There are four important NT passages which treat of the work of Christ under the figure of reconciliation, namely, Rom. 5:10f.; 2 Cor. 5:18ff.; Eph. 2:11ff.; Col. 1:19ff. The important Gk. words are the noun katallagē and the verbs katallassō and apokatallassō. Reconciliation properly applies not to good relations in general but to the doing away of an enmity, the bridging over of a quarrel. It implies that the parties being reconciled were formerly hostile to one another. The Bible tells us bluntly that sinners are ‘enemies’ of God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; Jas. 4:4). We should not minimize the seriousness of these and similar passages. An enemy is not someone who comes a little short of being a friend. He is in the other camp. He is altogether opposed. The NT pictures God in vigorous opposition to everything that is evil.
Now the way to overcome enmity is to take away the cause of the quarrel. We may apologize for the hasty word, we may pay the money that is due, we may make what reparation or restitution is appropriate. But in every case the way to reconciliation lies through an effective grappling with the root cause of the enmity. Christ died to put away our sin. In this way he dealt with the enmity between man and God. He put it out of the way. He made the way wide open for men to come back to God. It is this which is described by the term ‘reconciliation’.
It is interesting to notice that no NT passage speaks of Christ as reconciling God to man. Always the stress is on man’s being reconciled. This in the nature of the case is very important. It is man’s sin which has caused the enmity. It is man’s sin that has had to be dealt with. Man may very well be called on in the words of 2 Cor. 5:20 to be ‘reconciled to God’. Some students go on from this to suggest that Christ’s reconciling activities are concerned only with man. But it is difficult to harmonize this with the general NT position. That which set up the barrier was the demand of God’s holiness for uprightness in man. Man, left to himself, is content to let bygones be bygones. He is not particularly worried by his sin. Certainly he feels no hostility to God on account of his sin. The barrier arises because God demands holiness in man. Therefore when the process of reconciliation has been effected it is impossible to say it is completely man-ward, and not God-ward in any sense. There must be a change from God’s side if all that is involved in such expressions as ‘the wrath of God’ is no longer exercised towards man.
This does not mean a change in God’s love. The Bible is very clear that God’s love to man never varies no matter what man may do. Indeed, the whole atoning work of Christ stems from God’s great love. It was ‘while we were yet sinners’ that ‘Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). This truth must be zealously guarded. But at the same time we must not allow ourselves to slip into the position of maintaining that reconciliation is a purely subjective process. Reconciliation in some sense was effected outside man before anything happened within man. Paul can speak of Christ ‘through whom we have now received our reconciliation’ (Rom. 5:11). A reconciliation that can be ‘received’ must be proffered (and thus in some sense accomplished) before men received it. In other words, we must think of reconciliation as having effects both God-ward and man-ward.
Morris, L. L. (1996). Reconciliation. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., pp. 1002–1003). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.