Union with Christ: Necessity and Benefits Part 4

Key Facts From Part 3

Christ’s saving work is effective for all the people given to Him by the Father. Salvation is applied to individuals. The Spirit applies salvation by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in effectual calling. 

Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Those effectually called receive the benefits of justification, adoption, and sanctification, plus any benefit either accompanying or flowing from them. 

In Union with Christ, the Holy Spirit establishes a spiritual bond between a believer’s human nature and the human nature of Christ.

Answering Some Fundamental Questions

To a sinner receiving salvation, the process is extremely simple, so simple even a child can hear the gospel, understand the basic point, believe and be saved. Behind that simplicity is a complex, costly process ordained in eternity and implemented in “time” by God through the incarnate Christ. 

Scripture (1 Pt. 3:15; 1 Cor. 3:1-4; Heb. 5:13-14; etc.) tells believers to consciously and continuously grow in understanding of what salvation means to them with increasing ability to answer questions from those who ask. This particular study is intended to dig a little deeper than is usual into the what and why of the various steps involve in salvation.

It is a seeking of increased wisdom concerning salvation grounded in a firm knowledge of truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Questions have been raised that at first may seem outside the scope of this study. In response to the first 3 parts, some fundamental questions have been asked. The answers to these questions are a vital part of understanding Union with Christ. Union with Christ began with God’s plan in eternity, was made possible by the incarnate Christ’s perfect life under God’s Law, His atoning death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. Questions that have been raised include: (1.) Do people have souls? (2.) If so, what happens to the soul at mortal death? (3.) Assuming life after mortal death, what is it like? 

Job Had Similar Questions. He asked, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job14:14)

Jesus answered Job’s question when He spoke to Martha as her brother Lazarus lay dead: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26).   “Do you?”  “Do I?”

If we do, then because every person experiences mortal death in which the body dies and returns to dust, in believing Jesus, we are affirming there must be something recognizable as “us” which survives mortal death, something that will never die. That something we call the soul (or spirit). The body is material. The soul is immaterial, but absolutely real, as real as the body but not able to be detected by a person’s physical senses. 

Christians believe that in mortal death body and soul are separated. The body returns to dust from which it came, and the soul returns to God in heaven. For a period after mortal death, the soul exists without a body. 

A soul without a body is unnatural. God’s promise is that He will not leave souls in that state. On the Last Day, a believer’s soul will be united to a resurrection body. The resurrection body will be recognizable as their own, but greatly enhanced, being like Christ’s resurrection body. It will be free from all mortal ills and have abilities the mortal body doesn’t have. 

In their past every believer was pardoned for sins and set on the path to holiness. In the “present” they are being sanctified through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, being gradually transformed to be holy. Only “holy” persons can live in the presence of the Living God. The future of every believer includes mortal death (unless Christ comes first), and the completion of the process of sanctification (making holy) by the Holy Spirit in heaven. The final state is called glorification and in that state believers will live everlasting life with God.

Dr. Von Braun on life after death: Speaking about life after death, when he accepted election as President of the National Space Institute in Washington D. C. in 1975, Dr. Werner Von Braun said: “In our modern world many people seem to feel that science has somehow made such ‘religious ideas’ untimely or old-fashioned. But I think science has a real surprise for the sceptics. Science, for instance, tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without trace. Think about that for a moment. Once you do, your thoughts about life will never be the same. Science has found that nothing can disappear without trace. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation! Now if God applies this fundamental principle to the most minute and insignificant parts of His universe, doesn’t it make sense to assume that he applies it also to the masterpiece of His creation—the human soul? I think it does. And everything science has taught me—and continues to teach me—strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without trace.” 

What an incredibly profound statement by a brilliant scientist (yes a true rocket scientist). A real game changer observation. Nothing in creation’s nature disappears without trace. 

A Human Person is Body and Soul

As we saw in part 2, a human person consists of a human nature plus a source of “I”. Another way to say that is that a human person consists of the union of a material body with an immaterial soul. The precise relationship between soul and body is mysterious (cannot be fully comprehended). We know it is a vital union, the soul being the source of life for the body. When the soul is separated from the body, the body dies, but the soul survives. The soul is not a physical part of the body. It seems the soul is the source of a human person’s “I,” and our “I” survives mortal death.

We know few details about the nature of the soul. We know the soul has a vital role in mortal life as well as being the part of a human person which survives mortal death. Because the soul is recognizable as “us” after mortal death, the soul must contain consciousness and the source of “I.” Because the body dies when the soul departs, the soul, during mortal life, must also at least contain the source which animates the body.

Is a Person Totally Material? Many today would argue that to be the case – material brain and body. With that belief goes the belief that nothing survives mortal death. While believers look to God’s promise of everlasting life and understand that their “I” survives mortal death which means a human person is not entirely material. In particular, the source of “I” cannot be the material brain or other physical body parts.

When the body loses its soul, it loses sensibility and activity, ceases to be a “subject” and becomes an “object.” and becomes an object. As an object it is controlled by chemical laws. The body without its soul is soon reduced to dust. Without the presence of the soul, the body is not a living human person. 

Soul Can Exist Without a Body: In the soul/body union, body and soul are synergistic, each contributing to the capabilities of the other. But the soul can and does live without the body, existing as an immaterial conscious subject.

Except by God, a person’s soul is not observable, but the effects of soul activity are observable in the words and deeds of a person. The Holy Spirit indwells the soul. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit begins at justification and continues through mortal life and into the glory of eternal life with God.  

Redemption of Body and Soul: Christ’s redeeming grace and power redeem both body and soul. Though separated for a period by mortal death, soul and body will be reunited in glory. God deems the soul to be of great value. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rm. 5:8)

Christ alone could and did pay the necessary price to redeem believers’ souls. No person can do anything to redeem their soul nor that of anyone else. The soul of a person is reunited to its body (which is transformed into a resurrection body like Christ’s) on the last day.

The Intermediate State

There is a period between mortal death and resurrection day during which the soul is separated from the body. The soul in this interval is said to be in the “intermediate state.” Our mortal life will end in mortal death.  At that point the soul enters the intermediate state. 

On resurrection day, every believer’s soul is united to a resurrection body to be theirs forevermore. The intermediate state is over, and the state of ultimate bliss has begun. 

Biblical description of the resurrected Christ gives some notion of life in a resurrection body, but what about life of the soul in the intermediate state? The Bible does give important but limited information on the intermediate state. In the disembodied intermediate state, we will be in the presence of and recognize our triune God, the angels, and those saints who have gone before us. 

This is seen among other places in the story of the rich man and Lazarus and in the Revelation description of souls with God under the altar. From these and other places it is clear that disembodied souls can recognize and communicate.

In the intermediate state with no body, a person has no physical sense capabilities like those used in mortal life. We don’t know what the mechanisms will be that permit recognition and communication in the intermediate state. But there are sufficient biblical comments to assure us that in some manner we will recognize and communicate.

Additional Comments on the Intermediate State

Reference: Immortality, Loraine Boettner, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 16th printing 1989. 

Immortality: Boettner says, “In general, the Bible treats the subject of the immortality of the soul in much the same way as it treats the existence of God – such belief is assumed as an undeniable postulate. It takes for granted that the characteristics of our nature are permanent (our “I” persists, JLA), that we shall continue to possess intelligence, affection, conscience and will. Every passage dealing with the future life assumes that we shall be then as we are now, reverential and social beings, loving God and one another. This necessarily includes recognition, communion with Christ and with the angels and the redeemed.” (p. 78)

“The Scriptures teach that the state into which the righteous enter at death is one of consciousness, holiness, and happiness, which the resurrection and judgment only augment and make permanent. The mind loses none of its power or knowledge at the death of the body. On the contrary, it enters on a much higher plane of existence. 

The first and immediate result (of mortal death, JLA) is that the soul, freed from the limitations of earth and cleansed of the last vestiges of sin, finds its mental and spiritual faculties heightened and is more alive and active than it ever was before.” (p. 94) (I would add that I personally believe the mind is cleansed of all sinful memories. Notice – mind not brain. The brain is in the grave but not the mind. JLA)

Limitations in the Intermediate State: “…the intermediate state, while a state of freedom from sin and pain and a time of great personal advancement, is, nevertheless, in other respects a state of imperfection (or incompleteness, JLAs). This (incompleteness, JLA) consists, first of all, in that the spirit is without a body, which for the human species is an abnormal condition. 

The body, with its organs of sense, is the instrument through which we contact with the physical world. As long as the disembodied state continues the soul has, so far as we know, no instrument by which it can make contact with the physical world or communicate with individuals here. 

The (incompleteness of the intermediate state) consists further in the fact that not at death is the promised reward given to the Lord’s people. It is not the death of the believer, but the second coming of Christ, that is set forth as the time for the distribution of rewards for the labors and self-denials of this life.  …  The blessings received in the intermediate state, great as they may be, are to be regarded only as an earnest and foretaste of the good things to come.” (p. 95)

Three Stage of Life: “The life of man, thus falls not into two stages, as is so often assumed, but into three. First, there is the stage from birth until death, which is life in the present world and in the natural body; second, life between death and the resurrection, in the intermediate state, which is life without the body; and, third, life in the resurrection body, which is the final and eternal state.”(p. 96).

Paraphrase of Details Concerning Souls in Heaven and What They are Doing

Reference: The Bible on the Life Hereafter, William Hendriksen, Baker Book House, 1959

The redeemed in heaven in the intermediate state, between the moment of mortal death and that of the bodily resurrection, are supremely happy, but their happiness is not yet complete. The ultimate glory is yet to come. They are in heaven and limited to heaven, not yet in possession of the new earth, which along with heaven is included in the promised inheritance. 

Their bodiless existence is not an increase in being but rather a decrease. The body belongs to the essence (or nature) of human beings. They will be made whole on resurrection day. 

In many respects there is continuity between mortal life and life in heaven immediately after death (Jn. 11:26; Rev. 14:15). There also is continuity between life in the intermediate state and that in the final state (Rev. 7:9-17). The redeemed are delivered from every care and hardship, from every form of trial and persecution: no more hunger, thirst, or heat. 

The Lamb is their Shepherd. The Lamb leads them to springs of living water signifying the source of eternal life and salvation. The Lamb and the redeemed have eternal and uninterrupted fellowship with the Father. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).

In the intermediate state the redeemed will rest from all life’s competition, toil, sorrow, pain, mental anguish, and sin. These redeemed souls will see Christ’s face (yes, even souls are somehow enabled to do something equivalent to seeing and hearing). They will hear the glorious choruses and anthems described in Revelation. They will hear what all the other redeemed, the angels, and Christ have to tell them. 

They will work. There will be a great variety of work as willing service, gladly rendered. If you think souls without bodies cannot perform service, think about the angels – pure spirits without bodies – sent out by God to do service. 

They will rejoice. They truly live, not as shadows gliding by, but living and rejoicing in an abundant and glorious fellowship with Christ and His redeemed. 

Whatever Christ has, He shares with them (Rev. 3:12; 3:21; 4:4; etc.). Finally, they reign, sharing with Christ in His royal glory.

Communication Between Souls in the Intermediate State and the Mortal Physical World

Scripture in general seems to reject the idea of communication between those souls in the intermediate state and the mortal world. One seeming exception is at Jesus’ transfiguration when Peter, James, and John see Moses and Elijah appearing and talking with Jesus.

Shall We Know One Another in Heaven

Shall we know one another in heaven? The short answer is yes! Scripture teaches an everlasting life which belongs to real human individuals. There is no indication of life after mortal death which is stripped of all content and pertains to ghostly souls. 

Do memory, faith, and hope go with us to glory?  Yes! Souls in the intermediate state have a past they remember, a present in which they live, and a future which they are approaching and look forward to. Salvation is complete, but there remains improvement in knowledge, love, and joy.

Is there any form of “time” in heaven? Probably! Scripture certainly appears to say that the concept of duration or succession of moments will continue. Will it in every respect be time as we now know it (measured by present earthly standards)? I think not!


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