Christianity and theology

What Happens at Death?

We are continuing with our study of personal eschatology, and we now come to the question of death. What happens at death? This is a broad question that unfortunately cannot be answered broadly since there are two types of deaths namely that of a believer and an unbeliever. What occurs at the death of these two differs significantly. We will look at believer’s first and later at unbelievers.

First, as a Christian dies, he experiences God’s grace. This might sound obvious since the daily life of a believer is marked by grace. But, I highlight this point because even though death is a defeated foe, it still remains one of great fears of humanity. It is for no reason that we call it the chief of terrors. Many have experienced or witnessed loved ones passing into glory, perhaps more than a dozen times, yet they can’t say that they are used to death. Since no single human being can be used to death, God always grants grace both to the one dying and to his family, more especially, if they are believers. Christ’s grace proves to be more than sufficient and helps everyone through it.

Second, at death a believer attains full sanctification (Heb. 12:23). In this life, by God’s grace, a believer strives to become more like Christ but sin has not yet been fully conquered in his life. However, at death sin is completely eliminated and the Holy Spirit makes his soul perfect in holiness.

Third, a believer’s soul immediately enters into heaven. There are a number of teachings regarding what happens after the soul has been separated from the body in death. Some have taught that the soul sleeps waiting for the final judgment. This teaching is also called the doctrine of soul sleep. Some have said that the soul goes into an intermediate place. In this place, so the say, the souls of believers enjoy a measure of reward but not equal to their final and full reward in heaven. On the other hand, the souls of unbelievers, this teaching states, suffer a degree of punishment but not equal to their future judgment in hell. Some also have taught that there is a place named Purgatory where Christians with some unrepented sins go to be purified before their entry into heaven. However, we cannot find any biblical basis for these teachings. Instead, the Bible clearly teaches us that the moment a believer dies, his soul goes straight to be with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23). We shall in the following posts look at how Christian should respond to these erroneous doctrines.

Fourth, a believer’s body returns to earth waiting for the day it will be glorified and reunited to its soul (1 Cor. 15:53-54). I think the fact that one day the dead body will be glorified should be one of the motivating factors for Christians to treat dead bodies with respect. Burial is not just an incidental detail in our lives.

This could spark a debate on whether Christians should bury or cremate. I will weigh in only by making a confession. I have always believed that burial is more ideal. I also believe that I can argue from Scripture that burial is preferable than cremation. I had strong reservations towards cremation until one day when I was talking to a fellow Christian who is from one of the Asian countries. In our conversation we somehow arrived at the topic of cremation and he told me that in his country, more especially in his area, they don’t have enough land for cemeteries so even Christians cremate.

That conversations helped me clear some of the prejudice I had towards Christians who practice cremation. It helped me to understand that not all Christians who practice cremation prefer it to burial rather there are some factors that compel them. So, if there weren’t any valid reasons for cremation, I would have argued that Christians should shun it.

 

 

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Christianity and theology

Cultivating a Heavenly Outlook

Having seen the importance of being heavenly-minded, we need then to answer the question: how can we develop and cultivate a constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives?

First, we can do that by having regular meditations upon the glories of heaven. Deliberately take time each day to reflect upon the splendors of heaven and remind yourself that nothing you know or have experienced in this life can be compared to the glory of heaven. The beauties of heaven include an everlasting joy (Matt. 25:23). There are so many things that bring joy in our life here on earth yet there also many things that try to deflate this joy. But in heaven we will have eternal joy.

Related to eternal joy, heaven is also a place of no tears and sorrows (Rev. 21:4). Ever since the fall, sorrow and tears have been part and parcel of humanity. Sin has brought so much brokenness in the world that a day can hardly pass by without feeling its ugly effects. We shed tears and sorrows engulf our hearts as we experience the curse of the fall. But in the new heavens and new earth, the curse and its effects will be ultimately removed hence we will have no reason to weep and grieve.

Heaven is also a place of rest (Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13). One of the reasons I love the Sabbath or Sunday is that it does not only give me more time to worship the Lord both in public and in private but also time to rest from my labours. The author of Hebrews tells us that our earthly Sabbath is a shadow of the real rest to come. In heaven we will experience true rest and we will worship the Lord unceasingly.

Heaven is also a place where we will see God face to face (Matt. 5:8; Rev. 22:3-4). On this side of heaven, we know that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20). Of course, God revealed himself and dwelt among us in Christ and as John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father” (1:14). Yet when Christ came on earth, he did not come in his full glory. He came as a man of sorrows. His appearance was more of a humble servant than the conquering King whom John saw in Revelation 1:12-18. But in heaven we will see God face to face in his full glory. How that will look like is beyond me to speculate, but it is one of the major reasons I long for heaven.

Heaven is also a place where our souls and bodies will be made perfect (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Cor. 15:42-44). Everyday, I feel the heaviness of sin in my life. I know the right things I am supposed to do; however, I don’t always do them. There are times that temptations and sin conquer me. I believe this is also true for many Christians if not all Christians. In addition, our current bodies are also constantly wearing out due to the effects of the fall (2 Cor. 4:16). But in heaven, both our souls and bodies will be made perfect.

Oh, what a sweet place heaven is! So, if we can take time to regularly reflect on these glories, it is impossible that we should not have a heavenly out look.

Second, we can develop a heavenly outlook by making heaven a regular subject of our conversations. Richard Baxter in his book Saints’ Everlasting Rest bemoans the fact that Christians can meet and part without ever talking about heaven. “It is a pity that Christians should ever meet together without some talk of their meeting in heaven, or the way to it, before they part…Get together then fellow Christians, and talk of the affairs of your country and kingdom, and comfort one another with such words.”

Third, always remember that our day of entry into heaven is nearer than we often think. As you hear or see your clock tick, be reminded that every tick is drawing you closer to heaven if you are in Christ. It could be right this minute or second. Christ reminds us: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). So, fellow Christians, think of heaven regularly and always be ready to enter into the glory of your Master.

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Christianity and theology

So Heavenly Minded and No Earthly Good?

Last week we began looking at individual eschatology and some of the reasons why this doctrine is rarely discussed among Christians. Today, we pick up by considering the spiritual benefits that come when we constantly reflect upon the glory to come.

One of the lies that the world wants Christians to believe is that they can be “so heavenly minded that there are of no earthly good.” However, the opposite is true. Christians can never be of earthly good until they are heavenly minded. John Calvin writes, “If that hope (of going to heaven) be deeply seated in our mind, it is impossible that it should not lead us to devote ourselves wholly to God. On the contrary, they who do not cease to live to the world and to the flesh never have actually tasted what is the worth of the promise of eternal life.

A Christian should always live with one leg in this life and another up in the air ready to step into glory. Our prayer should always be like that of Jonathan Edwards, “O God, stamp my eyeballs with eternity.” Indeed, may God stamp eternity not just on our eyeballs but also on our minds, ears, hands, soul, feet, and the whole of our being so that the hope of glory should always before us.

The spiritual benefits that come with constant contemplation of the future glory include: a motivation to pursue holiness in our daily lives. How can a Christian contemplate about the land in which he will sin no more and deliberately live in sin? How can we contemplate the eternity in the presence of our Holy Father and willfully give ourselves to sin? Just as sin will keep us from reflecting on heavenly glory, reflecting on heavenly glory will also keep us from sin. Moreover, the author of Hebrews reminds us that without holiness (in this life), we won’t see God in heaven (Heb. 12:14).

Second, constant reflection of heavenly glory is a sign of true conversion and adds to the assurance of our salvation. This is what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1. In the chapter, Paul writes that one of the reasons he is convinced that the Thessalonians are truly saved is that they are constantly living with the hope of glory. “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you because…” He mentions various reasons and at the end of the chapters adds one more reason: “(you) wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1:4, 10).

Third, constant reflection of our blessed hope will make us resist getting comfortable in this world and conforming to its standards. It will enable us to realize that this life is just but a tent. “For we know that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Fourth, constant reflection of heaven will bring comfort in times of trials and afflictions. When a believer considers what Christ has prepared for him in heaven, the sorrows of this world would seem as a fleeting shadow. The sorrows will be like labour pains, which last for a while and turn into greater joy when a baby is born. Apostle Peter writing to the persecuted Jewish Christians comforts them with the truth of heavenly glory and says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Lastly but not least, constant reflection of our eternity in heaven fosters love for our neighbors both believers and unbelievers. Knowing that we will spend eternity with our neighbors who are Christians changes how we treat each other here on earth. It will often, by the grace of God, lead us to love them as we love ourselves. For our unbelieving neighbors, a constant reflection of our future glory motivates us to share the gospel with them because we realize that without faith in Christ they can’t taste this glory but will be subjected to the eternal wrath of God.

But how can we cultivate this constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives? This is what we will look at in the next post, the Lord willing.

 

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Christianity and theology

Let’s Take Time to Talk About Individual Eschatology

In the coming weeks, the Lord willing, I would like us to take time on this blog to study what the Scriptures teach about individual or personal eschatology. Eschatology is a theological term and is derived from two Greek words, eschatos and logos, which when combined basically mean “the study of the last things.”

There are two aspects to the study of last the things. The first aspect is called individual or personal eschatology and the second one is called world or general eschatology. In the coming weeks we will focus on the former. This means that we will concentrate more on death and what happens after a Christian has closed his eyes in this life and opened them in the next.

In my Christian experience, I have noted that personal eschatology is one of the doctrines that are least discussed among Christians. It is also rarely preached in our churches. Yet in many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations, every Lord’s Day we confess our strong belief in this doctrine by reciting the Apostles’ Creed and say, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

There could be a number of reasons why we rarely talk of death and the life after. First, I would argue that even for us Christians it is often hard to talk about death, let alone our own death, because it makes us and those we are talking to feel very uncomfortable. Yes, we know that we have been liberated from death’s power (John 11:25). Of course, we fully understand that death is a defeated foe (1 Cor. 15:54-57), but still because death is very unnatural to us (since man was initially created never to die until sin entered the world) we experience a certain type of uneasiness to talk about it. We would rather bury our head in the sand, as it were, and discuss other doctrines.

Second, related to the first reason, we hardly think or talk about personal eschatology because we often view it as distant. Not many Christians, more especially, younger Christians tend to think that today might be our last day on this earth. We often think that God will grant us many years to live in this world before he calls us to glory or the Lord Jesus comes again. But the truth is that none of us knows for certain. The Lord does not guarantee us the next minute (James 4:14b, 15). The Scripture also reminds us again and again about the brevity of life. Just consider some of the words it uses to describe our life: vapor (James 4:15), flower (Psalm 103:15), and handbreadth (Psalm 39:5). Our lives are indeed very short; therefore, we always need to be ready to either die or see our Lord coming in glory soon.

Third, we hardly discuss personal eschatology because sometimes we are so much consumed with the blessings that the Lord has given us here on earth and in the process forget the glories of the life to come. This is truer in places and nations that are very prosperous by our worldly standards. For example, for the four years that I have lived in North America, I have observed how easier and more comfortable life is for many people here than for many in my beloved continent of Africa. Sadly, some Christians are blinded by the plenty and pleasantness of this life hence forget that the glories of heaven can never be compared to anything here on earth. I do not say this to instill an unnecessary sense of guilt for my Western brothers and sisters; however, this is the reality that we all need to face and guard against (1 Tim. 6:6-10).

Fourth, on the other hand, some due to poverty and suffering, they experience in this world, tend to focus more on what the Lord can do to deliver them from these ills and in the process forget the glories of heaven. This is very true in many places like my continent of Africa where the so-called prosperity gospel continues to grow in leaps and bounds. One would think that poverty and suffering would cause people to think of heaven more, but this is not always the case.

Lastly but not least, we don’t discuss personal eschatology as much as we ought to because a good number of Christians are ignorant of what the Scripture has to teach us on this subject. If you are to go out on the streets and ask those who profess to be Christians on what happens during death and after, you will get various responses and some might not even be biblical. For instance, consider how common it is to hear among Evangelical Christians statements like, “The deceased is now looking down from heaven on us with joy” or “Heaven has gained another angel.” These statements reveal our ignorance on the subject.

So, because of these reasons, I strongly believe that we need to take our time and study personal eschatology so that we are not ignorant of God’s design for our future as individuals. Furthermore, if we constantly think of heaven or the Second Coming of Christ, our relationship with Christ here on earth would be enhanced even more. That’s what will look at in the next post, the Lord willing.

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Uncategorized

Happy 53rd Birthday, Malawi

Yesterday, Malawi celebrated 53 years of independence. I took time to reflect  and thank the Lord for his goodness and blessings upon my country.  Ended up with this piece… 

I saw him at one of the world’s busiest airports this other day

“I need to see your documents,” the officer said

He was then denied entry into the country

He was a stateless person, I heard

It was my first time to learn of the term

I have a place in Southern Africa I call home

But eight million aren’t citizens of any country

I uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving to my Lord

For a state I often take for granted

Malawi is not what we want her to be

But she is also not what she used to be

Stop now and count our blessing one by one

Proud of her people who are strong and get along

Working, building and praying

Many without noise and recognition

To make her what we would want her to be

Confident we will get there, if Christ tallies…

Happy 53rd Birthday Malawi, Happy Birthday the land of my birth!

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Uncategorized

Counting All As Loss for Christ’s Sake

“But whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ” – Philippians 3:7

There is a transforming power that every believer experiences when he first takes his gaze of faith at Christ. Indeed, there is great change that is wrought in the heart of a Christian when he first comes to know Christ as his Savior. This was also true of Apostle Paul.

The verse I have read is part of Paul’s short autobiography, so to speak, given in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. In this chapter he describes his life before he knew Christ. He lists so many things, which he considered to be of great value. He mentions how he was dedicated to the law of God. Paul worked so diligently to follow the law in his own strength to the extent that he was proud of himself and referred to himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews and blameless before the law of God.

But one day on his way to Damascus, Paul met the risen Christ. As he gazed at the glory of Christ and saw the glorious righteousness of Jesus, all of Paul’s celebrated accomplishments grew dim. In fact, Paul says as we have read in the verse, that he considered all of them as “loss” and the actual word he uses in Greek is best-translated “dung.” And he surrendered himself to Christ.

Friends, this is how our life in Christ ought to be. This should be every Christian’s testimony. Our saving knowledge of Jesus Christ should mean that we grasp that our human or religious efforts to earn our way to God are rubbish or filthy rags as Isaiah puts it. Only Christ meets every need of our soul because through his work and life and death he has fully satisfied all the righteous demands of God.

For Paul it was his religion that made him proud and blinded him to his need for Christ. For some it might be academic achievements. For some it might be business achievements or riches or fame or even poverty and pain. For others it might be various trophies and medals that this world has to offer. Most of these things are not bad in themselves; however, if they keep us from beholding the glory of Christ they are dung.

Counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ is the work of God’s grace that begins on the day of our salvation and continues to eternity. Every day a Christian should value Christ above all as Jonathan Edwards once put it (quote)“Offer a Christian whatever you will, if you deny him Christ, he will consider himself miserable” (end of quote)

Every day, the Lord calls us to let go our grip on our own righteousness and the pride that blinds to the glory of Christ due to our heritage, gifts, talents, or achievements. Instead every day we have to hold on tightly to Christ and his righteousness. Every day, has to be a day in which we “count all loss for the sake of Christ. ”

For a podcast version of this post, please visit here

 

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Christianity and Society

Introduction to DBS Podcast

Note: This is a script of today’s podcast. The audio can be accessed here 

Welcome to Doctrine for Body and Soul (DBS) hosted by Confex Makhalira. Doctrine for Body and Soul is a Christian podcast, which comes out every Mondays and Fridays. On Mondays the podcast brings you devotions for your encouragement in the walk with the Lord, and on Fridays the podcast analyzes current affairs, more especially, those of Africa, from a Biblical perspective. Thank you for joining us today.

Indeed a warm welcome to the very first episode of Doctrine for Body and Soul. Being a new podcast I need to give some introduction.

First, what is Doctrine for Body and Soul all about? As already mentioned at the beginning, this podcast will be made up of two components. The first component is devotional. Every Monday, the Lord willing, I will be bringing you devotions, which are brief exposition of Bible passages, to help us grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The second component is a commentary from a Biblical perspective on issues affecting believers all over the world, more especially, in Africa. Every Friday, the Lord willing, I will be providing a Biblical worldview analysis on current affairs in our world. It is no secret that the world is increasingly becoming so hostile to Christians that often we are faced with the major question: “How should we then live?” In Friday’s podcasts I will be endeavoring to bring God’s Word to bear on various developments, good or bad, around the globe.

We need to remember as the hymn writer once put it, “This is my Father’s World.” Although sometimes evil seems to gain the upper hand, the truth is that our Triune God is still sitting on the throne and is guiding all the affairs of his world and his Church toward one goal which is to glorify himself. This is why Paul reminds us in that beautiful doxology in Romans 11:33 and 36: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways…For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Indeed all things belong to God. This is why again the Psalmist in Psalm 24 reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. So let’s not lose sight of this important truth. This is our Father’s world. “O let me never forget. That though the wrong seems so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Second, why this name, Doctrine for Body and Soul? Well, the word “doctrine” is derived from a Greek word which when translated into English means “teaching” while the phrase “body and soul” means the whole man. Often the Bible uses this phrase to refer to man as being both a spiritual and physical being. So Doctrine for Body and Soul podcast is about the Bible’s teaching regarding our spiritual and physical lives. In other words, this podcast is all about what the Scriptures teach us about our spiritual lives as citizens of heaven and also our physical lives as citizens this world.

Third, who is the man behind this podcast? Confex Makhalira is a trained broadcaster and a teacher of the Bible. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies with a minor in Radio Communications from the African Bible College in Lilongwe, Malawi. He is currently in his final year of studies for a Master of Divinity at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Having given this introduction, I would like us to look at this story from Zambia. In his blog post last week, Pastor Conrad Mbewe of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, bemoaned the growing trend among Christians there to skip church on Sundays in order to attend a football or soccer match in which the Zambian National Team is playing. Pastor Mbewe wrote on his blog, Letter from Kabwata “Zambians need to ask themselves a heart-searching question: Could it be that football has become our idol?”…When we spend a whole week anticipating a football match instead of the worship of God on the Lord’s Day and then when the day comes we abandon the worship of God in order to shout and jump and scream in a stadium (or at home in front of a television set)…is this not idolatry?”

Then following this post, this week Pastor Mbewe, has blogged another post with the title, “We have lost the sense of God.” In this post he explains that he has been struggling to understand why Christians would prefer going to watch a football match to going to church. He writes, “After my last blog post in which I addressed the issue of believers abandoning going to church on a Sunday in preference for watching a football match, I tossed and turned most of the night. I kept asking myself how believers could do this. I could not understand how even pastors are now joining in this (practice) with a clear conscience. I mean, how?”

As he continued to think through this Pastor Mbewe came to one conclusion: “We have lost the sense of God.”  He then continues to observe that this loss of sense of God has come about because of the poor view of God, which many Christians have due to poor worship and preaching in Zambian churches. “When it comes to church…there is very little pausing for a moment of silence to prepare the soul to meet with the living God. You have a band that is already playing as people chat. The worship leader starts with jokes to get the atmosphere exciting. The songs are painfully repetitious of next to nothing—“God brought me from here and has taken me there,” over and over again! The preaching is also deliberately calculated to bring people back next week rather than to bring them face to face with the living God. Hence the preacher behaves more like a superstar than a prophet from God. Can such gimmicks surely give us a sense of God?”

And I would add that this problem is not only in Zambia but throughout the continent of Africa and even throughout the world.

Now one important thing we can learn from the observations of Pastor Mbewe is that if we are to develop a solid Biblical worldview, we need to attend churches where people worship God as he has commanded in his word and where the Bible is preached faithfully. A sound church is indispensable for equipping believers who will honor God in all areas of their lives. This then means that Christians who are not attending health churches can never develop a health Biblical worldview. Therefore, we should never underestimate the grace that God gives to his people through the ordinary means of faithful preaching and God-honoring worship. That’s what all Christians need.

 

 

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