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The Ministry of Reconciliation
By David A. DePra
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be you reconciled to God. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
When you hear the term, "ministry of reconciliation," what comes to mind? Reconciliation means to change from enmity to friendship. It means to restore a relationship. Couple this concept with the fact that Jesus is the one Mediator between God and man and you see that, in Christ, man is reconciled back to God. But that is not all. Once that happens for me, God entrusts me with the, "word of reconciliation," or, "the ministry of reconciliation." I am to be an ambassador unto that end for others. I am to announce to them that God invites them to be reconciled back to Himself.
So here’s the question for us: If someone asked you what they needed to do to be saved, what would you say to them? Would you know what to say to them? Could you be an "ambassador of Christ" to them?
Let me be blunt – out of concern: If you would not know how to answer, there is a good possibility that you are NOT saved. Do you see that? If you don’t know how someone else can be saved, then you don’t know how YOU can be saved. It is therefore inescapable that you probably aren’t.
The good news is, you can be saved, right now. Paul, in our passage from II Corinthians, says, "Be you reconciled to God." This is an invitation to ALL. And there are a number of times in the Bible where it clearly states how to do this. First of all, in the book of Acts:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:37-40)
And later in the book of Acts:
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. (Acts 16:30-34)
And then there is this clear passage from Romans:
The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture says, Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:8-13)
To believe, in the Bible, means more than just to give assent to as truth. Rather, it means to embrace and surrender to. "Faith" means to rely upon, to run to for shelter, to give myself to. All of this, of course, speaks of repentance. It speaks of coming to Christ as a sinner, and surrendering to Him my old life.
The Bible is clear. God has already done everything necessary for our salvation. But we must believe – we must come to Jesus. Only then can we be saved. God has reconciled the world to Himself. But now, on the basis of that opened door, He says to us, "Be you reconciled to ME."
Be Reconciled to God
Just the little phrase, "be reconciled to God," carries with it enough Truth to completely revolutionize some of our thinking about the nature of the gospel, and the character of God. How so? Well, it is a fact that many of us don’t think that the problem is that we need to be reconciled to God. Rather, we think He needs to be reconciled to us. We think God is the one who is mad and aloof, and that we must do this or that to dig Him out of His hiding place. But passages like this one from II Corinthians show us that this is error. WE are the ones who need to be reconciled to God. And HE is the one who has done what is necessary to make that reconciliation possible.
The problem is US. Once Adam declared his independence from God, man, as a creature lost his union and affinity with God. Indeed, Paul says in Romans:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Rom 8:5-7)
You and I are born into this world without any indwelling of God. We know nothing about Him. What we are left with is the futility of our own mind, our flesh, and a nature which tends towards independence against God. All of this makes reconciliation back to God impossible – if left to ourselves. But God hasn’t left us to ourselves. Paul, in II Corinthians, says that God has,"reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…. for he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Note what this means: It means that God has dealt, not only with the legal aspects of sin, but He has dealt with the SIN IN US which made it impossible for us to come back into a relationship with Him. Get that. God has dealt with the sin in us that made relationship with God totally impossible.
God made man for a RELATIONSHIP with Him. Justification from a legal standpoint is essential to satisfy Divine justice. But it does nothing to change US. God must also make provision whereby we can once again walk in fellowship with Him in that relationship. One word we use for this is "sanctification." It is the life of Christ in us. We are new creations in Him.
Sin made reconciliation with God impossible for us to initiate, not because God was mad at us because of the sin, but because sin IS enmity against God. But once God takes care of sin through Christ, then a sinner is responsible to, "be reconciled to God." God would not tell us to be reconciled to Him unless we were, at that point, able to do so. God has opened the way for us so that all we must do is, "come to Jesus."
Man cannot do a thing to birth himself anew. But God never tells us to. God tells us to bring all that is bad about ourselves to the Cross. That is ALL He tells us to do, and all we can do – once God brings us light. And then God crucifies us with Christ. That is reconciliation, for to do that, we must confess we are sinners and put our faith in Christ. The new birth is something which is all of God once we come to the Cross.
Again – most of us have thought that God was the one MAD at man because of sin. And because of that, we have assumed that what Jesus did was die so that the punishment for sin could be satisfied for us, and therefore, God could rightly not be mad anymore – but free to "love" us." But this is error. God never was "mad" because of sin. And what He did through Christ was NOT make it possible for Him to come back to us. He made it possible for us to come back to HIM. Jesus made this possible by bearing our sin in His Body – by literally taking away the sin of the world.
God’s reaction to man’s sin is never that of a man. God is grieved, sorrowed, and even angry – in the sense of a parent who is angry at a child who is destroying themselves. But God is never mad in the sense of vindictiveness or "revenge." Everything about God is love, including His wrath. God is always redemptive. When He punishes, it carries with it the goal of restoration and justice.
So when we think of man’s sin against God, we are certainly talking about something quite serious. Man has insulted the throne of a holy and just God. But think about it. How did God respond? John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." In this we see two things: First, God cannot, "let sin go." Sin MUST be atoned for. Justice and holiness demands it. God did all of this FOR US through Christ. Secondly, while all of us were still sinners, Christ died for us. God didn’t wait for us to take the initiative. He took it. He sent Jesus out of love.
These are not the actions of a God who was mad at us. If God were mad at us, it would be a perfect anger and madness. Thus, we might ask as to how God managed to put aside His anger long enough to send Jesus – for God wouldn’t have had His anger appeased until AFTER Jesus died, would He? See what I mean? We need to revise our thinking about God’s attitude toward us. God never needed to be reconciled to us. We need to be reconciled to Him through Christ.
Reconciling the World
Paul says that God was reconciling the world unto Himself through Christ, "not imputing their trespasses against them." This message, Paul says, is the, "word of reconciliation." It is the gospel – telling people the good news that they can now be reconciled to God through Christ. But we need to look a bit closer at this, for it holds great Truth.
First of all, do we grasp the significance of Paul’s statement that God, because of Christ, was not imputing the trespasses of the world against them? Think about that. It really means exactly what John the Baptist said about Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." It means that Jesus has already dealt with ALL SIN for ALL PEOPLE. Sin is dealt with – not because you believe it is. It is dealt with whether you believe or not.
Let me say that again: Jesus has already died for all of your sin. You are, right now, as forgiven as you will ever be. God is done forgiving your sin because Jesus is done dying for it. All of this is true even if you never believe it is true, and even if you never accept Jesus as Savior.
BUT – and this is the point – you must believe and embrace this Truth to be saved. In other words, there is no such thing as universal salvation. Jesus did die for all sin, but only IN HIM is there forgiveness for sin. In short, despite the finished work of Christ for you, you must surrender yourself to Him for it to do you any good.
This is why Paul is able to say that, "God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation." He is telling us that the reconciliation is DONE – God has done everything there is to do to make it possible for us to come back to Him. But we have to come to God through Jesus! That is the, "word of reconciliation," and the gospel. People need to hear this and obey it.
Ambassadors For Christ
An ambassador is a person who is living in a country which is not his own. He is not there as a representative of himself. He is not there to serve his own interests. Rather, his entire presence is to foster the interests of the country he belongs to, and represents.
Christians are to be, "ambassadors for Christ" in this world. We are not here to do our own thing – not even to do our own thing in the name of Jesus. We are here to do His thing! If we have been born again and entered into the kingdom of God, we are no longer our own. We have ANOTHER country. It is there that our citizenship resides, and where our loyalty needs to be.
Primary to this role of being ambassador for Christ, is to spread the message of the gospel, which Paul, in our passage, is the good news that Christ has already done everything necessary for reconciliation. Paul tells us, on the one hand, that God has, "reconciled the world to Himself by Jesus Christ." But on the other hand, he says, "be you reconciled to God."
What we see here ought to put to rest once and for all the Calvinistic notion that we are first saved by God’s election, and THEN come to put our faith in Christ. This is impossible in light of this, and many other passages. Paul clearly states that everything necessary for reconciliation has ALREADY been accomplished by God through Christ – again, he says that God has, "reconciled the world to Himself by Jesus Christ." But rather than any suggestion in this to the effect that this alone saves us, he adds, "be you reconciled to God." In other words, Jesus has died for ALL the sin of ALL the world. But only those who believe and enter into that reconciliation are saved.
The phrase, "be you reconciled to God," is nonsense if salvation occurs solely by unconditional election, and our faith has nothing to do with it. No. God has, in Christ, reconciled the entire world to Himself by taking away the sin of the world -- by not imputing the sin of the world against any of us. But this simply means that God has rent the veil, opened the door, and done everything possible to make reconciliation possible. We must still come to Jesus. Then the reconciliation is actual and experienced.
The gospel message which is supposed to be preached to the world is that we can all be reconciled to God in Christ. And Paul says why. He says, "Be you reconciled to God. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Man Reconciled to God
One of the biggest, yet sincere, mistakes among Christian people is to try to get right with each other instead of first getting right with God. We devise all kinds of methods, mandates, and ways to get along with each other, but forget that unity is in Christ. Until each individual is right with God on a one-to-one basis, being right with each other will be, at best, a fake thing. But if each individual gets right with God first, then staying right with each other becomes easier, for it will be the outcome of a relationship with Christ.
The above passage from II Corinthians uses a term which must be understood in this light. Paul says that God has given us, "the ministry of reconciliation." But if you try to implement this, "ministry of reconciliation" as only something going on between people, you will end up creating something which is totally off the track. We have to read on. Paul tells us upon what this, "ministry of reconciliation" focuses. He says to each of us: Be you reconciled to God. Then, and only then, will reconciliation with each other be on the right basis, and something which is real.
Communion in Christ is just that: Communion IN CHRIST. It is not communion in each other. Theoretically, it could be possible for there to be complete unity between human beings, and total reconciliation, yet all of us could be on our way to hell. In short, UNITY MEANS NOTHING. Get that. UNITY MEANS NOTHING – unless unity is in Christ.
God is not interested in our programs to live at peace with one another, to promote the brotherhood of man, or to foster a politically correct society of inclusion. Despite some of the obvious human good in these notions, and much bad, not a bit of it means anything unless it is all centered in Jesus Christ. Human institutions outside of the kingdom of God are what sin and rebellion against God are all about. It goes back as far as Adam.
God offers to us the only solution for what ails us: His Son. He has provided a way in which we can be reconciled back to Him through the Redemption. Nothing but this will deal with the disposition in us which refuses to be reconciled to Him.
God’s word to us is: Be you reconciled to God. And once we are, He entrusts us with the, "ministry of reconciliation," which is His message to others that they are to be reconciled to God. Then, and only then, is unity among people in the right thing, or acceptable to God.
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