Reconciliation is the restoration or healing of a broken relationship. We experience a lot of broken relationships in this world, even the closest relationships such as between husband and wife, parents and children can be broken. Friends disappoint, colleagues let us down, neighbours fight, the poor are exploited and racial tensions escalate. All these relationship breakdowns are, either directly or indirectly, the result of sin. We are fallible, selfish, sinful human beings and sometimes the disparity between our wants and needs is such that we feel we cannot compromise. Violence, alcohol, drugs, marital unfaithfulness and greed can irreparably destroy relationships.
All these evils originate with our failure to maintain our part in the greatest and most fundamental relationship of all, that between us and our Creator. The Creator God has always lived in perfect relationship within himself, as Father , Son and Holy Spirit, the community of love. In love he created and in love he reaches out to redeem his creation so that ultimately we can be reconciled to him. It wasn’t that God needed a reason to love us, he always loved us (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10, Rom 5:6) but he needed a means of reconciliation. He couldn’t just overlook our sin and rebellion, that would be unjust and unholy, so he dealt with it justly and mercifully (Rom 3:26). The relationship between God and humankind was broken and this required reconciliation. The Bible often uses the expression “peace with God” to describe this reconciliation which has restored the relationship. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1 ). Reconciliation is, once again, wholly God’s initiative and it was achieved through Christ. Only the sinless Son of God was qualified to bear our sins in our place and impart to us the gift of righteous standing before God.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:9–11).
Restoration of our relationship with God brings access to the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Spirit. Once again we see the unified work of the triune Godhead. Earlier in Romans 5, Paul explains that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 1) through whom we have obtained access by faith to this grace (verse 2). God’s love, the love shared through eternity by the Godhead (1 John 4:16, John 17:24) has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (verse 5). Later in Romans, Paul appropriately calls the Spirit the Spirit of adoption because he mediates this relationship established in the atoning work of Christ (Rom 8:14–16, 23). This work of the Father, Son and Spirit in reconciliation is further elaborated by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, Ephesians 2 and Colossians 1.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:14–16).
The “both” who are made one here are the Jews and Gentiles, who are both reconciled to God in the same way, not by the law of commandments, but through faith in Christ. The hostility between Jews and Gentiles, fellow human beings, can only be resolved by reconciliation to God and this is what Jesus achieved. Paul goes on to say that Jesus preached peace both to those who were near and those who were far off and through him all have been given access by one Spirit to the Father. He likens the household of God to a dwelling place for God through the Spirit, Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Eph 2:17–22). Father, Son and Spirit work together to effect this reconciliation, which we are incapable of achieving of ourselves.
When sin entered the world, it adversely affected the whole of creation. Creation was subjected to futility, or emptiness, as the Preacher describes in Ecclesiastes. Creation is in bondage to corruption and is “groaning,” awaiting the redemption God has provided. This redemption comes through our adoption as children of God, a renewed and better relationship with God, a relationship of freedom and of glory (Rom 8:21–23). The fourth century theologian Athanasius wrote, “the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.” This is in agreement with Paul’s argument in Colossians 1:15–22.
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”
Christ, the Agent of creation, is also the Agent of the new creation. Creation was accomplished by him, through him and for him; in him all things hold together. How fitting then that the Son, whom the Father appointed heir of all things and by whom he created the world (Heb 1:2), in whom the fullness of God dwells, should also reconcile this fallen creation to God. All things were reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. This is why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).. As Athanasius also says,
“You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has
been made manifest in bodily form. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.”
Reconciliation is the opposite of alienation. Humankind drew away from God , creating a wall of hostility. God in his love for his fallen creation entered into it, in order to redeem it and effect reconciliation. When two parties are alienated in broken relationship, if the relationship is to be repaired, one party must make the move, must cross the dividing line, must speak peace. We couldn’t do that, even if we had wanted to. Humankind had tried to be gods, but that’s precisely the problem (Gen 3:5–6) and we ended up dead in sins, utterly unable to save ourselves (Eph 2:1–5). We couldn’t initiate reconciliation with God, we couldn’t go to him.
So he came to us.
Which takes us back to Romans 5; “While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God…” The Word took on flesh; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). This verse makes little sense if Christ had not pre-existed. The pre-existent Son, who knew no sin, was made sin for us. He was the Lamb of God, the Lamb of God’s providing, who took away the sins of the world (Gen 22:8, 14; John 1:29). In 2 Corinthians 5: 17–21 Paul again brings together the incarnation, reconciliation and the new creation:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”
God was in Christ, God with us, reconciling…