Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Last Hour: Jesus' Words About the End of Life

First off, let me wish a blessed month of April to everyone! The Lord’s goodness has propelled us into the fourth month of 2012, and the Lord’s grace will get us through the remaining eight months. For now, though, I’m content with the month of April. The month of May will bring troubles of its own. One of the troubles for me during the month of May is to remember that the second Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day in which I am reminded that I had a wonderful mother---though she was taken from me all too soon. I will be brave now, however, and say that the April weather is making me more optimistic about the Lord’s goodness and reminding me of His grace daily. I need those reminders with me, all the time.

I’m back today at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS) to continue my discussion of what John Salza titles his book: “The Biblical Basis for Purgatory.” There are some of my Baptist brothers and sisters who do not discuss Purgatory, nor give any thought to it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they say...and they run off to debate other things, such as the “roles” of men and women in the church, Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and Reformed Epistemology versus Evidentialism. These are all good debates, and I have a special stake in all of them; at the same time, however, we must do everything we can to engage our Purgatory proponents (though there are Roman Catholics in this fight who are saved) and show them that it is good to be saved and know Christ; at the same time, however, we must strive to know Him “as He is,” not “as we have been taught,” or “as someone else has taught us,” or “as tradition dictates.” Though our purgatorial brothers and sisters (proponents of purgatory) are saved and believe on the Lord Jesus, the Lord desires that we “rightly [or “accurately”] divide the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We cannot be content that individuals know the Lord Jesus, though they do not know the doctrines of the faith. We must also help them come to grips with the doctrines of the faith, and strive to teach them to everyone we meet. We should not rest until God’s soldiers are adequately prepared to do battle for Christ. How will we use “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17) if we do not know what the Word says?

Today’s text, as have texts from last week, concerns Dr. Jerry Walls and his view of afterlife sanctification. For him, the idea that God makes believers holy in an instant is simply too much to stomach. As I have recorded as a quote at the blog several times in the last week, Dr. Walls believes in a term I have coined as “afterlife sanctification”; that is, those who believe on Christ but are not completely holy in this life must complete more sanctification in purgatory before they are holy enough to enter heaven. I have examined texts such as 2 Timothy 4 (Paul’s testimony), Romans 7 to discuss the lack of marriage sanctification in eternity, and Philippians 1:6 to discuss the idea that the work of the Spirit continues until the day Jesus returns for His Bride, the Church. Paul has given his testimony of the afterlife, but in today’s post, Jesus will provide a glimpse into the afterlife and combat Dr. Walls’ notion of afterlife sanctification.

The passage is Matthew 20:1-16, a parable Jesus tells about workers in a vineyard. Jesus (the Master) goes to the marketplace (the place where the crowds are gathered) and hires workers. He tells them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you” (Matt. 20:4, New American Standard Bible). He does this the third, sixth, and ninth hours. In the eleventh hour (last hour) Jesus goes and hires more workers. For each worker that agrees to go into the vineyard and work, Jesus pays them a denarius, the full amount for a day’s wages. The first ones to be paid are the workers who started in the last hour---each receives a denarius. The workers who started in the first hours expect to get more than the workers who started in the last hour; to their surprise, however, they receive exactly what the last workers receive. Instead of being grateful for what they receive, they complain instead:

“‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and scorching heat of the day’” (Matt. 20:12, NASB).

The most offensive thing about the work and pay in the vineyard was not so much that the last-hour workers received a denarius, as it was that they received the same amount of pay as the first-hour workers. If the last workers had received a hundred denarii (and the first workers, too), the first workers would have been outraged still. “You have made them equal to us” pinpoints the problem at hand.

What does Jesus say in response to this accusation?

“‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’” (Matt. 20:13-15)

Jesus, as Sovereign Master, agreed with them on His own terms. He decided to give the last man the same amount as the first workers. God’s sovereignty is such that God can choose to do this. The complaining worker (or workers) was not in a position to tell Jesus what He could and could not do. Sovereignty is such that no human can tell God what He could and should not do in salvation. Salvation is His gift to give---and it is given by grace. Since grace is the motive behind Christ’s gift of salvation, no individual can complain when someone else receives salvation---whether the person was saved for three hours, one hour, thirty minutes, or 50-60 years.

The point of Jesus’ parable is exciting because it reminds us that salvation cannot be earned. As much as works-salvation is inherent within all human beings, we cannot merit our salvation---no matter how great, or famous, or renown our deeds are. The first worker or workers forgot this simple fact and decided that they deserved more pay than the workers in the last hour. But how could they reason this way, particularly when they did not know what agreement the Master had with the last-hour workers? They could not know. And yet, they turned on the Master because His pay scale didn’t match theirs. While trying to earn their pay, they forgot about the Sovereignty of the Master or their inability to earn what they longed for.

How does this pertain to the Doctrine of Purgatory, one may ask? The answer is simple. If the last-hour workers received the same reward as the first workers, then how could the first workers complain (when God was Sovereign to do this)? In the same way, Dr. Jerry Walls (nor any other Christian, whether holding to purgatory or not) cannot complain that a thief on a Cross (Lk. 23) can be saved in his last hour and granted eternal life on equal footing with someone who worked for 50 years in the Lord’s service. Thus, being saved for one hour places a person in the same position as being saved for 50 years. The person saved for one hour needs no extra time to “willingly cooperate” before he or she can enter heaven. This idea is in stark contrast to Dr. Walls’ own view, known as the fourth view in his section on sin and eternity:

“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).

Dr. Walls’ quote above, I’m afraid, agrees with the first workers: since many enter eternity without their sins intact (as did the cowboy in his example), they need purgatory to make them completely holy before they enter heaven. To the contrary, however, Jesus gives the last-hour workers what He gives the first ones. In other words, the last-hour workers share the same spiritual position as the first-hour workers: both are granted eternal life (since this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, see Matt. 20:1), without any distinction.

I will continue with more biblical evidence against the Doctrine of Purgatory in my next post. God bless.