In last week's Sunday message we spent our time looking at this text in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” We looked at what it means to be ‘IN’ Christ, and how a person gets to be IN Christ, and how we can know that we haven’t deluded ourselves into thinking we are IN Christ, when in reality, we are not part of His Mystical Body.
Today, I want to bring us back to that text in chapter five. Here again are verses 17-21 for context:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
My first point today comes from verse 18: “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
The ‘these things’ Paul refers to what he just said earlier in verse 17. We spent our time last week looking at that verse: “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”
Now please notice verse 18 once again: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
You and I are in Christ ONLY because of what God did – and continues to do – for us. Scripture tells us time and again, as for example: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44)
Let me reiterate this crucial point: we did absolutely NOTHING for God to save us. No amount of church attendance, or tithing, or cleaning up our lives got us into Christ. Remember what the apostle tells us in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
The Greek word Paul used here is the same word from which we get ‘necrotic.’ In plain words, we were a corpse. Dead. Decomposing. And as such we could do nothing in our own strength and from our own resources to be made alive in Christ. Which is why Paul continued, saying: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2”4-6, 8-9)
“So that no one may boast.”
So please, if the thought remains nestled somewhere in the back of our minds that WE did ANYTHING to achieve salvation – throw the thought in the trash where it belongs. To again quote Paul in this Corinthian passage: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
God saved us because He wanted to save us because He loves us – loves us so much that even as we were shaking our fists in His face, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
And here is the take-home message of this point: If God loved you that much before He awakened you from spiritual death to life IN Christ – if He loved you so much THEN – do you think His love has diminished for you over the years? If He loved you so much while you were shaking your fist in His face, do you think His love has diminished for you now – even when we don’t follow Him perfectly?
Listen, I plead with you to listen: Jesus tells us the Father loves us right now – sinners as we are – He loves us just as much now as He loves Jesus His Son. Here is what the Lord Himself tells us. You’ll find it in John 17: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (17:22-23)
Does the Father care if we remain sinners? OF COURSE, He does. Paul answered that question in his letter to the church at Rome: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! (Romans 6:1-2)
And while it is certainly true that Christ receives the sinner who says to Him: ‘Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me” – it is equally true that we must not REMAIN as we were when we came. For if we remain as we were, and to paraphrase Hebrews 10:29, we do nothing less than trample “underfoot the Son of God: and live as if His blood is worthless.
So, to summarize this first point: We did nothing to earn our salvation. God saved us because He chose to save us because He loves us. All we did for our salvation was respond affirmatively to His call. And His love for us has not diminished even a hair’s breadth, even when we do not follow His perfectly.
Which brings us to the second point of today’s message: Not only are we new creations in Christ because of His love for us, but BECAUSE He loves us the holy God has already reconciled each of us who responded ‘yes’ to His call. God has unreservedly brought us into His Mystical Body because of our faith in Christ’s atonement for our sins.
To illustrate that reconciliation, think about the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Do you think the son returned home all dressed and gussied up in fine clothes and pleasantly fragrant cologne? Of course, not. He’d just left his employer’s farm feeding pigs. I don’t mean to be indelicate, but the young man stank. He’d been stepping in and around pig feces and urine and slobber for who-knows-how-long. And who know how long it had been since he’d bathed.
He was filthy, grungy, sweaty, and smelly. He was someone most would not want to be within 15 feet of. But he was also lonely. And lost. And frightened. And remorseful. And penitent.
You know the story. His father – who represents our heavenly Father in this parable – his father saw him a long way off and ran to him. And embraced him – filthy, putrid, foul smelling and all – his father embraced Him and brought Him home to himself.
In other words – the Father reconciled his penitent son to Himself. And then he immediately held a party in his honor because his son, who had been dead, was now alive. His son, who’d been lost, was now found.
Listen, if you do not think of your unrepented sins as a stench in God's nostrils, then I will say it as clearly as I know how: You do NOT have a biblical view of your sins. I return us again to Ephesians chapter two: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Necrotic. Decaying.
Have you ever smelled a dead body? I have. I still remember that hot and muggy August day many years ago in San Diego. As I jogged around the neighborhood, waves of heat rippled above the asphalt. The humidity was so high, I thought I was breathing water.
That suffocating combination of heat and humidity is probably why I smelled the cat before I saw it. I rounded the corner and spotted its decaying body in weeds by the curb. Its lifeless lips tightened into a grotesque grin. Sun-bleached ribs peeked through putrefying flesh. I held my breath and picked up the pace to move past the odor.
Now what if someone dressed the dead cat in a silk suit and tie?” What if someone dressed the corpse in fine linen and splashed expensive cologne on its face? I assure you, a gallon of cologne couldn’t have masked the odor of death, nor could the most expensive clothes disguise its hideous appearance. Nothing short of God’s supernatural intervention could breathe the fragrance of life into that corpse.
That’s the message the Holy Spirit tried to impress on those in Ephesus, to whom the apostle Paul wrote: “You were dead – necrotic, decaying—in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
And so were you and I necrotic and decaying before God reached down and, “Being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9)
Please don’t miss this: We are not, as even some pastors like to say, we are not ‘diamonds covered with mud.” It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we have – religious titles, academic degrees, church affiliation, hefty bank accounts, political power, or accolades from the rich and powerful. Without Christ, we stink.
As He tells us infallibly through the prophet Isaiah: “All of us have become unclean, and all of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
By the way, the Hebrew word used in this text for ‘filthy’ is a very graphic one. I believe it is used only once in the entire Hebrew Bible in this context. “ee-DA” means a garment soiled by menstrual blood. So, yes, our sins stink to God. And He can smell us on the other side of the universe.
AND THAT IS WHY nothing short of the Father;s supernatural power, exercised only through His Son, gives us new life. No one smells so badly that Jesus’ blood cannot transform the necrotic odor of death into the sweet fragrance of eternal life. We have Scripture’s promise about it.
Which brings us now to our third point. PLEASE do not miss this: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
Listen: As God gave the apostles the ministry of reconciliation, He has ALSO given the same to us as well. You know the Lord’s last words at the end of Matthew’s gospel – Go ye into all the world. (Matthew 28:19-10)
We have the unspeakable privilege to tell others that God doesn’t hate them. To tell them God loves them. That he wants to be – that He LONGS to be – reconciled with them even more passionately than the father in that parable wanted reconciliation with his wayward son.
And we are perfectly fitted for the job. Why? Because we each know what it’s like to be lost. We each know what it’s like to be blind to God's truths. We each know what it is like to be trapped in sin, and to held prisoner to our past. We know what it is like to be made to feel worthless to God and to others, to be emotionally beat down by the enemy of our souls.
We all know these things because life hits everyone below the proverbial belt often enough. But you and I also know what it’s like to have our eyes open to God's total and complete forgiveness. We know what it is like to hear His voice behind us, telling us, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
That’s why what St Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth should resonate with each of us who have pasts of which we are ashamed. Here is how JB Phillips renders 1:3-4 – “Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in their [trials and needs].”
And also notice Paul’s words in this text: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Please get this, too: God is BEGGING the Christians – to whom the letter is written – God is begging them in the church at Corinth AND in the church at Ashwood Meadows – be reconciled to God.
There are some people in this city who believe Jesus did not die for everyone. He died ONLY for the ‘elect.’ They define the ‘elect’ as those – shall we say – ‘lucky’ people whom God chose to save. All the rest of humanity are lost simply because God did not choose them. But such a false doctrine is totally incompatible with this text in which Paul BEGS his readers to be reconciled with God.
If Jesus died ONLY for a small group of people and not for the whole world of sinners, then it makes no sense at all for the apostle to beg people to turn to Christ. If – according to that false doctrine – if God did not choose them for salvation, then they could not turn to Christ, no matter how hard Paul begged them.
Which brings us now to the close of this message, and the last verse of this chapter: “[God] made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
In other words, God imputes to His sinless Son – the Father places on His sinless Son your sins and mine, while at the same time He imputes, He places on us, the full and complete righteousness of Jesus the Christ.
Hear this once more today: Those who are born again through faithful obedience to Christ are new creations. We are beloved by God. God has reconciled us with Himself. He has brought us back and embraced us to Himself. He has privileged us to tell others what He wants to do for them – that being, in part, to place of Jesus the penalty of all our sins, and to place on the penitent sinner the full and complete righteousness of God Himself.
The word ‘gospel’ in Greek means, ‘Good News.” Do you see why the gospel is such GOOD NEWS? God is not mad at us. He longs for us to be IN Christ through faith in the cross that brought us atonement for all of our sins.