The word atonement often comes up in conversations among believers during Passion Week, and refers to what Christ accomplished for us both in his life and death. Through Christ, sinners can be made “at one” with God. The closest biblical synonym for the term atonement is the term reconciliation, and it conveys an important truth about salvation. To be “at one” with God is to be reconciled to God.

Christ made it possible for sinners to have peace with God. Rom 5:9-11 reads:

[9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Because of the propitiation of Christ, God’s wrath is satisfied, and we who were once enemies of God have now received “at-one-ment” or reconciliation.

Furthermore, one notices three essential truths about reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5:18-21:

[18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] 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. [20] Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Reconciliation is initiated by God, it is mediated through Christ, and it is represented by us.

Initiated by God:

“All this is from God.”The word reconciliation occurs five times in these four verses in one form or the other. It is the scarlet thread that weaves together the tapestry of the truth that God is the source and author of reconciliation.

God is the acting subject of reconciliation in these verses. When the active verb “to reconcile” occurs in the NT, it is always God who is doing the reconciling. He is always the subject of reconciliation, never the object. Though God was the wounded party, he takes the initiative in reconciliation.

Creation of Adam

Michelangelo’s famous painting called the Creation of Adam aptly represents God’s initiative. God’s arm is outstretched to impart life to Adam. God gives and Adam receives. Likewise, after the fall, it was God who first reached out to Adam. God is the author of reconciliation. God initiates it and we receive it as a gift of his grace.

Mediated through Christ.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world.” So how does God reconcile us to himself? He does it in through Christ. God was present in Christ as he did the work. In his mercy, God does not count our sins against us and or require us to bear the penalty thereof. Instead, he counts Christ to be sin for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Christ bears our sin and gives us the righteousness of God.

A wonderful exchange has happened. Our sin was transferred to Christ and his righteousness is transferred to us. Christ has taken our place, and we have taken his. Therefore, God counts us righteous as his own Son. What a glorious blessing! Christ takes our place on the cross and gives us the righteousness of God.

John Stott in his classic work The Cross of Christ talks about the “Self-Substitution” of God, suggesting:

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in his holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. There is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of holy love to evoke our worship. (The Cross of Christ, 172)

Because we have peace and right standing with God through Jesus Christ, we can draw near to God. We are now accepted as friends, not just friends but also as his children. We have been adopted into God’s family.

Represented by us.

And, with this blessing comes responsibility. Which means we have a job to do: “He has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” This was not only true of Paul and the apostles, but also applies to all believers who are heralds of the gospel.

Our task is called the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18) and we are given the message of reconciliation (v. 19). Therefore we are called ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is both a representative and a messenger. He represents his king and speaks in behalf of his sovereign.

Here’s how Charles Hodge describes the ministry of an ambassador:

“An ambassador is at once a messenger and a representative. He does not speak in his own name. He does not speak on his own authority. What he communicates is not his opinions or demands, but simply what has been told or commissioned to say. His message derives no part of its importance of trustworthiness from him. At the same time he is more than a mere messenger. He represents his sovereign. He speaks with authority, as accredited in the name of his master.” (Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Crossway Classic Commentaries, 118)

As ambassadors of Christ, we represent him, and speak for him. His message is our message. It is marvelous that the same God who worked through Christ to reconcile us to him works through us now.

The words of the church father John Chrysostom are worth pondering as we reflect on the crucifixion and resurrection our Lord this week:“Do you see the love that surpasses all expression, all conception? Who was the aggrieved one? Himself. Who first sought the reconciliation? Himself.” (Homily 11, 2 Corinthians, NPNF Series 1, 12:331)