Q&A Forum: Are Christians morally transformed at death?

Are Christians morally transformed at death in order to be with Christ? If so, what Scripture(s) would support this?

Paul provides for us the long-awaited hope that, when the Lord Jesus returns for His saints at the Rapture, “we will be changed” (1Co 15:51-52).[1] He writes, “When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (v54). John adds these amazing words, “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jn 3:2).

The reconstitution of millions of human earthly bodies at the Rapture will be a major miracle. But even more so will be the immediate transformation of all of those into glorified bodies, in which we will not only see our Savior for the first time but, even more remarkable, we will be like Him. These changes will be the ultimate moral transformation for children of the dust.

But what of those who leave these earthly bodies by way of death and wing their way to heaven? It was Paul, writing in Romans 7 of the struggles with his flesh and his sinful nature, who asked, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (v24). His moral struggles, as a believer, were connected with “this body of death” (ESV) and its accompanying sinful nature.

But then the apostle, in his closing days on earth, wrote these words in Philippians 1:23 in relation to his life continuing or perhaps ending: “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (NKJV). If allowed to live, he would still have to deal with the flesh and his sinful nature. However, if the Lord allowed him “to depart,” and took him home to heaven to be with Christ, he understood that this would be “far better.” We can only conclude that his arrival to heaven to be with his Savior would not involve the wretchedness of his mortal body and its accompanying sinful nature. Once dead, “this body of death” will be left behind.

The Hebrews writer refers to the inhabitants of “the city of the living God” (12:22) and to the OT saints who were justified by faith. He describes them as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (v23). “Justified by faith, they stand in spotless purity because the value of Christ’s work has been imputed to their account.”[2]

It would then seem that when the Lord Jesus returns, and the bodies of millions of sleeping saints are raised, they will become glorified bodies, fit for heaven. They will be reunited with the spirits of the saints who passed on, whose spirits have already been fitted for the presence of Christ. We who are alive and remain, who will have both our bodies and our spirits morally and physically changed in that glorious moment, will then be able to fully appreciate our Savior and to be with Him forever.

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), 1022.