By Micah Carter
Editor’s note: We’re starting a new segment on ThreadsMedia.com called Theology Thursday. Each week we’ll explore a doctrine or important element of the Christian faith, including the areas of discussion (and possibly debate) that come with it. Enjoy!
Boxing great Joe Frazier is considered one of the ten greatest boxers of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization, finishing his career at 32-4-1 and a two-time heavyweight champion. His epic battles in the ring with the heavy-handed George Foreman or the flamboyant Muhammad Ali are the stuff of legend, especially for those who follow the sport. Sadly, on November 7, 2011, “Smokin’ Joe” lost the toughest fight of his life — a bout with liver cancer.
As legendary as his fights with Ali may have been, it was their ongoing tussle outside the ring that provokes me to consider the issue for this post: reconciliation.
It’s well known that Frazier and Ali hated each other, at least in the public eye. They often and repeatedly exchanged insults that were, as one writer put it, “interspersed with brief reconciliations.” We’ll never know if full reconciliation was ever realized, although late-in-life diseases seemed to soften them toward each other. There’s hope that things got fixed in the end.
Defining the Issue
By definition, reconciliation is the restoration of a broken or strained relationship. It can also mean, “to make consistent or congruous.”
Reconciliation is one of the primary themes in the gospel of Jesus Christ—the restoration of a broken relationship between us and God. On account of sin (and death), humanity is alienated from God and desperately needs something, or Someone, to put things back into order and harmony.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, Paul’s theology of reconciliation is front and center. He said:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ 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 He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God” (HCSB).
Reconciliation is God’s idea, and He initiates it. He’s reconciling us and the world to Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. And this has been in God’s mind and mission from the beginning (Gen 3:15; Acts 2:23; Eph 1:9-10).
When we are reconciled to God through Christ, we become new creations — the old is gone and the new has been inaugurated. That means what is true of Christ is true of us (Rom 6:3-11), and now we are called to embody a new identity, a new character, and a new purpose as we are conformed into Jesus’ image (Rom 8:28-29).
But there’s more. Once our relationship with God is restored, our relationships with others must also reflect the values of God’s kingdom. That’s why the great commandment lifted up by Jesus is to love God with our entire being and also to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39).
The reality of our reconciliation with God brings with it the responsibility of reconciliation with others. Paul insists that God has entrusted to us the message and ministry of reconciliation. Think about it: how much better to display this message than allow the gospel to work itself out in our broken or strained relationships?
Ali and Frazier had a long-standing beef with each other that was “interspersed with brief reconciliations.” What about you? Are there relationships like this in your life that are broken or strained, needing reconciliation?
Maybe you’re about to feel the strain of those relationships as family and friends gather for the holidays. Maybe those tensions and histories are about to rise to the surface once again. If so, let the gospel breathe its life-giving power and healing into those relationships.
But perhaps the main issue is where you stand with God. Maybe this post has unearthed the fact that you need to be reconciled to Him. There’s no more poignant time to receive such a gift than the season of Christmas. The birth of Christ reminds us that God loves us (John 3:16) and that he desires to bring us into His family (Gal 4:4-5).
So, like Paul, “we plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’”
Micah Carter is the Editorial Project Leader for Threads by Lifeway — a job that requires the added title “Minister of Reconciliation.”