The word and concept of ‘Reconciliation’ is getting thrown around quite a bit right now. One must understand that ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different people. That is why it is important to define terms up front in a conversation. The best way to get people to define their terms is to ask the question; “What do you mean by that?”
John Stonestreet likes to say, “People are using the same words but different dictionaries.” In other words, the same word may mean different things to different people. If you are using the same words but different dictionaries, you and the other person are having two completely parallel conversations. You are basically talking about two completely different things. You will reach two completely different conclusions. This is frustrating and a waste of time. Not to mention, it can create conflict or exacerbate tensions.
I’m not going to provide multiple nuanced definitions of ‘reconciliation’ floating around the culture. I intend to focus on the Biblical definition of ‘reconciliation’. By focusing on the real thing, it makes it easier to identify the fakes.
What is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation is defined: katallagē (Gk) – an exchange; restoration to favor (between God and man) – adjustment of a difference, restoration to favor. It is the restored relationship / favor between God and a repentant sinner who places his/her trust in Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross and His resurrection.
In terms of western culture, reconciliation is a cultural artifact from a Judeo-Christian heritage. No other worldview offers the concept of reconciliation in the way in which we know it today. Even as we sometimes misunderstand or misapply it, reconciliation is a distinctly biblical concept found in the New Testament in particular.
Many (not all) well-meaning Christ-followers who love the Lord have a disordered concept of ‘reconciliation.’ I confess, I have adopted a disordered view in the past. As Christians, we know that “iron sharpens iron”. Therefore, we must be personally vigilant and point each other back to scripture frequently. Words (and their definitions) matter because they shape reality and give meaning to the world around us.
What is Reconciliation for?
(what is the purpose of reconciliation?)
Lets’ begin at the beginning!
1. In the beginning God created all things including human beings (who were made in His image). God said it was “very good.” Humans lived in perfect harmony with God.
2. The Bible states that because of sin our relationship with God is broken (referred to as ‘The Fall’ in Genesis 3). We are born into sin, under God’s judgement and wrath.
3. Because God is Holy and perfectly good, we cannot restore that relationship on our own. There is nothing we can do – no number of good deeds can save us. We need an outside agent to reconcile us with our Creator. We need a Savior.
4. Jesus Christ took our sin upon himself and died on a Roman cross innocent. When he rose from the grave, Jesus reconciled sinful man to a holy and perfect God. He essentially made a path where one did not exist.
5. When a man or woman believes and trusts in the finished work of Christ, he or she is the reconciled with God – the formerly broken relationship is restored. The Bible refers to this as the ‘new of life’ and the condemnation of sin is removed forever.
Therefore, Biblical Reconciliation is primarily a vertical process and relationship between an individual and God mediated through Jesus Christ. All authentic and redeeming qualities of reconciliation flow from this vertical relationship with God as the source. There is NO other source of reconciliation. God is it.
For instance, if I am not reconciled with God first, there is no way I can be reconciled with anyone else. This is a spiritual reality. Furthermore, the other person must be reconciled with God before he/she can be reconciled with me. Nowhere in the Bible will you find a doctrine that teaches that horizontal reconciliation (man to man) is a viable primary option. It is always vertical (man to God – through Christ).
In the absence or rejection of reconciliation with God, all you have is manmade acquiescence or genuflection to another’s power, coercion or emotion. From a Biblical perspective, I argue this is a counterfeit ‘reconciliation’. Why?
Without Christ, we are totally incapable of Christ-exalting good (John Piper). As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” In John 15:4 Jesus states, “apart from me you can do nothing.”
Every individual Christ-follower is challenged personally with two questions;
1. Do I believe what the Bible says?
2. Am I willing to live as the Bible instructs and commands?
Disclosure: I am guilty of everything I’m about to say because I’m a sinner too. So, the following is a message for me to hear as well.
Well-meaning Christians who love the Lord seem to turn to manmade / man-centered secular concepts of ‘reconciliation’. Why?
First, while the Bible remains the best-selling book in history, the bible is the least read, studied or understood. Basically, well-meaning Christians don’t know their Bibles. Therefore, they misunderstand and misapply the Gospel of the Kingdom to life and culture.
Second, because the Bible is not viewed as sacred scripture and authoritative but more of a “moral manual.” So, people pick and choose what verses they like in order to validate or support their position or sin patterns. When we treat the bible as a cafeteria-style moral manual, we conveniently sidestep hard truths, conviction, repentance and healthy realignment with God’s Word**
Third, while many well-meaning Christians will claim to believe the bible, their worldview betrays their claims. In other words, how we live our lives reveals what we believe. Many Christians today live as secular humanists or functional atheists without realizing it.
Finally, making manmade or man-centered (horizontal) ‘reconciliation’ primary feeds man’s pride and ego. In addition it gives him a psychological escape hatch from sin. This stems from the sinful trait of self-determinism. In my estimation, man-centered reconciliation reveals our idolatry and fear of man rather than a fear of God.
Biblical Reconciliation begins with our realizing and admitting our sin against God
Psalm 51:4 states the following from an individual perspective, Speaking to God the Psalmist cries, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” We sin against God first.
Romans 3:23 encompasses ALL humans who ever lived, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Basically, God has put ALL human beings on notice regarding sin. We are all born in the same sinking ship. Thank God, he sent Jesus to save us.
Does the bible say, “Be reconciled to the world?” Nope, the Bible says the following;
“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God.…”
The Great Commission of Christ’s church is to call the world to be reconciled with God, not to call the world to be reconciled with the world. There will be no reconciling the world to the world without God. That is a biblical impossibility and antithetical to the Gospel.
Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments and 613 Jewish laws in two commands.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Relationship with God is primary and is the post on which the second hangs. Our message to the world is ‘be reconciled with God!”
In conclusion, it is vitally important to define our terms up front in a conversation. A good way to do that is to ask a question like, what do you mean by that (reconciliation)? As I have pointed out, the Christian must be focused on the primary work of reconciling the lost with God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We also love our neighbors and even enemies as ourselves (our witness). Biblical reconciliation is quite different from worldly reconciliation… The results are quite different as well.
Live your life the way in which you were saved – by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
** [Section Note] When a Christ-follower is out of line with God’s Word, it grieves the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the believer feels conviction and frustration. The Holy Spirit ceases working through the believer and begins to bring conviction in order to bring about repentance and realignment with God’s Word. This is why I believe that Christians who dabble in non-biblical versions of reconciliation end up feeling frustrated and confused when the world’s version just simply does not work (ever). Keep at it long enough and it will have a callousing effect on the heart and you risk losing the sensitivity to sin – that can lead to backsliding. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by following worldly philosophies or patterns of living (see Eph. 4:17-32)
Seeing people’s faces raises moral and lowers stress.
As Local Outreach Pastor during the COVID19 pandemic, the church is faced with new challenges when it comes to connecting and serving people. While most folks know how to use social media and communications platforms like its second nature, we must consider those who may not know how to use technology to connect.
Think about the elderly widow who is isolated but she has a smart phone. She may not be aware of the capabilities at her fingertips. The objective is to help you help others connect face to face using technology.
Below are some simple videos and instructions you can share with others. Help those feeling isolated and lonely connect. Be their buddy and the face that brings them hope and comfort.
Let’s help our neighbors connect during quarantine during this COVID19 situation. Let’s keep relationships and loving our neighbors at the forefront of our minds while we exercise proper precautions like social-distancing and self-quarantining.
“Alone Together.” Is there any better way to describe this moment in history?
As the wave of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic spreads across the globe, we are seeing whole societies and nations shut down and shut off human face-to-face interaction. In America, the jokes and funny memes have given way to a seriousness. Every hour more people are coming to the realization that everything has changed.
Three months ago, the conversations were completely different than they are today. I look back and recall having discussions about the pervasiveness of screen addiction and the challenge of too much social media and technology in our lives. I admit, I had a problem with screens, scrolling and such.
Today, my paradigm has shifted. My perspective has been stood on its head. Because of a tiny virus, we are experiencing what it means to be ‘Alone Together’.
Rather than focusing on fear and chaos, I’m looking for lessons and opportunities. I’m looking for new ways to ‘do life’ together in forced isolation.
How can we engage with this new reality without losing our minds? Or worse … How do we keep from losing our humanity?
“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”
– Sherry Turkle
I’d add that for millions of people, the spurious glitter of our technological goddess has answered our collective prayer. She says, “You want real isolation with your screens and social media? Your wish is my command!” And here we are, alone together with the goddess of our own making. But, we’re left wanting and empty.
The New Reality
Due to the current state of the world, the illusions and fog blocking our view of reality is quickly evaporating. More and more people are realizing that human contact is more important than we thought. The status quo has been upended in a matter of weeks. As a good friend of mine said yesterday, “The gods of western culture like sports, media, corporate greed and entertainment have all bowed to the spirit of fear.” Entire nations are being brought to their knees. People are around the world are coming to grips with a new reality. Many are fearful of what it all means.
In this very moment, we all have a choice to make. We are alone together on this island, the boats have been burned. There is no way off. What shall we make of this? We cannot build boats out of ashes or memories. We must build here and now. What you do right now will shape the culture in the age to come. We can be selfish and ‘me-centered’ or we can engage in sometimes messy relationships with others.
When you strip all of the stuff away, what do you have left? A better questions is, WHO do you have left?
The Bible says, that we are individually significant and we have intrinsic value. In spite of what modern social constructionists and social engineers tell us how different we are, we are of one race – the human race. We must see what is good, true and beautiful held in both our unity and diversity as human beings. We were not created to be isolated. We were created for community. We are hardwired for relationship … as hard and painful as relationships can be at times. A life pursuing pleasures is empty and meaningless. Think about it. The good stuff is found in knowing and being known by others. Loving people over stuff that can’t love you back.
You have a choice today. How are you living? Take an entire day to consider what your life will look like a year from now or 5 years from now. Try to see yourself from a future perspective. Who do you want to be? Who do you want to invite into your life? Who needs you to step into their life today? Are you lonely? Isolated? I’m here. There are a bunch of us here. We have been waiting for you. We could use your help, your talents and gifts.
Action Steps … you don’t have anything better to do
Take the coming days and weeks to consider who is most important in your life… I promise, its not you! Reach out to that old friend you haven’t seen or spoken to since college or high school. I guarantee they will be overjoyed to hear from you. If they don’t answer the phone, leave them a voicemail letting them know you were thinking of them. And, God forbid we tell our friends and family we love them! Write a letter to someone you love or a ‘thank you’ note to someone who impacted your life.
We were never meant to be ‘alone together’.
“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””(Genesis 2:18)
If you need prayer or have a comment, please reach out to me.
Remember, God loves you in spite of yourself (John 3:16).
The band, Pink Floyd made this question famous on their 1979 album, “The Wall”. Under the haunting drones of synth chords and samples from the TV series, Gunsmoke, the listener is confronted with the question, “Is there anybody out there?” The question is repeated as the melancholy of the soundscape rises and finally breaks into a ethereal acoustic guitar melody accompanied by lonely violin. It provides some relief but not quite enough. The question still lingers about the mind, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s truly a genius two and a half minutes of music.
In the Pink Floyd movie “The Wall” this song plays at the point where the bitter and alienated Pink (the main character) is attempting to reach anybody outside of his self-built wall. The repeated question “Is there anybody out there?” suggests that no response is heard (1).
I remember back to my music and DJ days when I would be in the DJ booth playing records to a packed club of hundreds of people, yet there was an underlying sense of alienation. I could see people around me – but why does the question still gnaw at my soul? “Is there anybody out there?” Does anyone even care?
There have been seasons in my life when I’ve felt alone. Even when I had family and friends around, I suffered from disconnectedness. At points, this lead to depression and anxiety. Its hard recognize from the outside. By God’s grace and the love of family and friends, I don’t suffer like I did so many years ago. However, there are shadows of how I felt in those seasons that remain as a remembrance. I think it is important that I remember rather than forget what it’s like to feel alone. There can be no deep ministry to others without memories of our own misery.
Today, many people feel alienated and lonely in our technology-driven, pseudo-connected, over-stimulated, hyper-autonomous and instant gratification-focused cultural moment. We’ve relegated our relationships and existence to online platforms, how can we not be driven to alienation?
I think a dangerous new religion is emerging in the West. It’s called Alienation.
It has its own doctrines of disconnect and loneliness. We carry our slick, shiny, flat-screened idols in our hands all day. It’s sacraments are dopamine drips through a communion of ‘likes’ and screen scrolling. It’s worship is seen on the altar where authentic human relationships go to be sacrificed. Alienation has its own cathedrals built for one. It has its own hymns and liturgy and even ideology and emerging politics. The enlightened state of the religion of alienation is loneliness and ultimately, despair. This despair brings some to their own end at their own hands – the ultimate sacrifice.
“Contemporary man is alienated. He is alienated from the past because he has no cultural roots anymore. He’s been taught to despise the past. He is alienated from a real vibrant society – his social ties are thin and few. That shows up in his sexual habits which seem to have no meaning beyond that of the pleasure or the despair of the moment. He has very little connection with the natural world – the outside world.
If I could jump into Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, I would add one three letter word at the end… “Yes!”
Yes, there is someone out there, just like you. In fact millions, just like you. Human beings all over our world just wanting to connect in an authentic and meaningful way. But how do we overcome alienation that has become so pervasive?
It starts with a light switch. We begin by turning on the lights in the dark room for those who are lonely so they can see that there are others in the room.
We must recognize alienation and loneliness and label them as enemies of what is good, true and beautiful about the human experience. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. When humans don’t have connections, they can’t live meaningful lives of vibrance. We need relationships – we need each other. Our creator designed us to be in relationship.
We must restore what has been lost in this current lonely age.
If we do nothing, I fear that history will see this chapter as the loneliest in western culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it starts with you and me. Whether its the kitchen, the campfire or the nursing home on the holidays, we must be intentional about bringing life back to life. We bring hope and connection to the lonely lives of others and ourselves.
Restoration overcomes alienation. We must work to rescue one another from the cold grip of loneliness and despair. We restore lives through relationships.
To the haunting voice that asks, “Is there anybody out there?” We must break through self-built walls and shout, “Yes, we are here!” and “You are not alone!” and “God loves you and so do we!”
Now, go and do. The cure for alienation is real-life personal connection. That connection needs to be restored.
“And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26-28a)
The Bible says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
In times of cynicism, banality, negativity and outrage there are two kinds of people. There are those who race to the bottom and make things worse. Then, there are those who elevate the cultural conversation and take action.
A few bad actors don’t make an entire group of people bad.
Don’t judge a philosophy by its misuse.
What is meant for good can be used for evil and vice versa.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Worldview matters. A vital key to understanding reality is to know what is good, what is true and what is beautiful. Only when we know those core essentials can we create a vision of restoration and act on it. C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Engage reality – create solutions, combat evil, restore people and relationships.
Ask these four questions
1. What is good you can celebrate?
2. What is missing you can contribute or create?
3. What is evil you can stop?
4. What is broken you can restore?
Develop these three life skills
Wisdom (the art of living well in light of objective truth – in community, in our cultural moment)
Discernment (identifying the nature of things – good or evil)
Moral Courage (the will to stand for what is good, true and beautiful)
Goodness, truth and beauty find their source in God. When you look at a world in crisis, ask yourself; What is Good, True and Beautiful? When you experience brokenness, understand that it’s not supposed to be this way. Ask the four questions before racing to the bottom.
Elevate the conversation and respond with your heart set on restoration.
Practice – Training
Next time you sit with your family for dinner, ask each person to share something good, true and beautiful they’ve experienced today. Challenge them to focus on these things over the next week – to see their reality differently. When we know what is good, true and beautiful – we can frame solutions to all the bad stuff and negativity in our world. Our ministry is based on a good, true and beautiful God. Its from that foundation that we deal with sin, brokenness, evil and pain. Our mission is reconciliation and restoration.
*Note: The ideas in this post flow from Colson Fellows course study and talks given by John Stonestreet (Colson Center). I am thankful for those who stir the hearts and minds of men to think carefully in our culture.
The other day, I went to the optometrist to get my eyes checked.
After my appointment, I strolled into the eye glasses shop to get my glasses adjusted.
The optician was a kind lady and I could tell at once she REALLY loved her job. She was so excited to adjust my bent glasses. She knew I wasn’t going to buy anything, she didn’t care about that.
After introducing myself, I remarked, “You must really love your work.” Her eyes began to shine and twinkle.
She responded, “I love my job because I get to help people see.” She continued, “Your eye doctor is the best and he wants the best for his patients. When they come to me, I give them the best glasses. So, I get to help people see!”
Wow! What a lovely and contagious attitude.
As Christ-followers, we get to help people see too. We help people see Jesus. Whether we’re meeting a need, preaching, praying for someone or answering tough questions; we are clearing a sight-line to Jesus. He is the good doctor who is responsible for opening their eyes to the truth. But in God’s providence, we get to be a part of his work by sharing the gospel. That is staggering. What a privilege.
What if my attitude was more like that lady in the eye-glass store?
What a winsome way to open up a spiritual conversation with someone; “I love my work because I get to help people see!”
We don’t have to optician to help people see our Savior. We’ve got everything we need in Him. The question is, “Who am I helping to see Jesus right now?”
May this encourage you to ‘see’ your ministry from a different angle today.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.