Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
Our modern understanding of reconciliation is of two previously alienated parties coming together again after a time of estrangement; the reconciliation often being brought about by a third party. Obviously when we speak about reconciliation in a Bible context, one party is always God, from whom men by nature are separated because of sin, and the other party is either an individual sinner or a group of sinners. However in this reconciliation, no third party is involved because God Himself does the reconciling, albeit always through Christ and His death on the cross.
Reconciliation in human terms demands a change of attitude on the part of either one or of both estranged parties. However in divine reconciliation, only the sinner has to change, and not God. This idea is brought out clearly when we consider the original meaning of the word used for reconciliation in the New Testament. It originally meant to change or exchange, as for instance when the Jews who came to Jerusalem in those days to pay their temple tax had to exchange the currency of the country they came from for shekels, the latter alone being acceptable for payment. So too we were unacceptable to God until He changed us, but in doing so God did not change at all - He is always the same.
In each of the four passages where reconciliation is mentioned - by Paul only - different perspectives are taken of the subject.
2. Romans 5: Reconciliation - A Personal View
In Romans chapter 5, Paul makes the assertions: 'we were without strength . . . we were sinners . . . we were enemies'. Such a predicament clearly implies that he and his readers had been estranged from God. However, he is able to add, 'we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son', v. 10, and 'being reconciled', v. 10, and again, 'we have now received the reconciliation', v. 11, Newberry, JND. Interestingly, we are told that the answer to being without strength was that 'Christ died', v. 6, and so too the answer for our being sinners was, 'Christ died', v. 8; but when it comes to our being enemies, it was God demonstrating His love in 'the death of bis Son', v. 10, such was the magnitude of this particular crime that God had to deliver up His own Son for us all.
Notice that the sinner has the work done for him, i.e. 'we were reconciled', not, we reconciled ourselves; and that it was 'by the death of his Son'. Also 'we are making our boast in God . . . through whom we have received the reconciliation', v. 11, JND. Similar statements are made in each of the four quotations; here reconciliation is by God through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
3. Ephesians 2: Reconciliation - A National View
In Ephesians chapter 2, the apostle Paul is surveying the work of Christ as it affects both saved Jews and Gentiles irrespective of the previous national differences that had existed; careful reading of the first two chapters of Ephesians will show this to be so. He states that Christ has 'broken down the middle wall of partition and abolished in his flesh the enmity [between the races] . . . for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace', vv. 14, 15. If that were not enough, he goes on to say that Christ's work was also 'that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by [through] the cross, having slain the enmity thereby [therein]', v. 16. He not only abolished the enmity between Jew and Gentile believers, He also slew the prior enmity between Jews, Gentiles and God, in reconciling both unto God. Note, here it is Christ reconciling us to God through the cross.
4. Colossians 1: Reconciliation - A Universal View
Having stated that 'it pleased the Father that in him [Christ] should all the fulness [of the Godhead] dwell', the apostle Paul goes on to say that it also pleased the Father that through His Son He would yet reconcile all things unto himself . . . 'whether they be things in earth or things in heaven', v. 19. Whatever reconciliation is to take place it will always be through Christ and His cross, 'having made peace by the blood of his cross', v. 20, in order that He might have the first place in all things. The future reconciliation of the universe, the 'all things', is clearly in view here, when His fallen creation will be reconciled to Him. Then all - with the conspicuous exception of those 'under the earth' who are not mentioned -will be in a new relationship with Him.
Also in view is present reconciliation, as attested by the words 'and you . . . now hath he reconciled', v. 21. The kind of change necessary is again brought out. Whereas in Romans we have the plain statement 'we were enemies', here the thought is augmented by telling the Colossians 'you that were sometime [once] alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works', v. 21, were now reconciled. Again the death of Christ is prominent - 'reconciled in the body of his flesh through death'. The thorough-going change means that He was able 'to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight', v. 22. Readings vary slightly here as to who does the reconciling, whether it be the Godhead, JND; the Father, AV; or even the Son, but whatever the correct rendering, it is clearly a divine work accomplished through the death of Christ.
5. 2 Corinthians 5: Reconciliation - An Evangelical View
In the last passage on reconciliation we are to consider, we see again the complete change brought about by God through Christ, 2 Cor. 5. 17-21. Being 'in Christ' means that we are a new creation, old things are passed away and all things are become new, 'and all things are of God who has reconciled us to himself by [Jesus] Christ', v. 18, JND. No greater change could be imagined! God could even reconcile those who had been of the world to Himself.
However, the following statement is quite remarkable, for the God who has done the work of reconciliation, has given us the ministry of reconciliation and committed to us the word of reconciliation. This ministry is to tell the world 'how that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, v. 19, JND. This still is true and 'We are ambassadors therefore for Christ, God as [it were] beseeching by us, we entreat you for Christ, Be reconciled to God', v. 20 JND. Divine unity in reconciliation is still prominent, hence 'Christ . . . God . . . Christ . . . God'.
Ambassadors represent - and pass on the messages of - another government or ruler in a foreign country. Our 'citizenship is in heaven', Phil. 3. 20, Newberry, and we now have the solemn responsibility of representing heaven down here, especially in passing on God's beseeching word, 'Be reconciled to God'. This is the evangelical view of this great truth, into the good of which believers have come.