A couple of posts ago, I discussed the meaning of the ministry of reconciliation. And the conclusion was that it means, 'To work through actions and words as a servant (of God) in restoring the harmony between God and creation to form one connected whole.' I like this definition. I like it a lot. But now comes the hard part -- how do we do it? That is what these series of posts are about. How do we do the ministry of reconciliation? Before we get into that I think I should be clear on what has happened.
At one time, God and creation were in harmony with each other and creation was in harmony with itself. Then people rebelled against God and all of creation was thrown into turmoil (Genesis 1-3; Romans 8). But since that time, God has put in place various things (people, laws, etc.) to bring unity back to everything.
Let's look at a couple of passages that will help us see what God has done to accomplish this. Again, 2Corinthians:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat 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.
The Greek text for verse 17 is literally, 'If anyone in Christ new creation'. The idea here is that not only is the person a 'new creation' but that those 'in Christ' are part of the New Creation Project that started when Jesus was raised from the dead. Since that moment, God's New Creation Project has been going on! And it is found 'in Christ'. Today's New International Version translates it this way, 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!' In this passage, Paul seems to indicate that outside Christ is the 'old creation' -- that is, the way things have been since after the great treason of people (Genesis 3). This makes complete sense given the stories Jesus told about the 'Kingdom of God'. (The 'Kingdom of God' was a first century understanding of God ruling the world. It's like a code phrase. It has a lot of layers that we won't go into right now.) Over and over Jesus told stories about how the 'Kingdom of God' was like a seed or yeast or something like that. It started small but eventually took over the whole thing. I think what most people miss about those stories is that, for example, the yeast gets placed within existing dough and actually changes it. Not from the outside (like the heat from the oven) but from within it. Jesus was saying in those stories that God's rule would start in creation, in the middle of history, and it would permeate and change the whole cosmos. That is a radical concept. And each time a person is 'reconciled to God' or 'come[s] back to God', a little bit more of the cosmos has changed. That was Paul's meaning in 2Corinthians. The New Creation was thought to start at the 'end' of the 'old creation'. But, like the stories that Jesus told, Paul wrote that the New Creation started in the middle of the 'old creation' and that every time a person trusts in Jesus, the New Creation grows.
Then next part is a little more astonishing. In fact, I don't think it is emphasized enough. Notice what Paul wrote, 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them' (verse 19). What was God doing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? He was 'reconciling the world to himself'. And he did that by 'no longer counting people's sins against them'. Can you believe that?!? In Colossians, Paul put it this way:
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in [Jesus], and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of [Jesus'] blood on the cross.
Like in 2Corinthians, Paul stated that through the cross of Jesus, God 'reconciled everything to himself...made peace with everything'. That is astounding! Have you ever heard that? Has your pastor ever made such a bold statement from the pulpit? I know I haven't ever heard it. It is way too shocking. Paul has stated very plainly that God made peace with everything. Everything! Take a moment to ponder that. How fantastic!
It is right at this point that some people start calling me a Universalist. Let me go on record as stating that I am not a universalist in their meaning of the term (which means that everyone, no matter what they believe, will 'go to heaven when they die' -- whatever that means). If their meaning of universalism is true, then the Great Commission falls flat. It would make no sense for Jesus to tell the disciples to 'go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit' if everyone is 'going to heaven when they die'. What would be the reason for baptizing 'all peoples' if everyone could just believe what they want? It makes no sense. However, I believe that the Bible is very clear that the love of God is for everyone and everything -- that it is 'universal'. That is what we just read -- God is at peace with everything...no longer counting people’s sins against them.
You knew that was coming, didn't you.
If God is at peace with everything (including people), then why is there still so much chaos in the world? Well, to be blunt, we still need to reconcile our side. We still need to 'make peace with everything'. This includes three areas: God, people, and creation. You see, for reconciliation to work, both sides have to be involved. The Bible tells us that God has done his part. It is now up to us. We have to do our part to... To...? To what? 'Be reconciled to God'! 'Come back to God'! Now we can see how and why the Great Commission makes sense. We are to go and 'show and tell' people all over the world that they have been forgiven. That they must now 'repent and believe'.
'Whoa. Waitaminute. What's all this crap about "repent and believe"? Can't we just continue on like we are?'
Obviously not. Behaving like most of us are now is what got us in this mess in the first place. People not caring about others, putting the blame on someone else for their own mistakes, not following simple rules. (Btw, in the beginning, there was only one. Now there are only two.) Or, if you are more poetically inclined, the problem with people is: Extravagance (later it became 'lust'), gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Each and every one of the human race is tainted with those 'seven deadly sins'. And if you don't believe me, just watch the news! Before we can even think about being reconciled to others or to the world, we need to repent. To turn from our way of being human and accept a different way. We need to look at Jesus and see in him what true humanity really looks like. Do you know what the greatest part is? We can be like Jesus. We can accept the 'Good News' that '[Jesus] died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said' (1Corinthians 15.3-4). Why did he do that? What was the purpose? It was so that God could 'make peace with everything'! So that God could 'forgive us our sins'! So that those 'seven deadly sins' can be removed from us forever! That is why we must 'repent and believe'. If we wish to be truly human, that is the only way to go about it.
'I knew it. Exclusivity. "We are right and everyone else is wrong".'
Well, this isn't really the time to address this fully, but I will just say this. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try and persuade myself that the whole human race were pretty good fools until about one hundred years ago; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. Like in arithmetic -- there's only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
The Case for Christianity, Part II, page 31.
I completely agree. I often explain it like a maze. There are many paths in a maze. The object is to reach the goal -- whether to the center or out the other side. Some paths in the maze lead you the opposite way while others lead you almost there but not quite. However -- and this is something that a lot of 'religious' people don't seem to realize -- all of the paths are in the maze. But only one leads you to the end.
You see, some (most) people are in the maze. Yet others don't even know that they can join us. The 'Great Commission' is about that very thing. The 'Great Commission' lets other people know that they can join in the maze. But, it is going to cost them. To play in the maze you are going to have to want to play in it. And you have to want to play by the rules. It doesn't do any good to have some who want to cheat by cutting her or his own path to the goal -- or burning down the entire thing. No, this game is for all of us. And for all of us to be able to enjoy the maze, we have to follow the simple rules. And the simplest rule is to leave behind the way we want to do things. So people have to decide. And that decision may be painful. It might mean that you leave family and friends outside the maze because they don't want to play. It might mean that I have to throw away my flame-thrower. Yes, it may even mean that we have to humbly ask for directions and respect the answers we get. To put away our pride (and its six siblings) and actually confess that we don't know it all. Heck, if we are really honest we would say that we don't know anything, really. 'But we are willing to learn.' And by doing that, well...
Let the game begin!
Peace be with you.
<-- Go to Part 1 or Go to Part 3 -->