NOTES II Corinthians
4:13-18 (click here for study)
Paul has just completed his discussion of our carrying the power of God in our mortal bodies as treasure camouflaged in jars of clay. He states that he is continually "being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body." (4:11)
His subjection to death and suffering, however, is not what shapes Paul's life. Love for Jesus Christ motivates him. To emphasize his point, Paul quotes from Psalm 116:7-11, "I believed; therefore I have spoken." He continues to elaborate on his drive to witness for the gospel: "With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak" (v.13)
Paul is identifying with the conditions surrounding the psalmist when Psalm 116 was written. According to the notes in the NIV Study Bible, the author of this psalm is not known for sure, but the song resembles other psalms of David. It is a song of deliverance from death, possibly written by a king, and, when used in corporate Jewish worship, the singular pronoun "we" was understood corporately. In a corporate worship setting, the references to "death" in this psalm may have been understood to refer to the Israelites' bondage in Egypt and/or their exodus.
The first 11 verses of this psalm follow:
The author of this psalm was suffering at the hands of other people. Even though death threatened him, however, the psalmist retained his unshakable belief in God's compassion, mercy, righteousness, and protection. He summarizes his experience by saying in v. 10, "I believed; therefore I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.' "
At first glance the two declarations seem unrelated. He believed, therefore he said he was afflicted. The truth, however, is that it is the psalmist's unwavering belief in God's power to save and in God's protection over him that led him to cry out to God in agony. He didn't just declare his suffering, however; he also spoke of his disillusionment with the people around him.
"All men are liars," he said.
The context of the psalm suggests that the threat of death from which the psalmist is praising God for deliverance was brought about by accusations from false accusers.
Paul could intimately identify with this cry from the psalmist's heart. His ministry was being attacked by false apostles and false accusers, and the persecution he faced was severe. His life was in danger from the attacks against him. Yet Paul did not retreat. Like the psalmist, he believed in God's mercy and protection, and he did not hesitate both to call out to God and to declare the gospel no matter what happened to him.
Speaking in the Spirit of Faith
Without a secure belief in the constancy and goodness of God, there is no motive to speak for God in the face of suffering and persecution; there is no reason either to call on God in dependence or to proclaim him to others. Paul, however, declares that he shares the "spirit of faith" the psalmist had when he wrote Psalm 116, and he will not stop speaking about Jesus who rose from the dead and who will raise us with Jesus and present us to his Father.
In the words of Jesus, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matt. 12:34) The confidence and beliefs that dominate a person's mind and heart will determine about what s/he talks. Paul is affirming this truth when he says, "I believed; therefore I have spoken."
The psalmist had absolute faith in God as his deliverer and protector. Paul's confidence is even more specific. He believes in the same God for the same deliverance as did the psalmist, but Paul now knows Jesus, the God-man, who is the promised deliverer. Paul's confidence in God is even more personal and informed than was the psalmist's. Paul knows that Jesus has come and has effected the ultimate deliverance that the psalmist understood only by faith in God's promise. Paul is declaring God's goodness from the perspective of one who has not only been delivered from death at the hands of his enemies but as one who has been delivered from the eternal death of sin. Paul cannot keep silent, because he knows personally the Redeemer whom the psalmist knew only by faith.
Raised with Jesus
Paul declares that he believes and therefore speaks because he knows that God, who raised Jesus from death, will raise us with Jesus and present us in His presence. This assertion has a two-fold fulfillment for Christ-followers.
The first fulfillment is spiritual. When we accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells us and brings our spirits from death to life. We become one with God through the connection of our spirits to His. Our spirits, which are real but intangible, literally enter the presence of God. The essence of who we are comes before God the Father because of Jesus mediating his sacrifice for sin on our behalf. Because Jesus took our sin, he gives us his own righteousness, and we come spiritually into the presence of God. We can be in God's presence because our spirits are covered with righteousness from Jesus. If we were not covered with Jesus' righteousness, we would not be able to come into the presence of God. Since God is holy, we would not be able to be in his presence tainted with sin. But Jesus covers us with himself, and God accepts us into his presence, even now while we are still in our sinful fleshy bodies. God looks at us and sees Jesus' perfection justifying our presence before him.
Paul frequently discusses this miracle of our presence before God because of the resurrection and righteousness of Christ. In Romans 6:5-10 he explains that since we as Christ-followers have accepted the death of Jesus and participate in it by allowing our "old self" to be crucified so we can be freed from the bondage of sin, even so we participate in his resurrection. We are "dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." We share in Jesus' resurrection spiritually by dying to sin and accepting the Holy Spirit's power in us, making us spiritually alive and connected to our Father from whom we were born separated.
Paul further discusses this idea in Romans 8:10-11. There he says that our bodies are dead because of sin, but our spirits are alive because of righteousness. Then he makes the remarkable statement that "he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." When we come to life spiritually, God actually puts new life into our still sinful bodies. In other words, God enables us in our sinful bodies to begin to live by God's power, making decisions which reflect His grace and mercy and authority, instead of living by our natural perceptions which come from a sinful soul disconnected from God.
In Colossians Paul states that God has reconciled us "by Christ's physical body" through his death to present us holy in His eyes. (Col. 1:22) Spiritually we are already experiencing the realities of salvation. Already we are in the presence of God, if we have accepted Jesus, and already we stand before him clothed in righteousness from Jesus. This reality is not merely a metaphor. It does not mean that God looks at us here on earth, sees we have accepted Jesus, and credits that belief to us for a future realization. It DOES mean that God looks at us, knows we have accepted Jesus, and from that moment our spirits are before him, connected to him literally by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
One of Paul's most provocative discussions of our spiritual standing before God is in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:3-4 he praises God for blessing us "with every spiritual blessing in Christ." In Ephesians 2:6 he further says that "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace"
The full reality of these passages is partly shrouded in mystery. What is clear is that when we accept Christ, we, our spirits, enter the heavenly realm with Christ through our connection with him through His Spirit. The fact that Jesus went to his Father's right hand and that in him we also sit in the "heavenly realm" suggests that ultimate issues are worked out from that realm. (see note in NIV Study Bible.) Our presence with Christ in the heavenly realm suggests that already we are receiving the eternal benefits of salvation. We are already receiving our inheritance promised us through Christ.
Further, the miracle and mysteries of Christ's sacrifice and our redemption will be the primary exhibit of God's kindness and mercy not only now, but "in the coming ages." After time and this heaven and earth are passed, our being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms will be a statement for eternity of the goodness and mercy and justice and love of God.
The second part of our promise that we will be raised with Jesus and be in his presence is the resurrection at Christ's return. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-22 clarify that we will physically rise from death and take on resurrection bodies in the same way Jesus did.
Jesus will redeem not only our spirits but also our bodies, restoring us to complete wholeness when he returns.
Redemption Now vs. Soul Sleep
These New Testament understandings of our spiritual redemption occurring now, the moment we accept Jesus, could not make sense if the concept behind the doctrine of soul sleep were true. Soul sleep, as many of us were taught it, says that our spirits are merely our breaths. When we die, says the doctrine, our breath returns to God, and we go into the ground for an indeterminate amount of time until the resurrection. There is no eternal soul, the doctrine teaches. There is no conscious "knowing" that returns to God to be with him in unbroken unity. There is no conscious "knowing" that goes into eternal punishment if a person rejects Jesus. According to the doctrine of soul sleep, a person dies like an animal dies. There is NOTHING after death except our memory in the mind of God. From his omnipotent memory, the doctrine teaches, God essentially recreates his people at the resurrection. Since there is no immortal soul and the spirit is only breath, all that's needed is a resurrection body, and God can recreate his people.
If the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the soul and the spirit are true, then these passages in the New Testament could be nothing more than metaphors, promises of eternity in the future. Without a belief in a literal spirit that communes with God's spirit, salvation would be merely a physical act, a mental decision, and the reality of salvation would not occur until the resurrection. If the body is all there is, then there can be no assurance of salvation because the body is a body of sin.
The Bible teaches that our spirits are redeemed and eternally connected with God through the Holy Spirit the moment we receive Christ as our Savior. Our bodies are redeemed at the resurrection. Without a belief in a literal spirit and an immortal soul, the New Testament teaching of salvation would be only a promise, a theory. It would not be literally true NOW. But the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God's and that Jesus is real. Our salvation is real, and our spirits are already with God.
This grace, Paul says, is "reaching more and more people." The news of the grace of God that made the eternal Word flesh so he could live among us (John 1:14) and die in our place is spreading to more and more people. This grace changes our reality when we receive it. Even though this grace had been promised to humanity since Adam and Eve sinned (see Genesis 3:15), it did not become tangible reality until Jesus came and revealed it.
"For the law was given through Moses," says John 1:17; "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
People from the beginning of time have been saved by faith in God. The reality in which that faith was grounded was only revealed, however, in the person of Jesus Christ. He showed us the Father. He lived life perfectly as a human. He, the sinless one, took our place as the sufferer for sin. Our Creator who loves us extended this grace to an entire sinful race. No logic explains why he intersected time and our individual lives to perform this miracle. This grace is not something we can expect as an inevitable act from a warm-hearted God. God is sovereign; he cannot tolerate sin in his presence, yet his grace is real. It is a mystery shrouded in love, the ultimate power of justice and mercy in the universe.
Seeing the Unseen
Paul concludes this discussion of the treasure of the new covenant transforming us in our temporary clay vessels by referring again to the privations he faced in his ministry.
"Therefore we do not lose heart," he says. "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."
Most of us can relate in some degree to Paul's comments about wasting away. Time alone takes an ultimately fatal toll on our mortal bodies. Our strength and vigor fade gradually. Paul, though, is wasting away not only from age but also from repeated beatings, imprisonment, and physical hardship. He also suffers from the stress of being maligned, slandered, and misrepresented.
It is at these points of suffering, though, that Paul experiences the transformation of grace. The pain and deprivation in his life are not destroying him as they would a non-born-again person. Physically he is surviving, and emotionally and spiritually he is alive and well. He is renewed every day by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, changing his motives and desires and giving him spiritual eyes to see the reality of truth.
When we are born again and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we begin to see what the world cannot see. No matter what philosophy or theory shapes the world's current and temporary views of education, politics, religion, reality, or God himself, a Christ-follower living by the Spirit will see an ultimate truth and reality that the world will never perceive.
No matter what today's post-modern philosophies state, truth is not relative. The Holy Spirit reveals the powerful but unseen reality that God is ultimate truth. Jesus Christ is our ultimate sacrifice and mediator. We are born spiritually dead. We will be lost eternally if we do not open ourselves to the truth that we need a Savior-and that we have a Savior!
Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. He has done the unexplainable-he has restored us to spiritual life. He has placed us already in the Father's presence. Like Paul we fix our eyes on what is unseen-the reality that we are one with God, that he will come again, that he will restore our bodies just as he has restored our souls, and that we will physically spend eternity with Him.
No relativism can destroy the truth that only Jesus can redeem us. No suffering can destroy the reality that we are already in the Father's presence. No loss can destroy our eternal future with God.
Jesus is asking you to let him be more real to you than are the hardships of your life. He is loving you and upholding you in ways you cannot see or even sense, and he asks you to open your heart to him and be vulnerable. He is asking you to trust him even when you cannot see beyond the miasma of oppression, doubt, and fear that envelopes you.
Like Paul, you may be slandered, misunderstood, and misrepresented by people who have been close to you. The gospel changes everything, and when you become born again, all your relationships shift. Some will grow increasingly honest, and you will find support and spiritual oneness with people from whom you would never have imagined sharing a bond. Others become increasingly distant and sometimes cold and hostile.
The eternal constant in the life of a Christ-follower is the love and presence of Jesus. Even when circumstances do not reveal his closeness, he is there. Therefore, as Paul says, do not lose heart. When you talk to others, don't be afraid to declare the reality of Jesus' presence in your life. Don't be ashamed of the gospel. Trust what you cannot see but what you KNOW to be true: Jesus will never leave you. He is more constant and faithful than any circumstance you experience. Let yourself lean on his love, and trust him to work in the situations that baffle you. Leave the people who hurt you in his hands. Let God deal with them, and allow his Spirit to soothe the raw places in your soul.
Acknowledge to God that you have been obsessing on or micro-managing the circumstances and people in your life. Ask him to place his Spirit in the place in your heart where you have nurtured your control and fear. Ask him to give you the courage to let go of your self-interest and allow God to do whatever he wants to do with these troublesome circumstances and relationships.
Ask God to live his life through you so those who interact with you will experience streams of living water flowing from you even without your awareness. Ask Jesus to make his love more real to you than criticism, misunderstanding, and fear of abandonment. Also ask him to reveal to you how he wants you to grow. Let Jesus show you things in yourself you need to change. Ask him to be your courage and your power both to accept the insights he gives you and to begin to live differently.
Let the peace of God fill your heart. Surrender your control and fear to him, and allow him to glorify himself through you. When others disrespect you, let his love fill you and be enough. Trust Jesus; he performed eternity's most inscrutable and life-changing miracle for you. He will care for you and the issues in your life.
Praise God for glorifying himself through us! Praise Jesus for giving us new life. Praise the Holy Spirit for being our strength to die to ourselves and to live in Jesus.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted April 6, 2002.