NOTES II Corinthians
5:1-10 (click here for study)
Paul has spent the first four chapters of this letter to the Corinthians discussing the implications of the new covenant and its effect on our lives. He has explained how it has superceded the old covenant, and he has described how the Holy Spirit, the seal of the new covenant, transforms our lives even while we're in our "jars of clay", our earthly bodies.
In chapter five, Paul takes the discussion past the effects of the new covenant on our earthly lives and discusses the fact that our bodies are only our temporary dwellings. We will not spend eternity in these bodies but will be given "heavenly dwelling[s]". Paul even says that as long as we are "at home in the body we are away from the Lord." (v.6) This passage discusses the fact that we are separate from our bodies and that our earthly bodies keep us "away from the Lord".
While this teaching seems normal to most Christians, many of us were taught that humans have no "immortal soul". We were taught that our spirits were simply our breath which leaves us at death. Our breath, we were taught, returns to God; our bodies stay in the ground until the resurrection. No essential "us" remains after death. We are not with God in death. We largely ignored this passage in 2 Corinthians, or we rationalized that it was not literal. At death, we were taught, we cease to be. Therefore it SEEMS instantaneous that we go from our earthly tent to being at home with the Lord because while we are dead and non-existent, we are not aware of time passing. Regardless of how many months or millennia pass between our deaths and our resurrection, it will SEEM only an instant.
We will explore this passage closely because its implications for us who were taught the doctrine of soul sleep are profound.
Paul refers to our bodies as the "earthly tent we live in." (v.1) This designation clearly assumes that "we" are not our bodies. We merely inhabit our bodies. The essence of our personalities and consciousness is an entity that merely uses our bodies as a dwelling place.
Paul is not the only apostle to refer to our bodies as a temporary tent. In 2 Peter 1:13-14, Peter wrote these words, "I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me."
Clearly Peter is referring to his impending death, and like Paul he talks about leaving his bodily "tent". A tent is a moveable, temporary dwelling. It suggests impermanence and a certain amount of inadequacy. A tent may provide a certain amount of protection and mobility, but it can't protect a person against environmental extremes. It also lacks the beauty and permanence of a house. By comparing the body to a tent, both Peter and Paul are saying that we are currently living in temporary accommodations. We are looking forward to inheriting permanent, adequate, glorious bodies, and the part of us that "knows" transcends this earthly tent. We survive even when our body dies.
Paul refers to our body-tents as "earthly" because they come from the substance of the earth. Genesis 2:7 says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
In 1 Corinthians 15:47 Paul picks up this reference to man's creation when he says about Adam and Jesus, "The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven."
If our "earthly tent" is destroyed, Paul emphasizes, we have "a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." In 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 Paul discusses this heavenly building. It will be our resurrection body, a "spiritual body" which we cannot understand now, but which will differ from our present bodies as a plant is different from the seed which generated it.
Paul even says that we "groan and are burdened" because we desire to be clothed with our heavenly bodies, or, as he says in Romans 8:23, we eagerly wait for the redemption of our bodies. Our born-again spirits are not at home in our earthly tents. These are temporary; redemption bodies that are as new as is our life in Jesus await us. Receiving our "heavenly bodies" is the final demonstration of our salvation.
Death Swallowed Up by Life
As Paul discusses our desire to have our earthly tents replaced by our heavenly dwellings he uses a provocative metaphor. We want this final redemption, he says, "so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."
Traditionally death is seen as the great "swallower". "Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me," says the psalmist in Psalm 69:15.
Proverbs 1:12 also pictures death as swallowing life: "let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit."
2 Corinthians 5:4, however, reverses this image. It describes life as swallowing death. Isaiah prophesied of a time when life would destroy death. "He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces." (Isaiah 25:8)
Hosea, too, foretold life conquering death. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death," he quotes God as saying in Hosea 13:14.
Paul also quotes Isaiah in prophesying the power of life. "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' " (1 Cor. 15:53-54 quoting Isaiah 25:8)
Jesus emphasized this startling truth when he said, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)
Contrary to our time-bound perspective, life is the most powerful and inevitable force in the universe, not death. In our natural sinful, separated-from-God state, we see death as controlling us all. Death has the last word; death cannot be stopped or avoided. From an eternal perspective, however, it becomes clear that life is really the last word. Life will swallow up death. Only with spirits born from above does this truth come into focus. Death is the enemy; death is powerful but deceptive. It cannot extinguish Life. Life will devour death.
This total transformation from spiritual and physical death to spiritual and physical life is the purpose for which God created us. It is His will and by his mercy that we be transformed as Jesus was, inheriting spiritual life and intimacy with God and ultimately physical redemption and eternal bodies housing our immortal spirits.
Home in the Body-Away from the Lord
Paul begins the next part of his discussion by saying, "Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord." By making this statement he is not saying that we do not have the presence of Christ with us while we are alive on earth.
In John 14:16-18 Jesus said he would send "another Counselor" after he left "to be with you forever." Further, this "Spirit of truth" would live in us and be with us. "I will not leave you as orphans," Jesus promised.
After his resurrection and just before his ascension, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and make more disciples. "And surely I am with you always," he ended, "to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b)
Ephesians 1:13-14 also states that when we believe in Jesus, he marks us with the Holy Spirit, "who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession." A deposit is not temporary; the person to whom it is given keeps it as a promise-a guarantee-that more is to come.
We are not without the continual presence of Christ when we are Christ-followers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and he never leaves us. The new birth is the phenomenon of God's Spirit entering us and making us new creations. That continual presence of God and intimacy between our hearts and his does not periodically come and go.
When Paul says that we are away from the Lord when we are at home in the body he means that our conscious self, our personality, the essence of who we are, is physically away from Jesus. We are here on earth, functioning in time and space in our temporary tents for the glory of God in this place. As long as our personalities, our conscious, essential "selves" are in our bodies, however, they are only connected to Jesus by His Spirit. We are living by faith, and not by sight. We know, because of the Holy Spirit, that God's presence is in us, and we know that we are eternally his. But we know these things by faith. They are spiritual realities, not physical. We cannot tangibly see Jesus or show him to another in person.
We only see dimly what reality awaits us in the future. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror," Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12; "then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
Now, in our temporary bodies, we only know Jesus "in part". He knows us; he has the vantage of eternity. But when we lose our limiting tents, we will know him fully.
Souls with God or Soul Sleep?
Verses 6-8 strongly suggest that Paul is asserting that "we", the conscious, essential parts of ourselves, are with God when our earthly tents finally die. Many of us were taught that this obvious understanding is really not so. What Paul meant, we were told, is that when we finally die, the next thing we'll know is being with the Lord. As long as we are alive, our past training taught us, we are not with God; when we die, we go into the ground. Our souls/spirits know nothing. The reason Paul wrote this passage, we were taught, was simply a picturesque way of saying that he welcomed death because the next thing he'd know would be seeing God at the resurrection. This teaching (which contradicts this passage) is called the doctrine of "soul sleep". How can we know what is true?
The Old Testament was not clear about the state of mankind in death. The Jews had a sense that God preserved his people after death; they believed that their souls went to "Abraham's bosom". But they were not clear about exactly what that meant or how it worked.
It is only in the New Testament that we learn what happens to a believer after death. Only after Jesus died and conquered the power of death could we know that we would be preserved after death. Only after Jesus made it possible for us to be born again and spiritually enter eternity was it possible for us to understand that we would never be separated from God, even if we die. (John 11:25-26; Romans 8:35-39)
Other passages in the New Testament confirm that we remain with God after our bodies die. In Philippians 1:22-24 Paul writes one of his most compelling statements to this effect: "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."
Although the details of how we will be with Christ are not explained, still Paul is certain that if he were to lose his "earthly tent" it would be "better by far" than staying alive on earth. He would enter the actual presence of Jesus, and that, he knew, would be better than remaining alive on earth. He is certain that he would immediately enter the Lord's presence; there is no hint of a hiatus. He would not remain in the ground, unconscious and non-existent, for months or years while he waited for the resurrection. Paul is not talking about the resurrection in this passage. He is talking about leaving his body-departing-and being with Christ.
Another passage that states the righteous dead are with Christ is 1 Thessalonians 4:14: "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." He goes on to say "the dead in Christ will rise first."
This text clearly says that God BRINGS WITH JESUS those who have fallen asleep. They come with him, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Those souls he brings will be resurrected first. The text does not say Jesus returns, then commands the dead in Christ to rise. Rather, it states that he brings them with him, and then the dead rise with resurrection bodies.
John 11:25-26 also reassures us that when we are in Christ, we live even if we die. This amazing paradox is stated this way, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.' "
Of Moses & Elijah, Abraham & the Rich Man
An indirect but instructive event happened at the transfiguration. Jesus had gone up the mountain leaving Peter, James, and John a ways behind. He was transfigured as the disciples watched. "Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus." (Matthew 15:3)
Many of us learned that Elijah had been taken to heaven without seeing death. That is taught in the Bible. The other thing we learned was that Moses was resurrected after he died, and that was how he appeared with Elijah as a heavenly guest. That is NOT taught in the Bible. The text with which we supported that theory was Jude 9: "But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' "
The problem with the Jude text is that it says nothing about resurrection. It merely says Michael and the devil disputed about the BODY of Moses. (see 1 Corinthians 15) The body of Moses was clearly dead in this dispute. Exactly what the dispute was about, we're not told. There is nothing, however, to indicate that the dispute was about whether or not Moses would be resurrected. God doesn't need the physical body in order to resurrect his sleeping saints. The idea that Moses was resurrected came from Ellen White. She states that Moses was resurrected and taken to heaven. The Bible does not teach this idea.
The essential part of Moses was with God. He was able to visit Jesus with Elijah on the mount of transfiguration because God sent him, clothed in a transfigured body, to speak to Jesus.
Another passage that lends support to the idea that people's personalities exist after death is Jesus' famous parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Found in Luke 16:19-26, this parable tells of a rich man who died and went to hell, while a poor, suffering beggar died and went "to Abraham's side," or paradise. The rich man called to Abraham to let Lazarus come to him and cool him with his finger dipped in water. Abraham replied that "a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."
Those of us who were Adventists learned that this parable was just a story Jesus told to illustrate that people are lost because they refuse to take the Bible seriously. This parable does not reflect anything real, we were told; after all, we know "the dead know not anything," (Ecclesiastes 9:5) so this parable is just reflecting a familiar Jewish folk idea. It is simply an illustration of a universal truth: nothing will convince a man to believe if he doesn't believe the Bible.
The problem with our Adventist reasoning in this matter is that it devalues Jesus. Jesus would not tell an untruth in order to illustrate a truth. Jesus did not play word games. He did speak in parables, but his parables were not untruths. They were often metaphorical, and they often told stories that were figurative rather than literal. But Jesus' stories always represented truth. His parables never represented things that were false. Jesus would not trick people by telling a parable representing a lie in order to teach a truth. This parable of the rich man and Lazarus, while not necessarily representing actual people, nonetheless represents a situation that is true. We can trust the words of Jesus. He did not speak trickery or say things just to be colorful or clever. He spoke to teach us what is real.
What Goes to God?
We were taught that our spirits return to God. Indeed, the Bible teaches that our spirits go to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, "The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
When Jesus died he gave his spirit to God: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' " (Luke 23:46)
What is this spirit that returns to God? As Adventists, we were taught that it is our breath. This idea came from the creation story. Genesis 2:7 says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
Since both the Hebrew and the Greek words for "spirit" can mean "breath" or "wind", Adventists took this passage in Genesis and identified the human spirit with the breath of life. They teach that the spirit is simply our breath, the air that we take into our lungs to sustain our bodies. This teaching shores up their doctrine of soul sleep. If a person has only body plus breath, then at death, after the body ceases to breathe, there is nothing remaining except a corpse. The human spirit, therefore, is the air in our respiratory system. When we die, according to this theory, we die like animals. Nothing of us survives.
Does the Bible teach that our spirits are our breaths?
Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 51:10 further says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Again in verse 17 the psalmist says, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
Clearly David was not talking about our breaths when he wrote these verses. Our breaths cannot be crushed or broken or steadfast. "Spirit" meant something else, something aware and conscious and responsive to God.
Ezekiel foretold the coming new covenant and said, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them." (Ezekiel 11:19) The new spirit cannot be a new breath. It has to be something more essential to our personalities.
When Jesus was praying in Gethsemane he said to his disciples, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." The spirit that was willing was not the breath in the apostles' lungs. Breath is neither willing nor unwilling. It is neutral and without choice.
In Romans 8:16 Paul says, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." The Holy Spirit witnesses to us, when we become believers, that we are adopted into the family of God. The Holy Spirit does not convince us of this life-changing truth by speaking to the air in our noses. Our spirits, therefore, have to be something more essential to us than our breath. Our spirits are the parts of us that communicate with God.
In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." In Philippians 2:2 he says, "then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." And in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, "May God himself, the god of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The "spirit" of which Paul speaks is not "breath". Breath cannot be blameless; breath cannot be morally contaminated; breath cannot be one in purpose.
To Timothy he wrote, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 2:7)
Peter said this about beauty in a woman, "Your beautyshould be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4) In this verse Peter talks about the "unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit." The body, we know, wastes and fades away. Breath disappears at death. But a quiet spirit, Peter says, has unfading beauty, and it is of great worth to God. Breath cannot be the spirit of which he speaks. Breath is not unfading; it does not have the characteristics of being gentle and quiet or of great worth to God.
The spirit is something that can change and grow. It is the part of us that knows God and responds to His Spirit. Our spirits are the core of ourselves that are immortal. When we are Christ-followers, our spirits live forever with Jesus. It is not our breath which returns to God. Breath is inanimate. Our spirits, however, define our characters and shape our personalities. Our spirits can be born into eternity, and they know Jesus. Our spirits are sentient. Our spirits KNOW and grow.
Our spirits can never be separated from God once we've accepted Jesus and been sealed by His Spirit.
Paul ends this passage by saying that our goal is to please God whether we are "in the body or away from it." He clearly communicates that when we are no longer in this body, we can still please God. Soul sleep as taught by Adventists does not allow for any activity or pleasing God after death. Our goal of pleasing God, he explains, is motivated by the fact that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
A teaching related to soul sleep which most Adventists learn is that we do not know whether we are saved or not until Jesus' second coming. Verses such as this one become "proof" for Adventists that our eternal destiny will be decided not when we accept Christ but when we stand before his judgment seat at his return.
The Bible teaches, however, that once we accept Jesus we have immediately passed from death to life. (John 5:24) For what, then, will we be judged at Christ's judgment seat?
Corinthians 3:12-15 has one of the clearest explanations of the believer's judgment fond in the New Testament. In this passage Paul explains that we will be judged by the works we have done as believers. If what we do is good and lasting, represented in this passage by building materials of gold, silver, and costly stones, we "will receive [our] reward." If, however, a believer's works were not lasting, as represented by building materials of wood, hay and stubble, the works will be "burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."
Believers' salvation is not lost or kept based on their works. Their salvation is entirely dependent upon their commitment to Jesus. He will appoint rewards-unspecified but clearly promised-based upon our work as believers. These rewards are NOT our salvation or lack of it. A reward is something granted because of achievement. Salvation is not a reward. Neither is it something due us for what we have done. We do not gain salvation because we achieved something and earned it. Salvation is completely an undeserved gift from God. It is entirely dependent upon his mercy and our submission to him. The believers' judgment before Christ's throne is a judgment for rewards, not a judgment to determine salvation.
The Bible is clear that when we believe in Jesus, our salvation is sure. John 3:36 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
Jesus himself spoke these words, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)
Paul says, in Romans 5:11, "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
Again in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 Paul makes this succinct declaration, "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Corinthians 1 8-9 says, "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful."
Perhaps the most famous statement of security is the one Paul and Silas said to the jailer and his family, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household." (Acts 16:31)
When we accept Jesus, we are saved. We are adopted in his family, and he is faithful to us. We never need fear that our works are keeping us out of heaven. Our salvation is based upon our relationship to Jesus, not upon our works. We can do absolutely nothing to assure that we will get to heaven. All God asks of us is belief in Jesus. He asks us for our hearts.
Paul's admonition to us to please God is not a matter of effort but a matter of submitting to the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17-18 says, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men."
Ephesians 5:8-20 describes living for God as being wise, not foolish. We are to be filled with the spirit and to encourage each other with spiritual songs, keeping a song to God in our heart always.
Colossians 1:9-12 describes living for God as being strengthened by God's power to endure patiently and to give thanks, bearing fruit in good work.
Paul further instructs Christ-followers to live holy lives-lives possible only with the power of the Holy Spirit-and to mind our own business and not to depend on others to support and care for us.
Pleasing God is not a matter of doing our best to be good. Rather, it is a matter of submission and surrender. We must surrender to Jesus every part of our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to live His life through us. Only through Him can we hope to please God.
God is asking you to believe him and to believe what the Bible teaches. Many of us have believed that we honored the Bible, yet we simultaneously "took it with a grain of salt." We believed that the Bible writers were inspired in the same way Ellen White was inspired; consequently we reserved the right to "interpret" scripture if it didn't seem to fit our doctrines.
But God is asking us to accept Him as our only authority. What he says through his word is what we must believe and upon what our lives must be based. We cannot "interpret" scripture to fit our world views. We must allow scripture to shape our world views.
God is asking you to accept with joy the reality that you can know you are saved. He is asking you to believe what the Bible says about being with him after your earthly tent is gone.
Jesus is calling you to give him your fear and your arrogance. Let his love and his truth wash away the falsehood that has held you captive, and let him make your heart alive with faith.
Let the Holy Spirit bring the Bible alive for you, and let him transform your heart and your memories and your habits into places of life and peace.
Praise God for giving us his word and revealing himself to us. Praise Jesus for completing our salvation at the cross. Praise the Holy Spirit for making Jesus real to us, for bringing the love of God into our personalities.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for making us new creatures eternally alive.
Praise Him that nothing can separate us from his love; praise him that he will never let us go!
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