I believe our mission as followers of Christ is primarily to be God’s conduit for reconciliation. It’s not our job to fix people. We’re not good at fixing people. It’s God’s job to fix people because He is good at it. Our job is to let God make His overture of love through us so that, as many as are willing, might accept His invitation to return to Him, which is the reversal of what happened in the Garden.
Just so you believe that my point is biblical, here’s what Paul said:
19 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. 20 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. (2 Cor.5:19-20 NIV*)
I’ve highlighted two points in this passage that I want to focus in on here: they have to do with sin and reconciliation.
What God is NOT counting against us: sin
This first point has puzzled me about modern Christianity for many years. If God is no longer counting people’s sins against them, why are we? Why do we make our appeal to those who don’t know Christ all about sin? Having pondered and studied this for a long time, I have come to the conclusion that we actually have a superficial understanding of sin (for more on this, see “Missing the Mark“), not to mention, not fully realizing what God did on the cross.
Let me be clear: sin is an issue…just not from God’s side of things.
One reason I think we still believe God is focused on guilt and sin is because, unless one is a psychopath, we’ve all had a guilty conscience. Of course, some have conditioned their hearts to dismiss it (“having their conscience seared…” 1 Tim.4:1-2), still, guilt is a powerful motivator, even though this is precisely what the cross freed us from (see Rom.8:1-2).
But because of this deep-seated angst, when a fiery preacher confidently tells us God is angry with us for breaking even the least of His rules (and we don’t want to get zapped), we readily respond by reciting a “sinner’s prayer” so we can get our “go to heaven” card punched and avoid punishment.
Okay, I’m being facetious about that last part…but it’s not too far from the truth.
Besides, there’s a fundamental problem with this tactic. First, this is a terrible way to start a relationship with someone (Come to me or burn forever!), creating massive cognitive dissonance when we say things like “God is love.” Second, and more relevant here, God seems to think He’s no longer holding us guilty of our sins, a point that the New Century Translation brings out so well:
19 God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. (2 Cor.5:19 NCV*)
And this brings us to what I think God is wanting from us.
What God IS wanting: restoration
Reconciliation (Greek: katallagē) simply means to be restored and brought back into favor. To put it rather colloquially, God wants His kids back! When Adam and Eve sinned, something terrible happened. We changed our perception of God; we started to paint His face with the Serpent’s brush instead of seeing Him as He actually is.
So, instead of walking with God, we hid from Him. We created religion based in separation to replace intimacy in relationship with God. We alienated ourselves from Him and made Him an enemy in our minds.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (Col.1:21 NIV*)
Notice that we’ve alienated ourselves because of our “evil behavior.” What does that mean? Again, the Greek word for “sin” (hamartia) means to err, to wander away from the path, to lose sight of our intended design. And because of this error in judgment, we were corrupted. We fell out of favor and blessing because those are fruits of being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4).
I believe this is what God means by being “lost.” By cutting ourselves off from Wisdom and Love, our wrong thinking led to making errors in judgment, which led to evil behavior, which leads to darkened and futile thoughts…about God…about us….about life (Rom.1:20-21). The rest is pretty much all of history.
We had lost our way…and God would not allow it to go on indefinitely because it would eventually bring about our total demise. Here’s what early Church father, Athanasius (298 -373 AD), said about this in his classic work, On the Incarnation:
Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death… (Kindle loc. 116)
Further on, Athanasius says this about the Father’s heart toward our predicament:
It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption….what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them?
…It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself. (loc. 139-146*)
God’s solution? What we see with this classical paradigm of restorative redemption is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leaving the ninety-nine to seek out the one, and a good Father waiting for his prodigals to come home so He can fully restore them, celebrate their return, and be united with them forever (see Luke 15).
So, I wonder…what if we actually got out of Jesus’ way and let Him reconcile people back to Himself through us instead? In other words, what if we stopped trying to fix people, heaping guilt and shame on them, or worse, causing them to turn away from God because of our judgmental attitude and, instead, just started loving them and trusting Jesus to do the rest? Just a thought….