IF PAUL WRITES TO BELIEVERS, WHY DID HE TELL THE CORINTHIANS TO BE “RECONCILED TO GOD?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“I have a question about 2 Corinthians 5:20. Since it is taught in grace circles that Paul always writes to believers, why does he urge his audience ‘be ye reconciled to God?’” Great question and thank you for submitting it!
Yes, the Apostle Paul always writes to believers. So, why did he urge the Corinthians to be “reconciled to God” in 2 Corinthians 5:20? Were they not already reconciled with God? The key to understanding 2 Corinthians 5:20 is to notice the verb tense—“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.” Paul is referring to the time when he first arrived in Corinth in Acts chapter 18, just before the Corinthians trusted Christ.
Prior to Paul visiting Corinth and preaching the Gospel to them, the Corinthians were idolaters (1 Corinthians 12:1-2). At that time, through Paul’s preaching in person, God did beseech the Corinthians to be saved. Sometime later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians in order to remind them of the Gospel message he preached to them back in Acts chapter 18. The Corinthians were not reconciled to God when Paul first went to Corinth and preached to them. Again, 2 Corinthians 5:20 is a flashback, a review of something that happened earlier, an event that occurred prior to Paul writing the epistle of 2 Corinthians (it is not a present-tense beseeching, but a reminder of an earlier beseeching). But why was Paul reminding them of their salvation experience? Why was he retelling them the message he had already preached to them? That will take some explaining.
In the larger context of 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul is discussing how the Christian life is designed to function, especially Christians and evangelism (soul-winning, believers sharing the Gospel of the Grace of God with others so they can also be saved from their sins and have a home in heaven). To better understand 2 Corinthians 5:20, we will begin reading in verse 14: “ For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:  And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”
As verse 14 says in the King James Bible, it is Jesus Christ’s love for us that drives us, that propels us, to function in the Christian life. It is not our weak, intermittent love for Him, but His endless, matchless, constant, unfathomable love for us! Our love for Him is nothing, NOTHING, in light of His love for us. It is His love for us that is powerful, that drives us and empowers us.
How does Christ’s love constrain us? “Because we thus judge,” verse 14 continues. There is a thinking process, a judgment, involved, in Christian living. We consider how Jesus Christ so loved us, “[God’s] great love wherewith He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). We think about Calvary’s cruel cross, where the sinless, eternal Son of God faced the awful wrath of the holy, eternal God the Father. On that terrible Roman cross, the soul of Jesus Christ Himself was offered as a ransom for our sins! He died that we might die, and He died that we might live, for in rising again He gave us His resurrection life.
We just read in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “…if one died for all, then were all dead:  And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” The Christian life, our Christian life, is not really ours; it is the life that Jesus Christ gave to us the moment we trusted Him alone as our personal Saviour. The Bible says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We died with Jesus on Calvary (Romans 6:6), and we were raised again with Him “to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Because our Christian life is actually His life, we should not spend it fulfilling our wishes. It makes sense that we should share His desires, His will, for it is His life and that life should bring Him glory rather than bring us glory. As we will shortly, we have a brand new identity in Christ. We have the same identity that Jesus Christ has before His Heavenly Father!
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17: “ Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” We do not know anyone anymore on the basis of physical circumcision and physical uncircumcision (that was a time past distinction now done away in Jesus Christ). There really is no Jew or Gentile before God today: the only classes of people God sees is Christians and lost people, people in Christ and people outside of Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). There was a time when Jesus Christ had a ministry to Israel, the circumcision (Romans 15:8; cf. Matthew 15:24; Romans 9:5); there was a time when Jesus Christ dealt with mankind on the basis of physical circumcision and physical uncircumcision. Beginning with the ministry of the Apostle Paul, that distinction is done away. God has rescinded the racial barrier He once erected beginning with Abraham.
We read in Ephesians chapter 2: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
Today, God is forming the Church the Body of Christ, of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, those who will simply place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). God the Holy Spirit takes the believing sinner and baptizes him or her into the Church the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). We have received “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Thus, 2 Corinthians chapter 5 continues: “ Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  And all things are of God,…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a). God has given us a new identity with everything we will ever need! We are forever linked to Jesus Christ, forever saved, forever declared righteous, forever reconciled to God, forever forgiven, forever loved, forever accepted in Jesus. It is settled in God’s mind forever. Permanent. Finished. Done!
Since we are Christians, people who already trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, God now wants us to preach that Good News to others, that they may, like us, become members of the Church the Body of Christ. As someone shared the Gospel of God’s Grace with us, we should share it with others. This is actually the main purpose of Paul writing 2 Corinthians 5:20 to the Corinthians.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians chapter 5: “ 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.  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.”
God the Father reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. We were lost and going to hell, no faith in God’s Word, rebellious, vain in our thoughts, doing whatever we wanted, but God—before we were even born, before we could even sin—still sent Jesus Christ to Calvary’s cross. It is our privilege to share that Good News with others, to tell them that Father God offers to them in Jesus Christ a home in heaven, eternal life, unconditional love, total acceptance, unending mercy, unfathomable grace, on and on and on we could go listing the marvelous things in Christ! We have a “ministry,” “the ministry of reconciliation,” to tell others that God is not mad at them today. They can escape the wrath to come, the seven-year Tribulation, and the wrath to come after that, the lake of fire. They do not have to go to hell! What good news!
We read again in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” While we looked at this passage earlier, we will do so again. Ephesians 2:11-12 explains: “ Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:” As stated earlier, there was a time when the God of the Bible dealt only with the nation Israel; at that time, the Gentiles were “without God in the world.”
Now, in this the Dispensation of Grace, Israel has lost that special position she once had (her fall is only temporarily, of course). Ephesians 2:13 continues, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Romans 11:15 supplements, “For if the casting away of them [Israel] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” Today, as we mentioned earlier, there has been a dispensational reconciliation—all nations are equal before God today, and they all (not just Israel) can approach Him through Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. By sending His only begotten Son to die for the world’s sins, God made the first move to reconcile mankind with Himself. Now, God urges each and every person to appropriate by faith the merits of that crosswork, that God and the individual be eternally united.
Stated once more, as Christians, it is our privilege to preach to others the Gospel of the Grace of God—the “word of reconciliation”—that Jesus Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). God has reconciled us to Himself, He has removed that hostility and anger that our sins generated in Him, and He has removed the racial barrier that He erected beginning with Abraham. Now, we are urged to trust His Son’s payment for those sins, that we be saved from those sins. Please understand that reconciliation is not salvation, but reconciliation makes salvation possible. Romans 10:10a says, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” To have Christ’s righteousness imputed (applied) to us, we must have heart faith, trust, complete reliance upon, that Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, in full and forever. That forgiveness offered to us in Jesus Christ, that grace offered to us in Jesus Christ, that salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ, they will then be applied to us forever. Unless we appropriate them by faith, they will benefit us nothing. Unless we are “reconciled to God” by faith in Calvary’s crosswork, the reconciliation that God offers us will do nothing for us.
In 2 Corinthians 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”), Paul is reminding the Corinthians that, just as he had besought them to be reconciled to God (back in Acts chapter 18), they have the same Christian ministry to beseech others to be reconciled to God. They are to preach the same salvation message to lost people, that Paul had preached to them in Acts chapter 18 when they (the Corinthians) were lost people. That salvation message is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him [Christ].” It is this message that highlights the reconciliation God offers us in Jesus Christ, and how we urge you, dear reader, to tell others all about it!