2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
Last time we saw that Paul was controlled by the love of Christ. Christ’s amazing love demonstrated in the gospel constrained Paul. In other words, Paul had been remade and shaped by Christ’s love and he was compelled and motivated by Christ’s love. Christ’s love was the source of Paul’s life and the Christ that loved Paul and had given Himself for him had become the object of Paul’s devotion. And this was because Paul understood that Christ’s death accomplished something astounding: it was a substitutionary death. Christ died a death he did not deserve and in that death he died the death that we deserve. And he died this substitutionary death so that we who are alive might no longer live for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised.
In this study we continue with Paul as he places his ministry in light of the gospel of Christ’s love.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 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. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
According to the Flesh
Alright, let’s dive right into this nutrient dense text.
Notice that because of what Paul has concluded about Christ’s saving love he says in verse 16, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.“
So, because of the truth that Paul has come understand, namely that Christ’s death accomplished the death and resurrection of all in Christ, the way Paul now regards people has changed. No longer does Paul regard or think of people according to the flesh – that is according to outward appearances.
Paul, unlike the false teachers who had come into the church of Corinth, was not interested in outward eloquence or power or giftedness; he was not interested in outward beauty and class; he was not interested in physical ancestry or the praise of men. He didn’t look at people and assess them based on those things.
He continues, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” There was a time when Paul judged Jesus by outward appearances and rejected Him and persecuted those who claimed He was the Messiah. Before Paul’s conversion he assessed Jesus’ life and ministry and had concluded that He was not the Messiah because He was of humble origins, no outward glory or power, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, and crucified on a Roman cross, hung in a tree, cursed by God. Once Paul did regard Jesus according the outward appearances, but not any longer. The risen Christ appeared to Paul and Paul’s heart was opened to understand the OT Scriptures and that Jesus the Christ had perfectly fulfilled what had been spoken of Him.
In this statement Paul is really strongly repudiating the false teachers who had come into Corinth boasting about outward appearances because if it is by outward appearances of power and honor and eloquence that people ought to judged, than not even the Christ would measure up. That is not how we are to regard people.
The world regards people according to their beauty and talents and influence and wealth. This is not how we are to regard each other in the church that Jesus bought with His own blood.
Paul continues in verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.“
So Paul does not regard anyone by outward appearances, not by eloquence or power, not by outward beauty and class, not by physical ancestry or the praise of men. Instead, he regards people by a spiritual reality. The great dividing line that separates all of humanity is nothing that can be perceived in outward appearance. Instead the dividing line is between the fallen creation and the new creation – and this distinction is not (yet) seen externally – it cannot be judged by outward appearances, it is matter of the heart (5:12). But, all the same, if anyone is in Christ, he is already a new creation.
What Christ accomplished at Calvary was the establishing of a new creation – not yet seen with physical eyes, but already truly begun. The old fallen order, corrupted by sin, defined by God’s wrath and judgement and death has passed away for everyone who is in Christ.
If anyone is in Christ, he himself is a new creation. His fallen soul has been restored to God; his corrupted nature has been rendered dead and obsolete and now already He has been regenerated, made alive and sensitive to the things of God; God’s wrath against him has been absorbed in Christ, God’s displeasure has been carried away by Christ. Instead of death, those in Christ are defined by life and life everlasting and even now they have a down payment on the inheritance that will be fully theirs when Christ come at the the last trump, the very Spirit of God abiding in them.
How does Paul regard people? Either they are of the old fallen order, dead in trespasses and sins, under God’s wrath, and held captive in the kingdom of darkness or they of the new glorious order, alive in righteousness and holiness, held up by God’s love, and secure in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!
All From God
In verse 18, Paul explains how this unseen yet present new reality has come to be: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.“
First of all, when Paul says that through Christ God reconciled us to Himself, he means God restored us to favorable and friendly relations with Himself through Christ. Let’s be clear, God had something very serious against us – our sin. It was we who had failed and rebelled against our Creator. It was we who were unworthy to be in His holy presence. God had, not only a legitimate grudge against us, but an infinitely holy and unshakable opposition to us. So few today have an accurate view of God’s holiness and justice. His righteousness cannot abide sinfulness to go without its just reward. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, every sin must and will be dealt with in full.
We were the party at fault and so to get to this glorious reality of the new creation, God had to do something incredible – we were impotent to do anything, but God was wise and wealthy and willing to restore us.
Oh how, important that we see that this new creation is all from God. IT IS ALL FROM GOD – by grace alone – to the glory and praise of God alone! If He had not been wise or wealthy or willing we would be utterly lost. But, He who created all things by the word of His power has now recreated by His infinite wisdom and self-sacrificing love and grace all who trust Jesus.
Paul is explaining how God (not man!) has effected a new glorious creation. God, through the Person and Work of Christ reconciled us to Himself.
Paul continues in verse 19.
God in Christ Reconciled
“…that is (Paul is clarifying), in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…“
So, Paul is explaining how God has effected a new creation, not just for the apostles, but for the world.
Now, again, some assume that by this word ‘world’ Paul intends to communicate that in Christ God was reconciling every last individual without exception in the world to Himself. But this word ‘world’ (kosmos) in the NT has a number of different meanings, including the universe, as an ordered structure (Acts 17:24), the surface of the earth (the location) where mankind dwells (Matthew 4:8), the world system or godless, sinful world standards (Gal 6:14), and it also means in the NT people, those who are estranged from God (1 Cor 6:2). So we need to ask what makes most sense of this context – we must not insert the meaning that we would like Paul to be communicating, but the meaning he actually is intending to communicate.
Did Paul intend to communicate here, that God, not only reconciled the apostles, but also reconciled every last individual without exception throughout human history to Himself so that their trespasses are no longer counted against them (that what verse 19 says this reconciliation accomplished) – meaning then that God would not longer have any wrath toward anyone?
This simply cannot be. If we take the reconciliation that Christ accomplished seriously – this cannot be. It cannot be because, if every last individual has been reconciled to God through Christ, than God’s wrath does not abide on anyone. But we know from clear texts of Scripture that His wrath does abide on many. You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:3-6). Those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:8-9). The wrath of God abides on them who do not believe in Jesus (John 3:36).
As Paul will say in verse 21, God made Christ to be sin for our sake. The power of the cross is that sin, our trespasses have actually been dealt with – not counted against us – so that God is reconciled. They were not potentially dealt with. The cross actually reconciled God to people. And God’s reconciliation through Christ cannot be overthrown or reversed; it is potent to save.
So what did Paul intend to communicate? I am convinced that Paul means here that God was reconciling to Himself all sinful people in the world without distinction, (for example Jews and Romans and Africans and Asians and Americans – all of fallen Adam’s offspring without distinction). Paul’s intention in moving from verse 18 to verse 19 it to clarify the scope of the Christ’s reconciling work: not for the apostles only but for the world – the scope of Christ work covers the whole of humanity. Paul is not intending to communicate that God has reconciling every human being throughout human history without exception, rather, that God was reconciling sinful people out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. His reconciling work is for all, throughout the whole world, who will believe.
Entrusted to Us the Message of Reconciliation
Notice how Paul describes his ministry then in verse 18 and again in verse 19.
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.
The apostle understood his ministry (his service to God) as the ministry of reconciliation, that is the ministry of restoring favorable and friendly relations between God and sinners.
But mark very carefully what that ministry consisted of: he was entrusted with a message, a word, something to be proclaimed. Paul’s ministry was not about feeding the poor as wonderful as that is. His ministry was not aiming to change Roman laws so as to make the Roman Empire more just and merciful, as wonderful as that would be. He was not lobbying to over throw the ruling authorities or the power structures of his day. His ministry was not about how to make people’s marriages better or about how to raise kids that get along and respect their parents. Some of these things may be wonderful things, but the apostolic ministry was first and foremost and pervasively a ministry consisting in the message of reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus.
And this is what the early church devoted themselves to: the apostles teaching.
All the rest of the new creation life (affected by that reconciliation) is outflow, like fruit on a healthy living tree. But it is the proclamation of the message of what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinners that is the unwavering focus of the apostolic ministry. And to this day what the world and the church needs more than anything is to hear the word of reconciliation. We are to take the message of what God has done in Christ to all the world.
God has done the work of reconciliation through Christ and then He has sent his heralds out to proclaim it everywhere.
We Implore You
Paul continues in verse 20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.“
In other words, as an authorized representative of Christ, God is making his earnest call through Paul. And so Paul is pleading, begging them, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God!
And I proclaim before you even now upon the apostle’s word, carrying forward this word ministry of reconciliation through the Lord Jesus Christ, I also implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!
Our Lord is calling to you, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” God has been propitiated, his wrath is gone for all who come to Him through Christ.
For You and Me
And John Calvin “…remarks that this exhortation is not directed exclusively to the unconverted. The believer needs daily, and is allowed whenever he needs, to avail himself of the offer of peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is not the doctrine of the Scriptures that the merits of Christ avail only for the forgiveness of sins committed before conversion, while for post-salvation sins, as they were called, there is no satisfaction except in the penances of the offender. [No!] Christ is always alive to make intersession for us; and for every shortcoming and renewed offense the penitent believer is offered renewed application of that blood that cleanses us from all sin.” (Charles Hodge)
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And more than mere cleansing, as verse 21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.“
In the same way that Christ was counted to be sin, we are counted to be righteous – the very righteousness of God. This is called double imputation: our sin counted to Christ, His righteousness counted to us. God is able to be just in punishing our sin in His Son and God is able to be the justifier of everyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26)! We have by faith in Christ God’s own righteousness! When God considers you in Christ, His verdict is: perfect! We are not merely pardoned, but perfect! declared righteous!
Come all who are weary and weighed down with sin and guilt. Come to Christ and be reconciled to God. If you are in Christ by faith your sin is gone, in Christ you are washed and in Christ you are fully approved and loved. Fear not little flock, it is the Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32)!
Don’t Let This Word Pass You By
Paul is not yet done his appeal. In 6:1 Paul continues, “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
Now some have taken Paul here to mean, we appeal to you not go on living in sin after accepting the good news of Christ’s death. But this does not seem to be Paul’s intention here. However, it must be said very clearly those who truly believe upon Jesus will not go on in sin. How can we who have died to sin still live in it (Romans 6:2)? If you have truly trusted God’s reconciling work through Christ for you, that faith will always be accompanied by repentance and a sincere desire for obedience.
If you say you are a Christian, having embraced the grace of God in Christ, but you refuse to repent, refuse to renounce your sin, refuse put to death what is sinful in you, refuse to turn away from sin in your heart and in your behavior and you refuse to obey your Lord – you are a liar and the truth is not in you. You are not yet a Christian and you are still in your sins. Repent and believe the Gospel and a spring of living water will well up in your heart! When you are truly baptized into Christ Jesus you will bear fruit worthy of repentance and union with Christ (see Matthew 3:8-10 and John 15).
But that is not Paul’s point here, as true as it is.
What Paul is saying here is do not received this word of grace in vain, meaning don’t reject this gospel, don’t let this word of reconciliation pass you by for… (verse 6:2 continues)
“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
God has been so abundantly gracious toward wayward humanity. The only thing that holds God back from coming in power and judgement and justice is His incredible grace and patience. Today, now, this moment, is the favorable time. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow this hour of grace may very well be gone. This is the hour of grace to all men, do not let it pass you by. Do not reject God’s grace in Christ thinking you will enjoy sinful pleasures first and then seek mercy later. There may not be a later for you.
The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. This is the moment the Lord is extending the offer of forgiveness and righteousness to all who will believe. Be reconciled to God by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we who have been reconciled, let us live upon this gospel – this best of all news. Let us too, daily, hourly, receive this word with joy, believing anew that we are fully righteous and all our debts are paid and let us press on to love and good works.
And let us not keep silent. We have a word to take to the nations, to our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers, yes even our enemies – to those far and to those near.
Our message is not, “shape up and get your act together.” That is not the message we have been entrusted with. As heralds for Christ, our message is the message of the apostles: that God has put Christ forward as a wrath absorbing sacrifice and in His death God is reconciled to everyone who will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent therefore and believe this word from God.
Let us as a local church, loved by Christ, learn this word of reconciliation very well; let us live upon this word of reconciliation everyday; let us, like Paul, leave a legacy of bold and faithful word ministry everywhere we go.