6 Be of good courage, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are of good courage and would prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord 9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For everything about us will be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive compensation for the things done through the body in accordance with what he has done whether good or bad (2Cor5:6-10).
The Judgement Seat of Christ
Paul continues the theme of the soul’s existence in the body, this time the context being the Judgement Seat of Christ. Whist resurrection in a glorified body is the ultimate aim, he would much sooner be in spirit with the Lord in heaven than be at home in the body and away from Him. For those with no belief in a soul or the afterlife, this will be a meaningless concept. But going back to my previous post (for I am struggling to the get the subject out of my mind) even as a Christian and speaking personally, I used to consider the mind as synonymous with the brain. Now I realize that simply cannot be the case. For what departs the body at death is itself a conscious entity with a mind and memory of its own (Lk16:25). So, whilst in “our earthly tent” as the apostles Paul and Peter describe the soul’s mortal existence, we effectively possess two minds – one pertaining to the spirit, the other to the flesh, the latter being the brain. The former entity Paul describes as the spirit, inner man or sometimes simply “the mind” (Rom7:23), the latter being “the flesh”.
This is crucial to understanding the inner conflict of the human psyche that Paul refers to in Rom7 and what he means by “the body of this death” (v24). Crucial because that pertains to the very nature of gospel salvation: its context and purpose (v25), impacting in turn on one’s appearance before the Judgement Seat of Christ. The historical misunderstanding that has occurred in this area will be piously couched in terms of “exalting the grace of God”. Yet in the form it has taken it demeans God’s perceived providential care for humanity as a whole, diminishes the scope and efficacy of Christ’s saving work at Calvary and portrays human nature as virtually depraved. As for any who dare challenge it, they may readily be dismissed as “humanistic detractors from the grace of Christ”.
It must surely have delighted Satan’s heart to see the divine economy presented in such a way by the architects of biblical theology: An incomprehensibly harsh Creator and selective Savior presiding over a humanity punished for ancestral sin such that it becomes innately incapable of any good. The bulk of human souls deemed as collateral damage within God’s wish to demonstrate “the wonders of His grace” towards the proportional few. For “many more are to be left under punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all” (Augustine’s De Civitates Dei XXI chap. 12).
Here is the Good News: God is the loving Father whose nature His Son precisely mirrored even whilst in mortal flesh (carefully examine Jesus’ reply to Philip in Jn14:9). Jesus’ response affirms that YHWE is comprehensibly and adorably GOOD, even from a human perspective . He is fair to all and has wondrous plans to raise the sons of earth – plans that required the agonizing death of His only begotten Son. As for human suffering, Eden was God’s master stroke and Satan fell for it (cf. Rom8:20). For mankind’s destiny is not merely to return to Adamic innocence but to partake of the divine nature. That starts with Christ’s little flock who with their Savior become the heirs of God (Rom8:17) . YHWE knew what additional ingredients were required for such an elevation and Satan with his seed have unwittingly provided them (cf. Heb2:10).
How could such munificent providence have become so disfigured? Well, the following extraordinary exegesis regarding Paul’s inner conflict passage by that same Augustine of Hippo, principal architect of Western theology will not have helped. [He is the man Luther regarded as Paul’s most faithful interpreter and HERE is the result] Writing in his “Confessions” (Book VII ch.21), Augustine rightly acknowledged the apostle Paul to be indicating in Rom7 that man by nature has opposing instincts, the one hating God’s law, the other delighting in it though often failing to keep it. He then proceeds to infer from this that mankind’s will now reflected that of Satan’s. [His brief analysis is outlined in this earlier post]. His perspective is consolidated in a more formal treatise later when he wrote HERE that man by nature is able to do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” except they “had fled to the grace of Christ”. This is an observable absurdity; and as for who is the heretic here, equating man’s will to that of Satan’s contradicted both the tenor and teaching of the recorded writings of virtually all his predecessors, the earliest of whom had received the Faith from the apostles and their immediate successors. Such men were therefore less reliant on having the ability to fathom the sometimes abstruse writings of the Apostle Paul (see my earlier post on the unity of doctrine within the 2nd century Church).
As for Augustine’s analysis of Rom7, it is extraordinary given that contrary to many later commentators he rightly takes Paul to be referring to man by nature, not to the Christian. But he fails to discern that it is those who do not have such a conflict within their nature who reflect the mind and will of Satan, and such people exist. They with their devilish master instinctively delight in and practice what is evil, and they are without restraint. For these few, the inner voice of conscience has been permanently muted. These are the reprobate children of the devil – devoid of compassion or empathy for their fellows and with no instinct whatsoever for the truth (Mt25:45; Jn8:44). But as Paul had indicated both in Rom7 and a few chapters earlier, that is not man by nature. Many possess an inward admiration for God’s law (focused on love for neighbor – Gal5:14). In Paul’s words the many “do by nature that which is in the law, so becoming a law for themselves” (Rom2:14). Then there is the Christian – having been provided with the means of grace by which he or she (should) both delight in and practice what is pleasing in God’s sight. Hence the three soteriological categories I have been outlining.
And with regards to the Christian: “Have as your ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For everything about us will be revealed before the Judgment Seat of Christ, so that each one may receive compensation for the things done through the body in accordance with what he has done whether good or bad” (vv9,10). It is to be observed that in referring to the Judgement Seat of Christ or in any biblical passage concerning final judgement, neither Adam’s guilt nor Christ’s personal justice are ever a factor. How prophetic were the words of St John: “Little children, let no one deceive you – he that practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1Jn3:7). Everyone shall be judged on the basis of what they have done “through the body” (v11). But it is only those privileged to have known Christ as Savior, suffered with Him in life and had the Holy Spirit as their Enabler that can anticipate being presented “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude1:24). There will be awe a plenty but also joy to be had at the Judgement Seat of Christ for those found worthy to receive an extraordinary inheritance, having as we have seen, become joint heirs with the Judge Himself (Rom8:17).
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Related post: final judgement (Mt25)