The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 231)

God Redeems and Restores Us

Gospel


16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh;
even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us
the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, 
not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us;
we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Cor 5:16-21

Reconciliation is Necessary Because We Have Offended God
Why is there a need for reconciliation? Reconciliation presupposes that a prior offence has happened and it presupposes that things are not right between us and God.  A “trespass” is an unlawful act committed which injures another party. In this case, it refers to our sins, which have violated the holiness of our Creator God. We are all sinners, both by what we do, think and say, as well as in our nature. We are all born sinners. No parent teaches their children to be selfish, to lie, to be proud, or to be envious of others, yet they demonstrate all these traits of wickedness and more. 

Our sins cut us off from God who is impeccably holy. God does not sin; He is too pure to even fellowship with sinners. He cannot look at sin without being indignant and angry; His justice and righteousness demands His wrath. God cannot have anything to do with sinners, except to reject and punish them. So, sinners live godlessly in this life, and are headed for eternal judgment in the afterlife.

Sin is a very real problem. This separation from God is not just in this world but forever, as God pours out His wrath against unrepentant sinners eternally. This is a terrible plight for transgressors and trespassers like us – everlasting torment with no respite. It is precisely from such a predicament that God extends the opportunity for reconciliation to sinful mankind, while they are still alive in this world and have the opportunity to be reconciled. This is the good news.

Reconciliation is Made Possible Only by God’s Love 
Reconciliation is planned and executed by God, out of His love for man; it is He who initiated reconciliation (vv. 18-19). This is crucial because we have no ability to make things right with Him; we cannot summarily dismiss His justice, nor can we attain to His standards of righteousness. We are the offenders, so the only way we can be reconciled with God is if He seeks to be reconciled with us.

That is what makes Christianity unique amongst all the faiths in the world. All religions are about man making his way back to God, striving hard to fulfil some requirements so that he can earn his way to Heaven. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is fundamentally different. It is about God coming to seek sinners who have offended Him; it is about God planning, then at great cost executing, reconciliation.

God alone can plan for atonement for sin that would satisfy His justice because only He knows how His infinite holiness can be perfectly satisfied without destroying the sinner in the process. Then, even after knowing how it can be done, only God the Father can ask God the Son to come into this world as a man, and die on the cross to pay for the sins of all who would ever repent of their sins and call upon His Name for salvation.

But God not only did all this, He did it all in love. As the Apostle John says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). And again, he explains, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).  So, God is a God of love, and it was He who came up with the plan for reconciling sinners to Himself and then He carried out that plan.

Reconciliation Requires the Forgiveness of Sins
For reconciliation to happen, there must be a prior act of forgiveness, a setting aside of sin (v. 19). Do you know that the God of the Bible is a forgiving God? He is portrayed that way repeatedly in the Bible, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression?” (Mic 7:18); “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, … forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7); “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness” (Dan 9:9).

Forgiveness of sin is central to the Gospel message. Sadly, we so often hear of Christians who share the Gospel by offering only greater meaning in life or greater success in our endeavours, or more happiness, deeper contentment, better marriages. The real question the Gospel poses to its hearers is this “Do you want to die in your sins and go to Hell forever, or are you interested in complete and eternal forgiveness of your sins?”

What does it mean for your sins to be forgiven? It means that God will never take your sins into account in all His dealings with you; He treats you as if you have never sinned. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. … as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:10, 12). East and West are two directions, not two points, and an infinite distance separates both directions. God Himself affirms His forgiveness of sins in Hebrews 10:17, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.

Reconciliation Requires the Death of a Sinless Substitute on Behalf of Sinners
How in the world can God just decide to forgive sins?  Suppose you are a judge, and a murderer stands before you and confesses to you his brutal crime, “Your Honour, I deeply regret my horrific actions, and I repent of my sin of murder, and I promise I will never do it again; please forgive me.” If you let him go, that would be unconscionable and criminal!

Since God is the Judge of all the Earth, how can God be just and at the same time forgive sinners? Is this not just plain wrong? No, for before He forgave sinners, He first satisfied His austere justice by providing a substitute to bear the punishment those wicked sinners deserve.

Let’s examine v. 21 carefully. First, Who is the substitute God provided? He had to be a human being, for otherwise, He could not have died on behalf of human beings. He also had to be One “who knew no sin”. This drastically narrows down the available candidates to just One Person. 

In the Old Testament, all animal sacrifices had to be without spot or blemish and no man could ever fulfil that requirement. Thus, Paul says of mankind, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10) and “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). If you are a sinner, you cannot be this substitute, for your death will be insufficient to pay for your own sins, much less for the sins of anyone else. The only solution is to have the Son of God take on the form of a man, come into this world as the perfect God-Man, live a sinless life, then die as the perfect substitute for wicked sinners. This perfect God-Man was Jesus of Nazareth. Gal 4:4-5 tells us that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” - this means that He is fully human - “born under the law” - and He had to keep the Law - “to redeem those who were under the law.”

Did Jesus really obey all of God’s Law and live a perfectly righteous life without a hint of sin? Let’s start with the testimony of God the Father, who declared of Christ His Son, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). God declared Him sinless, and this is important, because this is the ultimate testimony we need, from the very God whose justice must be satisfied. What about those who lived closely with Jesus, who for three years watched and heard Him day in and day out? One disciple, John, testified, “in him there is no sin” (1 Jn 3:5), while another, Peter, attested, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pt 2:22).

Jesus’ life was so utterly righteous that even those who encountered Him for short periods felt the full force of His utter innocence and strong righteousness. One of the two criminals who was crucified along with Jesus said of Him, “this man has done nothing wrong” (Lk 23:41), and shortly thereafter when Jesus died, the Roman centurion overseeing the crucifixion said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Lk 23:47). Pontius Pilate who presided over the kangaroo court set up by the Jews to try Jesus told the Jews, “I find no guilt in this man” (Lk 23:4).

Why, then, did Jesus have to die? “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin” – God made the sinless Jesus “to be sin”. What does that mean? It does not mean that when Jesus hung on the cross, He became a sinner. No, He had never been a Law-breaker nor an evildoer!

Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”, and later verse 6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; … and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Christ was not a sinner, but He was the sin-bearer. At Calvary, God treated Christ as if He personally committed every sin ever committed by everyone who would ever repent. Jesus was personally righteous, but officially guilty; He was personally pure, but judicially guilty. On Calvary, God punished Jesus as if He lived your life. And God poured out the full fury of His wrath against sins as if Christ were personally guilty. In this way, God’s justice is satisfied, and He is free to forgive guilty sinners like you and me.

In a sense, to be theologically precise, no sin can ever be forgiven; rather, it is sinners who are forgiven and that only if Christ bore their sins on Calvary and suffered God’s wrath on their behalf. That is why the Lord Jesus had to die, because the Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23); and that God “will by no means leave (sin) unpunished” (Ex 34:7).

Isn’t this very unfair to Christ Jesus personally? No! The Father did send Him into the world to accomplish this work of substitutionary atonement. But the Lord Jesus came willingly, resolved to accomplish this; for He says of His life, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10:18).

Reconciliation Results in Utter Righteousness for the Sinner
What you have read thus far is only half the good news. Reconciliation with God does not just mean that we will not be punished for our sins, it also means that we will become the very righteousness that God demands of us and that makes us acceptable before Him (v.21). This very righteousness is that which God provides. 

Being righteous before God does not mean that Christians on Earth will live a perfectly righteous life.  However, God treats us as if we lived the righteous life of Christ. If reconciliation was only about having Christ pay the price for our sins, Jesus could have come to Earth on a Friday, got crucified, then raised to life on Sunday – just three days. But He lived 30+ years in this world, from infancy to a young working adult. Why? So that His practical righteous living may be accounted to us, and we can be given His righteousness. Paul says that believers are in Christ, “not having a righteousness of (their) own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil 3:9).

So, on the cross God treated Jesus as if He lived your life, and now He treats you as if you lived His life. God judged His Son as if He lived your life, so that He could reward you as if you lived His life. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, …  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21-22). This is the righteousness that God gives to all who have been reconciled to Him. 

Reconciliation with God is Received by Obedience of Faith
All that remains to be asked now is this: how do sinners receive this reconciliation? In all the pages of the Bible, we are told over and over again that Jesus Christ does not desire the sinful to perish, but He takes absolute delight in sinners repenting from their sins and coming to Him for salvation. If He were present with you right now, He would make an impassioned appeal to you to repent of your sins, and to believe in Him, so as to receive this marvelous reconciliation. Make no mistake, Jesus Christ is the same Judge of all the Earth Who must one day condemn every unrepentant sinner, everyone who refuses to submit themselves to His lordship. But today is not the day of judgement, today is the day of salvation.

So, will you not, in your heart, confess that you are a sinner standing in danger of God’s wrath? Will you not turn from those sins, and come to the Lord Jesus, surrendering your life to Him, knowing that He grants forgiveness to those who call upon His Name for salvation? We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.


Tan Soon Yong
- Tan Soon Yong is a pastor of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship and an editor of Fishers.

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