For the love of Christ controls (constrains) us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)
What does Paul mean that the love of Christ constrains us?
The Greek word behind our word “controls” or “constrains” is: συνέχει. συνέχει means to “compel us toward a course of action” or “press us forward” or “move us into a position of contact”.
We could write it this way, “For the love of Christ is pressing us to action.” It is the love of Christ that is doing this. It is an ever present action upon us.
Why does Paul tell us that the love of Christ constrains us?
Paul writes: “because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Paul is using what I would call “Union with Christ” language. The love of Christ constrains us because we are united with Him. He heightens this language when he explains,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The atonement is not a goal unto itself or something that occurs outside of Christ. Our sins are atoned for when we are united with Christ. TF Torrance explains,
“It is not atonement that constitutes the goal and end of that integrated movement of reconciliation but union with God in and through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity.”
We are united to Christ in such a way that,
“In the Church of Christ all who are redeemed through the atoning union embodied in him are made to share in his resurrection and are incorporated into Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit as living members of his Body…Thus it may be said that the ‘objective’ union which we have with Christ through his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself is ‘subjectively’ actualised in us through his indwelling Spirit, ‘we in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us’ thus complementing and interpenetrating each other.” ~TF Torrance
We are propelled to action by the love of Christ because we have experienced the love of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) through our union with Christ by the Spirit. In other words, because of our union with Christ by the Spirit, we cannot not be constrained to spread the Gospel.