Dr. Couch, what does Paul mean when he says that God has reconciled the world to Himself,
not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:17-21)?
ANSWER: To reconcile means to remove enmity between two parties. It involves a “change in relationship” so Mitchell notes. The first reaction is to think that the entire world has been “saved” but that's not Paul's point. He is referring to the world of those who have been saved. In other words, God has supplied for people a reconciliation based on the death of Christ. They still have to appropriate His work on the cross. This is not a statement of universalism.
Hodge points out “God was making atonement for the sins of the world, By the world (without the article) he meant 'man, mankind.'” In the same sense Christ is called “the Savior of the world, or the Savior of men,” Hodge goes on: “God has commissioned his ministers to announce to all men that God is reconciled and ready to forgive, so that whosoever will may turn unto Him and live.”
Barrett adds: “Transgressions are no longer counted against men, the way is now open for reconciliation; nothing remains but for men to take it, what God has supplied.” But they must receive His offer of redemption. Men are not saved until they appropriate the provision in what Christ did on the cross. But salvation is now ready to be received! God “loves the world” (John 3:16) but this does not mean the world is saved until it accepts what Jesus did for it.
This is a provision; it is not universalism, as if salvation is now automatic. Men must believe.
The BKC goes on: “Reconciliation involves removing rebellious and sinful man's enmity toward God. This is one of the many marvelous accomplishments of the Godhead on behalf of a person the moment he believes in Christ. People no longer need to be the object of God's wrath. Men's sins are no longer counted, that is, imputed or reckoned, against them, for Christ has taken them on Himself.”
“The world” then is the world of those who believe in Christ. Men must appropriate what was done for them in Christ.
Thanks for asking.
--Dr. Mal Couch (10/11)