Thursday, March 29, 2012

Afterlife Sanctification? A Look at Scripture, Pt. 1

For the last three days, I have examined the introduction to Dr. Jerry Walls’ book, titled Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. What very few individuals know about me is that I have a secret interest in a study of the Doctrine of Hell. When I entered my Master of Theology (ThM) program last Fall (2011), I wanted to study the Doctrine of Hell for my theology degree; however, I decided that Inclusivism and Theology of Religions was probably a better route (conversationally) to head into. This private interest of mine in the Doctrine of Hell is one of the reasons why I turned to Dr. Walls’ book when deciding to return to the Center for Theological Studies and blog once more. Let me just say, before I start the subject matter of this post, that it is a blessing that the Lord has favored me to return to the blog I love so much. I pray that you have been blessed by the work done in the last few days...and that you would continue to allow the Lord to challenge your theological views, day in and day out. This is still my prayer; Master of Theology students still need the Holy Spirit to teach them theological truth daily. Praise the Lord that He is patient and teaches us in all things!

Today, I want us to continue to examine Dr. Jerry Walls’ quote about afterlife sanctification. The quote stems from a context in which Walls discusses four possible views on how sinful human beings (though believers) can enter the afterlife. The first view states that believers enter into heaven with their sin because it is not eliminated from them in this life. Walls dismisses this, and so do I. The second view says that no one enters heaven because all believers have sin---even up to the last moments of their lives. I disagree with this because of so many saints scripturally that are in glory with the Lord. Does the Roll Call of Faith in Hebrews 11 mean anything (cf. Heb. 11:13-16)?

View three says that the Lord makes believers holy in an instant, a theory that I find plausible and commendable based on texts such as 1 Corinthians 15 that say the Lord will transform our bodies “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Dr. Walls, however, finds the fourth view the most plausible for his convictions:

“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” (Dr. Jerry Walls, Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, page 6).

In my last post, I stated that this poses problems for married spouses who were unfaithful to each other in life (and battled infidelity until death). If they need a portion of the afterlife in which to learn how to be better husbands and wives, they are out of luck---for the marriage bond ends at death, according to Romans 7:2-3. Additionally, men and women do not marry in eternity (cf. Matt. 22:30). If sanctification in marriage cannot exist in the afterlife, then neither can sanctification in any sense still exist in the afterlife. Sin is no longer an issue when one lays down his or her flesh.

This was a rather indirect way to approach Dr. Walls’ proposition that there is such a thing as afterlife sanctification. In today’s post, I look to tackle Walls’ proposition based on direct references to the biblical text. That is, what do the Scriptures teach concerning purgatory, heaven, and hell?

A classic text that I think is pivotal to a Protestant defense against Purgatory is the repentant thief on the cross, a unique passage to Luke 23:39-43:

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43, New American Standard Bible).

There were two thieves at the crucifixion event: one that was only concerned about saving himself from mortal death, the other that only wanted to be saved from spiritual death. He did not ask to be spared from mortal death. Why? Because, as he told the selfish thief,

“And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Lk. 23:41, NASB).

There is information in the passage above from Luke 23 that specifically pertains to Dr. Walls’ fourth view of afterlife sanctification. Notice that the man knows some things about Christ: 1) His name is “Jesus”; 2) Jesus has a kingdom; 3) Jesus is innocent of the crime for which He has been charged and convicted; 4) Jesus will rise from the dead. The fourth piece of information is pivotal, since it seems the thief had heard Jesus’ preaching and teaching about Himself and His coming kingdom for a while. The thief on the cross may have been a thief, but he was also a man who had heard Christ’s teaching and believed His message.

In the poignant moment between the repentant thief and Jesus, the thief asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus understands the request and says, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise.” What are we to make of this? Jesus did not tell the man, “You must first undergo the moral reformatory school of purgatory, since you have been a criminal for most of your life and you need sanctification in this matter before you can enter heaven...then, you will be with me in paradise.” No---Jesus’s words to the repentant thief were that, in that very day, at the thief’s last breath, he would be with Jesus in paradise, in glory.

The repentant thief needed only repentance and faith to spend eternity with Christ. And it is no different for us, either. All we need is repentance and a confession of faith. If the repentant thief shows us anything, it is that afterlife sanctification is not necessary---for, the very day in which believers leave earth, we too, will be with Jesus in paradise. God bless.

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