Extending His Grace (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2)
Big Idea: When God reconciled us, he gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
It’s the deepest challenge that any organization faces. It’s one that’s affected schools like Harvard and Yale, the US Army, organizations like the YMCA and YWCA, and pretty much every church that’s ever existed. What is it? Mission drift.
Take Harvard, for instance. Its original mission statement was “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Founded in 1636, this university employed exclusively Christian professors, emphasized character formation in its students above all else, and placed a strong emphasis on equipping ministers to share the good news. Every diploma read, “Truth for Christ and the Church.”
Only 80 years after its founding, it had drifted so far from its mission that a group of pastors decided to start a new school that could do better. The new school was called Yale.
Harvard’s and Yale’s founders were unmistakably clear in their goals: academic excellence and Christian formation. Today, they do something very different from their founding purpose. What happened to Harvard and Yale is called “Mission Drift” — and it can happen to us too.
According to Peter Greer and Chris Horst, authors of the book Mission Drift:
Without careful attention, faith-based organizations will inevitably drift from their founding mission. It’s that simple. It will happen. Slowly, silently, and with little fanfare, organizations routinely drift from their original purpose, and most will never return to their original intent…
We’re only three years old as a church, and I can feel the pull of mission drift myself. So today my goal is, as we finish this series on The Heart of God’s Story, to remind us why we exist.
The Reason We Exist
The reason we exist is pretty simple, but absolutely critical. You can sum it up in one word: reconciliation.
In the passage we have before us, the word reconciliation appears five times. It’s the theme of these verses, and it’s the heart and soul of our responsibility. It’s the greatest calling and the greatest privilege we could ever have.
We’re going to see in this passage that there’s a lot to reconciliation, but it’s really at the heart of why we exist as a church. Listen to the passage again and hear how much Paul emphasizes it:
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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
God is reconciling. He’s also given us the ministry and message of reconciliation.
What exactly does reconciliation mean? It’s to restore someone to favorable or friendly relations after a presumed wrong. It’s the reestablishment of an interrupted or broken relationship.
When Paul talks about reconciliation, he points to the biggest issue that we have. A state of hostility exists between God and humans. It’s the biggest problem that we have to face, and it’s exactly what God has done by reconciling us to himself, and then giving us the ministry of reconciliation.
A few years ago I was involved in a leadership position. For a number of reasons, I ended up ticking a lot of people off. It wasn’t all my fault, but a lot of it was. So there was a period of time that I scheduled appointments with people I’d offended. I met with each one privately and apologized for hurting them.
Every one of these meetings was draining, because reconciliation is hard work. Every time I met with a person, I had to look them in the eye and to face the pain that had been caused by what had gone wrong between us.
And here’s the thing: the reconciliation wasn’t even complete. It’s not like we ever undid the damage that had taken place, or became best friends again. It was a very difficult period of reconciliation, because reconciliation is always costly. It always costs far more than we bargain for.
Paul is telling us that a state of hostility existed between us and God. The reason: Adam and Eve sinned against God, and ever since, their children have by nature resisted God’s rule. The story of the Bible is the long story of our estrangement from God. Isaiah 59:2 says:
…but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
We are natural born enemies of God.
But then Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…” God has done the hard work of overcoming the hostility and bringing us back into relationship with him. It was all God’s idea, and he did all the work to make it possible. Usually, a third party’s needed to reconcile those who are estranged. A marriage counsellor helps a husband and wife; a negotiator or mediator helps two parties; the Secretary-General of the United Nations if there is hostility between nations. But in this case it is the wronged party, God, who initiates the action. God reconciles us to himself.
How did God do this? Verse 21 explains:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
There’s so much in this verse that we could spend hours discussing this verse alone. The heart of the gospel is substitution or exchange:
- Jesus, who never sinned, takes all of our sins
- In exchange, he gives us all of his righteousness
It’s the most unfair trade of history, but Jesus willingly made it. He takes our sin, and we get His righteousness, so that right now, if you have trusted Jesus, you stand before God and He looks at you, and He doesn’t see all that sin. He sees the righteousness of His Son.
This is the whole reason we exist as a church. It’s at the heart of who we are. We exist because we’re in the business of reconciliation. Paul says that those who receive grace get to extend grace to others. God wants to extend grace to us so that he can extend grace through us.
Thinking back to mission drift: it’s so easy to drift from this. The whole purpose for our existence is because we’ve been reconciled to God, and we want others to be reconciled to God as well.
Our mission statement as a church is this: to invite people into community to share in the beauty of relationship with Jesus. That’s just another way of saying: we want people to be reconciled with Jesus. We want to do this relationally, by sharing our lives with them. That’s the whole reason we exist as a church.
We do plenty of other things as well. But the reason we exist is because we have received grace, and we want others to receive grace as well. We exist to extend his grace to those who have never heard it before.
Let’s talk about how we can keep reconciliation at the heart of what we do. There’s so much in this passage that can help us, but I want to highlight just three practical things that we can do.
First: let’s make sure the love of Christ controls us.
Verse 14 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…” The word compelled here is a strong one. One translation says, “The love of Christ leaves me no other option but to live for Him.” What is it that Paul says controls us? Jesus’ love for us.
So one of the keys to keeping Christ’s mission at the heart of our church is to keep the love of Jesus at the heart of our church. When we realize how much God loves people in Liberty Village, we really have no choice but to live for him and his mission.
It’s really a good idea to meditate on the immensity of Jesus’ love for people around us. One preacher advises:
You think about the worst terrorist on the planet that our news and our country would have you despise. The reality is God desires that person’s repentance. He created that person in His own image. Just contemplate the immensity of His love for all. You think about your coworkers, neighbors, friends, family, people who live around you. God loves them all. He loves them all. And Christ’s death is sufficient for all. He loves them all; He loves them. He loves them…
But even as you contemplate the immensity of His love for all, then take another step and meditate on the intensity of His love for you…
This is the God who spoke and all creation came into being. He spoke a word and you got light and darkness. He spoke a word and you got oceans and mountains. He spoke a word and you got animals. This is a God who right now is sustaining seven billion people in the world, and on top of that number billion people, He’s sustaining animals and plants and weather and insects. He’s sustaining every single detail and this God loves you. Just let that hit you right where you’re sitting. And not just the person beside you or in front of you or behind you. Right where you’re sitting. This God loves you. He loves you and you and you and you.
Just meditate for a moment on the intensity of His love for you. And when you do, it’ll take control of you. It will take control of you. It will leave you no choice. (David Platt)
The more we understand Jesus’ love for us, and for everyone around us, the more we’ll realize that we don’t have the option of living for ourselves. We have to live for him. We have to live on mission.
Second: let’s make sure the gospel redefines us (and everyone around us).
In verses 16 and 17, Paul says:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
When we come to Jesus, we become completely new. We get new hearts. We get new desires, new motivations, new everything. I always think of the illustration that C.S. Lewis gave:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Make no mistake. This is what God is doing in all of us.
But it doesn’t just change us. It changes how we see others as well. Paul says we no longer regard anyone else according to the flesh. What does he mean? We live in a culture that basically defines us by our success. We meet each other and size each other up based on how we look, what we do for a living, how much we make, how much potential we have to climb up the ladder. That’s the normal way of looking at each other. We define each other by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and power.
But no more. When Jesus gets ahold of us, we start to see people was either in Christ, or without Christ. There are only two categories. The gospel completely redefines us.
And when we begin to see people not according to their looks, or their success, or by how much they make, but in terms of whether they’re with or without Jesus, it changes everything.
It will lead to the one last thing we can do:
Finally: let’s make sure God’s mission consumes us.
When Jesus love controls us, and the gospel redefines us, and everyone around us, then let’s make sure that the mission of God consumes us.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)
You know what ambassadors do. They live in a foreign country, and represent their government to the people there. They are authorized to speak on behalf of their government.
We are not at home. We live here, but we represent another Kingdom. We have been authorized to speak on behalf of its King. And the message is clear: be reconciled to God.
And we don’t just gently make suggestions, either. We implore people. The word implore means to beg for something that’s indispensable; to urge something. We have a message of urgency that needs to be delivered. This is the mission that God has given to us, that should consume us.
We’re in danger of mission drift. We must keep our central mission in front of us: reconciliation. And the way to do this is to keep Jesus’ love in front of us, so that it changes how we see things, and so that Jesus’ mission begins to consume us.
We’re at the end of this series on The Heart of God’s Story. If there’s anything that I would say to you, I would say that this: the message of Scripture is that there is a God who relentlessly pursues us despite all that’s gone wrong. And when he catches us, he uses us to extend his grace to others. Don’t miss out on God’s grace. And don’t miss out on extending his grace to others.
When God reconciled us, he gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Let’s not miss it.
As we close:
Have you been reconciled to God? I implore you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. Let today be the day that you respond to the message of what Jesus has done for you.
If you have been reconciled to God, realize that you’ve been given a job. Focus today, once again, on Jesus’ love for you and this world. Let his love wash over you. And then see people the way that he does, and pray for a sense of urgency as you are commissioned as his ambassador to announce terms of peace with everyone you meet.
A good place to start? We’ve been encouraging everyone to keep a list of three people who aren’t believers. Pray for them. Ask God to help you see how much Jesus loves them. Ask him to let you see them the way that he sees them. And then ask God for opportunities to urge them to be reconciled to God.