FOCUS – Enemies of God – yet reconciled

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by Amanda Reardon, Captain – 

As Resurrection Day approaches, Christians take time to ponder again the gift of salvation. We marvel at our Lord’s willingness to die what was possibly the world’s most unseemly death on our behalf. We rejoice as we reflect upon his victory over death. We are awe-struck by the fact that his sacrifice means our debt is paid, and his resurrection means that we, too, shall live forever. Though many of us have heard these truths since we were old enough to comprehend language, we attempt to handle this precious information like a delicate heirloom. In other words, this isn’t just old news. It is beautiful news, valuable news, news that must be shared and treated with the utmost respect.

This year, as I began to think about Resurrection Day, I tried to juxtapose the news of the death and resurrection of Christ with the current world situation. I wondered, how does the most significant event in all history impact the history that is being made today? While looking for a larger answer, I stumbled upon something smaller, something more personal.

Romans 5:10 is a beautiful Easter-time verse: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” The strong message at this time of year is that his death reconciled us, and his resurrection completed his saving work and results in our eternal life. But perhaps we should take a harder look at the beginning of the verse: “when we were God’s enemies.”

Those who enjoy reading The Message (a worthy tool, to be sure) will be reminded by this verse that it is only a paraphrase, and not a translation. Instead of the expression “God’s enemies,” The Message reads, “when we were at our worst.” But the word used in the original Greek is echthroi, which actually means “enemies.” One Greek scholar goes on to describe the word as meaning that we were in an actively hostile state toward God. And in context (see verse nine), it is understood that in that state, God’s wrath hung over us. It was under those conditions that God delivered his Son into our hands, to be murdered. It was under those conditions that he poured out his immeasurable love so that we might be saved.

As I write, the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime is about 12 hours old. I think of how he and his supporters are hostile toward the United States and would prefer any of us—all of us—dead. There is a palpable sense of threat that hangs in the air. We are “infidels,” and we are hated. Now more than ever, I understand what it means to have an enemy. And I’m stunned to think that I was once the enemy of God.

Paul, the author of Romans, was clearly an enemy of God before his conversion. Though he thought he served God by persecuting Christians, his zealous attempts to put a halt to this wild new religion were exactly contrary to God’s wishes. Paul hated Christ, and did everything possible to thwart his followers. Obviously, his case was extreme. But the Scripture does not distinguish between “really bad” sinners and “not so bad” sinners. We were all God’s enemies.

Enemies always suffer from a lack of empathy. They just can’t understand the viewpoint of their foes. Think of the chasm between the American government and the current Iraqi government. Many things our government (and culture) prizes, theirs disdains—and vice versa. We have two different approaches to life. The situation was similar when we were the enemies of God. Our values were completely different from his. We championed ourselves, our personal goals, perhaps money or power. God championed self-sacrifice, service, compassion.

How could God look across the vast rift between himself and man—the rift we created—and have compassion on us? How could he desire us so desperately, when we felt no love for him? He is our maker. In love he fashioned us, and his love never dimmed. Though we strayed, his love for us burned red-hot. We made ourselves his enemies, but he continued to be the tender lover of our souls.

How can our contemplation of Christ’s passion and celebration of his resurrection be revitalized again this year? How do we remind ourselves that this is still great news? I suggest we take time to consider just how far from Christ we once were, and how he loved his own enemies—you and me—enough to die. I submit for your reflection these words penned by Charles Wesley:

“Died he for me who caused his pain,
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
(Salvation Army Songbook, #283)

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