altered

IMG_0789

“No longer will there be anything accursed…” (Rev. 22:3).

  • Tomorrow will change all reality.
  • This age we are living in today is limited.
  • Christ will return, bringing change with him.
  • Christ will redeem us from the ultimate curse – death itself.
  • Christ promises new life.
  • We should live up to that promise by living backwards.
  • Our living the altered life is his plan for evangelism

The Bible teaches that Christ has done something for us that we could not do for ourselves. He was the sinless sacrifice needed to bring us forgiveness and restore our relationship with God. But the hope that we have expands beyond that of forgiveness. We believe that Jesus plans to change us, to transform us into the glorified beings that we were meant to be. He also plans to change the very fabric of reality, so that this universe as well will be free from the consequences of humanity’s rebellion. The LORD has revealed that in our future “any accursed thing will be no longer.”[1]

bondage to decay

When we think about all the accursed things that make up the universe around us, it becomes even more clear that a radical alteration will be necessary to fulfill this promise. The apostle Paul wrote of that future time when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[2] That bondage to decay is not simply a set of aberrations that plague the universe. It is built into the essence of what the universe is. Modern science cannot explain the universe without involving the principles by which things decay, break down, malfunction, mutate and die.

My wife and I travel to the Philippines occasionally, and each time we are amazed at how quickly things – new things – fall apart there as a result of exposure to the harsh tropical climate. We have learned to expect buildings and items which are comparatively new to not be the same as the last time we saw them. To their credit, the Filipinos take this reality in stride. They do not seem overly anxious when things stop working the way they should. They have learned not to expect perfection, but to make do with what life gives them.

In a way, all of us have learned that. As a result of the creation being “subjected to God’s curse,”[3] we have had to adjust to things not happening as expected. “Happily ever after” just does not happen. The best that we can hope for is some good things happening mixed in with all the bad things. We are not all pessimists, but most of us are realists, in that we have learned to expect a certain amount of disappointment.

The insurance and health care industries thrive on this realism. As much as we strive to live simply and remain healthy, we all live with the specter of a reversal in health, leading to at least a reversal of fortune, and at most a catastrophic injury or terminal illness. So, we invest in the potential or the likelihood of something going wrong in this world. So many of us do that because we know the odds are stacked against us. Of all the things that can possibly happen in a lifetime, it is rather likely that some bad things will happen.

The metaphor that the apostle uses to describe this reality is bondage. He says that God has subjected the universe to that curse of futility. This is where modern science gets it wrong. The popular scientific ideas suggest that the universe itself has somehow and for some reason brought upon itself its current state. Paul says, no. The current bondage to decay, malfunction, disease and death is God’s work. Because of what God has done, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”[4]

But the good news the apostle shares is that this bondage is only temporary. The future he predicts is one where the universe will be set free from this present state of bondage, and experience the new reality – a reality which he calls “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”[5] The same God will has put together the world we are living in now has a future prepared for his children which will be dramatically different.

A famous, often quoted Bible verse comes in the context of this revelation. I have seen this verse displayed prominently in many people’s homes. Paul said “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[6] What is that purpose? That purpose, ultimately, is the future in which we, the children of God are totally conformed to the image of his Son, Christ. We are called to conform to Christ, and all the good and bad things that happen to us in this life are being orchestrated by God to prepare us for that life. Paul does not say that everything that happens to us will be good. He says that God is at work in our lives in this temporary reality, getting us ready for the next reality, when it will all be good. Paul does not even promise that we will see the good that comes out of our complicated lives today. In fact, he teaches us to expect trouble and calamity and being persecuted , going hungry, becoming destitute, being in danger, and getting threatened with death.[7] Oddly enough, I have never seen that verse displayed prominently in anyone’s home!

freedom today

We can praise the LORD that there is already a great deal of freedom we can experience today when we come to Christ. Disciples who remain in Christ’s word are set free from their previous slavery to sin.[8] We have the freedom to live outside of the dominion of sin, and to enslave ourselves to God’s righteousness.[9] We have the freedom to reject legalism and religious bondage, and live as children of the free woman (Sarah), rather than the slave woman (Hagar).[10] We have the freedom of living with the veil removed from our hearts, so that the Spirit can transform us into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another.[11] We are free to live as servants of God by serving others, even if that servanthood involves suffering, and includes pain and the occasional failure.

freedom tomorrow

But none of those freedoms we might experience today can be compared to the glorious freedom we can expect when our king returns. He has told us that he is making “all things new”[12] and that includes us. The freedom we will experience at the coming of Christ will be unlike any liberty we have ever experienced. It will be the freedom of metamorphosis. It will be the freedom of realizing for the first time what we truly were intended to be. All our present frustrations will suddenly make sense because we will have experienced the new selves that we always wanted, but could not attain.

It will be a freedom of universal potential. Today, I might say I have the freedom to write and perform a musical masterpiece. I do, but I lack the ability and the skills necessary. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Some people do have that skill today, but I am not one of them. Tomorrow, things will be different. The limits put upon me by my own present identity will have been stripped away. Today I am limited even in my potential. Tomorrow, I will be set free from that limitation.

One of the things that limit us now is pain. I have recently went through the ordeal of a tooth extraction, and my mouth is reminding me of that ordeal. I am finding it harder to concentrate as I write, and feel less confident of what I am writing. I am being tempted to stop – but I want to keep going. I want to say some important things, and I do not want my present discomfort to prevent those things from being said. Usually, when I set my mind to doing something, it is accomplished rather quickly. But I must confess that this article is taking longer than expected. Pain is keeping me from doing what I want. Tomorrow – when Christ returns – I will be set free from that limitation.

Worries and disappointments also weigh us down today, keeping us from being ourselves. Relationships, families, church fellowships, work environments – so many facets of our lives are prone to be messy, dysfunctional, and can distract us from living life the way we want to. Sometimes we bring those distractions upon ourselves by the choices we make. But many times that world of brokenness is thrust upon us. We cannot avoid it. It is what it is. Today Jesus encourages to reject those worries and concentrate on his kingdom.[13] Tomorrow – when Christ returns – we will be set free from that distraction.

freedom from death

Christ’s coming will redeem us from all the cursed things in this present age. This includes the ultimate curse, and the ultimate limitation — death itself. Deliverance from mortality is presently something that believers seek.[14] Christ has brought the potential for overcoming our present mortality to light through the gospel.[15] But, presently, only God is immortal.[16] We still die and rest in the grave until our redeemer comes again to restore us to life. But when he does come, he will be bringing our reward with him.[17] Part of that reward is the glorious freedom from the prison that presently awaits everyone: a dark, silent, unconscious wait for life in that grave which the Old Testament calls Sheol, and the New Testament calls Hades.[18] Jesus is the key to freedom from death and Hades, and he will be bringing that key with him when he comes.[19] He plans to empty this prison and then destroy it in the lake of fire.[20]

new life

Having been delivered from the curse of mortal existence, believers will enjoy a new life. This new life is the eternal life that Jesus promised.[21] The apostle Paul explained to his readers that this new life is not the present possession of believers, but part of the harvest at the end of the age which believers will reap. He spoke of believers seeking immortality today, but being given it by Christ at his return, in the same way that unbelievers are storing up God’s wrath for end-time judgment.[22] Just as sin is currently reigning in this life, leading to eventual death, so grace is reigning in this life, leading to a resurrection unto “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[23] This reward comes not at the beginning of our Christian life, but at the end of the sanctification process of this age, and is a gift given to us by God only to those who are in Christ Jesus.[24] At death, we reap what our ancestors sowed in the flesh, but at Christ’s coming, we will reap what we have sown to the Spirit.[25] We will put on this new immortal life like a new garment.[26]

The other side of the “new life” coin is emphasized by the apostle John. He agrees with Paul, but emphasizes the difference that the promise of eternal life has for believers now. He writes of this eternal life as a present possession, resulting in fellowship with the Father and the Son today.[27] He is not negating the truth that the new life will be given at the second coming. He still speaks of it as a promise.[28] But he shows how this promise inside us is going to make a difference within us. As a result of the promise of eternal life, believers are not going to hate their brothers, or seek to murder them.[29] As a result of the promise of eternal life, believers are going to want to tell others about Jesus, the giver of this hope.[30] Our confidence is not in some immortal element within ourselves. It is not in surviving death. Our confidence is in him. Because we have him, we have eternal life. Knowing him is the same thing as living forever, because he is the “true God” and the source of the promised “eternal life.”[31]

living the altered life today

We do not know a great deal about the life we will live then. But perhaps we know enough so that we can begin living the God-centered life that we can expect to live then. We can imagine that eternity is going to be lived in an unselfish way, as contrasted with the way we tend to live life now. It would not hurt us to pay more attention to the people around us. Jesus gave us some insight into living the life of the coming sky kingdom in his sermon on the mount. Here are some principles he taught there about living the new life:

  • Seek God’s will for others, not my will for myself[32]
  • Reflect the glory of God in my life before others.[33]
  • Affirm the Law of God by how I live before others.[34]
  • Prioritize a flawless relationship with others.[35]
  • Be trustworthy in what I say to others.[36]
  • Let God’s grace, not judgment, determine your relationship with others.[37]
  • Love all others.[38]
  • Do not criticize others.[39]
  • Be genuine, producing real righteousness for others to see.[40]

The context of the sermon on the mount is this age, and this life. In eternity, there will be no sin or sinners to bump up against to identify us as true, compared to their false. But the words of Jesus challenge us to live – as it were – backwards. He lives in heaven, beyond space and time. He already knows us as we will be. He challenges us to live our present mortal lives with the same intensity and “newness” that we will experience in eternity. He wants us to prove who we will be by what we say and do now. He wants us to start living out the “not yet” in our “already.” That is his plan for drawing the world to himself. That is his plan for populating his future kingdom from the sky.

He has no plan “B.” If we fail to represent him as we should, eternity will be populated with fewer immortal beings. If we allow the world’s brokenness and sin to define us, it will make an eternal difference for those whom only we could have reached. Christ is drawing people to himself who are longing for the righteousness of the eternal kingdom. He is using you and me to show them the way. That is why it is absolutely essential to his plan that his people repent and live changed lives. He does not just want to gather sinners for heaven. He wants to bring his righteousness to the universe. He plans to alter all reality. Where do you fit in with those plans?


[1] a literal translation of pan katathema ouk estai eti (Revelation 22:3).

[2] Romans 8:21 ESV.

[3] Romans 8:20 NLT.

[4] Romans 8:22 ESV.

[5] Romans 8:21 ESV.

[6] Romans 8:28 ESV.

[7] Romans 8:35 NLT.

[8] John 8:31-32.

[9] Romans 6:7-18.

[10] Genesis 21, Galatians 4-5.

[11] 2 Corinthians 3:13-18.

[12] Revelation 21:5.

[13] Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:29.

[14] Romans 2:7.

[15] 2 Timothy 1:10.

[16] 1 Timothy 6:16.

[17] Isaiah 62:11; Revelation 22:12.

[18] Job 17:3; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:10-12; Revelation 6:8.

[19] Revelation 1:18.

[20] Revelation 20:13-14.

[21] Matthew 19:29; 25:46; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; John 4:14, 36; 5:24; 6:27,40,47,54; 10:28; 12:25,50.

[22] Romans 2:7-8.

[23] Romans 5:21.

[24] Romans 6:22-23.

[25] Galatians 6:8.

[26] 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

[27] 1 John 1:2-3.

[28] 1 John 2:25.

[29] 1 John 3:15.

[30] 1 John 5:11.

[31] 1 John 5:13, 20.

[32] Matthew 5:1-12.

[33] Matthew 5:13-16.

[34] Matthew 5:17-20.

[35] Matthew 5:21-32.

[36] Matthew 5:33-37.

[37] Matthew 5:38-42.

[38] Matthew 5:43-48.

[39] Matthew 7:1-12.

[40] Matthew 7:13-27.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s