We know sin must be dealt with by God if he is to live in joy-filled holy fellowship with us for there can be no fellowship between light and darkness. Speaking to sinners Paul said that once they were darkness but now they were light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8 and context). They once were darkness, but not now. He doesn’t suggest, “Once you were sinners but now you are not” for they manifestly were sinners and continued to commit sins. But what does it mean to say they were still sinners and yet they’re light as opposed to darkness? They are light only “in the Lord”! This is true, but if they continue to sin though they are “in the Lord”, what does it mean that they “are light” in the Lord and not darkness?
Apart from the Lord they were darkness. What does that mean? Perhaps it means they were unforgiven apart from the Lord. It’s certainly true that apart from the Lord they were unforgiven but is that what the use of the “darkness” metaphor points to?
It can hardly be reduced to that for Paul tells the Colossians who with him had been under the dominion of darkness (1:13) that their alienation was more than a matter of guilt—it was a matter of disposition and inner condition (Colossians 1:21). They were alienated in mind which showed itself in their wicked behaviour. Their guilt stood between them and God but it was more than their guilt—it was their hearts, as the source of their wickedness that alienated them from God.
To destroy that alienation and so to reconcile them to himself God had to do something about their minds as well as their guilt. To be “at one” with God their hearts had to be realigned with God. They couldn’t be “at one” with him without the realignment of their alienated hearts and minds because without that they were enemies. Forgiveness without realignment of the heart would only be bare “pardon” and that is not reconciliation and it is certainly not all God has eternally purposed in Jesus Christ. It would be divine pretence; pretending bitter enemies were really friends because their guilt had been put away.
This realignment of the heart is not an “add on” to the experience of reconciliation—it is an essential part of it.
What is the nature of the transformed and realigned heart of the reconciled? It’s a Jesus-way of seeing and feeling and judging reality. It is a rejection of the established anti-God “world” and an alignment with a “new creation” of which Jesus is the embodiment and the Lord. The centre and essence of that heart realignment is faith in Jesus Christ. He who earlier despised God, his agenda and method now sees Jesus—the embodiment of all that God is and means toward us—as the truth of all that has a right to be called real and all that has a right to eternally abide. Faith in Jesus denies the credibility and the credentials of the organized world of anti-God, anti-holiness and anti-life and takes Jesus as the Truth in a world of lies.
God and such a heart are “at one”.
The work of transformation is initiated and sustained by God; people are brought to faith by God’s gospel about Jesus (Romans 1:16, Philippians 1:29, Acts 18:27 and many other texts). But God’s work in the human is not done without the human or independent of the human. God isn’t reconciling heartless or mindless objects—he is drawing to himself enemies and making friends of them and this must be done within the parameters of a free human heart. That is, in a heart that is free to say yes or no to his grace. There can be no coercion or there is no heart realignment.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.