Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Acquiring Actual Holiness, Pt. 2: Four Views on Sin and Eternity

In my last post, I introduced Jerry Walls’ book and pointed out some problems that I have with his view that purgatory actually exists. It is pretty easy to tell that someone believes strongly in purgatory, particularly when his or her introduction begins with the excerpt I covered yesterday. I pointed out yesterday that Philippians 1:6 seems to be confident about the Philippian believers, that God would complete what He started in their lives. This indicates to me that the Lord, having started their transformation by way of regeneration, is certain to complete it. As a result, I don’t think the proper response is to argue that we need a prison sentence in eternity called purgatory to become thoroughly holy and upright in character and spirit. For Paul, John the Revelator, and others, eternity would reap the fruits of both a trusting walk with Christ and a rebellious life against Christ.
In today’s post, I’m back to examine Walls’ four views on sin and eternity. He provides four views in his book that combat questions about how sin exists in eternity, does it exist, and how are believers made completely holy. Walls writes:

“And the cowboy is far from alone in his predicament. Indeed, there are Christians of many stages of spiritual maturity and growth in holiness and many, probably most, die far short of perfection. In another sermon, Newman reflected on this reality, observing that there are many persons who may be sincere servants of God who are ‘dark and feeble’ in their religious state. Many others repent late in life, if not on their death bed, and leave few traces of Christian fruit in their lives. And beyond all such cases as these, he pointed out that there are many others who have made a good start and persevered, yet have hardly begun the process of sanctification ‘when death comes upon them;--many who have been in circumstances of especial difficulty, who have had fiercer temptations, more perplexing trials than the rest, and in consequence have been impeded in their course.’

Faced with what seems to be this obvious empirical reality, the question remains about the fate of such persons. There are four broad possibilities. First, we might say that they go to heaven with their sins, imperfections, and the like intact, so heaven is not in fact essentially sinless. Second, we might think they will simply be lost and never make it to heaven if they die without actually becoming completely holy. Third, we might say that at the moment of death, God makes people holy by an instantaneous, unilateral act, however imperfect, sinful, and immature in character they may be. Fourth, we may say that the sanctification process continues after death with our willing cooperation until the process is complete, and we are actually made holy through and through” (Jerry Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 6).

While Walls presents four views, two are of the utmost attention. The first two can be discarded: heaven is a sinless place because God dwells there—and He has no sin, and in Him is no sin at all (1 John). Next, the idea that you must be completely holy to enter heaven would discard the entire human race. No one person is holy enough that at the end of their lives, they can enter heaven based on their actions. Until our dying breath, there are still things that we will want that are sinful and against God. If we must get to heaven on personal holiness, we will all fail and enter eternity in Hell. Hell is really all we deserve, had it not been for the atoning work of Jesus Christ. We deserve Hell; He is the one that has given us Heaven instead.

Views three and four are the two most interesting to examine. View three says that we enter Heaven because of a unilateral act of God whereby He makes us holy in an instant. This seems plausible and commendable as a theory. After all, are believers not changed “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52)? 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of the end, when believers put on immortality. Read Paul’s words further:

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of the sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57, NASB).

When is “death swallowed up in victory?” At the resurrection, when believers who died in Christ put on immortality---and those who are alive put on immortality. At this point, we are given immortal bodies, bodies that do not long or yearn for sin of any kind. In a moment, as fast as an eye can sparkle, believers will be made holy. This is a rather damaging truth to the fourth view Walls proposes. The fourth view is one in line with Walls’ conviction, and I will discuss it in my next post.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take 1 Corinthians 15. Let it challenge you to begin thinking about whether or not a long time in purgatory matches 1 Corinthians 15 and its sanctified “transformation in the blink of an eye.” I have no qualms against Dr. Walls presenting a philosophically-appealing view; I do disagree, however, with his view when it contradicts what I see found in Scripture. God bless.

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