Reconciling the World to Himself
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19
The letter we know as Second Corinthians was probably Paul’s third letter to the Christians in Corinth. A second, sorrowful letter, has probably not been preserved (2 Cor. 2:4). Apparently his two previous letters helped the church, for Second Corinthians is not as confrontational as First Corinthians or as emotional as the “sorrowful letter” must have been. Nevertheless, there still must have been those in the church who questioned Paul’s ministry and the way he conducted himself. It is likely that chapter five has these detractors in mind (v. 12). As he speaks of his ministry, Paul stresses that it is not based on worldly evaluations, but on Christ’s claim on his life (v. 15). He also emphasizes the importance of a spiritual basis for ministry. Matters of the flesh and secular evaluations have no longer have value. Even Christ is no longer present in the flesh (v. 16). The conclusion then is that those who are in Christ should evaluate things in a completely different way, because the old things are no longer valid. A new person and a new way have come through Christ (v. 17). Having explained these realities to the church, Paul then describes the ministry of reconciliation given to him by God (vv. 18-21).
The greatest blessing in all of life is reconciliation with God because God holds the keys to eternal life. To be reconciled to Him is to have the assurance of eternal life with Him. Our reconciliation to God wasn’t easy or inexpensive. It required great sacrifice and determination by God and us. God had to look past the offense we had created by our sin. We had to look past our own pride and willful rebellion. When both sides come together, through Jesus, reconciliation takes place.
There are many kinds of reconciliation, and God desires them all. The reconciliation focused on in this study is racial reconciliation. While racial reconciliation is not necessary for eternal salvation, it is necessary to be the kind of person God desires. Just as certain things were necessary for spiritual reconciliation with God to take place, certain things also must occur for racial reconciliation to take place. Some important keys to racial reconciliation can be found in the principles of spiritual reconciliation that Paul identifies in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
I. We Must Desire Racial Reconciliation, v. 18
Both spiritual and racial reconciliation can begin only when they are desired. People can be saved because God desired it. In verse 18, Paul says that God reconciled _ us to Himself. According to _The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, p. 166, the word katallasso is a compound of allasso, which means “to change” or “exchange.” Paul’s use of the compound form katallasso (“reconciliation”) refers to a changed relationship with God, from one of enmity to one of friendship. In other words, God put us into friendship with Himself.
Two important points can be drawn from this. First, even though God was the offended party, He was the one who began the process of reconciliation. Second, reconciliation had to begin with God because only He knew the seriousness of the breach between mankind and Himself. Human beings are innately aware that they are lacking spiritually, but they do not comprehend fully the depth or severity of their need. Paul reminds us that humans are willful, rebellious, and spiritually blind (Rom. 3:9-18). God understood what was at stake, so He provided a remedy.
These two important points are very pertinent for the issue of racial reconciliation. If we desire racial reconciliation, we will not wait for the other person to seek us out. We will begin the process, even if we are the ones who have been offended. In addition, racial reconciliation must begin with the one who understands that the current situation is wrong. Some people come to this understanding sooner than others. James reminds us: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17).
II. We Must Recognize that Racial Reconciliation Is Possible, v. 19
The reconciliation that God achieved through Christ touches all creation. The word translated “world” (kosmon) is the same word we know as “cosmos.” It refers to all physical creation. Elsewhere, Paul reminds his readers that creation itself is waiting for the day when the reconciliation accomplished by Christ is realized in nature (Rom. 8:19-21).
The implications of the scope of salvation for racial reconciliation are significant. First, God didn’t leave anyone out of the scope of salvation. Skin color and socio-economics were not even part of the equation. In God’s heart, all human beings were lost, and they all needed salvation. If God considered the need for all people to be saved to be more important than any other issue, we should feel compelled to relate to all people in an unprejudiced manner as well.
Second, the breadth of God’s salvation assures the possibility that all races can be reconciled to each other. It is inconceivable that God would reconcile people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9) to Himself and not also expect them to live together in harmony. If God can reconcile them all to Himself, then they can be reconciled to each other.
III. We Must Forgive Past Transgressions for Racial Reconciliation to Occur, v. 19
The key to racial reconciliation and spiritual reconciliation is the same—forgiveness. The key to reconciliation with God is God’s forgiveness of our sin. Paul states that God did not “count” our sins against us. The word translated “counting” is the Greek word logizomenos. The imagery is that of a ledger book in which debits and credits are entered. Our sin represented a debit that had to be removed from the book. This debit was removed through the death of Jesus. M. Harris, 2 Corinthians, EBC, p. 353, comments, “Reconciliation is not some polite ignoring or reduction of hostility but rather its total and objective removal.” This principle applies to racial reconciliation. Until those who are offended forgive those who owe them, there will be animosity and division.
While such forgiveness should not require any motivation other than the desire to live in harmony with all people, given our fallen condition, it may be necessary to have some tangible reason to forgive people who have wronged us. This passage offers two reasons that apply to the matter of racial reconciliation. First, we should be forgiving because God has forgiven us of a much greater debt. Second, those who have been reconciled are supposed to be messengers of reconciliation (v. 18). C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 175, notes, “To reconcile is to end a relation of enmity, and to substitute for it one of peace and goodwill.” The messenger of reconciliation should be characterized by peace and goodwill, not only toward God, but toward people as well. Anything else would be hypocrisy.
God desires reconciliation so deeply that He gave His only son to achieve it. If people want to emulate the character of God, they will value reconciliation as highly. This should be especially true for Christians. They have experienced God’s forgiveness, not because they deserved it, but only because God desired it. For Christians to enjoy reconciliation with God, but refuse to be reconciled with their fellow human beings over such matters as skin color and ethnicity, is the height of hypocrisy.
Five Keys to Racial Reconciliation
- If we desire racial reconciliation, we will not wait for the other person to seek us out. We will begin the process, even if we are the ones who have been offended.
- Racial reconciliation must begin with the one who understands that the current situation is wrong.
- If God considered the need for all people to be saved to be more important than any other issue, we should feel compelled to relate to all people in an unprejudiced manner as well.
- The breadth of God’s salvation assures the possibility that all races can be reconciled to each other. If God can reconcile them all to Himself, then they can be reconciled to each other.
- Until those who have been offended forgive those who owe them, there will always be animosity and division.
What Can One Person Do?
- Examine your own thoughts about people of other races, and ask God to help you overcome any racist attitudes you may have.
- Study the history and culture of other races to gain an appreciation of them.
- Encourage your church to invite congregations of other races to participate in joint worship services.
- Ask your church to sponsor community awareness seminars, where people of different races can come and talk about their own history and culture.
- Invite acquaintances of different races to your home so you can begin to get to know them.
- Check the hiring practices of local businesses to see if they reveal discriminatory practices against people of other races. Meet with the owners and ask them to consider changing these policies.
Other Helpful Scriptures
Bible verses about Racial Reconciliation:
Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 3:20; Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Prov. 24:23; Isa. 66:18; Mal. 2:10; Luke 10:29-37; John 4:7¬10; Acts 2:5-11; Acts 8:26-39; Acts 15:6-9; Acts 17:26; Rom. 2:11; Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-22; Col. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:21; James 2:1-9; Rev. 5:9.