In previous weeks we discussed the evidence that our consciousness persists in the interim stage between death and resurrection. But what exactly goes on there, before resurrection? Are we made perfect and pure enough to enter the kingdom instantly, or do we have to continue our growth and development?
Before we answer this, just know that this view that Greg presents in this sermon is not an official doctrine or anything like that, it’s just his educated opinion. But think about it and give it consideration!
Christians have always made a distinction between justification vs sanctification. Justification happens instantly, in the moment that you surrender your life to Jesus. We are incorporated into Christ. His love becomes our love, his joy becomes our joy, his standing with God becomes our standing with God. Justification is not under our control, it happens entirely through grace. God grafts his DNA into us the moment we surrender our life to Christ.
But even though this change is real and instant, our hearts, minds and habits are not always brought into alignment with this new truth of who we are in Christ. We have a whole lifetime of habits and feelings and thought processes that need to catch up with our new reality. So our attitudes and behaviors need to become aligned somehow. Sanctification is the process by which this adjustment happens.
During our lifetime, we are told over and over again YOU need to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and put away sin. The spirit is involved in this process, but the spirit does not actually do it for us, we play a significant part in it. The process of sanctification during our lifetime IS under our control. But what happens if you die before process of sanctification is complete? Even the apostle Paul said he was a work in progress.
The first thing to understand is that this process must be completed before we can enter heaven. This is made very clear in many places, such as Revelations 21:27 Gates of the heavenly city are always open but nothing unclean can enter.
We also see it in Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort (the Greek word means to very earnestly strive for) to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
And in 1 John 3:1-3
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
We will know what Christ is like once we are like him. Like is known by like. So this points to the process of sanctification. We need this in order to be compatible with haven and God’s true love.
As for how exactly this gets completed, there are two possible options:
1) When you die God makes you perfect instantly. Or,
2) The process of Sanctification continues
1: Greg refers to the first option as the “Zap” Doctrine. It is the standard protestant doctrine, it originates from Calvin and Luther. They did not like the traditional Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. The traditional teaching is that you go to Purgatory to “work off” your sins and atone for them. Luther and Calvin thought this teaching contradicted the New Testament teaching that Jesus atones for our sins. The concept of Purgatory in past centuries was also wrapped up in practices of Indulgences, the exchange of money for reducing one’s time in Purgatory. The early church abused this practice and basically extorted huge sums of money from believers. The reformers Luther and Calvin rightly got rid of that, and instead came up with a new view, the Zap doctrine. They said we do not need Purgatory (or indulgences), rather we are made perfect and compatible with the kingdom of God the instant we die. God does this for us.
Greg points out several problems with this view:
– The zap view is predicated on a flawed and inadequate teaching/understanding of Purgatory. The reformers were right to get rid of the abused doctrine of Purgatory and indulgences but many protestant scholars including CS Lewis think they may have thrown the baby out with bathwater. The doctrine of Purgatory was a somewhat late addition, 4th century. And despite the fact that it was embraced by the church, it was not the only teaching, the other view was to see Purgatory as a continuation of the process of sanctification.
– If God “zaps” moral perfection into us, does it really count as moral perfection? You had nothing to do with getting it. We have always believed here at WH that love has to be chosen or it is, by definition, not love. For example if you program your spouse to say and do all the right things, it’s not coming from them at all so it’s not meaningful, it’s not love. Moral virtue is grounded in love. If love can’t be zapped into you then moral virtue can’t be zapped into you either.
– If God can zap perfection into us then why wait until we die? And why all the verses over and over again saying that YOU need to put away the old self, YOU be transformed by the renewing of your mind, you take your thoughts captive to Christ, you pursue holiness — it is a choice and we have responsibility. If he can simply zap perfection into us why make us free in the first place? God wants love from real people not robots, so he gave us free will, which means WE need to work with God to bring our thoughts into alignment with who we are in Christ.
– There are an abundance of passages that also do not agree with the Zap doctrine. Romans 14:10 we will all stand before judgment seat of God. If we are all zapped into perfection what is there to be judged for? Same goes for 2 Corinthians 5:8-10– ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’ Grace does not remove all sinful past behavior. Our character must be refined before we can enter the kingdom, and we each must receive recompense for what has been done while in the body. There are consequences for our actions. And if God zaps us into perfection, then there is nothing to be judged for.
– Finally Zap theology has the unintended effect of rendering sanctification optional. Think of it, you could live the perfect life and die to yourself daily and sacrifice yourself for others and be perfect and be compatible with the lord, OR you could sit on your butt and eat potato chips and just wait for God to do it for you when you die! Given the choice, there is no way anyone are going to earnestly choose the former, or put much work into it. It explains the [very sad] body of research showing that for the vast majority of professing Christians, their faith has very little real ramifications on how they live their life, their values, or even their actions.
The passages we read earlier make it clear that Sanctification is NOT optional. It assumes it’s going to happen one way or another. Because of all of these issues with Zap theology, let’s look at the second option, as this is arguably the more theologically sound option. For most people, the word “Purgatory” is a kind of a red flag, since people associate with atoning for or being punished for your sins. So let’s not use that word. Instead think of this option as “Pre-heaven Cleansing” or “Post-Mortem Sanctification.”
Paul says we all will go through this process. 1 Cor 3:11-15 — “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Our foundation is what’s true about us in Christ, but what we build on top of that foundation will be tested by fire. What kind of life are we building? What kind of character are we creating? When we come into the pure presence of God’s love, that love is a burning fire that will burn up everything that is not consistent with his nature. But that which is consistent, will not only survive but will be refined.
If you have been working on becoming more christ-like then you have already started this process. Paul is just saying it will continue. How long will it take? Who knows. We work on it all our lives, and whatever is not complete now will be made complete eventually.
We should not wait until this time of “post-mortem sanctification” to get our houses in order, though. Matt 5:25-26 “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” It’s always better to settle out of court! If you are handed to the judge you will go to prison. You will get out, but waiting and taking that route is harder. It’s much easier to make right with your accuser and start paying what you owe now. Practically speaking, what this means is if you don’t change your life and put your house in order now, bad habits and negative feelings/behaviors take root and become part of who you are. The longer you wait, the harder it is to change. So, NOW is the time to declare war on greed, lust, gossip, lack of self-discipline, all these things before they become habits.
Sanctification, whether it happens now or later, involves some suffering, this should not surprise us. You have to say no to things your “lower nature” wants to say yes to, and vice versa. But it has to be done, because it’s the sin and bad habits that prevent us from seeing Christ as he truly is, ourselves as we truly are, and experiencing the joy of God in the fullest. It The eternal joy is worth the temporary pain a thousand times over.
In Hebrews 12:13 the author uses a race analogy. Jesus suffered unimaginable suffering but did it for the immense Joy that was set before him. The same should be true for us. But we can only do the long road of sanctification if we have the knowledge of joy to keep us motivated. Paul at least 6 times said “I rejoice in my suffering.” This is what he meant. After the civil war, the slaves escaping north via the Underground Railroad suffered pure misery, but they did it for the joy that they knew awaited them ahead. So keep that joy in mind. Whatever suffering you are going through now, know that you are on your way to freedom. The pain you feel now is setting you free to experience God’s joy and peace, so keep your mind focused on that. This is your ticket to be all you can be in the kingdom of God. Envision of what you will look like when you are free from this sin, and let the joy of that pull you forward.
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