Engaging with Our Difficult Past through Christ Our Reconciler

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life!” – Romans 5:10

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell upon him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood shed on his cross; through him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” – Colossians 1:19-20

New beginnings, a fresh start, a blank slate. From celebrating the turn of a new year, to weddings, the birth of babies, and graduations from school, we hold on to the promise of starting afresh and anew for a better tomorrow, while leaving the disappointments, hardships, and heartaches of yesterday behind us.

It is the pain felt from the friction or clash of sinful people against sinful people—from small, petty, and passive ways to overtly violent actions. Pain—whether personal, communal, and/or societal—runs deep in our memories. Ours is a broken world, filled with broken people and relationships. We need something beyond ourselves to confront the pain and bring true healing.

As the Church prepares and celebrates Easter, the season of Lent reminds us of our human frailties, sinful nature, and all of creation’s longing and groaning for salvation, restoration, and reconciliation unto each other and especially unto God. It is for this re-creation and the restoration of the way things were supposed to be before the Fall that the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was necessary and preordained before the foundations of the earth.

It was the work of Christ through his incarnation, in his ministry, upon the cross, and through his resurrection that illustrates the very mission and heart of God to reconcile the world to himself. God’s work of reconciliation through Christ transforms believers into God’s new creation—transformed now into ambassadors of his reconciliation.

All believers, together as the Body of Christ, are called to be agents of hope and reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world. However, too often the Church is caught up in the very conflicts in which it is called to be an agent of reconciliation—places where the divisions of ethnicity, tribe, race, sex, caste, social class, or nation seem to run deeper than the bonds of eternal brotherhood bought by the blood of Christ.

This is evident throughout history up to our current contexts. We see this in sociocultural remnants of apartheid in South Africa, the scars of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, genocide in Rwanda, racism in the USA, and bitter and brutal divisions in the Sudan, India, Ireland, and the West Bank. Unfortunately, whether through silent acceptance or overt violence, Christians can be found caught up in these conflicts.

Although Christians can be found bitterly divided on both sides, as the Body of Christ we are called to pray, critically self-examine, discern, and repent from all that does not align with God’s reconciling mission. To be effective agents of God’s reconciliation, we must learn to boldly name and confess the sins of the past and present, engage in the hard work of forgiveness, live in the re-created ways of repentance empowered by the Holy Spirit, and encourage others to courageously do the same.

Reconciliation is not forgetting the painful past; rather, it is naming and remembering it. We are empowered to engage with our difficult pasts because of God’s justice, forgiveness, and grace.

By engaging in this difficult and painful process in the worst conflicts around the world, Christians have been the faces of compassionate care and hopeful reconciliation. As agents and messengers of God’s reconciliation with the world, Christians must be a people of hope—not a hope of something that is wished for and of which we are uncertain, but rather a hope of things we are certain.

We must offer our broken world the healing and hope in God’s victory over the powers of darkness and death through the work of Christ. Over time, true and deep reconciliation can break in. We are certain of this hope because it is God’s mission of reconciliation through Christ.

We therefore must be bold and prophetic ambassadors for Christ. We cannot lay silent in the midst of destructive powers and conditions around us, but rather actively stand against destructive and dehumanizing powers. Although we have failed greatly in loving our neighbors as ourselves and in being the ambassadors we are called to be, we must continually pray and renew our commitment to boldly reach out in love, compassion, and humility with the hope of reconciliation in Christ.

As we study, discuss, reflect, and strategize upon Christ Our Reconciler and our role as his ambassadors, may the Lord add his blessing and multiply our efforts in bringing his message of healing, salvation, and justice in Christ to our broken world.

Doug Birdsall is executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He served as president of Asian Access from 1991 to 2007 and continues to serve on their board of directors. Birdsall is a graduate of Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.