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2 Corinthians 5:16-21: Jesus Brings Reconciliation with God
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: Share about a time when you shared the good news of Jesus Christ with someone else. What happened? What was the outcome of the conversation?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What is the context for this passage?
This week’s passage comes from 2 Corinthians, Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Corinth was known for it’s sinful and pagan practices, and Paul sent his first letter to instruct the Christians in Corinth how to live moral lives in the midst of this environment. However, false teachers have come and tried to turn the Christians away from Paul’s (and ultimately God’s) teachings. Paul then writes his second letter to address these false teachers and encourage the Christians in Corinth not to turn away from the truth.
In the chapters leading up to 2 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about his ministry—his travel plans (and plan changes), the purpose and passion behind what he does, and the results of his ministry–ultimately focusing on the good news of Jesus Christ. All the while, he weaves in nuggets of theology to help the Corinthians grow in their faith. Here’s a sampling of the topics Paul touches on:
Our competence comes from God (3:5)
The Spirit gives life (3:6)
The glory of the ministry of the Spirit, which brings righteousness (3:7-11)
Freedom in Christ (3:17)
Jesus Christ is Lord (4:5)
Current troubles achieve eternal glory (4:17)
Fix our eyes on what is eternal (4:18)
Longing for heaven (5:2-5)
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (5:10)
Jesus died for all (5:15)
We should live for the one who died for us (5:15)
It is in this context that we come to this week’s passage, which focuses on being reconciled to God.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is 2 Corinthians 5 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God is the only one who can make people new (vs. 18). As much as we would like to believe it, we don’t have the power to fix ourselves. Only God can do that. God is the only one with the power to take a rotten and sinful heart and make it fresh and clean and pure. He can take the person who once persecuted Christians and make them the best advocate for Christ.
God reconciled the world to himself through Christ (vs. 18, 19). The word reconciled means to take a broken relationship and make it right again. Humans broke the relationship with God when Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, and each human after that has followed in their footsteps. If humans broke the relationship, we should be the ones to fix it…but we can’t. Instead, God is the one who came up with a plan to restore the relationship—by sending his Son Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
God does not count people’s sins against them if they are in Christ (vs. 19). One way that God reconciles people to himself is through forgiveness. When people accept Christ’s sacrifice on their own behalf and decide to follow him, God washes us clean of our sins. The Bible says he remembers them no more (Hebrews 8:12, Isaiah 43:25). If God sees us as clean and without sin, then he won’t count our sins against us.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People should not regard others from a worldly view (vs. 16). When we interact with other people, our worldly brain tends to think about physical appearance, status, wealth, and other characteristics that only matter here on this earth. Instead, we should look at people from a heavenly perspective—look at their hearts and their character. We should always be more concerned about their eternal destination than the size of their bank accounts.
People should not regard Christ from a worldly view (vs. 16). When Jesus was on earth, those who weren’t his followers often only came to him for what he could give them—food, healing, miracles. But we are to look to Christ for his eternal gifts—forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life.
People have been given the message of reconciliation (vs. 19). The message that Christ gives to his followers that we are to share with others is the message of reconciliation—how people can become right with God and restore our relationship with him. This message is about the work that Jesus has done on the cross to save us from our sins. Without this gift of trading our sins for his righteousness, we would never be reconciled to God.
People are Christ’s ambassadors to the world (vs. 20). Once we accept God’s gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life, we should want to share that news with others. We become the way through which God reaches the lost. We become his ambassadors here on earth to tell others about Jesus and encourage them to surrender to him. (But don’t confuse your responsibility of sharing the good news with God’s responsibility of changing hearts.)
People need to be reconciled to God (vs. 20). If God has given us a message and ministry of reconciliation, then that must mean one thing: People need to be reconciled to God. In order to spend eternity with God rather than apart from him, we must find a way to restore that relationship between us and God. The good news is that all we have to do is accept his gift. He does the true work of reconciliation through Jesus Christ.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is that those who are in Christ will be made new (vs. 17). God created the world, and all those in it, to be perfect. Sin destroyed that world and introduced evil and hardship to all. God’s greatest desire is to restore what is now broken—to make it new. One day, he will make everything new—a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). But for now, he makes us new one heart at a time.
God’s plan is that those who are in Christ should have a ministry of reconciliation (vs. 18). When we become Christians—Christ followers—we have a new purpose in life. Our job is to have a ministry of reconciliation. We are to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, playing a part in others repairing their relationship with God. This ministry of reconciliation is spelled out clearly in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20).
God’s plan was that Jesus would be our substitute for sin and righteousness (vs. 21). In his love for us, God had a plan for reconciliation that would cost him his own Son. He sent Jesus to earth to take the punishment for sin in our place. Jesus, who had no sin, would take on the sins of the whole world and pay the penalty for sin once for all. In turn, all who believe in Jesus will receive his righteousness in the place of their sin.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
Throughout the Bible, the problem that is presented to us is that we are sinful. The punishment for our sin is death and separation from God. However, the Bible also tells us that God is loving and forgiving, and he desires to rebuild a relationship with each one of us. To accomplish this, God sent his one and only Son, Jesus, into our sinful world to live a perfect life and die in our place in a horrible death on the cross. If we accept this sacrifice on our behalf, Jesus takes on our sin, and we take on his righteousness. Because God now sees us as righteous instead of sinful, we can be reconciled to God and once again be in right relationship with him.
When looking at this week’s passage in 2 Corinthians 5, the thing that strikes me is that all the work for reconciliation is initiated and completed by God. Verses 18 and 19 say that God reconciled us to himself through Christ. Then in verse 21, it tells us that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As humans, we don’t have the power to reconcile ourselves to God. There’s nothing we can do on our own to be good enough to stand before God as righteous. It’s only through God’s work of salvation through Christ that we can be in right relationship with God. Our only responsibility in this is to choose to follow him. God does the rest of the work to pay the penalty for our sins and complete the work of reconciliation.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For additional study related to this topic, read Colossians 1:15-23.
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: 2 Corinthians 5 Resources