2 Corinthians

Reconciliation. 5:16-21


In this passage Paul explains his main role as an apostle to the Gentiles, namely that he exercises a "ministry of reconciliation." Paul had been reconciled to God in Christ and appointed an "ambassador of Christ" to work for the reconciliation of others.

The passage

v16-18. In the opening verse Paul points out that he now views people differently. He didn't always see things the way he does now, in fact, there was a time when he even viewed Christ in human terms. He once saw Christ as a criminal rather than the messiah, but not so now. Paul views people differently because he is now "in Christ", that is, he is in union with Christ, one with him, identified with Christ in his death, resurrection, and glorious ascension. As such, Paul is a "new creation", a new being. In Christ he has become part of a new order of things. As part of the new order of things he is becoming a new creature. The "old has gone" (a single past event), "the new has come" (an ongoing continuous). This is all God's doing and it is by means of reconciliation. God took rebellious humanity and restored the broken relationship that exists between himself and his creation, and this he did through Christ's cross and empty tomb.

v19. So Paul, as one of God's reconciled believers, one of the new creatures, was entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Paul now goes on to explain the substance of that reconciliation. Reconciliation is God's work of drawing to himself those who are far off, and this by means of their identification with the sin-bearing work of Christ. Christ's work on the cross enables God to no longer exact the penalty for an individual's sin. Since the penalty was paid by Christ, God no longer has to count "man's sins against them."

v20. The ministry of reconciliation, committed to the apostles (in fact committed to all disciples), is a ministry of the word. It is a "message of reconciliation" that is committed to Paul. He is an "ambassador" with a message. Paul is a representative who is to speak accurately and authoritatively on behalf of his sovereign. As such, in v20b, Paul presents a short-hand version of the gospel: "be reconciled to God".

v21. Paul outlines, in more detail, the substance of the reconciliation wrought by God. It was achieved in Jesus, who being without sin (only a sinless man could pay the penalty for sinful mankind) was made "to be sin". That is, he was made to bear the punishment due our sins. Yet take note, Jesus was not made a sinner. The word "made" seems to imply force, but Jesus freely gave his life, Jn.10:17f, acting in harmony with the will of the Father. Christ's work was performed on the cross that "we might become the righteousness of God" and thus be reconciled to him. That is, Jesus' death achieved our righteousness.

A New Creation

In the film, Educating Rita, Rita was determined to gain an education, particularly in English literature. She was determined to rise above her menial state and touch substance. It was no easy matter moving from the slums of London into the sophistication of university life. At one point she nearly threw it all in, but a little incident drove her forward. The family and friends were at the local pub singing along with the jukebox. She looked across at her mum and saw her crying.

Her mum said; "There must be better songs to sing than this." For a better song Rita was willing to give her all. For the "new creation" in Christ, are we willing to give all?

What then is the substance of this new life in Christ?

1. A new understanding, v16

Our insight is renewed. We no longer see things the way we used to. We see truth; we see reality. Like Paul, who once saw Jesus as a fraud but later beheld the true glory of the risen Christ, we too see the glorious light of reality.

2. A new relationship with God, v18-19

We who were once the enemies of Christ have now become his friends. We are reconciled to God. Once rebels, now mates; once unfaithful, now devoted, passionate lovers.

3. A new vocation, v20

Our createdness demands a vocation of mating, breeding, rearing and providing, all within a defined, controlled and subdued environment. Yet, that vocation images another vocation of far greater splendor, a vocation which is eternal in form. It is the vocation of reconciling all things under Christ, both here on earth and in the heavenly realms.

4. A new self, v21

The human animal is the only animal that blushes and is the only animal that needs to. Guilt is the most profound of human emotions; it drives us to the absurd. The new self begins with the most profound of changes within our natures. In Christ we find ourselves no longer burdened by guilt and slowly changed into the likeness of Christ.


1. What are the consequences of reconciliation?

2. Explain the two phrases, Christ was "made sin for us" and, we have "become the righteousness of God".

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