How often do we enter casually into worship before and communion with God because we have not taken time to consider who we are worshipping and communing with? Understanding who God is leads us to appropriate, biblical fear and awe. But the good news of the gospel is that God does not leave us hopeless in fear of his judgment. This God who spoke creation into being and sustains entire nations and is surrounded by multitudes of angels declaring his holiness has looked upon wretched sinners and reconciled us to himself. Furthermore, once we have been reconciled, he calls us to participate in this ministry of reconciliation for others. And when we fear God rightly, we obey him completely because we fear nothing else.
If you have that Word, or somebody around you, maybe someone who’s close to you does so you can look on, I want to invite you to open with me to 2 Corinthians 5. Feel free to use the Table of Contents if you need to and let me invite you to also pull out the Worship Guide that hopefully you received when you came in that I’m pretty sure will be a guide for our time together tonight. This text, and studying it this week and praying through it this week and this morning, has done an unusual work of conviction in my own heart, and so I’m going to try to get through the notes, but if we don’t, I apologize in advance. There’s just so much here that I needed to hear and I believe we, as members of The Church at Brook Hills, need to hear.
So let’s read the text, 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10 and as we do, let’s just ask the Spirit of God to speak clearly to each of our hearts individually, but to our life together collectively as a church as well.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
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. 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.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10)
As Members of The Church at Brook Hills …
Here’s what I’m compelled to pray for The Church at Brook Hills. What I want to call us to pray for in our lives and in this church based on this text.
May the fear of God captivate us.
May the fear of God captivate us. Verse 11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Paul says, “I do – we do what we do because we fear God.” One of three hundred different times the Scripture talks about fearing God. Three hundred different times where everything really begins. Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”
And so, when I go to commentaries on 2 Corinthians 5:11, I immediately read commentators who say, “Now what this means is reverence and respect, just like we see all throughout Scripture. To fear God is to have reverence and respect for God.” And I have no doubt in my mind that reverence and respect are involved here. But I believe when the Bible says, “the fear of God,” I think it means “the fear of God.” And when I read the Bible and I see people who came in contact with God. I see people who don’t just have this healthy reverence and respect; I see people who are terrified. Isaiah gets a glimpse of the glory of God and his immediate reaction is, he says, “I’m dead. I’m dead.” Ezra said, “I can’t even lift my face before you, God.”
And some people would say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament; that’s Old Testament; that’s before the cross.” No, New Testament – go to the last book in the Bible, Revelation 1 to John, the beloved disciple, the disciple whom Jesus loved. John gets a glimpse of Jesus in heaven, and he says, “As soon as I saw Him, I fell over as though dead.” And then, he goes on to write about myriads and myriads, thousands and thousands of angels who are bowing down at the throne of God in awe, in dreadful fear of God.
I’m just convinced that if we got just a momentary glimpse of the glory of our God, we wouldn’t be standing. If we knew the gravity of the One we have gathered together to worship in this room, it would not be possible for us to stand. We’d be on our faces immediately if we really knew. I look at my life and I see such a lack of fear of God. Such a casual approach to God. In my praying, “Dear God, thank you for this food. I pray that you’ll bless it to nourish our bodies. Amen.” What is that? Do I realize who I’m praying to? Do I realize who I’m talking to? God. I’m just going through a routine so I can get to my food? Or when I’m gathered together with others praying – when I’m praying with other people, my mind wanders so much. Am I alone in this? My mind wanders. I mean somebody is praying to God, and my mind is over here about this little thing and that little thing going on in my life, and I’m not even thinking about the fact that we’re talking to God. Even when I’m praying in public, even when I’m praying before you, I just confess, I pray and I’m thinking, “Wonder what they’re thinking about what I’m praying.” It’s just horrible. So casual with God a praying and even preaching.
“If you have a Bible, and I hope you do” – just to think about that. If you have the Word of God in your hand, open up the Word of God, because I’m about to speak on His behalf. We’re about to listen to God. And do we realize the gravity of what we’ve gathered together in this room to do? I hope that we have not gathered together to hear a good speech from somebody and music by a team. Like, then we’ve missed the whole point. We have gathered together to meet with God. And yet Sunday after Sunday, it just feels like there is such a casual approach to what I/we do that must not be so. It makes no sense. This is cultural Christianity, a cultural picture of church that is so casual with the God of the universe.
And so, I want us to pause before we go any further and just think about who we’ve gathered together to meet with, and that may mean silence in this room; that may mean reading Scripture. So God shows us His greatness all through His Word. And so I want us to pause and spend some time in prayer, and I asked the guys, earlier this morning – they didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t really know what was going on, but I asked them to put some microphones in here. There are two in the middle and two in the front. If the Lord puts a Scripture particularly on your mind, a brief passage or verse, and you want to come to one of these microphones and read it – I am talking about verses that show us God’s greatness, so not just your favorite Bible verses. Verses that show us God’s greatness. And we don’t want to hear your opinions, so we’ll cut you off if you start saying anything that’s not here. But if we could just for the next few moments and let God remind us in this room how great He is, and us just to pause and listen to nothing but His Word and think nothing but about Him and who He is and who we’ve gathered together to meet with tonight. So, you feel free to stay where you’re seated, you feel free to stand, feel free to raise your hands, feel free to kneel up front here.
I think about Nehemiah 8. There was a day when it didn’t take music to get people yelling out “Amen!” and bowing down. All it took was opening and reading of the Word. So let’s just contemplate the greatness of the One that we’ve gathered before, and I’ll start with reading a passage and then feel free. We can sit in silence, or if the Lord leads, you can come to one of these microphones. I just want to let you know, we could do this all night and maybe we should, but I think there’s some other things God wants to say also. So there may come a point where I kind of have to cut things off. So I’ll start praying when it’s time to move on. If you’re in line or something at a microphone, please don’t be offended. My eyes will be closed, and I’m not trying to cut you off in particular. Okay? All right. Let’s pray. Let’s contemplate the greatness of the One we’ve gathered together before.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water. Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Daniel 7:9-10, then 13-14:
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened… “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
LORD, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth[c] and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Lord, we want to hear your voice tonight. We want to see your glory, to know your glory, to glimpse your glory in greater and greater ways. We pray that you would forgive us, forgive me, for the casual nature in which we so often approach you. Lord, we pray, yes, for reverence and respect, but for a healthy fear of your greatness and your glory and your majesty and your splendor. We pray that you would free us from casual routine approaches to worship gatherings and prayer. Give us, in our moments alone before you and our moments together before you, God, awaken our hearts to have a feeling sense of your greatness. Greater knowledge of your glory that you might be worshiped and glorified appropriately by us as your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
2 Corinthians 6 Shows Us the Importance of Fearing the Lord
Just think for a moment about the way your life changes when you realize this is who God is, when you’re captivated by a fear of God. Look back up at 2 Corinthians 5, look back up in verse 6, because down in verse 11, he says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” So, you know he’s building on something that he’s just said, because it says, “Therefore, in light of this…”
So, what’s he building on? Verse 6, listen to what he said. He said, “We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of (second time) good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9) Listen to verse 10. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
So here’s where I don’t think that this is just reverence and respect for Paul here. This is fear. In his own life, he knows that one day he is going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He knows what I want to remind every single person in this room. Every single one of you, every single one of us is going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. You are going to stand before Christ as your Judge one day. This God, who we just heard declare who He is, one day you’re going to stand before Him as Judge.
So Paul says, “As a result, my aim and my life is to please Him. That’s my only aim. My goal is to please Him; we make it our aim to please Him.” I think about that in my life and even in my leadership in this church. My aim is not to please you or anybody else. Like, I could, in this sense, care less about what you think about me. Because I am not going to stand before you as judge one day. I’m going to stand before Christ as Judge one day, and on that day, I’m going to be held accountable for whether or not I did what He put in my heart through His Word and His Spirit to do. This is what – so I want you to see how fear of God then takes away fear of anybody or anything else. That’s what Paul is saying, “Do whatever you want to me. My aim is to please Him. I’m going to stand before Him.”
So this is where we realize the beauty of the fear of God. It’s what Proverbs 19:23 says. It says, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied…” Whoever has the fear of the Lord can rest satisfied. Why? Because you’re free from fearing anything else in this world. You don’t have to be afraid of anything else. You don’t have to be afraid of death itself, we heard earlier in testimony. You don’t have to fear death. You don’t have to fear man; you don’t have to fear anything when you fear God. And it changes your – you live with courage in this world. You’re not afraid to speak the gospel to those around you, that you work with. You’re not afraid of awkwardness. You’re not afraid of rejection. What you’re afraid of is standing before Christ one day and saying, “I didn’t do what you left me on earth to do.” So fear that, not what man can do to you. Man is not your judge, Christ is your Judge; fear Him.
Then think about how that compels the way we live with others. That’s what he says in verse 11, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Corinthians 5:11) And he’s talking about in ministry, he’s sharing the gospel with other people. He’s trying to persuade them to come to Christ. He does this because of the fear of the Lord. Because he knows it’s not just him that’s going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day; they’re going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day. Think about your friends, your coworkers, your family members who don’t know Christ right now. One day, they’re going to stand before Christ as Judge. Could be tonight. Not one of us—not one of our friends, family members, coworkers—is guaranteed to make it to tomorrow. And so, fear of God leads us to persuade them today.
Here we realize, knowing the fear of God has a huge effect on the way we live on a day-by day-by-day basis. But we miss it if we don’t fear God. So if we approach church, Christianity, as a casual, ho-hum routine, then we’re not compelled the next day to go up to our co-worker and say, “You need to hear about Christ. I want to persuade you to trust in Christ.” Why? So they can be a part of the routine with you? No, when you’re gripped by the fear of God, you see your co-worker tomorrow morning and you know they don’t know Christ and you persuade them to come to Christ, because you know that any minute they’re going to stand before Christ as Judge. You’re compelled to persuade them.
We talk about unreached people groups. Six thousand people groups, spanning about two billion people, who don’t have access to the gospel right now, and these people groups, one day, every one of these two billion individuals is going to stand before Jesus to give an account for their life, and whether or not they’ve trusted Him for salvation. Having not heard the gospel, they will have no opportunity to trust in Christ. They’re going to stand before Christ as Judge and be sentenced to an eternity apart from Him. People who fear God and know that judgment is coming don’t sit back and use all their resources making church more comfortable for ourselves. No, we lay down our lives. We let go of possessions. We sell the things we have and we give to make the gospel known to them, so they’ll be ready on that judgment day. We start re-looking at our priorities, even where we live and say, “Do I need to be somewhere among these unreached people groups, using my gifts, my skills among them to make the gospel known to them?” This is what is compelled by the fear of God. May the fear of God captivate us.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Doesn’t God love us? Like, why just fear?” Well, I’m glad you’re thinking that.
May the love of God control us.
So Paul, after talking about the fear of the Lord, starts commending himself and his ministry. He’s describing his ministry. He says in verse 13, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you”—doing this for you. And then he says in verse 14—a great phrase—“For the love of Christ controls us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14) The love of Christ controls us. I thought about just putting in your notes here “compels us” but it’s more than compel. We’re constrained; we’re controlled by the love of God. One translation says, “The love of Christ leaves me no other option but to live for Him.” Leaves me no – like, I am chained, in a sense—controlled by His love—because I’m convinced, “we have concluded this, that one has died for all therefore all have died; and He died for all. that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him and for their sake, He died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Contemplate the immensity of God’s love for all. So “He died for all”, verse 15 says. Now some people take this text and immediately go into universalism and say, “Well, that means everybody is going to be saved in the end because Christ died for all.” But that’s not at all what this passage is teaching. This passage is clearly talking about those who have died with Christ, who have trusted in Him—which is what we’re going to talk about in just a second when it comes to reconciliation. But we do know John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Like, God loves this whole sinful world. He loves all. Second Peter 3:9, He desires all people—all people—to come to repentance through faith in Christ. He desires all people.
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.
Meditate on the intensity of His love for (your name). 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 – and I put in the notes here – “(your name)”. So don’t write “(your name)”—like write your name. I have “David Platt” in that line, but you don’t write “David Platt” although you can celebrate His love for me, but I’m talking you put your name in that line. That’s what I love that about Paul. He says, “Christ died for all” this whole picture. But he’s also –
Galatians 2:20, “I’m crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Jesus gave Himself for me. Jesus loves me.
And so just let this soak in for a minute. Just think about all the passages that we just read. That God, around whom myriads and myriads—thousands upon thousands—of angels, at this moment, are bowing down, never ceasing day and night. And all the time they’re singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” This is the God who calls the stars by name, someone read. The God who’s the consuming fire. One guy this morning, who in that time, he read the passage in Kings where the 185,000 of the Syrian troops were gathered here together against the people of God and overnight, God struck all of them down. This is the God who strikes down 185,000 troops like that.
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. This is what’s so interesting; it goes so against the self-esteem culture that we live in. What we think love means is we need to think more about ourselves. The love of God for Paul causes him to think less about himself and more about living for Christ and others. May the love of God control us.
May the gospel of God connect us.
Now, what Paul does is he goes into a picture. Well how do we know God loves us? Next, may the gospel of God connect us. So this is the main part of this passage, verses 18-21. We’re going to come back to verses 16 and 17 in a minute. Verses 18-21, he starts talking about reconciliation and he uses that word five different times in 18, 19 and 20, “be reconciled to God; be reconciled to God.” And the whole picture is not just reconciliation to God but reconciliation to others.
If you remember the context, Paul has experienced conflict with the church at Corinth, and so he’s trying to write to bring about reconciliation with them, but he knows that reconciliation with them is based on reconciliation with God and understanding of the gospel. That’s what brings us together as the church, right? So connect us. This is what makes the church the church. The gospel of God—a gospel of reconciliation—as God reconciles us to Himself, He reconciles us to each other. It brings us together. What unites us in this room is not gender or ethnicity or socioeconomic status or this kind of background or that kind of background, or this kind of political position or that kind of political position. No, we are brought together solely by the fact that we have been reconciled to God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 6 Shows Us that Sin Separates Us from God
So think about what this means. Just return to the gospel with me for a second for us as a church. In our sin, we were separated from God as His enemies. So members of The Church at Brook Hills, in our sin, we were once separated from God as His enemies. That was all of our problem. We were enemies of God. James 4:4, “If anyone is a friend with the world, he has set himself up as an enemy of God.” Alienated from God, separated from God, alienated from God (Colossians 1:21). Because we all have sinned against God, every single one of us in this room has rebelled against this God, this God Who is holy, holy, holy. Every single one of us has said, “You are not Lord of my life. I’m doing things my own way.” Every one of us has said it. We have all turned aside from His way to our way. This is the God who speaks and ocean waves obey. This is the God who speaks and the clouds go out and come in according to His word. This is the God who speaks and everything in all creation responds in obedience to Him until you get to man—you and me—and this God speaks, and we have the audacity to look Him in the face and say, “No.” And in our sin, as a result, we have been set free from God as His enemies. So what has this holy God done?
Through our substitute, we have been reconciled to God as His friends. Just unpack this. Even in verse 14, when it said that One has died for all, that preposition “for” means “in the place of.” “…[W]ho for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14). In their place, He died and was raised. The same thing down in verse 21, “…for our sake (in our place) [God] made him who knew no sin to be…” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is where through our substitute – here’s the reality: We see from the very beginning of the Bible, because of our rebellion against God, we deserve to be separated from Him forever. The payment for sin is death, eternal death. All of us in this room merit—by our sin against God—merit eternal death. This is the reality of the Bible; it teaches from cover to cover. Sin leads to death, eternal death.
So what has God done? He has sent His Son to come to us and verse 21, “Christ had no sin in Him.” Had no sin. He lived the life that none of us could ever live. He lived a perfect, sinless life. But then, He died. Well, if death is the payment for sin and Christ had no sin, then why is Christ dying? He’s the substitute for sinners. He’s dying in the place of others. He’s taking the payment of sin, due you and me, upon Himself so that we can be reconciled to God as His friends. And I emphasize that there.
Think in James 2:23, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.” Same kind of language that we see here in verse 21. We become the righteous of God, friends of God. And the reason that’s so important – we talked last week about sanctification and justification in particular. Justification, in which God declares us, by the work of Christ and the cross – declares us “not guilty” for our sins.
But that is not the end of the story. The beauty of reconciliation is that it takes us just another step further. One writer sums it up best. He said,
Justification is a judicial term that’s used in the law courts. A judge may acquit an accused person without ever entering into any personal relationship with him or her. He just announces the verdict: Not guilty. The accused hardly expects to be invited over for dinner by the judge and probably hopes he will never see that judge again and the judge the same for him. But here the Judge enters into a personal relationship with the accused, which is necessary, because the Judge is the One who has been sinned against as the focus of the personal hostility. God does not simply make a bookkeeping alteration by dropping charges against us. Instead, God gives Himself to us in friendship.
How is this possible? Verse 18, “All this is from God…”
So follow this; we’re going to go through this really quickly in your notes. So just get this. God is the author of reconciliation. God does all of this. William Temple said, “The only thing that I contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.” That’s the only thing we bring to the table, is the problem.
That’s the beauty of this whole metaphor of reconciliation. Every time reconciliation is used here for a verb, it is a passive verb. Like: “We are reconciled to God,” which begs the question, “Who’s the subject who’s reconciling us?” It’s God who is reconciling us to God. God’s the author of reconciliation. So follow.
He’s the giver of the gospel. You don’t reconcile yourself; you’re reconciled by God. Only God can do this in us. We’re running from Him. It’s only God who can make this possible. Then, He’s the gift of the gospel. So what is the gift that God offers in reconciliation? Himself. God reconciles us to Himself. God gives us Himself. Verse 21, “…his righteousness.” In the gospel, God gives us Himself which is why we completely turn aside from contemporary teaching—persuasion—in the church that says, “Come to Christ to get health and come to Christ to get wealth and come to Christ to get prosperity and come to Christ to get your best life and come to Christ to get this and come to Christ to get that.” No, we come to Christ to get God, and He’s the One we want. He’s the One we need. Take all of these things. We don’t need all – we need God! He’s the One we’re created to know and enjoy and worship and glorify forever and ever and ever. We want and need God, and He is the gift of the gospel. In the end, He is the goal of the gospel. The One who gives all this grace gets all this glory. God glorifies Himself in reconciling sinners to Himself. How does He do this?
Christ is the agent of reconciliation; reconciliation is only possible through Christ. Verse 18, “…who through Christ reconciled us to himself…” Verse 19, “…in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself…” Verse 21, “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin (Christ) so that in him (Christ) we might become the righteousness of God.” So what does this mean? In our sin, we were separated from God as His enemies. Jesus came as our substitute. And what did He do? He suffered our separation. Meaning, He took our place as enemies of God. This is why in the darkness of the cross of that day, Jesus looks up into the sky and cries out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” In a mysterious picture of the Son becoming sin and taking the payment of sin upon Himself.
You think about the sins you’ve committed in your life. Not that we can think of them all at once but think of the first ones that come to your mind. Think of those things that you’ve thought or done that you would shudder to think of anybody else in this room knowing that you’ve thought that or done that. Things that, if your sins are put on the screen right now, that you would just go running out of this room. And then realize those sins have been put on Christ. There’s payment for those sins, and He stepped in between you and that payment and took it. Suffered our separation and in so doing He secured our salvation.
So that He takes our sin—this is the glorious, great exchange—He takes our sin, and we get His righteousness, so that right now, Christian, 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 glorious truth! He secures our salvation. And that’s why – this is where Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called a friend of God. Now how does that become – how does that happen? How do we become reconciled to God? Now that’s what Christ did on the cross. We talked about this; it’s not universalism – that for everybody, this just automatically happens. How is this appropriated in your life? How does this become a reality in your life?
Listen to James 2. “Abraham believed God, and that was credited to him as righteousness” (James 2:23). Romans 4 says the words that were accredited to him were not written for him alone but also for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered from death for our sins, and He was raised to life for our justification. In other words, God is the author of reconciliation, and Christ is the agent.
We are the acceptors of reconciliation. What do we bring to the table? We are simply the acceptors of reconciliation. You say, “How can I be reconciled to God?” Believe 2 Corinthians 5:21. You say, “That’s all?” Yeah. Believe. I know there are people here tonight who are not Christians. You’re not a Christian; maybe you know you’re not a Christian and you’ve come here just kind of exploring. Maybe others of you have grown up in some ways in the church, and you’ve come in here maybe thinking you’re Christian, but maybe it’s more religious routine. You realized that you don’t know God.
Tonight, I bring you good news. He knows you, and He has brought you here to hear Him say He loves you. I know the Word of God for you tonight. He loves you. And He is offering you, tonight, reconciliation to Him. And that’s not an offer filled with lists of things to do. It is an offer that is free for you to receive, to accept and to believe tonight. To trust in what Jesus has done. To pay the price for your sin. To trust in who Jesus is as the Lord of the universe. I invite you. I urge you. I plead with you. I will persuade you in any way by the power of God’s Spirit. Tonight, right now, even in this moment, would you accept His offer of reconciliation? Would you believe?
Now, like, can we even just pause – can we just pause and pray? And if you know you’ve been reconciled to God through Christ, would you just pray now for people who may not know they’ve been reconciled to God through Christ? And if you’re one of those people, would you, in your heart, even right now, say, “God, I want to receive this.” Would you trust in Him? Would you believe in 2 Corinthians 5:21 tonight, right now in this moment? That God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for you in order that you right now could be made righteous before God and reconciled to Him. Can you say that in your own heart? Say yes to God. 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Today is the day of salvation.” Don’t wait any longer.
God, we pray that it would be so. We pray that across this room you would be reconciling people to yourself. That people right now would be trusting in you, knowing that they have been saved from their sins, and they would know the security of salvation in you now and forever. We pray these things in the name of Christ, our Reconciler. Amen.
When this happens—if this has happened in your heart tonight—for all who have had this happen in your life, when that happens, we have an entirely new identity. That’s the beauty. Now backing up. Verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” New creation. New heart. New spirit. New wants. New desires. New will. New life. It’s what happens when we accept reconciliation; when we’re reconciled to God. We’re now reconciled to the One who’s created us to have life and enjoy life now and forever; transformed us from the inside out. An entirely new identity. That’s why Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (I don’t live anymore; Christ lives in me) The life I now live I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It all comes together. This is your identity. Christian, you are in Christ. Christ is in you. This is what defines you.
You are not ultimately a husband or a wife, a mom or a dad, single or married, widowed or divorced. You are not defined by how you look, by what you wear, by what you do for a living, by how much you make, by where you live, by who you cheer for. Your identity is not found in your gender, your ethnicity or your socioeconomic status. You are not defined by your past as an addict or an alcoholic or a victim of abuse in this way or that way. You are not what counselors would say you are defined by—your genetic make-up or your past history. You are not what bosses might tell you you are defined by—your present performance. You are not what parents and teachers might tell you that you are based on your potential in the future. No, you are in Christ. Christ is in you. He is your identity.
Do not let this world steal that away from you. Christ in you—Christ in you now and Christ in you forever. This is your identity forever. You have an entirely new identity, which leads to an entirely different perspective. Verse 16, “From now on therefore we regard no one according to the flesh.” Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, regarding thus no longer. This is what Paul is saying. We don’t view the old from a worldly perspective anymore. It kind of goes back to what we said earlier about not boasting about outward appearance but it’s in the heart. We have an entirely different perspective on people. When we look at people, we don’t see them mainly in terms of socioeconomic status, or ethnicity, or this, or that or how this world would define people by. We look at people. They’re either in Christ or without Christ.
If they’re in Christ, we have an entirely different perspective on each other in the church. We love and we care for, we serve each other in the church. We lay down our lives for each other in the church. That’s what Paul’s saying here. He is saying, “Church, be reconciled to God; be reconciled to each other.”
And then, an entirely different perspective of others in the world. You look at people around you. You look at your coworkers. You look at your neighbors and you see them. Are they without Christ? When you see them that way, it leads to the last part here.
May the mission of God consume us.
Church at Brook Hills, may the mission of God consume us. Now it makes sense. Verse 20, “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:20) Oh, what an image. We’re ambassadors for Christ. Think about an ambassador from this country living in another country. You’ve got an ambassador—a citizen of the United States—he’s living in another country. He’s a citizen of the United States, but he’s living in a foreign country, and in that country, he represents the United States. In that country, he speaks with the authority of the United States. And this is where we remember, Christian, members of The Church at Brook Hills, this is not our home. This is not our country. What defines us? It’s not American. We’re in Christ. Christ is in us. This is not our home. We’re strangers here. We belong to another city, another Kingdom. And we’re here as representatives of that Kingdom, with the authority to speak for that King.
2 Corinthians 6 Reminds Us that we are Ambassadors of Christ
We have been authorized to speak for God. Do you realize that we have been authorized to speak for God? This is exactly what Paul says. We are ambassadors for Christ. God is making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Think about it. We have been authorized to speak for God, to persuade people to be reconciled to God through Christ. We’re persuading others—that’s what he said in verse 11—not just giving information. We’re working with persuasion. We’re working to lead people to Christ. We don’t just say, “Take it or leave it.” No, we’re persuading.
Not just persuading, we’re to plead for people to be reconciled to God through Christ. God is making His appeal. We implore you. 2 Corinthians 6:2, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Now is the time; now is the day of salvation. There’s some urgency here.
I remember sitting in preaching class with Pastor Jim—Dr. Shaddix at that moment. We were talking about – he was talking about persuading people to come to Christ, and he said, “If I walk into a room and I see somebody I love or even somebody I don’t love – I see that person in that room with a gun pointed at their head.” He said, “I don’t look at them and say, ‘It’s your decision. Here’s what I think but just do whatever you think is best.’” “No,” he said, “I get down on my knees and I plead for that person to not do this. I beg that person, ‘Don’t do this.’ I do everything I can to keep this person from doing this.”
So is this the way you approach your neighbor, your co-worker, even a casual acquaintance that you meet, who either you know doesn’t know Christ or may or may not know Christ? It’s not just, “Well, I’ll throw the gospel out there and hopefully maybe they’ll get it.” No, it’s that I want to plead with people to come to Christ. Are you pleading with people around you to come to Christ? You’ve been authorized to speak for God.
We are now privileged to work with God. 2 Corinthians 6:1, right after he says this, “Working together with God, then, we appeal to you.” What a phrase! “Working together with God…” How has God chosen to make this message of reconciliation known? You think about it. God could, right now at this moment, in the sky, in lights, in all those stars that He calls by name—He could write my name. He could write out 2 Corinthians 5:21 over Birmingham and over all these unreached people groups, and He could say, “Here’s the gospel.” He could spell out the whole Roman Road. He could write – tonight, He could get every single person in Birmingham, every single person in one of those unreached people groups, and He could give them all visions tonight where they see the gospel clearly; they could hear it and they have an opportunity to respond to it. He could do it. God has the power to do that. But He’s not doing that. Why not? Because He’s chosen to work with you; He’s chosen to work with you. So let this hit right there in your seat too.
I was talking earlier about what an awesome thing it is to speak for God in preaching, but let’s not gather together here every week to hear one man speak for God and then move on with our lives. We’ve all got the Holy Spirit of God in us; we’ve all got the gospel in us; we’ve all been authorized to speak for Him. So you go this week and you speak for Him. Plead. Persuade. We’ve been privileged to work with God with Christ-like joy in a world of suffering.
There’s so much here that we’re not – I’m just going to give you the blanks—there’s so much more we could talk about. For those of you who just get annoyed if they don’t have blanks filled in, here they are: With Christ-like joy in a world of suffering; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. With Christ-like purity in a world of sin, verses 6 and 7. Willing to do whatever we can for people to be saved by His grace. This is what I love about what Paul says in verse 3: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found in our ministry.” (2 Corinthians 6:3) That’s not Paul saying, “Hey, I just want to be kept on the clear. I just want to make sure you’ve got good ideas about me.” This is Paul saying, “I’ve done everything I can to keep from being an obstacle to people coming to faith in Christ.”
So can you say that? Can I say that? Can we say that about people in our sphere of influence? Have we done everything we can to make sure that the only reason they have not trusted in Christ is because they’ve rejected Christ? We’ve made it clear. We’ve persuaded. We’ve pleaded. We’ve done everything we can, and so it’s out there, and the only thing that’s keeping them from coming to Christ is their rejection of Christ. May it not be said that they’re not coming to Christ because they’ve never heard it from us. Paul said, “I’m going to do everything I can do to make sure it’s clear.” We’re going to do everything we can for people to be saved by His grace.
Then, finally, we need to be willing to sacrifice whatever He requires for people to know His glory.