Paul taught in his second letter to the Corinthians that Christ-followers have been given a “word of reconciliation” and a “ministry of reconciliation.” I am going to attempt to present my understanding of these concepts, as well as some application. I offer this caveat: As with other deep theological truths, there is great mystery here, because the initiator of reconciliation is God, whose ways are never fully explainable by human beings. As a wise soul once said, “Henry can explain the Ford, but the Ford can’t explain Henry.” I don’t presume to have perfect understanding of a single thing when it comes to the mind of God.
There are several occurrences of the word reconciliation in the New Testament, all of which refer to “a change in the relationship between God and man or man and man,” moving from “a state of enmity and fragmentation to one of harmony and fellowship.” * Most of the occurrences are found in this well-known passage:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:17-20).
We see first that God is the originator of the plan to reconcile us to himself through Jesus Christ, the only suitable mediator. He draws us near. His plan results in a new species, human beings who are spiritually alive and in intimate fellowship with Him! Never since Adam has the earth known such a being.
Second, when God gives us the unspeakably lavish gift of restored relationship with Him, he also gives us a ministry, an assignment to serve and represent him in the world. This God-ordained ministry is rooted in the “word of reconciliation.” This can only refer to the gospel, the essence of which is that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” He has seen fit to wipe out our guilt and transgression, and then appoint us ambassadors. As ambassadors, we plead with those who are not yet restored in the grace of God, “Be reconciled!” This is a beautiful message we get to carry. It is the key that opens the hearts of men and women.
Most people are not looking for a religion. Deep inside, they are looking for the missing piece that only God can fill. The fatherless are crying out for a Father. The lonely long to be set in a family. People everywhere want to feel some assurance that God is real, and that he is not angry with them. He is not harsh or arbitrary, plotting ways to punish them because they are not perfect.
I believe God never has a bad day. He never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, itching for a fight. Scripture asserts that when we accept his righteousness by faith, we are at peace with him. He loves us just because we’re his kids. No further negotiation is needed between us on that point.
Afterwards, though, there is work to do. There is stuff to learn and grow in if we are to serve as effective ambassadors. Here is where the application begins.
Our spirits, brought back to life in the new birth, are perfect. But our souls are dinged, dirtied, and damaged by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Soul and spirit are at enmity with each other and must be reconciled. This is the process of sanctification. We work to attain a new mind, a cleansed conscience, and a will that conforms to the good purposes of our Creator. This is the reconciliation within. It happens by deepening our relationship with Him through prayer, fellowship, and meditation upon his words of truth. In the process we are aligned, cleansed, and healed.
There is also a necessary reconciliation with the outside world of humanity and the rest of creation. We are becoming more like God, the one who choose to exercise grace and love on all occasions. It is a very strange person who loves and forgives the ones who are trying to kill him. Jesus is this strange person, strange in his magnificent love. The ministry and word of reconciliation causes us to become strange like that, if we are doing it right. Paul tells us that the “dividing wall of hostility” between groups of people has been destroyed, and he has made a way of peace possible for us (Eph. 2:14-15). We walk this out by demonstrating radical love and forgiveness toward all, especially our enemies. If that isn’t a counter-cultural idea, I don’t know what is!
So…reconciliation with Him, reconciliation with ourselves, reconciliation with others. Restored relationships bring new life.
How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! (1 Jn. 3:1).