The meaning of reconciliation is similar in the two models; the real difference is in how reconciliation between God and man is achieved and whether it is a one-way or two-way change in relationship.
Traditional Legal Model – Reconciliation happens with the death of Christ allowing God to again favor man (God reconciled to man) and legally forgive his sins. Man can then know he is forgiven and the relationship of trust is reestablished (man reconciled to God).
Biblical Healing Model – The death of Christ, being the greatest revelation of the self-sacrificing love of God, assures man of God’s forgiveness and reconciles him to God. Reconciliation is one-way only – man to God – as God always looks with favor and infinite love on man.
From a Modern Dictionary
an act of reconciling, as when former enemies agree to an amicable truce.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
1. The act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity.
Reconciliation and friendship with God, really form the basis of all rational and true enjoyment.
2. In Scripture, the means by which sinners are reconciled and brought into a state of favor with God, after natural estrangement or enmity; the atonement; expiation.(www.webstersdictionary1828.com)
A careful look at how the Bible uses reconciliation will help to establish the correct meaning. Here is an important New Testament use:
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20 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 Cor 5:18-20)
Reconciliation in One Direction Only
Notice the direction that is indicated:
v18 “reconciled us to himself”
v19 “reconciling the world unto himself”
v20 “be ye reconciled to God”
The other two uses of reconciliation in that passage are:
“given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (v18)
“committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (v19)
Those refer to the task of Christians working for God (“ambassadors for Christ” – v20) to convince others to be reconciled to God.
It wouldn’t make sense to mean God has given us the task of reconciling Himself to the world. That would be like God saying: “I want to be reconciled to them but just can’t bring myself to do it. I will get those who believe in me to talk me into doing it.” That would make no sense. It has to be working to reconcile others to God. It is those not in relationship with God who need to be changed, not God.
Thus, the passage says five times that the reconciliation is of others to God:
- “reconciled us to himself (v18)
- “given to us the ministry of reconciliation (of others to God)” (v18)
- “reconciling the world unto himself” (v19)
- “committed unto us the word of reconciliation (of others to God)” (v19)
- “be ye reconciled to God” (v20)
There is nothing to indicate that God needs to be reconciled to others. God doesn’t need to be reconciled to us; He always has the greatest level of love and concern for us.
Reconciliation is achieved through intercession. We intercede with others to reconcile them to God. That process is shown in the last diagram on the intercessor definition page.
Reconciliation From What?
What state is a person in if they are in need of reconciliation to God? Perhaps some combination of fear, distrust, anger, disgust, blame, resentment and pessimism.
So if we were to take up this ministry of reconciliation (which God has given us to do), what would that look like? What would we actually do?
We might say (and give evidence for) things like:
- You don’t need to fear God, He won’t harm you.
- God is trustworthy
- God is not at fault for what has happened to you.
- God really is good and He loves you
God Reconciled to Us?
If, as in many popular views, God also needs to be reconciled to the sinner (a two-way reconciliation process), what would our assigned job of reconciliation look like? Would it involve us also pleading with God to be reconciled with a person? What might we be saying to God?
- Stop being mad at him
- Please forgive him
- Put away your plans to harm him
Really, we would be asking Him to change His mind towards sinners. But what are God’s thoughts to us already?
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 1:2)
Of course, those are John’s words but John was representing how God would act. Wasn’t John one of God’s ambassadors? This verse (spoken to those who had, because of disobedience, been carried into Babylonian captivity) also reflects God’s feelings:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer 29:11)
“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Mal 3:6)
Change Your Minds to be Reconciled
How are we reconciled to God? Isn’t it a change of mind (opinion, attitude) about Him? Is it possible that a person could say they trust God completely, be working in a great way for him and yet, in a difficult situation, have doubts? John the Baptist is an example of one who did. Near the end of His ministry he began to question whether Jesus was the Messiah. Read more about how John the Baptist misunderstood God.
We need to have our minds changed regarding God. I say minds plural in reference to each one of us because, while with our conscious mind we might mentally assent to the facts, our subconscious mind can take longer to change. See A Being of Two Minds in the Cleansing of the Sanctuary series.
So we could become convinced through scripture that God does not need to be reconciled to us and still have doubts come from our subconscious mind. The subconscious mind takes time and repetition to adjust its circuits; previous patterns of thought take time to change. And so our subconscious mind with all of its deeply-ingrained past memories and understandings can influence our conscious thinking as it did for John the Baptist.
The Reconciliation Process
How does the reconciliation process happen? The answer is given quite directly:
“… God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ …” (2 Cor 5:18)
But what does that mean? Does Jesus, on behalf of His Father, go into our minds and change some circuits so that, in our minds, we are now happy with God? Reconciliation is a process of the mind, a change from enmity to favor and friendship as defined by Webster (quoted above) so there must be some change in thinking caused by seeing/understanding some additional knowledge. Scripture does speak of that:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)
So we are given knowledge of God by what we see in His Son Who the Bible describes as being “the express image” (Heb 1:3) of His Father? That knowledge changes or renews our minds:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom 12:2)
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17)
The renewing of the mind and the becoming new describe a process:
“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:” (Col 3:10)
The form of the Greek word that is translated as “renewed” in that verse indicates “being renewed,” a continuous process. Him that created is? – the Son of God (Heb 1:2)
Romans 5:8-10 is an important passage to help our understanding of reconciliation.
To be fully reconciled to God we need to focus on the Savior, Who is the express image of the Father, Who loves everyone and freely forgave even those who crucified Him.
If we have any fear (of the “afraid” kind) or any doubts about God’s goodness then we are not fully reconciled to God. We may be reconciled in our conscious thinking but we also need to change our subconscious mind. That is accomplished day by day as we behold and focus on the One Who came to reveal the character of His Father.
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