Spoiling Eternity for Everyone Else

Imagine just for a minute that someone, somehow, was both willing and able to offer us the gift of immortality; right here, right now. If such an offer were made to me, I would very politely decline. If, however, that person upped the ante and offered me immortal life coupled with unlimited riches…well, at that point I would probably scream like a little girl and run away as fast as my middle-aged feet could carry me.

The thing is…I know my own heart, and I simply cannot imagine a fate worse than living forever as I am right now, a fallen heart in a fallen world. How much more horrible to live forever as a fallen individual with unlimited wealth and its accompanying power? As far as I am concerned, the first great blessing mankind received after The Fall was God blocking the way to the tree of everlasting life (Genesis 3:22-24).

Yesterday, Keith Simon delivered what I found to be a very strong (and immensely practical) Easter message entitled “How the Resurrection of Jesus Makes a Difference in Your Life.” If you weren’t at either of The Crossing’s services yesterday to hear him preach, I’d like to strongly encourage you to download the sermon and listen to it at your first opportunity; visit The Crossing‘s home page to get started downloading the audio file from April 4, 2010.

One of many things that appeals to me about learning from the pastors and staff at The Crossing is that they all tend to be fearless – or appear fearless, at any rate – in speaking biblical truth and taking on the real idols, issues and heart attitudes that pervade postmodern American culture. The very directness of Keith’s question is more than a bit unsettling – what difference does it make to any of us that Jesus walked out of His tomb on the third day?

Many “good Christians,” I suspect, have been conditioned to offer up a near-involuntary, knee-jerk response when faced with the question “Does the resurrection of Jesus make any difference to your life today?” As a regular churchgoer, I can certainly feel myself rise up immediately with something like “Why, yes! Of course it does! How could it not have an impact?”

And yet…

I have to be honest and admit that there are several areas of my life in which my outward, visible conduct is virtually indistinguishable from that of an unbeliever. This type of “practical atheism” rises up in my heart whenever I am tempted to fight for my rights, set someone else straight as to how they have harmed me or someone I love, or fall into despair over chronic family issues, employment challenges and/or financial concerns. The overarching argument I hear played over and over in my head is, “God doesn’t appear to be taking care of this, so clearly…I need to do it myself.”

Simply stated, there are still several areas where I find that the resurrection of Jesus is – sadly – one of the last things I take into consideration before I speak or act. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but there it is. My habits or emotions get the better of me, and the eternal hope to which we have been called (Ephesians 1:15-21) goes right out the window as I endeavor to engage various life issues operating in the power of my own flesh, completely apart from the resurrection power of Christ. Making matters worse, there are still plenty of times when I will suddenly “wake up” to discover that I have been running on auto-pilot for hours (perhaps days) at a time, failing to even consider the will of God as I stumble through work, home life and even Christian service.

All the foolishness of my darkened heart (Romans 1:21) makes the promises attached to the resurrection of Jesus even more precious to me.

I know that Christians are not supposed to want to end up in Heaven so that all of their problems are solved (though they will be). Nor are we supposed to want to be in Heaven so that we will once again enjoy the company of other beloved believers who have died (though we certainly will). No, we are taught to understand that the single greatest thing about spending eternity in Heaven will be the presence of Jesus Himself (Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 21:3), and that we will finally see Him as He really is (1 John 3:2). Certainly all of these statements are true, regardless of where they show up in our own, hopelessly-corrupted list of priorities.

For me, though, one of most precious promises associated with the resurrection of Jesus is that all those who believe will be instantaneously transformed into His image (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), even those fellow Christians that we don’t particularly care for. I know some people struggle to believe that Heaven will be Heaven if various unpleasant people will be there with us for all eternity, and I can sympathize with that feeling. (Ever heard someone say something like “Yeah, well, it won’t be Heaven if he’s there?”)

Honestly, though, I have the opposite problem: I struggle to believe that Heaven will be Heaven if I am there. Regardless of what may be going on externally, my own inner monologue constantly betrays what’s really going on deep down. My own heart responses are so thoroughly saturated with sinful attitudes and motives that it is beyond my ability to comprehend a resurrected version of me that is completely free of anger, slander, malice, envy and strife. I’ve heard other people give voice to this, too, but every now and then I have entertained the thought that my tenure in Heaven will be very brief; knowing that Jesus is able to read my innermost thoughts causes me to consider that the only way I’ll ever make it is by some sort of heavenly clerical error, an error that will be detected – and dealt with – the first time I open my mouth to speak.

Obviously, that thinking is flawed, and the underlying fallacy is that anyone’s status before God depends on their righteousness. How reassuring, then, to rely on God’s promise that He will cleanse us from all our sin, washing us in the blood of the Lamb. Paul’s blessing at the end of 1 Thessalonians sums it up pretty well:

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
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. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

There is a famous episode which took place in post-World War II Germany, when the young Billy Graham met up with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Graham, who at that point had no way of knowing what his ministry to the world would eventually look like, was not entirely sure of himself, somewhat daunted by the figure before him, and thus taken off-guard by Adenauer’s blunt question: “Mr. Graham, do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” After Graham answered that he would not be an evangelist if he did not believe in the resurrection, Adenauer surveyed the ruins outside his window and concluded that outside the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he knew of no hope whatsoever for mankind.

I believe Adenauer is right. Absent Christ, we are all doomed. That’s why the knowledge that He will use His resurrection power to completely remake us into His image is so precious, and why it should make all the difference in our lives today; it allows us to be confident that the completed work of salvation will be done. In us, through us, but most of all…despite us.

1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 3:1-3
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are…beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

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