Thursday, July 29 –
We have come in our readings to one of the most significant chapters in all of the New Testament. There are some excellent chapters like John 14, Romans 3 & 8, 1 Corinthians 13 & 15, and now we come to 2 Corinthians 5:1 – 21. Please take your time, read it slowly, and absorb the words that Paul beautifully wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When you have finished reading Scripture, please come back, and we’ll take a more extended look at what he wrote.
Paul had written at the end of the fourth chapter that “we are outwardly wasting away...and our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all...so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, for what is unseen is eternal”(4:16-18). All of us have some understanding of the nature of life – namely, that 100% of humanity dies. Some die at very old ages, some die at very young ages, and many die somewhere in between. The process of “wasting away” is not a pleasant experience for many. Does it make a difference to understand that the process of aging that leads to death is not only natural but leads to supernatural outcomes? As Paul ended chapter 4 with words of the present age, he now shifts toward the experience of what happens after life is over. The imagery is beautiful – “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (5:1).
There is no sudden shift in subjects from the previous section. Instead, Paul is continuing to present the glory of the New Covenant. He begins by admitting the temporary nature of life – even in a new covenant – and then adds, “For we know” (5:1a). What is inevitable is death, but as a Christian, “we know” that is not the end of life. Paul, the tentmaker, borrows the imagery of what our bodies are like – tents! Temporary shelters, fine for a while, but not permanent. They are movable, yet subject to decay over time. The contrast is in what God does with “tents” of bodies – “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not build by human hands” (5:1b). Paul describes the natural life with words - “groans,” “naked,” “burdened,” “mortal” (5:2-4). The picture is too reminiscent of life in old age. The tent is falling down in corners; it is leaking and tearing. It needs to be patched up, stitched up, and supported with things like canes and walkers.
But our Hope as a Christian stands in contrast to all of that – “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord” (5:4-6). The Old Covenant only spoke of death, then the grave, and the hope of the Messiah. The New Covenant speaks of death, then our heavenly dwelling and the Holy Spirit is God’s downpayment on the promised new home. Death is not an end, for because of faith in Jesus Christ, “what is mortal is swallowed up in life” (5:4), and therefore, “... we live by faith, not by sight” (5:7).
Paul is developing the New Covenant hope over against the Old Covenant “ministry that brought death” (3:7). He has already told us that these “tents” are nothing more than “jars of clay (4:7). Yes, outwardly, we are “wasting away” (4:16), but it is all moving towards a greater glory than has ever been seen. Since this is true, then what do we do in these tents while we wait for eternal redemption? Two answers emerge as answers. First, in verse 6, “be of good courage” (ESV), or “be confident of where it is all headed” (NIV), and “Walk by faith, not by sight.” We live as those who have already begun to live eternal life – “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (5:8). We are not waiting for eternal life to begin; we are already started to live eternally. We are here for now, absent from the Lord; but one day we will be gone from here, and at home with the Lord. There is no soul sleep, no purgatory, no transitory state in-between. There is a doorway we cross from life here, through death, to eternal life there.
The second answer follows – “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (5:9-10). To live by faith and not by sight doesn’t mean walking around with our eyes closed and chanting prayers. Instead, it is active faith, active obedience to Christ, knowing that what we do here counts. The idea of the “judgment seat” (in Greek, Bema) was not new to the Corinthians. In the Greek world, every city had a “Bema” seat. It was where to Roman Governor, or Official, sat to rule on whether Roman law was being broken, and the judgments that accompanied them. Paul had stood before it years before in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). The difference for the believer is that in Christ, the judgment seat is about rewards, not punishment. Paul had already written to them about the judgment seat in his first letter (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 & 4:4-5). The New Covenant in Christ means we have a “new building from God.” The goal of our lives is to please him, and that matters. Yet the fact remains that when we appear before Him, it is not for condemnation, but evaluation.
This is important for us to know. It is not trivial to say it’s not about eternal life, just eternal rewards. Paul Barnett writes –
“It is sobering to note that what each one of us has done will one day be made manifest at the judgment seat of Christ. How faithfully have we used our time? How well have we pursued opportunities? How single-minded have we been in our Christian service? The teaching about the judgment seat before which all must come, believers included, reminds us that we have been saved, not for a life of aimlessness or indifference, but for a life of serving the Lord. The balanced view, of which the prospect of the Lord’s judgment seat reminds us, is that while we are justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies is expressed by love and obedience. We are saved not by good works but for good works. One day each of us will stand before the judgment seat of the Lord and all that we are and have been will be visible”.
It is a sobering thing that will someday come, and we must think about how we live our lives for Christ. It is the reason why Paul immediately adds – “Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (5:11). Paul wants them to realize, there’s no peddling religion, just a sober reality that is centered in the fear of the Lord.
He was not trying to prove anything to them, nor get their praise (5:12-13). He was willing to allow accusations to be flung at him (5:13). Why? “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:14-15). The only motive for serving and sharing Christ is his love – it “compels us” – grips us, amazes us, humbles us – Christ died for all, and “those” that turn to Christ know that Christ Jesus died for them...he died for me. I was twenty years old when I first learned this, and it changed my life forever. Christ Jesus died for me and would have died for me if I was the only sinner on the earth.
Life...eternal life...changed life, that is what happens when the soul turns to Christ – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17). I know it is true. I have lived it and seen it happen. Transformation, regeneration, conversion, salvation... they are all words of the new creation. With this new creation comes a new career – ambassador for Jesus – “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (5:18-20). We may have a job or a career, but alongside that work is the eternal career/job – an ambassador of reconciliation for Christ. Ambassadors represent their homeland, and that is what we are to do. Our home is heaven, and we are sojourners, here for a short while, passing through.
The message of God’s reconciliation through His son, Jesus Christ is very clear – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). For years I have felt this to be one of the most significant sentences ever written about Jesus’ work on the cross for our Sins. Theologians recognize in it, Paul speaking of the atonement as a “double imputation.” To “impute” is to “apply to one’s account,” “to ascribe something to be given.” The imputations in verse 21 are two:
God made Christ, who knew no sin, to receive all our sin. We are the offending party, and he was the perfect guiltless one. He obeyed God’s word perfectly and did not sin. Yet, on the cross, God poured upon him the wrath of our sin. Our sin was applied to Him, and Christ took our sin upon himself. Christ’s perfect Sacrifice paid our unpayable debt.
Then, God took his Son’s righteous life, his perfect obedience, and ascribed it to us as if it were ours. Our righteousness is applied to us by the righteousness of Christ. Martin Luther said it this way, “Unto You...Unto You...is born this day in the city of David, a Savior...Unto you”. Paul said, “For our sake...”, these are beautiful, forgiving words we must believe. The Christology statement of Ligonier says it this way:
“For us, He kept the Law,
atoned for sin,
and satisfied God’s wrath.
He took our filthy rags
and gave us His righteous robe”.
I don’t know about you, but I am so glad he did.