FORGIVENESS, RESURRECTED BODY, AND ETERNAL LIFE

 
THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
 
The Church’s creeds, are statements of our faith; but the words used are not about us, but all about what God has done, and will do, through Jesus Christ.
 
Therefore, today, we must not concern ourselves with how good, or bad, we are at forgiveness; and, instead, stick to our subject, which is the wonderful manner in which God forgives.
 

All biblical teaching is offered in black or white terms, with no grey areas. Therefore, promises and their resultant actions are genuine or false; right or wrong; good or evil, with no halfway points between the extremes.
 
If we accept biblical teaching; and believe that God’s promises of redemptive mercy, love and grace in Christ, are both full, and unchangeable…
 
then why are so many otherwise sensible Christian people, often slow to grasp those promises, and to fully apply the power of them to themselves?
 
Some troubled Christians, tend to project their own view of forgiveness upon the Lord, and then expect him to behave accordingly. In so doing, they disregard God’s promises, and create grey areas: that he will neither recognize, nor act within.
 
Our Heavenly Father, through Christ, will forgive sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…but he will not rid us of our self-created ‘grey areas’. To do so, would be to remove our free will. Therefore, it remains something that we must do for ourselves.
 
In keeping with biblical teaching, Wesley’s famous hymn: ‘And can it be..’, states that God’s mercy is complete; his love beyond measure; and that his grace is offered to us, entirely free.
 
If our acceptance of Christ is equally complete, then the Father’s redemptive love is fulfilled, as he forgives our sins, and counts us as being righteous.
 
Here’s something that might help our thinking. When some people had difficulty in coming to a simple understanding of ‘righteousness’, it was suggested that a made-up word could be helpful to them.
They agreed, examined the made-up word, and came to the basic understanding that ‘righteousness’ was the opposite of ‘wrongeousness’.
 
Having done so, they ceased debating it, and moved on into a developing experience of being made righteous, in Christ.
 
And so it can be with us. If our personal views of forgiveness are not all that they could be; a word made up, through an altered spelling, may help.
 
Forgiveness’ can be no more to us, than an abstract concept, tucked away in the ‘pending file’ of our minds.
 
No matter how good or challenging it may be, an abstract concept has no real power in our lives, until it is grasped; fully accepted, and fully applied.
 
When fully grasped, accepted and applied, forgiveness ceases to exist as a concept, and becomes a powerful, concrete fact of our present experience.
 
To emphasise the distinction between the ‘one day, maybe’ character of a concept, and the ‘present fact’ nature of concrete experience; an extra letter ‘n’, put into the word: ‘forgiveness’, makes it become ‘forgiven-ness’.
 
That extra letter ‘n’ completely alters the meaning of the word, from a hoped-for action, ‘Please forgive’; to an historical event, ‘You have forgiven’.
 
Concepts of ‘forgiveness’ are comforting in principle; but the fact of ‘forgiven-ness’, in Christ, is life-changing, life directing, in practice.
 
If, in some part of our lives, for whatever reason, we still await ‘forgiveness’; shall we make up our minds to move on; and experience ‘forgiven-ness’ in that place?
 
 
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY.
 
In his treatise on resurrection, at 1.Corinthians 15, Paul states that, for Christians, this life is not all there is; because their hope lies elsewhere.
 
He becomes almost poetical, in describing the great contrasts between earthly and heavenly states of being; the perishable becomes imperishable, the physical becomes spiritual, and so on…
 
but he does not describe the act of resurrection. Perhaps he could not do so, because he had bumped up against a holy mystery that was beyond his ability to put into meaningful sentences.
 
Resurrection means a reappearance, or restoration to function, in a new form.
 
The bible has a great deal to say about the qualities, attributes, functions, responsibilities and benefits belonging to that new form; but almost nothing to say about exactly how that new form is actually constituted.
 
Scripture’s main emphasis is upon resurrection, without details of its enactment. The implications in the many texts on the subject, and the inferences we draw from them; point to a radical change, from the physical and finite, to the spiritual, and infinite.
 
These texts do not need to explain themselves; for they speak to our hearts, rather than to our minds; inspire hope in the Lord, and trust in his promises.
 
Perhaps the credal statement; ‘the resurrection of the body’ is a bit too specific; in that it speaks little of faith and trust, and appears to make unnecessary demands upon our mental processes, and logical thinking.
 
If, like St. Paul, we find ourselves trying to deal with a subject that is beyond our ability to imagine, let alone describe…
 
we, too, will be wise in making a statement of our faith and trust; and in leaving the rest where in belongs, in any case, in the hands of the Lord.
 
 
 
THE LIFE EVERLASTING.
 
In the ‘New International Version’, the words: ETERNAL LIFE occur 38 times, and the words EVERLASTING LIFE, only 5 times.
 
A theological comparison; looks beyond numbers, and explores meaning. To assume that everlasting and eternal have the same meaning: is to miss an important statement, which Jesus made, in the matter.
 
At John 17:3, within the great prayer that Christ offered to the Father, just before his crucifixion; there is a clear choice made between the two words; and a clear definition given, that is found nowhere else in the bible.
 
Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’.
 
The biblical use of the word ‘know’, in reference to people, is seldom to do with facts or information; and mostly to do with aspects of close, personal relationship.
 
Examples of deep relationship are found at John 10:30, where Jesus says: ‘I and the Father are one’…and at John 17: 21, where, in the great prayer, already mentioned, Jesus asks that, just as he and the Father are one, so may he and his followers be.
 
However, at John 17:3, we find Jesus apparently reversing this, and making a definite distinction between the Father and himself. He said: ‘Now this is eternal life, to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’. Why should this be?
 
I believe that it is because the whole of John 17 is something of a statement of account of Christ’s Messiahship. In his prayer, the Lord spells out the broad details of how what he was sent to do, has been done…
 
and implies his ongoing, post-ascension ministries of love and grace to those who believe in him.
 
In between those two vastly different states of Christ’s being: the redemptive purposes of the Father have to be fulfilled, for salvation to apply.
Because eternal life is effected; not through God thinking kindly about us; but through our full acceptance of Christ the Messiah, as our personal Saviour; the prayer at John 17 distinguishes between the Father’s redeeming love, and the Son’s redeeming actions.
 
Although divine grace cannot be earned, it must be fully accepted, for it to be effective; and fulfil the Father’s redemptive purposes.
 
In his ‘statement of account’, Jesus makes it clear that he has taught his followers that very thing; and hopes that they will follow his teaching.
 
So, John 17:3 can be expressed as: ‘This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God; in a close, personal relationship in the here-and-now…
 
and, through an equally close and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ, whom you have sent; to have continuing spiritual guidance, leading to ongoing life with you, in the hereafter’.
 
Looked at in this way, and in the light of many supporting texts, it can be said that what we call ‘eternity’, is little to do with an endless succession of years; and much to do with an ongoing, deepening relationship with God.