Destruction, Duplication or Transformation?

Every time I teach on our promised future in the Kingdom of God I'm asked some variation of the following question:  
"Mike, you teach that the Bible says our most noble works and creations will, in some form, make it through the final judgment and find some expression in the everlasting kingdom to come.  

But how can that be?  Even our best work is not perfect.  So why would God allow something that isn't perfect into his perfect Kingdom?"
Along with the Messianic expectations from the Old Testament, my scriptural focal point for that teaching is I Corinthians 3, where Paul compares our work to gold, silver and precious stones as opposed to wood, hay or straw.  

He says that the quality of our works will be made evident by the application of fire on the coming day of judgment.  He says that whatever remains after that "fire test" will garner us a reward.

If our work is shoddy, it'll burn up.  But notice that our work, if it's built right, can remain.

The innocent question above comes from a correct understanding that only perfect things can be in the kingdom to come.  But if that's all there is to it - I must ask, "What about us?  We expect to somehow gain access to the New Jerusalem, don't we?"  And of course we're not perfect (at least not yet!).

Truth is, Paul's not talking about us being merely duplicated, or brought into the Kingdom without being changed.  No, the key to understanding our future and the future of our life's work in the Judeo-Christian story is the word transformation.  When Paul so often speaks of us being transformed - he's literally talking about metamorphosis. 

Yes, metamorphosis - that unbelievable phenomenon where the caterpillar becomes the butterfly.  Unfortunately there's no space here to detail the huge volume of metamorphosis language in the New Testament.  It's everywhere!

In short:
  • our minds are even now being transformed from the weak and the temporal, with the result that they'll be fully transformed on that great day (for one example see II Corinthians 3:18 and context)
  • our fragile bodies will be transformed into soma pneumatikon - physical bodies both energized by and submitted to the Spirit of God (see I Corinthians 15:44 and context)
  • our planet will be transformed from the beautiful yet tragically polluted and war-torn Earth we now know to a "New Earth" free from the effects of sinful mankind (see Revelation 21 and 22)
And finally, I believe our life's work will be transformed from well-meaning yet ultimately-flawed attempts at justice, peace and progress into glorious, eternal, soul-satisfying vocations - where we reign forever underneath the wise rule of Messiah himself.  

You can see this in Messiah's words to Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2, along with I Corinthians 3.

You know, fire affects precious stones hardly at all.  Intense heat changes the shape of gold and silver, but it does not destroy them.  But everyone, of course, knows what happens to wood, hay and straw when the flame comes near.

Yes, transformation's what it's all about.  Get the picture?

7 comments:

Ronnie said...

Really good stuff Mike. I've been thinking a lot lately about what the future will hold for me and what sort of contribution I can make to the world. We certainly need to be challenged to do our best in everything we do on this Earth, for this very reason...

Mike said...

Thanks Ronnie - I'd love to know the conclusions you come to with regard to the contribution you can make to the world. Let me know!

Sheryl said...

So are we talking about living a life with the realization that we are not perfect? Or one that we should realize we need to be perfect since we were commanded to be just like Christ.

caleb said...

Are you asking how our lives would be different if we lived realizing we are not perfect? Or how we need to live our lifes with the realization that we were commanded to be like Christ, which is perfect?

Mike said...

What I'm asking is this:

"If you really believed:

1) that God is going to rule a physical "New Earth" through Jesus

2) that Jesus is going to manage the New Earth through us

3) that what we do with our time (vocationally and recreationally) and how we do it (character, attitudes, self-awareness, strength, honor, loyalty, etc) will determine our jobs in the Coming Kingdom

If you really believed all that - how would you live today in light of those facts? What would you keep doing, and what would you do differently?

Thanks guys for the discussion!

Mike

Sheryl said...

well, if everyone knew all of that it would make you think that there would be no sin and everyone would be disciples of God's word, not of afraid of anything, knowing that God was going to come and rule this earth and make it new. I believe that most of us "christians" already do know this but we just don't act upon it. If you read Matthew 5 that basically tells us what we are to do to ignite the kingdom of god within us...what do you think?

Mike said...

When we really grasp the above 3 pieces of the Christian promise:

1) We are motivated not to view the physical Earth, our time on Earth or our bodies/minds as disposable or of little worth

2) We are motivated to connect day-by-day what we do now (our roles as spouse/parent/leader, our vocation, our hobbies) and how we do things now (character, attitudes, self-awareness, strength, honor, loyalty) with what we'll be doing in the coming Kingdom and how we'll be doing it in the coming Kingdom.

That way, our pre-resurrection life becomes a preparation process for our post-resurrection life.

That way, this life and time isn't wasted. It's spent in anticipation and preparation for the role/position/job that's awaiting us after the resurrection.

When we do this right, we live now in constant awareness of the kingdom to come.

Sin? Phooey. How can we sin when we look intently at the Kingdom, and are drawn by the Spirit into the age to come?

The trick, of course, is as you say, knowing and acting upon this truth.

I hope that makes sense!