Saturday, February 07, 2009

Our Reconciliation to God

Scripture quite clearly points out the fact that our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The result of our sinful state has made us enemies of God, and included with those who are hated by God. While it may not seem palatable that God actually hated us in our sinful state, Scripture actually states that very fact.

10For 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, ESV)

Psalm 5:5 also tells us that God hates all who do evil.

5The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. (Psalm 5:5, ESV)

This is a description of God’s righteous hatred of us because of our sin. The description of us as enemies of God is not the result of our sinful hatred of Him, but of God’s attitude toward us as the result of sin. [1]

As Charles Hodge explains in his commentary on the book of Romans:

“The word “enemies” is applied to men not only to describe their moral character, but also their relationship to God, as they are objects of His displeasure. There is not only a wicked opposition of the sinner to God , but a holy opposition of God to the sinner." [2]

But like the notion of God’s wrath, this hatred of sinful man is difficult to understand because of the association with the human concept of hatred. The human expression of hatred is usually associated with a sinful attitude. However, God’s expression of hatred is the result of His righteous, holy revulsion against sin and an antagonistic attitude aimed at all who rebel against Him. [3] We were completely alienated from God and unable to do anything to reconcile our relationship with God. The act of reconciliation was only possible solely through God (Colossians 1:21-22)

The very fact of God reconciling us to himself is amazing. We had no strength or power to help ourselves. In fact, we had no desire to do so. Our minds were by nature hostile to God and we had no desire to be reconciled to Him (Romans 8:7). [4]

It was God who took the initiative to reach out to us. He sent His Son to die as our substitute, satisfying His righteous justice and absorbed His wrath that we deserved as a result of our rebellion against Him. We did not reach out to Him. He made the first move to reach us. God performed everything that was necessary to ensure our reconciliation. It was God who softened our heart, enabling our belief to take place. It was God who was offended by our actions, and yet He was the one who sought to reconcile us! (Romans 5:10)

This work of reconciliation though, must be received by us individually in order for it to be appropriated on our behalf. This is why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20:

19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ,God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, ESV)

Christ having completed reconciliation for us, now makes an appeal for us to receive that reconciliation. And again, it is God who makes the appeal to us, even though we were the ones who made the offense. What an incredible display of God’s mercy and grace![5]

But another important word that Scripture uses to describe the work of Christ (used extensively of Paul in Galatians and Romans), is the word justification. The word appears approximately forty times in the New Testament. To gain an understanding of the meaning of this word, look at Romans 3:20. [6]

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20, NIV)

To put it more literally as in the ESV, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”.

So then, to be justified is to be declared righteous. God has forgiven us of all our sins and views us as righteous in His Son. [7]

To understand how this can take place, we need to understand our legal union with Christ. In the beginning of human history, God appointed Adam as the legal representative (federal head) of the whole human race. However, when Adam sinned, he brought guilt and depravity upon the entire human race. Every person born after Adam and Eve inherited a sin nature from their birth. This is what David spoke of in Psalm 51:5.

5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.(ESV)

This describes the presence of the sin nature even before birth before any sinful acts were ever committed. [8] The term “all sinned” in Romans 5:12, means more than simply the fact that every individual commits acts of sin, even though as a result of the fall we all sin due to our inherent sin nature. Since Adam was the legal representative of the human race, all bear the consequences of Adam’s actions. (Romans 5:18-19) This is the reason, like David, that we were born with original sin. As a result, we were all subject to the wrath of God.

Our heart from birth is inclined toward sin, prior to actually committing any sin. It is this inner inclination to sin that lies at the root of all the sins that we commit. This sinful bent was transmitted to us from Adam who was our first legal representative before God. Our nature was enslaved to sin and permeates every part of our lives, tainting every action of ours; even our best intentions are never as good as they should be. The phrase that describes our condition is “total depravity”. It does not denote that we are all as bad as we could be, but rather that every action is affected by sin, and therefore can never be meritorious in the eyes of God. This is why Scripture calls our works of righteousness “filthy” or “polluted” garment (Isaiah 64:6), since they fall woefully short of the perfect righteousness that God’s law demands.

It is important to understand our sinful nature, rather than merely our individual sins, in order to realize the magnitude of the depth that sin permeates our life.

It took Christ, who was the second or last Adam, to act on our behalf to impute His righteousness as our legal representative. Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam was a “type of Him who was to come”. In other words, Adam was the first divinely appointed legal representative of the human race. Adam’s sin forfeited the righteousness of those who were legally represented by him. In order to restore righteousness, the same pattern must be followed, but with a reversal of what took place. God made Christ the new legal representative of a new humanity, wrought through His obedience to death in order to gain justification for those who follow Him.

15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:15-19, ESV)

This reconciliation is something that is permanent and eternal. Because it was accomplished through Christ it can never be nullified. This is despite the fact that even as believers we may not always do things that please God. Despite our inconsistencies and failures, we will never be cut off from God again.

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4, ESV)

Through this work of Christ, we can experience a true peace with God.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1, ESV)

It is this peace that should provide a deep gratitude for what God has done for us. The wall that was between us and God has been removed, and we now can experience a peaceful relationship with God, where we cry out “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

[1] Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 85.
[2] Charles Hodge, “Romans” [Crossway, 1993], pg. 134.
[3] Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], 85
[4] Ibid, 85-86
[5] Ibid, 86
[6] Ibid, 93-94
[7] Ibid, 94
[8] Ibid, 24