). As long as the threat of judgment hangs over the guilty sinner’s head, he can only operate as a hostile enemy, blinded by darkness. But when in faith he casts one believing look in Christ’s direction, He comes to know God as He truly is – the God of justice and mercy, of holiness and love.
God’s work in our reconciliation preempts all of our legal efforts to commend ourselves to God. We could say that the religion “we were born with” is a works religion that seeks to appease God by merit, religion and self-reformation. By contrast, the message of reconciliation commands sinners to take refuge in the hiding place God has provided. It is in our eternal interest to enthusiastically consent to God’s terms of peace. God has not given this place of refuge reluctantly, but to the glory of His grace.
5. In order to be faithful ministers of reconciliation, we must be conversant with who God is. We must know Him as the “God who atones” and “the atoned-for God.” We are called upon to bring the good news to people who have no clue as to how God reconciles sinners to Himself. When the subject of sin comes up, the unbeliever can only reason in the realms of relative righteousness, divine leniency, and human works.
Believers cannot become too familiar with the truth of God’s justice in the cross of Christ. This truth is so foreign to our hearts that we tend to drift in our thinking toward legalistic schemes that base our acceptance with God on personal performance. God’s favor toward us flows from the satisfaction He has made, not from our duties and service. We’ve been set free to serve, the challenge is to stay free! -- both sin and law seek to entangle us. The knowledge of the God of all grace in the cross keeps us free.