The result of God’s just wrath being satisfied is reconciliation (katallaso, katallage). We do not reconcile ourselves to God; God reconciles Himself to us and us to Him. Paul especially emphasizes this point in Romans 5. Romans 5:7-11 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Central to the gospel’s announcement, then, is the truth Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 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 Old Testament background here is the transition from a state of war to a state of peace (salom), a kingdom where only righteousness dwells. It is not only the lifting of the covenant’s curses but the positive harmony between foes (Romans 5:10-11; Col. 1:19-20; Eph 2:11-12).
Reconciliation and the Cross
Reconciliation with God is not about feelings but about the truth of what Christ has accomplished. Through Christ God can and does now legally forgive and justify the ungodly, and can simultaneously reconcile the world to Himself (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:19-20). Because the cross is a work of redemption and propitiation, it accomplishes reconciliation between God and sinners. Because of sin, the original friendship between God and man that was established at creation was changed for enmity. God thus regards sinners as His enemies. For reconciliation to occur, the cause for that enmity, sin must be removed. Christ accomplished this in His death. Paul writes that it was “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).What Jesus did on the cross removed the cause of the breach in the relationship between God and sinners. His death expiated our sins.
John Calvin’s comments on the announcement of John the Baptist upon seeing Jesus for the first time (John 1:29) underscore this truth. Calvin writes:
The principle office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciled men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from the source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him.”[i]
In the old covenant expiation of sins was portrayed by means of animal sacrifices. All of the ceremony surrounding the sacrificial offerings was designed to point to the work of Christ upon the Cross. Calvin explains:
“The sacrifice was offered in such a manner as to expiate sin by enduring its punishment and curse. This was expressed by the priests by means of the laying on of hands, as if they threw on the sacrifice the sins of the whole nation (Exodus 29:15). And if a private individual offered a sacrifice, he also laid his hand upon it, as if he threw upon it his own sin. Our sins were thrown upon Christ in such a manner that he along born the curse. This describes the benefit of Christ’s death, that by his sacrifice sins were expiated, and God was reconciled toward men.”[ii]
Without the right starting point, it is impossible to come to a right conclusion about what Jesus accomplished by His death on the cross. God’s holy love that issues forth in wrath against all that is unrighteous (both sin and sinners), along with mankind’s universal and all-pervasive sinfulness, assure us that there can be no salvation without atonement. God must be appeased, sin must be removed, and peace must be reestablished in the relationship between the two. Jesus secured all of this through His sacrificial death. Those who, by faith, entrust themselves to Him receive all of these benefits of His work on the cross.
It is in the Cross that we discover the depth of God’s wrath against us and His love for us. Because of our sin, He is hostile toward us. Because of His grace, He loves us. His wrath we deserve. His love comes to us freely. By delivering up His Son on the cross, God satisfied them both. This lead Calvin to call the cross of Christ a magnificent theater for the glory of God:
“In it, the inestimable goodness of God is displayed before the whole world. In all the creatures, indeed, both high and low, the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than in the cross, I which there has been an astonishing change of things, the condemnation of all men has been manifested, sin has been blotted out, salvation has been restored to men; and, in sort, the whole world has been renewed, and everything restored to good order.”[iii]
Reconciliation between a father and a son
On a cold rain day in Monroe, Washington in April 1998 my father and I took a walk down the street in front of my house. The night before I was reading in Colossians about how if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven and the Lord convicted me that I had held a grudge against my father and now was the time to repent of that and forgive him. While I was immediately pierced to the heart for this and repented, the next day my father came over and we went on a walk. On that walk I told my dad about what the Lord had done the night before, and I forgave him. This event opened the flood gates between my father and I. The Lord had sovereignly reconciled us to each other through Christ.
Fast forward now about seven years after this event and I’m now sitting in my father’s office. We’ve been having some issues and I’m determined to sit down with him. So, determined in fact I was waiting in the waiting room at his physical therapist office in downtown Bellevue, Washington for four hours until finally he’s done for the day, and I can meet with him. While we work out some of the issues that we have I find out the next week that he is moving to Eastern Washington. After that day, I don’t see him for another six and a half years until one day he shows up at a hospital in Seattle, Washington after having come back to pick up some of the things from his office he had put in storage from his physical therapy office many years ago. The Lord once again sovereignly and by His grace brought my dad back into my life.
I mention this story to highlight what we’ve talked about in this article. The Lord convicted me of my unforgiveness and I repented and turned from my sin by confessing it first to the Lord who cleansed me of my sin and then to my dad. This explains why reconciliation is important it reconciles us to God on the basis of the finished work of Christ and to one another through confession of our sin. This is why Paul says that we are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul also tells us that we are to be agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The Great Commission commands Christians to make disciples of the nations. Through being reconciled to God, Christians have a message that is desperately needed in our culture. We live in a day when many marriages are falling apart, where men and women are struggling with addictions to pornography, drugs, alcohol and many other issues. What sinners need is to be reconciled to God. Christians need to be truthful about how Jesus has reconciled to them to God not of their own merit or ability but all by the grace of God. Christians, need to be honest and authentic about how God has sovereignly reconciled and repaired relationships in their lives as they’ve applied the gospel to their lives. As Christians by the grace of God share not from a place of strength but rather from weakness boasting only in what Christ has done in and through them, which enables them to share openly of what God has done for them in Christ. This will in turn help Christians and the Church to produce disciples who not only know what the message of reconciliation is, but who lives as agents of reconciliation in our culture to the glory of God.
[i] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
[ii] John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, 4:124-125.
[iii] Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 2:73.