Reconciled to God
This week I posted on my personal facebook the question: How sure are you that you would go to heaven when you die on a scale of 1-10. If I’m honest, I thought a few faithful Christians would respond with the standard standard Evangelical Christian answer: I am a 10 because I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. Which is good solid orthodoxy. In two days, I received 80 comments. Now as you can imagine a lot of those comments were from my tribe. What was also exciting was that people responded to me from outside of my stream. There were Catholic answers, Atheist answers, and doubting Christian answers. That allowed me to follow up with people online in a way that I had not done since the late 90s and early 2000s when internet chatrooms were all the rage.
Why We Resist
With that much response, I wondered why I didn’t do that more often. I post Christian things all the time, but rarely do I invite someone to respond to the Gospel. And if that is me as a pastor online, I wondered for a moment how we are doing as a culture with engaging our sphere of influence online...and in person. I think we resist engaging the culture with an invitation to explore the Gospel because:
- We are afraid of looking foolish. In a day and age when Christians have been marginalized into the bigoted camp, it can be difficult to express opinions without fear of reprisal socially or vocationally.
- There is a tendency in us to see people as a problem to fix and a lot of effort to correct a wrong worldview and faith system. Said bluntly: We doubt God’s ability.
- Or we don't see what's in it for us. Brand ambassadors get paid to further the cause of shirts, drinks, and essential oils. How does promoting an invisible kingdom to a world who thinks it is imaginary help me?
These are great questions which Paul addressed in one of my favorite passages of scripture. 2 Corinthians 5:11-20. He breaks down the resistance to gospel cultural engagement.
First, he says
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience... 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Paul acknowledges the awkward reality that people will think you are crazy, foolish, offensive. If they do, then what you are doing is for God. Noah preached for 120 years and had no one ever believed him (2 Peter 2:5). However, his service was for the Lord not for men. The world was given the opportunity to repent and refused. God’s compassion was seen in Noah’s preaching and therefore we glorify God.
On the other hand if someone sees that you are in the right mind, that person has been won over and is thankful for they realize they were dead, but have been given life through Christ. That is exciting.
The Love of Christ
When Paul wrote this he said he persuades others, because the love of Christ controls him. The word controls is from the greek word, συνέχω, sunecho which behind the word is the idea of squeezing with your hands, forcing something through something. The influence of the love of Christ is so powerful in the life of Paul that he can’t help but share. And that sharing results in either God being glorified or someone getting saved every time.
Notch in the Belt?
One thing to notice is Paul isn’t controlled by his notches on the belt. He isn’t controlled by anything other than a deep affection for Christ. I think have heard people be critical of those sharing the gospel as ones who are trying to get a notch in their belt. Can I be honest here? I don’t know anyone like that. Like no one. I think that some people feel guilty that they aren’t sharing. They might feel a struggle because they see another person sharing the gospel poorly and then they assume a motive. Be careful with that. Romans 14:4 warns that we aren’t to judge the work of another man’s servant--that man being Jesus. If you catch yourself using the “notch in the belt” comment, check that there isn’t a spirit of jealousy or competition in your soul.
That thought leads me to my next point that there is something in us that gets frustrated with people that don’t get it. We get upset when people don’t agree with our worldview and put policies in place that make worship harder, defame the character of God, and make evil appear good. Righteous anger is appropriate. However, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
So how do we respond with people with a worldview that is different and convinced that we are in error and dangerous to their cultural desire?
According to the Flesh
Paul continued in 2 Corinthians 5:16 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.
Paul wrote that back in the day we engaged people with different worldviews and beliefs like the rest of the world who had no spiritual hope in Christ and didn’t have the love of Christ controlling them. And this is where Christians make a mistake aligning themselves too closely to a political party. We can move from a political agenda serving Christians, to Christians serving a political agenda that doesn’t include Christ. If we find ourselves within a party throwing mud like non-Christians within our own party then how is the love of Christ controlling you? Isn’t it the political movement controlling you? When we devolve our human interaction to derisive and divisive comments about how the other side is so bad, we are not loving--and if Christ isn’t controlling us, who is?
That isn’t to say we should abandon politics. What that means is we do things differently. We love our enemies. We don’t live like government is our hope and if a vote goes the wrong way we are doomed. I can’t tell you how many people have told me we are heading to a time where Christianity will be banned from the public square and Christians will be openly persecuted.
My response to that is… “and?” the Bible clearly says that Christians will be persecuted for their faith. If we live in fear of that persecution won’t we acquiesce some of our convictions in order to maintain our lifestyle? Again, that doesn’t mean we give up in the political sphere, but we can’t approach politics with a desperation that if this doesn’t happen we will be in despair. It makes our faith so fragile. The world is fragile. Christ has overcome the world.
We don’t operate as the world operates because of what it means to be a Christian. Verse 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Christians are not like the rest of the world. We are in the world, but distinct from the world in order that the world may recognize us as being primarily citizens of heaven. People who argue like those from heaven. People who love like those from heaven. People work like those from heaven. In fact, that is who we are--ambassadors from heaven.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 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. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Terms of Surrender
God uses people to make his appeal to the world. God is looking to come to terms of peace with the world. He is sending out ambassadors on his behalf to plead with people to be reconciled to God. The image here is that God is the conquering yet compassionate king who is about to establish his kingdom on Earth. He is making the offer, come be a part of my kingdom or face the consequences of treason for rebelling against His Kingdom. The good news is that the work of paying off our rebellion has been prepaid. On the cross, Jesus made a way for our surrender and entrance into the kingdom. Those of us who have already surrendered are coming to share how good the kingdom of God is. Surrender isn’t a failure, it is our greatest win. That is why we implore, or as the New American Standard says aptly, “we beg.”
Surrender is not Failure
We know how good the God of the universe is. We know that surrender is losing our false self and gaining who God our creator and father made us to be. The rebellion not only ends in terms of peace, but great joy.
The consequences of not surrendering are dire. Which is why we persuade people out of love, not out of a notch in the belt. That is why we don’t appeal to people with an argument, but as people who are now citizens of heaven, we love people into God’s Kingdom. And we beg people if we have to, because surrender is not only the greatest gift one could receive, it is also saving people from the consequence of treason against God.
My heart is that you would join me in representing Jesus our king as His ambassador. We would offer terms of surrender in love and reveal how God changed us and made us a new creation and that opportunity is available to any who would believe. Here is a simple way to take part in God’s plan to reconcile the world:
Copy and paste this question on your social media platform.
How confident are you that you would go to heaven when you die? And please tell me the reason for your answer.
0-for sure not going to heaven.
10-no doubt, I’m in heaven.
Love you all,