Forming Faith Blog

Reconciling the Irreconcilable (Romans 5)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is complicated, but one message is simple: Through Jesus’ death, God turned us from irreconcilable enemies to recipients of God’s resurrection life.

A wooden figure separated from two others by a line. God reconciled the unreconcilable.
Gifts of God’s Grace

Greetings! May the unconditional love of the resurrected Messiah be with you always. Today’s reading from Romans marks the first of our three lessons in our unit Gifts of God’s Grace, and the third-to-last reading for the Narrative Lectionary Year 1. The apostle Paul indeed writes about God’s grace—which I simplify to God’s unconditional love—a grace that justifies, gives hope, reconciles, and saves.

Loaded Vocabulary

As I mentioned in my previous post on Romans, my struggle with the letters of Paul is that they are complex—utilizing complicated theological language (though perhaps some of the complications comes from scholars theologizing in the centuries since Paul wrote). This makes the letters rewarding to study in depth but seemingly impossible to understand by laypeople on the first reading. So, in your faith formation context, you will need to decide whether to break down the whole assigned text into easily digestible pieces or focus on one single point and expand on that. For my post here, I’ve decided to do the second.

Focus Verse

The verse that caught my eye in this reading was Romans 5:10:

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of [God’s] Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

What sparked my interest was the focus on “reconciliation,” though other vocabulary came up in my word study of the verse.

Irreconcilable Enemies

In this verse, we start out as enemies of God. I was intrigued to see that the word used for “enemies” here (echthros) does not simply mean “opponents” or “antagonists.” The HELPS Word-studies in Bible Hub gives the following definition:

Properly, an enemy; someone openly hostile, animated by deep-seated hatred. It implies irreconcilable hostility, proceeding out of a “personal” hatred bent on inflicting harm. (Emphasis mine)

This is intense: hatred, inflicting harm, openly hostile. But what struck me the most was “irreconcilable hostility.” So, through Jesus’ death, God reconciled the irreconcilable.

Changed Relationship

Again, the first word that caught my attention was “reconcile” (katallasso). This verb is a combination of the prefix kata and the verb allasso, where that basic verb means to change or transform. The whole verb means to decisively change. It originally was used in regard to a change in money/coins, but in terms of people, it came to mean changing to the same side as another: reconciliation.

While other parts of Scripture clearly describe God changing our essence, this passage focuses on our relationship with God. Jesus’ death—an act of unconditional love—transforms our relationship with God from irreconcilable hostility to love, even adoption.

One and Done (by God)

I think it’s important to note that here that “reconcile” is used passively and in the Greek verb tense “aorist.” Passively means that it is an action done to us, not by us. We cannot reconcile ourselves to God, it is something that only God is able to do to (or for) us. [This is not to indicate that we are completely passive in our relationship to God. In fact, verse 11 states that “we have now received reconciliation.” The verb “received” indicates active volition on our part.]

The verb tense “aorist” is one of the Greek language’s past tenses. It indicates that the action described by the verb was simple and completed in the past. This is an action that is one and done. God reconciled us, transformed our relationship—once in the past—and it doesn’t need to be repeated.

Faith Formation Connection

Word studies like this are invaluable in digging deeper into a Bible passage, especially with Paul. But it’s not developmentally appropriate for younger ages (though neither are Paul’s writings). When younger disciples are involved, it might be best to choose one or more concepts to focus on and simplify, such as reconciliation. Many activities can revolve around putting things and relationships back together.

May you experience the joy of the risen Messiah!

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “The Shape of the Cross” from our Living the Word: Youth (NL Year 2, 2023-2024) curriculum. This activity can be adapted for use by households, groups, and classes of any size or age range.

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