By T.A. McMahon of TheBereanCall.org
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight…
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
-2 Corinthians 5:18-20
There are a number of things that God our Creator desires for His created humanity, and certainly at the top of that list is reconciliation. First and foremost, He wants His created beings, all of whom have been separated from Him through sin, to be brought into fellowship with Him. That separation began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The penalty was death (Gen 2:17)-spiritual death, immediately, and physical death, eventually. In both cases death involved eternal separation (Mt 25:41).
Scripture tells us that all have sinned, a fact that no one can honestly deny, although the attempts are widespread. Yet the Bible reveals mankind’s condition with absolute clarity: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12); “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The consequences of sin are likewise given: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa 59:2).
The penalty for sin is eternal, therefore the reconciliation must be eternal: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb 9:12). Reconciliation with humanity’s Creator is impossible for a man or a woman to achieve through his or her own efforts. Why? Divine justice demands that the penalty must be paid and the penalty is infinite – endless. Finite humanity itself cannot bring about reconciliation by satisfying divine justice because the punishment is without end, i.e., “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess 1:8-9). What is impossible for man, however, is possible for God (Mk 10:27).
Jesus, who is God, and who became a man-a perfect, sinless man-could (and did) pay the eternal penalty for all of mankind. “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). “But we see Jesus…that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb 2:9). As God, He could experience and pay that eternal penalty; as Man, He could die physically-all of which He did on the cross. Although His complete payment for the sins of humanity is beyond our ability to comprehend, Scripture proves that the reality of His atonement is undeniable. Christ’s final words as He hung on the cross are both clear and certain: “It is finished.”
The Greek term used for “finished” is tetelestai. One lexicon explains: “The word tetelestai was also written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show that a bill had been paid in full…. The connection between receipts and what Christ accomplished would have been quite clear to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins” (goo.gl/no6yxC).
Christ’s sacrifice for all has only one requirement in order to bring about reconciliation between God and every human being. His death, burial, and resurrection according to the Scriptures must be believed and received as Christ’s payment for a person’s sins. Faith alone brings about God’s free gift of salvation, and anything added to that is a rejection of Christ’s unfathomable gift that brings about reconciliation.
As I said, being reconciled to God is first and foremost. What then of reconciliation in our personal lives with others once the “first and foremost” takes place? “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). That ministry, which all believers have been given, has to do with simply explaining the good news of the gospel to everyone with whom God provides the opportunity. Sharing the good news of the gift of eternal life that we have freely received should be one of the easiest things for Christians to do but, sadly, too many believers are reluctant to do it. There’s another aspect of reconciliation that some Christians find terribly difficult, and it has to do with our personal relationships.
Scripture gives us instructions and commands regarding how we, as believers, are to effect reconciliation in our relationships. Matthew 5:23-24 gives us a sense of the priority of personal reconciliation with others before God: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” It seems that God won’t accept one’s service to Him when we are at the same time disobedient to His commands.
Obviously, reconciliation between individuals is very important to God and examples are found throughout the Bible. The brothers Jacob and Esau were reconciled (Gen 33:4). After terrorizing believers, Saul, aka Paul, was accepted by those Christians whom he had terrorized! The Corinthians separated themselves from the young man who had his father’s wife, but after he repented he was reconciled to them. Regarding that situation, Paul wrote: “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor 2:6-7). Paul’s letter to Philemon consists primarily of his exhortation to receive back his escaped slave Onesimus. Paul himself had issues with John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, which caused Paul to separate himself from him. However, those issues must have been resolved, for Paul later declared, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim 4:11).
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to reconciliation among believers is reluctance, even refusal, to forgive an offending individual. That’s why the Lord, knowing the heart of man, underscores the necessity of forgiveness throughout the Scriptures: “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22); “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mk 11:25-26).
So what are the factors that prevent us from obeying the commands of God’s Word? Pride…self…our old nature…to name a few. Because pride is a major factor, it keeps us from availing ourselves of God’s grace, because “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).
Who is ever eager to admit that he or she is to blame-or willing to reconcile when not guilty? All of the things that keep us from reconciling with others can be overcome by simply doing what the Scriptures tell us to do. If we’re willing to do things God’s way, He’ll enable us to obey Him. If that sounds too simple, let’s consider a few ideas that might help a person to turn from his own way to God’s way. Although those justifications shouldn’t be necessary, the examples are much like the deterrents listed in the Bible itself, warning readers of the dire consequences of disobedience.
Just what is to be gained by being unwilling to reconcile or forgive? Nothing good! It’s all about self. But pride blinds one to the fact that unwillingness to forgive is self-destructive. Rarely does it have an effect on the person against whom the grudge is held. For many who refuse to reconcile, it conjures up feelings that feed their prideful sense of superiority. Yet Proverbs 12:1 calls the person who rejects biblical instruction and correction brutish, or stupid. Furthermore, the longer that such feelings are sustained, the easier it will be for a root of bitterness to take hold. At the very least, a bad attitude will prevail, affecting others, especially the family members who have to live with the individual. So we see that nothing is gained, but much is lost.
Worst of all, refusing to reconcile injures a believer’s relationship with the Lord. God certainly does not change or go back on His declaration that He will never leave nor forsake a believer (Heb 13:5), but those who disobey God will hardly draw closer to Him! By choosing their own way, they’re in the process of drifting away from Him (Heb 2:1; Rev 2:4), or worse. Verses such as Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12-13 are not suggestions but rather commands that must be obeyed: “And be ye kind to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christs sake hath forgiven you.” “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Those who claim to be believers but refuse to comply need to take to heart the admonition given by Jesus: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk 6:46).
Throughout the Word of God believers are exhorted to deny themselves, putting Christ first and then others: “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15); “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself” (Rom 15:2-3); Love “seeketh not her own” (1 Cor 13:5); “Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). An unforgiving heart stands in direct opposition to those verses and many more.
In my four decades of being a biblical Christian, I had to learn about reconciliation the hard way, which meant through my own experiences rather than by simply obeying what the Scriptures clearly present. I lost a number of friends during that time for a number of reasons, whether through what I did, or said, or wrote. Early on, my approach was to engage them in communication, mostly to defend myself, regardless of whether or not I was at fault. That attitude never brought about reconciliation, even when I made my case using scriptural support. More often than not, it worsened the relationship.
So what did I learn? I needed to do what the Word of God commanded. When convicted of my own wrong in a situation, I needed to repent of whatever it was and try to make amends. What about when I wasn’t at fault, or when I was biblically correct in what I had written, but a brother took offense? I would often respond in order to better explain my point of view or to clarify what I had written that would provide a better understanding. It appeared to be the right thing to do, as long as I could make reconciliation my goal rather than my defense of myself. But even when I did what I could to reconcile, rarely did my attempts meet with success, at least for a while.
What I learned over the years helped, however. First of all, it takes two to reconcile. Both parties must be willing to obey the Bible’s teachings and do things God’s way, which may involve the instructions found in Matthew 18. If, however, I’m willing but the other person is not, we can’t be reconciled. That doesn’t excuse me from doing all I can to obey God’s Word regarding the matter. To not do so doesn’t please the Lord, nor does it help to bring about the possibility of a resolution to the situation. What I’ve also learned is that when I’ve attempted to dispute the issues of disagreement, no matter how meekly, more often than not I’ve unintentionally created obstacles that thwart resolution. The more I “debated,” the greater the disagreement seemed to grow. In other words, I realized that I was hindering what might have been an eventual reconciliation.
On the other hand, I have experienced a few truly miraculous reconciliations! How did they happen? I believe they were all helped by my getting out of the Lord’s way, meaning that I stopped defending myself. Instead, I turned the circumstances over to God, doing what His Word said, with His help, and committed those situations to continual prayer. It was the Lord who turned the hearts of those in opposition toward reconciliation, which only He could do. As it says in 2 Timothy 2:25 regarding those in opposition, “if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”
God knows everyone’s heart and what needs to be done to effect change, which only He can do. Others, however, cannot know or do anything about our hearts, but they can see how we as Christians handle things. God’s Word instructs us to “Be not wise in your own conceits,” not repaying “evil for evil,” but rather do good to others “in the sight of all men” striving to “live peaceably” (Romans 12:16-18). That’s God’s way, and anyone who wants to experience peace in his own life but has departed from God’s way must begin the reconciliation process first and foremost with Him.