From the death and depravity of the flesh, God Almighty raises people to live in Christ. Conversion is an act of creation by God. It is characterized by old things passing and new things coming (v.17). The work is from God, in that He alone is the active and capable agent in reconciling rebellious people to Himself (v.18). This reconciliation is accomplished through Christ. No other context will bear the fruit of conversion. Not only does He convert people, but He gives the converted a glorious task: a ministry of reconciliation. These new creations are servants alongside God in the conversion of others. They do not do the work, but rather serve as agents through which God makes His appeal to the world. Christ – the revelation of God – walked the earth in compassion, not condemnation (John 3:16-17). There will come a day when He will judge, but that was not His office when He first came. First the cross, then the throne, then the gavel. The glorious result/work of His first visit was this: that those converted sinners would not have their transgressions counted against them (v.19). Complete grace. Utter mercy. This is the means of reconciliation, that God took the initiative to do-away with the debts we owed Him. We had no initiative/desire to be reconciled. it all came from Him.
The Ministry of Reconciliation (v.20)
Since God has given His new people the task of reconciliation ministry, they are ambassadors for Christ (v.20). This is the principle definition of their ministry. It is a task, not of their desires, wills, wishes, or agendas, but of Christ’s agenda. These people are simply communicators – diplomats to the world on behalf of Christ. When they are faithful to their call, it is as though God were making an appeal through them. Faithfulness in this ministry involves an event and a message. An event, because the diplomacy must actually happen. Knowledge without action is disobedient Christianity. The Great Commission cannot be fulfilled in our thoughts and intentions. It can only be realized through the work of evangelism. Our obedience to go is necessary for faithfulness in the reconciliation ministry. A message, because that is the purpose and content of the diplomacy. The purpose for the interaction is the message itself: that reconciliation is possible. God did not commission His Son to suffer on the cross in order to keep His gospel secret and hidden. By no means! The content of the interaction is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message: that He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (v.21).
This is how we are reconciled. This is the act of reconciliation. To the extent that we are obedient to proclaim this, we are faithful and representing Christ. Faithfulness is important for our joy and assurance in salvation. Representation is important for there to be any power demonstrated in our ministry. If we accurately represent Christ, then God Himself is making the appeal. If we accurately represent Christ, then as His diplomat we can have utmost confidence in the face of rulers, offenders, hostile powers, apathetic hearts, reluctant listeners, and all kinds of rebels in between. Yet if we are not obedient to proclaim the true gospel, then we are neither faithful nor representatives of Christ. Here, then, there is not lasting joy in the heart or fruit in the ministry.
What must also be emphasized is who these ministers of reconciliation are. They are not church elders, worship pastors, men, or outstanding citizens. All who are recreated (v.17) are ambassadors (v.20). God’s act of creation whereby old things pass away and new things come is His work of making diplomats for His gospel. You do not choose whether or not you are part of this ministry – God Himself enlists you. Among Christians, we cannot distinguish between ambassadors and non-ambassadors. We can only differentiate faithful ambassadors from the unfaithful. Jesus analogized this point in Matthew 5:14, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house,” (Matt. 5:13-15).
The Work of Reconciliation (v.21)
We must know, then, what this message is. We know what the appeal is: be reconciled to God. But what is meant by verse 21, the reconciliation itself? We find here 1) the Lamb of God, 2) the work of God, 3) the intention of God. This is the cross of Christ – God’s great, effectual redemption of His elect. It is the Lamb upon the cross, the work upon the Lamb, and the intention of the work that brings us reconciliation. And might I say, friends, that there is no other way? Behold the narrow gate! Enter through this way, or tarry upon lesser avenues.
The Lamb Upon the Cross
The Lamb of God is He, Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb because he suffered on our behalf. This is what the Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed. In the sacrifices, a spotless lamb was needed – one without blemish. Only such a lamb would e accepted as payment for sins, because only such a lamb was sufficient for the task. Now, we know that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins,” ().It was Christ who bore all His people’s sin – both in the Old and New Testaments. The Mosaic analogy was put to substance and flesh in Christ. He lived a sinless life. Not once did He fail to love God as God deserved to be loved – and that is the heaviest point. No man is perfectly externally righteous – but how much more do we fall short in reference to internal righteousness? You cannot possibly wrap your mind around this, that Christ perfectly loved God in every action, intention, and thought. Such living meant that Christ carried a certain treasure to the cross, a treasure unbuyable and priceless above all: righteousness. The Lamb upon the cross was spotless. It was He who knew no sin.
The Work Upon the Lamb
Yet this Christ who was not acquainted with sin was made sin. He had affiliated with rebels in His life, and He would now affiliated with their rebellion in His death. We must recognize, too, that this was the Father’s doing. God sent His son (Jn. 3:16) – it was His plan. He publicly displayed Him (Rom. 3:25-26). he was pleased to crush Him (Isa. 53:10). The cross was God’s doing, and so we resound with Paul that He made to be sin. But what could this mean? Did the spotless lamb become spotted? Did He become filthy? Though this mystery is great, I submit that Jesus did not literally become sin on the cross. First, we understand that His nature is unchangeable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb. 13:8). If He is the revelation of the Father (Col. 1:15), then He must never change, because the Father never changes (Mal. 3:6). Second, becoming “sin” and “righteousness” are manifestly metaphors. Sin is disobedience. How does one become disobedience? It makes no sense. We can say that one is sinful, and be speaking in literal terms. Yet we cannot say the same of one being sin. The same is true with righteousness. Thus, Paul means this metaphorically. Third, to re-stress the first point, any other interpretation would lend itself to be contradictory to other passages that clearly speak of judicial transaction and not any sort of metamorphosis of nature.
So, the work is that of imputation. That is, God counted our sin to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness to us. A key-word to keep in mind is treated. God treated Jesus as if He lived my life, so that He could treat me as if I lived His. Jesus was blamed and cursed for my sin. I am blamed and blessed for His obedience. With this exchange in place, God poured out His wrath upon Christ. It was not because Christ was a sinner, but because He had the record of one. “He made to be sin” references the imputation of guilt and thus the impartation of wrath. This is the work of God on the cross. It is a terrible reality, but God’s purpose in it is perhaps the greatest demonstration of love ever.
The Intention of the Work
The intention of God was this: “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Again, this is metaphorical and refers to the imputation of innocence and thus the impartation of blessing. Not only is our guilt taken taken away, but Christ’s credit of obedience is given to us. Because of this glorious work, we know that God is well-pleased with us, for when He sees me He sees His Son. New life in conversion is completed in the glory of heaven when all flesh and sinful desires are finally shed by God’s power. What we see is that God, in this, reconciles mankind to Himself. The two effects of sin – guilt and wickedness – are reversed in conversion. Being justified, we are no longer guilty of sin! being recreated (v.17), we are no longer bound to sin! Having been rescued from the effects of sin, and promised the long awaited day of freedom from sin itself, we are also rescued from the wage of sin. This means, friends, that death has no value for us. There is nothing costly in dying. Nothing of value is lost in death, because god has made it into a doorway to life! Therefore, death, where is your sting? Where is your victory? You have nothing to say to those whom God has reconciled to Himself! You have been muted and neutered – you have been shackled to hell with its ruin. Thus is the reconciliation of God. So I implore you, Oh reader, bend your knee to Him and be reconciled.
God’s work of reconciliation brings about ministers of reconciliation. It all goes back to the cross of Christ and the Gospel message. This good news is what we were saved by and it is what we now concern ourselves with to proclaim to others. We never move on from its shores, but plunge ourselves ever deeper into its endless depths. Who is adequate for this gospel ministry, friends? “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” (Rom. 5:10-11).