Thursday, December 08, 2011

Paul the Christ-Follower 2

... continued from the previous post.
At least initially, Paul seemed to expect Christ to return within his lifetime.  We who are alive and remain will be caught up in the air, he tells the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:17).  He advises the Corinthians that it is best not to marry because "the time is short" (1 Cor. 7:29).  The question of what happens to believers who die does not even seem to have come up in the months he was at Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13).  He must have focused almost entirely on escaping the coming judgment on the living (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:10) and hardly mentioned the dead. His focus was thus almost the opposite of many today, emphasizing Christ's return to the earth rather than what happens after you die.

Language of "salvation" in Paul thus focused overwhelmingly on an event that was coming rather than on some internal experience.  The gospel was also the positive truth that God had enthroned Jesus as king and that God's kingdom was coming--it did not focus on some individual experience.  Believers would still on the Day of judgment give an account for how they had lived, even after God had forgiven their sins (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10).  While there was no promise of salvation if a person did not continue in faithfulness (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:26-27; Phil. 3:11), other believers might only get a bit burned in that judgment, while still making it into the kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:13-15).

On the day when Christ returned, the material creation, including our physical bodies, would be transformed to become like Christ's body after he was resurrected (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21).  Currently, the creation is enslaved to corruption and decay (Rom. 8:20), probably since the time of Adam's sin.  Our physical flesh, because it is a part of the creation, is also in its default state in subjection to the power of Sin.  This is why those without the Spirit cannot do the good, even if they want to do so.

However, the Spirit frees us now from this power of sin, and when Christ returns the whole creation will be liberated.  Paul likely located eternity on this renewed earth.  This eternal kingdom of God on earth, where Christ would reign would thus not be a matter of "flesh and blood" (1 Cor. 15:50), but of transformed bodies.

In the meantime, believers live on earth as the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12-31).  We each have different roles to play, but each is important.  The Spirit lives in the local assemblies (churches) collectively as the temple of the Lord (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16) far more importantly than within each person individually.  Collectively as well as individually, a church presents its bodies to God as a singular living sacrifice (Rom. 12:2).  Together as well as individually, the God of peace sets us apart and makes us his, "sanctified" and blameless (1 Thess. 5:23).

No comments: