Once you understand the importance of something it changes the way you function.
Let’s take an example from education. It is hard to learn material in a class if you see no relevance or usefulness to the class. English is just a boring requirement until you realize that language skills are foundational to everything you do. Geometry may seem pointless until you recognize that angles are used in our lives everywhere. History seems like dry, dusty and useless facts and figures until you realize that history tells us how we got to where we are and helps us understand why we think the way we do.
In 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 Paul tells us that when he came to understand “our fearful responsibility to the Lord”. This understanding changed the way he lived his life. In the first part of chapter 5 Paul told us he was confident that this life was not all there is. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus we know that there is life beyond the grave. We also know that there will be a Day of Judgment. This means what we do in this life matters much more than we think it does.
Paul says this insight leads to a change in action. There are at least three changes that come about when we understand these truths.
11 Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.
We Inform and Warn Others
The first thing Paul says that happened because he understood that there is life beyond the grave is that he worked to inform and warn others. He wants to persuade others of: their need for a Savior; the fact that Christ alone is that Savior; and the reality that turning to Christ as Savior brings a real change in the direction of our lives and the passions of our hearts.
We live in this time when we are told that we should allow everyone to “do their own thing.” We are to “live and let live”. We “mind our own business”. It is an easy way to live. We don’t have to get involved, we don’t have to wrestle with issues of right and wrong, and we have no responsibility for anyone but ourselves.
However, if you knew someone was in a burning building would you warn them of the danger? If you knew a tornado was bearing down on our community would you warn others? If you saw a child playing in a street and saw a truck coming toward them would you try to save them? I suspect you would in each situation.
Paul is simply saying, if we know that we are all going to give an account of the way we live to the Lord; if we know that the results of this Judgment will have a bearing on forever; if we know that those who do not trust Jesus to save them will spend eternity in torment; how can we simply stand by quietly and watch people seal their fate?
The problem we face is the moment we talk to people about the reality of sin and Judgment people tell us that we are arrogant and think we are better than everyone else. Paul reflects this in the next verses,
12 Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. 13 If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit.
14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
Paul says it doesn’t matter what other people say about us. What matters is loving people enough to care about their eternal destiny. Let me state that again: Paul is saying it doesn’t matter what the critics say or what names they call us. What we must understand is the fact that lost people matter to God. Sinful people need to know they can be forgiven.
Our message is not one of condemnation; our message is to be a gracious invitation. Though no one wants to hear about their sinfulness, the fact is that the message we share is not a negative message: it is a message of hope and new life! Our job is to say to the world: God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves! He summarizes it succinctly in verse 21:
21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Christ, the sinless Son of God, died in our place as an offering for our sin. He paid for our sin. He gave His life so that we could be “right with God”. When we embrace the gift of Christ we become a part of God’s family. This is not something we earn. It is something that is given to us freely. Is that staggering to you? It staggers me. I keep thinking somehow I have to earn this grace and love. God says, “If you could earn it, it would no longer be grace.
When we realize the true nature of what we have been given we are transformed. We no longer live trying to “earn” God’s favor; now we live grateful for the favor we have received. If we understand the liberating nature of the message we will be eager to share it with anyone who will listen.
Christ died for us SO we could live a new life that is no longer focused on us (our failures, our perceived strengths, and even our “needs”). Instead, we now live for Christ. We are forgiven, made right, and then equipped to move in a new direction in our lives.
When you first fell in love you wanted to tell everyone about the person you loved (so much so that most of your friends got sick of all the talk about your boyfriend or girlfriend.) When your child was born you eagerly told the good news to anyone who would listen (or standing still!). When your team wins a big game or a championship you look for ways to bring the victory up in conversation. Why? It is because the love for the individual, the love you feel for the child, or the love and loyalty you have for your team compels you. It is almost as if you can’t help yourself!
This is what Paul is saying! He has experienced the forgiveness, new life and transforming power of God. He experienced the assurance and empowering of God’s Spirit. He knows the difference the Lord makes in our lives. He cannot help but share this information. It is such good news that he has to share it.
But here is the difference: In all the above examples the people you are talking to do not benefit from you sharing. They may share in your joy but it is little to them that life is good for you. With the gospel message it is different. Paul does not simply share because the love of Christ has changed Him . . . He shares the message of the gospel because he now sees others through the eyes of Christ. Paul understood that the message of the gospel is the message people NEED to hear and actually are LONGING to hear.
I can’t imagine that there is anyone in the world who does not yearn to hear a message of forgiveness. Many of us carry with us a truckload of guilt and regret. We have closets filled with hidden secrets that we would be ashamed to tell anyone. Yet the message of the gospel is: God knows your secrets. He knows your struggles. He knows the failures. And in spite of all of this, Jesus has paid for all of those things. You and I are forgiven when we put our trust in Christ. The slate is clean! This is liberating news and we must share it with people everywhere.
There is a second change that took place in Paul because of His new eternal perspective on life.
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
We View Others Differently
The second change that takes place because of the reality of the eternal nature of life is we see other people differently. The common way of looking at people is to evaluate them by their appearance, their income, their grade point average, their ability, their position, their behaviors (or orientations or affiliations) and even their family name. We love to give people labels, put them in boxes, and write them off as not worth our time.
Once we understand the true nature of the gospel we view people through God’s eyes. When we do, we see several things. First, we understand that ALL people matter to God. It doesn’t matter what a person looks like, how much they earn, what title they hold, what job they do, where they have failed in the past or where they struggle in the present. God sees past these superficial things and sees people of value and importance. He sees the treasure He created each person to be.
If we begin to see people with the eyes of Jesus we too will look past surface things. We will see people as those who have worth and dignity. We will work harder to see what most people never take the time to see.
Second, we understand that no one is beyond hope. We are too quick to conclude that the sin of other is somehow different from ours . . . it is not. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to cleanse the most stained or most rebellious. God can redeem atheists, child molesters, war criminals, adulterers, thieves, gang members, and the most offensive person you know! We know this: it is not what you have done . . .but who you turn to that matters. When the person you turn to is Christ your past can be forgiven.
Please hear something: if God can cleanse the most offensive sinner . . . He can also cleanse you. He can cleanse you of that sin for which you are ashamed. He can take away that guilt that weighs you down. He will deliver you from that sense (or even the reality) of failure.
And this leads to the third new perspective: we understand that anyone can begin again. Hear the wonderful words of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”
God is in the business of transforming lives. He does not just transform us at the moment of conversion (when we first believe), He continues to transform us. He can lift us out of discouragement. He will teach us how to forgive. He will help us to rebuild what is broken. He will gradually change the orientation of our hearts. In fact, I have discovered that many mornings after my time with the Lord I come out of that time a new creation yet again. Unfortunately all the changes necessary do not happen over night. Much of the change will take a lifetime . . . but we will change degree by degree as God fashions us into the likeness of Christ.
And this wonderful truth leads us to the third new thing that comes because we understand that there is life beyond the grave.
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
We Live as Christ’s Ambassadors in the World
When we realize who we are in Christ we also realize that we are God’s Ambassadors in the world.
An Ambassador is someone who is a citizen of one country living in a foreign land. For example, a United State Ambassador to China would be an American Citizen who is living in China. In that sense he is a stranger in a foreign land. That of course is what we are in the world. In 1 Peter 2:11 Peter calls us “aliens and strangers” in the world. We are citizens of Heaven who are living in the world. Because we are citizens of a foreign land we will sometimes be viewed as a threat. People will be suspicious of us. At best they will think we are strange.
An Ambassador represents his/her country. The Ambassador speaks for the country he/she serves. In other words, an Ambassador of the United States becomes the voice of the United States in difficult times while in a foreign land. In the same way, you and I speak for God in the world.
It is not our job to be popular. It is not our job to fit in with society. It is not our job to change the message of God in any way, shape, or form. Our job is to carry out His work, in His way, in the world in which we life.
Third, an Ambassador carries the reputation of their country in his hands. An ambassador that acts shamefully brings shame upon his country. An Ambassador that ignores laws, commits crimes, and acts with vulgarity brings stain upon his country. Several American Ambassadors have been recalled because of prostitution scandals. Why? Because their actions reflect badly on our country.
We are Ambassadors with a very specific assignment: to call people back to a relationship with God through Christ. Everything we do; everything we say; every response we give to frustrating times; contributes positively or negatively to the goal. We are representing (or misrepresenting) Him in all we do and say. When we understand our role, we live with a different outlook and perspective.
Paul concludes this section with the first two verses of chapter 6:
As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. 2 For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
These are good words for us. Now that we understand what Christ has done for us; once we see our responsibility as His representatives Paul pleads with us to not simply shrug our shoulders. He says, don’t accept the gift and then ignore how precious that gift is to you.
It’s an appropriate warning. We love someone, we get married and then we too often take them for granted. We bring children into the world, we rejoice at the blessing and love they bring to our hearts, and then we take them for granted and squander the precious moments we have with them while they are young. We get our dream job and then we spend more time complaining about the job than enjoying it.
Paul urges us to consider the implications of the message of the gospel. God calls us to be forgiven and enjoy new life. And in that new life He invites us to take on the new responsibility of sharing that life with others.
Runners in a relay race carry what is called a baton. When the first runner finishes their part (leg) of the race they pass the baton to the next person who continues the race. Once we come to Christ, God hands us the baton. It is our turn to run well and then pass the baton to others.
The right time is now. It is the right time to make that decision to embrace the salvation that God offers. It is time to stop thinking about it, debating it, and putting it off. It is time to say “Yes” to God’s offer of forgiveness and new life.
When playing Poker a card player will reach a point in the game when they say they are “All In”. They bet all their money on the current hand they have been dealt. It is a make it or break it moment.
Now is the time to go “All In” with Jesus. Now is the time to be reconciled to God. If you have never done so, I invite you today to be reconciled (made right) with God. You can begin this process by praying a sincere prayer,
Father, I recognize that I am a sinful person. I acknowledge that there is no way that I can save myself or pay for what I have done through my own resources. I believe Jesus is the only One who can save me. I thank you that He died as a payment for my sin and he rose victorious over the grave. Today I embrace Him as my Savior and I pledge my allegiance to Him as my Lord. Please take me, cleanse me, and make me new I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now is also the time to consider the implications of our faith. We have spent enough time pushing our faith into the corner. We have spent enough time letting everything else have priority in our lives. Let this be the day when you and I realize the significance of our salvation. May we take seriously our responsibility to reach out to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors.
It is time to work at seeing others with the eyes of Christ. It is time to be done with the labels, the gossip, and the judgments. It is time instead to see beauty in the ashes of broken lives. It is time to extend hope to those caught on the treadmill of despair or addiction. It is time to share good news rather than condemnation.
It is time for us to remember whom we represent. We represent the Lord Jesus Christ in everything we do. Every response we make, every word we speak, every choice we make is reflecting on the One who died to make us new. We are part of His glorious Kingdom and it is time that we live like that.