Editor’s note: Michael Horton discusses the relationship between a bodily resurrection and the Christian’s call to glorify God in their ordinary work. The point is that we need to avoid an either-or approach to this world. Even our most mundane tasks bring God glory.
In this way when Christians confess that they believe in the resurrection of the dead they make a statement that connects this world with the new creation. It’s a confession that God is redeeming our bodies along with this world. Though we may not know entirely what from this world carries into the next, we can have confidence that God uses our work and our lives for his glory that will be reflected in the new heavens and new earth that God has promised to us.
Many of us were raised on the idea of salvation from this world—whether it was the drama of a rapture and apocalyptic destruction, or the traditional hope of bright lights and streets of gold, salvation was less about this world redeemed than about “I’ll fly away.” Then the pendulum swung in the other direction. Salvation has increasingly become associated with human flourishing here and now. It comes in different packages some are prone toward hedonistic individualism, while others are more socially and altruistically oriented. Let’s bring the pendulum back to the center.
The Christian confession is not “I believe in going to heaven when I die,” but “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” The soul does not wish to be stripped of its flesh. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4; italics added).
The cosmic “restoration of all things” is the ultimate hope. For now, the body of believers succumbs to this present evil age as a way of putting an end to the corruptible in order to raise the same body in incorruptibility (1 Cor. 15:36). This is something far greater than an eternally disembodied existence or a mere empowerment of this fading age toward self-perpetuation. This new birth has already occurred inwardly, even as our bodies waste away (2 Cor. 4:16).
Thus there are crucial distinctions—between God and the world, between the body and the soul, between general and special revelation and common and saving grace—but not vicious dualisms. We should be on guard against reacting to pagan dualism only to fall into the arms of pagan monism, where all distinctions between soul and body become blurred.
On one hand, we may exploit this distinction between the “already” and “not yet” as an excuse for passivity toward our stewardship in the world. We can dismiss our responsibility with the shrug, “It is not yet what it will be, and only Christ’s return can bring it about.” But most of those who say this (or at least think it) would not say the same of their sanctification. The same Scriptures that tell us we are simultaneously justified and sinful also tell us that we’re regenerated and are being sanctified so that we should “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12–13).
If sanctification is an objective gift as well as a subjective “more and more” reality, then how can we restrict our sanctified living to the private sphere? Rather, the fact that only the return of Christ, with his Spirit, can bring the reaches of the consummation of his kingdom to fulfillment should provoke in us a longing to live in the light of that ultimate telos. At the same time, the consummation is in the hands of the Triune God, which means we’re free to pursue our callings with patience, rather than the feverish triumphalism that leads to despair.
Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is the author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story