It’s always a challenge for me to know what to share with you on times like this, and I sort of revert back to the things that are on my heart; and I want to do that tonight. I’ve been preaching through 2 Corinthians for a long time, and taken a little hiatus. But I want to draw your attention back to 2 Corinthians chapter 5 if I might, and see if I can’t kind of refocus us on the main thing.
Life in the church and life in the ministry can become very diverse and very complex. We get ourselves involved in all kinds of endeavors; sometimes our priorities get a little skewed. I want to take us back to the main thing that we are to be engaged in as those who serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 I want to read from verse 18 to the end of the chapter. “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
I have occasion frequently to fly, more frequently than I care to, but that’s the nature of the world we live in; and I am usually engaged in a flight in a conversation with whoever’s seated next to me. And I had an interesting flight down to El Paso, Texas some time back to do a men’s conference in the Civic Center in El Paso for the Calvary Chapels. And as I was going down, I was sitting going through my Bible and preparing some things to say when I arrived. I was seated next to an Arab, a gentleman who, as I found later, was new in America; and I noticed that he was very curious about me reading my Bible.
Eventually, after we’d been in the air for about an hour, he got up enough courage to speak to me, and he said, “I see you have a Bible.” I said, “That’s correct.” He said, “Well,” he said, “I’m new in America and I’m from Iran. May I ask you a question?” and I said, “Of course.” He said, “In my country everyone is Muslim, but here there are so many religions. I don’t understand American religion,” and I said, “Well, I’d be happy to help you.”
He said, “Well, my question is,” – and this is a quote – “Can you tell me the difference between a Catholic, a Protestant and a Baptist?” That’s what he said. And I said, “I think I can.” And so I proceeded into a little bit of a discussion of Catholicism and sacramental religion and all of that, and salvation by works, and ceremonies, and things like that; and then I proceeded to talk about Protestantism, and a little about the Reformation, and how that there was a great separation within the larger context of Christendom when it was discovered that the gospel was a gospel of forgiveness and grace and so forth, and I explained that Baptists belong in that category. And he listened very intently.
And I said, “I understand that it’s hard to figure this out in America, because there’s so many, many different forms and shades and styles of religion.” But I said, “Since you asked me a question, could I ask you one?” And he said, “Of course.” And I said, “Well, I know you’re Muslim, and I just wonder, do you have sins in the Muslim religion?” And ,of course, I know they do, but I wanted to hear it from him. So I said, “Do you have sins in the Muslim religion?” “Oh,” he said, “many, many sins. We have so many sins I can’t even name them all.”
I said, “Well, let me ask you another question. Do you do those sins? Do you commit them?” “All the time,” he said. “I commit all the sins. In fact,” he said, “I’m flying to El Paso to commit some sins.” He said, “To be honest, I met girl when I came to America, and we’re going to sin.” That’s pretty honest. I said, “Well, how does God feel about your sin?” “It’s very bad. It’s very bad.” I said, “But you keep doing it anyway?” He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Well, what is the consequence of all of this accumulation of sin that is so bad?” He said, “It’s very bad.” I said, “You mean like hell?” And, of course, in the Muslim religion there is hell.
He said, “Well,” he said, “I hope the God will forgive me.” “Oh,” I said, “really? On the basis of what? Why would He do that?” “I don’t know, but I hope the God will forgive me.” And then I said this, and I really didn’t know it would come across the way it did. I said, “Well, I know Him personally, and He won’t.”
And I didn’t realize how that came across, but there was the first part of it that he couldn’t understand, and he said to me, “You know the God personally?” Like, “What are you doing in coach in the middle seat on Southwest?” you know. “Who is this guy kidding? He knows the God.” Just absolutely blew his mind that I would say I knew God.
And then I went on to say that, “I do know Him, and I know His word well enough to know He will not pass by your sin. You will die in your sins, and you will spend forever in hell.” and then I said, “Now that you’ve heard the bad news, can I tell you the good news?” He said, “Please.” I said, “Let me tell you what Christianity is all about,” and I explained to him the gospel of reconciliation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He said, “I never, ever understood that. I never understood about Jesus. You know He’s a prophet in Islam, but I never understood why He died.”
That’s really what we do, isn’t it? You know, I’ve learned the greatest feat that people have on an airplane is that they’ll sit next to an insurance salesman; but the second greatest fear is that they’ll sit next to a preacher. And I’ve learned that when people ask me what I do I just say this: “I have a terrific job. I go around and tell people God will forgive all their sins. Are you interested?” and that gets right to the issue immediately. And that is always the issue. That’s what this passage is all about. It’s all about the ministry of reconciliation.
By the way, when I got talking with him, he had such an elevated interest in the gospel, because it offered him hope to escape hell, and the possibility of the forgiveness of sin. I messed up his weekend pretty seriously I think. I hope he followed up and went to the church I told him to go to. I further sent him some material. I haven’t heard back from him.
But the bottom line is we are in the ministry of reconciliation. We tell sinners that they can be reconciled to God, that’s what we do. That’s the only reason we’re really here on earth, everything else we could do better in heaven. We could have purer fellowship there, purer worship there, purer lives there, purer everything there; and the only reason we’re here is because we have this ministry of reconciliation.
The Bible makes it clear that all people are sinners, and by nature they are sinners, and by action they are sinners, and thus they are alienated from Holy God. This alienation, because of sin, prevents every sinner from fellowship with God, who is too perfectly holy to have anything to do with sinners, except to reject them and damn them and punish them eternally.
Such a series of realities proves the point that the most deadly virus in the world is not the HIV virus, it’s the S-I-N virus. Like the HIV virus, it kills everything it infects; not just in time, but in eternity; not just physically, but spiritually. And while there’s no cure for the HIV virus, there is a cure for the S-I-N virus, which is far worse. I can’t imagine that somebody would discover a cure for the HIV virus and not shout it from the housetops, and yet Christians are prone to have the cure for the S-I-N virus and say nothing about it.
God Himself has made it possible for sinners to be cured and reconciled to Him; and that is the good news. The good news is that the hostility with God can end now and forever, and it’s all based upon this provision of reconciliation of which we read in 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
The word “reconciliation” is used five times in that brief text. Reconciliation is a very important word. It simply means that man and God can get together. God has called us to preach this message, to train our people so they can preach this message. This is the mission of the church. This is what we go into all the world to do. This is what we preach to every creature. This is the content of the Great Commission. And I believe that if there was anything that Satan would want to attack it would be the church’s understanding of this message.
I mean, you don’t have to think about it very long to realize that if we don’t have the gospel right we’re neutralized. And here we are four hundred and fifty years after the Reformation still trying to sort out what the gospel is, battling to hold onto it. Churches in our country are loaded with people who could not give a cogent representation of the significance of the death of Jesus Christ. They might know that He died and He died for sin, but they wouldn’t know what really that means.
Our mission is to reconcile men to God. We do that as the ministry of reconciliation, according to this text, by preaching the word of reconciliation; and that’s how we discharge our ambassadorship in an alien culture. And the question that is so penetrating today is, “What is that message? What is that word of reconciliation mentioned in verse 19?”
This is my job; this is your job. This is our task; this is our responsibility. The word of reconciliation, the logos of reconciliation is opposite the muthos, all the myths and all the false teaching. We have the truth. We live in this world for one reason, and that’s to announce that God will be reconciled to sinners. The enmity between hopeless, wicked people and a holy God can end. That’s our message.
Actually, from the human viewpoint, if you look at the depravity of man and the infinite and perfect holiness of God, it would seem that there would ever be a possibility of reconciliation. If any is irreconcilable it is absolute and perfect holiness, and sin; or an absolute and perfect and holy God, and utterly depraved and wicked men.
We really don’t get any help in this dilemma either by looking at angels, because when they fell there was no reconciliation provision. We might have concluded if that’s all we knew that reconciliation with God was absolutely impossible, there was no provision made for fallen angels to ever be reconciled.
But as impossible as it is to the human mind to conceive, as inscrutable as it would be to imagine a holy God communing with wicked people and still maintaining His holiness, that is exactly the truth, and that is the word of reconciliation which we preach. There is a way to reconciled to God. There is a plan, and God has given it to us to proclaim. And if there’s anything the church must understand it is that word of reconciliation.
When I wrote the book The Gospel According to Jesus, people asked me why I made such an issue out of that; because that is the issue. We can debate about a lot of things, but hopefully not that. We are ambassadors for Christ who have been given a very straightforward task, and that is the ministry of reconciliation.
Now without belaboring the issue, I just want to take you for a few moments – not a long time – through this text to give you the core components of reconciliation: “How can it happen? How can it take place? By what means can sinners be reconciled to God?” The text answers for us that query, and it’s at the heart of our raison d'etre, right at the very core of our very existence.
Number one – just very simple points. Number one: Reconciliation is by the will of God. Reconciliation is by the will of God. Starting in verse 18 we read this: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us.” Then verse 19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world.” And then verse 20: “God entreating through us.” All of those indicate to us that the plan comes from God, that God is the reconciler who, according to verse 17, “makes new creations, who causes old things to pass away and new things to come.” God is the one who provided in the love of Christ the death that reconciles us, discussed back in verses 14 and 15. The plan comes from God.
And to think about that in its initial aspects we start at this point: God by nature is a reconciling God. Now that sounds sort of patently obvious, but maybe it’s not if you think about it. And maybe it wasn’t to the Corinthians to whom the apostle Paul was writing this, because they lived in a polytheistic kind of world and a world of a myriad of deities. And typically in the study of ethnology or the science of religions of the world we find that the dominant theme built around the deities of man’s making is that they are not by nature friendly toward people. They are, on the one hand, indifferent; on the other hand, hostile; and they run sort of a continuum along that span.
Typically, those pagan religions that we’re familiar with have gods that if they are not appeased appropriately – for example, in the case of Moloch, a child is not passed through the fire, or if certain ceremonies are not carried out, if certain sacrifices are not offered, that god is going to continue on in his fury or, perhaps, in his indifference, as in the case of the priests of Baal and Elijah’s mocking questions about whether or not their god was asleep or gone on a vacation. The gods of man’s making, the gods that are devised by seducing spirits are gods of indifference on the one hand and gods of outright hostility on the other hand that have to be coddled and appealed to and appeased by all of the machinations of the developing religion beneath that supposed deity.
In contrast to that in a world of indifferent to hostile gods comes along the Christian message that our God is by nature a saving God. Never is that more clearly manifest than in the person of Jesus Christ. From the time in Genesis chapter 3, and in verses 8 and 9, when God said to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” God has been seeking sinners. God seeks to be reconciled. He is not indifferent to reconciliation; He is not hostile to reconciliation. It is His nature to be a saving God. In Ezekiel 34 and verse 16, God said, “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick.” That’s God’s nature, to save.
That’s why in Titus chapter 1, God is called God our Savior; chapter 2, God our Savior; chapter 3, God our Savior. It’s not that God is reluctant to save and somebody has to appeal to Him to do that, He is by nature a savior. It’s not that God is reluctant, and Jesus gets up to Him and sort of comes up to Him on His good side, and convinces Him that He ought to save some people. Or worst yet, that even Jesus is a bit reluctant and Mary is the one that is able to plead with Him and get Him to get to the Father and pull the whole thing off. There’s utterly no reluctance on the part of God whatsoever in regard to salvation. He is by nature a saving God.
In 2 Chronicles 36, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them” – verse 15 – “again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of God arose against His people, until there was no remedy.” You get the picture here that God pleads and pleads and pleads and pleads and pleads and pleads, until He has finally exhausted every possible plea. There’s no reluctance in that attitude.
Coming into the New Testament we find the same character of God indicated in Luke in a couple of very significant passages. The first I would draw to your attention is Luke 19. “Jesus entered and was passing through Jericho.” And as I said a moment ago, never is God as a savior more clearly evidenced than in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and shows us God’s saving nature.
But He’s passing through Jericho. Verse 2, he finds a man named Zaccheus who was a chief tax gatherer and he was rich. Thus, he was a criminal in the eyes of the Jews who had extorted money from them for his own wealth. He was trying to see Jesus. He was not able to do it because the crowd was large and he was very small, and so he got up in a tree. You remember the story. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
It starts out with Zacchaeus seeking Him. And Zacchaeus, the best he can do is get in a tree; that’s as close as he’s going to get. You get into the middle of the story, and all of a sudden Jesus turns and starts to seek him. He hurried, came down, received him gladly. People began to grumble saying, “He’s going to be the guest of a man who’s a sinner.” Zacchaeus stopped and said of the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half my possessions I’ll give to the poor. If I’ve defrauded anyone of everything I’ll give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham, a true son by faith.” And then this most notable statement: “For the Son of Man has come to” – what? – “to seek and to save that which was lost.” There is the character of God made manifest.
When the kindness of God appeared. Titus says, “When the love of God appeared.” And both of those texts mean appeared in incarnation form. They appeared in order that salvation might take place. God by nature is a seeking, saving God.
In Luke chapter 15 we find probably the most familiar illustrations of this in three parables: the parable of lost sheep, a parable of a lost coin, and a parable of two lost sons. We focus on one, but there were really two lost sons. One was profligate and the other was religious, but they were both in the same spiritual predicament in the parable.
The first story you remember verses 3 to 7 is about a lost sheep. And the one who lost the sheep goes to find the sheep and leaves the ninety-nine; and when he finds it, lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. In verse 5, comes home, calls together his friends, his neighbors saying to them, “Rejoice of me, for I found my which was lost!”
And then in verse 7 is the theme of the whole chapter: “I tell you in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The point is this: heaven is never happier than when sinners repent. The great exhilaration and joy in heaven occurs when sinners repent, that’s the point. There was a party when the sheep was found.
You go to the next story in verses 8 to 10. And the coin is lost, and the coin is found. “Rejoice with me,” – verse 9 – “I have found the coin which I had lost.” Verse 10: “In the same way, I tell you, there’s joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Nothing ignites the exhilarating joy of heaven more than the repentance of a sinner, because they know that pleases God; the angels join in the great celebration.
And in the story of the two sons, one son, the profligate – wicked, outwardly vicious and uncaring son, irreligious and disregarding his gospel privilege under his father, wasting all of his substance – comes back and repents, is restored. And the picture here is of, “Kill the fatted calf, put on the robe, put on the ring, start the music,” the whole nine yards, pictures the celebration in heaven over the sinner who repents. On the other hand, the Pharisaical sinner, the self-righteous brother never does repent, and can’t even enter into the celebration that ends the chapter in verse 32. So the theme of the chapter is how heaven rejoices when sinners repent.
When he got up and started to come back to his father, his father did what? Ran to meet him. Remember that? Fell on his neck and kissed him. That’s showing the seeking heart of God.
It is clearly revealed to us a couple of times in 1 Timothy – if you’ll turn there for a moment – this seeking nature of God. In 1 Timothy chapter 2 it tells us again that God is a savior. It has already so identified Him in 1 Timothy 1:1, “God our Savior.” Then in chapter 2, verse 3, “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” If you question that, then ask yourself this: “Why did God provide a mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all, if He wasn’t by nature a saving God?” God is a saving God. We don’t need to plead with God to save sinners, we need to plead with sinners to accept the salvation God offers.
Now this is never more clearly indicated in graphic terms in the normal process of human life than in the fulfillment of 1 Timothy 4:10. This as first glance appears to be a difficult verse, and perhaps as you first approach it it is. But it says in 1 Timothy 4:10 that, “We hope in the living God,” – we placed our hope on the living God – “who is the Savior of all men.”
Of course, universalists like that. Universalists will say, “There it is, proof positive. Chapter 2, He desires all men to be saved; chapter 4, He’s the Savior of all men. That settles it. Everybody’s going to get saved in the end.”
And even some reformed folk would want to take the word “narrow” – or the word at “all” and narrow it down and make it refer to the elect. He’s the Savior of all men (who are chosen or who believe). But that isn’t what it says. You might be able to do that if that last phrase weren’t on there, especially of believers.
A little adverb malista means that God is the Savior of all men in some way similar to the way He is the Savior of believers. We know that He’s the Savior of believers spiritually and eternally. The question is, “In what way is He the Savior of all men?” Answer: temporally and physically, temporally and physically.
What do I mean by that? Well, what I mean by that is the very fact that a sinner takes a second breath after his first sin is indicative of God’s mercy, isn’t it? All it takes is one sin to be worthy of hell. All it takes is to be born into the world depraved to be worthy of hell. The fact that any child born lives to take its first breath is because God by nature is a saving God.
This is common grace. This is the rain falling on the just and the unjust. This is evident to us as we look around the world and we see unbelievers, and they smile and they laugh, and they fall in love and they have babies, and they hug each other and kiss each other, and smell the flowers and see the sunset, and love the music, and make money, and sit in comfortable chairs, and drive comfortable cars, and take beautiful vacations in Switzerland; and they ought to be in hell – is that not true? – like all of us. But God demonstrates that He is by nature a saving God in His patience, in the common grace, and the way that He allows sinners to run the course of their iniquity and still enjoy the sweetness of His created world.
It is not foreign to God’s nature to be a Savior, He is a Savior by nature. We never can lose sight of that, and we never can lose sight of the fact that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation. I don’t care how firm your theology becomes built around the sovereignty of God; if you ever lose sight of this, you’ve taken your theology to a logical, unbiblical conclusion.
Turn to Titus, if you will, for a moment, because Titus is an evangelistic epistle. Titus is the greatest, I think, singular New Testament treatise on how a church effectively evangelizes. Most people don’t see Titus as evangelistic, but it is. Apart from the salutation in verse 1 and 2, you come into verse 3. And God is mentioned once in chapter 3, God our Savior; once in chapter – well, I should say once in verse 3, chapter 1, God our Savior; once in chapter 2, verse 10, God our Savior; once in chapter 3, verse 4, God our Savior.
In chapter 1, verse 4, “Christ Jesus our Savior.” Chapter 2, verse 13, “Our great God and Savior Christ Jesus.” Chapter 3, verse 6, “Jesus Christ our Savior.” So you have three mentions of God, three mentions of Christ after the salutation. Each time They are identified as to Their saving purpose.
Now how has God’s saving purpose unfolded? First of all, in chapter 1, it is unfolded by developing strong leaders who can teach God’s people and build them up strong in the faith. Chapter 2, by developing strong congregations built around sound doctrine. And he goes through all the various men and women in the congregation, reminds them of God’s saving purpose: “The grace of God appearing, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us how to live our lives, so that we make the gospel believable. He’s desirous of a people for His own possession, zealous of good works.”
Chapter 3, it’s the same thing; not only how you live in the church, but, chapter 3, how you live in the world: “Be subject to rulers and authorities. Be obedient, ready for every good deed. Don’t malign people, be without contention, gentle,” – et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – “remembering that your unconverted world around you can’t be expected to be much different.”
You know, I worry about this. I think so many churches lose their opportunity to preach the message of reconciliation, because they spend all their time bashing the unconverted. Everybody from the President on down gets bashed by evangelicals in the name of cultural morality. What do you expect out of them? Verse 3: “We were also once foolish.”
What do you expect out of foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to lusts and pleasures type people? What do you expect out of people that spend their whole life in malice, envy, hate? What else would you expect? You can change one form of evil for another, but that’s all you can expect. And realize, will you, that the only reason you’re not in the crowd is, verse 5, He saved us, not on the basis of what we’ve done, but so forth.
So the point – I’m just giving you a broad picture of Titus. The point is, if we’re going to win the world, it starts with strong, spiritual leadership that can point out error and lead us to truth. It moves to godly congregations where people do what God wants them to be, so the testimony of their life is remarkable and demonstrates the saving power of God.
In other words, “We so live” – verse 5 of chapter 2 – “that the word of God may not be dishonored.” We so live that there’s nothing they can say against us. “We so live, that we adorn” – according to verse 10 – “the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” In other words, we make the gospel believable by our transformed lives. And then as we move into the world, it’s how we treat the world around us; but it has so much to do with our living. But behind all of this is this concept that God is a saving God. He is by nature a Savior; He seeks sinners.
Now let’s go back to our text. That was tangential to some degree, but very important. When we come then to the text of 2 Corinthians 5, God is the starting point of reconciliation. It is because of His nature, because of His will, and because of his plan.
Listen, man never makes reconciliation with God. It is what we embrace, not what we do. You understand that? Reconciliation is a divine provision by which God’s holy displeasure has been appeased, the hostility removed, and sinners restored to Him.
To put it another way: reconciliation with God is not something we accomplish when we decide to start rejecting Him, it is something He accomplished when He decided to stop rejecting us. God then is the source of reconciliation.
Secondly, reconciliation is by the will of God, and it is by the forgiveness of sins. It is by the forgiveness of sins. There is no reconciliation without the forgiveness of sins.
Look at verse 19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” How could He do that? Only one way: by not counting what? Their trespasses against them. The only way that we could ever be reconciled to God is if the barrier, which is sin, is out of the way. God is reconciling sinners to Himself, and He can only do that one way, and that is by not counting their trespasses against them.
Now it says in this verse – and this question certainly needs to be answered – that, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” And here we are again at another verse the universalists love. Did He really reconcile the world to himself? Without going into all kinds of detail, may I suggest to you that all that means is the generic mankind. It does not mean that God has not actually reconciled the entire world to Himself, or nobody would be in hell, right? The world in the sense of mankind, like Titus 3:4, “His love for mankind.”
The question comes up, “Did Christ actually pay the full penalty for every soul? Did He actually pay for the sins of every soul that has ever lived on the cross?” If He did, then hell would be double jeopardy.
“World” here includes the sphere, the class of beings toward whom God sought His reconciliation, the world of mankind. It was His love for mankind, a love He didn’t demonstrate for angels. Unless you think that it’s sort of a strange that He wouldn’t just love all men, then you have to battle through the issue of the fact that He didn’t reconcile any angels. And they didn’t start in innocence like man, they started out in perfection.
People always want to talk about limited or unlimited atonement, neither of which are biblical terms. Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value, because He was the infinite Son of God; thus His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of as many as God saves.
To put it another way: if God decided to save everybody, no further sacrifice would be needed, right? So when we talk about whether His atonement or whether the work on the cross was limited in its value, in its essence, and in its sufficiency, it is unlimited. The question then is not really about the intrinsic merit of Christ’s death or its capabilities; that’s unlimited. Even the gospel offer is unlimited.
The issue is, was an actual atonement made at the cross; and if it was an actual atonement made there, for whom was it made? And the answer is in places like John 10:11, “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Or in Acts 20:28, “The church of God which is bought with the blood of His Son.” “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her,” Ephesians 5:25, and so forth. John 17, Jesus said, “I do not pray for the world, but for those who believe in Me through Your word.”
No matter what you want to believe about limited or unlimited atonement, in the end it only applies to those who believe. True? And how is it that God can have a reconciliation with these sinners? Let’s go back to our text. By not counting their trespasses against them.
He came into the world of men to reconcile sinners. He came into mankind to reconcile sinners. The only way He could do it was not counting their trespasses against them. Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” That’s a parallel to Psalm 32:2, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.”
The only way God can be reconciled to man is if sin is out of the picture. There’s only one way to get sin out of the picture. God can’t dismiss it, He’s too holy for that. He has to what? He has to judge it; it has to be dealt with. Once it’s dealt with, reconciliation takes place. More about that in a moment.
Reconciliation is by the will the God, by the act of forgiveness. Thirdly, reconciliation is by the obedience of faith. It’s not without faith. Look at verse 20. Why else would we be given the ministry of reconciliation? Why else would we be told to preach the word of reconciliation and go out as ambassadors, and then verse 20, entreating people, begging them, “Be reconciled to God”?
If this is all God’s plan and it’s all God’s action, why are we bothering with these people? Why don’t we just say, “God, just zap those them. Zap those folks, zap that guy”? Because there’s a marvelous, inscrutable component in the work of reconciliation, and that is to the obedience of faith. And it’s implied here rather than explicitly stated.
So we go out, and it’s like God begging through us that sinners be reconciled to Him. Now I admit, that’s inscrutable to me. If God knows it, and it’s all predetermined, and it’s all settled and it’s all done, why in the world are we going around begging everybody to be reconciled to God? I don’t think I will ever be able to reconcile that, probably not even with my glorified mind. But it’s no problem to God.
We go to sinners, that’s what we do, and plead with them to be reconciled. That’s our task as ambassadors. It’s as if God had sent us as His personal agents into an alien culture to beg the people to be reconciled to Him, to say to them what Paul said in Acts 16, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
It’s to do what it tells us must be done in Romans chapter 10, starting in verse 9: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” So what do we do? We go out there and tell sinners to believe.
Verse 11: “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” We call people to believe. Verse 13: “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How should they believe in Him whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher?” So there we are. We’re the preachers. We tell them and we call them to faith.
So reconciliation is by the will of God, by the act of forgiveness, and by the obedience of faith. And you know what’s amazing about this is that sinners are responsible for their own rejection. Are they not? “You will die in your sins,” Jesus said, “because you believe not on Me; and where I go, you’ll never come.”
One other point remains to understand reconciliation, and this is the heart of the whole thing. Reconciliation is by the will of God, by the act of justification, and by the obedience of faith. But that poses still the question: “How can God do this? How does He deal with sin? How does He reconcile sinners? How does He satisfy His just and holy condemnation of sin with a full and deserved punishment and still be able to show mercy to sinners who deserve no mercy? How does He do that?” The answer comes in fifteen Greek words in verse 21, and they tell us this final point: Reconciliation is by the will of God, by the act of justification, by the obedience of faith and by the work of substitution, by the work of substitution.
This has already been indicated to us back in verse 18: “God reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Verse 19: “God was in Christ.” Verse 20: “We are ambassadors for Christ. We beg you on behalf of Christ.” He’s been saying that four times. He said that Christ is the means of this reconciliation. Now in verse 21 he explains how. “He” – being God – “made Him who knew no sin sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Now this is the work of substitution. This is an incredible verse. It really deserves far more attention than I am able to give it tonight. Suffice it to say, we’ll take a sweep across it briefly. Let’s start at the beginning.
“He made,” that’s God again. It was God the reconciler. It was God who planned it. It was God who designed it. God, who developed the ministry of reconciliation, revealed the word of reconciliation, and sends us forth as ambassadors. It’s completely His plan.
At the very heart of that plan, “He made Him who knew no sin.” Who’s that? That’s not a large field to choose from. “Him who knew no sin,” Jesus Christ, the sinless one. The one of whom the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The one of whom the writer of Hebrew says, “He is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” of whom Peter said, “The just for the unjust.”
Jesus Himself posed the question in John 8, I think it’s verse 46, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” So He chose the sinless one. He, God, chose the sinless one. For what? To be made sin. He made Him who knew no sin sin on our behalf.
Now, we understand that, most of us to some degree; but let me dig a little deeper into that. The question that struck my mind as I studied this was, “In what sense did Jesus become a sinner? What does that mean? He made Him sin. What are we talking about?”
What really piqued my interest was I happened to be at the time reading some material from Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin, and what they said about this is that on the cross Jesus became a sinner. This is what they teach: Jesus became a sinner, and then He went to hell to suffer the just punishment of His sin for three days; and when he had suffered and expiated His sin, God released Him to be raised from the tomb.
I’d like to suggest to you that that’s not ignorance, that’s blasphemy. If you haven’t already thought this through, I’ll take you to the end of where your thinking ought to take you. On the cross Jesus was still holy, harmless, and undefiled. That’s why He said, “My God, my God, why?” He was as pure and sinless on the cross as He ever was before in eternity or since. He was the pure and spotless Lamb, without blemish, Peter says. He was not a sinner on the cross; He did not become a sinner on the cross.
There’s only one way in which He can be spoken of as being made sin, and this is it and nothing more. It means this: Christ did not become a sinner. He did not break a law. He did nothing in His perfection to violate that perfection. He never failed to fulfill perfectly every holy demand and expectation. He did no sin, but He was made a sinner in this sense: God treated Him as if He was one, though He wasn’t. That should be clear from any study of the sacrificial system. The animal on the alter didn’t do anything to deserve that either, but that animal was treated as if it was the sinner, to show the sinner what the sinner deserved.
On the cross Jesus was not a sinner, He did not become a sinner, but God treated Him – listen carefully to this statement: God treated Jesus on the cross as if He had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe. That’s the extent of the real atonement. God treated Jesus on the cross as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe.
What does that mean that God treated Him that way? That means that God exploded on Him the full fury of all His wrath for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe, and He took the full wrath for all of it, though He was not a sinner. God treated Him as if He was. If you understand that, you understand the first half of substitution and imputation.
But there’s another side wonderfully. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, on our behalf, that we might become” – what? – “the righteousness of God in Him.” What does that mean? Well, say it simply. Are you righteous? Are you perfectly righteous? Do you have the right to go marching into the presence of God because your life is sinless? No? And none of is. You’re not righteous, but God treat’s you as if you were. That’s the other side of substitution.
Let me say it this way. On the cross Jesus was not a sinner, but God treated Him as if He was. Because of the cross you’re not righteous, but He treats you as if you are. Your sins have all been punished. They’ve all been dealt with. They’ve all been expiated. They’ve all been propitiated. They’ve all covered. The judgement has been paid. The fury has been spent. The wrath is over, and there is therefore now no condemnation.
That’s imputation; that’s substitution. He wasn’t the sinner, and I’m not righteous. But God covered Him with my sin, and treated Him as if He had committed it all; and then He treats me as if I had done only Jesus’ righteous deeds. That’s the gospel; that’s the ministry of reconciliation. And there’s no works in it anywhere, it’s all of grace.
Reconciliation is what we’re all about. We have the wonderful privilege to go into this world of people dying of the S-I-N virus and tell them we know the cure. Amen?
Father, we thank You for this wonderful day You’ve given us. These are searching thoughts, penetrating thoughts at the end of a long day full of all kinds of thoughts, all kinds of interaction and learning and discussion and meditation. Lord, sometimes we take in more than we can really hold, so we ask, Lord, that You’d help us filter out those things that are most needful.
Lord, give Your church a clear understanding of the gospel. Help us to be able to go to sinners and explain how they can be reconciled to God. Help us to get past the psychological issues to the real thing. Help us to get past the superficiality to the fact that God will forgive all their sins if they’ll come to Him; knowing that if they’re not interested in that, they’re like the rich young willow, they’ll have to go away. But if they are, and by faith they can receive the glorious gift that He has given.
Father, help us in our churches and in our ministries never to lose to sight of what is the main reason we are here: this ministry of reconciliation. We would rather be in heaven. We’d rather be in Your presence. We’d rather be in the perfection of Your glory. We’d rather be face-to-face, to know as we are known. We’d rather be wandering through the New Jerusalem. We’d rather be conversing and reclining at table with Abraham. We’d rather have the battle of the flesh over. We’d rather have all the fears and doubts and sickness and sorrow and death gone.
But we know as Paul knew, while it’s far better to depart and be with Christ, it’s more needful to be here, because You’re still bringing in Your own. And You’ve not only chosen them, but You’ve chosen us to be the means to reach them. What a high and holy calling that is. And give us passion for that ministry of reconciliation.
Thank You for such a great privilege. Make us worthy ambassadors by the strength of Your Spirit, we pray in Christ’s name. And everyone said amen.
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