Cutting Through The Confusion
When it comes to reconciliation, we have a tendency to confuse vertical reconciliation with horizontal reconciliation. As a result, the process of how to truly reconcile with others can be misconstrued. Worse yet, the gospel itself can be distorted. Such confusion and error leads to all kinds of grief and destruction, now and even in eternity. Which is why it’s so important that we clarify the differences (and similarities) between the two types of reconciliation –in order to make sure we accurately understand, live, and teach the truth about both.
What’s The Difference?
So, what exactly is the difference between vertical and horizontal reconciliation?
Vertical Reconciliation = Reconciling the relationship between God and mankind
Horizontal Reconciliation = Reconciling the relationship between humans
Simply put: vertical reconciliation is between God and man; while horizontal reconciliation takes place between two or more people. Of course, there are some key areas that are similar, if not the same, in both kinds of reconciliation.
For example: confession (Prov 28:13; Jas 5:16; 1 Jn 1:9), repentance (Mk 1:15; Lk 17:3), and forgiveness (Matt 6:12; Eph 4:31-32) are all vital components in both vertical and horizontal reconciliation. And the more accurately we understand these concepts, the more we will know and be blessed by the true gospel, along with God’s ways of reconciling with one another.
Trust in Reconciliation
Vertical: We are reconciled with God (i.e., “saved”) through faith alone (belief and trust; Eph 2:8-9; Jn 1:12; 3:16; Ps 18:2; Is 12:2; 25:9). We are saved through accurately believing in God and the truth about Him and His Gospel (Col 1:3-6; 2 Thess 2:9-14; Rom 1:16-17; 1 Pet 1:18-25).
We are not trusted by God. Yet through repentance, sanctification, abiding in and relying on Him, and growing in our faithfulness, we become more and more “faithful” (e.g., 1 Cor 4:1-2) and “trustworthy” (1 Tim 1:12; 3:1-13).
In vertical reconciliation, the offended (God) does not trust the offender (cp Jn 2:24-25). The offender must trust in the offended (i.e., we must trust God). Contrast this with …
Horizontal: We are reconciled with each other when the offended person trusts the offender.
This all-important trust is rebuilt when the offended individual gives grace and forgiveness, and the offender fully and contritely confesses, truly repents, and produces the fruit of repentance (Matt 3:8; Acts 26:20; 2 Cor 7:10-11). As the fruit grows—and is genuine, and lasts—then the offended person grows in trusting the offender. When trust is rebuilt (based on true and lasting change), then we are essentially reconciled.*
*Note: There are always risks in trusting humans; but, in trusting God, there are never any risks of Him failing (cp Jer 17:5-9).
While we are to always forgive, there are times when we should not trust others, at least not right away. The level of trust is, ideally, based on trustworthiness (i.e., the character of the person to be trusted, which is revealed by their behavior over time). Many “offenders,” however, are unrepentant, manipulative, and/or “serial offenders” who have proven over and over that it is not wise, or loving, to trust them. That reality, however, should never stop us from forgiving and loving them.
Vertical Reconciliation = Offender rightly trusting the Offended
Horizontal Reconciliation = Offended rightly trusting the Offender
“Change” in Reconciliation
True reconciliation is all about change—a highly motivated pursuit of change in conforming to the truth, the Word, and to the true nature of God (e.g., Jn 17:17; Rom 8:29; 12:2; 2 Pet 1:3ff; Eph 4:22-24; 5:1-2; 2 Cor 3:18).
Reconciliation: (Greek, Kattallaso); To thoroughly change; to decisively change.
The word “reconciliation” [Greek: Kattallaso] means to thoroughly or decisively change. In other words, real reconciliation isn’t a half-hearted attempt, a patch-work job, or a mere reworking of behavior. Rather, it is a highly motivated change in our hearts (Prov 4:23; 1 Sam 16:7; Mk 7:21-23; Matt 6:19-21; 15:8; Lk 6:45). We will seek to be a fundamentally different person, to be more loving and more like Christ (e.g., Eph 4:11-5:2; 2 Cor 5:14-17).
Allassō: (root); To cause one thing to cease, and another to take its place.
The root word for reconciliation, “allassō,” means “to cause one thing to cease, and another to take its place” (cp 1 Cor 15:51-53). This implies a major transformation both for us, and in us.
Horizontal: If true reconciliation has happened, then both people change (through accurate confession and repentance; forgiving and being forgiven; healing; sanctification; growth; along with an increasing conformity to and dependence upon God, His grace, and the truth). If true change is doubtful, then true reconciliation is also in doubt (cp Matt 3:7-10; 18:15-17).
If true change is doubtful, then true reconciliation is also in doubt.
The relationship also changes. From enmity to harmony. From damaged to rightfully restored. A dead relationship is given new life. Relationships that once produced bad fruit will now yield good fruit that pleases God. And, if the change is “thorough” (because of grace and truth), then the “change” is not merely a restoration to a previous status; rather, there is an improvement in the relationship!
Vertical: God does not change (Ps 55:19).
We are the only ones who change (e.g., through repentance; being redeemed; Christ dwelling in us; being forgiven; sanctification; growth; and an increasing conformity to and dependence upon God, grace, and truth).
If we do not truly change, then it is likely we have not been truly reconciled with God (Matt 3:7-10; 7:15-27; 1 Jn 3:18-19).
A lot changes in us and about us. We are redeemed, we are now “children of God” (Jn 1:12; Gal 3:26; Rom 8:14-21; 1 Jn 3:1). We were guilty and condemned, now we are pardoned and free! We change into a “New Creation” (2 Cor 5:17). The “old” ceases and the “new” takes its place! (cp Eph 4:22ff; Col 3:9-10)
Our relationship with God changes. It changes from God-as-our-Judge to God-as-our-Father.
There is no greater or more blessed change than to be able to relate to God as our perfect and loving Father. This change changes everything. (Heb 4:15-16; Rom 5:9ff; 8:1ff; 2 Cor 3:5ff) Meditating on and living according to this truth—that God is now our loving Father—should truly change every aspect of how we live and relate to Him and others.
There is no greater or more blessed change than to able to relate to God as our perfect and loving Father. This change changes everything!
We now live with God according to His New Covenant (2 Cor 3:5ff; Heb 8-9) instead of the Old Covenant. We do not have a performance-based relationship. Instead, we enjoy a grace-based relationship (Heb 4:16). We can relate to Him by faith, grace, and love rather than by performance, guilt, and condemnation (Rom 8:1ff). We exchange bondage and “death” for freedom and life (2 Cor 3:5ff; Rom 7:4-6; 8:1-2).
Believers (those who are, by definition, truly reconciled with God) are still judged, but how and why we are judged changes (2 Cor 5:10; 1 Cor 3:12-15). This judgment is completely different from the judgment of those who are “unreconciled” (cp Rev 20:11-15).
Believers are reconciled eternally with God. Because of His love, we are permanently sealed with Him (2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30), and are permanent children of God (Rom 8:15-17, 35-39). Yet, we do still need to practice ongoing reconciliation with God, as with other relationships, due to our perpetual sins that damage our fellowship with Him (1 Jn 1:5-10).
Of course, it’s important to remember that our sin does not cause us to “lose our salvation.” Why? Because we are saved by His grace, love, and work on the cross—not by our goodness or good works. Out of love for Him, however, we seek to be reconciled with God after being grieved over how our sin grieves God, how it damages our relationship with Him, and how it hurts others (2 Cor 7:8-11; 1 Jn 1:5-10).
Forgiveness in Reconciliation
Vertical: There is no forgiveness without the “shedding of blood” (Heb 9:22; Matt 26:28; Eph 1:7; Col 1:22).
*Note that this blood was shed by the Offended Person (Jesus, God), whereas in other religions, the offender is required to shed blood, suffer, or be punished in order to be “saved” or “worthy” or loved.
Horizontal: There is no shedding of blood … (I hope!). A “penalty” paid in full is not required (cp Lev 4:35). We are to freely forgive others—not based upon whether they deserve it or not—but because God forgave us, because He tells us to forgive, and because we love Him and trust His ways (Eph 4:31-32; Col 3:12-16; Matt 6:12, 14-15; 18:32-33).
*Note: Re-trusting the offender is a related, but separate matter from forgiveness.
Vertical: God paid the price in full for our sins (fully atoned for), so that all can be redeemed and reconciled (Col 1:19-23; 1 Tim 2:3-6). He offers His pardon for free. It is a gift (Rom 6:23), apart from “works” (Eph 2:8-9), and it is given despite our unworthiness (Ti 3:3-7). If we truly believe in Him, and the truth of why and what He did for us on the cross, we receive His forgiveness, pardon, redemption, and eternal life with Him (Lk 1:77; 24:47; Acts 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Col 1:14). We are then reconciled with Him.
Horizontal: We are to forgive everyone and everything, even if they will not repent and/or reconcile with us (Matt 6:14-15; Mk 11:25; Eph 4:31-32). On the other hand, forgiveness does not—as many wrongly assume—mean that the relationship is now reconciled, or that trust must be restored. The truth is: forgiveness, along with genuine and full confession, true repentance, and rebuilt trust will ultimately lead to true reconciliation.
Forgiveness does not mean that the relationship is now reconciled, or that trust must be restored.
Vertical: Christ physically died on the cross to pay our penalty (Rom 6:23; Col 1:22), to satisfy our debt, to atone for our sins, so that we can be freely forgiven, and live! His atoning death gives everyone the hope of avoiding “the second death” (i.e., the “lake of fire;” Rev 20:14-15). By His divine power, He conquered death through His resurrection and now offers us eternal life (1 Cor 15:1-8; 54-57; 2 Tim 1:10). As a result, we are reborn, or “born again” (Jn 3:3ff; 10:10). We no longer live, but Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20; Col 1:27; 3:3-4). We not only have a new life, but a new way of life. We no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and was raised from the dead (2 Cor 5:14-17). In addition to these many blessings, God also gives all believers the “ministry of reconciliation” –to spread the true “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18-21; cp Gal 1:6-9).
Horizontal: We don’t die when we forgive. We might, however, “die to ourselves” or “lose our life” (Lk 9:23-24) when we give up our resentment and our real or perceived “right” to hold onto offenses (i.e., when we forgive and entrust everything to God). In forgiving the offender, we offer life to the damaged, if not dead, relationship. Through grace and truth, the relationship can be reborn. With true forgiveness and true repentance, we will, at least over time, have true reconciliation with each other.
“Works,” Worthiness, and Reconciliation
Vertical: We don’t need to do anything (i.e., good works; “keeping the law”) to become “worthy” or “righteous.” By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, He gives us all the worth we need (Gal 3:1ff; Rom 3:21ff). We then, ideally, respond with loving actions that are founded only in the truth of God’s Word (1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:17-18; 3 Jn 4). Our actions come from gratitude and love for God, not an intent to earn love, favor, or worth; nor to repay debt or lessen guilt. Our “good works” are done merely to bless God and others (Eph 2:8-10; Jas 2:14-26; 2 Cor 5:15; 1 Jn 5:1-5).
By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, He gives us all the worth we need.
Horizontal: The offender does seek to rebuild the level of “trustworthiness” through genuine and, therefore, lasting fruit of repentance (Acts 26:20; Lk 3:7-10; 2 Cor 7:11). The more trustworthy the offender becomes, the more trust there will be in the relationship. The more trust in a relationship, the better the relationship will be. True repentance, in response to sin, rebuilds trust. Which, in turn, rebuilds the relationship and gives it new life.
This is real reconciliation.
All this is from God, Who reconciled 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. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19