Thanks For Reconciliation With God
Initiating Reconciliation in a Broken Relationship
Broken relationships are a part of the broken world that we live in. Whether a romance that fell apart, friendships that ended in a fight, or rumors that destroyed our place of community, most of us have gotten beaten up by it, some worse than others.
And in the Church, that knife can drive even deeper.
Since we’re all part of the body of Christ, shouldn’t we always get along with each other perfectly and just sort of float around on Sunday mornings on little clouds of Shekinah glory? If this is the case at your church, email me, because I want a piece of that. But for us here on Earth, this is generally not the case. And because this isn’t the case, we need to know how to be an active part of God’s restoration work in making broken things whole. Starting with our relationships with our brothers and sisters.
But before I set out the most crucial steps in the process, I have to lay the foundation for everything else I’m about to say, which is this: You must be rooted in your identity in Jesus Christ.
If you don’t start with a firm grasp on that, finding reconciliation is finding your way home with a compass that always points back at you. You have to know that God is our Dad. That He has been in love with every part of us since the beginning of time.
That He paid in blood, sweat, and tears so that He could get His family back from the murderer who stole us away. You have to understand that Dad already won the fight. But you’re still pretty messed up from all that time you spent getting lied to and beaten up before Dad got you back.
And your brothers and sisters are still pretty messed up, too. But you’re back with Dad now. You don’t have to live you’re still out in the cold.
Once you know that, you’re ready to tackle step 1.
Step 1: Know, without doubt or reservation, that you can do nothing to repair the brokenness in the other person’s heart
Contrary to what our initial impulse is, we have to remember that we are not in the business of making broken things whole or healing the deep hurts of the soul. Dad has to be the one to do that. Your role is to tear down all the barriers of pain or resentment that you put in their path, then step back as Dad sits down beside them and helps them start picking up the pieces.
Step 2: Pray hard and listen carefully
If you’ve never really understood what people mean when they say, “Prayer is a conversation, not a monologue,” now is the time to find out. Most of us approach prayer we do a diary. But here’s the thing: you’re not journaling. You’re talking to your Dad.
He’s sitting quietly on the couch in front of the warm fireplace, sipping a cup of steaming hot chocolate. He looks up at you and smiles. He just so happens to have a second cup next to him, just waiting for a certain someone. So wander over to the couch, plop down next to Dad, and talk to Him.
Tell Him what’s going on in His favorite kid’s life. He already knows, but He s to hear it from you anyway.
Step 3: Apologize
No apology, no reconciliation. Pretty simple. But go one step further: be the first to apologize, rather than wait for the other person to own up to their part first. Fact: it takes two people to mess up a relationship. It takes three to mend it.
You can’t help Dad break down the roadblocks of hurt and resentment that you’ve built up (intentionally or unknowingly) while insisting you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re going to have to be vulnerable. You’re going to be uncomfortable. But don’t push away.
Don’t use half-apologies to avoid the heart of the issue. Own your actions. Matthew 5:23 says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.
First go and be reconciled with them; then come and offer your gift.”
Step 4: Surround yourself with wisdom and godly advice
Sometimes, mending a broken relationship is as simple as giving out that apology, and the two of you can start fresh. But more often, it is a process that takes time, effort, and a tenacious will to engage in uncomfortable conversations.
If you’re going to do this well, make it your business to seek out wise men and women that love Christ and embody wisdom and discernment, and ask if you can have their ongoing support and guidance as you work through some tough times. If you don’t really have someone in a mentor role in your life, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds.Essentially it’s as easy as finding someone in your church you want to be , and spending time with him or her. Ask him questions. Soak up the wisdom that she gives you. Look closely at his thoughts and life patterns, and if that lines up with biblical truth, adopt them into yours.
But be careful here—if you’re not completely gut-level honest with the people you invite to speak into your life (and with yourself) and serious about following their guidance, their input is pointless.
Step 5: Know that in some cases, the most necessary thing to do is step away
There are some relationships so broken that even after a long season of prayer, earnest pleas for forgiveness, and acting on wise advice, there are barriers that can’t be torn down by human hands.
Once you’ve set aside every barrier you possibly can, it’s time to take a few steps back and ask Dad to step in and be Dad.
A word of warning: This is a step that should not be taken without the utmost earnestness of prayer and an abundance of wise counsel; it will often be perceived as a fresh wound of betrayal.
Okay. Take a deep breath, we made it through. You all right? I know that was pretty heavy. Breathe.
Friends, there is no more direct road to sanctification than active reconciliation. It’s tough. It’s messy.
But walking into the process of reconciliation with hands and heart wide open will allow God to hunt down and destroy the strongholds of pride and pain in your life. He’s Dad. He loves us outrageously, completely, and without restraint.
And He knows how much we hurt ourselves and everyone around us when we clench our fists so tightly around our pride and our hurt.
But don’t worry. Dad’s pretty good with fixing this kind of stuff.
Reconciliation: The True Path to Healing and Salvation
As human beings, we were created to develop deep, long-lasting relationships with one another. When those bonds are severed through misunderstandings and perhaps abuse, we feel incomplete, isolated and without purpose.
But how does one begin the healing process? Human empathy can prove very helpful and is often essential to positive progress.
The one providing the empathy, however, is sometimes limited in his or her capacity to completely understand and identify with the wounded spirit.
King Solomon wrote, “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14).
Who will help us?
So who should be our ultimate comforter and helper? Who can transcend the limited scope of human help? Who can encourage us our dejections and point us toward the healing and salvation we desire?
The truest consolation available comes from an individual always willing to help, One who Himself has experienced painful rejection and even betrayal. The Scriptures show that He was “rejected by men” and “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He even knew what it was to face rejection by His own people. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Knowledge of this “Man of sorrows” who is unique among all who have ever lived—understanding that He suffered the most brutal sort of rejection and betrayal and successfully overcame them—can bring us much closer to the healing we are seeking.But how can we reconstruct broken bonds and rebuild right relationships? How can we be reconciled first to our Creator and then to our fellow men and women?
Scripture tells us that God desires a positive relationship with us, but it also tells us that “your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2, emphasis added throughout). To fulfill His great purpose and to reconcile human beings to their Creator, the penalty for breaking God’s law had to be paid. Someone had to redeem humankind and reconcile us to God the Father.
Enter Jesus Christ into the world
The experiences Jesus Christ went through have been crucial in helping Him understand the serious difficulties we human beings experience during our lives. As Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Ironically, at perhaps the most dramatic moment in human history—His crucifixion—Jesus cried out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). His quoting of Psalms 22:1 occurred at the very time that the enormous gulf between God and man was about to be bridged.
But on account of what Jesus Christ represented to God for those few brief moments—the sin-bearer for all of humanity—”He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Sin—biblically defined as the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4, King James Version; Psalms 51:1-3)—is a major barrier to reconciliation and rebuilding right relationships with God and other people. So Jesus took the sins of humanity on His shoulders.
We have a very merciful Advocate in our Saviour, who, the human high priests who preceded Him in that office, “is able to bear patiently with the ignorant and erring, since he too [was] beset by weakness …” (Hebrews 5:2, Revised English Bible).
Reconciliation requires genuine repentance and forgiveness on our part. But only God can absolve our sins and remove guilt and suffering, and this is only possible through the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Symbols of reconciliation to God
This forgiveness and reconciliation is depicted for us in Jesus Christ’s final hours with His disciples. He observed the Passover with them the night before His death.
Paul recounts the events: “The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’
“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. ’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).Jesus said that the wine symbolized His blood, which He would “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). God forgives our sins through Christ’s precious blood, cleansing us so that we may be reconciled to God (1 John 1:7). Remember that “without shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
In just one of its dimensions, the bread represented a new way of life a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “I am the bread of life . . . This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die . . . If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:48-51).
From resentment to reconciliation with others
Although the Bible shows that the first and great commandment is to love God, the second one is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Reconciliation to God goes hand in hand with reconciliation to other human beings (Matthew 6:15).
Yet sometimes we bless God while simultaneously cursing men and women who are made in His image and ness (James 3:9-10). We can’t seem to let go of regrettable past occurrences involving others.
Only God through Jesus Christ can help us fully divest ourselves of past misfortunes. God’s intervention in our lives is the only path to the true reconciliation with our fellow man that is so essential for our emotional and mental health. But our fellowship with each other has to be firmly a right relationship with God and Christ (see 1 John 1:3-7).
Paul wrote, “Through Him [Jesus Christ] we . . . have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). God’s Holy Spirit helps heal serious breaches between human beings. It is the Spirit of reassurance and reconciliation. It is the Spirit of tolerance and cooperation. It is the Spirit of mutual acceptance. It is the Spirit of love—of always sincerely wanting the best for others.
We receive the Holy Spirit from God after we have genuinely repented of our past sins, received forgiveness from Him and been baptized in water (see Acts 2:37-41).
The ministry of reconciliation
Then God will enable us to participate in “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) through which is delivered the “the word of reconciliation” (verse 19), aptly referring to Christians as “ambassadors for Christ” (verse 20).
This magnificent ministry has a personal element. It strongly relates to other human beings as well as to our Creator. True diplomacy, encouragement, forgiveness and friendship—made possible through His Holy Spirit, part of His own divine nature dwelling within us—are all important aspects of reconciliation.
The rewards for reconciliation are infinite! No human life is complete without it. GN
Getting Right with God and Each Other
21 You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.
” 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
23 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you shall not come there, until you have paid up the last cent.
Matthew 5:21–26 is clearly one unit.
It is the first of sixunits that begin “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you. . . ” These six units are Jesus' explanation of the Christianrighteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.Verse 20, which leads into these six units, says, “For I say to you,that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes andPharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then comesour text.
The reason for choosing this text this morning has to do withwhere we are in the Master Planning Process at Bethlehem.
We believe that God has given us a powerful and biblical MissionStatement and Vision for Bethlehem for the next several years. Weexist “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all thingsfor the joy of all peoples.” We have six fresh initiatives topursue, clusters of values to live by and a prayer goal of 2000by 2000 to pour out our lives for.
As we prayed and sought theLord about how to move forward in these things, one of the greatchallenges we saw was the debt on this building. It seemed to usthat, rather than spreading ourselves thin over a dozen differentsmaller one-time financial goals, we would do better to focus onfreeing up about $300,000 a year that we currently pay on thismortgage.That's what next Sunday is designed for: bringing pledges to theLord so that when October rolls around, we will each (as God leadsus) give a one-time gift to eliminate entirely the $1.1 milliondebt on this building.
But the task force for resources realizedfrom the outset that debt removal is not the greatest thing. Debtis not the biggest obstacle we face. And in the mind of God it isnot the biggest issue at Bethlehem. It is a big issue. It may bethe biggest financial issue.
But it is not the biggest issue inthis church or any church.
Something More Important Than Financial Gifts
That's why this Sunday and this text come before next Sunday andthe gifts we will pledge to free the future from debt and for thismission.
This text is about something that is prior to pledges andgifts. Something bigger in the mind of God than financial gifts.Something deeper and more important than what happens next Sundayfinancially.
That's why we focus this morning on verses 23 and24.
If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Now notice immediately that verse 23 begins with “Iftherefore . . . ” The word “therefore” impels us to lookback. Let me put in a sentence about what I think Jesus has justsaid.
He has said, “Despising your brother imperils your soul.
“Despising a person through acts murder, despising a personthrough attitudes anger, despising a person through words “Raca” or “Fool”—they all imperil your soul.
“Therefore . . . ” verses 23 and 24 follow. And they areutterly relevant to what we are about as a church in the next week.
If contempt for a brother or sister (= fellow human being) imperilsyour soul—if it threatens to cut you off from God forever, asverse 22 says (by referring to hell), then you can't just comehappily on your way to worship next Sunday with your Freeingthe Future pledge, if something that is in yourheart.
Since despising a brother brings us into peril with God, it isunly that God would receive the offering of your worship whileyou despise your brother in your heart.
“If Your Brother Has Something Against You”
But that is not quite what Jesus says, in verses 23–24,is it? He says,
If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember [not that you despise your brother, but] that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
In verses 21–22 he has focused on the contempt we may feel for abrother and how we may despise him with anger or words “fool”and “Raca” (= imbecile, or dolt, or the ).
But when he makesthe transition to how this relates to worship and giving, he shiftsthe focus slightly—away from our subjective feelings of angeror contempt or despising onto the relationship that has beenwrecked by our contempt.So, very practically and specifically, what this means is thatthis week there are two things to pray about for next Sunday, notjust one. We are all praying, “Lord, how much should I pledgetoward Freeing the Future from debt at Bethlehem? What ismy part in the $1.
1 million challenge?” But there is something moreimportant to be praying about. That is what Jesus presses on ushere.
We must also be praying, “Lord, is there someone, as I getready to take my pledge to the altar (as it were), who has somethingagainst me?” For if there is, Jesus says we are to take steps to bereconciled before we bring the pledge.
Now this raises some tough questions for us. Let's put ourselvesto the test. Are we really only committed to the exciting goal ofdebt elimination? Or are we more committed to the effortof enmity elimination?
Am I Responsible for Someone's Grudge Against Me?
Here is a key question: When coming to give, are we responsiblefor all the grudges and anger and enmity that people may feelagainst us?
This question is utterly urgent for all of us, but especiallyfor those in prominent, public positions where strong viewpointsare expressed as part of one's calling—positions President of the United States, or Speaker of the House, orGovernor of Minnesota, or network news commentator or host of aradio show Focus on the Family or preacher in a local church.In every one of these roles, the moment one opens his mouth someonedisagrees. And if the issue is hot enough, that disagreement can befelt as anger and alienation. At any given moment, for example, thePresident of the United States has millions of people calling him ahero and millions calling him a jerk. That was true of AbrahamLincoln and it will be true of every president that ever serves.And it is true of every other public role. So, are all these peopleresponsible, before they worship, to contact every person who hassomething against them? That would be impossible, it seems.
But it's not our inability to see how it would work that raisesthe question. It's the context. Go back 14 verses to verse 9.
ThereJesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be calledsons of God.” Yes, and that is what this text is about too. Be apeacemaker before you worship.
Be reconciled with those who havesomething against you, before you bring your Freeing theFuture pledge next Sunday.
But then notice what comes next in Matthew 5:10–12:
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness [not sin, but righteousness], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely [not truly], on account of Me.12 Rejoice, and be glad [that is, don't let your conscience be troubled as if you were guilty of their hostility], for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now this is remarkable. What Jesus says is that sometimes peoplewill hold something against you when they shouldn't—insultingyou, persecuting you, saying all kinds of evil against youfalsely. What do you do in such circumstances? Do you stopworshiping as long as someone feels this about you?
If so, Jesus would never have been able to worship in the latteryears of his life. He was constantly opposed. They sought to triphim up in his speech. They tried to kill him. They tried to shamehim.
Was he responsible for this? Not only that, he said that thesame would be true for his disciples. In Matthew 24:9 he said, “Youwill be hated by all nations on account of my name.
” In otherwords, “If you are faithful to me, somebody will always havesomething against you.”
“So Far as It Depends on You”
So what does Jesus mean in Matthew 5:23–24? I think he means,”If you remember in this week thatsomeone has something againstyou because you have wronged them, then as much as itdepends on you, try to be reconciled.” Humble yourself. Reachout.
You can hear two qualifications of Jesus' words that I see inthe context.
- We are only responsible for what others hold against us when it is owing to real sin or blundering on our part.
- We are responsible to pursue reconciliation, but live with the pain if it does not succeed. In other words, we are not responsible to make reconciliation happen.
Paul says in Romans12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be atpeace with all men.” So far as it depends on you. Jesus took everystep required of a human being to make matters right with hisenemies (he never sinned), and still they had things against himand were not reconciled to him.
There are numerous other questions raised by this text. But letme close this morning with the pressing question about what weshall do with this word from the Lord this week.
Reconciliation Is Harder Than Donation
The acceptability of our pledges next Sunday morning hangs inpart on whether we will obey this text this week. To be willing topledge $20,000 next Sunday, but be unwilling to make a hard phonecall to a person you have wronged would not be pleasing to theLord.
So there are three questions all of us should ask ourselves in aspirit of prayer and openness to the Lord:
- If someone has something against me, is it owing to something I should not have done or should not have said? Is it owing to something I should have done or should have said, but didn't? In other words, have I wronged someone?
- If I am to blame, have I taken sufficient steps to be reconciled?
- If not, am I willing to humble myself and make the contact before I make my pledge next Sunday?
Do you know why God will be pleased if we all do that this week?Because human reconciliation is much harder than financialdonation. So if God gives us the grace to do the harder thing, hewill get more glory next Sunday when we come with a clearconscience to do the easier thing.
Reconciled with God
In the decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles brought out the significance of His life, ministry, death, and Resurrection in their writings, which are collected in our New Testament. In Colossians 1:11–23, Paul writes:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his Cross.
Jesus is consistently described as the agent of creation. … This makes Christ supremely suitable to be the one to bring about the reconciliation between God and man.
And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
The relationship between the Father and the Son
This passage shows how salvation is grounded in the relationship of love between the Father and the Son. Jesus is the “beloved Son”, echoing God’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).
The fullness of God was “pleased to dwell in Him”, and it is the Father’s will that the Son be preeminent in everything. In turn, the Son reconciles to Himself all things to present believers “before him”—the Father.
So the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity to each other is at the very center of the drama of salvation.
Jesus is called “the image of the invisible God”. One aspect of being made in God’s image is that we are God’s representatives, and Jesus is the ultimate representative of God, and even “the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
The Old Testament repeatedly states that it is impossible to see God and live, so Jesus as the incarnate God is the ultimate revelation of the Father.
Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, also John 1:18).
Our former state—separated from God in darkness
Paul gives a dismal picture of life outside of Christ. We were trapped in “the domain of darkness”, “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”.
There is no indication in Paul’s writing that the people in this state are unhappy about it; rather, in Romans 1 and other places he explains how sinful people are willing rebels—not only are we trapped in sin, we enjoy it apart from God’s grace.Not only can we do nothing about it, we wouldn’t want to—hence Paul said “you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
So God must take the initiative. He must be the one to transfer us from the domain of sin into the Kingdom of Christ. He must be the one to reconcile us; He must make peace, because we cannot and would not.
Christ the mediator
The preeminence of Christ is a focus of this passage. He is “the firstborn of all creation”. This does not mean that He is the first created being (this would be the heresy of Arianism). Rather, the word prototokos describes His position of preeminence and authority over creation, i.e.
the inheritance rights of a first-born son in that culture. The OT uses the Hebrew equivalent bekôr to describe David, the youngest one, but chosen by God.
Hebrews 1:6 uses “firstborn” about Jesus in the same sense1—and this “firstborn” is wise worthy of angelic worship, so wise could not be a created being.
This authority is grounded in His role in the work of Creation. Jesus is consistently described as the agent of creation; this is brought out most fully in John 1. Paul makes it clear that nothing, whether physical or spiritual, came into being without His involvement. This also indicates that the Son is uncreated.
Jesus is not only the mediator of creation, He is also the reason for creation—all things were created for Christ. Not only is Jesus the reason for creation, He is also the organizing principle for creation—all things hold together in Him (also taught in Hebrews 1:3).
All this makes Christ supremely suitable to be the one to bring about the reconciliation between God and man. Jesus is called “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”.
As before, “firstborn” indicates authority. “Christ stands at the head of the new creation as the firstborn from the dead, the one who initiates the eschatological resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:20).‘Beginning’ here thus implies ‘founder’”.2
The means for our reconciliation is the “blood of his Cross”. In Ephesians 2:16, Paul again links reconciliation to the Cross.
The great reconciliation
All the sins that all believers will ever commit were imputed to Christ at the crucifixion, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:6. This cancelled our sin debt and nailed it to the Cross (Colossians 2:14).
Simultaneously Jesus’ perfect human righteousness is imputed to these believers (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When we hear the Gospel and believe, God does several things, which Paul lays out in this passage. God “delivers us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son.” He qualifies us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He reconciles us “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in him”.
So we go from being hostile slaves of sin and darkness to heirs and subjects of Christ.
This reconciliation is comprehensive. This passage is tied together with the Greek word pas, which is translated in English with the words “all” and “everything”. Some variation of the merism3 “in heaven and on earth” occurs several times in the passage to emphasize the scope of Christ’s work.
God accomplished this reconciliation with two great ‘imputations’, i.e. crediting something from one person to another’s account.
All the sins that all believers will ever commit were imputed to Christ at the crucifixion, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:6. This cancelled our sin debt and nailed it to the Cross (Colossians 2:14).
Simultaneously Jesus’ perfect human righteousness is imputed to these believers (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Living in light of Christ
This reconciliation results not only in a changed status, but a changed way of life. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians assumes that they have experienced this reality.
God’s “glorious might” is the basis for Paul calling the Colossians to endurance and joyful patience and thankfulness. Christians can be changed in this way because Christ has reconciled us through His death on the Cross—no matter what sort of sins they had committed before.
Paul warns the Corinthians that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God”, and lists a number of sins. Then he says:
This reconciliation results not only in a changed status, but a changed way of life. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians assumes that they have experienced this reality. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11) And this is so Jesus can present us as holy and blameless and above reproach before the Father. These are basically three ways of saying that Christ took our sin on the Cross so He could present us as sinless before the Father.
But then Paul for the first time talks about something the Colossian believers, and we as believers need to do—there’s an element of conditionality. Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel.
This presupposes that the Colossian believers have experienced the objective reconciliation and that this means they are able to continue. Yet they still must continue! And we know they must because Paul tells them to continue.
And so must we! As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8–10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Our Creator is our Mediator!
In this passage, we see that our salvation is tied up in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and the relationship between God and His creation.
In particular, as the rest of the NT explains in detail, God the Son took on human nature in the Incarnation (John 1:14), and became fully man as well as remaining fully God. This enabled Him to be the mediator between God and Man (1 Timothy 2:5).
After His glorious resurrection, He sits at the right hand of God the Father, to be our “advocate”, who “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2).
In the future, He will come again and create a new heavens and earth, where believers will enjoy resurrection bodies and eternal fellowship with Him, in a final victory over the Fall.
References and notes
- Moo, D.J, Colossians and Philemon, Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 119, Eerdmans, 2008. Return to text.
- Moo, Ref. 1, p. 129. Return to text.
- A figure of speech in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept. For example, a shop that is ‘open day and night’ means open for the whole 24-hour day-night cycle. Other merisms are ‘high and low’ and ‘hill and vale’. Return to text.
Eight Ways to Pursue the Ministry of Reconciliation
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”¹ On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke those words to his Republican colleagues in the Springfield, Illinois statehouse. He had just been chosen to run against Stephen Douglas for the United States Senate.
When Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, questioned the use of such a strong statement, the future president said, “The proposition is indisputably true…and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
Lincoln’s famous statement is a paraphrase of Jesus’s words recorded in Mark 3:25—“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (NIV).
Lincoln was right because Jesus is always right. Unity is the foundation of everything we value: peace and love, respect and purpose.
And Lincoln’s colleagues, we need to be reminded of what’s crucial to awaken us “to the peril of the times.”
Reconciled to God
We long for unity because our Creator placed the desire for it in our hearts. When sin entered the world, disunity followed—conflict between Adam and Eve led to conflict between Cain and Abel, which spiraled into a vortex of disharmony that has plagued humanity ever since.
But Jesus entered our world to end the conflict, to restore unity between God and sinners. In Paul’s letters to first-century churches, he used the term reconciliation, which means “to bring back to a former state of harmony.”
Sinful people had been separated from their holy God since Adam and Eve tasted the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Jesus’ death and resurrection made reconciliation possible:But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners [at enmity with God], Christ died for us.…For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life. (Romans 5:8, 10).
Jesus satisfied God’s requirements for reconciliation, but each person must receive the terms of reconciliation: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Ministry of Reconciliation
Once our relationship with God has been restored, we are called into his service: “[God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20). God has commissioned each of us to share with others his message of love and peace.
To move people toward a reconciled relationship with God may seem a daunting task, especially in our postmodern culture that exalts moral relativism and disdains absolute truth. But as Paul told the Corinthians, we must open wide our hearts, allowing God’s compelling love to flow through us to others (2 Corinthians 5:14, 6:11).
Eight Practical Ways to Pursue This Ministry
What are some practical ways we can open our hearts and deliver God’s loving message of reconciliation to those who don’t even realize they’re searching for it?
When God provides an opportunity, share the message of reconciliation clearly with your words to lost, estranged people who desperately need peace with him through Jesus Christ.
Refuse to engage in divisive discussions on social media or to share divisive posts and tweets. Choose instead to post comments about God’s goodness and faithfulness. Share the blessings you and your loved ones experience, and give God the glory.
Give a generous tip to a harried restaurant server. Explain that it’s a privilege to share God’s resources with others.
Seek to understand opposing viewpoints when people speak against the values you hold dear. Choose to listen rather than argue.
Send a handwritten note of thanks to people who impact your life—a mail carrier, doctor, or neighbor. Tell them why you consider them one of God’s blessings in your life.
Invite a neighbor or coworker to share a meal with you. If you’re not a cook, meet at a restaurant or pick up food and bring it home. Express your appreciation and give God the glory for bringing that person into your life. Share experiences that point to your relationship with God.
7. Boasting in Christ
If someone compliments you on the way you handle a situation, glorify God by explaining that you sought his guidance in the matter. As we point to God’s work in our lives, the evidence of his grace, forgiveness, faithfulness, and attentiveness to us can create a hunger in other people’s hearts for such a relationship.
You may also find it helpful to list the fruit of self (Galatians 5:19-21) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) on a 3×5 card or on your smartphone. Each day read the two lists and ask the Spirit to help you produce fruit compatible with your role as a minister of reconciliation. As conflicts, problems, and frustrations rise, look at the lists and pray for guidance.
If you’re me, you may need time to pluck the seeds of anger, defensiveness, or jealousy from your heart. If possible, wait a few hours, even a few days, before you respond to situations. Allow the Spirit to plant the right seeds in your heart.
We Shall Not Fail
Lincoln ended his impassioned plea for the abolition of slavery with these famous words: “The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail—if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.”
“The result is not doubtful” for us either. God has promised his words will accomplish what he intends (Isaiah 55:11). We sow his seed, plant, and water, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). He also tells us to stand firm in his truth and his love—in the message of reconciliation he has given us.
If we deliver that message in loving actions and words, then through the power of the Holy Spirit “we shall not fail” to move others toward reconciliation with God in accordance with his great plan of salvation through Christ. And one day we’ll stand before Jesus in perfect unity with saints of every nation, tribe, and language, praising him for finishing what he started (Revelation 5:9-14).
[i] The text of Lincoln’s speech and his response to Herndon can be found at abrahamlincolnonline.org