Ministry of Reconciliation -- Part 2

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.

2Corinthians 5.17-21, NRSV



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.

Colossians 1.19-20



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.

But...

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.

+ OD

<-- Go to Part 1 or Go to Part 3 -->

Comments

Pinball said…
Dude, I didn't have time to read the whole thing, but skimming it was good enough (I hope!)

You are so right with the whole reconciliation thing. This discussion is squarely in the realm of man's responsibility. We're still responsible for our actions. The reason why this isn't even remotely universalist (apart from the fact that your thought is rooted in scripture) is that there are many who are uninterested in reconciling. The reason we have to turn and repent is that we are at war with God. He declared peace at the cross and will war no more with the human race. Yet much of our ilk is still fighting him tooth and nail. Until we surrender to the one who has already declared peace, we'll continue to destroy ourselves with the war we wage against an unassailable foe. We're almost literally banging our heads against a wall when the wall itself has told us where the gate is.

This explains a lot. Like, "Why does God allow people to go to Hell when could save them?" for instance. He's already declared peace and told us all how we can partake in it. He touches some directly and most through the hands of those whom he has touched, but all are responsible for opening their eyes to the clear reality he has laid out. If people don't turn and repent, then they are wandering around in either the wrong part of the maze or outside of it altogether.

It's interesting that sometimes the people who are on the paths closest to the center of the maze (It works better for me to think of I AM being in the center of the maze.) are the ones who have the hardest time getting to the actual center. That's because there are only 2 ways to get to the center from where they are: They either have to go all the way back to where they branched off and start in a new direction or they have to go through the pain of being jerked through a thick hedge. (I've seen people come to Christ both ways. The second -- though much more painful -- is often much quicker.) A lot of people in that predicament would rather sit down where they are than face either alternative -- to their peril.

Christianity -- like EVERY OTHER theological or philosophical position -- is exclusive at some point. At some point, everyone who is not in is out.

(Quick aside to explain my "EVERY OTHER" assertion: Let's take modern tolerence as an example. Some of the most intolerant people I've ever seen have been champions of modern tolerence. They are fine with people believing whatever they want as long as those people uphold the doctrine of people believing whatever they want. If you believe that others' beliefs are wrong, well, Mister, them's fightin' words. I saw Deepak Chopra almost combust in a fit of rage as he was spitting out words to say how wrong Christians were for being intolerant. I would not have been surprised to hear him say, "Those Christians better become more tolerant or they can go to Hell!" In other words, tolerance is exclusive of those who are intolerant. Plug any theology or philosophy in, take it to it's logical extreme, and you'll find the same result: the believer is intolerant of the unbeliever.)

Christianity is different when done right because its expression of exclusivity is relegated to the action of the individual, not the worth of the individual. You said it well here when you said "the love of God is for everyone and everything". (Although I might have said, "the love of God is TOWARD everyone and everything".) If those whom he loves die in a state of war with him, do we blame him?
Odysseus said…
Thanks for the insight Pinball. I can always count on you!

Concerning your response: I can't think of anything to add or counter! Other than to say, isn't it amazing how far Daddy has brought us? I sit back sometimes and am just shocked. I mean, just a few years ago this series would have never come from me! Just incredible.

I guess I would like to clarify one thing. 'The love of God is for everyone and everything'. The 'everything' here is not the 'evil' actions of people. And, yes, contrary to much of the spin puked out to us today, there is evil in (some) actions. But by 'everything' I mean creation. God loves his creation! He isn't going to blow it to smithereenies! God forbid. He is in the process of recreating it one little bit at a time.

Peace to you, Brother P.

+ OD
Ted Gossard said…
OD, Thanks. I'm with you on this. God did reconcile all of creation to himself in Christ. And this ends up being the new creation which begins with us in Christ, as you point out. And as you well say, Then we're in the new creation project.

There are hard questions related to this. But as you say God's commitment in love to creation is clear. He's become part of it in his Son. Reconciliation involves many things, and I think you bring that out well here. Thanks brother!
Odysseus said…
Ted,

Thank you for dropping by. I appreciate the time and the comments. Hopefully, I will be addressing 'hard questions' related to reconciliation in the next post. It will be the final one in this series, I think. In it we will discuss reconciliation between each other and nature. Hope you can join in on the conversation!

Peace be with you.

+ OD
[...] Part 2 we saw that, in the beginning, all creation, the whole cosmos, was in harmony with each other and [...]

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