The Means of Reconciliation
In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). Yet this text doesn’t explicate further the way in which the death of Christ deals with the problem of human sin. For this explication we must turn to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This text assumes that our relationship with God outside of Christ is not a happy one. If we need to be reconciled to God, then we are not just out of touch with God, but alienated from him. Indeed, as Paul says rather bluntly in Romans 5:10, sin has made us God’s enemies. Many people today think that the basic human problem is merely a lack of knowledge of God. If we search for God, then we can find him and have relationship with him. But the biblical perspective is much bleaker at first. Yes, we lack knowledge of God. Yet this is only a symptom of a far deeper and in fact terminal disease – our eternal alienation from God because of sin.
So how does God deal with our sin, so that we might be reconciled to him? We find the answer in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Though scholars continue to debate the precise nuances of this verse, its basic sense is clear. Allow me to paraphrase: “For our sake, God the Father treated Jesus as if he were sin itself, so that in Jesus we might experience right-relationship with God the Father, the kind of relationship that Jesus himself had with the Father.”
When did the Father treat Jesus as if he were sin? In the crucifixion. Far more horrible than the physical pain Jesus experienced was the spiritual reality he endured, being forsaken by his Heavenly Father, entering into the very essence of Hell. This was necessary, not because Jesus himself deserved it, but because humanity deserved it. Yet in God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ suffering counted for all of us. In his death Jesus bore the sin of the world. So we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Behind the logic of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 2:24 we find, once again, the image of the suffering Servant of God in Isaiah 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and be his bruises we are healed.”
What is the result of Jesus’ being treated as if he were sin? We get to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Or, to put it differently, we are reconciled to God. That which once separated us from God and in fact made us God’s enemies – sin – has now been banished by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Thus we can experience reconciliation with God, and this impacts everything in life. Indeed, when we’re in Christ, “there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Not only are we ourselves made new, but also we begin to live in the new creation of the future.
To sum up what we’ve seen in 2 Corinthians 5, Jesus had to die in order to regarded by God as if he were sin, so that we humanity might be reconciled to God and live in right-relationship with him. Through the death of Jesus, we experience personal renewal and, indeed, the beginning of the renewal of all creation.