An Invitation to be Reconciled to God
In his iconic song, “Imagine,” John Lennon envisioned a world where people live in peace, in a “brotherhood of man,” free of greed, hunger, and the national and religious conflicts that prompt needless killing and death. The song aptly describes the realities of our world, where all of those problems and many more exist. Lennon was optimistic that such problems could be solved and we could achieve the kind of world he envisioned if we would all work together. The song ends with the hopeful refrain, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”
Sadly, our experience says otherwise. For all our desire to live in such a world, humans have demonstrated time and again their inability to achieve it. Civilization, education, political movements, appeals to love and tolerance, and many other solutions have been proposed, but all have fallen short. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that the problem with the world is not “out there.” It is within each of us–it is a problem of the heart. We instinctively recognize that the answer is not in trying harder or being better. We need to be made new.
The Bible Offers an Explanation and a Solution
The Bible provides both an explanation for the brokenness of the human condition, and a way by which we can be made new.
The story of creation (Genesis 1) emphasizes that God brought the world into being by the authority of his commands. Since the world came about by his authority, he is also the rightful authority over all he has made. That authority is not oppressive but life giving, since he designed the creation to function at its best under the direction of his wise oversight.
At the climax of the creation narrative is the creation of human beings in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In that regard the Bible emphasizes two things:
First, though, like all the other creatures, they were made of the dust of the earth, God breathed his own life into them (Genesis 2:7), creating them to enjoy, not only the physical life of the body, but also to share in the spiritual life of God himself, making them capable of entering into a relationship with him of perfect love and freedom. The implications of this are staggering. God created human beings to share with them the same perfect love that he enjoys within himself in perfect relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
Second, as his image bearers in the world, God also appointed human beings to be stewards over the other creatures and natural resources of the earth (Genesis 1:26). Just as he is the rightful authority over all he has made, he gave us the privilege of bearing his image by exercising authority under him as stewards of the earth.
Rebellion against God
Human beings, however, rejected God’s offer of love rebelled against his authority as the creator (Genesis 3:1-7). Instead, we assumed the right to rule ourselves, and to determine for ourselves what is right or wrong, good and bad, without regard for God’s wisdom. As a result, the Bible explains, human beings have become estranged, first from God, and from each other, and from the natural world over which we were to rule. Having “fallen” from God’s good purpose, humanity is now characterized by rebellion toward God, enmity with each other, and exploitation of the world over which we were to be caregivers.
The Cost of Rebellion
Humanity’s rejection of God has had three other devastating consequences:
First, by rejecting God’s wisdom and authority in favor of their own, human beings have lost their way. The prophet Isaiah describes the human condition this way (Isaiah 59:7-11): “Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.”
Secondly, by turning away from God, humans have cut themselves off from the spiritual life that only God can give. As a result, the Bible says humans are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1, see also Genesis 2:15-17). This spiritual deadness is a condition that we do not have it within our power to remedy. Like branches that have been cut from a tree, we are powerless to reconnect ourselves to the life we have lost. No amount of desire or goodness can undo what has been done.
Thirdly, because of sin and rebellion, human beings are under God’s judgment. God is a loving God, but he is also just, and in his justice he cannot leave our sin unaccounted for. The offense of our sin must be paid for before our relationship with God can be restored, but, again, because we are dead in our sins, we are incapable of settling the debt we owe to God and securing reconciliation for ourselves.
The Gospel is Good News
The good news is that God was not willing for sin, rebellion and death to be the last word. In his mercy and grace he has provided a way to be reconciled to him, and thereby be restored to the abundant life for which we were made. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8 that God has shown the extent of his love for us in that, while we were still sinners and enemies of God, he gave what was most precious to him, his only son, as a sacrifice for our sin, to pay the debt required by his justice, which we could not pay. Because Jesus was without sin, he alone could pay the debt of sin for humanity. It was for this reason that Jesus surrendered his life on the cross, and God accepted his sacrifice, cancelling the debt of sin. The prophet Isaiah vividly expressed this truth (Isaiah 53:4-6): “Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
God’s Offer of Reconciliation
By his sacrifice on our behalf, Jesus has opened the way for us to be reconciled to God. Having been reconciled to God, the life we had lost is restored. As Jesus himself said, “God so loved the word that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). He would later explain what eternal life is: “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). In other words, what Jesus has done for us is to make it possible for the perfect relationship of love and freedom with him, for which God made us, to be restored.
In addition, when we are reconciled with God he gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts so that we are no longer inclined to rule ourselves and so be lost in the blindness and darkness Isaiah described. Instead, the Spirit enables us to know God and live by his wisdom and authority. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God gave this promise to those who accept his offer of reconciliation (Ezekiel 36:26-27): “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” By enabling us to live in obedience to God, the Holy Spirit transforms us so that we can learn to live at peace with each other and become a source of good in the world. Through the sacrifice of Christ, then, God has made it possible for everything that was lost because of sin and rebellion to be restored.
How to respond to God’s Offer
Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ has opened the door to reconciliation with God. All we need do is walk through it. We do that by acknowledging that, as our creator, God is our rightful king, turning away from the idea that we can rule ourselves, and surrendering our lives to his authority. Surrendering to God also involves trusting him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, placing our faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross to remove the debt of sin and reconcile us to God. None of this our own doing. It is all because of God’s grace, which he has freely offered to all and can be received simply by placing our trust in him. As the Apostle Paul said, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
An Urgent Invitation to be Reconciled to God
This, then, is God’s offer of reconciliation. Again in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
Once a person receives the salvation Jesus has provided, he or she becomes a disciple, or follower of Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus involves acquainting oneself with his teaching through studying and meditating on Scripture. It also involves actively growing in relationship with God through prayer. It is also important to get connected with a local church, where God’s people join together to help each other learn and grow in faith.
If you have accepted God’s invitation to be reconciled to him through faith in Christ, or if you have more questions about what that means, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to call the church office (268-689-2046) or send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Pastor Jon Enright