Those who have been married for any length of time will attest to one of the most challenging aspects of conflict resolution. When there’s been a heated disagreement or a misunderstanding, who takes the first step toward reconciliation?
It’s the same in any relationship, really – spouse, sibling, neighbour, work colleague or friend. As prideful and insecure human beings, we have a natural reluctance to be the humble peacemaker. While we know this displeases Jesus (cf. John 15:12-14; 1 Cor. 13:4-7), we can be quite adept at making excuses for our own behaviour and rationalising why the other person should reach-out first.
What about in our relationship with God?
Because of sin, all humans are born into a terminal state of conflict with our Creator (cf. Psalm 51:5; Rom. 3:10-12 & 23). Our most important relationship is shipwrecked ‘on the rocks’ from the beginning and in desperate need of repair.
The question is, who makes the first move?
Given that God is perfect and is never at fault (cf. Psa. 18:30; 19:7-11), it would make sense that as the offenders we should make the first move. We should be the ones to initiate reconciliation.
It would be nice to think that we could. But spiritually speaking, that is impossible. You see, apart from Christ, we’re dead!
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph. 2:1-3)
Dead people can’t initiate anything. They need to be revived before they can respond and engage in relationship.
The good news is, God is the Great Initiator. In Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to write some of the most precious (and well known) verses in the Bible:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:4-9)
Isn’t that incredible? Jesus does it all! There’s nothing we can do to repair the terminal breach in our relationship with God, but Jesus can repair it for us.
The only role we play is to believe that He can do it – “through faith”, which, by the way, He also initiates! As Peter wrote in his second epistle, even our faith comes from Jesus:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” (2 Pet. 1:1)
Access to this saving faith is only a short prayer away:
“And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)
As we dig deeper into God’s divine love letter that we call the Bible, we can trace through history all the occasions when God reached out and graciously initiated reconciliation with his wayward and rebellious children. We see it at the very beginning of human history in Genesis 3:8-21 when God went looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden, who were hiding in shame after having eaten the forbidden fruit:
“But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9)
Abraham had no apparent thought of the one true God, being raised in a pagan culture that practiced polytheism. Yet one day God got his attention with a radical, life-altering command attached with a promise:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him...” (Gen. 12:1-4a)
God took a more dramatic approach with the Christian-killer called Saul of Tarsus (cf. Acts 9:1-9) when He literally stopped Saul in his tracks with a blast of blinding light and a heart-penetrating, soul-wrenching question:
“And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:4-6)
In every case, God took the initiative – 100%! The only contribution the rebels made was to respond obediently.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus should play the role of initiator in our spiritual transformation. After all, He initiates and sustains all life all the time. Without His initiative, there would be no life at all:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-17; cf. Psalm 139:1-18; Heb. 1:3)
As we saw in our reading in John 15, Jesus also chose us, we didn’t choose Him:
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16; cf. John 6:44; Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:3-14)
Jesus also provides the supernatural power we need to live the Christian life and fulfil our calling as His ambassadors on earth:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5; cf. 2 Cor. 12:9)
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13; cf. Col. 1:11)
He provides insight and understanding to guide us through the ambiguity and complexity of living in a fallen world:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...” (Col. 1:9-10)
And, critically, the Lord is also our only source of love and peace. Real love and lasting peace, not the fickle fleeting kind the world offers:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins... We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-10,19)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
So no matter how you look at it, God initiates everything in life that matters. Everything that has lasting value. Everything that we need and everything that we should care about (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4).
I find that to be a huge relief and of great comfort. It gives me permission to “cease striving and know that He is God!” (Psa. 46:10).