Maybe you know what it’s like to be stuck in an ongoing conflict with someone. You feel it: there’s a rift that needs to be healed.
But who’s going to make the first move? After all, you feel justified in your resentment. I’m the injured party here, you think; they should be reaching out to me.
Maybe you’re right. But chances are nothing will happen as long as you remain adamant. You’ll protect your pride, but the relationship will remain broken.
What would change if we learned to think of God as the God of reconciliation, the one who makes the first move?
In the context of doubts about and challenges to his legitimacy as an apostle, Paul has been trying to get the Corinthians to understand the newness of what God has done in Christ: new covenant, new creation, new day.
But how did all this newness come about, and what does it mean? Paul writes:
All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18-19, CEB)
Here, God is the subject of every verb. He does the reconciling, the giving, the entrusting. Moreover, because of the cross, he refuses to charge to people’s accounts the unpayable debt of their own sin. In the letter he would later write to the church in Rome, Paul puts it this way:
While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people…. God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God. (Rom 5:6, 8-11, CEB)
We don’t like to think of ourselves in this way: we were once the enemies of a righteous God, deserving only of his vengeance. But where we were powerless, God took the initiative, wholly and completely. God is the one who loves, who saves, who makes righteous, who reconciles. Christ is the one who dies on our behalf, without our asking, without our understanding.
The evangelistic emphasis on “making a decision for Christ” sometimes obscures the more basic and life-altering truth: God has made a decision for us. That’s the root of the gospel Paul preaches, and the one the Corinthians believed.
And for those who live inside that truth, that’s the motivation for making any move of reconciliation ourselves.