Torch, Spring 1979

' ,, 1:23 ). This statement was made when Paul was facing a possible death . sentence from Caesar. For him the resurrection of Christ obviously had removed the fear of dying. But that was not all. Paul also had an excited anticipation of the future resurrection. He speaks of this joyful anticipation of heaven in the context of a choice between being with closely loved friends in the church at Philippi or going on to be with Christ. For him. the thought of heaven was not better than close friendships. it was far better. Friendship is one of life's greatest and most enjoyable treasures. Yet in Paul's perspective all the joy and security of friendship was not to be compared to the "far better" experience of heaven. What was it that Paul knew about heaven that heightened his joyful expectation? Paul relates to us that the reason for his anticipation is not so much the place as it is the Person. He writes. "... to be with Christ . .. is far better" I In God's original order the highest experience of man was unhindered fellowship with his Creator. God created within man a God-shaped emptiness that only He could fill. Adam and Eve enjoyed the deep fulfillment of a close relationship with the personal God of the universe. But with Adam's sin everything changed. Sin built a great wall of separation between God and man. This separation removed the potential for fellowship and left that God-shaped emptiness unfilled. Man now stands guilty before a God Who was once his greatest source of joy. This separation is what we call death. It has stood through history as man's ever present adversary. Death has a present and a future impact. Presently, our spirits are dead in that they have no ability to commune and fellowship with a pure and holy God Who is our only source of real satisfaction (Eph. 2:1). The future aspect is the death of our created bodies (Gen. 3: 19). The first consequence yields a present loss of fulfillment, the second guarantees a future just and eternal judgment for sin. It is clear that our world is in constant struggle with these double consequences of sin. Men struggle with their present death by scrambling desperately to fill the emptiness. We run to money, to sensuality, to culturally dictated lifestyles. We grab for success and clamor for peer acceptance. We build our castles and fill them with our hoarded treasures. We demand our rights and flaunt our independence and yet we find true. lasting fulfillment to be like an elusive dream. As thirsty men crawling across the deserts of our lives. we go from one mirage to another. becoming weaker and more disoriented with each disappointment. All that the world offers will never fill the divine void that sin has left within us. Our world also wrestles with the future consequence of physical death. For men without God. it is life's greatest uncertainty. the source of their most significant fear. At death. judgment of sin is demanded by God's fair and righteous justice. This truth is hardly palatable to those who are guilty before God. So we struggle to remove the reality of death and its consequences from our lives. Some simply say there is no God. Others see Him as an old grandfather Who is so kind that He would never judge sin. This lopsided caricature of God ignores the truth that His perfect love is only perfect in the context of His justice, righteousness and holiness, all of which necessitate the judgment of sin. Death is indeed a tragic adversary with whom it is beyond our ability to cope. No one peacefully co-exists with the double impact of death. It is the destroyer of our present joy and future security. We try. therefore, to forget about death and to center our focus on living by carrying out our doomed attempts at fulfillment. We drown ourselves in the ancient philosophy of the rich fool who proclaimed, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" We say that living is gain and dying is loss when in reality living and dying are both loss without God. Our dilemma seems to hold no solution. Death's dilemma seems to lead only to despair. However, despair is not man's only option' Despair is tempered in the hope that somewhere, somehow there is life that is stronger than death. This hope is fulfilled in the resurrec– tion of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection, Jesus Christ proved that life in God was more powerful than sin and death. He died to cancel the penalty of our sin and rose from the grave to prove that life in Him now reigns supreme. Even more significant is the fact 11 that He has offered to share this vic– torious life with us. He will give it to us as our own possession if by faith we will personally believe in and receive His death and resurrection in our behalf. This is "eternal life" (Romans 6:23). It forever defeats the double dose of death. The resurrection power of Christ. which He shares with us at salvation, guarantees that we will not be held by death but rather pass from death unto life. Instead of being a door to a just eternal judgment. death now is for us a gateway to eternal fellowship with God. Jesus Christ. through His death and resurrection. has indeed removed the "scariness" from dying and has provided something far better for us. But. even for those who have received Christ's victorious resur– rected life, there is presently a lack of full fellowship due to the continuing struggles of the old condemned sin nature within us. To be sure, life with Christ is now better than ever before. But His filling of our emptiness is tainted by the polluted atmosphere of our flesh and the spiritual smog of our culture. The great joy of heaven will be the enjoyment of full original fel– lowship with Jesus Christ without any diminishing influence of sin. It will be a completion of all we were meant to be. Why has God withheld a complete appreciation of our future life in Christ from us? I am convinced He has done this to enable us to enjoy our present abundant life in Him. The enjoyment of our earthly life in Christ is a great experience. To fully under– stand our eternal fellowship with Him would disable us for the here and now. Once we taste the sinless joy of conquered death forever, earth's involvements will lose their draw upon our hearts. Scripture majestically reflects the profound significance of the resurrec– tion as it proclaims: "Death is swal– lowed up in victory. 0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy vic– tory? . .. Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:54, 55, 57). Life in Jesus Christ is indeed far bet– ter. Rev. Stowell is pastor of Bible Baptist Church. Kokomo, Indiana.