James D. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them . . . .
Paul and his co-workers were ambassadors for Christ. Through them God spoke words of comfort, encouragement, instruction and sometimes even rebuke to the church.
Because Paul and his co-workers were ambassadors for Christ, God had committed to them the ministry of reconciliation. As ministers of reconciliation it was their calling to proclaim the great gospel of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.
Always we must hear in the preaching this gospel of reconciliation. Only then is the preaching the power of God to salvation.
Reconciliation is to restore someone to the favor of another through the removal of offenses.
Reconciliation presupposes that there existed at one time a harmonious relationship between two individuals. There were two who were friends, who enjoyed each other’s company and friendship. But then something happened to disrupt this friendship. One of the parties wronged and offended the other. Perhaps they both wronged one another. But at any rate, due to offenses committed, their friendship could no longer continue. Where there was peace and unity there is now strife and contention.
In that situation we can speak of reconciliation. Reconciliation is to restore the unity of friendship which existed by removing the offenses that were committed.
We can apply this idea of reconciliation to marriage, to brothers and sisters in the church, to children at school. The Bible applies the idea of reconciliation primarily to God and His people.
Originally there existed between God and man a harmonious relation of friendship and fellowship. This was due to the very way God created man. God made man in His own image so that there was found in man a human reflection of all the wonderful perfections of God. As a result of this, man loved God and served Him faithfully in the garden. And God, looking down on man, was greatly delighted with man so that He drew near to the man and lived with Him in a most blessed covenant fellowship.
But then man sinned and disrupted this wonderful relationship. Man, as represented in Adam, rose up in rebellion against God. As a result, he lost all the good gifts God had given him in creation. He became completely corrupt and evil. He can live only in enmity and hatred against God. He is no longer capable of doing any good but is inclined to every evil imaginable. And the result is that the original friendship and fellowship that man enjoyed with God is now no longer possible. In fact, unless the offense of man’s sins is somehow removed and man is completely turned around, God will destroy man in His holy wrath.
In that situation the Bible speaks of reconciliation between God and His people. Reconciliation is to restore God and His people to friendship and fellowship through the removal of offenses.
Are you reconciled to God?
There is nothing more important in all of life than reconciliation with God!
That we may be reconciled to God, there are several important things we must know about this reconciliation. We find these truths in the summary Paul gives us of his ministry of reconciliation—to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.
First, we ought to note that we must be reconciled to God; God need not be reconciled to us.
When there is conflict between men, there is usually fault on both sides. When there is conflict in marriage or between brothers in the church, very seldom is one party completely to blame and the other to be completely exonerated. Usually the fault must be shared so that both must be reconciled to one another by the removal of the wrongs they have both committed.
But that is not the case between God and us. Certainly the situation is not that God has wronged us and we in turn have wronged God. The fact of the matter is that the wrong is completely ours. God as our Creator has properly set His holy law over us. And this law is not grievous but good and beneficial. In fact, God even gave us all the gifts necessary to keep His law and find His friendship. But we in our pride disobeyed. Through our own folly we lost the good gifts necessary to serve God according to His law. We have disrupted the wonderful relation of friendship and fellowship God had established with us. The fault is completely ours! God need not, therefore, be reconciled to us. We must be reconciled to God.
Let us humble ourselves before God, acknowledging His goodness and our faults, that we may be reconciled to Him.
From Paul’s summary of his ministry of reconciliation we also learn that this work of reconciliation is not our work but God’s work in Jesus Christ. In fact, we contribute nothing to this reconciliation. From beginning to end it is God’s work.
Among men there is a certain sense in which we are able to remove the offenses we have committed and thus reconcile ourselves to another. The man who stole from his neighbor is able to remove the offense of his crime by returning to his neighbor the goods he stole. The man who slandered his neighbor is often able to right his wrong by going to those to whom he spread his lies and set the record straight.
But when it comes to removing our offenses before God, this is not something we are able to accomplish.
As Paul points out in his summary of the ministry of reconciliation, to be reconciled to God requires that God no longer imputes our trespasses to us. In other words, we can be reconciled to God only when God no longer reckons us as sinners. Should we appear before Him with so much as one sin, the offense of that one sin will make reconciliation with God forever impossible.
The removal of offenses is accomplished only when our sins are paid for. And sin is paid for only through the suffering of God’s wrath against them. Our sins are paid for and are no longer offensive to God only when God has vented the fullness of His divine wrath against our sin.
But who is able to make that payment? We certainly are not able! It is true that man is able to bear the wrath of God against his sin. The ungodly, for example, suffer the wrath of God against their sins in hell. But the wrath of God against sin is so great that mere man is not able to bear it all away. That is why hell is forever and the wicked in hell never come to the point where they pay for their sins.
What we are not able to do, God, in His infinite love, does for us in Christ Jesus. This is what Paul emphasizes in his summary of his ministry of reconciliation—God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The meaning is that God paid for our sins in Christ and thereby reconciled us to Himself. God paid the price of our sins in Christ by pouring out upon Christ His eternal wrath against our sins. This wrath Christ endured all his life long, but especially at the cross. The cross stands eternally as the foundation of our reconciliation with God.
How glorious is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Let us cling to that cross daily, finding there the forgiveness of our sins and sweet reconciliation with God!
Finally, we learn from Paul’s summary of his ministry of reconciliation that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
The New Testament Scriptures speak a great deal about the world. They reveal to us, for example, that God loves the world (John 3:16) and that Christ, as the Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). In Paul’s summary of his ministry of reconciliation, we are told that God reconciles the same world to Himself in Jesus Christ.
The world here is not, as so many suppose, every individual of the human race. It is a simple fact that God does not reconcile every individual to Himself in Christ. God’s reconciliation is for His elect alone, those whom God in His eternal good pleasure has ordained to salvation. This expression “world” must therefore be understood on the background of the Old Testament reality that God’s people and salvation were limited to one nation, Israel. But now in the new dispensation, God has His people in every tribe, tongue, and nation under heaven. In distinction from only one nation, God will now save a whole world. And that world He reconciles to Himself in Jesus Christ.
How great is our God!
May the whole world praise Him for the great reconciliation He has brought in Jesus Christ!