God's Reconciliation With Man
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1974
Edited by David Sielaff, October 2003
Read the accompanying Newsletter for October 2003The important virtue that rings with a clear sound throughout the entirety of the Bible is love. There are two commandments which are the most important in relation to human responsibility. They are to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to love “your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). These commands about love are of continual relevance, and their truth is eternal as to time and universal in space. Nothing can surpass true love. “And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Love is supreme. It is the major virtue associated with the righteousness and holiness of God. Indeed, the Bible says that God not only possesses a perfect love, He Himself is love (1 John 4:8). God owns a perfect holiness and His righteousness is absolute. There is not the slightest taint of sin associated with Him. Contrariwise, all men are sinners. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There is no human who can stand before God and say he has never sinned. Our imperfections are clearly evident.
The Bible shows a vast chasm which separates man in his sinfulness from God and His righteousness. In the past, God stood far off from the sinner. Even the Bible speaks of such a separation. “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). This fact has given rise to the belief that God must have an utter disdain for humans — that He does not love man. Why should He love humans while they openly sin, often with malice aforethought? There are people who think that God is so disgusted with mankind that He will soon destroy most from the face of the earth and judge them in a burning hell. Certainly the Bible shows that God does not like the actions of men. And, He is a God of judgment (Daniel 9:11–14). But in the Bible, God’s judgment is best summed up by the words of Paul, “For whom the Lord loves he chastens” (Hebrews 12:6). Notice that verse carefully. Even in judgment God is called One who loves.
The majority of people know that they are sinners, and they think God must not like them. They can hardly imagine that God loves the ungodly, the overt sinner, or those who are His enemies. While Christ may command men to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43–44), it is thought that God, on the other hand, will not love His enemies. God dislikes sin and He will use judgment and chastisement to correct mankind; but does God really hate man? The fact is the Bible shows that God loves man so much that the magnitude of His love is almost incomprehensible to imagine.
We will now look at some of the most beautiful verses in Scripture which show that God does love mankind — that He loves man abundantly, in spite of his ways.
God uses one major event in history to demonstrate the depth of His love: the sending of His own Son to die on the tree of crucifixion for sinful man. Paul shows that through the crucifixion of Christ we see the overabundance of love which God has for mankind. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” Romans 5:6).
This particular verse in Romans begins a context in which Paul shows how God has reconciled himself to ungodly man. In the book of Romans Paul starts by saying that Christ came to die for the unrighteous. He did not die for those who were worthy and holy. He died for mankind while man was very much in an ungodly and unholy state. He was willing to lay down His own life for the sake of man while man was evil, unrighteous, reprobate. Paul’s discussion is about God’s love and reconciliation to man. He introduces the theme and develops it, “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Many people feel that God only shows love upon people once they repent of sin, accept Christ, and then try to live a righteous life. While it must be admitted that the Christian should do these virtuous acts (and a true Christian will endeavor to perform them), it is not true that God only shows His love towards mankind when man does righteous acts. No, not at all. Paul said that God showed His love to us by dying for us “while we were yet sinners” and “while we were ungodly.”
It is quite common to love someone who responds with an equal love. It is rare, however, to love someone when the person shows disdain to you. But God’s love is very rare. God even loves people who are ungodly and are abject sinners. In fact, His love is so paramount that God says He loves humans who are actively His enemies. God reconciles Himself to His enemies while they are still in hostility. This statement may appear to be strange and impossible, but it is not. Notice what Paul says,
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
These are important words. God’s reconciliation to mankind took place when man was actively God’s enemy — not after man repented! An enemy is not someone who simply falls short of being a friend. Not at all. An enemy is on the other side of the fence. He is in absolute opposition and his actions are hateful. The dictionary says an enemy is one “who shows hatred and hostility, a foe, an antagonist, an opponent, one you are at war against.” And it was while mankind was in this state of utter hostility and in direct opposition to God that “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
The English word “to reconcile” means to restore friendship between two people who were hostile to one another. It means to, “make up;” “settle an argument; ... to bring back into harmony.” Our English word “reconcile” means that the “making up” must be accomplished by both parties who were at odds with one another. But the Greek of the New Testament is different. The important Greek words are the noun katallage and the verbs katallasso and apokatallasso. Arndt and Gingrich in their lexicon, page 415, shows that the New Testament usage of katallage is to be understood in a one-sided sense, “According to Paul, reconciliation is brought about by God alone.” The word “reconciliation” when used in our English language almost always means that both parties, which were hostile to one another mutually, agree to resume a harmonious relationship. But the English is not the same as Paul’s use of the Greek. God’s reconciliation to man in Romans is from God’s side only. God alone decides to make peace with man, and He does it through the death of Christ — while man is still very much ungodly, a sinner, and while he is an active enemy to God.
This one-sided reconciliation on God’s part was to Paul a self-evident proof of God’s superabundant love to man. “God commends his love toward us, in that. While we were yet sinners [sinning actively against God], Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ did this “when we were enemies [in the opposite camp and hostile], we were reconciled to God [while we were enemies] by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
As far as God was concerned, He loved us so much that He was willing to pay all the penalties of our sins, forget our rebelliousness, and overlook our hostility, while we were still sinners, still rebellious, and still hostile. To Paul this surely showed that God must love us — and love us pre-eminently.
Humanly speaking, a husband (or a wife) might be willing to die for his mate if the situation called for it. This is because they both love one another dearly. Good parents might die on behalf of their children because they also love them. Indeed, one might be willing to die for a righteous person. Even Paul used this illustration,
“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even die”
But God has done more than any man would ever do. He sent His Son to die willingly for people who were aggressively ungodly. We repeat what Paul said, “God commends his love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
While a human might be willing to die for a loved one, such as a wife, a husband, a child, a parent, or a good friend, who of us would gladly lay down his life so that an ardent enemy might live? A Nero? A Genghis Khan? A Hitler? This would take extraordinary love. But this is what God has done for the human race. He showed His love by paying the penalty for all sin by dying in the place of all humanity.
“For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.”
2 Corinthians 5:14
In Christ, God reconciled himself to man completely. The reconciliation has been one-sided because the majority of mankind has not yet become reconciled to Him. Most have not yet extended the hand of friendship to God in making peace. God has had to perform all the action for harmony so far. Christians, on the other hand, have come to the place of recognizing God’s reconciliation and they have accepted it.
“But we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [Greek: “reconciliation”].”
Note that Paul says Christians have “received the reconciliation.” It is God alone who did the harmonious act. We have had nothing to do with it. It has been one-sided, and on God’s part. All we have had to do is to receive the reconciliation that God has made with mankind.
Let us look at God’s reconciliation in everyday terms. Suppose you have a next-door neighbor who dislikes you intensely. The man is really your active enemy. Every chance he gets to do you wrong, he takes it. Even when you have tried to live in harmony with him, he has spurned all your efforts and responded with even more evil. It is humanly easy to despise such an ingrate. Suppose, however, that the man would repent and become civil. Perhaps you might forgive him and try to live once again in peace with him. But if there was no repentance in evidence and the man continued his hostility toward you, and even became worse, would you willingly reconcile yourself to him? The normal appraisal of such a neighbor would be to call him an unregenerate wretch, ungodly, a sinner, and an enemy and you would probably try to avoid him.
Let us go further with the illustration. Suppose a situation arose in which your neighbor was sentenced by a court of law to be executed. No doubt the ordinary human response would be, “Good riddance!” But suppose it were possible for someone to die in his stead so that your neighbor could go free and live. He is your enemy. Could you possibly love your neighbor so much that you would be willing to take his place and die for him? Hardly! As Paul said, “Peradventure for a good man someone would even dare to die” (Romans 5:7) but to die for such an ungodly enemy as your wretched neighbor, one would not consider it at all.
The truth is, however, someone did love the man so much that He stepped forward to die for him — and while the man was still unrepentant. This is what Paul is saying. “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He did not die for some good, righteous, and repentant neighbor. Christ died for those who were active sinners and His enemies.
“God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
God made up His mind to become completely reconciled to mankind before man made any signs of making peace with God. This would be like you deciding on your part to make up with your neighbor while he was still hostile and unrepentant towards you. Likewise, God’s reconciliation was all one-sided on His part. The great majority of “neighbors” are still against God and do not yet want to make up with God. Only Christians, however, have presently been willing to receive that reconciliation of Him. Christians are like those neighbors who have responded to the one-sided reconciliation and have accepted His love. The rest of the world is still ungodly, still sinners, still God’s enemies. They have not come to peace terms with Him, but nevertheless, He has told the world through Paul’s teachings that He has reconciled Himself to them because of His love for them. This is what the Bible says.
Paul further mentions this theme of God’s reconciliation in other parts of his epistles. This teaching is a major cornerstone of the Gospel of Christ. Mankind has long ago been reconciled to God, from God’s point of view, whether they realize it or not. Note what Paul says:
“All things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:18
What is this ministry that Paul said Christians have? He explains it in verse 19:
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world [the totality of the world] to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:19
This is glorious teaching — and it is true. When Christ died on the tree, all the world was being reconciled to God — all the world was reckoned as dying on that tree.
“For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.”
2 Corinthians 5:14
It is the love that Christ has for the totality of the world (not just a part of it) that made Him die for it. God was “reconciling the world to himself.” And look! In that reconciling (when God was making peace with the world), He took no notice of man’s sins. “Not imputing their trespasses to them.” That is what the Bible says, and that is what it means.
Look once again at the illustration about the neighbor who might be your enemy. He committed many trespasses against you personally. If you would do as Christ did for us, you would have to disallow every single trespass that your neighbor ever committed against you. You would have to forget all his trespasses. This is what Christ has done with us. While mankind was still ungodly, still sinners, still enemies, and with millions of trespasses in evidence which have been committed against Christ, He, nevertheless, decided not to impute a single trespass to man regarding His reconciliation with him. He has one-sidedly reconciled Himself to mankind through the death of Christ on the tree. 1 All sins and hostility are paid for as far as God is concerned. This is what the Bible says, and it is time all people begin to believe it.
The ministry of reconciliation which Paul said was his responsibility to teach, was a ministry to make known this message of love that God the Father and Christ have for mankind. They have such concern for the world that Christ willingly died for all; He has not imputed any sins against people; and He has a deep love for them.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The truth is, so few people even know what this message of love is all about. How can the doctrine of reconciliation be professed if it is not taught, and how can one teach it unless it be understood? Yet the Bible has clear instruction on the reconciliation. It is the essence of the Gospel.
“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 5:20
Paul was an ambassador to carry forth a twofold message in the ministry of reconciliation. One, he told people that God so loves them that Christ died for them while they were yet ungodly, yet sinners, and God’s enemies. God has already done His part in the reconciliation by not imputing any of humanity’s trespasses to their account. The slate is clean as far as God is concerned. There are no longer barriers between them and God. Christ has died for them because He supremely loves them. The second part of Paul’s responsibility was to tell mankind to receive that reconciliation which God has already accomplished. He told them, “be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
A true reconciliation can only be a success when both parties agree to forgive and forget; when complete harmony exists between both; when both of them become real friends once again. What remains is for mankind, on his own part, to be reconciled to God. God has already forgiven us our trespasses and forgotten our sins through the death of Christ on the cross. Now mankind himself must respond to God’s love. He must be sorry for his sins, he must repent of them, and he must now take steps to be in harmony with God. When this is accomplished, a total reconciliation is effected. So Paul’s ministry was twofold:
- to tell people that God has reconciled Himself to them, and then,
- to tell all to respond and accept the reconciliation and be at peace with God.
Perfect peace, harmony, reunion and conciliation will then come to pass.
There is, however, one important point to remember concerning the sins which mankind commits. Though the Bible shows that sins are not imputed regarding God’s reconciliation, mankind can still suffer for the sins that he commits. Sins are evil. What a man sows he will reap. Sin should be avoided at all costs. Transgressions do cause men to suffer. And even God will chastise man for committing them.
“My son, despise you not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.”
In dealing with sin, God does chastise. He does this in His role as Father, Creator, and Ruler. He knows how to show, in a benevolent way, that sin is bad for His children. God does chastise. On the other hand, He will not reckon any sins as being on man’s record books as far as His reconciliation with them is concerned. God dogmatically states, in regard to the world, that He is “not imputing their sins to them.” Still, like a father, God will correct His sons and the world for sins. At times He chastises severely. Paul said that it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God (Hebrews 10:26–27, 31). Still. God loves the world (John 3:16). He loves us so much that God sent Jesus Christ to die for us and to account for every sin. And nothing will separate man from that love of God.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature [creation], shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This message of reconciliation which God has accomplished for mankind is what Christians should be telling the world. This is the Good News which Christ came to bring. God loves mankind supremely. We should respond with real love for Him and His Son Jesus Christ. When we do, the reconciliation will then be complete.
Ernest L. Martin, 1974
Edited by David Sielaff, October 2003
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