A much misunderstood passage about reconciliation – 2 Corinthians 5
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From 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. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This passage is about being reconciled to God. Paul the evangelist is coaching other believers in how to do evangelism – how to preach the gospel to the unregenerate so that they receive Christ and become reborn, become new creations.
In verse 16, Paul says ‘we once regarded Christ according to the flesh’, which must mean he (and us as his fellow believers) once thought of Christ as just a man, or just a good teacher, or a nuisance and a political rabble rouser, or an enemy of the Mosaic Law, or a madman who thought he was God, or a liar who convinced a lot of people to join his cult.
Those are all views of Christ that the unregenerate have of him. In each of those views, people are regarding Christ according to the flesh. Paul is saying “Before I was converted, I didn’t see Jesus as God. I saw him wrongly because I had not been reconciled to God. But now I have been reconciled to God – now I have been reborn – I no longer see Jesus through those fleshly eyes. I see him as the God-man, fully God and fully man: my Saviour, my Lord and my Redeemer. All is new. My view of Jesus is new. And my view of other people is new: I see everyone in a new light. I see them as either outside Christ (unregenerate) or in Christ (regenerate brothers and sisters).
This passage has nothing to do with reconciling in relationship with people who have wounded us, or overlooking people’s heinous unrepentant sins.
If we have been deeply wounded by a person and some time later that person is born again, we will be clearly able to see it in the sweet, unfeigned fruits of repentance. We may be dubious at first, just like the apostles and disciples in Jerusalem were initially dubious about Paul’s conversion, but the doubt will lift naturally, as mist or fog lifts from a valley when the sun rises to noonday. We will not have to force ourselves to trust, we will not have to squash our gut feelings to believe this person’s conversion is real, it will become indubitably clear.
Similarly, it will be clear if the person is feigning conversion because their ‘fruit” will have worms, or fall off the branch shriveled, misshapen or rotten.
We regard no one according to the flesh means we don’t look at people with our old eyes, the eyes that used to make judgments about people’s worth on the basis of their social status, education, wealth, compliance with rules of religiosity (Pharisaism) etc., etc. We no longer evaluate people according to how many boxes they tick on our checklist, we regard them as either in God’s kingdom or outside God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom is not about social status, wealth, education, race, gender, adherence to a bunch of man-made sub-biblical doctrines, or whatever. God elects people from all backgrounds and all lifestyles.