Chapter 6 – Paul’s Testimony About Salvation

“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be you reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5: 20.

The apostle has given us his testimony about trial and victory, about his ministry and his own physical life. He now comes to the theme he loves best of all, the Gospel of our reconciliation, the great salvation for which God had made him an ambassador to men.

I. A New Creation

“If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” Paul’s remedy for the world’s need was no mere scheme of social reform, educational progress, ethical culture or fine arts. He had seen the failure of mere culture in Greece and Rome, and had turned away from the world’s noblest monuments of art with disgust and horror as he saw the city of Athens wholly given to idolatry. The Augustine age of Roman literature was only just closing, but it had failed to lift man higher than the earthly plane of cultivated selfishness and moral degradation. No higher school of ethics was ever known than the teaching of Moses and the Jewish law. But Paul had found the utter worthlessness of the righteousness of the law and the powerlessness of the highest ideals to lift man above his fallen nature. And so he came to his fellow men to tell them that our fallen race must have, not an evolution, but a revolution. Humanity is too far gone for self-improvement or any principle of recuperation. There must be a new creation. “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

This was the first principle of his great message of salvation. Dear friend, have you seen its utter and imperative necessity? You are trying to be good with a bad heart. You are trying to serve God with a nature utterly depraved and fallen. You are trying to bring a clean thing out of an unclean. As well might you try to develop a dove out of a hawk, or a fawn out of the groveling swine. The best gift that Christ has brought to fallen man is a new heart and an automatic salvation that works spontaneously from a living principle that loves the good and hates the evil because of the law of the fitness of things as strong as the law of gravitation and the will of God. We all know how in our modern industrial life the old clumsy methods of doing things have been superseded by automatic machinery that simply needs to be started and then it works out all the complicated processes of our manifold manufacturing enterprises by a law inherent in itself. This is God’s great secret of the new life. He puts in us a vital principle and sets in operation an automatic process that makes it as easy to be humble and holy as once it was easy to be wicked and vile. Have you come to Christ for this great gift, a heaven born heart, a new nature, a spirit born from above? You cannot develop it by education. You cannot create it by will power. It is the gift of God. It is eternal life begun on earth and made perfect in the skies. And it comes to every yielded soul that recognizes its absolute necessity and accepts it from Jesus Christ as the gift of His grace. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

II. A Divine Reconciliation

“All things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has 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 has 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 you reconciled to God. For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

The new creation which we have just described cannot begin until a previous process of reconciliation has been effected. There were barriers in the way which had to be removed before the life and love of God could become operative upon the hearts of men. It was like the week of creation. The sun was made in the beginning, but it was the fourth day before his radiance reached the earth and established the beautiful order of day and night, light and heat, vegetable and animal life. Vast obstacles in the earth’s atmosphere intervened and made the surface of our globe and made the earth a seething chaos. All this had to be cleared away and a firmament and atmosphere created before the sun could pour its beams upon the earth and create a world of beauty and of bloom. So, before God could reach the human heart with the renewing influence of His holy Spirit, it was necessary that the great work of preparation should be accomplished. This is described by the apostle as “reconciliation.” It includes three stages.

1. Revelation. God had to be revealed to man in His true character and beneficence. Our sinful hearts and the lies of our adversary, the devil, had so distorted our conception of the Father that it was impossible for us to love and trust Him. To the natural man, God is an object of terror and not of love. This is because they do not know Him, for to know Him is to love Him. It was necessary, therefore, for God to reveal Himself as a Father, a Friend and a Restorer. He did this through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” That life of gentleness, unselfishness, sacrifice and ceaseless service was just an object lesson of God. “He that has seen Me, has seen the Father.” And when at last He hung upon that cross “bearing in His own body” the sins and the curse of men, a spectacle was presented of the Father’s heart toward the sinner, which, when rightly understood and accepted by simple faith, is fitted to put to shame our unworthy thoughts of our loving Father and inspire our hearts with confidence and love. Instead of an avenging fury, waiting to destroy us, we see Him taking our sins upon Himself, and by a plan of mercy as marvelous in its wisdom as in its grace, satisfying every claim against the righteousness of the law and opening the way for our forgiveness and salvation. This was the first object of Christ’s coming, to bring God to us. The second is to bring us to God. But He must first come down and show us the Father and then go back and take us with Him to the Father.

So sublimely beautiful is this conception of Christ’s work that in many minds it has crowded out altogether the other and equally important aspect of His work as a sacrifice for sin. Many can only see the benevolence and heroic aspect of His life and death as a sublime example of love, and they leave out the deeper meaning of the precious blood. Both are true, and let us not in our zeal for the doctrine of the atonement forget the other aspect of Christ’s work as a revelation of a Father’s heart toward His rebellious children.

The apostle’s conception reminds us of the familiar story of the Scottish maiden who had left her mother and her home and had fallen into the depths of sin partly through severe Scottish discipline, which had shown her the harder side of that mother’s justice, rather than the gentler side of her love. When she found her child was gone, her whole nature changed, and her love sought far and wide for the wandering daughter. At last she devised the ingenious idea of hanging up her photographs in many of the dance halls of the great city, with a loving message and her own autograph at the foot of the picture. One night the eyes of the lost one suddenly fell upon the picture and the message inviting her home, and a new vision of her mother came to her heart. She saw her now, not as the severe parent, restraining, disciplining, punishing her rebellious child, but with a heart of love and breaking with sorrow and waiting to forgive. As she recovered from her swoon, she cried, “Take me home,” and the rest of the story can better be imagined than told. Jesus Christ came down to this world of sin to hold up before God’s rebellious children the picture of the Father’s face and the vision of the Father’s love. We love to think of all this in connection with Jesus, but let us not forget that other Face behind the Savior, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”

2. Propitiation. More was needed, however, than the revelation of God’s love. There were real barriers to overcome. There were tremendous facts of Sin, Righteousness and Law and only infinite wisdom could have devised a way to meet all these contradictions of the problem and enable God to be at once “a just God and a Savior.”

This is where propitiation comes in, and the apostle has not left it out of his Gospel. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.” But this was not a whitewashing of humanity; this was not an erasure of the records in God’s eternal books; but it was a mighty settlement in which every claim was met and every attribute of God was satisfied. Here is the solution of the problem, “For He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin!” There in the most explicit terms is the doctrine of the atonement, God’s great settlement for the sins of men. Jesus Christ, a Man, the Head of our race, and thus fitted to be our Representative, takes our place, assumes our liabilities, meets our penalties, satisfies all the demands of infinite justice and law and then passes this all over to every man who is willing to accept it as the ground of a settlement with God and constituted Jesus Christ his Attorney for this settlement. This last is indispensable. While His atonement is sufficient for the race, it only becomes efficient for every one who personally commits himself to it by an act of appropriating faith.

3. Justification. The result of all this is the justification of the sinner. “He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” The position in which all this places us is “righteousness.” We are not merely forgiven and our guilt overlooked, but we are “justified”; we are put in the same position as if we had never sinned, or, as if having sinned, we had made the full settlement for our sin which Christ has made for us. If you have ever been in the position of a debtor, and know the humiliation of being repeatedly dunned for the claim, you know something of the difference between offering your creditor an apology or a check; asking from him either his forbearance or his receipt. There is nothing that more fully establishes your sense of manhood than to be able to meet your creditor and look in his face without embarrassment as you hand him a settlement of his account and ask him to please write out a receipt in full. This is the happy situation which God has prepared for every saved soul who accepts the atonement of Jesus Christ. Your sin is so completely settled by Christ Jesus and His righteousness so effectually imputed to you that you become “the righteousness of God in Him.” Looking in the face of earth and heaven and hell, you can say with humble heart and yet triumphant faith, “Who is He that condemns? It is Christ that died. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.”

III. The Human Agency

In this great salvation, God has provided for the ministry of men. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead be you reconciled to God.”

Later in the first verse of the next chapter, he adds, “As workers together with Him, we also beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain.”

1. The messenger of the divine mercy must first be himself reconciled. “God has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”We cannot lead others until we first have found the way ourselves; and the first duty and instinct of the saved soul is to save others. God takes us from the depths of sin that we may be able to reach the people that are in the very same place where we once were. Your salvation is a trust as well as a privilege.