Unity and Reconciliation
We have just examined the undeniable scriptural truths that God wills to save all people and that His purposes will inevitably be accomplished. Now we will examine in more detail several passages that explicitly declare His purpose to unite and reconcile all to Himself in Christ.
Ephesians 1:4-12 (ESV)
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Notice that the mystery of God’s will is no longer a mystery. It has been specifically revealed to us that His ultimate plan is “to unite all things in him.” It seems as if Paul is anticipating that people will want to reject such a statement because he emphasizes the universality of this unity by clarifying that he is referring to all things in heaven and on earth. This removes the possibility that he could only be referring to some things; he is referring to all things everywhere. Paul did this intentionally because he was communicating an important truth and didn’t want to leave any wiggle room for misinterpretation. Sadly, it seems that misinterpretation has become dominant, no matter how clearly or frequently the biblical writers clearly explained God’s purpose and plan.
But the text itself does not really leave any room for the idea that God’s plan was only to save some people, or that he wants to save all people but fails. Those, by the way, are the two dominant paradigms in most churches today, leaving people with a hard choice. So, which is it? Is God callous and cruel because He does not want to save most of humanity? Or is He weak and powerless to accomplish what He wants? Strangely, these are presented as the only biblical options, even though they are completely contradictory and ignore many important biblical truths, including those explained in the passage above. God is both willing and able to save.
Notice once again that His will, His purpose and His plan are to unite all things in Christ in His timing. That is His ultimate plan according to the passage. Will this plan be sabotaged by human beings, or by circumstances beyond His control, or by the devil? Of course not! He “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” This means everything! There simply is no other way to take it.
Is it possible to interpret the idea of unity in Christ as unwilling subjugation and eternal torment for most of humanity? Of course not! This is not what unity means! 1 Corinthians 6:17 makes this clear, stating that “whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Consider also Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:2-3:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
And in Ephesians 5:31, Paul quotes from Genesis, saying that “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
All of these verses were written by Paul, who clearly exposits the principle that God’s purpose is to unite all to Christ. None of these verses have any hint of unwilling subjugation. Instead they describe oneness and loving relationship. On what basis can it be suggested that God’s plan to unite all things in Christ is compatible with eternal separation and torment for the lost? Doesn’t Jesus Himself say that He came to “seek and to save the lost?” (Luke 19:10). Indeed He does. Will He fail in His mission? No, He will not! He will succeed because He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 2:11 NIV).
Now for those who still have a difficult time believing that unity is a relational concept or that it is God’s will to save all people (in spite of the evidence presented above), we will examine another passage by the apostle Paul. In it, he is discussing who Christ is, and what he came to do.
Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
An analysis of this text leads to an inescapable conclusion: God is reconciling all to Himself through Christ. Paul goes to great pains to ensure that we understand that he is referring to all things in this passage. He makes this fact unambiguous, listing as many possibilities as he could. All of creation that you see and all that you don’t see will be reconciled. Everything in heaven and on earth is part of God’s redemptive plan. Thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities are all covered.
One might think that Paul is going a bit overboard. Why list so many things? He already said “all things.” Didn’t he think we would know what “all” means? Apparently, he wisely perceived that people would try to reduce the gospel to something smaller. For this reason he emphatically declares that he is indeed speaking of everything and everyone.
Now, for those who do not believe that he is referring to people in this statement, it must be asked why. Aren’t people created by God? Aren’t they found on earth? Aren’t they visible? Indeed they are all of these things and are therefore explicitly included in Paul’s definition of “all things.” It is simply not possible to rationally claim that Paul didn’t mean everyone and everything when he says “all things.” He didn’t leave any room for doubt. He didn’t intend to.
In addition, the word “reconcile” is a relational word. In the original Greek it is apokatallaxai (ἀποκαταλλάξαι). According to the NAS Exhaustive Concordance , apokatallaxai means “to reconcile completely.” To reconcile means to restore to right relationship and harmony. People are reconciled to one another when they are no longer fighting but instead are restored to friendship. A husband and wife are reconciled when they once again experience happiness together as a couple. A Father is reconciled to His child when He restores him or her to full participation in family life. This is what reconciliation means.
It would be incorrect to say that a man is reconciled to his wife because he has divorced her, hates her guts, and refuses to see her ever again. It would be nonsensical to claim that a Father is reconciled to His children because He has sent them away permanently so that they will be tormented forever. It is ludicrous to insinuate that an everlasting state of separation in which forgiveness never, ever occurs, is reconciliation. That is not what reconciliation means at all. It is the furthest possible scenario from reconciliation.
Reconciliation is the restoration of loving relationship. This is what God desires for all of us, and this is what Christ came to do for everyone. Paul makes this extremely clear once again:
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This passage has incredibly awesome truths in it. First, it is undeniable that Christ died for all. He did not die for just a few. It cannot be concluded that His atonement was limited. Such an idea is absolutely contradictory to Scripture and is specifically refuted twice in the first two sentences of the passage above.
Second, it is clear that the purpose of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice was to make it possible for us to live to serve him rather than ourselves. This allows us to “regard no one from a worldly point of view.” It is worth asking what Paul means by a worldly point of view at this point and how we are able to view people differently. Paul is not explicit about what this means but it seems likely, given the context, that he is referring to viewing people no longer by class, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or attractiveness, but rather as God sees them. And He sees them as those He is reconciling to Himself. So, the homeless and the outcast are not to be despised and looked down upon. The immigrant, the outlaw, and the Muslim are all being reconciled to God. This is how we are to see our fellow human beings because that is how God sees them. And this understanding allows us to have deep compassion and love for our neighbors, just as Jesus taught us by His selfless example.
Furthermore, He sees us who are new creations in Christ already as His ambassadors who are meant to participate in the ministry of reconciliation.
He then specifically tells us what the message of reconciliation that we are to share, is. It is “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” So, who was God reconciling to Himself? Was it just a few, religious, chosen people? No, it was the world! In the original Greek of this passage, the “world” is kosmon (κόσμον). It means the world, the inhabitants of the world, or the universe (Strong’s Concordance). This is not some vague term that can be interpreted however you like. It means everyone and cannot mean anything less.
So we are told that as Christians we are to be ambassadors for Christ, sharing the good news that God is reconciling the world (everyone) to Himself and not counting people’s sins against them. And we will share this message, compelled not by fear, but by Christ’s love. This is the clear, unambiguous meaning of the passage. The ultimate reconciliation of the world to God is undeniably taught in Scripture. It is the very reason why Christ came and is central to Paul’s presentation of the gospel in his letters.
The argument that the reconciling power of Christ’s sacrifice was exclusive to the righteous few is also refuted by the following passage.
Romans 5:6-11 (CSB)
For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.
This passage answers some very important questions for us:
When did Christ die for us?
While we were still helpless sinners
Who did He die for?
The ungodly (this includes everyone so even if you feel pretty godly right now, don’t worry. You’re still included.)
When were we reconciled to God by Christ?
While we were enemies and sinners
Why are we able to rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ?
Because we have received this reconciliation
The proof of God’s love for us is that Christ died for us and reconciled us to Him while we were still His enemies. Our reconciliation happened before our conversion or acceptance of the gospel. It happened when Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice not only for ours sins but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This is why we can now be saved by His resurrection life. This is true for the whole world, for all of humanity, for God so loved the world, that he gave us His Son (John 3:16). The difference for believers is that we have received this reality as truth. We recognize it and can therefore rejoice in it. It isn’t possible to experience the joy of reconciliation until we are aware that it has occurred, just as it isn’t possible to experience the benefits of an inheritance if you aren’t aware that it has been bequeathed to you.
But we are aware of this gift of reconciliation that God has made possible through His grace alone. It is entirely His work and does not depend on us. Believers have received this truth by faith already. Those who do not yet believe will receive this truth when everyone proclaims that “only in the Lord are righteousness and strength,” (Isaiah 45:24) “for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). This imagery is meant to evoke a sense of complete covering. There won’t be a place that isn’t filled with the knowledge of God’s glory and grace. Everyone everywhere will know Him as He is and will understand the amazing gift of reconciliation that He has given to us in Christ. This is the amazing good news, the message of reconciliation that we are entrusted to spread as followers of Christ, so that others may also know God’s great love now and forever.
The Scriptures are clear that God will unite and reconcile all to Himself in Christ. It is His plan, His will, and His purpose to do so. So the question now is whether we have faith that God is able to do what He has planned. I firmly believe that He is able, and that He will accomplish what He has set forth to accomplish. The Creator of over 100 billion galaxies has surely demonstrated His power to us. And the Heavenly Father who loved the world so much that he "did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all" as Romans 8:32 declares, has proven His love for all of humanity. He is able, He is willing and He will do it.
Why do we doubt Him?
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