Conformed to the Body of His Glory

[The Lord Jesus Christ] who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The centerpiece of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection of all on the final day, has always been a stumbling block in culture. Among the Jews of the first century, some sects like the Sadducees denied the resurrection entirely, while those who did believe in the resurrection envisioned it only in terms of the last day (John 11:24, Acts 23:8). To the Greeks the resurrection was sheer folly (Acts 17:32): while the different philosophical schools among the Greeks had their many differences, all were agreed about the betterment of the soul than the flesh. Philosophers like Plato wished to leave the physical world behind; to them, to be raised from the dead would be more akin to “hell” than “heaven.” One thing was certain to them: the dead stay dead.

Ever since there have been many who have questioned and challenged the resurrection on various grounds, but one of the most pernicious challenges to the resurrection of Jesus involves its over-spiritualization. Many share many of the same doubts as the Greeks regarding the profit in the creation and yearn to live in a purely spiritual state. So it was among the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, suggesting the resurrection was already past, understood only in terms of spiritual enlightenment or regeneration (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

It is true that Paul does speak of baptism as a resurrection in Romans 6:3-7; the soul is dead in sin and is brought back to life in Christ through faith in conversion and discipleship. Yet Paul is quite clear that, for believers, the “spiritual resurrection” has already occurred (note the past tense in Romans 6:3-7), yet there remains a resurrection that has yet to take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

We get some understanding about this resurrection from Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians. Paul has spoken about how he proved willing to consider all the credentials he obtained under the old covenant as garbage to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in order to obtain his own resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11). He insists that he has not yet obtained that resurrection (Philippians 3:12). At the end of this section he declares that our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will “fashion anew” (Greek metaschematisei, “change the figure of, transform”) the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). This “fashion[ing] anew” and “conform[ity]” to the body of His glory is the bodily resurrection of the believer and his or her transformation for immortality!

We are not told much about Jesus and His resurrected body, but we do know that after He arose from the dead, death had no more power over Him, and he would die no more (Romans 6:8-9). He was recognizably Jesus, able to eat and no phantasm, yet different, able to walk through walls and be in different places at inhuman speeds, indicating transcendence of the space-time continuum (Luke 24:31-43, John 20:19-20). Paul speaks of the transformation in the resurrection of the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body, the transformation of the body empowered by the breath of life to the body empowered by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-53). John assures us that even though we do not fully understand what we will be, we know we will be like Jesus on that day (1 John 3:1-3).

Paul, therefore, provides a message of hope for the Christian: Jesus will return one day, and through the power of God, He will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them so as to be just like His glorified, resurrected body. This is part of the ultimate redemption of the creation envisioned by Paul in Romans 8:17-25 and seen in a figure in Revelation 21:1-22:5: a place where futility, decay, corruption, death, violence, suffering, sin, and all evil are no more, where God dwells with man and provides him with eternal comfort and glory. This takes place when the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the Bride, the church, comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:1-4); this redemption is not the rejection and denial of the creation of God, but its restoration to the condition in which God intended it from the beginning, accomplished perhaps through fire (if 2 Peter 3:1-13 maintains primacy) but most assuredly through the power of God. God did not give up on His good creation when it suffered decay and corruption when sin and death entered it; He did not give up on humanity once they sinned against Him. Instead, in Christ, He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). The old world of sin and death meets its end and the new world of righteousness and glory takes its place (Romans 8:18, 2 Peter 3:13); the old humble body is raised, transformed, and obtains the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:35-53, Philippians 3:21). That will be the final victory over sin and death!

It would have been very easy for early Christians to minimize or spiritualize the resurrection; their message would have been much easier for the nations to accept that way. Yet even though the bodily resurrection was an embarrassment to the Greeks, the early Christians continued to insist on it, rather bearing the insult and shame of such a view rather than to conform to the popular opinion of the day. They knew that the ultimate hope of the Christian is not in the spiritual resurrection which can be obtained now by finding eternal life through trusting in and serving the Lord Jesus Christ; their ultimate hope was the resurrection and transformation of the body and the final victory over sin and death on the last day. Early Christians knew they already had the redemption of the soul, and adopted as children into the family of God (Romans 8:1-16), yet they hoped for the full adoption as children of God in the redemption of the body in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-25). The resurrection of the body was non-negotiable in their eyes, and for good reason: their hope was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23); if we do not share in a resurrection like His, we will not be like Him! On the first day of the week after the Passover in 30 CE, the tomb was empty, and the disciples of Jesus saw Him in His resurrected body. They then proclaimed that the day would come when the tomb of believers will also be empty and they will be forever with the Lord in their resurrected, glorified bodies (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Philippians 3:21)! Yes, we must experience spiritual resurrection, and must do so quickly before the Lord returns. Yet we ought to look forward to the day of the resurrection of the body, as the early Christians did, looking forward to the transformation of the body toward conformity to the glorified body of Christ, when death will be finally vanquished once and for all! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Call

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name” (Acts 9:13-14).

If anyone had the right to do a double-take after hearing from the Lord Jesus, it was Ananias in this circumstance.

Saul of Tarsus had distinguished himself in his opposition to Christianity. He approved of Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:58-8:1). Saul was “ravaging” the church, imprisoning many, and now headed to Damascus with authority to imprison Christians and bring them back down to Jerusalem (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2).

Ananias has heard about all of this. He has heard about what Saul has done in Jerusalem. He is quite aware of Saul’s journey and his intentions.

And now the Lord Jesus tells him to go to Straight Street and find Saul since the latter has been told that a man named Ananias will help him receive his sight again (Acts 9:10-12).

Can the Lord be serious? Here is the greatest enemy of Christianity! A Christian being sent right into the jaws of danger! Would not Ananias be crazy for going to visit Saul?

Yet Ananias trusts the Lord. Whatever his personal apprehensions, fears, and concerns, he does what the Lord commands him, speaks with Saul, baptizes him, and represents the first Christian to encourage Paul the Apostle in his life’s work (Acts 9:15-19, 22:12-16).

But what would have happened had Ananias said no to the Lord? What if Ananias refused to believe that a guy like Saul could change? What if Ananias did not take courage and expose himself to some risk for the cause of Christ by going to Straight Street? What if every Christian in Damascus and Jerusalem felt the same way?

It is true that Saul received a benefit that most people do not receive. It is also sadly true that many opponents of the faith do not change in their opposition. Nevertheless, God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). He expects believers to take His message out into the world, cast the seed of the Word of God on all soils, letting the Word work on the hearer rather than judging whether such a one will respond to the message (cf. Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23, 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

There are times when the people whom we think will obey the Gospel will not; there are times when opponents of the faith repent and convert. No conversion can happen, however, if believers have already written people off because of their past antagonism toward the faith or because “those types of people” are perceived to “not be interested” in Christianity.

Just as it was not Ananias’ job to judge whether Saul ought to hear the message of Christ or not, and it was not Ananias’ job to judge whether the Lord should show him mercy or not, so it is with us and those with whom we come into contact. It is not for us to automatically judge anyone worthy or unworthy of the Gospel. It is for us to promote the message of Christ and let people decide for themselves. We might just find that we will be doing more double-takes as we see the types of people who prove willing to become obedient to the Lord’s message. Who knows whether we will be able to encourage the next great promoter of the Christian faith? We can only be sure that we will not if we never take the message out. Let us therefore promote the Gospel among everyone!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God, Us, and Evangelism

What then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

It was evident that there were many problems within the church in Corinth. Rivalries, immorality, and strife seemed to prevail there.

Paul understood the nature of the challenges. The difficulties were not just the “surface issues,” but the attitudes underneath. One such attitude was the carnality, or worldliness, in the thinking of the Corinthians. They were focusing on the earthly and, in so doing, missing the spiritual reality!

Some of the Corinthians had taken their eyes away from God in Christ and focused them on the men around them– Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (or Peter). They ended up creating different factions in the church, each faction highlighting their “champion” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:4).

Paul will hear none of this. In the Kingdom, Paul and Apollos and Peter, as Paul, Apollos, and Peter, do not really matter. What really matters is God in Christ and the work that God is doing. Paul, Apollos, Peter, and others are simply servants!

This lesson is as important for us today as it was for the Corinthians in the first century. It is easy to start thinking about the church and evangelism in worldly, carnal terms, and focus on personalities and results. People will line up behind their favorite preacher and/or elder. Many will place emphasis on conversions. These are very easy and natural tendencies!

But such is the way the world works, and we are supposed to turn from that (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16). Jesus Christ is Lord, not us, and He is in control. It was not given to Paul or Apollos to provide the increase– if they were not able to provide the increase, how well shall we fare?

Paul uses the image of agriculture, just as Jesus did in Mark 4:26-29. In agriculture, farmers must plant the seeds and provide the best possible environment– nutrients in the soil and water. Then the natural process can take over, for good or ill: either the conditions will go well and the crops will grow, or there will be poor conditions and the crops will fail.

So it is in spiritual matters. As those entrusted with the Gospel of life (1 Corinthians 4:1-2), we must promote the message. That means that we must go out and preach the message to all men (Matthew 13:1-8, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:18-20). After we have “planted” the “seed,” we can strive to “water” the seed by encouraging people in the message of righteousness and truth (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Yet it is not within our power to convert anyone. That power has been vested in God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12). We are to reflect that Word in our lives and point people toward it (Matthew 5:13-16). The power of conversion rests in God’s message of salvation and the willingness of the soul to repent– not in anything regarding the preacher or fellow-servant of God.

This way of thinking is not natural for us, but it is a necessity if we will engage in the work of proclaiming the Gospel as we ought. In fact, when properly understood, this perspective is liberating. We should not focus on conversion but on proclamation– we need to get the message out and to encourage people to consider it, and leave the rest up to God. If no conversions are taking place, we would do well to consider our prayer life, our example, and the effectiveness of our presentation. But we must not conclude that our work is a complete and utter failure if no one converts, because conversion itself is out of our hands. We have done what we should have done, and it was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The farmer who plants his crops and does his best to fertilize and water the soil has done what he can, and if his crops fail, he cannot be held responsible. But it is the farmer who is too afraid to plant a crop or has given up planting crops who is responsible and culpable for failure. So it is with us. If we proclaim the message of God and reflect it in our lives, we have done what we should, and if no one turns to God, we are not responsible. But if we are too afraid to proclaim the message, or have given up proclaiming the message, then we do bear some responsibility (cf. Romans 1:16)!

We have our hands full with the proclamation and encouragement of the Gospel message. Let us trust in God that if we plant and water, He will provide the increase. Let us keep our focus on the spiritual reality and not get caught up in worldly perspectives on the promotion of the Gospel!

Ethan R. Longhenry