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The State Of The Believer Between Death And Resurrection
2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (vv. 1-8)
In any discussion of the state of the believer between death and resurrection it is absolutely necessary, if we are to be at all intelligent as to it, to realize something of the truth of these verses. The first thing that we need to have clear in our minds is that there is an outward man and an inward man. The two are not to be confounded. There are materialists of different stripes who insist that the only man there is is the man that we can see from day to day, and that when death comes the entire man is laid away in the tomb, as some think, to remain in an unconscious sleep until the day of resurrection. But when we turn to the Word of God we do not find any such confusion of the outward with the inward man. The outward man is the physical man, the man that we see with the natural eye; the inward man is the man who dwells within this body, and that man we cannot see. I look over a great audience and I can see thousands of human forms, but I cannot see the inward man in any instance; I see only the outward. As you look up to the platform and see those of us standing or seated here, you are looking only at the tabernacles, the tabernacles of flesh in which we live.
You cannot really see us, for spirit is invisible to the natural eye. “The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” God is Spirit, and yet God is real. He “maketh his angels spirits” (Psalms 104:4), and yet angels are real. God is a Person; angels are personalities, and you and I are spirit personalities living for a little while in mortal bodies. But now see what we are told in the opening verses of this fifth chapter.
“We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved [that is, if this tenement of clay, this physical body passes away, even though it goes back to its native element, as is so often the case after being put away in the grave, if that should take place], we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Notice the distinction in every instance between ourselves and the houses in which we now live. Our earthly house is dissolving. Today I am looking into the faces of many who are growing old. It is a wonderful thing to grow old in Christ. Personally, I rejoice in every year that goes by. People say sometimes, “I don’t like getting old.” To be perfectly frank, I do, because I feel that every passing year is bringing me nearer the glory land, every passing year is bringing me nearer the time when I shall see the face of Him who loved me and gave Himself for me. Then too every passing year means just so much less conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and you know the Christian life is a conflict. How many temptations we have had to face! At times we have yielded, and other times through grace we have been enabled to overcome, but what a wonderful thing it will be when there is no more conflict, and no possibility of failure.
The old house is breaking down; with some of us the roof is thatched now with white hair, and we are reminded that day by day we shall soon move out unless Christ Himself returns. But we are not disheartened, we are not discouraged, for “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” My hope is brighter now than it ever was; my joy in Christ is greater than it has ever been; the world means less to me today than it has ever meant, and the applause of men means less. But the approval of the Lord means more than it has ever meant. I do not feel that I am getting old, it is just the body, the outward man that is perishing, just the old house that is breaking down. I am just as certain that I “have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” awaiting me, as I am that I am living in this tenement of clay, and that body will be like the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not enter that new body the moment I die. Some have thought that this Scripture teaches that when we leave this world we find awaiting us in heaven a body that serves us between death and resurrection, and then in resurrection we shall have a glorified body that takes the place of this intermediate body. But the verse itself contradicts that thought. It says this house not made with hands abides “ eternal in the heavens.” Between death and resurrection we pass out of the body and our pure spirits enter into the presence of the Lord.
“In this we groan.” That is a Scripture I do not have to expound to you. You live it out; you know what it is to groan. There are many things to make us do so. Some of us used to groan in the bondage of sin, but though delivered from that, we are still groaning as we wait for a resurrection body. There are so many aches and pains and sorrows and sufferings. “In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” That is, we are yearning for the time when we shall have our new body, we are looking forward to resurrection or change at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.
But mark, even resurrection will not be a blessing if we are not robed in divine righteousness. And so the apostle puts in a word here lest people take it for granted that resurrection means salvation, for there shall be a “resurrection…both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). And so he speaks of resurrection as a “clothing upon.” “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.” Writing to the church at Laodicea, where a great many who professed the name of the Lord were not really born again, the Savior says, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). What a solemn thing it would be to stand before God as one risen from the dead and yet spiritually naked in His presence. You say, “Where can we find clothing suitable for the eyes of God?” It is that which He Himself provides. Isaiah says, “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). And so in that day when we are raised from the dead or are changed by power divine, if we live to greet Him when He returns, we who have trusted Christ shall not be found naked, we shall be clothed in the righteousness of God.
“We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed,” we are not earnestly desiring to die, for that would not be a natural thing for any Christian. The Christian should not earnestly desire to die, and yet should be prepared for it, but he should also be prepared to live for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). And then he says that he would rather live to be a help and blessing to other people. And so we hope “not for that we would be unclothed,” but we do long to be “clothed upon.” That is, we would like to live to the second coming of our Lord Jesus to get our resurrection body in that wonderful hour of His triumph, “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” And whether we live or die this is the final goal.
“Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” It is a settled thing with God that someday we are going to have glorified bodies, and as proof of this He has already given us His blessed Holy Spirit to dwell within us, and He is the earnest of the joy that shall be ours by-and-by when we gather in His presence in the Father’s house. Because of this assurance, “We are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” We have no doubt as we think of any eventuality, whether living until Christ comes or dying. Notice that expression, “At home in the body.” I (the real I) am living in this body; the body is my house, my temporary house. I am at home in the body but I am absent from the Lord. He is up there in the glory. True, He has given me His Holy Spirit, as we have just seen, and by Him He dwells within me, but actually I am absent from the Lord. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We take His word for it-faith is taking God at His word. We are living in the body, and are absent from the Lord, but, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” It will be even more blessed for us to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Here then in one verse we have summed up for us the believer’s state between death and resurrection. When death comes for the Christian, in that moment the believer is absent from the body and at home with Christ.
Observe, he does not go to sleep in the body. The “soul-sleepers” insist that in the hour of death the believer becomes absolutely unconscious and knows nothing until the resurrection. You may ask, “But has he not Scripture for that? Does not the Bible speak of those that ‘sleep in Jesus?’ Does it not say, ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (1 Corinthians 15:51)? Is not sleep unconsciousness?” Yes, for the body; it is the body that sleeps; but you see, when my body falls asleep in Jesus, I leave the body. “Oh,” you say, “I cannot understand that.” “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith believes the Book, and it says, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of this in the first chapter of Philippians. Here we see Paul in prison in Rome, waiting to be summoned before Nero, and he does not know what the outcome will be, whether he will be put to death or set free, and he writes to the Philippian friends and practically says, “Even if it were put up to me to choose, I do not know which I would desire, whether to die a martyr’s death or live a little longer”; but as he meditates upon it he says, “I really believe I would rather live a little longer and preach Christ to people.” “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Is not that a lovely expression? I want Christ to be made large in my life; I do not want people to think a great deal of Paul but of Christ. I want to be used of God to make Christ seem great in the eyes of men and women, that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” If I can glorify Christ better by living I want to live; if I can glorify Him better by dying I want to die. The only thing is, I want Christ to loom large in the eyes of people for whom He died. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). There is only one reason to live, and that is to glorify Jesus, and then if I die I will go to be with Jesus, so that will be better. “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (vv. 22-24). You cannot attach the thought of soul-sleep to that. If Paul thought of death as unconsciousness until the resurrection hour, he would have been in no dilemma. He would have said, “Since death is unconsciousness, I want to live as long as I can in order to preach Christ,” but he says, “No, it would be better to die because it would mean to be with Christ.”
How did he know it would be far better? Well, you say, he was an inspired apostle and the Lord revealed it to him. That is true, but there is more than that. The apostle Paul at one time had been permitted to have a certain experience which proved to him beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is far better to be with Christ in heaven than to live for Him on earth. People often say, “We do not know anything about heaven. Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it is like.” But they are overlooking something. Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven, and He says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions [or abiding places].” Who are in those resting-places? All the saints who have gone on thus far. They are over yonder in the Father’s house. And then we have the testimony of this very man, the apostle Paul, for when we turn to the twelfth chapter of this epistle, we find him relating for us a most remarkable experience which he passed through. Wlien he went through this experience he was not conscious as to whether he was in the body or out of it. That is very interesting. Take our beloved friends who have died in Christ. We may sometimes think of them as in a very imperfect condition if their spirits are in heaven without the body, but Paul says, “If I was in the body I didn’t know it, and if I was out of it I didn’t miss it.” So our dear friends over yonder do not miss their bodies; they are perfectly intelligent and perfectly happy; they are really people even if out of the body. They are in heaven, in the royal garden, in paradise. They hear unspeakable things which it is not possible for a man to utter. Are they able to commune one with another? Oh, yes. Our blessed Lord has told us, even before the work of the cross was accomplished, of that rich man in hades, who looked across the great gulf and saw Lazarus and talked with Abraham, and among the lost the rich man was a personality, never to be rich again but to be poor. We read of “spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). What communion they have with each other over there! But the best of all is that they are with Christ.
Paul’s Three Impelling Motives
2 Corinthians 5:9-14
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us. (vv. 9-14)
In this section of the epistle the apostle Paul brings before us the three great motives that moved his heart as he went about through the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ. The first is this: He ever had it before his mind that all his work must soon be tested at the judgment seat of Christ. What a solemn reflection it is for a Christian to remember that everything he says and everything he does as a believer is someday going to be examined by the Lord Jesus, and he will be rewarded accordingly! This, of course, is an altogether different thing from the Christless soul standing before the Great White Throne to be judged for his sins. The judgment seat of Christ refers to that review which will take place when our blessed Lord returns again and gathers all His own before Himself. He says, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12). The Son of Man is like one who has gone into a far country, but has left to his servants certain responsibilities and given them certain talents, and says, “Occupy till I come.” Then when He returns again He is going to examine all their work, and reward everything that was the result of His Holy Spirit’s control over their lives.
Notice the way the apostle puts it here. “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” This word translated “labor” really means “are ambitious.” It might be translated, “Wherefore we [are ambitious], that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” The apostle uses this same word in two other places in his letters. In one instance he tells us that he is ambitious not to build on another man’s foundation, but to preach the gospel in the regions beyond, a most worthy ambition. He was a true missionary. And then again, writing to the Thessalonian saints, he exhorts them to study to be quiet and to do their own business. That may be translated, “Be ambitious to mind your own business.” That is a wonderful ambition. So many are ambitious to mind other folks’ business that they do not have time for their own. “We [are ambitious], that, whether present or absent”-those words refer back to the first part of this chapter where we read, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Now he says, “We [are ambitious] that whether present in the body or whether with the Lord, whether we live or die, that we should be accepted of Him.”
In the epistle to the Ephesians he tells us that God has made us “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). As believers we are all accepted in Christ, but here we find that he is urgently desirous of being accepted of Christ. Notice the difference. Accepted in Him-that is my standing. God sees me in Him, and Christ Jesus is made unto me wisdom, even righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He is my perfection. I am complete in Him. But now I who already am complete in Him, who already have been accepted in Him, am to be exercised about being accepted of Him. Accepted of Him really means being well-pleasing to Him. You see, accepted in Him is my standing, accepted o/Him has to do with my state. I wonder whether this is our ambition. Let us search our hearts and ask what our ambition really is. Is it to excel in some particular line for which you feel you are specially adapted? Is it to be thought well of by men and women like yourself? Or is it to be well-pleasing to the Lord, to have His approval?
I remember very well hearing Dr. G. Campbell Morgan say that a great crisis came into his life when he first gave up his place as a schoolmaster to become a minister of Christ. It was a very solemn moment when he was set apart to the work of the Lord, and when he got home that night and went into his room, he fell down on his knees before God, and he was sure he could hear the Lord saying to him, “Now, Morgan, you have been set apart definitely for the ministry of the Word. Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” His first thought was, “Oh, I want to be a great preacher; surely there is no more laudable ambition than that.” But why should the Lord put it that way-“Do you want to be a great preacher, or do you want to be My servant?” And he said, “Why can I not be His servant, and a great preacher?” He went through a time of real soul-struggle, and then the thought came that it might be in the will of God that as a servant of Christ his ministry should be a very obscure one, and he cried, “O blessed Lord, I would rather be Thy servant than anything else!” And God not only made him His servant but a great preacher. Sometimes we fulfill our deepest ambition by foregoing our own desires and saying, “Lord, I want to be Thy servant; just take me, make me, break me, do what Thou wilt with me.” You remember that through Jeremiah the Lord said to Baruch: “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5). So He says to every one of us, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.” But what should we seek? To be well-pleasing unto Him, so that whatever niche He calls upon us to fill we may fill it to His glory, and this in view of the judgment seat.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Have you ever as a Christian stopped to think of what a solemn thing it will be when your life’s work is ended, when all further opportunity for witnessing for Christ on earth will have gone by forever, when you stand in your glorified body before His judgment seat, and He will go back over all the way you have come, and will give His own estimate of all your service, of everything you have ever attempted to do for Him? Will He have to say at such a time, “You had a very wonderful opportunity to glorify Me, but you failed because you were so self-occupied, you were so much concerned about what people would think of you, instead of being concerned about pleasing Me; I will have to blot all that out, I cannot reward you for that, for there was too much self in that service”? And then He will point to something else, maybe something you had forgotten altogether, and He will say, “There! You thought you failed in that; didn’t you? You really thought you blundered so dreadfully that your whole testimony amounted to nothing, but I was listening and observing, and I knew that in that hour of weakness your one desire was to glorify Me, and though nobody applauded you I took note of it and will reward you for it.” What a joy it will be to receive His approval in that day. If we learn to live as Paul did with the judgment seat of Christ before us, we will not be men-pleasers, but we will be Christ-pleasers.
Notice the next motive that stirred the apostle’s heart to Christian endeavor. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” This, I think, is a forgotten note in modern preaching in many places. “The terror of the Lord.” Is there anything in God to be afraid of? Away back in the 1870s Theodore Parker preached a sermon that was widely published titled, “There Is Nothing in God to Fear,” and in some way or another that false note that he struck at that time went all over this land, and more or less had its influence upon thousands of preachers who read that eloquent sermon, and men came to the conclusion that there was nothing in God to fear, and so dropped the doctrine of eternal punishment for impenitent sinners. They forgot that the Bible said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), and substituted a rosewater gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the stern reality set forth in this Book. But there is something in God to fear, something that the Christless man may well fear, and that is God’s hatred of iniquity. God is of purer eyes than to look upon sin; He cannot but judge iniquity. And so the apostle said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” As he thought of Christians having to answer for their behavior at the judgment seat of Christ it at once brought home to his heart what a solemn thing it would be for unsaved men to face their sins at the great white throne. The apostle Peter says, “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:17-18). If our blessed Lord does not overlook one thing in the lives of His beloved people, but if everything is coming into the light in that day, what will it be for Christless men to have all their sins made manifest at His judgment bar, and to meet a just and awful doom? As Paul went out to this poor Christless world he realized he was going to men that were lost, not merely in danger of being lost someday, but lost here and now in this life. But he had a gospel for lost men, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and so he went to men with Christ. He did not go out to glorify himself or to get a certain reputation among men.
He says, “We commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.” When you find men who profess to be servants of Christ glorying in outward appearance, Paul says, you can contrast our behavior with theirs-we are made the very offscouring of the earth for Christ’s sake and are not seeking man’s applause, we are seeking the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were those who said of Paul, “The man is insane; it is not natural that any man should be actuated by such motives as these; it is not natural for a man to live a life such as this.” Very well, he says, “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.” We are not even concerned about insisting that we are sane; we are not even concerned about insisting that our words are words of sobriety; we leave that to God to judge. We proclaim the message in dependence on the Holy Spirit, and are not concerned at all about man’s approval or disapproval. Our business is to glorify Christ and to seek to save the lost. This is the ideal preacher of the Word. I never read words like these but I feel so condemned in my own conscience that I hardly know how to talk to other people. I can detect in my own heart so much pride, so much human ambition, so much selfishness, so much that is different from what was found in the Lord Jesus Christ, that I have to bow before Him and tell Him I am so unworthy to be His servant, and yet to plead with Him for Jesus’ sake to use one, even though unworthy, who at least has some little desire to see poor sinners brought to a saving knowledge of God’s beloved Son.
It is always comforting to know that everything that God has done in this world, He has done through imperfect instruments. He has never had a perfect instrument. I do not think of Jesus as an instrument, He was God-“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19)-but I am thinking of His prophets, His preachers, pastors, evangelists, teachers, apostles; they are all imperfect. A Peter denied his Lord, even a John and a James were ambitious to sit one on the right hand and one on the left hand of the Lord in His kingdom, and a Paul made a mistake at the last and insisted on going up to Jerusalem against the voice of the Spirit. Even the best of God’s servants have failed, and yet how gracious of Him to use them. He uses the message they bring, the truth they proclaim. He will deal with His servants Himself about their failure, but He will use the message when Christ is lifted up.
Now notice the last of these three impelling motives. Paul says, “For the love of Christ constraineth us.” I stop here in the middle of a sentence, for these words in themselves are enough; they complete our theme. What are Paul’s three impelling motives? First, a realization of the fact that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ; second, a recognition of the fact that men are lost and exposed to the judgment of God; and third, the love of Christ constraining, that all-conquering love that laid hold of the heart of proud, haughty, self-righteous, cruel Saul of Tarsus, that religious zealot who went forth with a heart filled with hatred for the name of Jesus, seeking to bind those that loved Him, to cast them in prison and compel them to blaspheme, in fact to put them to death if they did not renounce Christ. There he was, hastening on to Damascus with no thought in his soul that the time would ever come when he would be the greatest preacher of the gospel which he was then seeking to destroy, that this world should ever know. He fell to the ground, a light brighter than the sun shone round about him, and he heard a voice from the glory exclaiming in sweet accents, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” And trembling and astonished he exclaimed, “Who art thou, Lord?” And the answer came back, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:14-18). And in that one glorious moment the darkness disappeared from Saul’s heart, the veil was torn away, his eyes were opened, Christ filled the vision of his soul, and henceforth he could say, “The love of Christ; constraineth me.” That is what made him the man that he was, actuated, motivated by divine love. Do you know that love? Have you too been laid hold of by the love of Christ? Then may you go forth to make Him known to others.
Why Christ Died
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (vv. 14-21)
In this section of the epistle Paul brings before us in a very clear, definite way, the supreme reason for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see not merely One who loved God His Father and loved the truth, and was therefore willing to die as a martyr for truth, but we see One who took His place as a vicarious sacrifice, suffering instead of others, bearing the judgment that sinners deserved in order that they might be delivered from that judgment, and that they might be brought into a new creation, a new relationship with God altogether, and then might go forth with hearts aflame with love for Christ to carry the story of His grace to all men everywhere. This is the way that Christianity has been propagated down through the centuries. Islam was propagated by the sword. Its advocates said, “Accept the religion of Mohammed or die.” Other systems have been advanced by appeal to selfish interests. But Christianity has been propagated down through all the centuries in the power of the Holy Spirit, through the setting forth of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, calling upon men through Christ to be reconciled to God, and what marvels this gospel has wrought!
The apostle says, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Spurred on by his own sense of that mighty, all-conquering love, he went out into a world of sinners to win men for Christ, “because,” he tells us, “we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” That is, mankind as a whole was under sentence of death, that came in with the fall of the first man. Adam stood there before God as our federal head. He was the head of the old creation, and that old creation was on trial in Adam. God said to him, “Thou shaft not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof [dying thou shalt die]” (Genesis 2:17). Adam deliberately disobeyed this command of God, and he fell under sentence of death, and of course took the entire human race down with him, for all were represented in him as he stood before God. And so all mankind now are in the place of death.
I have sometimes tried to illustrate it like this. Think of the top of this reading desk as representing paradise, that place in which God put man when He first created him. This hymn book which I hold erect on the desk may speak to you of Adam as the head of the race. There our first father stood in the position of responsibility before God, a sinless man in Eden. Had he been obedient, he would never have come under the sentence of death, but through disobedience he fell under that sentence. Sinning against God he went down into the place of death; just as I drop this book from the top of the reading desk to the platform, you may think of Adam falling from that place of sinlessness, where he was free of all condemnation, down into the place of death because of sin. And mark, every person who has ever come into the world since, has come into the world down there in the place of death. Not one has come into the world up here on this plane of sinlessness. Therefore, all are dead, as God looks at men, dead in trespasses and sin. But now think of our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes into the world as the sinless One; He stands not only on the plane where Adam was, the plane of innocence, but He is absolutely holy. But He has come to save men. He cannot find any men on this plane of sinlessness; He does not find men enjoying life and fellowship with God. Where does He have to go to find them? He goes down into the place of death where man is. “And that he died for all.” Because men were dead He went down into death, and now He brings believers up with Him in resurrection life. To put them here on the same plane where Adam was before he fell? Oh, no, to lift them infinitely higher, that they may be made members of a new creation of which He is the exalted Head in heaven: “He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
“If [Christ] died for all, then were all dead.” No man has title to life in himself, but Christ died for all “that they which live,” those who have put their trust in Him, those to whom He has spoken life, now possessors of eternal life through faith, “should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” Why did Christ die? Not only that we should be delivered from death and judgment, but that we should be brought up from our state of death into newness of life. Now our redeemed lives should be devoted to Him that we should live henceforth to the glory of God alone. And so we now look out upon the world through altogether different eyes from those we used when we belonged to it. When men of the world, we made much of the flesh and all that was linked with it. We thought of men as great, or as rich, or as powerful, talented or able, as superior one to another. Some men we despised because they were poor and ignorant and degraded, with little intelligence, and less talented, but now all that is changed. “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh.” We look out now upon this world, not thinking of the different distinctions between man and man, but as seeing a world of sinners for whom Christ died, and we realize that all men, whether rich or poor, foolish or wise, whether barbarian or civilized, whether morons or highly talented, are dear to the heart of God, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). So, in touch with Christ Himself, we are prepared to suffer, to give, to deny ourselves, we are prepared to die, if need be, in order to bring others to a saving knowledge of this redemption which means so much to us.
“Yea,” the apostle continues, “though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” He is not saying that he personally ever did know Christ after the flesh, but uses the “we” here in order to take in others with him who were actually acquainted with our Lord when here on earth. He is telling us that it is not the incarnate Christ with whom we are linked, it is the resurrected Christ. Incarnation apart from His death would never have saved one poor sinner. We do not think of Him merely as the promised Messiah of Israel, as a great prophet sent of God, as the greatest of all ethical and spiritual teachers, but look far beyond the cross and the grave into the glory, and see Him there exalted at God’s right hand, a Prince and a Savior, and we go to men in His name to proclaim remission of sins, knowing that when they trust Him, when they believe the message, “If any man be in Christ, [it] is…new creation.” He, the risen, exalted Christ, has now become the Head of an altogether new creation. Who belong to that new creation? All who, though once in death because of sin, have now been quickened into newness of life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, we enter that new creation by being born again.
Does any one say, “How may I know definitely whether I belong to that new creation or not?” Listen to what our Lord Himself says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). I am very fond of the Roman Catholic translation of that verse, the translation that you will find in the Rheims-Douay Version of the Bible. There you read, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and comes not into judgment; but is passed out of death into life.” Is not that a wonderful translation? Do you sense the meaning of it? The Word of God speaks with that double affirmation which is equivalent to the divine oath: “Amen, amen, truly, truly, I say unto you, if you hear My word, and you believe Him that sent Me, you have eternal life, and shall not come into judgment; but you are passed out of death into life.” That is, if you receive the gospel message in your heart, you have everlasting life. It is not something you have to work for, or pray for, it is something that God gives instantaneously when you put your trust in the One who is revealed in the gospel. You will never come into judgment, but already God sees you as having passed out of that condition of death into life, and thus linked with Christ as the Head of the new creation.
“If any man be in Christ, [it] is…new creation.” And in this new creation “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” We are finished with our old state and condition. The old creation fell in Adam; the new creation stands in Christ; and once in Him we are in Him forever. The moment you put your trust in Him God links you up with Him. If Christ fails, the new creation will go down, as the old one did when its head fell. But Christ will never fail. Christ is already seated on the throne of God in heaven, and we are linked with Him, and there in this new creation “all things are of God.” Do not try to read into this what some New Thought advocates seek to read into it. They will take a statement like this and will tell us it means that there is nothing evil in the universe, and so we must not even think of Satan as evil. Satan, they tell us, is only the personification of our wrong thoughts, but we know from the Word of God that our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There is a great deal of evil in this universe, but it all belongs to the old creation. The apostle is speaking of the new creation, and it is in the new creation that “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.” This reconciliation is even more than justification. When we come to Christ, all our sins are forgiven; more than that, we are justified from all things. God looks upon us as though we had never sinned at all. Justification is the sentence of the judge in favor of the prisoner, it is God saying, “I declare this man not guilty,” No wonder the apostle tells us, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Reconciliation goes a step farther; it is not only that our sins are forgiven and that divine justice has nothing against us, but it is that He has received us as His own to His loving heart, and we are reconciled to God and we joy in Him.
In our unconverted state we would not have thought such a thing possible. We were happy only when we could get God out of our minds, but now we find our joy in the Lord. It was not the life merely of Jesus that reconciled us, but we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. God in His love and grace had come out to seek us in the Person of the Lord Jesus, and actually in Christ went to the cross and settled the sin question for us. The Lord Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us, and that broke down all the enmity and won our hearts to Him. Henceforth we are reconciled to the God from whom at one time we turned away.
Now He has given to us a ministry, “the ministry of reconciliation.” This ministry of reconciliation is God’s call to lost men everywhere to come to Him with all their sins, with all their griefs, with all their burdens, and be reconciled to Him. Mark, it is not that God has to be reconciled to us.
God never had one hard thought toward me. Sinner, He has never had one hard thought toward you. You have had hard thoughts toward Him, and because of that you have taken it for granted that of course God felt the same toward you, but He loves you in spite of all your sin and folly and iniquity. God’s heart goes out toward you in love. Jesus did not die in order to enable God to love sinners, but He died because God loves sinners. “God so loved…that he gave.” He so loved a world of sinners “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And so it is not God who needs to be reconciled to us, but we as sinners need reconciliation to Him. If you have never yet turned to Him, you need to go to Him, and when you realize something of His grace toward you, you will be reconciled to Him. It is a wonderful thing when all enmity disappears and you can joy in the Lord and rejoice in the God of your salvation. This is reconciliation.
But in the next verses the apostle unfolds this ministry of reconciliation. He says, “And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [namely], that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” The Lord Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was not simply the best of men; but He was God manifest in flesh. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”; that is, God in Christ was going out after men to try to win them back. They had gone away from Him, trampling on His goodness, spurning His love, actually assailing His righteousness, but here God in Christ goes out after them, pleads with them to return to God, offers to forgive them, to put away all their sins and make them His own. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Christ did not come to charge man’s sins against him but to pay man’s debt. We read of that poor woman in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel and get such a conception of the cruelty and hardness of man’s heart. She had fallen into a heinous sin, and they dragged her into the temple where the people were gathered, and pointed the finger of scorn at her as she stood there with downcast eyes, trembling, overwhelmed with shame. They told the story of her sin and degradation, but what did Jesus do? He stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. Why did He do that? In Jeremiah it is written, “They that depart from me shall be written on the earth” (Jeremiah 17:13). They were saying of this woman, “What a sinner she is, how vile, how guilty!” but Jesus, by His very act, is saying, “You are all guilty; you are all to be written in the earth. From dust you came, and to dust you go because of sin,” and then lifting Himself up He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), and then stooped to the dust again. I think that twice going down to the dust suggested that He Himself was about to descend into the place of death to bring poor sinners up to this sphere of life, but as He wrote again upon the dust they turned and went away, from the eldest even until the least. The oldest rascal there, with all his piety, knew he had sins enough to sink his soul to the depths of hell, and the next, until the youngest was gone, and the woman was left alone with Jesus, and of course the multitude standing around. And when Jesus looked up He said, “Hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). She said, “No man, Lord” (v. 11). By that term, Lord, she expressed her faith in Him, for “no man can [call] Jesus…Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3). And He said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
“Not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The Son of Man came not to condemn the world but to save the world. What! you say, does He not condemn a sin like that? Does He make light of uncleanness and unchastity and licentiousness? No, but for all that sin He was going to the cross. The condemnation was to fall on Him, and because He was to bear that poor woman’s sin, when she trusted in Him, He could send her away uncondemned. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” He has entrusted the administration of the gospel message to us; and Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” We go to men on God’s behalf, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” How can we be reconciled to God? We may be ashamed of our sins, we may grieve over our past, but will not sin ever remain, will it not ever rise up between our souls and God in spite of our deepest repentance? No, because in the cross that question has been fully met to the divine satisfaction, God has made Christ to be sin for us. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And upon the cross Christ took the sinner’s place, He was treated as though guilty of all the sin and iniquity and unrighteousness of the ages. He was there as the great Sin Offering.
On Him almighty vengeance fell,
That would have sunk a world to hell;
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding-Place.
And because He, the sinless One, has died in the place of sinners, we, the sinful, may enter into life, may become the righteousness of God in Him.
This last verse of our chapter epitomizes the deepest meaning of the cross. It shows the One who was sinless inwardly and outwardly, enduring the wrath of God which we deserved. Our sins put Him on the cross. But, having settled the sin-question to the divine satisfaction, He has been raised from the dead and seated as the glorified Man at God’s right hand. There on the throne He is our righteousness. The Father sees every believer in Him, free from all condemnation, made the display of the righteousness of God in Him. He Himself is our righteousness. We are complete in Him. God is satisfied and our consciences are at peace. What a salvation is this!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany