II Corinthians 5:11-21 July 23, 2017
BE RECONCILED TO GOD
by John Steensma
Lets look at this concept of reconciliation. Because the gospel is a reconciling gospel. The gospel reconciles the sinner to God. The passage here at the end of chapter 5 is a critically essential passage in understanding Paul’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul calls it my gospel or our gospel.
I want you to begin by looking with me starting with at verse 18. Five times in the next 3 verses the word reconcile appears. We read “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: ” verse 19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ ” “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation”. Verse 20, “Be reconciled to God.”
What is this reconciliation. Reconciliation assumes alienation from someone, does it not? It assumes enmity, hostility. It assumes that people are enemies or at the very least…estranged. And a reconciliation needs to take place. Now, you will notice that Paul says we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Our message is a message of reconciliation. Then how are we to understand this?
Well, in this passage, not only in verses 18 through 21, but backing up a little bit, to verse 11 we have, what I think is the essence of an understanding of the message of the gospel as reconciliation. We are given the ministry of reconciliation and this constitutes, according to verse 20, the nature of our ambassadorship. We are ambassadors for Christ. We represent the King of kings and in an alien culture.
What is this message? To tell people in this alien culture, that they, who are according to Eph 2:3, are “enemies of God by nature,” Why? Because our sin nature has alienated us from God. We need to be brought back into right relationship again with God.
Our message is that sinners can be reconciled to God. That God is a reconciling God who has provided a means of reconciliation, and like I stated earlier, it assumes alienation, hostility, an enemy kind of relationship, but one that can be turned into a full and complete restoration to the holy one.
Now, as we look at this passage, I want to show you several elements to the ministry of bringing us back into a relationship with God. And in order to do this, we have to back up to verse 14 and pick up some things that are there. I want to say the first component of reconciliation is that it is motivated by the love of God. I shouldn’t need to deal with that very much because you’re all very familiar with the fact that God so loved his creation, right?
Now this love, is not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (atonement) on the cross for our sins. Remember now Paul is speaking to the church when he says while we were enemies, Paul says he loved us. This is true because in verse 15 Paul identifies the ‘us’…”those that no longer live for themselves”. The loved ones now live for Christ because the love of Christ rules us. What drives Paul? Well, he understood the glory of this substitutionary gospel (and we will unpack that word more later). Paul understood the transcendent glory of the gospel imputed into the hearts and lives of the believers, including himself.
Christ’s saving love for Paul controlled him, dominated him, motivated him, ruled him. And he didn’t see it in a personal way. He didn’t see it in a selfish way. Didn’t see it in an isolated way, because he says in verse 15, “And He died for all.” Who is the “all”? In our context here He died for all who would believe so that, and here is the key….. we who live might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on our behalf.
What compelled him? What motivated him? It was not only the glory of the gospel in a broad sense, he realized that this love which God had given to him in Christ which had so totally transformed his life was not just for him, but that Christ died for all who by death and his resurrection were also justified, this is according to Rom 4:25, Paul says
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” So you see, we can not separate the extent and meaning of the death and the resurrection of Christ and to whom it applies.
He died for all. What do you mean ‘for all’? He died for all who believe in Him. He died and rose again on their behalf. The end of verse 14 says, “One died for all, therefore all died.” I don’t want to get technical here; He died for all those who died in Him. It doesn’t mean that He died for every last soul. If Christ died for the whole world, the whole world would be saved. Do we understand that? If Christ actually paid the penalty in full for the whole world, then the whole world would have to be saved because the penalty was paid. There is no double jeopardy in the courtroom of God. No double penalty.
There are people who teach that He died for the whole world and if you teach that He died for the whole world, everybody who has ever lived, then His death was not an actual substitutionary death. It was a not an actual atonement. If you say He died for everybody in general, then He died for nobody in particular. That’s a problem because in verse 15 it says He died for all who died in Him, they they no longer live for themselves.
Christ’s substitutionary death doesn’t make salvation possible; it makes salvation a sure thing. Christ’s death was the death and subsequent resurrection of His people.
The WMCF 19. By his obedience and death Christ completely discharged the debt of all those who are so justified, and he made the correct, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice on their behalf. Since Christ was voluntarily given by the Father for them, and since his obedience and satisfaction were accepted in their place and not for anything in them, their justification is the result only of his free grace—so that both the perfect justice and the rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
We can not separate the application of Christ’s death from his resurrection.
But Paul understood that this love gift of salvation that had been given to him, that controlled his life, couldn’t be kept by him. So, his whole life changed. Verse 16, look what he said. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” Do we understand that? What happened in his life? Well, all of a sudden he didn’t view people carnally, He didn’t view people as physical beings. That’s not how he viewed people after his conversion. And we are not to judge people by what we can see and experience of their physical life. Then he said, “I did that once, did that to Christ, we’ve known Christ according to the flesh.” There was a time when Paul knew Christ only according to the flesh. Christ to Paul was a blasphemer. Christ was a fraud. He was a false messiah. He was a problem to Judaism. He deserved to be crucified. That was the old Paul.
He had made an external evaluation of Christ and it was totally wrong. Paul’s opinion of Christ changed on the Damascus Road. And like Paul we should not view people anymore carnally. We need to see everybody from a spiritual viewpoint now, also, right?
And then the whole world to Paul had become a mission field.” That’s how Paul viewed the world. That’s how every believer has to view the world. And Paul says this in familiar words in verse 17, “Therefore, and I love this, if anyone is in Christ,” he is,” what? “A new creation, old things have passed away, new things have come.” And the “anyone” is the operative word here. Anyone, I don’t know who the all are who died in Christ, for whom He actually paid in full for their sins, I don’t know who they are but I do know that anyone who believes fits into that category and anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. And we need to seek the lost!
Paul had a personal first-hand experience of the love of God found in Christ given to him on that road that brought about the spiritual transformation of his own soul, it changed his eternal destiny and granted him the very righteousness of God in the place of corrupt human selfrighteousness. That became the passion of his life. It is that love of Christ which controlled him and everybody else who is in Christ. Paul saw everyone as an eternal soul.
You see the pronoun there in verse 14. We too are all controlled by the reality that we have been made new creations by the love of God in Christ but it is not limited to us, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.
Paul is our model here and we are also commissioned to bring the message to the world of that new creation in Christ.
And what is the essence of our commission? The heart and soul of the believer’s commission? This is found in 2 Thess 2:12-13…..”but we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and ……through belief in the truth. He called you to this…. through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the heart and soul of our responsibility as believers … spreading the gospel in ministry to reconcile men to God, to reconcile women to God, to preach the good news that the relationship of enmity, hostility, hatred, alienation between God and the world can be totally changed.
And part of that, of course, is defining the fact that there is alienation between men and God. Don’t we, therefore, tell people they can have peace with God?
John recongnized this alienation, the bad news which makes the good news good news. Remember in John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”. Our ministry is to help the worldly to understand that they are currently alienated from God, an enemy of God. In other words, you can’t tell people they can be reconciled until you’ve made it clear that they need to be reconciled.
You don’t want to be the enemy of holy God.
How does this bridge between God and man get built? Now this is so important, it is all of God. Look at verse 18 “Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” All what things? All the things that He’s been talking about from verse 14. Salvation, the provision in the death of Christ, being made a new creation, having the old pass away and the new come. New heart. New Mind. New Will…..Friends….this is regeneration. All God’s work.
All these things are from God. His will to be done. Verse 19, “It is God in Christ reconciling us.” Reconciliation is by the will of God. John 1:12-13 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” That is the foundational reality.
We cannot decide to be reconciled to God. We have no power to satisfy God’s anger. We have no ability to set aside His justice to achieve His righteousness.
We are the offenders. In the pre-Christ state we are banished from His presence. Any change in our relationship with God has to come from Him and is by His design. And this is at the heart of the gospel. God loves his own and seeks to reconcile them by means of a substitute.
And He designed a means to reconcile with sinners, to make sinners into sons. It is God who reconciled us to Himself. That is just such a profound point. If you go back and study the religions of the world, you will not find a reconciling deity in the history of religion. You will not find a god who is by nature a reconciler. Only the God of the Bible can bring Peace with God.
The bad news outside of Christ..as Rom 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is,” what? “Death.” The Ez 18:20 says, “The soul that sins shall die.” Now here is a rough verse in James 2:10 it says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it”. We violate one law and the full weight of the Law falls upon you.” But he, the lawgiver, brings his people back into fellowship with himself.
Why am I even living if the wages of sin is death? Because God is by nature a Savior, and every sinner who takes another breath is living proof that God is by nature a Savior. That is why in Romans 2 it says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” The Lord gives us his common grace for a reason. To see God and to experience his goodness.
But wait you might say, look at the Old Testament, how can you say that God is a reconciling God? What kind of a loving God opens up the ground and swallows some guys? That’s really not the question. What kind of good God brings down the house on the Philistines? What kind of a God does that? What kind of a God instructs the Israelites to kill the Canaanites? What kind of a God is that? That is not the right question.
The wages of sin is death, death is what we deserve. In the N.T. in Luke 13 they came to Jesus and they said, “You know, we don’t understand. Some Galileans came into the temple, they were in there worshiping and Pilate’s guys came in, took some knives and sliced them up and killed them all. Why did that happen? They were just worshipers. They’re in there doing what they’re supposed to do. How can God let that happen? And Jesus’ answer was, “You’re going to perish, too.”
And then they asked a second one, apparently they read on the front page in the Jerusalem Gazette the story about a tower falling over and crushed a bunch of people and killed them. What kind of a God lets that happen?” That’s not the right question.
The question is why does He allow any sinner to go on living? That’s the question. Through human history, the mass of sinners who go on living and enjoying all the benefits of common grace give evidence to the fact that God is by nature a saving God. He puts His compassion and His mercy on behalf of sinners on display through common grace as a warning to sinners to repent. He is, in that sense, a Savior of all men. God is the source of reconciliation, and it starts first with faith and its by the will of God that he dispenses saving faith to some.
Secondly, reconciliation is the act of forgiveness. How in the world can God do this? Well, it comes in verse 19. The only way that God can reconcile with sinners, here it comes, is “by not counting their trespasses against them” That’s the only way. How is reconciliation possible? How can He reconcile the world? (that means people from all nations who will be reconciled). By not counting their sins against them. He has to set their sins aside. This is the way it has always been, Old covenant and well as the New Covenant.
When some people evangelize, they say, “Do you want to have purpose in your life?” “Do you want to have a better marriage?” Do you want an abundant life? What are you looking for in life? Happiness, contentment, sense of well-being? Make a decision….Friends, that is not the gospel. Real evangelism is…Do you want to die in your sins and go to hell forever, or are you interested in full and complete and eternal forgiveness and the erasing of all your sins? Repent, believe and be baptized……That’s the message.
And it is only by substitutionary atonement can Paul write in Rom 4:8 “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” God is willing to erase the sin. In Col 2:13 he says “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” And, people of God, as we’re faithful to the gospel and faithful to the gospel that Paul proclaimed, what we’re telling sinners is about the forgiveness of their individual sins. This is the good news, that God will forgive all your sins. They have been paid for.
Let’s get past all the superficiality, get past all the prosperity garbage, that Jesus wants you healthy, wealthy, and rich, successful. Sew your seed, send us a $1000 and see God’s blessings for you. What He offers is none of that.
In fact, you may be sicker after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. You may be poorer after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. But you are in the care of the sovereign God who is determining that and that is for your altimate good and His glory. What you will be able to count on, is that you are on the way to heaven because He does not credit your sins any longer to your account. He removes it from your account.
Third. it is by the obedience of faith. That’s implied in verse 20. To make this happen, the sinner must respond, so here we go. We’re ambassadors for Christ. We’re the representatives of the great King who wants to be reconciled with His alienated subjects. We have the good news to tell them. God will be reconciled to you. God will not impute your sins to you, He will forgive you. That’s what verse 20 is saying. It is as if God, through us, is making an appeal. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” And appeal we must to the world…we are commisssioned to do so.
And lets be clear……We know it’s a work of God. God works in the sinner. Phil 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” So the ministry of reconciliation, this work of reconciliation is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit working in the heart and minds of God’s chosen. And we are the ones to bring that message.
That takes us to the final point, how can God just decide not to impute our sins to us?
To borrow the language of Romans 4:5, “how can He justify the ungodly?” That frankly, that statement that God justifies the ungodly would be the most, unacceptable sentence that Paul could utter in Jewish thinking. God determines that the ungodly are righteous? God justifies the ungodly? That is an absolute outrage. How can He do it?
Here is an example…If a judge sitting at the bench and a criminal came in and he had been accused of multiple murders and he said, “I did it all. I killed all those people, you know, I killed them, I feel really bad about it. I’m so sorry for the family. And judge, I’m so sorry, I really am sorry, and would you please forgive me and let me go?” And the judge said, “You know, because you’ve asked, I forgive you, you’re free to go.” Well that judge…..he wouldn’t be a judge anymore because he’s not upholding the Law. It would be an outrage.
Is that what God did? Did God just say, “Oh yeah, sure, on your way?” No, He did not. Why? His holy justice had to be satisfied. And that’s the work of substitution. That is the atoning sacrifice. “Substitution is the heart of the heart of the gospel.” And it was a real substitutionary atonement, the KJV renders the word…propitiation (appeasement…averting the wrath of God) not a possible substitution.
Finally in verse 21. 15 Greek words. The most condensed, clear, comprehensive statement of the meaning of substitutionary atonement on the pages of the New Testament, verse 21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” If He is not going to impute our sins to us, but rather is going to impute righteousness to us, how can He do that and still be just?
Here’s how. “He,” that’s God, “made Him who knew no sin.” Who’s that? Very short list. Right? The only one with no sin. “He made Him who knew no sin, sin.” What did he mean by that? What do you mean He made Him who knew no sin, sin?
On the cross, Jesus did not become a sinner. He was and had to be perfect in all his ways, in life and death, to accomplish the sacrifice for his people. In what sense then did He become sin? In this sense and this sense alone. God treated Him as if He were a sinner though He was not.
Now, follow carefully. On the cross, God treated Christ as if He personally committed every sin ever committed by every believer who ever lived and though He committed none of them. Let me say it in a more personal way. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived your life. He didn’t, but God treated Him as if He did. He treated Christ as if He lived my life. He poured out the full fury of His wrath against our sin as if Christ was the guilty one. Because His justice had to be satisfied. The penalty for your sin has been bought and paid for. That is substitution. And then the flip side of the doctrine of substitution, at the end of verse 21, “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Now, listen to this, this must be understood or you don’t get the full picture in this great verse. Are you righteous? Before God you stand righteous, but are you righteous? If you’re having any question about it, just ask the person sitting next to you, you’ll get an honest answer. Are you righteous? No. We are not righteous. But God treats you and me as if we were righteous. If you are in Christ that’s how God sees you. He looks at the cross and sees you; He looks at you and sees His Son. And we have peace with God.
Being reconciled to God is the Gospel.
Father, we thank You for Your truth. These are just almost beyond our comprehension, these wonders. We are so insignificant, so utterly sinful and unworthy and undeserving. And yet You have granted us this great salvation. May we be like Paul ruled by such love and may we give our lives relentlessly and eagerly to the ministry of reconciliation to tell sinners they can be reconciled to a loving, forgiving God who will treat them as if they were as righteous as His perfect Son. Thank you for this great faith granted us in the name of Christ. Thank You for the privilege of worshiping You. We know that You want us to worship You in spirit, but also in truth. And now that we’re more enriched with the truth, fill our hearts with joy as we finish this service in the name of Your Son. Amen.