This sermon is part of the sermon series "Four People You Meet in Heaven". See series.
I've got hundreds of things around the house that I would like to see made new—sofa cushions that have begun to sag, kitchen cabinets and table that are scratched, a backyard fence that's in pieces, the Oak tree in our front yard that's 40 feet tall and has one living branch on it. Our kids think we're living in the dark ages, because we have to pound the television to get a picture on it. The wear and tear of time takes its toll on the things around us, and it takes its toll in us. We feel this wear and tear profoundly in our bodies. We're on medications; we break bones; we tear ligaments; we need things replaced and repaired; we wear glasses; we exfoliate our skin. We have sores and bumps and bulges and sags. But it's not just the wear and tear of time that's taking its toll on our bodies—it's the wear and tear of sin.
From the beginning, sin has affected us and infected us—physically, morally, intellectually, emotionally, relationally. Both Romans 8:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:1 say that we inwardly groan—we cry out for correction, completion, and change, secretly wishing we could be made new.
The hope of the Bible is that that is exactly what God intends to do. For the last several weeks, we have been exploring the people you meet in heaven: the resurrected Christ, others who have found the narrow path and walked through the small gate of faith, a multitude of angels, created to serve God and the saints—and now I want to talk about you. A brand new you. The you that you aren't yet, but the you God intends for you to be. This is the focus of our text today in 1 Corinthians 15. In verses 1-11, Paul assures us of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; in verses 12-34, he guarantees that Jesus' resurrection gives us hope in our own resurrection; and in verses 13-58, Paul describes the nature of the resurrection body.
How are we made new?
There are three important questions answered by this passage. First, How are we made new? By dying and rising again. Verse 35 says, "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?'" Paul quickly answers, "How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." You must die to live. No one enters into the Kingdom of God as they are: "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (verse 50). We must die first so that we may be raised into a new kind of living.
There is one important lesson here: none of us can make ourselves new. We certainly try to do it ourselves. The cosmetic surgery industry in 2007 was a $12 billion business in the U.S. We nip and tuck, add and reduce, train and try. But the very fact that in order to have new life we must die first means that the work of renewal is the work of God.
What will we be like in heaven?
The second question this passage answers is this: What will we be like in heaven? In the main part of this passage, Paul states that we'll be similar, but different. On the one hand, in heaven, your new self will be similar to your self today: "When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body" (verse 37). The analogy of the seed is important. When you sow a seed, it produces a plant this is different from the seed, but there is a continuity between the seed and the mature plant—a tomato seed produces a tomato plant, watermelon seeds produce watermelons. When you get to heaven, there will be a correspondence between you then and you now. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he was recognized as Jesus. Matthew 8:11 alludes to us one day meeting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which implies that we will recognize them. And since God made us for eternity, our uniqueness on earth—our personalities, gifts, and abilities—will not diminish in the presence of God. We'll see with eyes, hear with ears, speak with our mouths, walk with feet. The seed of who we are today corresponds with who we will be in heaven.
On the other hand, in heaven your new self will be different from who you are today. Using the plant analogy, the plant is far better than the seed that produced it. Paul goes on to say in verses 39-41 that not all kinds of existence are the same. Even in nature God creates things with varying degrees of splendor, so while there is a correspondence between our earthly and heavenly bodies, our new self will be exponentially far more splendid. We will be brand new!
Underline verses 42-44 in your Bible: "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." Notice the words that Paul uses to describe the new you:
Imperishable. If you bring food to a food drive, you'd bring food that's not perishable. Fruit rots within a week, bread goes stale eventually, and you can't keep meat forever. Non-perishable means canned foods, dried foods, and Twinkies, which I think can last up to 75 years. In heaven we will be less like fruit and more like Twinkies. Our new bodies will be indestructible—they won't wear out, grow old, or decay. We won't have headaches, get tennis elbow, indigestion, cataracts, or cancer. There are no pharmacies, hospitals, or funeral homes in heaven—nothing is perishable.
Glorious. Philippians 3:20-21 reads, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Theologically, the final stage of our ongoing transformation is glorification, where we become finally and fully like Christ—this is God's goal. Our hearts will be changed and our motives made pure. We will be God-centered and sinless and gloriously like Christ.
Powerful. What is weak today will be powerful in heaven. We won't become like God, but the Bible suggests we will have a new ability—perhaps in areas of understanding and action, because nothing will be able to limit us from doing God's will. I, personally, have a dream of being able to hit two shots in a row in golf straight.
Spiritual. Our spiritual body is contrasted with our natural body. Be careful that you don't misunderstand this. Paul doesn't mean we become disembodied spirits or ghosts floating around the clouds; he means "spiritual" as opposed to "natural." Verses 45-49 say that we will be dominated by the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit of man. We will not have to contend with our old nature. We will be driven by the same spirit that empowered Christ, which is why we will be content to worship—we will revel in it—and nothing will disappoint us in heaven. We will be brand new.
When will we become new?
This passage answers a third question: When will we become new? This may seem like a silly question since we've already said you must die to receive the benefit of new life, but verse 51 is even more specific:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
None of us receive our new selves until Jesus Christ returns. The trumpet Paul refers to is the "trumpet call of God" in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Those who have died enjoy a presence with God but are not finally glorified. When Jesus comes—unexpectedly and triumphantly—the dead will be raised and changed; it will take place in a flash, in a blink, in a moment. 1 John 3:2 says, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
Woody Allen once said: "It's not that I am afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." If nothing changes, death can be a frightening prospect. But if my death leads to new life and a brand new me, I can look forward with hope. That is the intent of this passage. That's why Paul adds, "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm" (verse 54). How many of you are chipped, broken, and bent? Weak and worn? The wear and tear of time and sin has taken its toll, and your body cries out for restoration. Be encouraged: when Christ returns, those who are alive will be snatched up into heaven, those who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead, and God will complete what he began in your first moment of faith. He will make a brand new you.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.