Reconciliation: How love spurs us on by the power of the Holy Spirit
The lesson today is about having a “clear conscience” but I’m going to speak in much broader terms today. The reason being is that having a clear conscience is actually the fruit of a larger picture and a larger ministry that we are each given, namely the “ministry of reconciliation.”
Christ’s Work for Us: The Foundation of Reconciliation
All of this starts with our being reconciled to God. But before we could do that, Christ had to do the work of initiating this salvation.
Listen to what Christ said as He began His ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
So we see that Christ came to lay the foundation for our relationship with God – as we mentioned last week, it is His obedience and cross work that has set the foundation for our relationship with God the Father, not our obedience (Romans 3) which is always lacking.
God’s Work of Reconciliation
But what is amazing to me, is how radical God’s approach to reconciliation is compared to ours (or at least how we normally approach it).
Let me explain what I mean by that…When we think of being reconciled with someone, what do you normally think of? Think of someone right now in your mind who you think you need to be reconciled with…if you’re like most people, you’re thinking of someone who has wronged you, not someone whom you have wronged! OR, you might be thinking of someone that you’ve wronged, but they have also wronged you. This is fine, but we need to simply understand that there may be things in that relationship that you also have done wrong – it’s a two way street. Have the courage to ask God to reveal those to you.
Now look at reconciliation from God’s perspective. He is undoubtedly the one who has been wronged. He set forth a standard and a way to live life for us, and yet we constantly break His laws and defile His image, and commit countless acts of idolatry. We should be the ones seeking reconciliation, and yet, we never do. The entire history of Scripture shows us that despite God’s faithfulness to His chosen people, it always took His initiative to bring them back to a place of seeking forgiveness. Imagine that! Imagine that the God of the universe who created you is seeking actively to be reconciled to you. For those of us who are Christians, this is a familiar notion, but one that never gets old. I can never tire of the blessed thought that my God actively pursued me, ran me down, and melted my heart.
Let us examine what Paul says about Christ’s work in this way to the Ephesians:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Ephesians 2:11-19 ESV)
It is brought home to me in an especially clear way that it is by “the blood of Christ” that I have been brought near the throne of God. It is by HIS work that I have been made to be at peace (“for he himself is our peace”) with my God and Father. For He has been the one to “tear down the dividing wall of hostility” between me and God. That dividing wall, by the way, is the wall that stood in the Temple Complex keeping the gentile God-fearers out of the rest of the temple. There was an inscription written upon it that basically warned the gentiles from coming any further, otherwise they’d be taking their lives in their own hands.
But what is perhaps sweetest about this passage is the fact that Christ has done so much, gone to such lengths for us. Paul uses the word-play of the cross “killing the hostility” between us and God.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
And so we see from this Ephesians passage that God has reconciled an enemy – not just an indifferent stranger.
Now think again of those same people that may have come to mind earlier. Do you still think you should wait on them to take the initiative? Do you still think that is the model Christ gave us? No indeed.
We are called not only to be reconciled to God, but also to each other, and not only that, but we are given a ministry of reconciliation. That is to say that we are to enter into the work of Christ in leading others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We are entering into the ministry of Christ by reconciling lost people to their God. We are bringing them to the Mediator, we are not the mediator, Christ is. We bring them to Him, and at the cross He shows them what He did in order that they might be reconciled to God!
Listen to the charge of Paul in 2 Corinthians:
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6 ESV)
Therefore we have been made ministers of the new covenant, and in such capacity, our ministry consists of reconciling God and man.
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. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 ESV)
Speaking the Truth in Love
As ministers of the New Covenant, we are called to behave in a way that expresses the idea of “social justice” – a life that reflects the new life and the Spirit that dwells within us. I’ll explain that term “social justice” in a minute, but it mainly entails acting and speaking to each other in ways that are both truthful and loving.
Remember from that earlier passage in Ephesians 2 where Paul said that “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace”? What did Paul mean by “expressed in ordinances?” What he was referring to were the passages in the Old Testament that gave the Israelites a way to live out the 10 Words (the 10 Commandments) in a practical way in their ancient agrarian society – many of which are found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as an exposition of the Law.
Well as New Covenant believers, we aren’t bound by the Law of Moses, but we are bound by the Law of Christ, and as such there are also portions of Scripture where the Torah of Christ (Christ’s instructions for living out His commands) is given.
Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:25-5:5 where he lays out 6 different practical commands about how to interact with each other on a horizontal level within the (new) covenant community. Peter Gentry comments on the reason for how Paul sets this up in command-style communication, “…this acting or being truthful must be expressed in love, as the paragraph in 5:1-2 inserted between the fifth and sixth command indicates. This paragraph is a summary of all the commands and instructions. First, it condenses everything to one command or instruction. Second, it explains why this behavior, this conduct, this lifestyle is required of us: our actions and our words come from who we are.”
Here is what Paul says:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
[5:1] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For 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 4:25-5:5)
The six commands that Paul gives here are all rooted in the idea of social justice (which I mentioned earlier) – that we should be acting in such a way that reflects Christ’s righteousness (i.e. justice) in the community/church (social). Peter Gentry says, “Both social justice and faithful loyal love are expressions of the character of Yahweh and of conduct expected in the covenant community where Yahweh is King.” What does “social justice” have to do with “speaking the truth in love”? Well Paul’s foundational texts for his commands are rooted in Old Testament passages where righteous-judgment (social justice) are the cornerstone of the conduct expected from God’s leaders and people (esp. Is. 16:5, Deut. 17:16-20, and most of the book of Zechariah). Gentry explains, “Although Paul’s expression ‘speaking the truth in love’ is closer linguistically to the word pair ‘lovingkindness-truth’, both his direct and indirect use of Isaiah and Zechariah show his thinking is also based upon the word pair ‘justice-righteousness.’
All of this has to do with us understanding our role as God’s image-bearers. We are not only His chosen people, but we bear His image, and as Christians we’re to act out that reality. Gentry sums it up this way:
“At the heart of the divine image is a right relationship to God on the one hand and a right relationship to the world on the other. It can be summarized by social justice or by lovingkindness and truth, i.e., being truthful in love.”
Interestingly, in the Ten Words, there are also 6 commands that deal with these horizontal relationships. Paul’s commands are:
- Do speak the truth
- Do be angry, yet do not sin
- Do not steal but do give to the needy
- Do not have corrupt speech of any kind
- Do be kind and forgiving and gentle
- Do not have immorality of any kind named among you
But, you might ask, how are we do accomplish all of this? What is it that drives us to do this in the first place?
The Motivation of Reconciliation: Love
Well, in order to be reconciled to each other, and to God, we must first be prompted and have a desire to do so. That desire doesn’t just happen. We don’t just say one day “hey I think I’d love to be reconciled to that guy who hates my guts” or “hey I’d like to reach out to Bill down the street and point Him toward God.”
We do these things, surely enough, but we don’t do them unless we are driven to do them by a reason, or urge, or conscience. Whatever you want to call it, it is causality. Something causes us to do these things. That cause is the Holy Spirit who works within us to stir up love for others and for God. That love is an alien love, it is something we wouldn’t have apart from Christ. That’s why John tells us that we love because HE first loved us:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11 ESV)
 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19 ESV)
Giving Glory to God
Now certainly the fruit of reconciliation with each other is a clear conscience, but even more important, it is God receiving glory. Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 2:12-18
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.  Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.  Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
And so having a clear conscience is wonderful – but it’s a by-product of a larger ministry we’ve been given. It’s also a secondary fruit of our desire to please and give glory to God. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful fruit of living the Christian life. In fact, if you are weighted down by burdens, and you know you have wronged someone, then I would urge you to take immediate action (Matt. 5:25), and then give God all the glory for your obedience and the work He did within you.