Expository Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and the Theme of "Reconciliation"
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
"17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ESV)
RECONCILED TO GOD
What great blessings belong to those who are in Christ's covenant! They are brought from death to life. They have been made new. This is wholly the work of God, for "all this is from God" (v, 18). God, through His Son, reconciled us to Himself. "Union with Christ changes everything because the coming of Christ changed everything by His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. All those who are in Him enjoy life in the new creation (new creature), under the new covenant" [Reformation Heritage Study Bible]. What does this reconciliation entail? A noteworthy feature is the fact that God has decided not to count the trespasses of those whom He is reconciling to Himself against them (v. 19). This is only possible through the great exchange that takes place in verse 21. Christ became our sin-bearer, while on the other hand, His perfect righteousness was placed in our account that we may be accepted, fully reconciled to God. On the basis of this finished work of Christ, Paul implores his readers on behalf of Christ, "be reconciled to God" (v. 20). There is no one better to join ourselves to than Christ. Through faith in Him alone we are restored to the eternal favour of God.
THE KIND OF RECONCILIATION WORTH IMITATING
The reconciliation which we see in this passage is "a work of God in that he is the one who removes the enmity between himself and humanity" (Mounce's Expository Dictionary). Isn't this a glorious and almost unbelievable truth? God, the offended party, is the one who reaches down to us and chooses to remove the enmity between us. Furthermore, He accomplishes this at a great price. It is through the blood of His precious Son that we have received reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11). Now, there is no possible way by which you and I can ever atone for the sins of others. But there is much regarding the character of God which we see here that we would do well to imitate when enmity between brothers and sisters comes. Much can be learned, but let us zone in on two important details.
Firstly, God initiates the reconciliation despite being in the right. As we know, sinners are unworthy of the grace of God. Yet "while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). How many times have you been sinned against and were utterly convinced that we were in the right? Countless times, I am certain. Unfortunately, the disposition of the human heart, in keeping step with Adam, when recognising that someone else is at fault, is not one that immediately yearns for reconciliation, but justification. No, not biblical justification (as in, being declared righteous by God through faith in Christ). But self-justification. We find confidence in the idea that we don't really owe our offender anything, and thus end up harbouring bitterness and even self-pity. We tell ourselves, "He's the one in sin, not me. If anything, he should be begging me for forgiveness." But the one who is united to Christ is different from those in Adam. Granted, we still have indwelling sin. Yet, our new hearts, having experienced being reconciled to a God who had every right to repay our sin with wrath, ought to delight in reaching out to our offenders, wherever possible, with genuine hope for reconciliation.
Secondly, God is the one who effectively removes the enmity. Obviously, we cannot imitate this perfectly. We have no power to change people. In fact, it would be counter-productive for us to focus on changing the heart of our offender. But might there be something we can do in our power to somehow let go of enmity where possible? If Christ's blood reconciles us to God, do not forget we are commanded to "keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). We are not saying that you should let criminals go free or forego proper church discipline. But we are saying that if there is any possibility whatsoever of just forgiving your offender and overlooking their sin (no matter how much you feel you are in the right), then forgive, and cover that sin with love. At times, there may be need for further rebuke and discipline, and in such cases we hope that the church gives you aid. But don't ever find yourself playing God by defining the precise parameters of what you believe your offender's restoration should look like, then turning your back if the results are just a little bit off. Temper your expectations with charity. Try to reach a settlement even if it costs you a ton of pride. In fact, whether you are the offended party, or the offender who now wishes that the person they hurt would read this and be more forgiving, understand this: if we pursue this kind of restoration in our strained relationships, we are able to give the church, and even the watching world, a glimpse of the reconciliation which God has so graciously extended to His people.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." It is no coincidence that this well-known verse is given to us in the context of God's great act of reconciling sinners to Himself through His Son. This work of God is not ineffective. It changes us. We no longer walk in step with Adam but with Christ. If God is pleased to draw a sinner to Himself and change their hearts from hatred to love, may we also be pleased to reach out to those who have wronged us and seek to restore what has been broken, knowing that neglecting to extend the blessing of reconciliation to our offenders for the mere reason that it is we who have been hurt is to become offenders ourselves.