When we use the word instead, it usually happens something like this. “Can’t you do it instead? I’m busy.” “Wouldn’t you rather do something fun instead of all this work?” “Oh great. It’s them. I would rather it was anyone else instead!” The word instead has become a very selfish concept in our day and age. But it wasn’t always so. Instead literally comes from the old English “In the stead” meaning to stand in the place of. But who stands in the the place of whom? And why? Does the king stand in the stead of His people, or the ambassador stand in the stead of His King? In Paul’s Epistle for today the answer is both … and both are selfless activities worth understanding better.
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. The world sees people as things to be used. As anonymous nothings until we need them. As obstacles to our happiness. We Christians can no longer think of any individual (no matter who!) the way the unconverted thinks of him. Why? Because although we once also regarded Christ as do the unconverted, we now see Him for the greatness He so freely gives to every single undeserving person in this world!
Take the example of Paul himself. Once he knew Christ only as a man. He had rejected Him and persecuted His church. He was offended in Christ, considered Him opposed to Jewish interests, saw Him only with fleshly eyes. He looked at other men in the same blind, fleshly way. But after his conversion Paul regarded all people as precious souls for whom Christ died. After being converted Paul regarded Christ as Son of God and Saviour of all. Christ was no longer a stumbling block to him.
The old things of sin, death, and the devil have passed away. Died as they can only do! The New things of righteousness, life, Christ, heaven are now ours. Why? Because of the universal, vicarious atonement. The new creation is just as great a miracle as is the first creation. It changes not only us, but every single person we meet, by giving them value beyond measure. Only God can bring this about because of Christ’s work, as Paul himself continues.
18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. “Nothing of ourselves. For remission of sins and adoption and unspeakable glory are given to us by Him.” (Chrysostom) God took the initiative. He reconciled and befriended us to Himself. How? Through Christ. This is the vicarious, or substitutionary, atonement. He put Himself in our stead so we can put ourselves in others stead.
Just as important as redemption is the gift of the Word which alone can convert and bring man to a realization of the universal atonement. God is not only the Initiator but also the Finisher of our faith, Hebrews 12:2. . . Reconciliation proceeds from God and returns to God. God reconciled Himself to His enemies through Christ. The ministry of reconciliation reconciles the enemies to God through Christ.
This Word of reconciliation is the Gospel, the Power of God unto salvation. As we read in the Augsburg Confession: “True Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, to have great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled. It means to ask for and expect from God His help in all things with confident assurance that we are to live according to our calling in life, being diligent in outward good works, serving in our calling. This is where true perfection and true service of God is to be found. (AC XXVII 49-50)
And what does this service look like? Paul explains: 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. We are God’s ambassadors. We can preach the Gospel to any and all, for Christ died in stead of all.
“Christ’s behalf” means more than “representing.” It means “instead of.” The ambassador of Christ speaks in the stead of Christ. The Word is as valid and as powerful as if Christ were saying it. And He is saying it through the mouth of the ambassador. And what do we say? We appeal for all to be reconciled to God. The appeal from God in this verse is not an appeal for man to do something first. Remember, all has been done. He says: “Come for all things are now ready.” These are the words of the ambassador, of God’s dignitary, who says only what God wants him to say. Receive the gift, join the party, take your place, ease your burdens, find your peace. It is all waiting here in Jesus who has done it all for you already!
21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Because of Christ I’ve become righteous. “A Christian is simultaneously saint and sinner.” I am saint by imputation and sinner by nature. Christ is saint by nature and sinner by imputation. There is no sentence more profound in the whole of Scripture. When Christ hung on the cross God saw only ONE sinner, Christ. There is no greater sinner in the entire human race than the son of God. His sin is ours. It was foreign to Him. He had none. He committed none. But it was made His own because of the love with which He loved us. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Christ is all SIN for our sakes and in our stead; all of us God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS in connection with Christ. And in His stead, we know stand as His ambassadors. What an honour to be Christ’s ambassador! May God continue to deepen our understanding of His great reconciliation of the world in Christ, so that we might heartily revel in this gift with others and speak this good news in His stead.