WHO WAS RECONCILED TO GOD BY THE CROSS?
What is reconciliation? We read in the Appendix 196 of the Companion Bible the following: “The word ‘reconcile’ which our translators adopted from the Vulgate, is simply the transliteration of the Latin reconcile, to bring together again, to reunite or reconnect”. Obviously, if there is a reconnecting, there was at one time a relationship of some kind and that relationship had been ended.
Most assume that when Christ reconciled the world unto God that He was reconciling Adam and his progeny to God. That is to say, most believe that when Adam sinned, God ended His relationship with Adam and his progeny. They reason from that, that when God reconciled Adam’s progeny to Himself, a relationship that man once had with God was reestablished, and that the reconciliation in some way (that is not always agreed upon) has to do with salvation.
The problem with that assumption is that we are never told that God ended His relationship with Adam and/or his progeny. It is assumed that when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden that God ended His relationship with them, but that is never stated, and in fact, there is evidence that God did indeed continue His relationship with Adam and his progeny. For example, the birth of Adam’s sons are recorded in the Word of God. That indicates that God had a relationship with Adam. There is a record of the events between Cain and Abel, that is certainly an indication that God had a relationship with them. Further, God spoke with Cain, that is certainly an indication that God had a relationship with man. There is a record in the Word of God in Genesis chapter 5 of many people’s birth and even how long they lived. Again, that is certainly indicative of an existing relationship. In short, in my opinion, there was indeed a relationship between God and man after Adam sinned.
WAS THE RECONCILIATION A UNILATERAL ACT OF GOD?
Let us consider the question of whether reconciliaiton requires acceptance to be put into effect, or was it accomplished without regard to acceptance?
The most compelling evidence that the reconciliation of the world was a unilateral action comes from the passages which explain this reconciliation. Let us consider Romans 5:10 and II Cor. 5:18-20. Romans 5:10 reads, “For if, when we were enemies”. Who were enemies of God? The world, i.e. everyone in the world. “We were reconciled to God”. How were we reconciled to God? “By the death of His Son”. There is nothing in this passage that suggests that faith was required to put the reconciliation into effect. To say that faith was required is to interject a thought that is simply not there.
II Cor. 5:19, “To wit, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Again, there is simply nothing in this verse, or in the context, that suggests that reconciliation must be accepted in order to be put into effect. (The phrase “not imputing their sins against them” will be discussed below.)
Some have suggested that the Greek word itself (katallasso) means reconciliation by two parties. But, as we have seen, there is nothing in the passages quoted above which tell us of reconciliation that implies a required participation of two parties. The Companion Bible, Appendix 196 1. c gives us the definition of “katallasso, and reads, “to change or exchange something (anything) arbitrarily: not as by mutual consent, but as proceeding from one…..”. Let us look at the other occurrences of this Greek word and the occurrences of the related word “apokatallasso” so that we might discover from its usage the Scriptural definition. .
The only occurrence of the Greek “katallasso” apart from the passages we have already considered is found in I Cor. 7:11. “But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife”. In my opinion this verse is not conclusive as to whether this is a unilateral reconciliation, so it is not helpful in our search on this matter.
The Greek “apokatallasso” is “katallasso” with the added prefix “apo”. The word is found in two passages, i.e. Eph. 2:16 and Col. 1:20-21.
Eph. 2:15-16, “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”. The context will show that it is believing Jew and Gentile who are being reconciled to God in one body. That is to say, whereas before the cross believing Jews and Gentiles were separated by the “middle wall of partition”, after the cross Jews and Gentiles were no longer separated, but reconciled to God in one body. Paul’s point was that believers were now one. It is true, of course, that believers had to accept the message of salvation in order to be counted as believers, but there is nothing in this passage that suggests that the reconciliation of believers in one body was dependent upon them accepting the message of reconciliation. That is to say, Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God in one body whether or not they accepted that fact. This was a unilateral reconciliation.
Col. 1:20-22, “And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him I say whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. and you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy…..in His sight”. This is written to believers, so Paul could say with confidence that they would be presented “holy…. in His sight”. But there is nothing in this passage that suggests that things in heaven and things in earth needed to accept this reconciliation in order for it to be in effect.
Because Scripture never speaks of acceptance of reconciliation for it to be put into effect, I believe that we may accept Dr. Bullinger’s definition that reconciliation (katallasso and apokatallosso) is “not as by mutual consent, but as proceeding from one“.
“NOT IMPUTING THEIR SINS AGAINST THEM”
But, some might object that the phrase “not imputing their trespasses against them” implies salvation, which certainly does require acceptance. So that there is no confusion, I do not believe that salvation is the same as reconciliation (this point will be proved below).. But, some might object, Paul speaks of “not imputing sins”; isn’t that salvation? No, it is not. Let me explain.
Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned”. We learn two things from this verse. 1) Death entered the world because of Adam’s sin. 2) All men sin because we are all in Adam. Man sins because he is in Adam. And man dies because, as a consequence of Adam’s sin, death entered the world. God’s remedy for this situation is resurrection. Who is resurrected? Only those who, by faith, have been made just are acceptable to live with a holy God in resurrection. Note Gal. 3:11, “……..the just shall live by faith”. We read in I Cor. 15:17-18, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished”. In other words, it is not the fact that our sins are not imputed against us that saves because without resurrection, the believer is, as Paul says, yet in our sins. It is resurrection from the grave that saves. In point of fact, as the paper on this web-site on forgiveness will prove from Scripture, forgiveness is not part of God’s plan of salvation. The only reason that God forgives sins that is true for all dispensations is so man can fellowship with a holy God. (I realize, of course, that this is not a widely held one, but I hope the reader will consider the above mentioned paper and not dismiss this view out of hand).
My point is that when God reconciled the world unto Himself and did not impute their sins unto them, He was not granting them resurrection from the grave. He was opening the door for Paul, the minister of the reconciliation, to go to the world and preach to them the message of salvation. That message was, in effect, that they had been reconciled to God, their sins were not imputed against them, now accept the message of salvation.
“BE YE RECONCILED TO GOD”
If, as I believe, reconciliation is a unilateral act of God, why would Paul write “be ye reconciled to God”? That phrase suggests to some that reconciliation is not unilateral. First, it should be noted that Paul does not say, “believe in this reconciliation”, he says “be ye reconciled”. Let us examine the context for the true meaning of this phrase.
II Cor. 5:20-21, “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. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”. Let us first determine to whom the pronouns refer. “We are ambassadors for Christ”, the “we” is of course, Paul and his associates. “As though God did beseech you“. The “you” refers to those to whom Paul wrote this letter. Verse 1:1 reads, “Paul…….unto the church of God which is at Corinth”. The church of God, is, of course, composed of believers. So Paul is saying that God did beseech believers to be reconciled to God. Going on with verse 5:20, “we pray you (believers) in Christ’s stead, be ye (believers) reconciled to God”.
Paul is saying that he wants believers to be reconciled to God. But believers are already made righteous and they are certainly already reconciled to God. What does Paul mean when he writes that believers should be reconciled to God? I believe that he means that they should live their lives as if they are reconciled to God. That is to say, that because God had reconciled them to Himself by the cross, they should live their lives as if they were reconciled. But this is certainly not to say that they were not already reconciled. As we go on to the next verse that point will be proved.
II Cor. 5:21, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”. How does this verse connect to the previous one? In other words, what does reconciliation have to do with being made the righteousness of God? In my opinion, Paul is saying that because they have been made righteous, they should live lives that prove them to be righteous. So too, Paul, in the previous verse is saying that because they had been reconciled at the cross, they should live their lives as if that were true.
Who Was Reconclied to God?
If it wasn’t Adam and his progeny who were reconciled to God at the cross, who was it? We read in Romans 1:22-24, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness……”. Because of the great sin described in Romans 1, God gave up the world to those sins. I believe that when God gave up the world, it was then that He chose Abram to be the father of a nation with whom He would have a relationship. In other words, God was not having anything to do with the world, except in relation to His working with Israel.
I suggest, therefore, that it was the world before the time of Abraham that God gave up, and that it was that world that Christ reconciled to God. It was that reconciliation that allowed for the Gentiles to hear the word of salvation (Acts 13). It was that reconciliation that allowed believing Gentiles to be one with Jewish believers in the one body (Eph. 2). It was that reconciliation that led to God choosing Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9). It was that reconciliation that allowed believing Gentiles to remain Gentiles (uncircumcised) and still partake in Israel’s blessing (Rom. 11). These things were all possible only after the world had been reconciled to God at the cross.
If that is the case (and I have yet to see a credible argument against it) then reconciliation has nothing to do with salvation except for the fact that because the world had been reconciled, the message of salvation was sent to the world. For further proof that reconciliation was not for salvation, per se, let us consider Romans 5:10, “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”. If reconciliation and salvation were one and the same, Paul could not have written “much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. We have been reconciled by the death of Christ. Much more, we have been saved by His life, i.e. His resurrection.
In my opinion the greatest obstacle to understanding the truth that the world has been reconciled to God is the phrase “not imputing their sins against them”. To most, this phrase means salvation. But, as I hope I have shown, the forgiveness of sins does not equal salvation because Paul wrote that apart from resurrection the believer is yet in his sins.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to comment on this paper please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org