While I’ve chosen to skip over a post on growing in grace as a part of holiness, remember that we’ve said that holiness is not a static place one arrives at, only to then live in that state until death. Not even close. God will continue to purify and cleanse a person’s heart and mind, making him or her aware of areas of sin. I like to think of choosing to cooperate with this further growth as just one way that a person wisely avoids getting set in his or her ways as they age. There is no place for a snarky, belligerent, crotchety person in the kingdom of God.
And then there’s death. I probably should have written more about this. Suffice it to say two things:
1. Death has always been, theologically speaking, the Christian’s enemy. Christ conquered death on the cross and in His resurrection because it was an enemy that needed conquering.
2. Death is not simply a transition from this life to the next. We do not say, “O happy dagger!” as in Romeo and Juliet. We always grieve, even if it is in hope.
Glorification is what happens to us at death. While this can be a tricky subject since none of us has ever died and come back to tell of it, Jesus has died and has been resurrected.
Steve Harper writes, “The issue of our ultimate glorification is based on the responses we make to the presence of the kingdom. It is the activity of the kingdom that makes a real connection between time and eternity” (The Way to Heaven, p. 97). When Jesus came and inaugurated the kingdom–God’s real rule and reign here and now–He forced you and me to reckon with it, to either accept and enter the kingdom or to reject and oppose the kingdom. Our entrance now means that heaven one day is our great reward.
We get a glimpse of what our future life will be like from Him, as well as other descriptions in the Bible. And while we won’t spend a ton of time examining what happens after we die, here are a few things we can know for certain will happen at death:
- We will await the general resurrection in the presence of Christ.
- We will, along with every human being, undergo judgment and the resurrection of the righteous or the wicked. We will be given incorruptible bodies capable of living in the news heavens and new earth. Incorruptible means we will no longer be subject to the enemies of sin, death and the devil.
- We will be like God. This is the Eastern Orthodox Church’s doctrine of deification. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Peter’s words here speak of life in the present as an anticipation of the future–notice the language of promises, which implies future fulfillment.
- We will be fully restored in all aspects of God’s image: the natural, political and moral.
- We will live and reign for eternity with Christ on the new earth, which has been united with the new heavens.
Remember that this is all part of God’s plan for us and that our current spiritual formation is leading us to this point.
It’s time to get back to the ordo salutis, or way of salvation. It has been a month since the last post on this.
I’ll be honest, the idea of trying to change my physical body is counter-intuitive. Isn’t spiritual formation something that happens in the unseen, hidden places of the heart and mind? How can changing my body do any good?
Dallas Willard says,
“For good or for evil, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life–a strange combination of words to most people. One can immediately see all around us that the human body is a (perhaps in some cases even the) primary barrier to conformity to Christ. But this certainly was not God’s intent for the body. It is not in the nature of the body as such. (The body is not inherently evil.) Nor is it even caused by the body. But still it is a fact that the body usually hinders people in doing what they know to be good and right” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 159).
We must remember that our bodies are not in and of themselves evil. We are never told in Scripture to escape them. They are part of God’s good, physical creation. Jesus did not come to us as a spirit, but was the Son of God incarnate, in the flesh. And this is part of the contemporary confusion. There are two Greek words in the New Testament that get used to say “body” and “flesh,” and they mean different things, generally speaking. Body is “soma” in Greek and simply refers to our physical bodies. Flesh is “sarx” in Greek and may refer to one’s physical body, as in John 1:14 where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It may also refer to our sinful nature, or the tendency to act in sin rather than act in accordance with God’s will.
Flesh (sarx) in the NT
While “flesh” in Paul’s letters is not strictly a word that refers to our sinful nature, here are places where it does (see also Romans 7:5; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:17; Galatians 3:3; 6:7-8; Ephesians 2:3).
- Romans 8:5-13: “5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. 7The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 12Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
- Galatians 5:13-26: “13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
To be “in the flesh” as in Romans 8 refers to someone who is not indwelt by the Spirit, who cannot fulfill the Law of God, and who therefore cannot please God. Flesh in these passages is not physical flesh, as in 1 Corinthians 6:19, where the body of flesh is the temple of the Holy Spirit and is the means of glorifying God (6:20).
Ben Witherington III writes, “The tension in the Christian life is not between old person and new person (for the old person has been crucified and is dead and buried), but rather between Spirit and flesh” (Grace in Galatia, p. 377). He advocates translating sarx as “sinful inclination.” “In other words, I think Paul is talking about the prompting within human beings for their sin (their inclination to do that which they ought not to do), not the resulting effect (a corrupt nature)” (pp. 377-378).
Paul views the death of the flesh as something that has already happened in the death of Christ. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh and its passions (Gal. 5:24). The flesh–the human powers of living that are bent to sin–is based in the physical body. Those whose minds are set on the flesh will do what they want to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 8). But those who are in Christ will not let the desires of the flesh reign in their bodies but will live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Notice how in Romans 8 the sinful nature, the flesh, is something we can “live according to.” It can be the thing that drives us, that we obey, that we live by. Its opposite it the Spirit (v. 9). We are “in the Spirit”. Even though our bodies are subject to death because we at one time had lived according to our fleshly desires, our bodies will be brought to new life by the Spirit. The Spirit will give life to our bodies. The question is, will this life happen now or only after we die? Paul’s view is that this will happen at the final resurrection after we die. Thus, our bodies will not be completely renewed in this life, and yet they must undergo spiritual formation just like the rest of us so they are no longer slaves to the fleshly desires we have.
The flesh is not the same thing as the body. While we must deal with our flesh’s desires, we do not treat our bodies in the same way.
One of the ways we use our bodies for good or evil is in our body language. For example:
- We give stern looks to people who cross us.
- We cross our arms in anger, to distance ourselves from another.
- We give people “the finger.”
- We dress our bodies provocatively to attract attention.
- We hide our bodies in shame by dressing in large clothing or sunglasses.
- Our facial expressions show sarcasm, envy, jealousy, etc.
- Our eyes, mouths, etc.
You can see into a person’s heart by the way they walk into a room or look at you. The issue is that not only do our minds begin to develop patterns of thinking, but also our bodies interact with those patterns of thinking and feeling by how they set. Our bodies reinforce, then, our spiritual formation for good or ill.
Training Our Bodies in Anticipation of the Resurrection
Our bodies will one day be resurrected bodies. Heaven is not a place for disembodied souls. The body will be redeemed fully at the general resurrection. Because we anticipate its redemption, we must train it today.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
We cooperate with God’s grace given to us by choosing to no longer offer parts of our bodies to sin. Romans 6:12-13 says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Whereas we once found it quite easy for our bodies to engage in sinful activity–it doesn’t take anything supernatural for us to take part in fornication, greed, covetousness–we now submit our bodies to Christ and His Spirit.
Dallas Willard says we can do four things for the spiritual formation of the body:
- Release our body to God. This is what Paul means when he says, “present our body as a living sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1). Specifically pray about each part of your body and ask God to take charge of it and to begin giving life to each part.
- No longer idolize your body. Stop worrying about what will happen to it with age and sickness, stop spending so much money on making it more beautiful, etc. Take good care of it with diet and exercise, but do not make it an idol.
- Do not misuse your body. He says this means not using it as a source of sensual gratification outside of the sexual relationship in marriage and not using it to dominate others. This means not using it in brute force to intimidate, or using it in sexual ways to manipulate or seduce. It also means not overworking it.
- The body is to be properly honored and cared for. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:13b-15a, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” This is part of Paul’s argument for them not to engage in sex with prostitutes. For us, while this may not be a temptation, we are called to treat our bodies like they are members of Christ (Renovation of the Heart, pp. 173-174).
Like everything else God is trying to do in us, the transformation of our bodies anticipates the day when our good bodies are resurrected and perfected. We train them now not in despair because they will disappear one day, but because God will use the very physical material of our current bodies to create our new ones, just as He did with Jesus.