In Part 1 I explored the meaning of the life of Christ as he related to God (loving God, as he did). Now I want to apply that thinking to the Cross and reconciliation. To get to the point, I’ll start with a quote from Dr. R. C. Sproul; read it carefully, as it is my intention that we give it a close reading:
We are estranged from him. Not only are we at enmity with God, but God is at enmity with us. God is the natural enemy of corrupt sinners….On the cross by his work of propitiation Jesus reconciled the Father to the Father’s people….God was reconciled toward us while we were still estranged from him. The Righteous Shall Live by Faith., 164.
He is correct that man and God are at enmity in both directions (starting in the Garden and Adam’s attack on God). However, this warfare is not alike in both directions, though it is a common warfare. To the point: The death of Jesus did not reconcile the Father to us, but reconciled us to him.
The distinction is worth some effort to get straight. God, being the offended party (and rightly so), was the one who had to have his anger towards us satisfied. Of course, we were offended by God, but our dissatisfaction with him was not from being right, but from being sinners. In this mutually felt enmity, we were not the ones who needed to be appeased (as if we were right that God was the wrong kind of god), but it was God who had the just claim of being transgressed. He was the innocent party, and we the guilty.
That means that we do not need to be brought into right relationship with him as if the two parties have equal claims, and both must lay down their arms– “let’s meet in the middle and call it a truce.” We are, indeed, brought to peace, but not by him being reconciled to us, but by us being converted. In the peace process, there is a different thing that happens to us than what happens to him.
R. C. Sproul goes on to get it right: “On the day that God became satisfied and was no longer in opposition to his people, we did not automatically change.” He is hitting on one side of the equation squarely. He uses the language of change. And we see that on the day Christ died, God changed. God did not change in his character (i.e., he did not decide to become a different kind of God), but was changed in his posture towards us whom he loved. He loved us (his enemies) before he died for us, but he was not satisfied to bring us into his kingdom. We were yet alienated. The Cross of reconciliation brought about the change of reconciliation, and this is a descriptor of what happened to God. The Cross did its work on God. It is Godward in its effect.
That’s one direction. There is another. The work of Christ was both Godward and sinner-ward (just not in the exact same way for each).
We were reconciled to God by his death and God was the actor and object/recipient of this work. He reconciled us to himself. That’s the God-side of the equation. On the sinner side, we get resurrected from our warring hatred and our sin-death condition. We get re-made to see, love and enjoy his goodness. We are changed too. But our change is a different kind of change. He does not change in his Godness, but we become a different kind of human. God, when he changes, does not become a different kind of God, but the effect of the Cross causes him to become actionably favorable towards us (that’s the change). On our side of the equation, we become new creation, and we change in many ways, which is summarized by us moving from death to life. His is moving from dissatisfied to satisfied. He is to be reconciled, ours is to be made new.
“We were reconciled [to God] by his death, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” — Romans 5:10.
Here, in Romans 5:10, we see both sides. The difference of each may be accentuated by saying what the verse does not say alongside what it does say. Notice then, God was not saved. We were saved. Likewise, God was not reconciled to us, but God us to himself. And here Paul says it all in one verse. We were reconciled to God (he was the offended party), and so God changed in that way (and not some other), and then we become changed as well. Namely, Jesus came back from the dead and brings other humans with him. The righteous God-Man was slain, and the self-same dead human came alive again. The work of Christ is working both ways. He is reconciling us to God in his death, and bringing us into life by his life. We get resurrected with him.
Another way to say it all, is to deny the absurd. Namely, the wrath of sinners was not satisfied in the cross. We don’t have any righteous wrath that needs to be satisfied by justice. It would be absurd to think otherwise! It is God who is righteous; he is the one who must be reconciled and appeased and made satisfied. For us sinners, we are the ones who must be made new.
A little story may wrap it up nicely. There was an older brother who would fight his younger brother, and come against him; the younger was defenseless. He wished for his parents to stop the fights. Instead, they insisted that the two get along. The adults acted as if the violence was two-way. And in that, they treated the whole warfare as one event and all parties the same. In reality, one of them was defenseless, innocent and genuinely assaulted. It is an injustice when parents do not try to sift-out the facts of a fight–wishing to end the fight, they punish all parties equally. Ending a fight is not an act of justice (all by itself). Figuring out who the offending party is, and dealing out justice, that is the way of satisfaction.
We can’t look upon God and man as two quarreling parties with Jesus coming along and telling them to stop their bickering. That’s not the kind of enmity between God and man. It is the kind of enmity that is the aggression of a sinner against the one who is innocent, loving, kind, good and righteous. It is an unprovoked attack. And in that violent attack, God is assailed because his creatures have pure contempt for good and violent love of evil. Their throats are an open grave.