God stands ready to make a thorough change in the hearts of all who will trust Him.
The word "reconcile" means to change thoroughly from. It has primary reference to the thorough change which is wrought in the sinner when he believes the Gospel and is thereby saved. Whereas repentance presents the change of mind which the sinner has about himself and about God when the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and conversion pictures the change of direction which comes when the believing sinner turns toward God, reconciliation shows us the change which is wrought in the heart, by which the heart which feared now has peace, and the heart which was bent on sinning now loves and desires to do the will of God.
God's Word speaks of reconciliation in the following passages: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [reconciliation] (Rom. 5:10, 11). "For if the casting away of them [the Jews] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15). "Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife: (I Cor. 7:10-11). "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. 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" (II Cor. 5:18-20). "And that He might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:16). "And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled" (Col. 1:20, 21).
It is to be observed that the Bible never speaks of God Himself being reconciled. No change need to be wrought in His heart insofar as His love to sinners is concerned. While His heart is necessarily filled with wrath against all sin, it is also filled with mercy, compassion, and love for the sinner. "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). The death and resurrection of Christ at the same time reconciled sinners and propitiated God, Christ Himself being both the place of propitiation and the propitiatory sacrifice by which a holy God righteously settled the sin question forever.
Reconciliation means, as we have already noticed, a thorough change, but this change of heart did not come, or does not come, because man desires and seeks it but, rather, because God Himself took the initiative in our reconciliation. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (II Cor. 5:19).
Reconciliation has been effected through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, shed upon Calvary's cross. "And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him [Christ] to reconcile all things unto Himself [God, the Father]; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20). "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10).
The knowledge that God has reconciled us to Himself brings great assurance and joy to believers in Christ, for it proves that one of God's purposes in salvation, yes, the primary purpose, is not simply that we be kept from hell but that our heart-attitude toward God Himself should be thoroughly changed, from aversion and fear to trust and love. It is this trust and love that makes our fellowship with the Lord precious. The very fact that God would, by the death of His Son, reconcile us unto Himself, shows His love for us and also fills our hearts with love for Him; "For we love Him, because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). "And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Rom. 5:11, ASV).
We have quoted the thirteen Biblical references to reconciliation. Let us now look at them in their contexts. Three of these do not have to do with individual salvation. The first (I Cor. 7:11) has reference to a Christian woman who has separated herself from her lawful husband. It says, in verses 10 and 11: "Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband." The meaning of the passage is clear and gives us a good illustration of what reconciliation is. The Christian woman contemplated here had left her husband and, in returning to him, would give evidence that a thorough change from her former attitude had taken place in her heart.
The other two passages on reconciliation which do not have to do with personal salvation relate to God's dispensational dealings with Israel. In the first of these we read: "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15) The whole chapter pertains to Israel's present blindness and rejection by God, and the future conversion of the nation. We Gentiles, "the wild olive tree" (vs. 17), have had the Gospel preached to us because Israel rejected it and was therefore herself rejected by God. So it is by Israel's national "Casting away" (which is neither full nor permanent [vs. 25] that the Gentile world has been reconciled. And, if such blessing has come to the world from Israel's rejection, how much greater blessing will come by her "receiving...life from the dead"? Nationally, Israel is now dead in sins, as is also every individual sinner, Jew or Gentile. But when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth in power and glory, she will be born again nationally, and will thus have life from the dead.
The other dispensational passage is found in Ephesians and is along the same line, showing us that the cross broke down the great partition, the law, which separated Jews and Gentiles in the past age, when God dealt directly only with the Jews, saying to them: "O children of Israel,…you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:1,2). "For He is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:14-16).
Looking now at the reconciliation references which speak of our personal salvation, we see in them the thorough change which God has wrought in our hearts by His grace. In view of what His Son did on the cross, God's words to us are: "Be ye reconciled to God" (II Cor. 5:20). What a wonderful invitation this is! It is given to us because of the glorious fact that, on the cross, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (II Cor. 5:19). Instead of imputing our trespasses to us, God put them on Christ; "for He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). Thus God can now look upon the world differently, "not imputing their trespasses unto them." If He did impute the world's trespasses unto them, sudden judgment would have to fall; but in view of the cross God can withhold judgment and be "longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). Needless to say, judgment will not always be withheld. God's longsuffering will come to an end, and just judgment for every sin will come upon every Christ-rejector, in a never-ending eternity in the lake of fire.
There was a time when all of us were enemies of God. The Lord Jesus said: "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12:30). But now a thorough change from that attitude has been wrought in the heart of the believer in Christ, and instead of enmity there is love and fellowship and trust. "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10).
"And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [reconciliation]" (Rom. 5:11). In our unsaved days there was surely no joy in the Lord. There was rather only the supposed joy coming from "the pleasures of sin" which are only "for a season" (Heb. 11:25), whereas God's joys are deep and eternal. "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psa. 16:11). We now rejoice in One whose presence we once dreaded and hated. What a change, indeed!
Before we were reconciled to God, we lived for and sought to please self. All centered around the gratification of the flesh, and it was not at all a question of righteousness or sin. Now, "all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:18). The Christian has a perfect standing before God, in which "all things are of God." He, "to the praise of the glory of His grace...hath made us accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:5). But there is not only this thorough change in our standing before God, there is also a thorough change in our motive for living, for we have been made "partakers of the divine nature" (II Pet. 1:4). Now it is our joy and delight to please the Lord instead of pleasing self, for "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again" (II Cor. 5:15).
A further truth is given us in Colossians 1, the truth that through the blood of His cross the Lord Jesus Christ made peace between a holy God and sinful men; for "you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled." The purpose of this reconciliation is to bring us unto God, "by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (vs. 20). "And you...hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight" (vss. 21, 22). God, because of His love for us, wrought for us and in us the thorough change that brought us to Himself and into that loving fellowship which His heart desires.
In the last two references to reconciliation (see also Matt. 5:24, where a different though similar word occurs; and Heb. 2:17, where the word "reconciliation" should be propitiation"), observe the responsibility which is ours. We who are reconciled have had "given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (II Cor. 5:18) and God "hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (vs. 19). It is our privilege and duty to tell others of what God has done, both that He "hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ" (vs. 18) and "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (vs. 19). God stands ready to make a thorough change in any heart that will trust Him, through His Son. "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" (vs. 20).
From Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation by John B. Marchbanks. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1970. Chapter 8.
>> More Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation