“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:14-21).
In this section of the epistle Paul brings before us in a very clear, definite way, the supreme reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see not merely One who loved God His Father and loved the truth, and was therefore willing to die as a martyr for truth, but we Bee One who took His place as a vicarious sacrifice, suffering instead of others, bearing the judgment that sinners deserved in order that they might be delivered from that judgment, and that they might be brought into a new creation, a new relationship with God altogether, and then might go forth with hearts aflame with love for Christ to carry the story of His grace to all men everywhere. This is the way that Christianity has been propagated down through the centuries. Mohammedanism was propagated by the sword. Its advocates said, “Accept the religion of Mohammed or die.” Other systems have been advanced by appeal to selfish interests. But Christianity has been propagated down through all the centuries in the power of the Holy Spirit, through the setting forth of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, calling upon men through Christ to be reconciled to God, and what marvels this gospel has wrought!
The apostle says, “‘The love of Christ constraineth us.” Spurred on by his own sense of that mighty, all-conquering love, he went out into a world of sinners to win men for Christ, “because,” he tells us, “we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead.” That is, mankind as a whole was under sentence of death, that came in with the fall of the first man. Adam stood there before God as our federal head. He was the head of the old creation, and that old creation was on trial in Adam. God said to him, “Thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die” (Gen. 2:17, Margin). Adam deliberately disobeyed this command of God, and he fell under sentence of death, and of course took the entire human race down with him, for all were represented in him as he stood before God. And so all mankind now are in the place of death.
I have sometimes tried to illustrate it like this. Think of the top of this reading-desk as representing paradise, that place in which God put man when He first created him. This hymn-book which I hold erect on the desk may speak to you of Adam as the head of the race. There our first father stood in the position of responsibility before God, a sinless man in Eden. Had he been obedient, he would never have come under the sentence of death, but through disobedience he fell under that sentence. Sinning against God he went down into the place of death; just as I drop this book from the top of the reading-desk to the platform, you may think of Adam falling from that place of sinlessness, where he was free of all condemnation, down into the place of death because of sin. And mark, every person who has ever come into the world since, has come into the world down there in the place of death. Not one has come into the world up here on this plane of sinlessness. Therefore, all are dead, as God looks at men, dead in trespasses and sin. But now think of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes into the world as the sinless One; He stands not only on the plane where Adam was, the plane of innocence, but He is absolutely holy. But He has come to save men. He cannot find any men on this plane of sinlessness; He does not find men enjoying life and fellowship with God. Where does He have to go to find them? He goes down into the place of death where man is. “And that He died for all.” Because men were dead He went down into death, and now He brings believers up with Him in resurrection life. To put them here on the same plane where Adam was before he fell? Oh, no; to lift them infinitely higher, that they may be made members of a new creation of which He is the exalted Head in heaven: “He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
“If Christ died for all, then were all dead.” No man has title to life in himself, but Christ died for all “that they which live,” those who have put their trust in Him, those to whom He has spoken life, now possessors of eternal life through faith, “should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” Why did Christ die? Not only that we should be delivered from death and judgment, but that we should be brought up from our state of death into newness of life. Now our redeemed lives should be devoted to Him that we should live henceforth to the glory of God alone. And so we now look out upon the world through altogether different eyes from those we used when we belonged to it. When men of the world, we made much of the flesh and all that was linked with it. We thought of men as great, or as rich, or as powerful, talented or able, as superior one to another. Some men we despised because they were poor and ignorant and degraded, with little intelligence, and less talented, but now all that is changed. “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh.” We look out now upon this world, not thinking of the different distinctions between man and man, but as seeing a world of sinners for whom Christ died, and we realize that all men, whether rich or poor, foolish or wise, whether barbarian or civilized, whether morons or highly talented, are dear to the heart of God, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). So, in touch with Christ Himself, we are prepared to suffer, to give, to deny ourselves, we are prepared to die, if need be, in order to bring others to a saving knowledge of this redemption which means so much to us.
“Yea,” the apostle continues, “though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.” He is not saying that he personally ever did know Christ after the flesh, but uses the “we” here in order to take in others with him who were actually acquainted with our Lord when here on earth. He is telling us that it is not the incarnate Christ with whom we are linked, it is the resurrected Christ. Incarnation apart from His death would never have saved one poor sinner. We do not think of Him merely as the promised Messiah of Israel, as a great prophet sent of God, as the greatest of all ethical and spiritual teachers, but look far beyond the cross and the grave into the glory, and see Him there exalted at God’s right hand, a Prince and a Saviour, and we go to men in His name to proclaim remission of sins, knowing that when they trust Him, when they believe the message, “If any man be in Christ, it is new creation.” He, the risen, exalted Christ, has now become the Head of an altogether new creation. Who belong to that new creation? All who, though once in death because of sin, have now been quickened into newness of life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, we enter that new creation by being born again.
Does any one say, “How may I know definitely whether I belong to that new creation or not?” Listen to what our Lord Himself says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). I am very fond of the Roman Catholic translation of that verse, the translation that you will find in the Rheims-Douay Version of the Bible. There you read, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and comes not into judgment; but is passed out of death into life.” Is not that a wonderful translation? Do you sense the meaning of it? The Word of God speaks with that double affirmation which is equivalent to the divine oath: “Amen, amen, truly, truly, I say unto you, if you hear My word, and you believe Him that sent Me, you have eternal life, and shall not come into judgment; but you are passed out of death into life.” That is, if you receive the gospel message in your heart, you have everlasting life. It is not something you have to work for, or pray for, it is something that God gives instantaneously when you put your trust in the One who is revealed in the gospel. You will never come into judgment, but already God sees you as having passed out of that condition of death into life, and thus linked with Christ as the Head of the new creation.
“If any man be in Christ, it is new creation.” And in this new creation “old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” We have done with our old state and condition. The old creation fell in Adam; the new creation stands in Christ; and once in Him we are in Him forever. The moment you put your trust in Him God links you up with Him. If Christ fails, the new creation will go down, as the old one did when its head fell. But Christ will never fail. Christ is already seated on the throne of God in heaven, and we are linked with Him, and there in this new creation “all things are of God.” Do not try to read into this what some New Thought advocates seek to read into it. They will take a statement like this and will tell us it means that there is nothing evil in the universe, and so we must not even think of Satan as evil. Satan, they tell us, is only the personification of our wrong thoughts, but we know from the Word of God that our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). There is a great deal of evil in this universe, but it all belongs to the old creation. The apostle is speaking of the new creation, and it is in the new creation that “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ.” This reconciliation is even more than justification. When we come to Christ, all our sins are forgiven; more than that, we are justified from all things. God looks upon us as though we had never sinned at all. Justification is the sentence of the judge in favor of the prisoner, it is God saying, “I declare this man not guilty,” No wonder the apostle tells us, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Reconciliation goes a step farther; it is not only that our sins are forgiven and that divine justice has nothing against us, but it is that He has received us as His own to His loving heart, and we are reconciled to God and we joy in Him.
In our unconverted state we would not have thought such a thing possible. We were happy only when we could get God out of our minds, but now we find our joy in the Lord. It was not the life merely of Jesus that reconciled us, but we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. God in His love and grace had come out to seek us in the Person of the Lord Jesus, and actually in Christ went to the cross and settled the sin question for us. The Lord Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us, and that broke down all the enmity and won our hearts to Him. Hence- forth we are reconciled to the God from whom at one time we turned away.
Now He has given to us a ministry, “the ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry of reconciliation is God’s call to lost men everywhere to come to Him with all their sins, with all their griefs, with all their burdens, and be reconciled to Him. Mark, it is not that God has to be reconciled to us.
God never had one hard thought toward me. Sinner, He has never had one hard thought toward you. You have had hard thoughts toward Him, and because of that you have taken it for granted that of course God felt the same toward you, but He loves you in spite of all your sin and folly and iniquity. God’s heart goes out toward you in love. Jesus did not die in order to enable God to love sinners, but He died because God loves sinners. “God so loved that He gave.” He so loved a world of sinners “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And so it is not God who needs to be reconciled to us, but we as sinners need reconciliation to Him. If you have never yet turned to Him, you need to go to Him, and when you realize something of His grace toward you, you will be reconciled to Him. It is a wonderful thing when all enmity disappears and you can joy in the Lord and rejoice in the God of your salvation. This is reconciliation.
But in the next verses the apostle unfolds this ministry of reconciliation. He says, “And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” The Lord Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was not simply the best of men; but He was God manifest in flesh. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself;” that is, God in Christ was going out after men to try to win them back. They had gone away from Him, trampling on His goodness, spurning His love, actually assailing His righteousness, but here God in Christ goes out after them, pleads with them to return to God, offers to forgive them, to put away all their sins and make them His own. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Christ did not come to charge man’s sins against him but to pay man’s debt. We read of that poor woman in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel and get such a conception of the cruelty and hardness of man’s heart. She had fallen into a heinous sin, and they dragged her into the temple where the people were gathered, and pointed the finger of scorn at her as she stood there with downcast eyes, trembling, overwhelmed with shame. They told the story of her sin and degradation, but what did Jesus do? He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. Why did He do that? In Jeremiah it is written, “They that depart from Me shall be written on the earth” (Jer. 17:13). They were saying of this woman, “What a sinner she is, how vile, how guilty!” but Jesus, by His very act, is saying, “You are all guilty; you are all to be written in the earth. From dust you came, and to dust you go because of sin,” and then lifting Himself up He said, “He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone at her,” and then stooped to the dust again. I think that second going down to the dust suggested that He Himself was about to descend into the place of death to bring poor sinners up to this sphere of life, but as He wrote again upon the dust they turned and went away, from the eldest even until the least. The oldest rascal there, with all his piety, knew he had sins enough to sink his soul to the depths of hell, and the next, until the youngest was gone, and the woman was left alone with Jesus, and of course the multitude standing around. And when Jesus looked up He said, “Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” By that term, “Lord,” she expressed her faith in Him, for “no man can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” And He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (Jno. 8:7-ll).
“Not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The Son of Man came not to condemn the world but to save the world. What! you say, does He not condemn a sin like that? Does He make light of uncleanness and unchastity and licentiousness? No; but for all that sin He was going to the cross. The condemnation was to fall on Him, and because He was to bear that poor woman’s sin, when she trusted in Him, He could send her away uncondemned. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” He has intrusted the administration of the gospel message to us; and Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” We go to men on God’s behalf, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” How can we be reconciled to God? We may be ashamed of our sins, we may grieve over our past, but will not sin ever remain, will it not ever rise up between our souls and God in spite of our deepest repentance? No; because in the cross that question has been fully met to the divine satisfaction. God has made Christ to be sin for us. “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And upon the cross Christ took the sinner’s place, He was treated as though guilty of all the sin and iniquity and unrighteousness of the ages. He was there as the great Sin Offering.
“On Him almighty vengeance fell,
That would have sunk a world to hell;
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding-Place.”
And because He, the sinless One, has died in the place of sinners, we, the sinful, may enter into life, may become the righteousness of God in Him.
This last verse of our chapter epitomizes the deepest meaning of the cross. It shows the One who was sinless inwardly and outwardly, enduring the wrath of God which we deserved. Our sins put Him on the cross. But, having settled the sin-question to the divine satisfaction, He has been raised from the dead and seated as the glorified Man at God’s right hand. There on the throne He is our righteousness. The Father sees every believer in Him, free from all condemnation, made the display of the righteousness of God in Him. He Himself is our righteousness. We are complete in Him. God is satisfied and our consciences are at peace. What a salvation is this!