The Theology We Claim versus the Theology We Live

The Best Is Yet to Come

My wife is in the fashion industry and was talking to a colleague at work recently. The colleague was full of pessimism, saying the world has no future. My wife shared her Christian hope with her. The best is yet to be in the world to come. What a contrast! Some cope without such a hope by shrinking their future expectations. Some years ago, Ronald Conway, a cultural analyst, described Australia as the land of the long weekend (in US terms, the land of the three-day weekend). Conway’s point was that for many the future only extends to the next holiday. How different from the Christian who prays with conviction, “Your kingdom come!” The Christian has a future-oriented mindset.

The Christian Mind

Over fifty years ago, Harry Blamires wrote a seminal book entitled, The Christian Mind, which is very much still worth reading. He lamented the surrender of the Christian mind to secularism. He argued that there are six defining characteristics of the Christian mind: its supernatural orientation, its awareness of evil, its conception of truth, its acceptance of authority, its concern for the person, and its sacramental cast. In his view, the supernatural orientation of the Christian mind means that the Christian “cultivates the eternal perspective . . . brings to bear upon earthly considerations the fact of Heaven and the fact of Hell.”1 An important dimension of that eternal perspective is our glorification (Rom. 8:30).

Glorification

Graham A. Cole

In this addition to the Short Studies in Systematic Theology series, Graham A. Cole examines the concept of divine glory as well as God’s plan for redeeming individual believers, the church, and the universe.

Glorification and Connaturality

In the ancient world, the principle of connaturality was an important epistemic one. In essence, it is simple: like knows like. For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:10–11 Paul presents the Holy Spirit as the one who can search the depths of God: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except for the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” For the early church leader, Basil of Caesarea, this was clear proof that the Holy Spirit is God. No human being can search the depths of God.

The principle is especially important regarding the world to come and our state in it. For the Christian to see Christ, he or she needs to become a glorious being like the Lord, pure as he is pure. In 1 John 3:1–3 we read:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as e is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Glorification will be ontologically transformative. It will change our very being, as Paul states in Philippians 2:20–21:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Our hope is the glorification without which we cannot see the Christ who saved us. But believing in the Christian hope is one thing. Living as though that hope is real is another.

Espoused versus Operational Theology

Someone may espouse that the Christian ought to live in the light of eternity but not operate in life as though they believed it. As a lad, I went on a hunting trip with a new friend I had made at school. He spent the weekend evangelizing me but also shooting up farmer’s sheds on the property we had been allowed to stay on. I was a bow hunter and not a Christian at that time. I could not make sense of the difference between his words and deeds. In fact, his witness made a negative impact on me. Our friendship ended that weekend. Lip and life did not match.

One of the most disturbing spectacles of our times is that of Christians behaving badly. Money, sex, and power are the dark triad that spoil Christian discipleship, especially among leaders in a celebrity culture like a Western one. I know stories of Christians embezzling church funds (money), stories of Christians unfaithful to their spouses (sex), and stories of Christian leaders bullying others (power.) So, too, does the secular media. Knowing the Old Testament and the New should keep us from naivety concerning bad behavior among God’s people. Just read Amos. Just read 1 Corinthians. I say to my students to always be disappointed when you hear such stories but never surprised. One’s espoused theology can be set adrift from one’s operational theology like a boat from its moorings. As Paul wisely counseled Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16, emphasis added).

The Apostle Paul certainly knew the importance of the gospel and living according to the gospel. His letter to the Colossians is an excellent and instructive example. Paul sets out the need for a supernatural orientation and its implications: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1–2). He then provides the justification for this claim: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Where Christ is, so are we. Where he goes, we go: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). All this makes sense given Paul’s doctrine of Christ and his body. We are members of that body. Where the head is, so are the members. His destiny is now our own.

Paul explores more implications using a series of contrasts. There are attitudes and behaviors to put to death: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Col. 3:5, 8). Paul’s imperatives are animated by the eschatological prospect of the wrath to come (Col. 3:8). The Colossians are no longer to live as pagans but as those with a new self (Col. 3:10).

Only a glorified you and me can meet the glorified Christ. That is our hope.

Positively, there are attitudes and behaviors to put on like a garment: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:12–13). Supremely there is love: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Importantly, Paul keeps lip and life together: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17, emphasis added).

Mr. Eternity

For many years in Sydney, Australia a single word written in yellow chalk appeared on city pavements and steps. I saw it a few times myself. The word was “Eternity.” It was written in beautiful copperplate. Sydney siders were intrigued. Who was the writer? Twenty-seven years after the word’s many appearances the identity was discovered by accident. Arthur Stace was observed writing on the pavement. He was a recovering alcoholic and converted at the age of forty-five after hearing a sermon. He did not understand how he could write this word so beautifully since he was illiterate. He believed God had commissioned him to do so. He saw it as a witness to the God who had saved him. Arthur Stace’s story became a film and an opera. An example of his “Eternity” is in the National Museum of Australia. Stace had the supernatural orientation that Harry Blamires wrote about and he acted on it. What he espoused he lived in his humble way. Arthur Stace is now known as “Mr. Eternity.”

Conclusion

Only a glorified you and me can meet the glorified Christ. That is our hope. The question is whether we live as though that were true. Are our minds set on things above? Does how we operate in life match what we espouse? God’s Old Testament people failed on that point, as did the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’s day. Jesus castigated them in Matthew 15:8 with these words drawn from Isaiah 29:13: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Three-day weekends are to be looked forward to. How much more the glory to come!

Notes:

  1. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (London: SPCK, 1963), 67.

Graham A. Cole is the author of Glorification: An Introduction.



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