When the gospel is stated in its bare outlines, it is the kind of thing that takes the breath away. It leaves us stupefied. If we hear the preacher declaring the unvarnished truth, we look heavenward in amazement. You can’t be serious. But in the cross, that moment of glorious exchange, an exchange of sin and righteousness, we see that wisdom of God is terrifying in its mere goodness.
“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 . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:14–6:2).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
We are bound by the love of Christ because of a determination we have made—which is that if one died for all, then all have died (v. 14). And the reason He died for all was so that they could stop living toward themselves, but rather toward the one who died for them and rose again (v. 15). This is why we don’t look at anyone on an earthly level alone anymore—we used to know Christ on that level, but not anymore (v. 16). If someone is in Christ, absolutely everything is transformed, new for old (v. 17) This is all from God, who reconciled us in Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). That is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, refusing to impute their trespasses to them, and giving us the charge to tell them that this is now the case (v. 19). So we are ambassadors, as though God Himself were speaking through us—be reconciled to God (v. 20). For God made the sinless one to be sin for us, so that He could make us, the sinful ones, to be the righteousness of God in Him (v. 21). So then, this is the basis of the gospel appeal. As co-workers of God, we plead with sinners not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1). Paul then states the invitation, using the words of the LXX, quoting Is. 49:9. God says that He has heard us in the time accepted, and has comforted us in the day of salvation—and that day of salvation is now (v. 2).
THROUGH NEW EYES
If we know the gospel, then we have to look at the world differently. Paul absolutely refused to look at anyone in the old way anymore, and this was because he could not look at Christ in the old way anymore— now that Christ had risen. C.S. Lewis put his finger on the direct implication of this:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, help each other to one or other of these destinations” (The Weight of Glory).
When you are dealing with someone who is being tedious, meditate on the glory that is coming for them, and which will swallow them up. And remember, such an exercise is the very best way for you to mortify the ways in which you are being tedious.
THE GROUND OF APPEAL
Note that God objectively reconciled the world to Himself through Christ. The thing is done. We are therefore not pleading with the world to reconcile themselves to God. The plea is that the world has been reconciled, and so therefore be reconciled. To be stiff-necked and rebellious is to be the recipients of grace in vain (6:1). The vanity is on our end, not the Lord’s—His purposes always come to pass. But it is a heartbreak when residents of a saved world insist on their own damnation.
How does God do this? How is this tremendous thing accomplished. Look first at v. 14. One died for all, and therefore all were dead. To grasp this, we have to comprehend the true nature of Christ’s substitutionary death. There are two kinds of substitution. One you see in a basketball game, where one player goes in for another, and that second player goes to the bench. That is one kind of substitution, and it is not the kind of substitution that Christ provides for us.
The second kind of substitution is covenantal or representative substitution. This happens when we elect a congressman, for example, and he goes to Washington to represent our interests. When he votes, we voted. When he is caught up in scandal, we are humiliated. When he does right, we are gratified.
Christ died for all as the representative head of the new human race. Just as when Adam sinned, we sinned (because Adam was our federal representative), so also when Christ died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose, we rose. When He ascended, we ascended. Because of this, all our sins were imputed to Him. Because of this, all His righteousness was imputed to us.
So Christ was never a sinner (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Jn. 3:5; cf. Rom. 5:19; 8:3; John 8:46), but He would knew no sin was made sin (through God’s imputation of our sin to Him). And because of the death that was reckoned there, it became possible for life to reckoned in the other direction (v. 15)—for righteousness to be imputed to us (v. 21).
BUT DO NOT MISS THE INVITATION
So then, when should we act upon this truth? The answer is plain. We should act on it as soon as we hear about it. Look at the calendar. Is it today? Now is the moment. Now is the day of salvation. Look to Christ, and Christ will look toward you.