RECONCILIATION: 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

By Ted Schroder,
May 10, 2015

In 1939, with Europe in crisis, racial and ethnic hatred being implemented as state policy by Hitler, and war threatening, Swiss theologian Emil Brunner published Man in Revolt. He raised the questions: Why are we not at peace with ourselves or our neighbors? He diagnoses the human condition as the revolt of the creature against the Creator.

“Sin is defiance, arrogance, the desire to be equal with God, emancipation, a deliberate severance from the hand of God… to be independent.. by being freed from God.. By sin the nature of man.. is changed and perverted.” (p.129ff.) There is a human revolution against God and the principle of revolution is disorder and chaos. “Man is a rebel against his divine destiny; he is the steward who pretends to be the master of the vineyard and kills his lord’s messengers. He is the prodigal son who has demanded the portion of goods that falls to him and now squanders it.” (p.171) Man is in revolt against God and therefore alienated from others because he is frustrated and confused about himself. “The Bible teaches us that fear is the fundamental situation of man as separated from God, of the man who is not reconciled with God…Fear is the feeling of not being at home, of feeling uncanny and lost in the universe. …Most men are not aware either that they are afraid, or to what extent fear rules their lives…Fear in connection with practical life is called anxiety… but what is anxiety except fear of life seeking for security?.. It leads to doubt and then to despair.” (p195f.) We need to be reconciled to God if we are to find peace with others and within ourselves.

This is the message St. Paul is expounding in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. He described the Gospel in terms of God’s work of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a diplomatic and political term referring to harmony established between enemies by peace treaties. It is also a personal relational term referring to harmony between people alienated from one another by an offense. It results in the restoration of a friendly relationship.

“Reconciliation presupposes enmity between two parties. To put it still more exactly: reconciliation, real reconciliation, an objective act of reconciliation, presupposes enmity on both sides; that is, that man is the enemy of God and that God is the enemy of man.” (E. Brunner, Mediator, p.516)

To appreciate the Gospel of reconciliation you have to understand the nature of the revolt of humanity against God. The Scriptures chronicle this alienation from beginning to end. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5,6) “But your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2). “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

So what is to be done? How can God overcome this alienation, this breakdown of harmony and peace between himself and humanity? God has to take the initiative for we are incapable of overcoming our problem.

God is the author of reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” God, who created us in the first place, could have left us to stew in our own juice, or he could have destroyed us with his overwhelming might. Instead he elected to reconcile us to himself through Christ. Because of his great love and mercy, he decided not to count our sins against us. That would be like deciding not to prosecute us for war crimes, or for hateful acts, or for failing to love others and protect them when they needed us. The case against us is clear, and yet he decided not to proceed against us. If he had we would have been condemned. The evidence against humanity is clear and convincing.

But how can he do this? Is that not letting the guilty off the hook? Is that not a failure of justice? Do we not uphold prosecution to the fullest extent of the law? How can we let the perpetrators of crime, violence, cruelty, irresponsibility, meanness and self-centeredness go free? How can forgiveness be given without accountability? What about the victims of trauma and tragedy?

If God is the author of reconciliation, Christ is the agent of reconciliation. God was in Christ, God reconciled us to himself through Christ. What did Christ do to make this reconciliation possible? How did he remove the enmity and its consequences? “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (v.21) James Denney commented on this verse: “Mysterious and awful as this thought is, it is the key to the whole of the New Testament.” (J. Denney, Death of Christ, p.88)

“For our sake God actually made the sinless Christ to be sin with our sins. The God who refused to reckon our sins to us reckoned them to Christ instead. Indeed, his personal sinlessness uniquely qualified him to bear our sins in our place.. Moreover, Christ became sin for us, in order that ‘in him we might become the righteousness of God’. In other words, our sins were imputed to the sinless Christ, in order that we sinners, by being united to him, might receive as a free gift standing of righteousness before God.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.200) “Justification means this miracle: that Christ takes our place and we take his.” (Brunner, op.cit. p.524)

This is the heart of the love of God for us — he does not want the enmity between us to continue — so he came in Christ to take the condemnation of that enmity on himself to fulfill justice and reconcile us to himself. He bore our sins on the Cross so that we might become the righteousness of God.

What are the consequences of this work of reconciliation? God has given us a ministry of reconciliation in the world. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore God’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” What God has done for humanity is to be communicated to the world so that all people will be reconciled to God. The work of reconciliation which has been done on the Cross still needs to be responded to by everyone. We are designated ambassadors for Christ: personal envoys and representative of Jesus Christ. God is making his appeal for peace through us.

This message is as needed today as it was in the first century and in 1939. Humanity is still in revolt against God and alienated from one another. Recent events in Baltimore and elsewhere are evidence of that. We need the reconciling work of Christ. People need to know that God loves them so much that he has come and paid the supreme sacrifice of bearing our sins on the Cross so that we might find peace with others and within ourselves.

This is our message. Therefore we need to do two things. We need to be ambassadors for Christ in sharing this message with others. We need to implore others on Christ’s behalf to be reconciled to God. How do we know if people need to be reconciled to God? Brunner explained that our enmity towards God is seen in our restlessness, ranging from frivolity to open renunciation and hatred of God. Check your restlessness, frivolity (superficiality), anger, frustrations and confusion about yourself, lack of peace within yourself or with others? Then seek reconciliation with God.


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