On October 20, 2019, I had the privilege to fill the pulpit at my home church, Fairview Community Church, in Fairview, Tennessee. The sermon title was “Rescued to be a Rescuer” (borrowed from Ron Hutchcraft), and the text was 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. During my preparation, I discovered an extremely exciting correlation between the definition of katallassō (translated by the ESV as “who … reconciled“, “reconciling”, and “be reconciled”) and katallagē (translated by the ESV as “of reconciliation“) and God’s plan of salvation.
Initially, let’s look at the text of 2 Corinthians 5:18–21 (ESV), which reads (emphasis added):
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled (katallassō ) us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (katallagē); 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling (katallassō ) the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (katallagē). 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled (katallassō ) to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Note that Paul uses katallagē or katallassō a total of five times. Five usages in four verses show that Paul wanted to make the following points: (1) a believer has been reconciled to God through Christ, and (2) God has given each believer a ministry (and the message) of reconciliation. In other words, God has saved each believer to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
In his book entitled The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, (2007), Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, Mark Dever presents a succinct description of the gospel:
… the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in His image to know Him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him. In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
The basic definition of katallagē and katallassō was taken from Louw and Nida reads:
40.1 καταλλάσσω; καταλλαγή, ῆς f; ἀποκαταλλάσσω; συναλλάσσω: to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 501). New York: United Bible Societies.
Here is the neat correlation between the steps Louw & Nida list to define katallagē and katallassō, and the elements of God’s plan of salvation. First, there was a disruption of friendly relations between God and humankind because of a real provocation, which was Adam’s sin. In the beginning, everything was right between God and mankind. Yet, through Adam’s rebellion, sin entered into the world, so there was a disruption due to a real provocation. The applicable portion of the above plan of salvation reads:
the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in His image to know Him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him.
Second, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His physical bodily resurrection from the dead comprises the overt behavior by God designed to remove hostility. The relevant portion of the above plan of salvation reads:
In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness.
Third, a response to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ results in the restoration of original friendly relations between God and humankind. Although one must keep in mind that salvation is an individual matter, i.e., each person is saved individually. The applicable portion of the above plan of salvation reads:
If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
It is encouraging to see a theological lexicon (Spicq, C., & Ernest, J. D. (1994). Theological lexicon of the New Testament (Vol. 2, pp. 265–266). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) set out a six-step definition of katallagē, which generally comprises the elements of God’s plan of salvation:
(1) There is a state of hostility between God and mankind.
(2) God always takes the initiative in reconciliation.
(3) Christ is the instrument of reconciliation.
(4) The apostles are the messengers of reconciliation. There is an assumption that humans must sign on for the reconciliation to be effective.
(5) It is for each one to accept the message of reconciliation for himself or herself.
(6) A new state of affairs results when someone signs on for the reconciliation.
I find it very exciting that the meaning of katallagē and katallassō correlate with the above brief description of God’s saving plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. I hope you do also.
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