The Sea of Forgetfulness.

 

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The phrase Sea of Forgetfulness is not actually in the Bible. When people use this colorful phrase, they’re usually referring to several passages in Scripture that talk about God’s forgiveness, and our justification in Christ through accepting His death, burial, and resurrection. They’re banking on the great promise from God the Father that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive those offenses and never hold them against us again. He acts as if those offenses never happened.

It is doctrinal that God forgets our sins so completely it’s as if they had never occurred. Micah 7:19 says, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV). Verse 18 indicates that God pardons sin and forgives transgression. It is worth noting that all sin (yours, mine, your neighbor’s—past, current, or future) have been placed on Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross. Accordingly, when God looks upon us as born-again believers He sees the righteousness of Christ and not a lifetime of our iniquities. This is confirmed in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (NIV).

God is omniscient. He knows all things. So He does not really “forget” anything. Although it is beyond human capacity to grasp, He encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. I have come to understand that God is not constrained by time in any fashion. Time (whether it’s told by a wall clock, wrist watch, calendar, or sun dial) is merely a human invention. God is able to see everything that ever was, is now, and will be, all in the same instance. The word “omniscient” comes from the Latin words omnis (signifying all) and scientia (signifying knowledge). When we say that God is omniscient it means that He has perfect knowledge of everything there ever was and will be, including our works. It is impossible for God to fail to “remember” our sins. Rather, He chooses not to remember our sins. Moreover, He creates a void between us and our sins (Psalm 103:12).

Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 43:25. God tells us He “blots out” our transgressions. The idea of blotting out sins is taken from the custom of keeping accounts and canceling or blotting out the charge when the debt has been paid. God had a plan for our redemption before the foundation of the universe. Because of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, our debt has been paid. Old Testament saints had a forward-looking faith in Jesus as the Messiah; New Testament believers have a backward-looking faith that Christ in fact died on the cross as our Sacrificial Lamb. When Christ said, “It is finished,” the debt was satisfied for all sins. No punishment can be exacted for those who are washed in His blood. We are pardoned.

As Far As East From West

Looking at Psalm 103:12, we see that God removes us from our transgressions as far as the East is from the West. This is equivalent to blotting our our sins. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (NKJV). God reminds us in Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (NKJV). In each instance, the verb is given in past tense. He has blotted. He has redeemed.

The Glory of the Gospel is That Our Sins Are Already Dealt With!

WHEN BROUGHT INTO THE LIGHT

When our sins are set before us in the light of God’s glory, our first reaction is (naturally) that they are altogether unpardonable. We may not be willing to voice this fear to others, but it is quite real. This sense of dread comes from the conviction that we can never earn salvation through “doing good.” But there us no pardon under the Law because the Law knows nothing about forgiveness. Rather, the Law says, “Do this and you shall live; disobey and you shall die.” The Law can only convince us of our inability to obey and condemn us for the failure to do so.

After we become awakened in Christ, we are made aware of our litany of sins. Of course, there is no awakening if we remain in the dark—lacking honest assessment and humble surrender. Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that he gave no credence to how man might judge him, or whether the court might condemn or sentence him. Further, he did not see any benefit to judging himself. Although his conscience was clear, he remained concerned about the judgment of God. His advice was, “… judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart…” (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV).

Typically, this so-called awakening involves five distinct stages, which Dave Ferguson aptly explained in his article at Christianity.com titled “5 Stages of Spiritual Awakening.” In his research and analysis, he noted that the story of the Prodigal Son applies to nearly every believer who has drifted away from the Father only to find his or her life wanting and miserable. Invariably, they determine (as did the Prodigal) that loss of “sonship” is not worth any amount of riches or physical comfort. Indeed, even the “father’s” servants have it better than the child who has walked away. 

The following steps are critical to achieving a spiritual awakening:

  1. Awakening to Longing. Everyone eventually begins to question the value of his or her existence. It is not unusual to exclaim “there’s got to be more to life!” Each of us longs for love, a sense of relevance or purpose, and some degree of meaning to life. This is often the first of basic longings and is what goads us to set out on a journey. Although these yearnings are given to us by God, we often search for fulfillment everywhere but from Him.
  2. Awakening to Regret. Because we tend to seek fulfillment of primitive longings without God, we end up alone, directionless, and confused. I cannot count the number of times I’ve expressed the desire to start over. It’s worth noting that many individuals often get caught up in a loop between longing and regret.
  3. Awakening to Help. When we break out of the loop between longing for a sense of meaning and regretting the mess we’ve created, we have the potential to acknowledge that something needs to change. This amounts to coming to the end of ourselves. Finally, we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this on my own.’ In recovery, this is often referred to as hitting bottom. We realize we need help.
  4. Awakening to Love. At this point, we come to believe that Jesus is the One who leads us back to God. As we make our prodigal journey back to the Father, we encounter grace. We begin to recognize God’s unconditional love. He is waiting for us with open arms. Unfortunately, many of us still have to deal with the shame and guilt that follows us home. If we give in to these emotions, we tend to doubt that we are loved and accepted just as we are.
  5. Awakening to Life. Finally, we are in a place where we understand when Jesus said, “I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, MSG). The Greek word for life in this passage is zoe, meaning “of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God.” We simply cannot reach this level of life without a spiritual awakening.

THE END OF ME

Jesus tells us the way up is down. In other words, we can only achieve greatness through humility. Admittedly, this is a quality I have been sorely lacking in for most of my life. My life has frequently been rather difficult and complicated as a result. I’ve heard it said that we can only change when we become coachable. I did not necessarily believe there was nothing wrong with me or my life. My difficulties came from thinking my problems were unique; that I was different and the tried-and-true solutions proposed to me by addictions counselors or 12-step sponsors. In addition, I was often in denial and tended to hide my feelings and actions through deception. Before I could ever hope to grow, I needed honesty and humility.

The evil companion to humility, at least in my instance, was pride. My knee-jerk reaction to advice from a fellow 12-stepper was usually, “You’re not going to talk to me that way!” I’d look at their “cheap” clothes, rusty old car, long hair, tattoos, piercings, and whatever else I decided made them “less than” me and decide they had nothing to offer. Pride. Pure and simple. It made me defensive and unwilling to hear what others had to offer. Even if it would save my life. This smacks of some imaginary hierarchy where I “outranked” the other person. Thankfully, I have put that rather glaring character defect at the foot of the cross. The minute I did so I began to notice others for who they were—children of God. I remembered something an oldtimer told me at a 12-step meeting years ago. He said, “Never look down on another alcoholic. You never know if that person will save your life.” Of course, I also had to admit my life needed saving.

Pride will often keep us from realizing how much we need God!

Pride is the ultimate issue of the human condition—not just one of the “deadly sins,” but the mother of all offenses. The late Billy Graham said, “…pride can be a very dangerous thing, blinding us to our faults and cutting us off from others. Pride also can lead us into doing things that are wrong, because we think they’ll make us greater or more powerful. The Bible warns, ‘Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Proverbs 16:18).

There is an amazingly powerful antidote for pride expressed by the apostle Paul that gives me goosebumps every time I read it. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[fn] of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7, NIV). This is Jesus, the Messiah, equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, co-creator of the entire universe. I cannot fathom a better example of humility.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Here’s what I’ve learned: There is a real danger in making anything or anyone but Jesus a foundation for our confidence. This includes putting our self before Jesus, attempting to solve our own problems or “work” out a deal for our success. Unfortunately, being humbled is something we think of as a passive activity—that is, somebody or something humbles us. We are humbled by unemployment, by a failed marriage, by getting hurt on the job and having to rely on disability, by having to move back home with our parents. A shattered dream. But Jesus told us about a humility that is active—in this instance, we are the humblers. Jesus said, “Humble yourselves.”

It all starts with being honest about who we are in Christ and admitting we had nothing to do with our standing. It’s all Jesus. This attitude is something beyond humility. Meekness is closer to what Jesus is suggesting. Essentially, this amounts to submissiveness, without which we cannot hope to recover whatever the habit, hangup, obsession, or addiction. From a biblical viewpoint, meekness is synonymous with righteous, humble, teachable, patient when enduring suffering, forgiving, willing to follow Christian doctrine—attributes of a true disciple.

 

Justification

MARTIN LUTHER STRUGGLED a great deal with the idea of justification and righteousness. He was so obsessed with sinning and offending God and worried he would die having failed to confess everything. He spent a great deal of time ruminating about his behavior. He unfortunately focused how he could punish himself  and assure that he would be redeemed and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Luther often deprived himself of comforts, including blankets and coats during cold weather, and often flagellated himself as punishment.

Luther became fixated on Paul’s letter to the Romans. He could not grasp the manner by which he could ever hope to become “righteous” in God’s eyes. He was especially concerned about Romans 1:17, which says, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Luther, in his Preface to his Commentary on Romans (1552 A.D.), wrote

This Espistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.

It seems Luther was quite concerned about the orientation of his heart and about how he might earn salvation. He wrote, “How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does no good works without displeasure and unwillingness of heart? How shall a work please God, if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?” This was his personal obsession: Is my heart right with God? Can I possibly be worthy of redemption? How can I put on the righteousness of Christ? No doubt he was tormented with the example of Paul regarding the struggle to do good. Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me… For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-17, 19).

In his commentary, Luther wrote, “So also the Apostle says in in 7:15: ‘That which I do, I allow not” (I do not approve). The Apostle means to say: As a spiritual man I recognize only what is good, and yet I do what I do not desire, namely, that which is evil, not indeed willfully and maliciously. But while I choose the good, I do the opposite. The carnal man, however, knows what is evil, and he does it intentionally, willfully and by choice.” Looking again at Romans 1:17, Luther said,

God certainly desires to save us not through our own righteousness, but through the righteousness and wisdom of someone else or by means of a righteousness which does not originate on earth, but comes down from heaven. So, then, we must teach a righteousness which in every way comes from without and is entirely foreign to us.

God’s righteousness is that by which we become worthy of His great salvation, or through which alone we are accounted righteous before Him. Luther struggled to understand how it is we become righteous. Not surprisingly, Romans 1:17 directly affected the course of the Protestant Reformation more than any other. The moment Luther grasped in his heart the process by which we put on the righteousness of Christ a gate opened to heaven. He was able to grasp that it is only through God’s love and grace and justice that we can become righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, it took Luther asking the right questions: What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith? Again, verse 17 contains the theme for the whole exposition of the Gospel that Paul lays out in Romans. Luther could now understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available. It is to be received passively, not actively. Rather, it is received by faith

From a linguistics standpoint, the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history is justificare from the Roman judicial system. The term is made up of the word justus, which translates “justice or righteousness,” and the infinitive verb facare, which means “to make.” But Luther was looking now at the Greek word used in the New Testament: dikaios, or dikaiosune, which does not mean “to make righteous,” but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. This allowed Luther to realize that the doctrine of justification is what happens when God sees us clothed in righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ. Justification does not come through sacraments or priestly absolution or by an edict handed down from the pope. This position shines through in Luther’s 95 Theses that launched the Reformation.

Consider three theses written by Luther:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

The word cannot be properly understood as referring the sacrament of penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

Those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the pope’s indulgences.

So Luther said, “Whoa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” Nope. It’s what he called a justitia alienum, meaning “alien righteousness.” It’s a righteousness that belongs properly to someone else. A righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. It is the righteousness of Christ. Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. The doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.” Luther considered justification to be the article by which the church stands or falls.

WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION?

Justification and righteousness are legal terms. Following a trial, a verdict is declared as to how the individual now stands before the court.  In Scripture, to justify does not mean to make righteous in the sense of changing a person’s character. We’re not magically changed into righteousness; instead, we are declared righteous in the eyes of the Lord. When He looks at us, He no longer sees our sins. He has wiped them away and remembers them no more. Rather, when the Father looks at us He sees Jesus.

Here are several key points regarding justification:

  • Justification is the opposite of condemnation. In Deuteronmy 25:1 the judges are to acquit (justify) the innocent and condemn the guilty. Clearly, to condemn does not literally mean “to make them guilty,” but rather to “declare them to be guilty,” and so determine them to be “guilty” by the verdict. In other words, if a man or woman stands accused of a crime and wins an acquittal, the verdict does not render an otherwise guilty person innocent. The verdict does not change the facts. After all, guilty people win acquittal in criminal court. It’s a matter of applying the law to the evidence and making a declaration.
  • The terms with which righteousness is associated have a judicial character—for example, consider the emphasis in Genesis 18:25 on God as the Judge.
  • The expressions used as synonyms or substitutes for justify do not have the sense of “making righteous,” but carry a declarative or constitutive sense.
  • The ultimate proof that justification involves a status changed by public declaration lies in the biblical view that through the resurrection Jesus Himself was “justified” (1 Timothy 3:16). The justification of Christ was not an actual alteration in His character. Rather, it refers to His vindication by the Father through the triumph and victory of the resurrection. Romans 1:4 says, “And who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (NIV).

THE POWER OF JUSTIFICATION

The practical impact of this doctrine cannot be overstated. The wonder of the Gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to Him in spite of their sin. Luther struggled with the same thing I have on many occasions. That is, assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for justification. Paul’s epistle teaches us that nothing we ever do contributes to our justification. Frankly, there is nothing adequate we could do. Ever.

Justification is more than forgiveness; it involves being cleared of all blame, free from every charge of sin lodged against you. In a secular court, a judge cannot both forgive a man and justify him at the same time. If he forgives the defendant, then the man must be guilty and therefore he cannot be justified. If the judge justifies the defendant, the accused does not need forgiveness. God forgives the sin and justifies the sinner. Plugging this analogy into the Gospel, God forgives the guilty and condemned sinner and literally places him in a new position devoid of any charge against him at all (see Romans 8:1).

IT’S A MATTER OF FAITH, NOT A MATTER OF LAW

No one is justified by his or her own actions. Romans 3:20, 22-23 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin… this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV).

God justly justifies sinners through the work of Christ. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). When we confess our sins, we discover that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from our own unrighteousness. Of course, this still begs the question How does Christ’s righteousness become ours? Martin Luther was able to settle on faith in Christ. No works of ours, no good resolutions or reformation, can justify us or contribute one little bit to our justification. Such outwardly good works are really our attempt at self-righteousness. For us to be justified, Jesus must pay the penalty for our sins, and we must receive that payment by faith.

At the center of Paul’s teaching is the cross of Jesus and faith in the sacrifice of the crucified Lord. Paul wrote, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:1, NIV).  Certainly, God’s wrath is revealed in His response to sin. Without a valid source of justification, we’d have no choice but to face that wrath. We deserve it. God also demonstrates His righteousness in the salvation of men. His wrath toward the sinner was poured out on Jesus Christ who died an agonizing and horrendous death in our place. God’s anger was appeased in Christ. Accordingly, God is able to save and to bless everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and who receives His salvation by faith.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Justification is of grace, to be received as a gift by faith in order that God may guarantee his promise of salvation. If justification depended on works, it would be unattainable. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that justification were attainable. It would be subject to decay unless we were able continue justifying ourselves by works. Thankfully, justification is all about grace. It is based on the work of Christ, not on our works. Accordingly, God is able to guarantee our justification. We have assurance of our salvation and the hope of heaven. Once forgiven, our standing in God’s eyes is that of a “just” or “righteous” person. The empowerment of God’s Spirit enables one to continue in righteousness.

Being justified by God means that once redeemed we can become partakers of His divine nature, and we can aim for perfection. The divine image, with moral and spiritual perfection, which was imparted to us in the Garden of Eden and subsequently marred and distorted by sin, is now our goal. We must not let God’s gift of justification by faith lead to becoming complacent. Like Paul, we should be diligent in our efforts towards spiritual perfection and sensitive to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Justification versus Sanctification

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Justification and sanctification are not the same thing. The basic dictionary definition of justification is “the action of showing something to be right or reasonable.” The theological definition is “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.” Sanctification is an ongoing process. It comes from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to be separate or set apart. As we’ll see later, sanctification is not the same as salvation. We’ll also see that justification is a transaction and sanctification is a transformation.

Justification is a Transaction

In Christian doctrine, justification is God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin, and imputing His righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22-24 says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Eugene Peterson provides the following translation of Romans 3:21-24: “But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ” (MSG) [Emphasis added].

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We are justified, declared righteous, at the moment of our salvation. Justification does not make us righteous, but rather pronounces us righteous. Our righteousness comes from placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice covers our sin, allowing God to see us as perfect and unblemished. Certainly, it should be obvious that this is something we simply cannot accomplish on our own. Martin Luther, in his Commentary on Romans, says, “St. Augustine writes in the ninth chapter of his book Concerning the Spirit and the Letter: ‘He does not speak of the righteousness of God, by which God is righteous, but of that with which He clothes a person when He justifies the ungodly.’ Again in the eleventh chapter he comments: ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested; that is, God imparts it to the believer by the Spirit of grace without the work of the Law, or without the help of the Law. Through the Law God opens man’s eyes so that he sees his helplessness and by faith takes refuge to His mercy and so is healed.'”

Reach For God

Romans 5:18-19 sums up this concept quite nicely. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the one man the many were made righteous” (NIV). It is because of justification that the peace of God can rule in our lives. It is because of justification that believers can have full assurance of their salvation. It is the fact of justification that enables God to begin the process of sanctification—the process by which God makes us in reality what we already are positionally. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2, NIV).

Sanctification is a Transformation

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The very moment we are saved in Christ we are also immediately sanctified and begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. As God’s children, we are set apart from that moment to carry out His divine purposes. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (NIV). Peterson’s translation says, “It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process” (MSG).

Sanctification is different than salvation. It is important to differentiate between the two concepts. Jesus gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. His blood washes away our sins and frees us from eternal suffering and damnation. Believers are save because of what Christ has already done. We can do absolutely nothing to earn salvation. Sanctification occurs as a result of salvation. But sanctification does not stop there. Instead, it is a progressive process that continues in a believer’s life. This is because even as Christians we still have the capacity to sin. We find ourselves in a spiritual battle the moment we confess Christ as Messiah and decide to follow Him. Paul describes this inner battle in Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not [able] to do whatever you want” (NIV).

Paul notes in Romans 15:16 that through the grace of God he became a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s ministry was not merely to win converts to Christ; he intended to see people become sanctified. He says, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done…” (v. 18). Obedience leads to sanctification. Romans 6:17 says, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (NIV).

Sanctification is the Key to Spiritual Growth

Sanctification is both a matter of position and progression. Indeed, we’re told to work toward perfection—that is, maturity in Christ. We’re to move from milk to solid food. We are sanctified because Jesus Christ has saved us and yet sanctification continues to work within to transform us into the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is the responsibility of every believer in Christ. When we choose to pursue sanctification in our life, positive growth occurs. It is important to remember this is a process, and cannot be rushed. Like a newborn baby that gradually matures unto adulthood, so is the work of sanctification in the life of a new Christian. The work of sanctification will ultimately be completed in every believer’s life when Christ returns.

Paul writes, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)