Paul on Reconciliation

REGARDLESS OF WHAT OTHERS think of us, we are forgiven, redeemed, restored, set free from the past. Our lives have been turned around through the grace of God and the power of the cross. Lies, deceit, selfish motivation, manipulation, provocation—all are gone. We were not merely “remodeled” or “refurbished.” Rather, the old self has passed away. We are a completely new creation in Christ. Part of our conversion includes being reconciled to the Father. “Reconciliation” is a term unique to Paul, which originates with him following his conversion on the Damascus road. The apostle writes, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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” (2 Cor. 5:18-19). We find parallels to this passage in Luke 15:6 (the lost sheep) and Luke 15:24 (the prodigal son).

Paul was en route to Damascus with letters to the synagogues giving him authority to bring anyone belonging to “the Way” back to Jerusalem to be tried as heretics. A mighty light appeared overhead and a voice cried out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul asked, “Who are you Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Paul was knocked to the ground and struck blind. I find it fascinating that Christ took Paul’s sight in order for him to see Jesus as the Messiah. While in Damascus, Paul met a disciple of Christ named Ananias. Paul’s reputation had preceded him, so Ananias was reluctant to meet with him. Ananias said, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.” God told Ananias that Paul was “…a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel (see Acts 9).

Jesus entrusted Paul with the gospel message of reconciliation—overcoming estrangement and restoring unity. According to Strong’s Greek, καταλλαγή (or katallagé) is “…adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, (from Aeschylus on); in the NT of the restoration of the favor of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory death of Christ” (1). The phrase “hath reconciled,” καταλλάσσω (or katallassó) means to “…properly, decisively change, as when two parties reconcile when coming (“changing”) to the same position” (2). Our reconciliation (“restored to favor”) with God is essentially a covenant; we move toward reconciliation with the Father through faith in Christ, and God moves toward us, restoring His relationship with us. As used in 2 Corinthians 5, “reconciled” is a passive verb suggesting one person ceasing to be angry with another, receiving him back into favor.

In Spite of Our Past

God used Paul to preach the good news of the gospel to Gentiles in spite of Paul’s violent and sinful past, as he also used Moses in spite of his anger and murderous act, and David despite his committing adultery with Bathsheba then sending her husband to the front lines to be killed in battle. He used Peter regardless of his quick temper and his denial of Christ, and Abraham in spite of his impatience and disobedience. God uses broken people to reach the broken. He calls the defeated to live in victory. He shares himself through rebellious nations (Israel) and deceitful prostitutes (Rahab). Amazingly, God also uses us because of our past. Paul was most suited to bring the gospel to Greek and Roman citizens (“Gentiles”) because of Paul’s grasp of Jewish rabbinical law, his vast knowledge of OT Scripture, his extensive knowledge of Greek philosophy, his mastery of rhetoric, and the fact that he was a Roman citizen.

I heard a recent message on Jonah. Many have wondered why God used Jonah after he refused God and ran to the ends of the earth to hide. Why didn’t God get someone else to deliver His message. There are two reasons for God staying with Jonah as “his guy.” First, He is a God of second chances. In addition, God sends whom He needs specific to each mission—the one who can best carry His message under the circumstances. Quite often what God needs to say in a situation can come only from the person He sends! Jonah disobeyed God’s call because he objected to God’s intent to bless Israel’s adversary, the nation of Assyria and its capital city, Nineveh. Admittedly, this would be like calling a Jew during WW II to share God’s salvation with the Nazis. Jonah substituted his own judgment for God’s, but during his flight to Tarshish, his shipwreck, and his time in the belly of the giant fish, Jonah was convinced in a powerful way that all salvation comes from the Lord.

The Scope of Reconciliation

Beginning at 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul shifts from the subjective aspect (the old has passed away; the new has come) to the objective aspect (atonement) through the death and resurrection of Christ on the cross. We are reunited with God through the act of conversion—restored to relationship with the Father. Verse 16 emphatically says, from now on we are no longer “in the flesh.” Enmity between God and humans has been removed, and we are empowered with the ability to resist sin. We are literally “under new management.” We realize that the Father is both the architect and the instigator of reconciliation. Paul said in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God caused Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for our sake. Justification is the logical foundation for reconciliation. Paul wrote, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

Paul wrote much about the scope of reconciliation. He told the believers at Rome, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). Paul focuses on the height of God’s love for us in Romans 5:9-11. This agape love refuses to stop short of providing the catalyst for sanctification—ongoing spiritual perfection or maturity. We have been justified through faith alone in Christ alone. More specifically, at the cost of His blood. Through reconciliation, we are able to draw near to the Father: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa. 1:18). We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Paul wrote, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God will carry us on in reconciliation to the full end of our salvation. We are able to live a restored life through the gospel, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed (see Rom. 1:16-17). Through our reconciliation, we step into a ministry of reconciliation. It is not enough to limit our conversation to the basics of the gospel; we must practice the ministry of reconciliation with the goal of bringing unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (see Eph. 1:10). This is predicated on living in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him—bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (see Col. 1:10).

Matt Chandler puts our role in God’s restoration in plain language:

“As we have seen… the entire creation is also out of sorts. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on our account. Jesus’s ministry of inaugurating God’s kingdom, with himself as king, was not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects, although it is firstly and chiefly that, but it is also about reversing the curse.” He adds, “For the reconciliation enacted by the cross to be cosmic, then, it must encompass more than just our individual relationship with God. We each may be saved as an individual life, but we are not saved to an individual life. We stand as part of God’s restoring of all things, and we are brought into the missional witness to God’s restorative gospel, the Body of Christ” (3).

Reconciliation is only made possible through our redemption. Old Testament law held that if a man lost his inheritance through debt or if he sold himself into slavery, he and his property could be redeemed only if someone of kin came forward to provide the redemption price (see Lev. 25:25-27, 47-54). Psalm 49:7 emphasizes the impossibility of self-ransom. Without salvation, we are like the beasts that perish (49:12). Like sheep, we’re appointed for Sheol where death shall be our shepherd. David wrote, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (49:15). Referencing wealth as being unable to redeem us, it is clear that neither the rich or the poor can ransom themselves out of dying. To this end, the life and ministry of Christ terminated in an act of self-sacrifice to serve as a ransom we simply cannot obtain under our own power.

Consummation

Merriam-Webster defines consummation as “grand finale,” “endgame,” or “conclusion.” Further, consummate is said to mean “complete in every detail; perfect.” We might also say it means “accomplished” or “finished.” When Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30) He meant everything was completed. God’s plan for redemption was fulfilled by the death of Jesus Christ. Consummation, the last leg of reconciliation and restoration, falls under the doctrine of eschatology, or “last things.” As followers of Christ, we are able to approach the subject of the end times with great expectation, in full realization of the timeline that began when God created the universe; that through sin the universe has been fractured; that God is reconciling all things to Himself through Christ; and that Christ consummates the will of the Father.

“Last things” relates both to mankind and the world. “In the last days” may suggest the end of the present order, but it also refers to “hereafter.” The biblical concept of time is never meant to be cyclical or linear. It blows my mind to realize God sees all time at the same time. In God’s mind, everything simply “is.” F.F. Bruce says of God’s time, “…it envisions a recurring pattern in which divine judgment and redemption interact until this pattern attains its definitive manifestations” (4). Psalm 73 says one who walks with God in life cannot be deprived of divine presence in death. 73:21-22 notes a new depth of repentance wherein the believer finds himself continually moving toward God. This denotes spiritual perfection or maturity. The term “afterward” (or “in the end”) in verse 24 makes an obvious reference to what Kidner calls “the climax of the whole” (5). This is the last phase of God’s plan for redemption: the crowning joy of passing into God’s presence for all of eternity.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

References
(1) Strong’s Greek, URL: https://bibleapps.com/greek/2643.htm
(2) Ibid., URL: https://biblehub.com/greek/2644.htm
(3) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 136, 143.
(4) F.F. Bruce and J.J. Scott, Jr., “Last Things” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 477.
(5) Derek Kidner, Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalm 73-150 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2008, 1975), 291.

Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are taken from the ESV (English Standard Version).

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