Last week we determined that grace is the action that originates in the joy of one person in order to create a corresponding joy in another. God is rich in grace because he is rich in joy. We can be rich in grace because of our joy in God. Probably the clearest biblical example of how joy motivates grace in human beings occurs in 2 Corinthians 8:1–9, where Paul commends the Macedonians because “their abundance of joy” over the grace of God in their lives “overflowed in a wealth of liberality” for the saints in Jerusalem; and then he compared their activity with “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, being rich, he became poor for your sake, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”
So with this definition of grace and this example of grace in mind, let’s turn our attention to reconciliation. In particular I want to address the goal of reconciliation as it relates to grace.
The New Testament authors use several words that our English versions render “reconcile” or “reconciliation.” At the core of all of these words is the idea of change. For example, Paul, using the core word, declares in 1 Corinthians 15:52–53 “we will be changed, for the perishable must put on the imperishable.” We can hardly imagine a greater change. Similarly, when two individuals reconcile with each other, the nature of the relationship changes, fundamentally. A fundamental change is necessary when an injustice seems to have occurred in a relationship: In Matthew 5:23–24 Jesus says, “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother.” In Mark 11:25 he reverses the order of offense but retains the focus of responsibility: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions” (cf. Matthew 6:14–15 where Jesus reiterates this strongest of sanctions). When Paul says, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10), it seems clear that the process of reconciliation brings change to a state of mutual animosity. Reconciliation is the process (and eventual state) of recreating an amicable relationship between two parties who had been hostile to one another.
While reconciliation changes the state of a relationship from hostility to amiability, that’s as far as many people think it goes. At least one of the individuals has exercised forgiveness, thereby letting go of the cause that sundered the relationship; and both have agreed not to hold anything against each other. But is just a lack of negativity alone worth all the effort it takes to change the relationship? The picture Paul paints in Colossians 1:20 is that God made peace through the blood of Jesus (a lot of effort), so he could reconcile people to himself; that is, he changed his relationship with us, and is now able to see reconciled people as “holy, blameless and irreproachable.” As important as this neutral stance is, we sense that God probably has a grander goal in mind. Indeed he does; and this grander goal is grace. In Ephesians 2:4–7 we find similar language, but with some additional information. Here we again see that God linked us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But we also learn that he has a greater goal in view. God reconciles us so that for the rest of our lives he will be able to extend the riches of his grace toward us in acts of useful kindness. God’s saving work is an activity of grace, but God’s reconciling grace is for the purpose of involving us in even more of his gracious activity, i.e., “to walk in the good works God prepared beforehand for us.” Here again we’re confronted with an unimaginably good future; what could be better than to walk through eternity with Jesus while the Father joyfully works for us for our joy (cf. Isaiah 64:4).
If God graciously makes it possible for reconciliation to take place between him and us, so that we can experience more of the riches of his grace, I think it’s reasonable to infer that when Jesus commands us to be reconciled with each other, he has the same goal in mind. We find this principle embedded in the context of the only biblical command regarding human to human reconciliation, Matthew 5:24. In the scenario Jesus presents, the offender is about to be reconciled to God as he offers a sacrifice. But a person he has offended is still angry, which makes this person liable to judgment because he hasn’t forgiven his brother. In this state he will be unable to receive any of God’s grace (see also 6:13–14 & Mark 9:25). For the offender to be in a true state of blessedness—able to experience God’s forgiveness and subsequent grace—he must become a peacemaker (like Father, like son [5:9]). He must work to reconcile his brother—both to himself and to God—by helping him give up his judgmental anger. Thus reconciliation between two people becomes a function of grace: In anticipation of the joy of receiving God’s grace, the offender engages in a peacemaking activity designed to bring his brother into a state wherein he can experience a corresponding joy. While it might appear that all of the responsibility lies with the offender, we need to consider one more aspect of this story. Matthew uses the verb for ‘reconcile’ (διαλάσσω) in the passive voice. By doing so, he implies that the process will be one in which both parties work to change the relationship from one of hostility to one of amiability, even though the offender must take the initiative in this case.
In the final installment next week, we’ll explore how the grace that becomes the climax of reconciliation resolves into a pervasive peace. Stay tuned …