2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Easy-to-Read Version
16 From this time on we don’t think of anyone as the world thinks of people. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we don’t think that way now. 17 When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world.[a] The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new! 18 All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between himself and us. And God gave us the work of bringing people into peace with him. 19 I mean that God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold people guilty for their sins. And he gave us this message of peace to tell people. 20 So we have been sent to speak for Christ. It is like God is calling to people through us. We speak for Christ when we beg you to be at peace with God. 21 Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin[b] so that in Christ we could be right with God.
The Word of God for the Children of God.
Adeste Fideles! Laeti Triumphantes! Venite Adoremus! Dominum.
Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.
The God of Reconciliation
Because of sin, we human beings are in constant and continuous rebellion.
From the beginning of Genesis until the final verses of Revelation, we are at war with our God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and too with God’s creation.
By ourselves, we would never return to God.
We cannot hope to change our own heart.
We cannot hope to change anyone else’s heart.
We cannot hope to change God’s heart.
Without God, we don’t even have the wherewithal to realize that we are mired in the very worst kind of muck and stuck and lost in the lethal misery of sin.
Salvation is not a human initiative.
God took the initiative to reconcile us to himself.
God loves us so much that He sent his Son to save us not condemn us.
The absolutely innocent seeks the perfectly guilty.
The agent of reconciliation is Jesus Christ.
And now through Christ we can turn to God.
And now through Christ we can offer others the opportunity to turn to God.
Jesus is the one and only way to God.
He is the door, the gateway, to salvation.
He is the mediator who reconciles us to the Father.
To reconcile us to himself, God did not keep our transgressions on our account.
Instead, he laid the full weight of them square on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.
On the cross at Calvary, with His life blood, for love alone, the Son of God set himself aside, paid in full the debt that was against us, completely set us free.
And God credited us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ so that no condemnation can weigh on us any longer.
Can anyone contemplate the magnitude of that statement?
Of exactly what Jesus was bringing with Him when He came into the world?
Of exactly what Jesus was offering us unrepentant sinners when He came to us?
About Those Unrepentant Sinners
Matthew 10:1-4 Easy-to-Read Version
Jesus Sends His Apostles on a Mission
10 Jesus called his twelve followers together. He gave them power over evil spirits and power to heal every kind of disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles:
Simon (also called Peter),
Andrew, the brother of Peter,
James, the son of Zebedee,
John, the brother of James,
Matthew, the tax collector,
James, the son of Alphaeus,
4 Simon, the Zealot,
Judas Iscariot (the one who handed Jesus over to his enemies).
Interestingly, Jesus chose these 12 young men who, at the time, had no real relationship with God.
They resided within the fringe of religiosity.
They were Jews, yes, but not born-again believers in Jesus Christ.
That didn’t happen until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Until that time, they were disciples (“learners”) and friends of the man they hoped was the Messiah, the one who would redeem them from Roman rule.
Does that surprise you: that Jesus chose unsaved, Jewish-born men to be his closest followers?
That was his intention, honestly.
He was sent by God to purposely “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Seek in Greek (zēteō) means “to search for, to crave.”
Jesus intentionally searched out, purposely sought after and deeply craved relationships with those who were unregenerate, with those who were the complete antithesis of himself: sinless, pure, and holy.
The reason I bring this up is many believers today have unsaved friends in their circle of relationships, and they may feel guilty (or even ashamed) that they do.
After all, some believers think that Christians should keep the unsaved at a distance, citing 1 Corinthians 15:33 Amplified as justification.
33 Do not be deceived: [a]“Bad company corrupts good morals.”
Yet, we, of all people, should, like Jesus, be seeking out the unsaved, craving their friendship (though not their influence), with the intention of being ambassadors for the Almighty, out of obedience to fulfilling the Great Commission of “making disciples,” and with the hope of bringing these unsaved friends to the Light, to receive the free gift of grace through faith.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 Amplified Bible
16 So from now on we regard no one from a human point of view [according to worldly standards and values]. Though we have known Christ from a human point of view, now we no longer know Him in this way. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].
What About Our Loving Our Unsaved Friends?
John 13:34-35 Amplified Bible
34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you [a]love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”
I have unsaved friends and acquaintances.
And I believe, based on Jesus’ example with his disciples, that that’s a good thing.
From my own experience, here are a few ways (which are not exhaustive) to express our love to our unsaved friends.
These can also apply to unsaved family members, co-workers, neighbors—anyone in your relationship sphere who doesn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
1. Value Them
This should go without saying, but in fact, in our culture today, which is so fraught with immediate polarization, immediate negative reactions around issues, sometimes we believers can tend to—perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally—“devalue” those who hold opposite principles than us.
We wont talk to them to avoid giving “offense.”
We will dance a waltz around them as we avoid stepping on fragile eggs that are invisibly spread impossibly far, wide, across every walking surface imaginable.
As if they are some kind of mythical vampire or werewolf, in our minds we will carry our crosses high and far out in front of us, waving them to ward them off.
We can tend to think less of them, we can tend to unintentionally dismiss them, and even pass our judgment on them out of self-righteousness and false piety.
But every person, whether we agree with them politically, morally, religiously, ethically, has value for the simple fact they are created by God, bear his image.
Even in their sinful state, they still carry God’s imprint.
Like us they bear the common-grace markings of God through the expression of their thoughts, morals, their ethics, their emotions, intellect, and creativity.
So, first off, as Christ himself did when he sought out His first twelve disciples, seek to value each unsaved friend as a God-created, God-imprinted person.
Look past their opinions, beliefs, and leanings.
Look at them through the lens of Creation,
based on Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (my emphasis added).
2. Accept Them
Accept them exactly where they are at.
The unsaved are going to act as, well, unsaved.
Their souls, minds, and hearts are un-regenerated.
They will think, believe, and act out of their sin-nature.
They will speak profanely, they will offend by speech or hygiene, they will drink (often to excess), they will be promiscuous, and they will slander and hate too.
They will act foolishly, irrationally, and sinfully.
Given this, we’re not to condemn them.
Frankly, we should expect them act unbecomingly in their depravity.
It should not shock us nor surprise us.
After all, we once did, too, before we surrendered our lives to Jesus as Savior and to the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier (Titus 3:3).
Therefore, God says we have no business passing judgment on our worldly-minded, worldly-living, unsaved friends, based on 1 Corinthians 5:12:
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”
However, we aren’t to condone their behavior, either.
We graciously accept them as a person without condoning their sinful choices.
But when asked,
we gently and respectfully tell them we don’t agree or approve of their behavior (1 Peter 3:15-16), we use this “GOD” opportunity to share how we are compelled, because of what Jesus did for us, to now live under the guidance of God’s ways.
15 But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect. 16 And see to it that your conscience is entirely clear, so that every time you are slandered or falsely accused, those who attack or disparage your good behavior in Christ will be shamed [by their own words].
3. Listen to Them
Oftentimes we think the best way to show love is to talk—even if it’s about God—when in actuality, it’s to listen.
That old idiom,
“God gave us one mouth and two ears,” rings loud and true in this case.
When people feel listened to—really listened to—they feel respected, valued, and cared about.
Not to mention that God values a genuinely attentive listener.
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).
As people, they also have hopes and dreams, desires and aspirations, and pain and long-buried hurts, some of which may have been caused by the Church or other Christians.
Listening to them helps us to build commonality with them, and compassion for them, especially in their suffering.
Listening also breeds understanding.
We may not agree with our friend’s views, but listening allows us to come to an understanding of how and why they think and believe the way they do.
people like nothing more than to be understood and appreciated for their opinions, values, and beliefs, even if they’re on the wrong side of the Bible.
Another benefit of listening—which was a new thought for me—is that it breeds patience in us, the listener.
Sitting and listening to someone you disagree with is difficult.
You will have to have patience.
And if you haven’t already developed the necessary tolerance for this task, just the practice of hearing others more often will gradually help you to create it.
If you find that you are struggling with the activity, try to remember you are listening to learn something new.
You can also listen with the intent to ask questions, and this will help you focus on the words the other person is saying more carefully.
So, listen to learn and understand.
Listen to show respect and value.
Listen to cultivate patience and compassion.
Conversely, listening will also earn you the right to be listened to.
Tit for tat, so to speak.
And then you have the wonderful opportunity to speak the truths of God, and your unsaved friend will likely be more apt to listen, to be a bit more receptive.
4. Pray for Them
“Prayer is the work,” someone once told me.
How true that is.
Prayer is the behind-the-scenes work in which all believers should be engaged.
Prayer is the work of seeking open doors for Gospel witnessing, of building God’s Kingdom.
James even tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Prayer Builds Relationship With God.
Joyful hope and patience in affliction go against the grain of our own natures.
Despair and self-pity come much more easily.
In times like that, it’s important to turn to God in prayer.
We pray for many reasons: to thank God for blessings, to praise God, to confess sins, to seek God’s guidance.
In addition, we pray to ask God for help.
Asking God for help may be the most natural prayer of all.
Sometimes God answers our requests for help exactly as we ask, sometimes not.
Either way, the Bible calls us to be unceasingly faithful in prayer.
Prayer—thanking, praising, confessing, asking for help—connects us with God.
Prayer builds relationship.
Prayer strengthens the bond between God, our unsaved friends and us.
When you have a good relationship with someone, hopefulness and patience become a little easier, especially when that Someone is the Creator, Sustainer of the entire universe.
With regards to your unsaved friends (or whomever the Lord has burdened your heart with):
- Pray for their hardened hearts to be softened (Romans 2:5)
- Pray that God implants a new, humble, clean, pure, and believing heart within them (Ezekiel 36:26, Matthew 18:4, Psalm 51:10, Matthew 5:8, Romans 10:10).
- Pray that their darkened minds may be enlightened to understand God’s truths, to be renewed, transformed, and focused on things above rather than on things below (Ephesians 4:18, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:12).
- Pray for blind eyes to suddenly “see” the Light of this world, which saves, and the glory of God and his goodness (2 Corinthians 4:4, Luke 4:18, John 3:3, Psalm 34:8, John 8:12).
- Pray for plugged ears become unplugged, to suddenly “hear” the Good News (Romans 1:16, 10:14, 17).
5. Be More Like Jesus: Show Them Grace
John 1:14 Amplified Bible
The Word Made Flesh
14 And the Word (Christ) became flesh, and lived among us; and we [actually] saw His glory, glory as belongs to the [One and] only begotten Son of the Father, [the Son who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, who is] full of grace and truth (absolutely free of deception).
Jesus was God’s grace personified.
He came not to condemn but to show grace to those who least deserved it: the sinners.
He extended a helping hand to those who were suffering, he likewise extended a kind word to those who were desperate, and, when necessary, he too unerringly spoke the hardcore truth in confronting the nature of our sin, and yet with love.
Grace upon grace.
We should be God’s grace personified, as well, to our unsaved friends.
We may be the only people who show them grace when they fail or sin grievously.
Our extending grace to them when all others are judging and dismissing may just be exactly what they need to experience for them to finally see their need for a Savior, to repent, to pray their sinners prayer and so to receive salvation.
What About Our “Efforts” to Love as Jesus Loved?
As believers in Christ, yes, we’re called to remain holy (“separate”) in our conduct and are not to conform to this world.
But that isn’t justification to withdraw from the world or from its people.
Quite the opposite.
Distancing ourselves from the unsaved is not an option, nor is it even biblical.
Rather, Jesus told his disciples and us to “Go” into the world (“to all nations”) and to make disciples for the transformation of the world. (Matthew 28:19-20)
And many times, only but by the grace of God, does that happen, when we all intentionally and prayerfully build up genuine friendships with the unsaved.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Reconciling Christ, by Your grace, forgiveness and mercy, bless our efforts to bring about reconciliation. Give us the strength to persevere without counting the hurts, and to find within ourselves the capacity to keep on loving.
Give us the grace to be able to stand in the middle of situations, and to be a conduit for the deep listening which can lead to healing and forgiveness.
Help us to conduct ourselves with dignity, giving and expecting respect, moving from prayer to action, and from action back again into prayer.
Grant that we may be so thoroughly grounded and rooted in your love, that our security is not threatened if we change our minds, or begin to see a better way to act.
Bless those who are called to reconcile on a large-scale –politicians, world leaders, leaders of business, and those who stand in the midst of bitter conflict.
Reconciling Christ, bless us and bless all who engage in the sacred work of envisioning new wholeness, and bringing people and nations together. AMEN.
Adeste Fideles! Laeti Triumphantes! Venite Adoremus! Dominum.Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.