Will Character Development Cease
At The Moment of Death
Conventional theology says Christians will be completely transformed in the resurrection and this transformation will happen in a split second – in the twinkling or blink of an eye. Love Wins suggests something different.
There are, of course, several passages in the Bible that talk about transformation but before I share them, consider the following:
- What exactly do we think will transform?
Everything: body, soul and spirit? Or just a few things?
- To what extent will transformation take place?
Once transformed, will our bodies require or allow no more training? Will all physical skills development be unnecessary?
- Will transformation make us completely different people or just whole?
Do we lose our identities? If so, will we all look the same and think alike?
Or in other words:
Once transformed will we have nothing more to learn, no more development to experience? Will we suddenly have “ALL” knowledge? Will we suddenly have “All” power?
Obviously, we need to define what we mean by “complete” transformation. Does it mean we have arrived – no more learning, growth or development possible – or does it mean all hindrances to future growth and development are removed? Will we continue to grow in the after life or does it come to a halt when we reach heaven?
If we didn’t learn to ride horses before getting to heaven, will we take lessons once we arrive?
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I raise the question because Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins, made some interesting remarks about character development. “Jesus” he said…
Makes no promise that in the blink of an eye we will suddenly become totally different people who have vastly different tastes, attitudes, and perspectives. p50
When I first read that my theological center stiffened. I was offended. My first response was a sarcastic, “Your right Rob, Jesus didn’t promise that, Paul did.” But then Rob followed by saying:
Paul makes it very clear that we will have our true selves revealed and that once the sins and habits and bigotry and pride and petty jealousies are prohibited and removed, for some there simply won’t be much left. p50
And he’s right. Paul mentioned a specific judgment for Christians following the resurrection which will identify and purge – by fire no less – the sinful aspects of our character. And, unfortunately, Christians are more than capable of hanging on to the bigotries, pride and jealousies so ingrained in the old nature.
I have known a few of the bigots Rob mentioned. Unfortunately, I have entertained some of those sins myself.
But think about that purging for a second. If that is true, then there can’t be an immediate, blink of an eye transition from the old sinful self to the new sinless you. Paul’s wording describes an event, like a ceremony or courtroom prodeedings. There is nothing Green Hulk-ish about it.
Each man’s work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. . 1 Cor. 3:13-15
Obviously, the transformation concept needs further review. Maybe we should put more emphasis on character development this side of death. Rob certainly suggests that and there is good reason to think he is correct.
The ability to change constructively is the one thing that separates us from the rest of creation. Not even God can change.
So maybe we should try to change more, not less. Maybe instead of waiting for the “transformation” to take care of all the spots and wrinkles, we should focus more on stimulating corrections ourselves. Why wouldn’t we want that? We certainly have the ability.
And there is no reason to think the ability to develop character and skill will end at death.
No Christian will have all knowledge in this life or the next. Only God is characterized with such ability. That means we will still have things to learn even after we get to heaven.
Our physical bodies will need to be sustained in the next life also, even the transformed ones. Jesus ate at least twice after His resurrection and the Book of Revelation mentions eating from the Tree of Life in the paradise of God.
That suggests life won’t be static. Change, growth, learning and development will still take place. Maybe we will enjoy, possibly even need exercise in the next life also.
Maybe transformation will make us more clear headed and better able to learn but that means learning will accelerate not stop.
Individuality will also be retained, including differences in abilities, tastes and so on. Why would God go to the trouble of making us individuals in this life only to make us cardboard cutouts in the next? Should we think of transformation as an assembly line?
I say these things because Rob’s remarks have stimulated thought along these lines. He focuses on the development of character and some have accused him of teaching a “salvation by works” because of it. You know, “Do these good things and change in these ways so in the end you can be accepted by God.”
That wasn’t Rob’s point at all and it’s a little short sighted to suggest it.
We were created for change originally and “salvation by faith” only makes constructive change even more possible. If that is true then change is imperative not optional! That means God expects us to become smarter, stronger, more able, more wise and more useful.
Again, who doesn’t want that? Is there any good reason to suggest we shouldn’t go there?
Rob emphasized this neglected truth. He brought it to the surface. What he said helps us realize that transformation isn’t something you wait for. We must do things to provoke it.
Reducing the motivation for change to only a desire to get saved is missing the point. The ability to change and grow in this life separates humanity from the rest of creation and we really shouldn’t think it ends at the doorway to heaven.
To reinforce these ideas, let’s look at a few verses.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
That verse implies only an increase in self awareness and the ability to think clearly. To suggest this means a final and complete filling of the head with all the knowledge we will ever need requires an extrapolation of the statement far beyond what it says.
Also, 1 Corinthians 15 makes several statements about resurrection transformations but all of them focus on the body, not the mind, emotions or will:
- But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? v35
- All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial… vs39-40
- The first man (Adam) is of the earth, earthy: the second man (Christ) is the Lord from heaven. v47
- Behold, I shew you a mystery. We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. vs51-53
These statements are brilliant and bring hope to every person who struggles with sickness, disease, disability and death but, again, we mustn’t expand the meaning beyond what is said. This is talking about our bodies and nothing else. In fact, these verses focus on nothing more than the nature of our bodies. Nothing is said about ability, so maybe we should expect to develop these in the next life also.
Back to horse riding. If you learned how to ride a horse in this life then you probably won’t need to relearn that skill. But if you are like me, you may need some lessons later.
Nothing in the Bible suggests that learning and personal development (character, skill, etc.) will cease at the transformation. If anything, we should expect to learn more quickly and in greater amounts once we get to heaven.
But, if that is true for Christians, can we be absolutely certain it won’t be possible for those who aren’t Christian. If a Christian can expect to lose unwanted attitudes and errant thinking, is it expecting too much to think non-Christians may have this option also.
Maybe death is final but maybe it isn’t. THINK!AboutIt
Check out what Rob Bell believes here.
See a review of Love Wins, chapter 1, here.
See a discussion on the “Age of Accountability” here.
The Love Wins Companion offers valuable information for anyone wanting to explore further: insights and commentary by qualified individuals, in-depth exploration of significant Bible passages, detailed chapter summaries of Love Wins with questions and guides for discussion, historical evidence demonstrating the breadth and diversity of Christian ideas about heaven and hell and more.
In The Reason For God Timothy Keller confronts head on the questions that skeptics are asking, yet without a confrontational style. It is sensible, rational and engaging. A must read for every thinking person, Christian or not. His approach to hard questions about God not only provides answers it encourages us to develop analytical thinking skills. Also available is a DVD with discussion guide for small group interaction.