O, That Day When Freed From Sinning!
[This past week I spoke at the Desiring God / Bethlehem College & Seminary Conference for Pastors. My topic was the end of sin. That is to say, what happens at glorification? This week I will post in several installments the essence of that message.]
I have to begin with what some of you may regard as a disconcerting confession. Here it is: I have no idea what I'm talking about. That's not some veiled attempt at being humble, and it isn't because I haven't carefully examined the many biblical passages that address this issue. It isn't because I haven't devoted hours to studying and thinking on this topic. What I mean when I say I have no idea what I'm talking about is that I have absolutely no idea what it will feel like not to be able to sin. I know what it feels like to sin. I know what it feels like not to sin. But I'm a complete stranger to the experience of not being able to sin. It strikes me as a distant dream so far removed from how I think and feel and choose today that I sometimes wonder if it does me any good even to speculate about it. So, simply put, I have no personal experience with this, and my theology tells me that neither do you.
The simple fact is that we are approaching a subject that none of us has ever tasted or seen or felt or experienced in any tangible way. I can tell you, as I will in just a moment, what the Apostle John means when he says that when we see Christ we will be made "like him." But telling you what John means is not the same as explaining what it feels like. I've never met anyone who was "like" Jesus Christ in the sense that they were utterly devoid of any sinful impulse or entirely capable of resisting every temptation to transgress. I haven't tasted it, sensed it, seen it, felt it, known it, or in any meaningful sense experienced it.
Let me explain what I mean by using the words of one of the most popular hymns by William Cowper. You all know it well: "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood". I understand the meaning of the first verse and have personally experienced its truth. It goes like this:
"There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains."
To be cleansed from the guilty stain of sin is something I can relate to and something in which I daily rejoice. That makes sense to me. I also, understand the second stanza:
"The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away."
I take Cowper to mean that through the blood of Christ we have been forgiven of all our sins, that the vile debt we had incurred by sinning has been washed away and we stand clean and pure and righteous in the sight of God through faith alone in the Son of God.
But I confess I struggle to understand and fully appreciate verse three:
"Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed church of God, be saved, to sin no more."
Now, what does that mean? What does it mean to be "saved to sin no more"? As I said, I know what that means exegetically and theologically. I believe it as a promise of God to all his children. But I have no idea what that means experientially.
So my task is in one sense extremely easy and in another sense extremely difficult and beyond my ability or that of any one else to achieve in full. The easy part is looking at certain biblical texts that assure us that a day is coming when we who know Jesus Christ as Lord will be "saved to sin no more." I can do that. The difficulty lies in then trying to explain to myself and to all of you what it feels like to be free from the abiding presence of "flesh" and the often enslaving power of sin.
One thing I know with absolute, unshakable certainty: it will happen. I may not know what it will feel like when it does happen, but happen it will. That it will happen, therefore, is not up for argument.
So I ask your indulgence. I ask that you grant me some latitude to freely speculate on what it will be like never to sin. Don't be put off by the word "speculate" because I hope that everything I say about what I don't know will be based upon what I do know.
A Biblical Survey of the Truth and Certainty of our Glorification
The doctrine that is the focus of our attention is known as glorification. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says that we "are being transformed into the same image [that is, the image of Christ himself] from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). The implication is obvious: progressive sanctification will not continue without end. There is a conclusion to our consecration. This progressive transformation from one degree of glory to another will one day reach its consummation. On that day we will be fully glorified and altogether shaped and fashioned forever in the likeness of Jesus.
This is surely what is in view in Paul's anguished but hopeful cry in Romans 7:24 - "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24). The question clearly suggests that a day is coming when complete and final "deliverance" from one's sinful flesh would actually occur, and Paul evidently knew the answer to his own question, for just a few verses later, in chapter eight, he declares that "the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom. 8:16-17). Although I don't have time to develop the idea here, please note that Paul in this passage clearly asserts that glorification is in some sense "conditional" upon our identification with Christ in his suffering!
In the verse that follows, Romans 8:18, he says this: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). He then explains that the natural creation itself will one day "be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21). And yet again, in v. 30, we read that "those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30).
This passage, by the way, is why I feel so confident in the certainty of future glorification. Paul is so certain of it that he speaks of it in the past tense, as if it had already occurred!
This is surely what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he said that "now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12). Think about what Paul is saying. When Christ comes and the "perfect" arrives, which I understand to be the final state of moral and metaphysical perfection in the New Heavens and New Earth, we will "know fully". This doesn't mean we will become omniscient. But at the core of glorification will be the absence of any false views of God. No heresy will exist in heaven. No misconceptions or distorted images of who God is will linger in our hearts. There will be no misinterpretations of Scripture.
To be continued . . .
About Sam Storms
I am an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 42 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University.
In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam was recently elected to be Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Read more...