2 Corinthians 5:18-20: Part I
The Doctrine of Reconciliation: God’s Great Exchange
This three-part series: The Doctrine of Reconciliation: The Great Exchange unpacks a poorly understood and often misunderstood aspect of the Triune God in terms of His reconciliating work in Christ by the Holy Spirit. It explains the doctrine of reconciliation, God’s great exchange in which God exchanged enmity for friendship, hostility for fellowship – His to believers. Be reconciled are Paul’s words to the Corinthians in the context of forgiveness and restoration in the Church body. Those words are found in 2 Corinthians 5:20: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as God was making his appeal through us. We implore on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Paul implored the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. only because He reconciled Himself to them through the great exchange. These are strong words. The word translated implore is parakaleo. It is a broad-scoped word pregnant with meaning. It carries with it the idea of moving someone from one mindset or position to another. It indicates a coming alongside of. It is a motivational and relational term. It pictures the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the second Paraclete the same kind of Comforter and Counselor as the Son (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7).The Doctrine of Reconciliation: The Great Exchange carries theological truths that if correctly understood are a blessing and comfort to and for the believer. If misunderstood the believer will persist in personal lawkeeping as he depends his own works but to no avail.
Paul’s purpose in writing was manifold. It was a personal letter to a Corinthian congregation that had been steeped in strife, divisions, and disunity (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). They had chosen sides and attempted to jettison God and biblical truth. Paul called them to repent and they did (2 Corinthians 2)! Paul’s ministry in this letter was one of comfort from the heart which he gave by using the motifs of suffering-comfort and trouble-joy to emphasize the bed and good news (see John 16:20-22). He wrote in order to protect God’s name, protect his own person and ministry as God’s agent, and bless the Corinthians as they put on fruits of righteousness including restoring relationships. Moreover, Paul and his ministry had been attacked. Therefore he defended his ministry, his motivation, and his message. He had God on his side.
Paul closed chapter 5 with the Holy Spirit’s teaching on the Doctrine of Reconciliation: the Great Exchange (5:18-21; also see Romans 5:10-11; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:21-22). 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 precede Paul’s teaching on the Doctrine of Reconciliation: the Great Exchange given in verses 18-21. These preceding verses strike at the heart of a wrong view of self and the whole self-esteem, self-love camp (verse 15: And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again). A right view of God, self, and others is instrumental for having a proper view of reconciliation. The Doctrine of Reconciliation: the Great Exchange eviscerates the whole self-esteem, self-love conspiracy. The next two verses (v.16-17) focus on the proper and improper standards for evaluating self and others (So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation, the old has gone and the new has come). Again, a wrong view of self is an enemy for appreciating the good news as given in the Doctrine of Reconciliation: the Great Exchange and for heeding Paul’s command in verse 20.
Verses 18-19 set the stage for the call contained in verse 20 and help Paul focus on his ministry- its message and the motivation (5:18-19: All of 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). The Corinthian congregation had come a long way (2 Corinthians 2). From division and strife and they had embraced Paul’s teaching. They were not the same people. Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s direction, saw fit to give clear teaching on the doctrine of reconciliation (v.18-20).
Paul’s command in verse 20 creates a number of problems. What does the word reconciliation mean, who is to be reconciled, and how will reconciliation happen? We often hear the word reconciliation when we encounter relationship problems. Relationship problems develop because of people in the relationship. Broken relationships are the result of broken, sinful people. What is the Holy Spirit through Paul teaching us? Answering the question requires some knowledge of Paul the person.
Post-conversion, Paul was a servant of Christ, an apostle, and saved sinner. Pre-conversion, Paul based his identity on his pedigree (ethnic background), his performance (his personal lawkeeping and works), and his position (he was a Pharisee). Philippians 3:3-6 captures Paul’s pre-conversion mindset. Paul records one result of this mindset in 2 Corinthians 5:16. Paul wrote that he had regarded Christ from a worldly, secular viewpoint. Basically Paul considered Jesus a man who was a threat to Judaism and his way of life. Paul took in the information and facts around him and used his interpretative grid which consisted of non-biblical thinking and reason, feelings, and experience. He did not need anyone – he was a zealot of the law and his own lawkeeping! For Paul, the only logical thing to do was to destroy Christ by destroying His people.
On the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26), Paul was radically and supernaturally changed (regeneration). Not only was he changed but he began to change in terms of thoughts, desires, and actions. There was life after salvation called sanctification. Paul, as are all believers, was in the new creation has a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).
John 1:1-9 expresses the old existence – Jesus came to His own and He was rejected. The mindset of the Israelite focused on the nation and the individual person and physical restoration. They wanted to be free but they did not understand bondage and slavery from God’s viewpoint.
The old consists of the guilt and pollution as a result of being in the first Adam and the futile mindset and lifestyle as a result of God’s judgment. The mindset is characterized as for me,. by me, and to me as the person tries to form their own virtual reality. Moreover, Israel was conducting itself in the same way that their forefathers had. Israel was a land of idolatry. They rejected and killed the prophets as they waited on their kind of messiah trying to earn continued membership in their community. All sinned in and with the first Adam. Misery, darkness, and deadness filled the earth. God counted what Adam had done to every person who was born of ordinary generation. As a result a state of alienation and enmity existed between God and man. The creation groaned under the avalanche of the old but it looked forward to the new creation (Romans 8:18-23).
1. The second letter to the Corinthians was personal and intended to be a comfort. Paul knew the people were estranged from each other and thereby from God. Reconciliation was in order. Paul gave the command in verse 20.
a. What must you know about the doctrine?
b. Who is the Reconciler?
c. Who is to be reconciled?
d. What is the intended result?
2. The message and motivation of Paul’s ministry had not changed. How does the doctrine of reconciliation help confirm that truth?
2 Corinthians 5:18-20: Part II
As we continue our study: the doctrine of reconciliation: God’s great exchange, we discover an aspect of the new creation that was ushered in by Christ’s first coming. One aspect of the new creation is fullness of God’s reconciliation of Himself toward man through the blood of Christ. Believers are no longer in Satan’s family and kingdom – the old is gone the new has come. They are sinners, but saved ones who are children of God rather than children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Previously, believers were self-pleasers by capacity, inclination, choice, and habits. Now they are God-pleasers in principle although not so in practice. Paul knew and personally experienced the radical and supernatural work of redemptive grace. As one reconciled by the Reconciler (God), Paul was humbly overjoyed and amazed. He embraced the Father’s call for him to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation. This call includes all ministers officially and all believers unofficially. Every believer is involved in the ministry of reconciliation.
The word groups that translate reconcile are found predominantly in Paul’s writings (Romans 5:10-11; 11:15; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:21-22). They can be found once in the gospels and once in the book of Acts (Matthew 5:24; Acts 7:26). Reconciliation always has a Godward reference. God is the subject – the Originator and Initiator – and man is the object and receiver. The basic idea of the word is “change” or “exchange.” It is a relational word indicating that hostility, enmity, estrangement, and alienation have been exchanged for something else. As a result, hostilities from the initiating party have ceased with the expectation that the receiving party will act accordingly. Peace and rest can begin and become firmly established.
The Bible recognizes and marks out fallen, unsaved man as God’s enemy. It describes this state of existence and God’s alienation from man in various ways: unsaved man is defiled, is a debtor who fails to acknowledge that fact, is engulfed in darkness, and is dead to God and pleasing Him but alive to pleasing himself. As a result of Adam’s sin and God’s judgment, there is an unsurpassable distance between God and man. Reconciliation presupposes divine separation and the great distance between God and man. The five “D” (defiled, debtor, darkness, deadness, distance) summarize the bad news and emphasize the old creation – the old mode and realm of existence of the cosmos, the Church, and the believer. Fallen, unsaved man is an enemy of God and God actively opposes his enemies.
God has a problem. It is man and His relationship to man. Man has a problem – himself and his relationship to God. God is not the problem. He needs no reconciliation! Man can’t get away from God. If a change in God’s relationship – not in God’s essence – to people is to occur, something radical must occur. It did! God must do the changing but He could not stop being God. He is holy, just, righteous, love, and merciful. How was it possible for God to be just and wrathful and be love, light, and life? Romans 3:21-28 answers the dilemma in terms of justification. The Justifier remained just by justifying on the basis of Christ’s work. Christ righteous lawkeeping and perfect death was counted to the believer. Therefore God considers the sinner not guilty and not condemned. In 2 Corinthians, Paul follows the same line of reasoning: the Reconciler remained just by reconciling.
God changed His relationship to man based on the finished work of Christ. . There was no change in God’s essence. He remained true to Himself. God counts the believer a former enemy as His friend. He placed all the hostility that the sine deserved on Christ. Christ took the fall so to speak. God is the Reconciler. He initiated the change in relationship from enemy to friend.
Man does not reconcile himself to God. He does reconcile himself to others. God reconciled Himself to His people (2 Corinthians 5:18: all this is from God who reconciled the world to himself through Christ.). Reconciliation of God to His people is the product of a grand and great exchange resulting in a change in God’s relationship to man and mankind. God is no longer man’s enemy and the believer can and will relate to God as His friend.
Reconciliation is a reality because God did not count Adam’s first sin and the believer’s own sins to the believer’s account. Rather, as described in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Christ who was not sin nor could He sin, was made a sin offering and a substitute for the believer. Christ offered Himself to God. Christ’s death and its acceptance by the Father removed the ground of God’s alienation in respect to God’s people (Romans 4:25). This redemptive act, foreseen in the Old Testament, means that the believer is reconciled by God to God and is called to think, desire, and act as one reconciled to God by God.
1. Summarize the doctrine of reconciliation as taught in Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Ephesians 2:16, and Colossians 1:20-21.
2. Based on this doctrine, what do you learn about God and self?
3. How was your enmity toward God demonstrated before salvation?
4. How do you function as His enemy post-salvation? What is your response?
2 Corinthians 5:18-20: Part III
Continuing our study: the doctrine of reconciliation: God’s great exchange is important to repeat a simple but profound fact: Christ’s first coming ushered in a new mode and realm of existence. The new had come and the old had gone (2 Corinthians 5:17). Cosmically, corporately, and individually the new had come. As a result, the Church and believers have a radically different sphere of reality and existence. Christ’s death removed estrangement, alienation, and enmity between God and man from Gods standpoint (2 Corinthians 5:20). He was reconciled to the sinner. Based on the finished work of Christ described in verse 21 and the Holy Spirit’s application of that work (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5), there was and is reconciliation. Man, even the believer, fails to appreciate the hostility and enmity he had for God and the fact that he could not and did not want to remove it. Man is not the great exchanger! Only God is!
As noted previously but worth repeating, the root word in the Greek New Testament means to exchange, to change, or to transform (Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20-21). Biblically, reconciliation means enmity was replaced by friendship, estrangement by fellowship, hostility by peace, and separation by union. God initiated this exchanged and it has occurred once. In that sense, it is similar to justification: man is justified once. Both of these doctrines, reconciliation and justification, recognize God as the righteous Judge. The question is who is the reconciler? It is God. His alienation from sinful, fallen man is holy and justified because of Who He is – the just Judge of the world – and because of who man is. Sin and sinners are the problem. After the first sin in the Garden, alienation occurred. As a result, God exiled Adam and Eve, not simply out of the Garden, but out of His presence.
The mode whereby God reconciles Himself to believers is given in 2 Corinthians 5:21 (God made him who knew no sin to be sin on for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of Christ). Christ, who was not sin, had no sin, and would not sin, was made sin. He, the Lamb of God, was made a sin offering by God, for God, and to God. He was a substitute for the believer and the Church. He stood in the place of His people and received the full wrath of God. Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection are the great reconciling events. The cross removed the ground of God’s alienation in regards to sinners. This redemptive act was foretold in the Old Testament (see the book of Leviticus).
On the basis of Christ’s finished work, God reconciled Himself to every believer. God did not change but His view of the believer changed because the believer was in Christ. The believer is reconciled by God to God. Therefore due to what has happened to every believer, Paul issues an altar call if you will. He calls the Corinthians to be reconciled! They are to think, desire, and act as one reconciled to God by God because they are!
Paul wanted the Corinthians to appreciate full weight of God’s enmity toward them in order for them to more fully appreciate the beauty of the great exchange. Every believer should come to grips with the full weight of God’s enmity with mankind in general and with every unbeliever. God did not save His friends or good people. No one likes the bad news. Mankind was estranged, not simply out of sight and out of mind. Every person was destined to eternal alienation. God wanted nothing to do with anti-God, self-loving and self-worshiping people. Yet He did. Through the redemptive work of Christ God reconciled Himself to fallen mankind and in particular those who would be believers.
A changed relationship occurred because God loved the unlovely (Romans 5:6-10). God did this by removing the basis for His enmity. The righteousness of Christ – His perfect lawkeeping and perfect death – was applied to the sinner’s account, his ledger. The sinner’s record is changed. Reconciliation is twofold. It arises from God through Christ and the Holy Spirit so that the barriers to fellowship existing in the sinner are removed. In addition, not only is hostility and enmity removed, God has established a growing intimacy with the believer.
The only humble, logical response by the believer is to heed Paul’s call: Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Stop treating God as your enemy especially when things don’t go your way. Paul knew the vertical controlled the horizontal. Since God had reconciled Himself to the believer, the believer, out of awe and gratitude, will function toward God and fellow believers as one reconciled.
The believers at Corinth needed to hear this aspect of the good news. Relationship changing and building was ushered in by the Triune God Who is the Reconciler. The believer is called to function as a reconciler. An appreciation of God’s enmity, the cost to remove that enmity, and the cost to replace God’s enmity with fellowship and intimacy will motivate the believer to heed Paul’s cry. Forgiveness and reconciliation are similar. To properly understand God’s forgiveness and God’s reconciliation requires the believer to have a proper view of self and the bad news. Those who have been forgiven much and reconciled much will love much. When that happens, churches, homes, and personal relationships reflect God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. God is glorified and the cause of Christ is advanced.
1. The great exchange summarizes the doctrine of reconciliation. Before you became a believer, how was your enmity toward God manifested? Include your thoughts, desires, and actions. Be honest and be specific.
2. You are now reconciled to God by God:
a. What are your thoughts?
b. How are you living out God’s restored relationship with you?
3. How have your thoughts and desires about yourself, God, and others changed since you became a believer?