Sin in heaven? Possible or not?
A few weeks ago, I read an article (read here) by a fellow blogger Haden Clark that claimed it is a real possibility. Not just in heaven, but “in the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth…we will be capable of [sin], but we won’t. Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.”
I waited a while before commenting on this teaching provided by Mr. Clark. I didn’t want to give a knee-jerk reaction. But I must confess I was astonished that a person whose motto is: “Strengthen the Believer. Answer the Critic” in regards to the Christian faith would teach something so unbiblical?
Gracious Differences on Matters of Truth…
There are peripherals in the area of Christian doctrine where grace is given. For example, there are differences in the manner/method of the Eucharist and Baptism within the orthodox Christian faith. Some Christians use wine others grape juice, leavened or unleavened bread when they remember what our Lord did for us at Calvary. Some fully submerge the person in running water, others in a pool or baptismal, still others pour the water or even sprinkle the water identifying with Christ’s death and resurrection.
Is there a correct way of doing these things? Yes. Is there one truth and not many in the practice of these sacraments? Yes. But we are gracious to those whose understanding differs.
Some eat meat, others are vegetarian, but both are accepted by the Lord who purchased them, and so we are gracious towards the brethren in areas of conscience. But even in that example, it is the stronger brother who is right not the weaker. The one who knows that all things are blessed from the Lord above if accepted by faith is acceptable and right to partake of[i]; that person is the stronger brother because he has learned not to go beyond what is written (1Cor 4.6).
Not Free Thinkers, but Submissive Ones…
As Christians we are commanded to bring everything thought captive to obey Christ (2Cor 10.5). If we desire to oversee Christ’s flock that is a noble pursuit, but only insofar as humility grants. Holy Scripture is given to fully equip the man of God for all righteousness. This is accomplished through rebuke, correction, teaching and training our hearts/minds to not be conformed to this world’s way of thinking, but to adopt the mind of Christ. Those who desire to be teachers of the Word need to bear in mind the great responsibility that bears down upon us. Those who claim to have been given more light will be held accountable to/by that light. Since our tongues cut like swords and burn like fire, we must continually seek to temper them in the knowledge of God.
Where Error Seeps in…
However, when your gospel is man-centered, and you fail to regard all that Scripture says on a given topic you will, at times, be prone to gross error.[ii] The chief among those errors is to deny what God says about man’s condition post-Fall. In particular, if your claim is that our will has been untouched by the mark of sin. If you profess that it is not held captive to sin, unless Christ frees it. Then you are traveling down a slippery slope, that will drag you to places you never should have gone. Like embracing an idea that states after the consummation of all things, after the final judgment, that man will still be capable of sinning. Why? Because human freedom is so precious, we need to be able to slap God in the face or we are not really human?!?
Clarifying Intentions, Motives and Looking at the Argument…
I realize that Mr. Clark was intending to respond to an atheist on the so-called Problem of Evil. I am not calling into question his intentions. I am not judging his motives. But his teaching is found wanting. That is the issue—the teaching. I hate to even add this qualifier, but with today’s ME TOO attitude you cannot challenge the teaching of someone without it being seen as a personal attack. So, I pray that the mature of heart know the difference. I have nothing against Mr. Clark as a person, but I do believe his teaching in a public forum needs discerning. As do all of us who speak on such matters.
To keep the integrity of Clark’s belief intact, I will quote the specific portion that I have chosen to interact with. Here it is:
Will we have freewill in heaven? My response: Will we be humans? Yes, so yes, we will have freewill. A human without freewill is not a human. What it means to be a human is to be a rational animal. And freedom of the will is necessary to be rational. A determined will cannot rationally justify anything.
Is there the possibility for rebellion in heaven? There was once. Christians believe the Satan rebelled against God in heaven. So, it fits within the worldview and is a real possibility.
However, remember this: the final destination on Christianity is not heaven. The final destination is the new heavens and the new earth, which really comes to mean heaven on earth.
The Bible begins in the garden of Eden, that picture becomes corrupted by sin, and the Bible ends in a new garden of Eden, made possible by Jesus the Messiah.
Adam and Eve had freewill in the original picture and I believe we will in the final picture.
One thing they had that we won’t have is the pesky serpent that got the ball rolling in the first place. At bottom, sin enters the world because of the Serpent. Yes, Adam and Eve had a choice, but the serpent gave them the choice, if you will. All I mean is that he tempted them.
What I believe, as many other Christians do, is that we will have free will to an extent, which is what we’ve always had. Nobody believes we have an unlimited free will. Only God has that. For example, I can’t just decide to jump to the moon. I’m limited by my own nature.
In the final destination for believers, the new heaven on earth, I don’t believe there will be anyone that wants to tempt us to do evil. We will be capable of it, sure, but we won’t.
Even if I’m wrong, and some people will sin in the new heaven on earth, it doesn’t really prove anything. Christ died for our sins once-and-for-all, as most Christians believe. That would include any sins committed in paradise, at least in theory, right? So, I don’t know what the big deal is.
My main focus in this post is on sin and whether or not sinning in eternity with the Lord of Hosts is an accurate claim. However, the observant reader should note that the keynote issue for Mr. Clark’s claim is human freewill. He even goes so far as to say in the opening paragraph that without freewill, you cannot be human.[iii] He eventually relates this to Adam and Eve assuming that they were created with it.
Nowhere in the Bible is this taught. This is a philosophical presupposition that is unwarranted from the biblical text. It is true that Adam and Eve were presented with a choice between two particular trees.
God had set before them life and death:[iv]
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut 30.19; cf. Gen 2.16-17).
However, that ability to choose life was removed as seen in their expulsion from the garden:
Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever— ‘therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3.22-24).[v]
A change of status took place after the eating of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. The biblical history (post-garden) confirms this fact: Man, who was created righteous, became the opposite as a consequence. Sin entered the world through Adam, not the Serpent, though it is accurate to say that this is what that murderer Satan wanted from the beginning. As a result, all the offspring of Adam became sinners, unclean in everyway before God. And yet, are we to assume that sin left the human will unchecked?
In order to address Mr. Clark’s assertion that sin will be a possibility in eternity, I thought it appropriate for us to spend a few moments answering the pivotal question: What is sin?
It is known by many names: rebellion, missing the mark, transgression, and lawlessness. No doubt there might be others that you can draw from the God’s Holy Word, but these four should suffice. Now let’s probe a little deeper by putting them in question form.
- Who or what is the rebellion against?
- What or whose mark are you missing?
- The transgression is against who or what?
The final one we won’t look at in question form, but we will ask a question of it in just a moment. According to 1John 3:4 “sin is lawlessness.” Therefore, sin is a violation of a law.
Whose law is being violated? Whose law is being transgressed? Whose law is the person rebelling against? Whose law is the individual straying from—i.e. missing the mark?
What that Nasty Word shows us…
Law is a real nasty word in a lot of people’s books, but what it shows us about ourselves is of the utmost importance. As human beings we naturally want to kick against any command or edict or standard that seeks to have dominion over us. We do not want to be ruled, we want to rule. We want to determine right and wrong, not have right and wrong laid out for us. Our supposed freewill is really an exercise of insubordination to tyranny. We proclaim our freedom from all standards, all the while bowing the knee to the standard of sin that reigns in our hearts. That’s what that nasty word Law shows us.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is quick to point out that we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1), “alienated [i.e., separated] from the life of God” (Eph 4.18), walking as “sons [and daughters] of disobedience” (Eph 2.2), due to our natural inborn hostility towards God and His law (Rom 8.7-8) because we are His enemies (Rom 5.10), and this from birth (cf. Eph 2.3; Job 15.14, 16; Psa 51.5).
And so, Jesus rightly calls us all slaves to sin, which is bred in our hearts/minds. Rotten trees that produce rotten fruit, unless we are made anew.
Purpose of Christ Jesus…
If we look back at 1John 3 we find that Jesus came to end all of that.
“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (v.5).
Surely, Mr. Clark knows this. He knows Eph 1, he knows the stress laid “in Him,” “in Christ,” even if he fails to see how one ends up “in the Lord” he at least understands this much.
Christ Jesus stepped in the flesh (John 1.14) “to save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21; cf. Eph 2.11-22). How so? By setting them free from the constraints of sin, and “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8.36). In Christ one finds the death of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8.2; emphasis added).[vi] When the gospel of Christ is declared as the power of God (Rom 1.16) that is what is being referenced. A breaking of the former life, gives way to the dawn of a new one.
Jesus’ Kingly Dominion…
Jesus is the king mentioned in Dan 7:13-14. He is the one who approached the Ancient of Days and received a kingdom (cf. Matt 28.18; Phil 2.9-11). The passage from the Tanakh cited more than any other in the New Testament is Psalm 110. Here David is found saying in the Holy Spirit: “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”[vii]
Who are the “enemies” being referred to? If we were to look at Psalm 2 we would find it’s the rulers of the nations that plot against the rule of this king, but that is not all. There are many enemies of King Jesus. Chief among them is Satan and his horde of angel’s, but that is not all. That which is at back of all evildoers is the wicked root of pride that stirs rebellion in their hearts; which, is sin. And not just sin, but the wages of sin as well, which is death:
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1Cor 15.21-27).
Christ’s dominion brings all of His enemies—everything opposed to His Holy Righteousness, the Righteous Holiness of the Triune God (Father and Son and Holy Spirit)—to the status of dust under the soles of His feet. A symbolic expression of the conquering King whose victory is untarnished. The final enemy, which is the result of sin (the wages this labor produces), is death. Christ has victory over death. Not just in spiritual resurrection which is wrapped up in the concept of being born again, but in a final perfected Resurrection to eternal life. In other words, what had been lost in the garden (freedom to life) is gained in the eternal sanctuary of God where the Tree of Life is said to be placed all along the river that runs through that blessed garden.
Real or Imagined Victory…
Are we to then suppose, as Mr. Clark does that sin is still a possibility in that eternal state? He assumes “…at least in theory, right? …we will be capable of it….” No, we won’t. If that were the case, even in theory, it would mean that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient, and that His power as King, as God, would also be insufficient. For it would prove that He was incapable of defeating the enemy called death, which is only possible where sin reigns. But Scripture says that sin will not reign, since death (it’s wages) has been completely vanquished.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6.22-23).
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall be there mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21.3-4; cf. Rev 20.14).
Which means what precisely? That every evidence of the curse has been removed in the consummation. The former bondage that enslaved creation as a result of sin, has been eradicated. Did we not see a glimpse of this during the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? We did. Did He not remove blindness, deafness, lameness, leprosy, enable the mute to speak, raise the dead to life, calm the storm and wave, even cast out demons with a command? He did. Have we not then witnessed the power of King Jesus; is this not the root of the gospel of God? It is.
While, I believe Mr. Clark was well-intentioned in attempting to deal with a rebellious sinner who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, his own argument is wrought with error. And while, he may cherish the concept of freewill he has no biblical justification for it. He is right when he admits that there is a limit to our freedom, and he attributes true freedom to God. But he errs when he fails to see that God’s freedom is governed by His own Holy nature, and we are governed by our nature which is unholiness.
Only God can free us from the state we are in, and so we are turned to Christ who like Almighty God was/is governed by holiness and not by unholiness. And sin will never have a part or parcel in the place God has prepared for us in Christ at the completion of all things.
Back to the beginning: Sin in Heaven? Possible or not? No, it is not possible in heaven. Nor is it possible at the consummation of all things—i.e., God dwelling with His people for eternity. For Christ’s work finished its destruction, and while we only see a glimpse of this victory now in this life, there is more to see in the next life when we see our Lord, our God face-to-face (cf. 1John 3.2).
[i] This is drawn from the argument presented in Romans 14 over proper Christian service and perspective “that is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom 14.18). Which is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14.17).
[ii] The truth is that even the best intentioned, well-informed student of Scripture will commit errors in thought, reasoning, observation, interpretation and application of a biblical text; even elements of an entire doctrine. Truth definitionally avoids and subset that strays from its well beaten path. A red car cannot be at the same time a black car. The red car may be misidentified as a black car in the wee hours of the night, but that is a failure on the part of the observer/interpreter, not the truth statement regarding the color of the car.
[iii] This is an example of the No-True Scotsman Fallacy.
[iv] I realize that this passage is being spoken directly to the second generation of Israelites in the second giving of the Law of God—i.e., His Instruction for life vs. death. However, this is a repeated pattern from the earlier Genesis narrative in a more detailed form. The message is the same in principle in Gen 2:16-17 and Deut 30:19.
[v] This picture of a drawn sword shrouded in flame is symbolic of God’s judgment (Deut 9.3; 2Thes 1.8; cf. 1Chro 21.16-17). The man would desire to gain access to the Tree of Life, but God forbade him from doing so. Either the sword of God will be for you or against you (cf. Num 22.23; Josh 5.13). The only access to life is via God’s grace demonstrated in the life of the obedient (Prov 11.30; Rev 2.7, 22.14).
[vi] John Owen explains Paul’s usage of the term law (nomos) in Romans 6-8. He wrote, “A law is taken either properly as a directive rule, or improperly as an operative effective principle which seems to have the force of a law…in [the] SECONDARY SENSE, an inward principle that constantly moves and inclines someone towards any actions, is called a law. The principle that is in the nature of a thing, moving and carrying it towards its own end and rest…In this respect, every inward principle that inclines and urges something to operate or act in a way suitable to itself, is a law:” he then cites Romans 8:2 as an example. John Owen, “The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believer’s,” in The Works of John Owen, Vol 6, ed., William H. Goold, reprint 1850-53 (William H. Gross: March 2015), http://www.onthewing.org, Kindle Edition, loc 422-426.
[vii] See: Matt 22.42-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 22:41; Acts 2:34; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 12:2; 1Pet 3.22; 1Cor15.25; Heb 1.3, 13; 10.12-13 to name just a few. Every reference to Christ sitting on a heavenly throne equal with the Father (i.e., at His right hand) is in light of this passage or a close reference Psa 2.