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Reconciliation. It’s a word that can evoke a number of emotions.
Maybe when you hear it, you immediately think of a person who has wronged you but has been unrepentant.
Or perhaps you’ve been a victim of racial prejudices and cultural favoritism.
In this broken world, we are in desperate need of genuine healing and biblical reconciliation on so many fronts. Almost everywhere you look, you see racial division and segregation, preferential treatments and favoritism, both at an individual level and corporately.
There are wives and husbands who are nursing grudges and hurts that are ten, twenty, thirty years old. Individuals who have never forgiven what Daddy did or what Mommy said when they were still children.
Broken relationships can be compared to a weed that is out of control, sprouting in the heart of the individual and spreading like groundcover over whole nations, cultures and people groups. At the root of this nasty weed, of course, is sin – which brings us to our greatest need in reconciliation:
The need for mankind to be reconciled to God.
If the root of this voracious plant is to be dug up and killed, the gardener has to be God.
So what can we take from this Master gardener when it comes to reconciliation? How can we learn from His approach in order to gain more fertile soil and blossoming flowers of peace?
Let’s consider His ways as we seek to tend the garden of our own hearts.
Taking the first step
Firstly, when God reconciled us to Himself, He initiated the reconciliation. We read in Scripture, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…” (Romans 5:8).
It is important to note that when Christ died for us, we were still enemies in our minds with him, waging war against Him. He rescued us from our sin without waiting for us to initiate things. He didn’t say, “I’ll take one step and see how far they come.” No, He came all the way to meet us in our broken state.
If we are to be imitators of God, we must also initiate reconciliation. We can’t just sway in our porch swings sipping lemonade and expect the nasty weed to uproot itself.
Many of us might object, “But I’m the one who was hurt, betrayed and sinned against! She should be the one to say sorry first!” If God took that approach, there would be no one in heaven besides the Godhead.
While we were sinning against Him in ways greater than anyone could sin against you, He sought us out and extended His nail-driven hands as an offer of perfect peace.
It doesn’t matter if we are the offended party or not. Sometimes we think that just because we’ve been hurt, we have the right to be angry, unrepentant, mad at the world, or simply to play the victim. We’re experts at fertilizing the soil with bitterness and self-pity – but fertilizer like that will only cause the weed to thrive even more.
In our relationship with God, He was the wounded party – yet, nowhere do we see Him ‘playing the victim.’
As followers of Christ, we are commanded to be imitators of God. May He give us the strength and grace to follow His example in our relationships with others.
Paying the price
Secondly, reconciliation is costly.
It cost God His son.
The trouble with anything you get for free is that it is often not valued. Once you pay for it, you know the value of it and are more inclined to look after it.
In our home, we recently started giving our kids spending money once a month. Until they had an allowance, they would constantly ask me, “Can I have this? Will you buy that for me?” Now that they know they have to save up and spend their own money, they are far more reluctant to part with the cash. When it wasn’t their money, they were happy to ask for it to be spent – but as soon as it became their own, they realized the value of it so much more, and they felt the cost at a personal level.
When it comes to reconciliation, few people are prepared to pay the price. Most of us want it for free, so it never goes deep enough, and therefore rarely transforms anyone.
For some people, the road to reconciliation might mean giving up time, skills and expertise. Many others need to let go of anger and hate, and swallow mouthfuls of consuming pride.
It might mean going out of your way to make friends from other nationalities, making a sincere effort, even though it’s often easier to mix with people who think and talk like you do.
What might the Holy Spirit be prompting you to give up as part of the cost of reconciliation in your relationships with others?
Canceling the debt
Thirdly, when God reconciled you to Himself, he freed you from all previously held debt.
“… God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Sometimes we claim we have forgiven people or have been reconciled, but we still want to count their sins against them. We still want people to have to pay, or suffer for what they’ve done.
That is not reconciliation, and that is certainly not what God has done in His relationship with us.
God does not forgive us and then send us to hell for a day. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sin from us (Psalm 103:12).
Not only has He done this for us, but Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians to say this is the very ministry which God has given to us – that He has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This is a huge privilege, but also an enormous responsibility.
At this point we might ask, “What is the purpose of biblical reconciliation?”
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says that God made His perfect, sinless Son to become sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We cannot be righteous on our own, but only through Christ’s righteousness can we become right with the Lord.
Before true reconciliation between men can take place, man must first be reconciled to God. As Christ’s ambassador, Paul writes, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Once this has taken place, the one reconciled will be a new creation altogether (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It is impossible to fully grasp the forgiveness of God and remain an unforgiving person.
The Bible tells us that we who were once enemies in our minds with God have now become his sons and daughters. The relationship is radically transformed, from enemies to children.
In fact, any reconciliation that does not transform the people involved at the very core of who they are is not true reconciliation.
True reconciliation improves the relationship and removes hostility and animosity. It should change lives, not just be a surface label that makes no difference.
Being the Change
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote, “Be the change.” As Christians, we know only the Holy Spirit can change the heart of a person. We can’t “be the change,” but we can point people to its source – the cross of Christ. We can’t be the change, but we can be the conduits – the conduits through whom God uses His Spirit to transform lives and draw hearts to Himself.
Follow His lead. Be the gardening tool in His hand, a tool to help rid the world of unwanted weeds.
May the Lord help each of us to be His ambassadors in the ministry of reconciliation, for His glory.
The content of this article is based on a sermon preached by my husband at Holy Trinity Church, Cape Town on June 17, 2012. The audio version of the sermon, “Simply Condemning Racism is only Half the Battle,” can be accessed by clicking here.
Kate Motaung is the wife of a South African pastor and homeschooling mom of three. She has contributed to Ungrind, Radiant Magazine, (in)Courage, StartMarriageRight.com, Thriving Family, MOPS and Young Disciple magazine. You can read more from Kate at her blog, Heading Home or on Twitter @k8motaung.