Holiness Yet To Come: 1 Corinthians 15.20-23

This week’s topic finds us right where we are. All of us!

For a number of years, in my former ministry in Iowa, I served as our church’s pastor of care. That meant I got to sit with people as they were dying—while they were preparing to leave their bodies here on earth, while they were preparing their souls to meet the Lord. That’s a complex thing in every way, complex even for those who are ready and really want to be with the Lord.

One of my favorite saints was named Verne Joslin. Vern and I visited weekly during the last year of his life. We read Scripture together, we prayed together, and sometimes—when I just wanted to get out of the church office—we just passed time together.

When it came time for Verne to die, I visited one last time. With his vitals failing, he looked straight at me and asked softly, “What shall I do now?”

Most of us need two or three reps before we respond rightly to surprise questions, and I’m no different. But this time I paused a minute, asked the Lord for insight, and gave an answer I’m still happy with …

“Verne,” I said. “Don’t do anything. You’ve understood what Jesus has done for you. You’ve placed your trust in Him. You’ve cooperated with God’s Spirit all these years. Now, let Jesus take you. Let Jesus present you to the Father clothed in His own righteousness. Rest.”

And so Verne died, two days later.

We’ve been thinking about how our holiness is the provision of God in which those who have trusted Christ have been changed (in the past, when we trusted Christ), are being changed (in the present), and will be changed (in the future) to take on God’s character … Holiness Past, Holiness Present, Holiness Yet To Come. Through God’s holiness project, we’ve been saved from the power of sin, are being saved from the practice of sin, and will be saved from the presence of sin.

But, what will God do to bring to completion His work of holiness in us? That’s what we’re thinking about this week.

God will complete His work in our souls and bodies. We’re talking here about the work of God we call glorification. This is where God’s holiness project is going, the end-point we’re all waiting for. Except for those who are alive at Christ’s coming (and we might be!) glorification takes place in stages.

Holiness Present for our souls takes place at death (2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, … we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5.6-8).

Paul recognizes that death involves a separation. While death would be good, in that he’d be with the Lord, it’s also bad (in the moment) in that he’d be divided, body from soul. For that work of future holiness in his body, Paul will have to wait for Christ’s return (Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21). As Paul had written to the Corinthians in an earlier letter, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15.20-23).

That’s true for us too. Christ’s return is the focal point for everyone who has trusted Christ and now struggles to learn holiness in this life. While we make progress, by the power of the Spirit, we won’t be fully formed in God’s character until we’re with Him, body and soul. And when we finally are, God will fulfill our hopes. God will provide final relief from sin and death. And, God will make us like Christ, in every aspect of our being. This is the completion of God’s divine surgery when my actual condition will match what God says about me in Christ.

My grandmother on my father’s side is buried on a hillside in a beautiful place named Pratum, Oregon. Soon after her passing, the family gathered to stand next to her graveside and reflect. Suddenly, my grandfather said, with finality, “She’s not here!” He was right. “She” was with the Lord. But, my grandfather was also becoming right, because her body was there with us. The exercise in standing there together proved hopeful, because it drew our attention from death to Christ. God’s completed work of Holiness Future for us lies yet in the future and is all bound up in Christ’s return.

What will God do to complete His work of holiness in me? God, at the return of Christ, will free me completely from sin making me like Himself in His own holiness. 

This is humbling. Apart from Christ, I have nothing I need to dwell with God. In Christ, there’s nothing else I need. And, this is hopeful. My life is really going somewhere because God is at work in me, in Christ.

 

Here’s some questions to think about as we consider Holiness Future. They involve some passages to look up together. No reason to look them all up, but pick a few.

How will God work in our souls and bodies at our death and at Christ’s return?: 2 Cor 5.6-8; Phil 1.21-23; 1 Thess 4.14; Heb 12.22-23; Rm 8.11; 1 Cor 15.20-23, 42-49; 2 Cor 5.1-8; Phil 3.20-21.

How will God fulfill our hopes?: Rm 8.23-25; 2 Cor 4.13-18; Titus 2.11-13.

How will God provide final relief from sin and death?: 1 Cor 15.54-55; 2 Cor 5.1-5.

How will God make us like Christ?: Phil 3.20-21; 1 Jn 3.2-3; Col 3.3.

And, have a great week in the Lord!

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