The atonement as sacrifice presupposes the guilt of sin and shows how the atonement provides for the payment of the penalty that the legal guilt demands. The atonement as propitiation presupposes that we are legally unrighteous in the sight of God and shows how the atonement provides a covering so that God sees us as legally righteous before him. The atonement as reconciliation presupposes that we are legally alienated from God and shows how the atonement makes it possible for us to drawnear to God. What we have in mind here is not our enmity towards God but rather God’s alienation from us. So it is appropriate to say that we are reconciled to God and not that God is reconciled to us. God is the wronged party in the relationship. So the action of reconciliation is the removal of God’s ground of alienation from us and the result of reconciliation is that our relationship with God is again harmonious and peaceful. We will look at two passages on this.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:8-11)Paul does not have subjective human feelings, in the sense of our feeling alienated from God, in sight here but the divine attitude toward us because of the work of Christ. So first we see that Paul’s focus is on what was accomplished once-for-all in history by the work of Christ. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son. Along with this idea of reconciliation we see that Paul also says that we were justified by his blood. We know that justification is a forensic and legal declaration of our standing before God. Therefore we can say that reconciliation has a similar forensic force in declaring that God’s grounds for alienation from us have been removed. So now we rejoice that we do not suffer alienation from God any longer but instead enjoy his favor and blessings upon us as we are in right relationship with him.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)Here we can make several observations. (1) We see that as God was reconciling us and the world to himself in and through Christ that this reconciliation is not our work but is the monergistic (one worker) activity of God. He alone accomplishes the reconciliation in Christ. (2) This is a completed work of God. There is no further work of reconciliation that needs to be done. In Christ God has accomplished his work of reconciliation. It is finished and applied to each believer at the very beginning of their Christian life. (3) Again we see that this reconciliation is forensic. It is done as our sins are not counted against us but against Christ and that in turn his righteous is counted to us. So the reconciliation is a legal declaration that the grounds for God’s alienation from us have been removed and that in Christ we now stand righteous before a just and holy God. (4) This message of reconciliation is now the Gospel message that is proclaimed. Murray writes:
The accomplished work of reconciliation is the message committed to the messengers of the gospel (ver. 19). It constitutes the content of the message. But the message is that which is declared to be a fact. Conversion, it ought to be remembered, is not the gospel. It is the demand of the gospel message and the proper response to it. Any transformation which occurs in us is the effect in us of that which is proclaimed to have been accomplished by God. The change in our hearts and minds presupposes the reconciliation. (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 41).
Therefore when we make an evangelistic plea for people to be reconciled to God we are not asking them to do something to accomplish that reconciliation. We ask to claim by faith was Christ has already done to reconcile them and trust that the Holy Spirit works through that faith to apply the salvation that Christ accomplished to them. The only grounds for proclaiming that sinners can be saved by God's grace through faith in Christ is the fact that Christ has accomplished salvation and made it available to as many as believe him (John 1:12).