Peace the World Cannot Achieve

Why Reconciliation Begins in the Church

The name Benedict Arnold is forever associated with treason. What most people don’t know is that Benedict Arnold was an accomplished general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Frustrated by the way he saw the war progressing, and offended by what he perceived as a lack of recognition for his military sacrifices, Arnold switched allegiance from the Colonies of America to Britain, and offered to surrender West Point to the British for 20,000 pounds. His plans were intercepted, he was labeled a traitor, and his name became a byword for betrayal and treason.

In American history, it could be argued, no one was more treasonous than Benedict Arnold. In annals of redemptive history, however, Arnold’s treason pales in comparison to the cosmic treason of Adam and Eve.

“Salvation is God ending the enmity between himself and us through the life and death of Jesus Christ.”

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they not only rebelled against God; they also betrayed his goodness and denounced his rule. It was the ultimate act of treason. Adam and Eve turned God into the enemy as they surrendered themselves and the world to sin. By doing so, they created an enmity between them and God, and passed that enmity to all who would come after them. The apostle Paul tells us that in Adam we all sinned (Romans 5:12), and therefore we were all made enemies of God (Romans 5:10).

Consequently, in order for anyone to be in right relationship with God, the enmity must be removed. The relationship must be reconciled. What Adam and Eve lost in the garden must be mended and restored. When the Bible speaks of reconciliation, this is the primary meaning (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is God ending the enmity between himself and us through the life and death of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10). In a word, reconciliation is the gospel.

Gospel of Reconciliation

There may not be a more illustrative set of words used to communicate the sum and substance of the gospel than reconciliation and reconcile. Reconciliation is that aspect of the gospel where the separation and enmity between God and humanity caused by sin are ended, and peace and renewed relationship are forever established, through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The message and ministry of the gospel is the message and ministry of reconciliation.

The gospel is the message of reconciliation. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The gospel message is about God pursuing sinners to save them from sin and unto everlasting joy through Jesus Christ. It is about God tearing down the wall of hostility that existed between him and the sons and daughters of Adam, and restoring the peace that Adam lost. This peace comes through the reconciling blood of the cross of Christ (Colossians 1:20).

Preaching the gospel is the ministry of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). When God reconciles his people to himself, he also commands them to preach the willingness of God to reconcile. He calls us to proclaim to a warring world that peace has come to the world, and those at war with God need not be at war anymore. Jesus Christ is our reconciliation. When we preach reconciliation, we preach him (Colossians 1:28).

Believing the gospel is receiving reconciliation. “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). Faith in Jesus Christ puts us in right relationship with God. The sin and condemnation that stood against us and declared us God’s enemies has been taken away. Christ has bridged the gulf of our rebellion, and offered sacrifice for our treason. The gospel we believe is the gospel unto reconciliation, the gospel that says we are now justified by faith and at peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1).

Peace with God and Man

The reconciliation of God toward the sons and daughters of Adam is a gesture that has cosmic implications. Just as Adam’s treason alienated the world from God, so too now the world, through the faithfulness of Christ, is reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). And yet that is not the whole story. The reconciliation that brought us peace with God becomes the basis for our reconciliation with each other.

“Hostilities that often seem insurmountable in the world find their reconciliation in God.”

The principle of the Bible is consistent: that which God offers to us, he commands us to offer to others. We who have been forgiven must in turn forgive (Colossians 3:13). We who have received mercy are commanded to be merciful (Matthew 5:7). We who are the objects of God’s love are to love others in return (1 John 4:11). And we who have been reconciled to God now must be instruments of reconciliation — in the world in general, and in the church in particular.

In April 1992, after four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, the city of Los Angeles experienced some of the fieriest riots America has ever seen. For three days, mobs marched and demonstrated, vandalized and looted, and even killed openly on the streets of the city. Parts of Los Angeles literally became war zones.

After three days of rioting, King made his first public appearance since the end of the trial. During the press conference, King raised the now unforgettable question: “Can we all get along?” Unfortunately, America’s answer to that question has been “No.” We can’t all just get along. In a world afflicted with sin and bent on pride, greed, self-preservation, inequality, and strife, people are not looking to get along. They are looking to get over. Sadly, the world doesn’t have an answer for Mr. King’s distress. Thankfully, the church does. The church has the gospel of reconciliation and peace, and all the implications that flow from it. The world may not be able to get along. But let it never be said of the church. The church is different, because the church is in Christ.

Reconciliation Begins in the Church

In the church we have new life. In the church we are a new creation. In the church we are a new humanity (Ephesians 2:15). The world, with all of its hostile divisions and pride-filled ethnic distinctions, no longer defines those who are in Christ, and thus in the church. Hostilities that often seem insurmountable in the world — Gentile and Jew, black and white, male and female — find their reconciliation in God, who through Christ makes peace with us and provides for us the peace we are called to make with others. What the world and sin separated, God has joined together once again (Ephesians 2:16). He has done this in the church.

The church has the true message for reconciliation in this world: the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has the true model for reconciliation in this world: the one new humanity found in Jesus Christ. The church has the true mission for reconciliation in this world: the teaching and reaching of the world with the love and truth of Jesus Christ, who by the blood of his cross has reconciled all things to himself (Colossians 1:20), reversing the treason of Adam, and so making peace.