ARE LOST PEOPLE ALREADY FORGIVEN? WHAT DOES 2 CORINTHIANS 5:19 MEAN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Is this verse teaching that everyone’s sins—whether they are saved or lost—are forgiven? (This idea began to circulate throughout Facebook about a year ago.) Does Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork make everyone automatically saved? Will everyone make it to heaven eventually? Let us search the Scriptures for the answers.
Firstly, we should read 2 Corinthians 5:19 within its context (2 Corinthians 5:18–6:2): “[5:18] And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [5:19] To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [5:20] Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [5:21] For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [6:1] We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. [6:2] (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”
Now, read Romans 3:24-25: “ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” And Romans 4:5: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted [imputed] for righteousness.”
Note the key terms in the above verses: “reconciliation,” “imputation,” “righteousness,” “grace,” “salvation,” “justification,” “redemption,” and “propitiation.” We will briefly discuss each of these terms, and define them according to the Bible.
“Reconcile” means “to call back into union and fellowship; to restore to friendship or favor after estrangement;” “reconciliation” is “the act of restoring a former friendship.” Two of the Bible’s clearest examples of reconciliation are Genesis chapter 3 and 2 Corinthians 5:19.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). Originally, mankind was completely compatible with God: his spirit was alive with God’s life, his soul was illuminated with God’s truth, and his body executed God’s will. Having no sin to divide them, Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with each other.
“Wherefore, as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). When Adam capitulated to Satan’s tempting in Genesis chapter 3, that perfect relationship he had with Eve and their Creator was severed.
“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). “For every one that doeth evil hateth light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds be reproved” (John 3:20). Adam and Eve needed help in addressing their sin, but they never approached God until He went looking for them and called them to fellowship (Genesis 3:9-13)… and He shed animal blood to cover their sins. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (verse 21).
All of Adam’s descendents inherited a sin nature, a character that is anti-God, a hostile attitude toward their Creator. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), thus necessitating a worldwide reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19), which Genesis chapter 3 typified.
Satan had already declared war on his Creator God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, mankind, the Lord’s ally, willfully switches sides and becomes Satan’s servant by submitting to his will! Sin infiltrates planet earth, as it had the heavenly places sometime earlier. Adam and Eve know they are now in a major dilemma. Genesis 3:7 says they, in a feeble, desperate attempt, try to cover their sins by gathering fig leaves and sewing them to make aprons for their now naked bodies (the first act of religion, or as a dear Christian brother calls it, “Operation: Fig Leaf!”). In the coolness of the day, as the voice of the LORD God rings out, Adam and Eve flee and hide amongst the trees (verse 8). Sinful man cannot and will not approach his righteous Creator God, so man’s Creator will come and find him!
After the LORD God brings Adam and Eve to accountability, He declares to Satan, the serpent: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (verse 15). We will discuss this important verse later, but let us focus on verse 21 for now: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” The LORD God graciously provided a solution—a blood sacrifice—to Adam and Eve’s sins, for their attempt to “cover up” their own sins with fig leaves was useless! Note that they never asked for His help either.
Some 4,000 years later, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That love that sent Him looking for Adam and Eve, motivated Him to come seek us “hiding amongst the trees,” and to offer another blood sacrifice—Himself!
As God looked down at the “Blue Marble,” He could see nothing but widespread rebellion. Such wretched creatures that He could squash with the breath of His mouth, and yet, He let them continue to exist! Adam and Eve never asked God for help with their sins, and neither did the rest of mankind, but God would seek out those sinners hiding behind religion. No person came forward to ask, “Wouldst Thou, God of heaven and earth, wouldst Thou die for my sins?” Regardless, that is exactly what He would do!
The LORD God promised Satan, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is the first message of Good News in the Bible: the seed of the woman would come one day and crush Satan’s head, defeating Satan’s evil plan and restoring creation to God’s headship.
It is beyond human comprehension just how many individual sins God tolerated for those next 4,000 years, but He patiently endured man’s wickedness—indeed, He was LONGsuffering! When the predetermined date arrived in order to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15, John 1:1,14 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
Sinful mankind had not approached God, so He sought him by coming to the planet on which he lived! God, rather than pouring out His wrath on wicked man, had come in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, to span the mighty gulf (sin) that had separated man from Him (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Our sin and sins gender God’s wrath, and we sinners in our natural state are separated from God, but God Himself provided a solution. Man had severed the relationship, but God was still friendly toward man. From the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we see how that salvation from sins through Jesus Christ is no longer limited to Israel (Matthew 1:21), but that it is now available to all people, everywhere!
We read in Romans 11:11,15: “ I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” God is behaving friendly toward all nations today, including Israel—He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for them all, whether Jew or Gentile, and that salvation is now available to all who trust that message. (More on this later.)
Let us return to 2 Corinthians 5:19 and its context (2 Corinthians 5:18-20): “ And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;  To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Due to warped theology, confusion and questions have arisen regarding this simple passage. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” at Calvary’s cross, so does that mean…. That lost people no longer go to hell? That every person’s sins are completely forgiven? That everyone will make it to heaven eventually (the heresy of universalism)?
Let us be extremely careful to understand that the word “reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 is two-fold—it does not refer to a single event, but it is actually two events (reread the passage above and notice the two boldfaced terms “reconciling” and “reconciled,” which refer to separate issues). Confusion results because people assume these verses only teach a one-fold reconciliation, a single event. As we will see, the key to understanding “reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 is the phrase in verse 20, “as though God did beseech you by us.”
Sin has separated man from God, thus necessitating reconciliation. Actually, the Greek word usually translated “reconciliation” in our King James New Testament is once rendered “atonement” in Romans 5:11. “Reconciliation” means “at–one-ment,” or “bringing two opposing parties together and making them one.”
When Jesus Christ died and shed His perfect blood, God the Father made Him a “propitiation” (Romans 3:25), a fully-satisfying payment for sin. Instead of punishing the world for their sins, God blamed Jesus Christ and made Him suffer God’s wrath instead (“not imputing their trespasses unto them;” 2 Corinthians 5:19). “For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21a).
The Bible calls Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork and its merits the “atonement” (Romans 5:11), for they pay the sin debt that keeps man from fellowshipping with God. When the Bible says, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19), this reconciliation deals with the whole world, not just Christians—it involves all people, saved or lost. God changed the status of the world. “For if the casting away of [Israel] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15). Through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, God is now dealing with the entire world, not just with Israel as He did in the past (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Now, note verse 20: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Notice “as though God did beseech you by us”—Paul is referring to the past (notice past tense “did”), to the time when the Corinthians were lost, when he first preached to them about Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork (verse 21). Here, Paul said that although God reconciled the world to Himself (verse 19), Paul urged the Corinthians to be “reconciled to God” (verse 20)—this is the reconciliation for Christians. Again, reconciliation needed for soul salvation is two-fold, which brings us to the doctrine of imputation.
Let us return to 2 Corinthians 5:19 and its context: “ To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19,20).
Again, reconciliation in the Bible is two-fold. God sent Jesus Christ to pay man’s sin debt, thus demonstrating His friendliness toward mankind in making a way to escape His righteous wrath. God is not angry with wicked man today because we live in this the Dispensation of Grace, and we, both Jews and Gentiles, receive an opportunity for salvation from sins. That is the reconciliation of 2 Corinthians 5:19. But, Paul urged the Corinthians when they were lost, to be “reconciled to God” (verse 20). This is another type of reconciliation, one that comes through imputation.
The clearest Bible passage regarding imputation is Romans 4:3-8,23-25: “ For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,  Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin….  Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;  But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;  Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
Interestingly, “counted” (verse 3), “reckoned” (verse 4), “counted” (verse 5), “imputeth” (verse 6), “impute” (verse 8), “imputed” (verse 23), and “imputed” (verse 24) are all the same Greek word, and they all mean, “to apply to someone’s account, as in a debt or credit.” What is the reconciliation of 2 Corinthians 5:20, where Paul told the Corinthians be “reconciled to God?” It is imputation. Yes, Jesus Christ died for their sins, but it is not until they believe/trust it (Romans 4:24) that that forgiveness is imputed. It does not count for eternity unless that righteousness is credited to them by faith.
God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself; however, that does not mean that everyone will eventually go to heaven. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:10:“For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” While salvation from sin and hell is being offered to everyone through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, the phrase “specially of those that believe” proves that the merits of Christ’s work at Calvary cannot profit each individual until he or she trusts it.
“ Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith in counted [imputed] for righteousness.  And therefore it was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness.  Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;  But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;  Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:5,22-25). Imputation is conditional; the righteousness of Christ’s finished crosswork will not be applied to one’s account until one trusts it. Soul salvation is not automatic: it must be imputed by faith. There must be a believing heart in that finished crosswork to benefit a person.
God applies that forgiveness by faith when we trust the Gospel of Grace—that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He was raised again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). God placed our sins on Jesus Christ (imputation to Jesus Christ’s account), but then He gives us salvation through that sacrifice when we believe it (imputation to our account). It was the greatest exchange of all time—Jesus Christ took our sins, and God gives us His righteousness. Now, to the doctrine of justification.
Romans 3:20-28 best explains justification: “ Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;  Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;  Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.  Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Man cannot be made right in God’s sight (justified) through his so-called “Law-keeping,” but the Bible says, “his faith [in Jesus Christ’s righteousness] is counted [imputed] for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Forgiveness and righteousness are offered to all through the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork on Calvary, but those merits are of no benefit to an individual unless he or she trusts that Gospel of the Grace of God. Paul never wrote that the whole world is forgiven—“reconciled” (2 Corinthians 5:19) and “forgiven” are different. Only believers are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 1:14; Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:13). Once an individual hears that Jesus Christ offers to pay for and forgive his or her sins, that person is expected to trust it unto forgiveness and justification.
“The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference” (Romans 3:22). God’s righteousness is available “unto all,” but it is only “upon [imputed to] all them that believe.” “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Jesus Christ died to save all, but only those who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork at Calvary, are “the children of God”—justified, “made the righteousness of God in [Christ]” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ first committed unto the Apostle Paul—and now to us Christians—this Gospel of Grace. When the ascended Lord Jesus Christ saved wicked Saul of Tarsus (Acts chapter 9), He declared: “ Delivering thee from the people [Israel], and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,  To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified in me” (Acts 26:17-18).
Jesus Christ first entrusted the “word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19) to Paul. Acts 26:18 affirms Paul had to preach to the Gentiles so they could receive forgiveness—they did not receive forgiveness until they believed the Gospel of the Grace of God that Paul preached. Forgiveness must be imputed by faith: every verse in which Paul mentioned forgiveness, it involved God forgiving Christians, or Christians forgiving Christians—“the world” is absent from Romans 4:7; 2 Corinthians 2:7,10; 2 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 1:14; Colossians 2:13; and Colossians 3:13.
Beware! “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) and forgiveness IN Christ are indeed separate issues: the heretical dogma of universalism—that all will make it to heaven eventually—is obviously unscriptural.
Let us summarize the mechanics of soul salvation:
- SEPARATION – Sin separates man from God: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
- GRACE – Everything God can do for you—not what you can do for God—through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
- RECONCILIATION #1 (God’s work) – The Gospel of God’s Grace declares He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for man’s sins, to suffer His wrath against man’s wickedness: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
- RECONCILIATION #2 (man’s faith) – Each individual should trust Jesus Christ’s performance at Calvary as sufficient payment for his or her sins (PROPITIATION; Romans 3:25); otherwise, the individual will continue on his or her way to eternal hellfire (DAMNATION; Romans 2:8-11). “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b).
- REDEMPTION and FORGIVENESS – Jesus Christ’s blood pays the price to free the Christian from sin’s power and penalty. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7ab).
- IMPUTATION – By faith, Jesus Christ’s righteousness is applied to the believer’s “But for us also, to whom it [righteousness] shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24).
- JUSTIFICATION – One who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ alone as personal Saviour is now “made the righteousness of God in [Christ]” (2 Corinthians 5:21b).
- SALVATION – The Christian’s deliverance from sin, death, hell, and the lake of fire: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Consider this simply analogy to learn how soul salvation operates. A certain project needs funding, and a wealthy investor is willing to supply the funds. However, until the funds are appropriated, the debt is still there. Likewise, a trip to heaven is expensive, and we are too poor to pay. But, Jesus Christ is righteous and He can pay that debt for us. However, until that righteousness is imputed by faith, our sin debt is still there! If we die having never trusted Jesus Christ to pay it for us, the sin debt remains, and God’s wrath against our sins is appeased by us suffering forever and ever in complete isolation in eternal hellfire.
Returning to our earlier comments about the reconciliation described in Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve broke their perfect relationship with their Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, by disobeying Him. They attempted to resolve their sin problem through religion (their “good” works)—they sewed fig leaves to clothe their vile bodies (Genesis 3:7). Adam and Eve finally had to come to the place to admit their sinfulness, and by faith, they accepted that blood sacrifice that the LORD God shed for their sins (verse 21).
Mankind is in the same position today. He has free will to come to God through Jesus Christ and be reconciled to God forever (2 Corinthians 5:20). Or, he can “despise the riches of [God’s] goodness and forbearance and longsuffering,” which will only “treasure up unto [him] wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:4-6). Dear reader, God has done everything to keep you from going to hell, but He will never take away your free will. If you want to go to hell, God will not stop you. This is how much God Almighty loves freedom!
At Calvary’s cross, Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath against all of the world’s sins (2 Corinthians 5:19). In this the Dispensation of Grace, mankind is currently (but temporarily) being offered an opportunity to be reconciled to his Creator forever. Jesus Christ died to pay for mankind’s sins, but until an individual trusts that alone for eternal salvation, that finished crosswork is of no help to the person. Jesus Christ’s righteousness manifested at Calvary must be imputed (applied, credited) to one’s account if God’s wrath, hell and the everlasting lake of fire, is to be avoided.
Before they trusted Christ, Paul urged the pagan Corinthians to “receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Grace is everything that God can do for you through the finished crosswork of Jesus Christ. God expects you to trust that! If you do not trust it, you are receiving God’s grace “in vain” (to no purpose).
Romans 3:24,25: “ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” You can be “justified” (declared righteous in God’s sight) freely—without any cost to you—by faith in Jesus Christ, who shed His sinless blood to pay for your sins, who died your death, and suffered God’s wrath on your behalf.
Soul salvation is not to be taken flippantly: “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, quoting Isaiah 49:8).
Will you trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone as your personal Saviour today? Or, will you receive the grace of God in vain?
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