We must take care not to confuse what is true in Jesus for all humanity with each individual’s personal response to that truth.
We do not “decide for Christ” in the sense that our personal decision causes our salvation. Rather, we accept what is ours already in Christ, placing our trust in the one who has already trusted for us in our place.
When we personally believe the gospel, which is to accept what is already ours by grace, we begin to participate in God’s love for us. We begin to live out the new creation that God, prior to our ever believing, made us to be in Christ.
- There is the general, or objective, truth about all humanity in Jesus, and also the personal, or subjective, experience of this truth.
Objectively, all people, past, present and future, are justified already; all are sanctified; all are reconciled in Jesus in and through what he has done as their representative and substitute. In Jesus, objectively, the old self has already passed away; in him, objectively, we are already the new humanity, represented as such by him before and with God.
However, although all people are already objectively redeemed by Jesus Christ, not all have yet personally and subjectively awakened to and accepted what God has done for them. They do not yet know who they truly are in union with Jesus.
What is objectively true for everyone must be subjectively and personally received and experienced through repentance and faith. Repentance and faith do not cause a person’s salvation, but salvation cannot be experienced and enjoyed without them. Repentance and faith are themselves gifts of God.
In the Scriptures, we find some verses that speak to the general/objective nature of salvation, while others speak to the personal/subjective nature of salvation. Both are real and true—but the personal is true only because the general is a pre-existing reality.
These two categories are found throughout Scripture—both sometimes occurring in one passage, as happens in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Paul starts in verses 18-19 with the objective/universal nature of salvation: “All this is from God, who reconciled [past tense] us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
- Here is a general truth that applies objectively to all—all are already reconciled to God through what Jesus has done in union with all humanity.
Having established the general truth in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Paul goes on in verses 20-21 to address the subjective/personal: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”
How can all be “reconciled” already and yet the invitation go out to “be reconciled”—suggesting a reconciliation yet to occur? The answer is that both are true—these are two aspects of one truth. All are already reconciled in Christ—this is the universal and objective truth—but not all yet embrace and therefore experience their reconciliation with God.
To be reconciled and yet not know and experience it is to continue to live as though one is not reconciled. Having one’s eyes opened by the Spirit to this reconciliation, choosing to embrace it, and then experiencing it does not cause the reconciliation to occur, but it does make it personally realized.
Thus, the evangelistic invitation from Christ’s ambassadors (verse 20) is to “be reconciled.” But this appeal is not to do something that would cause God to reconcile us; rather it is an appeal to receive the reconciliation that exists already with God in Christ. As we welcome the truth of the gospel, we can’t help but worship our Lord and Savior!