2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians


OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST  2 Corinthians 1-7  (18)

A New Ministry Proceeds from That Blessed Union

 2 Corinthians 5: 18-21 (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute


In this passage Paul approaches one of the most masterful presentations of the Message of the Cross. He began in 2 Corinthians 5: 9 to speak of his all absorbing apostolic motivation to please Christ, caring nothing at all about how others might view him. His was a single hearted devotion to Christ. He realizes that his motivation would have to pass the ultimate test of the Judgment Seat of Christ, but he had no foreboding of that.

He now develops concisely the double edged Message of the Cross. The love of Christ constrains him on the basis of that death to reorder his life: the death of Christ for him and equally his death to self in union with Christ. "He died for all that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose  again" (5:15). Both aspects are absolutely crucial to Paul and the believer.

This dual balance in life reorders his relationships with all people, both past and present. He knows them no longer "after the flesh" with its bitterness and self pity. His knowing of others "after the Spirit" now proceeds toward a total newness in all areas of life, veritably becoming a new creation in union with Christ.

The absolute wonder of this union with Christ is the uniqueness of each believer; the believer retains his own special personality given by God in his marvelous creation. The believer is now purified of his self centeredness. Christ's divine qualities of life are imbedded in him for the greater glory of God the Father. There is no loss of the believer's true selfhood but rather the enhancing of the same.

The Masterpiece of God's Plan of Redemption     2 Corinthians 5:18, 19

Paul assures his readers that "Now all things are of God". It could not be otherwise. Man could never have devised, much less have carried out, such a plan of redemption. Man was the rebel alienated from God by wicked works; there could never be hope of a forgiveness and amnesty for anyone. The genuine offer of forgiveness wrought solely in and through Christ has been offered graciously to the rebel.

The thrust of the passage is not of man's being induced to submit or allow himself to be forgiven but that rather has God provided a plan in place and offers it to the rebel. It is the marvel, the mystery of God's intervention that now must be offered and accepted in order to be realized. God has done all that is required; his holiness and his law have been fully satisfied. It is up to man now to yield, submit and receive. It is not man reconciling God, but God offering man a reconciliation on his divine terms. The initiative is God's. His love has never been called into question, but rather the barrier was man's sin and his unwillingness to bow the knee.

This concept touches on the very heart of the wonder of the Cross. Note carefully the text: "that is, that God was in Christ reconciling to Himself, not imputing (counting or reckoning) their trespasses to them and has committed (deposited in) to us the word (message/ministry) of reconciliation" (5:19). Bishop Moule states it clearly: "the immediate necessary purpose of the blessed Death was propitiatory, expiatory; not the moral suasion of man, nor even the procurement for man of a new spiritual power, but expiation as towards God."[1]

We return to the Old Testament to understand the background of forgiveness. God's absolute holiness and law demanded judgment, the death of the sinner (Ez.18:4). The only way that that righteous judgment could be deferred ceremonially was by a "covering" (expiation) by blood, the death of an animal sacrifice; it was then only a temporary covering. God turned aside; when he saw the blood; he passed over and did not see the sin (Exodus 12:13). God had paid a ransom, a "kófer" (Hebrew) for a ransom or a substitute sacrifice yet future. The covering was an expiation (Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement), for sin (Leviticus 16).

Such a death was propitiatory in that God's righteous wrath was assuaged or appeased and his law satisfied. The blood was sprinkled seven times on the mercy seat (kapporeth). "Whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness" (Romans 5: 25). Of course, all this was to point toward the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). What was temporary and ceremonial then, now in Christ becomes real, valid and retroactive.

The manner of accomplishing this redemption was for his son to take on himself our sins and he would ascribe or impute to us his son's righteousness. There could now never be a question of the quality of our righteousness. It would be nothing less than the absolute perfection of his sinless life imputed or put to our account. What a marvelous transfer!

A New Ministry is Ours by Divine Assignment    2 Corinthians 5: 20

The rest of the verse 5:19 involves you and me directly. He at once imputes to the believing sinner his full forgiveness and at the same time deposits in our account a new ministry, the word of reconciliation.  We are now enfranchised, authorized to spread the word of reconciliation. This is not an option but rather a high privilege. Can there be a higher honor than to be an ambassador of one's own country. It is an honor achieved by very few, to be a spokesman, a representative with the full authority and dignity of the homeland.

Take note once again of the "therefore" of verse 20: "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." Notice the comparisons: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and now we are ambassadors as though God were pleading through us and all on Christ's behalf.  If there is any truth in this passage the ministry is not ours but his; he is the spokesman, the message is His and the results redound to his glory.  How often we tend to take the glory or subtlety to think we are the important ones! As ambassadors of our homeland, how can we complain or lose heart?

Our new ministry is a combination of dignity, honor and also of imploring or pleading that the rebel accept the offer of peace with God.  We speak for God in Christ's behalf--what an honor! 

The Exchanged Life Becomes Ours   2 Corinthians 5: 21

If ours is the dignity to speak for God, no less, there is still much more made available to us in order to comply with his high and holy calling. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." As we share the word of reconciliation, we are co participants in the very life of Christ.  God did the unthinkable: he made his son without sin to be veritably made sin for us at the Cross to the expressed end that we might more fully know him. Now it will not only be his being, our imputed righteousness but our imparted righteous in fact.

I was first introduced to this marvelous truth in High School at Prairie Bible Institute, Three  Hills, Alberta. I was only fifteen when I studied the Life of Hudson Taylor;usdaon Taylor while I did not fully grasp it then, the exposure was the beginning of a new reality. In September 1869, Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, had been a dedicated and faithful missionary but he was struggling in his Christian life. 

The author writes: it was the exchanged life that had come to him - the life that is indeed "No longer I." Six months earlier Hudson had written: "I have continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master." There was no thought of imitation now! It was in blessed reality "Christ liveth in me." And how great the difference! – instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Another.  So great was the deliverance, that from that time onward Mr. Taylor could never do enough to help to make this precious secret plain to hungry hearts wherever he might be."[2]

The realization of this exchanged life came to Hudson Taylor earlier through a letter from John McCarthy, a fellow missionary, who wrote: "The Lord Jesus received is holiness begun; the Lord Jesus cherished is holiness advancing; the Lord Jesus counted upon as never absent would be holiness complete. . . . He is most holy who has most of Christ within, and joys most fully in the finished work. It is defective faith which clogs the feet and causes many a fall." This last sentence, I think I now fully endorse. To let my loving Saviour work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by his grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off to Him; trusting Him for present power; . . . .resting in the love of an almighty Saviour, in the joy of a complete salvation from all sin" This is not new and yet ‘tis new to me.[3]

Yes, in me He dwelleth--/I in Him and He in  me!

And my empty soul He filleth/Now and through eternity.

Horatio Bonar

Yours in the Message of the Cross

Dr .Gordon Johnson

  ;  gejohnson1928@gmail.com  studies;  www.kneillfoster.com

[1] A.C.G. Moule, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (London: Pickering & Inglis, Ltd. 1962). pp.53, 54.

[2] Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, (London; China Inland Mission, 1935), p. 112.

[3] Ibid, p.111.