Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 83-85. Here is a brief review.
WLC 83 What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life?
A. The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the first-fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death.
This question contrasts present communion in glory of the “invisible church” with the present beginnings of judgement for “the wicked.” Now, when we think of “communion in glory” for believers, we probably think of that future rest in glorification when the believer dies or when Christ returns. However, the Scriptures speak of several ways in which believers partake of a foretaste of that future glory in their present earthly life. Here, the catechism speaks of several general facets of the communion in glory with Christ which believers enjoy in this life.
First, since Christ is the head of the invisible church, those who are members of the invisible church are interested in that glory which Christ is fully possessed of. “Interested” – similar to the word “earnest” – means that believers are entitled to a share of that glory which Christ now enjoys in heaven. We do not have this glory in its fullness as we will one day, but we partake of it partially. The Scriptures speak of this present interest in Christ’s glory in how believers are made alive together with Christ, raised up with Him, and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:4-6). Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Second, because they are united to Christ, members of the invisible church enjoy the sense of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, and the hope of glory:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).
For the wicked, the present beginnings of torment which they experience in this life include a sense of God’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and fearful expectation of judgment. Though unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-19), the Bible tells us that there will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil (Romans 2:9). And, we have the example of Judas who, after he betrayed Jesus, recognized his own condemnation (Matthew 27:3-4).
WLC 84 Shall all men die?
A. Death being threatened as the wages of sin, it is appointed unto all men once to die; for that all have sinned.
The Scriptures teach through Adam sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). Thus, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). There are a few exceptions that we find in Scripture regarding those who did not, or will not, taste death: Enoch (Genesis 5:24), Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), and all believers who are still alive at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Yes, the general principle remains: it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
In this regard, it is important to see that death in not normal or natural. According to the theory of evolution (including the erroneous teaching of theistic evolution), death is considered to be part of the normal way of things, a feature and not a bug. However, according to Scripture, death is not what God intended for this world or for His people. Death is the last enemy that will be abolished by the power of God in His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Hebrews 2:14-15).
WLC 85 Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ?
A. The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God’s love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ, in glory, which they then enter upon.
This catechism question and answer seeks to probe the question: do believers die because they receive the wages of sin? The short answer to this question is this: No, believers do not die because they receive the wages of sin. We may reason to this answer this way. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Because Christ has paid the full wage of penalty for the sins of His people (Romans 4:5-8), there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
So, because the sins of the righteous have been completely paid for and forgiven in Christ, they do not die because they receive the wages of sin. The question remains, however, why do the righteous still undergo death? There are two general answers that we find in Scripture for which the righteous undergo death. First, death is a general consequence of the human sin and the fall (Romans 8:19-25). Second, for the righteous, death becomes a token of God’s love. The death of God’s saints is precious in the Lord’s sight (Psalm 116:15) because in death believers are taken away from evil, enter into peace, and rest in their beds (Isaiah 57:1-2).
Indeed, in death, the righteous receive certain benefits. First, believers are freed perfectly from sin and misery (Revelation 14:13; Ephesians 25-27). Second, when believers die they are made capable of further communion with Christ in glory because they enter into His very presence (Luke 23:43). For the righteous, to die and depart this world is to be with Christ, which is very much better (Philippians 1:21-24).
There will be no Sunday school this coming Sunday, November 19th. But, we will resume our study of the catechism on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, November 26th. We will continue to learn and meditate upon the communion in glory that the members of the invisible church receive through union with our crucified and risen Savior. Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we continue our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch