What does it mean to say that in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself?

To answer the question “what does it mean to say that in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” one must first understand the world needs to be reconciled to God. In this paper one will see that, to say that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” is to say that Jesus makes it possible for us to be in right relationship with God.   Reconciliation means, “The removal of enmity and the restoration of fellowship between two parties.”[i] This means there must be broken fellowship between God and the world for there to be a need for reconciliation.  This broken fellowship and enmity is caused by sin.  Wayne Grudem writes, “The history of the human race as presented in Scripture is primarily a history of man in a state of sin and rebellion against God and of God’s plan of redemption to bring man back to himself.”[ii] Grudem goes on to correctly define sin as “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”[iii]  The Bible is very clear that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23).  This sin that man has chosen since the Garden of Eden brings with it the judgment of God (Romans 1:18).  God, being the holy, just, and righteous God that He is, must punish sin.  He hates sin.  Therefore man’s fellowship with God is broken because of sin and man is marred at his very core with a nature to sin.

With man marred by sin and a slave to his sinful passions (Romans 6:17), and with the judgment of God on his life (John 3:18), God in His love, mercy, and grace chose to make a way for man to once again be in right relationship with Him.  The way in which God has provided for man to be reconciled or made right with Him again is in Jesus Christ and Him alone (John 14:6).

When one speaks of Christ in terms of reconciliation one may speak of His person and His work.  In referring to the person of Christ, one is referring to the fact Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.  Jesus Christ is 100 percent God and 100 percent man.  He is the sinless Son of God.  That is what one means by the person of Christ.  In referring to Christ’s work one is referring to what Christ did and is doing to reconcile God and man.

As I learned in Stacey Boutwell’s Systematic Theology class, “Most of the historical treatments of Christ’s work are individualistic.  They miss the scale of what God has done is doing in Christ.” While Jesus’ work secures the eternity of each individual believer, His work has a much broader scope as well.  Christ’s focus in the New Testament is the Kingdom of God.  As Boutwell taught, “From that perspective, his work has a cosmic and eschatological reference.” Through His death, burial, and resurrection Christ has inaugurated the Kingdom.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the spread of the Gospel on the planet the Kingdom work is being done.  When Christ returns to the earth the work of the Kingdom will be consummated. (Stacey Boutwell’s Class Notes)

Through His death, burial, and resurrection Christ has purchased redemption for mankind and made it possible for God and man to be reconciled.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 states, “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.” (ESV) Of the term “reconciliation” in this text, John MacArthur writes, “The terms always portray God as the reconciler and sinners as the ones reconciled, since it was human sin that ruptured the relationship between God and man.”[iv] Reconciliation is an act of grace on God’s behalf.  It is initiated and carried out by God.  It is God who pursues man and God who makes reconciliation possible.[v] Through His work Jesus satisfies the righteous demands of God, taking the full brunt of God’s wrath (Propitiation). He also makes it possible for man to be cleansed from His sin and to be declared just in the eyes of God.  He’s the sacrifice for our sins that makes it possible for us to be in God’s presence, the victor over sin and death, and the perfect demonstrator of the love of God. (Stacey Boutwell’s Class Notes) It is important to note God reconciling the world to Himself through Christ does not mean everyone gains a right relationship with God.  The above passage in 2 Corinthians 5 that states that God was “reconciling the world” does not mean that everyone is forgiven.  MacArthur writes, “World, in this context, indicates the sphere in which reconciliation takes place; it denotes the class of beings with whom God seeks reconciliation-people from every national, racial, and ethnic group.”[vi]  Only those who have turned from their sin and personally placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be reconciled to God.

As one can see, to say, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” is to say that Jesus makes it possible for us to be in right relationship with God.  It is also important to note that Christ not only reconciles us to God but it is through His reconciled people that God spreads this message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:20 is clear, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (ESV) John MacArthur writes, “It is to all reconciled people that God gives the ministry of reconciliation.”[vii]  What a gracious privilege God has given the forgiven to share with others how they also can be reconciled to God through His Son Jesus Christ.

[i] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids, 1994/2000),1253,

[ii] Grudem, 490.

[iii] Grudem, 490.

[iv] John MacArthur.  The Macarthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians. (Chicago, 2003), 200.

[v] MacArthur, 200.

[vi] MacArthur, 202.

[vii] MacArthur, 201.

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