Examine the Core Theme of Reconciliation in the Bible

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In general, reconciliation is the practice of resolving differences or disputes between two estranged parties. The end goal of reconciliation is to repair and restore broken relationships to peaceful coexistence.

The concept of reconciliation in the Bible relates specifically to the restoration of fellowship between God and humankind and the resulting mending of relationships between human beings. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the one who brings reconciliation between God and people: “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NLT).

Reconciliation in the Bible

  • Reconciliation of the divine-human relationship is a core theme throughout the Bible.
  • Human fellowship with God was broken through sin, establishing the need for reconciliation.
  • God is the initiator and executor of reconciliation through the person of Jesus Christ.
  • Believers are called to bring God’s message of reconciliation to others and be reconciled to one another.

The Greek word translated as “reconciliation” literally means “change” or “exchange,” referring to a change in the status of a relationship. For example, reconciliation might involve exchanging hostility for friendliness, resentment for goodwill, hatred for love.

Reconciliation in the Bible

From Genesis to Revelation, the central biblical message is one of reconciliation. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world, breaking humanity’s relationship with God: “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:2, NLT).

Humans were alienated from God and cut off from fellowship with Him. In the Old Testament, reconciliation was expressed in the blood covenant through atonement for sin (Jeremiah 31:31–34). But the ancient system with its numerous atoning sacrifices proved that humans could not meet all the demands of the Law (Galatians 4:4–5). In and of themselves, people are powerless to fix the problem of sin. We cannot restore ourselves to a perfect and peaceful relationship with God apart from His intervention and help.

God took the initiative in bringing about reconciliation: “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:11, NLT). Humans are so marred by sin that it is impossible for them to even initiate reconciliation. The sinful nature is “always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will” (Romans 8:7, NLT).

Through Jesus Christ, God reconciles the world to Himself, breaking down the barriers of hostility and alienation: “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, NLT).

Ambassadors of Reconciliation

When we accept Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation, we are reconciled to God (Colossians 1:19-20). First, we become God’s ambassadors on earth to spread the message of reconciliation to those who are separated from Him by sin and rebellion. We tell others the good news of the gospel—“that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all …” (Acts 10:36–43).

Second, we do everything we can “to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18–21). We settle differences among ourselves in brotherly love as Jesus taught us, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly...” (Matthew 5:23–26, NLT).

Believers are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and to love not just our friends but our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). In Colossians 3:12–15, the apostle Paul urged, “clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace” (NLT).

Paul told the Ephesians, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you” and “don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27, NLT). He continued, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31–32, NLT). Our willingness to forgive one another as God forgave us, is essential to our role as ambassadors of reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as the Sacrament of Confession or Penance) is a Catholic practice in which worshipers are reconciled to God through confession, absolution, and forgiveness of sins. Catholics believe that acts of confession and penance give worshipers important occasions to experience the proper attitude of sorrow over sin. Such heartfelt repentance activates God’s sanctifying grace—a divine gift that restores the soul and provides the help needed to resist evil and sin.

Scripture teaches that through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of His blood on the cross, we gain access by faith into God’s grace and reconciliation (Romans 5:1–2; Ephesians 2:13-18; Hebrews 10:19–22). First John 1:9 states, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT). The Bible also instructs Christians to confess their sins to one another (James 5:16). Nothing in Scripture requires a person to seek formal reconciliation through a priest.

Reconciliation’s Result

According to the Bible, reconciliation results in God’s wrath and anger over sin being exchanged for His mercy and grace. It also means that our opposition and rebellion toward Him are exchanged for devotion and obedience.

Salvation is the outcome of reconciliation and restored union with God: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV).

Sources

  • Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies.
  • Reconciliation. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1368).
  • Reconciliation. Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words (p. 373).
  • The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (p. 875).
  • Dictionary of Theological Terms (p. 366).
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Fairchild, Mary. "Examine the Core Theme of Reconciliation in the Bible." Learn Religions, Mar. 25, 2022, learnreligions.com/reconciliation-in-the-bible-5220756. Fairchild, Mary. (2022, March 25). Examine the Core Theme of Reconciliation in the Bible. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/reconciliation-in-the-bible-5220756 Fairchild, Mary. "Examine the Core Theme of Reconciliation in the Bible." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/reconciliation-in-the-bible-5220756 (accessed November 29, 2022).