O, That Day When Freed From Sinning! (4)1
Let me take just a moment and comment on one observation made by C. S. Lewis in his famous essay, “The Weight of Glory.” It will help us better understand what happens at the moment of glorification. Continue reading . . .
Let me take just a moment and comment on one observation made by C. S. Lewis in his famous essay, “The Weight of Glory.” It will help us better understand what happens at the moment of glorification.
Lewis speaks of our eternal future as involving glory. “Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity” (32). He finds neither one appealing. I should add that I think Lewis omitted what may be the most important feature of the biblical concept of “glory” and that is value, worth, weightiness. But I digress.
I’m especially interested in what Lewis says about glory as brightness, splendor, or what he calls, luminosity. “We do not want merely to see beauty,” explains Lewis, “though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it” (37).
Lewis does not mean by this, and neither do I, that the distinction between Creator and creature is blurred, much less obliterated. He will forever be God alone and we will forever be his finite creatures. But the glorious luminosity or majestic brilliance that is God’s will envelop us and permeate us and fill us and flood our hearts and souls and minds and bodies. This glory that will be ours is always derivative, which is to say, it is God’s glory imparted to us.
Honestly, I don’t know what I’m talking about! I struggle to find language and imagery that can adequately explain what it will be like and what it will feel like when Matthew 13:43 comes true: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43a). At no time in this experience, either at its inception or throughout the eternal ages, will anyone ever think or feel or suggest that this glory is anything other than the luminosity of God that has been graciously and mercifully imparted to otherwise hell-deserving sinners. We will always be reflections of that ultimate glory that belongs to God alone. And that is why this event of glorification and the process of never-ending growth and intensification of it will always be grounds for our praise of him, and never praise of us.
Exploring the Experience of Glorification when we are Finally Freed from Sinning
The only way I know to approach this subject is by thinking deeply about what sin is like now and then trying to project into our future when such passions and impulses and temptations will no longer hold sway or over us or keep us in bondage.
As I said earlier, the struggle I have at this point is that I have no experience with what I’m going to explain. By God’s grace I know what it is like to experience occasional victories over temptation, but I have no idea what it would feel like to wake up in the morning without any physical discomfort or to have slept without dreams defiled by sexual fantasies. I have no idea what it would be like to never feel the slightest tinge of envy, bitterness, resentment, lust, greed, pride, selfish ambition, anger, jealousy, or any such sin.
In Galatians 5 Paul exhorts us: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:16-17). Here and there I’m able to do what Paul says. Now and then I experience the victory he describes. But I have no idea what it would feel like never to feel in the slightest degree even the most minimal tinge of fleshly desire. To ponder the possibility that one day I will live every moment of my eternal existence and never once “gratify” a single desire of the flesh is almost more than I can fathom.
Of course, the reason why this will one day be true of all who know Christ is that glorification is at its core the eradication from us of the “flesh”. It is not simply that we will have more of the Spirit than of the flesh and thus we’ll win more victories over it than we will suffer losses. No. We will never suffer defeat again. There will be no flesh susceptible of yielding to temptation. We will be wholly and altogether governed by the Spirit.
Think about Paul’s imagery. He envisions the “flesh” and “Spirit” engaged in combat one with another. They are “against” each other, opposed to each other. The result is that we are kept “from doing the things” we “want to do.” That day will one day end! We will never feel the internal battle, the struggle, the war that wages daily in our inner being. All flesh will be gone and we will always and forever be able to do “the things” that we “want to do” and we will only and always want to do what is good and righteous and honoring to Christ.
So let’s take just four examples from the list of “the works of the flesh” that Paul provides and try think about what it will be like never to yield to them, never to feel the condemnation and guilt they bring.
(1) Lust – Here I’m using the word “lust” to summarize what Paul means when he speaks of “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal. 5:10). We may debate about the nature and cause of lust but I dare say that we all know what it means. Can you today envision what life will be in the absence of lust? Can you gain a small sense in your soul of what it will feel like never to look upon a man or woman to fantasize illicit sexual relations with them or to speculate on what they look like without clothes?
You will recall that in Romans 7 the apostle Paul lamented the fact that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18a). But in the age to come, after and because of glorification, we will join him in rejoicing to say, “nothing bad dwells in me, because my flesh has come under the eternal and unchangeable influence of the Spirit of God such that it is now holy or altogether eradicated from my being.” I don’t know how it will happen: either my “flesh” will be transformed from bad to good or I will no longer have “flesh” in which anything bad could reside or exert its influence.
Let me linger for a moment in Romans 7, where Paul confesses, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14b). He also says, lamentably, that “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15b). Again, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:23).
I realize that there is a great dispute about Romans 7, as to whether Paul portrays himself as a born-again man or as unregenerate. I take the former view. That being the case, glorification is that powerful exertion of the omnipotent Christ by which this “principle” or “power” or “law” of sin in Paul’s members and in yours and mine as well is not simply reduced or minimized or momentarily conquered but utterly and eternally destroyed. The only thing that remains is the Holy Spirit and the only power we will know is the power of grace and goodness and delight in the things of God.
Let’s apply this to our struggle with lust. Consider Jesus and the woman at well in John 4. He saw her, was observant of her bodily shape and beauty, spoke with her, discussed her sexual conduct, cared deeply for her, loved her, and yet entirely without lust or sin in any form. He engaged with her from an orientation or pre-disposition or nature that was devoid of sin. And such will be true of us in the new heavens and new earth!
And yet when you think about the glorification of our bodies it almost seems that the temptation to lust will intensify! Now why do I say that?
In the new heavens and new earth, the bodies of both male and female will be completely free from defect: no wrinkles, no bulging beer bellies, no liver spots, no cellulite, no crows’ feet around the eyes or sagging skin, no yellow or decaying teeth, no bald heads, no malformed faces. There will be nothing offensive or unattractive or anything that might “turn you off”. In other words, all the things that cause you not to lust now will be gone in the eternal state. Therefore, if physical perfection and beauty will be magnified among all God’s people, why wouldn’t lust increase? It would seem that the many provocative causes of lust have simply been multiplied.
The reason why this will not be an issue for us in the age to come is that the problem isn’t in what’s outside, in what we see, feel, touch, taste, and hear. The problem is on the inside. Jesus saw the same things we see today: money, palatial homes, power, women, yet he never sinned. Why? Because he was different from us on the inside. And as John told us in 1 John 3:2, when that day comes we will be made “like him”!
It isn’t that you will encounter a temptation and feel an ungodly impulse rising up in your flesh only then to find you have the power to resist it. In this life that sounds wonderful. Would that it might happen that way more often. But in the age to come there will be no temptation. But even if there were, there would be no inward, internal impulse. There will be nothing in your nature to which any temptation might appeal. There will be no point of contact in our souls through which sin might be aroused; nothing to which it can attach itself; no lustful thoughts or fantasies that it can exploit. If there is an impulse in reaction to the mere thought of sin it will be one of revulsion. There will be a permanent disconnect in our souls between sin and desire.
Instead of lust you and I will look upon one another in our glorified, dare I say, beautified resurrection bodies, and feel no illicit desire to own what does not belong to us or to use for selfish gratification or to abuse out of some perverse delight in exerting power over another person. We will desire only to bless and to honor one another. We will recognize physical beauty in one another and find pleasure at the sight of each other’s bodies. The resurrection and glorification of our bodies does not mean we get neutered. We will be male and female forever. And in some majestic way that I cannot now fathom we will find immeasurable delight in the admiration and appreciation of one another such that God is honored for the display of his creative handiwork in making us the way he did.
(2) Greed – Will not the potential for the sin of greed and avarice actually be heightened or intensified in the new heaven and new earth? After all, we will walk on streets of gold! How could we do that and not feel the inward prompting to possess it and expend it selfishly on ourselves? We will daily behold the precious stones and jewels that make up the walls of the New Jerusalem. John says they will be comprised of jasper and sapphires and emeralds and that the gates are made of priceless pearls. Will we not yield to the same materialistic tendencies to which we are now subject? Ladies, when was the last time you browsed in a jewelry store and set your eyes on such precious gems without feeling any impulse to own them? It almost seems as if God will have constructed the New Jerusalem precisely to entice and seduce us with its immeasurable value.
For one thing, whatever we set our eyes upon and find ourselves wanting we will want for good and godly reasons, to honor God as the creator and giver of all good things, or perhaps we will want such things so that we might in generosity give them to other people.
Furthermore, greed in the present world is fueled and sustained by lack. We are greedy because we don’t have or own or possess what we want. But in the age to come there will be no lack, only unfathomable abundance. And if Paul can say in the present day that “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:22-23), then how much more must it be true that “all things are ours” in the age to come. And if all things are ours, to be enjoyed and shared and given away, what place is there for greed?
What I’m asking you to envision, then, is the state of your soul that feels no illicit desire to have more stuff, no matter how precious or priceless it may be. For then you will have Christ, and no jewel or gem can surpass him in beauty or the power to please.
(3) Deceit or Lying – Why do we deceive and lie to one another?
Why do we lie? What makes deceit or lying such a powerful temptation? What do we hope to accomplish by means of a lie that seems to trump all the reasons why we should tell the truth?
One reason we lie is that we simply don’t trust the truth to get us what we want. In fact, telling the truth may be costly and painful and lead to hardships we’d rather avoid. So perhaps the underlying problem is greed and telling the truth will cost us business or lead to the loss of a job.
A related factor is power. People frequently lie to gain an advantage over others that would rarely if ever occur had they chosen to be honest, forthright, and humble. This power-grab may be in the form of authority in the local church or a promotion at work or prestige among one’s peers, regardless of age or context. And why is such power so appealing that it would prompt one to lie to gain it? Simply because we’ve bought into the false belief that personal value and worth is based on the perception of others and the sort of achievement that wins the applause and approval of society at large. If our identity were more wholly wrapped up in Christ and who we are in him, we would be less tempted to lie to gain from people what only he, ultimately, can give.
But when we are finally and fully glorified and beautified and in the presence of Christ on the new earth the selfish ambition that fuels our deception and lying will no longer be a factor. The person who is consummately satisfied in Christ and with Christ has no need for anything or anyone else to invest them with meaning and value. Of course, that is as true now as it will be then, but now, in this life, our hearts are still infected with fleshly impulses that lead us to doubt whether Christ is enough. But in our glorified state we will be so overwhelmed with his glory and altogether flooded with the splendor of his presence and utterly captivated with the adequacy and sufficiency of his grace and love that we will never feel the slightest tinge of temptation to deceive others into getting what we will then have fully in Jesus.
Perhaps the most powerful energy behind deceit and lying is pride. We lie to protect ourselves from whatever embarrassment the truth might bring. The truth would expose us in our weakness and sinfulness and failures. So we lie to make ourselves appear to others different from what we really are. People are terrified that if those whose respect and acceptance they can’t live without were to see them stripped of every façade and false front, they would suffer irreparable loss. Not so much financial loss, or even of power, but loss of status, respect, honor, praise, and the simple enjoyment we want people to have whenever they are in our presence.
The thought of people knowing the truth about us or seeing what we know but are ashamed to confess, drives us to lie in any number of ways, whether by direct verbal prevarication or by the creation of a public image that bears little correspondence to our true, inner selves.
Related to this point is the powerful temptation to lie to cover our sin. We want to be thought of by others as spiritual, as truly committed, as lovers of God, and the truth would reveal that we aren’t quite what we promote ourselves to be.
But once we are glorified all such self-defensiveness and self-protection will be a distant memory, if we even remember it at all. There will be no fear of loss because we will then experience unending gain. Again, the ultimate underlying reason why we fear exposure is because we don’t believe that being in Christ and being loved by Christ and in union with Christ is enough. We live under the delusion that we need something more. But when we see Christ fully for who he is and our minds are saturated with the knowledge of what he’s done, all such idolatrous fears will disappear. We will rest so peacefully in who he is for us that our craving for the acceptance and approval and praise of others will vanish. It simply will cease to exist in our souls.
(4) Envy – Envy is a desire for some privilege or benefit that belongs to another together with resentment that another has it and you don't. Envy is the poisonous fruit of dissatisfaction with God. Did you hear that? Envy is the poisonous fruit of dissatisfaction with God. If God were truly enough for you, you wouldn’t feel the need to have what others enjoy. If God were sufficient for your soul, you wouldn’t feel driven to resent people for possessing what you don’t. The day is coming when we will be so utterly satisfied with God that there will not be so much as a fleeting flicker of a thought of what we might enjoy beyond who he is for us in Jesus.
A Concluding Thought
Can you pause with me and try to envision with God’s help what it will be like never to feel disqualified or inadequate. What will it be like never again to live under the oppressive weight of having failed other people who depended on you and the guilt of having let God down? Are there words to describe the sensation in our souls of being utterly devoid of the fear that God is displeased with us? Is there a way to express the exhilaration of never knowing the pain of being laughed at for one’s failures or overlooked because one has fallen short of others’ expectations as well as those of God?
What will be the sensations in our minds when what we think will be perfectly accurate and to the point? Whatever we feel will be pure and devoid of corruption. Whatever we do will be accomplished without error. Whatever we say will serve only to bless and encourage. We will only hear words and melodies and a vast variety of sounds that are of such an exalted and godly essence that they will elicit in us only exalted and godly affections. What we will then see and taste will serve only to stimulate gratitude for God’s good gifts and a hunger for more of them, a hunger that will glorify God as the never-ending and eternally abundant Giver of all good things.]
A Concluding Prayer
“Oh, God, may the glorious, unfathomable thought of one day and forevermore never being able to sin again serve to intensify now, in the present day, our hatred of it. May we despise it with a holy hatred. May our revulsion against sin deepen and expand and change how we think and speak and act today. May the promise of never being able to sin boomerang back into our souls so that sin might turn sour in our mouths. Fill us with the vision of an eternity of being like Jesus. Fill us with the life-changing expectation that when he appears he will change and transform our lowly bodies into conformity with his glorious body. Knowing, as we do from your Word, that this day is coming, may we be ever more desperate to deny sin a place in our hearts. Knowing that this day is coming, may we be filled with the joy of righteousness. Knowing that this day is coming, may our lives, by your grace, reflect the presence and beauty and power of Jesus.”