Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: Glorification (Part 2)
Posted on 02/19/2004 12:42:02 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Glorification
(Part 2 Sermon Number Eighteen)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
This sermon is part two of our study on the doctrine of glorification. By way of review, I want to explain again just what we mean when we talk about the doctrine of glorification. The doctrine of glorification is the Biblical teaching that those who have been called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified will, one day, be confirmed in sinlessness and experience a state of unending joy and blessedness in the presence of God. As I mentioned, properly speaking, we must say that there are two stages to the glorification of redeemed sinners. First, upon death, the soul of the believer is freed from the body and returns immediately to its Creator. Second, at the time of Christ's return, the bodies of redeemed sinners will be raised and transformed into an incorruptible body that is compatible with a heavenly existence. This transformed body is reunited with its soul on that great day and, thus, the glorification of the believer is complete.
As a matter of great importance, I stated that the doctrine of glorification includes as the objects of praise and honor our Savior and our heavenly Father. The completion of that good work begun in us by God will result in praise for Him. Our appearance in the state of glorification is not intended for our praise; it is intended to bring forth praise for our great God as the final results of His wonderful plan of redemption are manifested for all to see. In the doctrine of glorification, then, we understand that the final transformation and purification of the people of God is not an end in itself; it will be the cause for heavenly celebration and for honoring our God and Savior. We will know sinlessness and we will inhabit a body prepared for our new existence, but the focus of that Day, if I may use this term, will be the God of all grace and His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us.
We now can proceed with the second point.
2. The Relation Between Glorification and the Doctrine of Perseverance
Closely related to the doctrine of glorification is the doctrine of the believer's perseverance. The doctrine of perseverance says that all who are effectually called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified by God can never fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly continue in that state to the end and be eternally saved. This is an ideal time for us to study the doctrine of perseverance, of course, because the glorification of the believer obviously cannot take place unless that believer endures to the end of his life in the state of grace. Therefore, I am going to take the time to examine a few verses that teach the doctrine of perseverance.
We can begin with a familiar declaration made by Paul in his opening words to the Philippians: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6) The context of this statement from the apostle is his confidence in the spiritual stability and growth of the Philippians. There was evidence, Paul testifies, which demonstrated that God was, indeed, working in the hearts of these people. Paul witnessed, first hand, the influence of the gospel as they participated with him in the ministry. Therefore, being assured of God's activity among them, Paul declares his certainty of their continuing perseverance in the faith and eventual glorification.
Let me emphasize that it was the evidence of the gospel's presence that convinced Paul that the Philippians had been regenerated; and having been convinced of their regeneration, he was sure of God's work in them. Further, if God had begun a work of perfecting them, He certainly would complete it, Paul explains. The nature of God's saving activity was a guarantee that the Philippians would remain in covenant with God in Christ and would, one day, be glorified. We are saved for eternity; our regeneration in this life marks the beginning of God's work in us, as Paul notes. What God begins, the apostle assures us, He will bring to a completion.
The doctrine of perseverance, then, is grounded in the immutability of God's decree of salvation. There is no element of uncertainty when it comes to the question of where the regenerated sinner will find himself when the end comes. The sinner who is regenerated today will, without question, without doubt, remain saved as God leads him along in Christian maturity to that final and great day of his glorification. Only if God can be over-powered, only if something can force God to change His plans, can these statements be called into question.
And, as the apostle teaches in this passage, good works, works that flow from a regenerated heart, are sure signs of the believer's status and, therefore, they are sure signs of his perseverance. As the Christian engages in good deeds, as he conforms his life more and more to the perfect image of the Savior, he is persevering. Perseverance, then, is linked inseparably to our sanctification, as well as our glorification. We could say that perseverance is assumed in the conversion experience. In order for our salvation to be complete, we must persevere, as I stated earlier. The believer must persevere, he must remain in a state of grace.
In John 10, we hear from Jesus, Himself, on this matter of perseverance. In the context, John records that a dispute arose among those who witnessed Jesus' works and heard His teachings. In answering some of the Jews, Jesus teaches an unmistakable doctrine of perseverance:
24 The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
We have to suspect that the question posed by these Jews was intended to provide a reason for persecuting Jesus. As Jesus points out in His response, the works that He had been doing were more than sufficient to testify to His identity. The reason behind the disbelief of the Jews, therefore, was not the lack of convincing evidence provided by the Lord. The reason for their lack of belief is explained by Jesus when He declares: You are not My sheep. (v. 26) Jesus distinguishes between these Jews and those who were the subjects of salvation whom Jesus calls My sheep.
In addition to teaching us about the particular nature of the atonement, this passage also tells us something vitally important about the salvation experience. Jesus continues and says that His sheep listen to Him, know Him and follow Him; and they have been given eternal life. At this point, the Savior adds: ...and they shall never perish... and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. (v. 28)
What does this statement mean except that those who are called, regenerated, justified and adopted shall remain in that state of salvation and pass into glory on the appointed day? Jesus' words can only mean that the sinner who experiences conversion will never fall away from that state of grace, but will, according to God's purposes and power, endure in belief throughout his earthly life and be confirmed in holiness when he leaves this world. Moreover, Jesus emphasizes an ever greater degree of security for the Christian when He says that those who know Him, those who are His sheep, have been given to Him by the Father and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (v. 29) Therefore, we have three strong statements concerning the believer's perseverance in the faith: and they shall never perish, no one shall snatch them out of My hand and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
What we must understand is that Jesus is describing the spiritual safety of those who believe in Him according to the gospel. He is declaring that the sinner who is born again can never revert to a state of unbelief; He is declaring that there is no power capable of removing that converted sinner from the state of grace in which God places him. If this is true, then the glorification of the saved sinner is inevitable; if this is true, then whatever God promises to His children must come to pass. Scripture leads to the conclusion that the regenerated sinner is destined for glorification. Therefore, he will persevere through this life; nothing will undo what God has done because God is watching over him, God is directing his journey and God is causing a particular outcome to occur.
Notice how Jesus places the responsibility for the security of His sheep in His hands and in the hands of the Father. Our eternal security is not a matter of us remaining faithful or us holding onto God, it is a matter of God keeping us faithful and God holding onto us. And only because this is the case can believers have any hope of perseverance; only because an omnipotent God keeps us, only because an infinitely wise God watches over us, will we endure through this life and enter into glory. In this light, we can see how great is the offense of those who teach that a Christian can revert to an unsaved status. This is a most horrible, blasphemous and destructive doctrine; it contradicts the words of the Savior and it runs counter to the doctrine of God's immutability.
The sheep of Christ are not left to fend for themselves; they are not left to bring to completion that which they did not start in the first place. Salvation is, from beginning to end, from the decree of election to the effectual call to glorification, a work of our great God in Jesus Christ. Believers should not let themselves be troubled for a moment by the false teaching that puts the matter of perseverance in their hands.
A third passage is found in 1 Pet. 1 where this apostle is describing the situation of believers. God has caused believers to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 3); believers have obtained an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, one that is reserved in heaven (v. 4). And then, speaking of believers once again, Peter says: who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (v. 5) Christians are protected by the power of God through faith until that great day on which the fullness of their salvation is revealed in their glorification.
The word translated protected (phroureo) means to guard, keep watch over something, to protect, to preserve one for the attainment of something. This is the status of the Christian; he is kept safe by God Himself. The omnipotent God takes the responsibility of holding onto the saved sinner, so to speak; therefore, only that which is mightier than God, only that which can overcome God, can prevent the eventual glorification of the Christian. We must confess again, therefore, that the regenerated sinner will persevere through this life and attain the fullness of the inheritance that is his in Christ Jesus.
A bit later, in v. 9, Peter adds that believers [obtain] as the outcome of [their] faith the salvation of [their] souls. This verse illustrates the perspective on our salvation that I emphasized in the application portion of my first sermon on the doctrine of glorification. The word translated outcome (telos) means the end to which something relates, the aim or purpose. Our Christian faith has a goal and that goal is our ultimate deliverance from every contamination of sin in soul and body; our Christian faith has a purpose and that purpose is our perfection; our Christian faith must, as Peter teaches, end in a particular manner and the manner in which is must end is unchangeably determined. Our salvation is not completed until that day on which our purified souls and our resurrected and transformed bodies are reunited. Only then will the outcome of our faith be realized; only then will our journey be completed. Our faith leads us toward that day on which we will experience glorification along with all the redeemed from all the ages.
Before continuing with third point in this study on the doctrine of glorification, I would like to call your attention to a passage from the book of Psalms to demonstrate that the doctrine of perseverance is well established in both testaments. In Psa. 37:28, we read: [T]he Lord loves justice, and does not forsake His godly ones; they are preserved forever; but the descendants of the wicked will be cut off. The context of this verse is a startling comparison between the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. In every way, the righteous man enjoys God's protection and blessing and is assured that God will see him safely to heaven; by contrast, the wicked man can expect only God's opposition and judgment. Note carefully what this verse promises: God does not forsake us; we are preserved forever. This is the same as Paul's words to the Philippians: He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
In v. 28 of this Psalm, the word translated forsake (azab) means to leave, abandon forsake, neglect. It is instructive to note that this word has covenantal connotations. The Hebrew term is used again and again in the Old Testament in contexts where God is promising to keep His people, promising to remain faithful to His people and promising to deliver His people. He promises not to forsake them, leave them or abandon them. Also in this verse, the word rendered preserved (shamar) means to be kept, guarded. Once again, this term has covenantal connotations. It is found in many passages where covenant obligations (God to man and man to God) are being discussed (cf. Gen. 17:9, 10; 18:19; 26:5; 28:15; etc.). As terms of God's saving covenant with man, He promises to keep us, to guard us and we promise to keep the covenant by living according to His Word.
When the Psalmist says that the Lord does not forsake His godly ones and that they are preserved forever, he is relating to us the principle of covenant. God has covenanted with us in Jesus Christ and is bound by the oath He imposed upon Himself to call us, regenerate us, justify us, adopt us, sanctify us and glorify us. When we hear such promises, let us understand that they are not merely wishful thinking on the part of the Biblical writer, they are pledges from God, pledges that He will care for us and cause us to persevere through this life that we might be glorified on that final day.
This emphasis upon the principle of covenant brings me to a third and final point in this study of the doctrine of glorification:
3. The Doctrine of Glorification and Covenant Theology
Briefly, I want to conclude this study on the doctrine of glorification by relating this teaching to the context of this sermon series on covenant theology. My reason for doing this is to show how everything we have learned about the doctrine of salvation, as we have been examining the ordo salutis, fits into the covenant model for understanding and applying Scripture.
Let me begin by asking, What is the relation of glorification to the other elements of our salvation which we have covered? As we have seen, the doctrine of glorification is concerned with the final element or stage of the order of salvation. Glorification occurs as the culmination of our conversion experience; glorification occurs only because and only after all other elements in the ordo salutis have occurred. There is a sequential relation between our glorification and the other parts of our salvation experience. Working backward, we can see how our glorification is preceded by our sanctification, which is preceded by our adoption, which is preceded by our justification, which is preceded by our calling and regeneration. There is an unbreakable link between the elements in the order of salvation. When the first occurs, it leads inevitably to the second, and when the second occurs, it leads inevitably to the third, and so on. Glorification, then, is related to this order of salvation in the same manner that individual links in a chain are related to the chain itself. Together, all these links or parts make up the doctrine of salvation.
Next, I ask, What is the relation of these elements of our conversion to covenant theology? To answer this question, we must ask another: What is the basis for our salvation experience? The basis for our salvation experience is the covenant of grace. You will recall that I defined the covenant of grace as that arrangement whereby God is restoring the fallen human race. This covenant of grace is God's plan to provide the means for sinful man to have fellowship again with his Creator. What is accomplished in this covenant is what God promised in the Garden of Eden following Adam's transgression, it is what the whole Bible is about, it is what we declare when we preach the good news.
Salvation comes to a sinner, according to the pattern we have been studying, because this is how the covenant of grace operates. God accepts the payment for sins supplied by Christ and then applies that payment to the elect. In time, one by one, they are called, justified, adopted and sanctified; and, together, they some day will be glorified. In this process, God is manifesting His covenant faithfulness. According to Christ's testimony in John 6:37, God the Father has given to the Son a certain people and Christ's part was to provide what was necessary for their redemption. Every episode of conversion, then, is a covenant expression; every time a sinner is saved, it is an example of God's covenant faithfulness.
Taking a covenantal approach to the study and application of Scripture allows us to see the excellence and wisdom in our salvation; this covenantal approach lets us see how our redemption is related to the redemption of others and to the overall plan of God to restore fallen humanity. Only covenant theology provides this framework within which the salvation of the sinner is seen in all its splendor and wisdom. Without a covenantal perspective, we cannot see the depth and breadth, the majesty and glory of our redemption. Without a covenant perspective, we will fail to understand exactly what God has done for us in Christ and what is, therefore, our obligation toward Him. The covenant perspective teaches us that God's faithfulness to us in Christ is to be met with like faithfulness to Him on our part.
In this sermon, I said much about the doctrine of perseverance and its relation to the doctrine of glorification. In the application, I want to emphasize just how significant the doctrine of perseverance is to our spiritual well-being. I'll do this by looking at two matters with which all Christian can identify and relating them to the doctrine of perseverance. Let us recall that the doctrine of perseverance teaches that all whom God has effectually called, regenerated, justified, adopted and sanctified can never fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly continue in that state to the end and be eternally saved. What benefits, then, does this teaching offer us for our daily lives? Here, briefly, are two benefits of this doctrine.
First, there is the benefit of certainty versus uncertainty in the matter of our destinies. If we have no guarantee that our salvation will end in our glorification, if we cannot be certain that what God has begun in us, He will finish, then the best we can have is a fond and dearly held desire to make it to heaven. Even though there have been and are today some Christians who hold to such a view, this is not what the Bible teaches. When a believer begins studying the Bible and growing in the faith, he comes to possess a certain hope or expectation about his destiny. This hope or expectation is based on the sure promises of God as they are recorded in the Scripture. The believer sees what God's Word teaches about heaven and about glorification and he comes to long for and expect that he is going to experience heaven and glorification some day.
Because of the doctrine of perseverance, this expectation that develops in the heart of the Christian does not remain a simple desire, but grows into a conviction. Because of the doctrine of perseverance, the believer has a basis for claiming that his hope is more than just a fond wish. With the doctrine of perseverance comes a measure of certainty; when the Biblical doctrine of perseverance is understood, then the believer's hope is transformed into a sure persuasion. As the Christian learns more about the doctrine of perseverance, he comes to understand that his destiny is sealed, that God has begun a work in him that will be completed in due time. The difference between hoping for glorification and knowing that you are going to be glorified is the doctrine of perseverance. In the practical, day to day matter of our expectation as Christians, therefore, the doctrine of perseverance is all-important.
Second, there is the benefit of certainty versus uncertainty in the matter of present security. If we have no sure expectation about the future, if we cannot be certain about our destinies, then there is no way for us to have anything resembling a conviction about our spiritual safety here and now. A Christian can hardly make bold proclamations about his present security if, in fact, he has no idea whether he will end up in heaven. But, on the other hand, if we can have a sure conviction about our destinies, if we can know for certain that the work God has begun in us is going to conclude with our glorification, then we can have a sure conviction about today and every other day that we live on this earth as we await God's call to heaven.
The doctrine of perseverance lets us rest in Christ in this life as we await our coming glorification. We are able to be at peace because we know that God is mindful of us and that He is guiding us toward heaven. Because of the doctrine of perseverance, which assures us that we are traveling that road to glory, we can know that God has regard for us right now and will provide for us, watch over us and move us along our way.
This blessing of knowing that we are secure becomes more significant as those around us search for something in which to find even a small degree of stability. The doctrine of perseverance leads the believer to put his trust for his eternal security and, therefore, his day to day well-being, where it belongsin the immutable decree of an omnipotent God, instead of his own efforts or the feeble efforts of others. This doctrine teaches that God does not lose what He has redeemed, that God does not forget what He has promised, that God will finish what He has begun. And the blessing of knowing that we are secure also becomes more significant when we pass through those darks times, when we experience some tribulation or some hardship. It is during such times that the doctrine of perseverance assures us that we will emerge from that trial and that, even during the trial, we are not alone.
Christians really can enjoy life and need not spend any time worrying about their spiritual security. If we are living according to God's Word, if we are progressing in our sanctification, then we have no reason to fear. For the believer, security comes from the promises of God, not from his own labors. That which connects our regeneration to our coming glorification is the promise of God. He promises that our beginning in the faith will have a certain end. It is, therefore, the sure word of God that gives us a sense of spiritual safety. There is nothing more certain in all of this creation than the promise of God. When we are tempted to wonder about our security in Christ, then we need to recall those words of our Savior: ...and they shall never perish... and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a sign of our perseverance. This sacrament portrays that atoning work of our Savior and it is the atonement that seals our destinies. Every observance of the Lord's Supper, therefore, is a reminder of God's pledge that He will keep us in this life and will bring us to heaven; every observance of this sacrament is a renewal of God's promises to us in Christ. When the cares of life begin to weigh heavily upon us, then, as at all times, we should come eagerly to the Lord's Table where we find confirmation of God's love, provision and protection.