What does it mean to be reconciled to God? And why is this necessary?

Last updated on January 23, 2023

In 2 Corinthians 5:18, the Apostle Paul introduces the ministry of reconciliation. In the preceding verses, he explained that we are new creations in Christ because Christ died for us; that the old has passed away and the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”.

What does this mean, and why is it necessary?

1. Why do we need to be reconciled to God?

Paul himself provides an excellent explanation in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Christian reconciliation is the work of God, through Christ, by which He restores men and women to a favorable relationship with Himself. He does this by not (no longer) counting our trespasses against us. We are no longer blamed for our transgressions. Why did our relationship with God require restoration? Because the first man and woman had cut themselves off from God’s goodness by disobeying Him, in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).

2. Did we deserve this? Were we entitled to be reconciled to God?

In a word: no. In fact, it was “while we were God’s enemies [that] we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). Not only had we not done anything to deserve reconciliation; we made the situation worse with our disobedience. We “were His enemies, separated from Him by [our] evil thoughts and actions.” (Colossians 1:21 in the NLT translation).

But we have a God Who loves us! And once we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, each of us can rely on, and rejoice in, the promise that “He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22, NLT translation). Praise the Lord for our wonderful and almighty God!

3. God’s rescue plan – some background information

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

God has been working towards salvation for us since the beginning of time, and every book of the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of Jesus and God’s rescue plan for men and women. The word “reconciliation” or “atonement” (which is a different translation of the same Hebrew word) occurs in various Bible books throughout the Old Testament. It is associated with (blood) sacrifices and atonement, and in compliance with Mosaic Law requirements, was a temporary act of restoration, initiated by man.

To secure this temporary reconciliation, the blood of a spotless animal had to be sacrificed. This was because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22): a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ shed on the cross. The priest making the sacrifice had to place his hands on the animal’s head to symbolize that this animal bore God’s judgment in the sinner’s place (see for example Exodus 29:10), a foretelling of how we have to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.

4. Can God not simply say: “All is forgotten”?

When two parties need to be reconciled with each other, this means that there is a brokenness between them that needs to be restored. In the case of God and mankind, the brokenness that occurred between Him and us was our disobedience, and our sinful nature resulting from this disobedience. More to the point: because God is perfectly holy and just, mankind’s choice to disobey Him, disconnected us from Him.

God cannot accept us into His presence in our state of unholiness. Before Adam and Eve were “evicted” from the Garden of Eden, they dwelt harmoniously with God (Genesis 3:23). This means that God was here, on Earth, and walked with Adam and Eve. But because of mankind’s disobedience (Romans 3:23) both our physical and eternal spiritual life were separated from God (Romans 6:23). This cannot simply be overlooked: atonement and reconciliation are vital.

5. Eternal gratitude

Men and women, due to their sinful nature, did not and could not use their initiative to seek reconciliation. We had no idea about what would happen after our physical death. We are and were not able to redeem ourselves, and we didn’t even realize that we needed to, happy as we were to use our free will to do what we wanted. That is why God introduced the Mosaic Law (to provide us with an understanding of His holiness) and began to reveal His redemptive plan. Occasionally, His prophets were given clues. Daniel was told that there will be a time when the punishment for the people’s sins will come to an end, that the people will no longer turn against God and the price for their sins has been paid (Daniel 9:24). The prophet Isaiah, in particular, was made aware of many details concerning Jesus (Isaiah 52:13 through to 53:12).

As the result of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, we can be reconciled with God, by believing in Him. Our loving God secured this for us, and for this, we surely owe Him our eternal gratitude.

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 5:20)

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