Did you catch what Phil Robertson begins to say at the 3:49 mark? “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all then the only hope you have is that He not be there. That’s your hope. Maybe He’s not there. What we’re saying is, ‘We trust that He is.’”
If you do believe in God, then you really have one of two directions you can go. First, you can try your best to appease Him and hope your best is enough. Up until the age of 19, that was my plan. I believed the key that would unlock heaven’s door was my good behavior. Of course the all-important question is: How good do you have to be?
I distinctly remember thinking as a teenager that because I hadn’t killed anyone I was qualified to get into heaven. I guess I thought it was okay to lie, steal, cheat, treat people unkindly, ignore those in need and have very little room in my life for God, but as long as I wasn’t guilty of murder–I was fine. My view was that heaven was our default destination and you really had to screw up big (like commit murder) to not make it in.
The problem with this view is obviously found in the definition of “good.” If it’s true that God created me and He created heaven, then what would lead me to think that my definition of good is the right one, that I get to determine the entrance requirements for heaven? Stop and think about it for a minute. It’s a really arrogant perspective.
If you’re trusting in your good behavior to get into heaven, let me encourage you to first find out what your god requires. And then get hard at work following his commands. And hope you don’t slip up. Hope you don’t somehow commit an offense he’s not willing to forgive. Sadly, I think you’ll find you can never quite shake that feeling that maybe you haven’t done enough. And that should motivate you to keep trying harder. As far as ever experiencing genuine, lasting joy or peace–forget it. How could you never knowing if eternal bliss or eternal punishment awaits?
So you can choose to believe God does not exist and then hope you’ve guessed right. Or if you do believe God exists, you can try to be as good as possible as defined by whatever god you’re believing in. Remember, you don’t decide what’s good or bad. He does. If this is your belief system, then your only hope is that you do enough good to outweigh your bad. Good luck with that.
The other option is to believe in the God Phil Roberston spoke of, a God who created us to live in friendship with Him. But because the human race has rebelled, we stand guilty before Him with no hope of ever being good enough to earn forgiveness. So a loving and moral God took on flesh and bore our punishment on the cross. Jesus died in our place and offers us the gift of forgiveness.
But a gift must be received. Have you received the gift of Christ’s forgiveness?
If this whole thing about Jesus seems like a fairy tale to you, then you’re back to either one of the first two options. You can hope God isn’t there or you can hope you’re good enough to appease Him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
According to Merriam-Webster, an “opinion” is: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.
One person’s opinion on a movie may be very different than another person’s opinion. I’ve heard many people rave about the film, Les Miserables, but also know several women who walked out part way through the film. Same film. Different opinions.
You and I have opinions on all kinds of matters. I think football is the greatest game ever invented and soccer is boring. You may think just the opposite is true. Neither of us is wrong. We just have different views.
You and I also have opinions about ourselves. I may think you look fit and healthy, but you may think you need to lose ten pounds. I might think your new hairstyle looks great, but you might hate it. Neither one of us is necessarily right or wrong. We just have different opinions, right?
But what if your opinion of yourself is different from God’s opinion of you? Is your opinion equal to His?
Ephesians 1:4 says:
“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Holy and blameless. Does that describe you?
You may be tempted to say it doesn’t. After all, you know all the things you’ve done wrong. You’re well aware of the mistakes you’ve made and the sins you’ve committed. You know how selfish you are. You can think of so many times you’ve been unkind, angry or impatient. So, holy and blameless? No way.
And yet, God says in Christ you are holy and blameless. Before the creation of the world, before you’d taken your first breath, before you’d done anything good or bad, God chose you to be holy and blameless in His sight.
But how can that be? Knowing all that you’ve done wrong–how can God see you as holy and blameless?
Because you are in Christ. And Christ is in you. And God sees you as He sees Jesus.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as holy and blameless. But God does.
So whose opinion matters more? Yours or God’s? And if your opinion of yourself doesn’t line up with God’s opinion of you…who needs to adjust?
One last thing–if you have never placed your faith in Christ, then you need to know God doesn’t see you as holy and blameless. Read Ephesians 2:1-6 and you’ll see that you are an object of God’s wrath. Your sin has separated you from Him. And a holy and righteous God cannot let sin go unpunished. Either you will have to pay for it or you can receive the gift of forgiveness Christ offers. It’s a choice we all get to make.
I realized a number of years ago that I really don’t want to walk by faith. That’s a problem because God says things like:
“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Hebrews 11:6
Walking or living by faith means I won’t always see how things are going to work out. That’s a really uncomfortable place to be. And I don’t like being uncomfortable. I suspect you don’t either.
I like being comfortable and I always want to see how things are going to work out. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t want to see how things are going to work out–I want things to already be worked out. I don’t want to trust God to supply what I need. I want to already have all I need. Don’t you?
And yet, that’s just not the way life works. I used to hold onto this fantasy world in which God’s sole objective was to make my life more comfortable, to make my circumstances more enjoyable, to meet all my needs and most of my wants. But since that’s not real life, I’ve had to work on letting that fantasy go. It hasn’t been easy.
But when we let go of the fantasy that a loving God would never allow pain or difficulties, we’re faced with a world in which tornadoes wipe out whole towns. Some babies are born with severe birth defects. Businesses fail in spite of hard work. Loved ones die in car accidents. Investments decline in value. Cancer takes family members from us. And “bad” people seem to have it better than the “good” people. And we’re faced with a God who’s willing to let all that happen.
Is there any hope? In this life, I mean. For those who follow Jesus, we know there’s the hope of heaven. But what about now? Are there any guarantees? Is there anything I can count on when the bottom drops out of life?
The second verse of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Would I love to live in a world without pain and problems and broken dreams? Absolutely. And that day is coming. I don’t believe God has given up on His plan to live on earth with us in a world free of pain and problems and death. (Read Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22–the first two and last two chapters of the Bible.) One day, God will restore creation to its original design.
Until then, we can experience His grace and peace. They are ours in abundance and are found in a relationship with Him through Christ. God’s grace and peace aren’t dependent on circumstances. They are available to us when everything around us is crumbling.
Grace and peace are available to us, but I believe we can short-circuit them by continuing to focus on our circumstances rather than on Jesus. I can get my eyes so firmly set on what I see happening (or not happening) around me, that God begins to feel far away, uninvolved and uncaring.
We can choose to see our circumstances through God’s eyes–that’s walking by faith. Or we can choose to see God through our circumstances–that’s walking by sight. Only one of those ways yields grace and peace.
God’s grace and peace are yours, but sometimes you have to battle to receive them…and battle to keep them. And we’ll look at that tomorrow.
For the past couple of days, we’ve looked at some of what the Bible tells us about our eternal home–the new earth and the city of New Jerusalem. If you have placed your faith in Christ to forgive your sin–eternal life is a guarantee. You never have to wonder if you will spend eternity with Christ.
Your eternal home is described in Revelation 21 and 22. It’s an incredible place.
But what about those believers in Christ who’ve already died? If heaven is not some spiritual dimension in which we’ll float for all eternity, but will in fact be on earth…where are those people now? Clearly, New Jerusalem is not in place yet and the earth has not been made new.
Let’s take a look at several passages from the New Testament.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 says:
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
Paul wants us to have genuine hope regarding those who have “fallen asleep” (died). We do not need to be ignorant of the truth. We don’t need to wonder about what has happened to our loved ones or what will happen to us. Will we understand everything? No, there’s still much that’s not clear, but what we need to know–we can know.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 says:
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In these verses, we see that as long as we go on living in this earthly body, we are away from the Lord. Paul says that he would actually prefer to be away from his earthly body and at home with the Lord. He is confident that upon his death, he will find himself in the Lord’s presence.
Revelation 6:9-11 says:
I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
The apostle John has been given a glimpse into another realm. He tells us that he saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God. So what can we learn from these verses?
First, it’s clear that these souls, these people, are in God’s presence.
Second, it seems that they have some type of body. It wouldn’t be the body they had while living on earth and it’s not the glorified body they’ll receive at the final resurrection, but they do seem to have some kind of body. John is able to see them and they are given robes to wear. It doesn’t seem to me that a spirit would be wearing a robe. I don’t know how one could.
Third, they are talking to God. They are calling out to Him in loud voices. That would seem to indicate a real mouth and vocal chords. John didn’t say they were communicating silently or that God just knew their thoughts, which of course He would have, but it seems that John is seeing real people with real bodies who can also talk.
So we see that Christ-followers who have died are in God’s presence and have some type of body. But other than the fact that we know they’re in God’s presence–where are they?
I don’t know this for sure, but I’m going to take a guess. I think people who know Christ and have died may already be living in New Jerusalem. In Revelation 21, we see the city coming down out of heaven. I’m wondering if people are already living there with Christ. And someday, it will simply be relocated here, once the earth has been made new.
Like I said, I don’t know this for sure. For today, it’s only a guess. When you see me in New Jerusalem some day, we can talk about it. The important thing to know for now is that believers in Christ who have already died are with Him.
There are many other New Testament passages that talk about all of this. Again, let me encourage you to be in God’s word and study it for yourself.
Yesterday, we looked at what we can learn about heaven from Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22. In those chapters, we see God’s original design for the earth and how He will one day make the earth new. You can read yesterday’s post here, if you missed it.
Let’s continue our look at heaven by answering a few questions…
Are we going to eat and drink?
Yes, we will eat and drink.Genesis 1:29-30 says:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ”
And Revelation 22:1-2 says:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
It looks like we’ll be vegetarians in heaven, at least that seems to be God’s original design. Death is the result of sin and since there will be no sin in heaven, I don’t see us killing animals to eat them. Speaking of animals, I used to believe there wouldn’t be animals in heaven, bu they existed in Genesis 1 and 2 before the fall, so I see no reason why they wouldn’t also exist with us on the new earth.
The river of the water of life will flow down the main street of the city. And the tree of life will be growing on each side of the street. Is that what we will eat and drink to keep our bodies healthy and alive forever? Possibly.
What will we do on the new earth?
Adam was given work to do in the garden and both Adam and Eve were given responsibility for subduing the earth and ruling over the animal kingdom. Working and having responsibility is part of God’s design for us.
Revelation 22 tells us that His servants will serve Him. The great difference is that there will no longer be any curse. As a result of the fall, the ground was cursed in Genesis 3. Work became burdensome. That will not be the case on the new earth. Work will be joyful and fulfilling.
Of course, we will also worship. In Revelation 4 and 5, we see a picture of thousands of angels and people around God’s throne singing to Him. Worship will be more than singing though. Our lives, our relationships, our service–it will all be worship. In fact, God’s name will be written on our foreheads. Think about that. Every person you come in contact with on the new earth will be a reminder of God’s name.
Let me mention one more thing about work and service that I’ll qualify by saying this is only my opinion. I believe there will be a lot of continuity between our current life on earth and our future life on earth. For example, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts to use to serve in God’s kingdom. Some are gifted at hospitality. Some are gifted at teaching. Some are gifted at leading or administration. There are many different gifts and abilities given by the Holy Spirit.
Since these are spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, I think it’s possible that some gifts would continue on for use on the new earth. I also think it’s possible that some of our natural talents and abilities, even our desires and preferences might carry over. If, for instance, someone is a gifted cook and enjoys showing hospitality to others–could it be that those gifts would also be employed in New Jerusalem?
If we’re going to eat and serve and live in relationships with others–could it be that there will be cafes or even coffee shops in New Jerusalem? If so, we will need someone to prepare the food and serve the coffee. Maybe someone gifted in singing and playing the guitar will be there.
Again, I’m only guessing some of this may happen.
Will we be married in heaven? And if so, to whom?
Luke 20:27-38 says:
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Jesus makes it clear that there will not be marriage in heaven. Actually, there will be marriage, but it will be between Jesus and His bride, the church. Marriage as we know it today though, will not exist.
That brings up at least a couple questions for me. First, what about sex? If there’s not going to be marriage in heaven, then it sure seems like something will be missing without sex.
Let me encourage you with this thought–sex between a husband and wife, as good as it is, is just the appetizer. It’s just a reflection of the reality that awaits us. I don’t believe there’s anything in this present life that will be better than what we’ll experience on the new earth. So if marriage and sex will not be a part of things, then there will be something better.
Speaking of better, I can’t help thinking that sin has severely dulled all of our senses. Our hearing, our eyesight, our taste buds, etc.–are all effected by our fallen state. So how much better will food taste and a cool breeze feel on a warm day when we have new bodies and are living on the new earth.
One last thing, about marriage and the relationship between men and women on the new earth. In Genesis 2, God says that it’s not good for the man to be alone. This is before sin ever enters the picture. All of creation has been pronounced good, except the fact that man is alone.
If it was not good for the man to be alone before the fall, then I can’t help wondering what that will mean on the new earth. Jesus was clear–marriage will not exist, but will there be some type of friendship between men and women that we don’t yet understand?
Maybe someday you and I will get together in New Jerusalem and talk about all this!
Obviously, there are many other questions and issues we could discuss. I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and discover what it has to say, or not say, about heaven and the new earth. It’s absolutely critical that you and I develop a biblical worldview. I also recommend Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. He has explored the questions I’ve talked about here and many more.
Okay, I’m going to hold off on answering one more question until tomorrow. And it’s this:
If heaven is really going to be on the new earth, then where are the people who’ve already died and what are they doing now?
For many years, I had a completely wrong view of heaven. I used to think we’d float around in some spiritual dimension, I guess as spirits, because I didn’t really see us having actual bodies like we do now. I imagined this spiritual realm would be very bright.
That’s about it. I knew it would be a good place, certainly better than the alternative, but it really wasn’t a place I was excited to be. And I always felt bad about that. I knew I should be looking forward to heaven, but I wasn’t.
What seemed a lot better to me were warm, sunny, summer days. Relaxing by the pool with family or friends. Seeing the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains or the vastness of the ocean. Eating a really delicious meal. And just being together with my wife.
Then I’d hear people describe heaven as “a never-ending worship service.” I think what they meant was that we’d be singing hymns or worship songs non-stop. Forever. Well, other than the fact that I hope to have a better singing voice in heaven than I do now–a never-ending worship service doesn’t get me very excited about heaven either.
The views of heaven I’ve just described really have no biblical basis. So then what is heaven like?
Since I’ve never actually seen it, my view of heaven is mainly coming from Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21-22. Those are the first and last two chapters of the Bible. They take place before sin occurred and after sin has finally been dealt with.
So here’s what I see…
We will live on earth. The apostle John wrote in Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”
It will be made new, but it will be earth. As it was supposed to be. Before sin, death, pain, war, pollution, etc. If Adam and Eve had never sinned, mankind would have lived on earth in a perfect world. And one day, God will restore it to what it was intended to be. He hasn’t given up on the original intent.
So when you hear someone say, “Earth isn’t our home” or “We’re not home yet,” well, that’s not exactly right. Earth is our home. It was supposed to be perfect. We just messed it up. Sin and death aren’t supposed to be a part of it, so that’s what we long to escape–not the earth.
Think about it–doesn’t something feel really right about a great day on earth? Great weather. Great friends. Great food. Great sex, if you’re married. When you experience something wonderful, something powerful, something profoundly meaningful, we just have a sense that, “This is how life was meant to be.”
Don’t get the wrong idea that our bodies are somehow bad or evil. They’re not. They’re fallen. They’re broken. But the physical body is not bad. Adam and Eve were given physical bodies before they ever sinned. Jesus never sinned and He had a physical body. These bodies were made by God to live in a material realm like earth.
We will have physical bodies. They’ll be new ones, but they will be real bodies. And not only that, but…
God will live on earth with us. Revelation 21:3 says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
God is going to live on earth with us. How cool is that? More on that in a minute.
We will live in the city of New Jerusalem. It’s a large city. Very large, in fact. It’s described in Revelation 21 as being 1400 miles wide, 1400 miles long and 1400 miles high. I don’t understand how it can be 1400 miles high, but it is. It has three gates on each side of the city. Each gate is named after one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is guarded by an angel.
The city is described as being “the wife of the Lamb.” So we know it’s going to be incredibly beautiful. Read the description of it Revelation 21.
The gates of the city will never shut because there will be no night. I’m not sure if that means we will not need sleep. Maybe if Adam and Eve had never sinned, our bodies would never have needed sleep. I don’t know.
The walls around the city are 200 feet thick. It seems that we will be able to come and go through the gates of the city. I’m not sure if that means some people may choose to live outside of the city or if we will all live inside, but have freedom to go outside to work or explore or play or whatever.
In the city, we will not find a church or a temple. That’s because God Himself is the temple. We will not need to go to a certain place to worship. We will be in that place already. We will be in the presence of God.
God’s glory will be so bright that the sun and moon will not be needed to provide light for the city. I don’t take that to mean the sun and moon will not exist–just that in the city, their light will not be needed. And I don’t know if that means the sun will be needed for light outside the city.
I don’t know about you, but I start to look forward to being on the new earth, a beautiful, perfect place without the sin and decay and hatred and war that plagues the earth now.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue by answering a few questions. The answers might surprise you.
Are we going to eat and drink?
What will we do on the new earth?
Will we be married in heaven? And if so, to whom?
Will there be coffee in heaven?
If heaven is really going to be on the new earth, then where are the people who’ve already died and what are they doing now?
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
“This life doesn’t matter. It’s all about eternity and life in heaven.”
Do you agree?
I don’t. Not any more anyway.
It wasn’t that long ago that I would have agreed with that statement or something like it. Or I would have at least thought I was supposed to agree with it. The problem was that my heart just wasn’t in it. And now my head isn’t either.
God created us as physical beings in a physical world. Yes, we’re also spiritual beings and live in a spiritual world, but the physical part isn’t bad or wrong.
After six days of creation, God pronounced that everything was good. His physical creation, including Adam, was good. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t good was Adam being alone. So God formed Eve and brought her to Adam.
Adam and Eve, just like you and me, were given five senses that allowed them to relate to and experience this physical world. And the fact that I have these five senses tells me something about God. He wants us to enjoy life and experience pleasure. Physical pleasure in this life. And a lot of it.
Listening to your favorite song is pleasurable.
Viewing a sunset is pleasurable.
Smelling freshly baked cinnamon rolls is pleasurable.
Tasting one is even more pleasurable.
Kissing someone is pleasurable.
I just can’t get away from the fact that our fives senses are wired by God to experience the pleasures of this physical world He created for us. That tells me He wants us to enjoy it. That it might even give Him pleasure to watch us receive pleasure from all He has given us.
Granted, we can take pleasure too far. We can misuse it and we can abuse it. We can even make it into a god or an idol, something we bow down to and worship. And that’s when we get into trouble. When our desire for physical pleasure goes too far and becomes an addiction.
Fortunately, God gives us commandments that teach us how to live in this physical world. His laws protect us and provide for us. As we walk according to His ways, we discover freedom and maximum pleasure. His commands aren’t meant to rob us of fun and pleasure–they’re meant to provide it!
So will heaven be better than this life?
I used to think it wouldn’t be. I mean I knew it would be or that I was at least supposed to believe it would be, but again, my heart wasn’t really in it. The idea of floating around in some spiritual dimension didn’t really have much appeal to me. It sounded boring. Don’t get me wrong, heaven was definitely better than the alternative, but not something to really get excited about.
But did you know that heaven will be on earth? That we’ll have bodies? That we’ll eat and drink? That we’ll enjoy living in friendship with others and with God? On earth?
Read Genesis 1 and 2. And read Revelation 21 and 22. Those are the first two and last two chapters of the Bible. It gives us a glimpse of what it was supposed to be like and what God will restore it to. Notice the similarities in those four chapters.
If you ever long for what you don’t have or wish friendships were more fulfilling or loved ones didn’t die or wars were never fought or rivers were never polluted, then what you’re longing for is what used to be and what will be again…on this earth.
God created us to live in friendship with Him. Here on earth. The plan got messed up when Satan tempted Adam and Eve to go their own way rather than God’s way. But God hasn’t given up on the original design. He’s going to restore it and make it all new.
And we’ll live with Him. In friendship. Here on earth. Experiencing all the pleasures these bodies were designed to receive. And it will be better than anything we can imagine.
In the meantime, we experience life on earth and walk with God by faith. And we get glimpses of what’s to come when we enjoy a beautiful sunset or walk along a beach. Or when we enjoy a delicious meal and great conversation with friends. Or when a husband and wife make love.
Life on earth in the heavenly kingdom will be amazing, but it doesn’t mean this life now doesn’t matter. It’s a gift from God to be enjoyed.
We’re wired by God for pleasure and He’s graciously given us His word to provide for us and protect us.
What’s holding you back from fully committing your life to Christ?
Maybe there’s nothing. As far as you know, you’ve fully given yourself to Him. You’ve held nothing back. There’s nothing you wouldn’t be willing to do for Him.
On the other hand, maybe there is something. Something you’re just not ready to let go of.
You may not be willing to stop sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend. What’s the harm, right? You love each other, so it can’t really be that bad.
Or is it your career plan? You’ve always planned to go to medical school. Your parents have planned on it too. You’d always wanted to be a doctor. Until a couple months ago when you began to sense that God might want you to be a teacher. You’re just not ready to change your plans.
There once was a man who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Wouldn’t we expect Jesus to say something like, “Well, you don’t have to “do” anything. Eternal life comes through faith in me. It’s not something you work for. Just believe in me and you will receive eternal life.”
That’s not what Jesus says though. He tells the man, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Huh? What happened to “just believe?” What about “receiving Jesus” into your life?
The exchange doesn’t stop there though. The man asks Jesus, “Which ones?”
So Jesus lists some commands. The man says he has obeyed them and then asks Jesus the big question, “What do I still lack?”
That’s when Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions and give to the poor so he’ll have treasure in heaven. “Then come, follow me,” Jesus concludes.
Is selling all of our possessions a requirement before we can follow Jesus. No, Jesus didn’t tell everyone He met to do this. This man though needed to sell his possessions because they were standing in the way of him following Jesus. No doubt his trust was in his money. Money was his god.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and money. We have to choose one or the other. This rich man had chosen money. Jesus was telling him to turn away from the false god of money and follow Him, the one true God. But the man was unwilling. He wouldn’t forsake his god.
How about you? What false god would Jesus tell you to turn from? What is that’s holding you back from fully committing your life to Him?
Whatever it is, it’s not worth holding onto. Let’s not make the mistake the rich young man did. He heard the words Jesus spoke, but went away sad because of his great wealth. He lost out on eternal life to hold onto this earthly one.
It’s a lie to believe that a created thing (money, sex, possessions, food, cars, relationships, etc.) can give us true life and happiness.
Rob Bell believes everyone will eventually be reconciled to God, without exception. There will not be an eternal punishment for sin. If you aren’t reconciled to God in this life, then you will eventually be after physical death. God’s love will win out over God’s wrath.
The Dalai Lama is a Buddhist. Speaking about Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master, said, “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”
So what? Why does any of this matter?
Well, ideas matter. What we believe or don’t believe is important. I know the prevailing value of our day is “tolerance”, but some things are true and some aren’t true.
For example, the house I live in is white. It either is the case that I live in a house with a white exterior or it is not the case that I live in a house with a white exterior.
It’s intellectually dishonest and logically incorrect to say, “Well, you believe your house is white, but I believe your house is red. It might be white for you, but to me it’s red.”
In other words, we can’t all define our own truth. Truth is absolute, not relative. Imagine saying to the bank, “I know you say my checking account is out of funds, but to me it’s not, so I’m going to keep writing checks.” That wouldn’t work for very long, would it?
Or picture yourself in the passenger seat of a car as you head toward a busy intersection. The light is red, but your friend who’s driving doesn’t appear to be slowing down. When you frantically call attention to the light, your friend says, “Oh, don’t worry, to me it’s green.”
Again, some things are true and some are not true. We need to know which are which. Especially, when it’s a matter of life or death. And even more importantly when we’re talking about eternal life or death.
So when Rob Bell and the Dalai Lama begin to articulate their views, it’s important to determine whether or not what they are saying is true. If something is true, then let’s embrace it. If it’s false, then let’s reject it.
By the way, it’s possible to reject a belief without rejecting a person. I can disagree with Rob Bell, the Dalai Lama or whomever, but it doesn’t mean I must attack the person. I see way too much of that in politics. When one side doesn’t agree with the other, they not only attack the idea, but the person. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Of course, some will say there are many paths to God, that all religions are equal. I’ll agree with the latter half of that statement. I would define religion as “man’s attempt to reach God.” In that sense, yes, all religions are equal. They all fail.
On the other hand, what if God reached out to us because we were completely incapable of reaching out to Him? In that case, I would expect there to be one path to Him, the path that He made.
All of us need to keep our guard up when it comes to thoughts and ideas and the words that convey them. Some ideas sound so good and right. They just seem to make sense. They make us feel good. The Dalai Lama has said:
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
In a world full of wars, natural disasters, violence, slavery and countless other acts of hatred–it can sound good to hear someone say the purpose of life is to help others or that we don’t need temples or complicated philosophies–we just need kindness.
But is it true? Is the purpose of life to help others? Can’t we all just get along and be kind to one another?
Or when Rob Bell says, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”
Misguided and toxic? Sure, if he’s right. But is he?
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Apart from Christ, we are dead in sin and objects of God’s wrath. And yet because of His great love for us, God has offered the gift of forgiveness. Through Christ, our sin can be forgiven and we can experience peace with God.
Despite what Rob Bell has written in Love Wins, there is no opportunity to receive forgiveness after we die. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”
Jesus died for you. He invites you to receive His gift of forgiveness now.
In Luke 14:25-35, He had a large crowd following. Exciting, right? Who wouldn’t love that? High energy. Momentum. Things are starting to take off.
That’s when Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them they can’t be one of His disciples if they don’t hate their family and their own life and unless they die to themselves.
I wonder if the disciples looked at each other and thought, “What did He just say?! He’s going to kill this thing if He doesn’t stop talking like that!”
Clearly, Jesus wasn’t just interested in a big crowd. He was looking for fully-devoted followers who were willing to lay aside everything for Him. He wasn’t interested in being a priority on a to-do list, He was interested in being THE priority who came before everyone and everything else.
And before they were too quick to follow Him, He told them to first estimate the cost. Were they willing to pay the price of following Him? He didn’t want an impulsive decision that would soon be forgotten when the going got rough.
Have you estimated the cost of following Jesus? Once you have, also estimate the cost of not following Him.
Which one is more costly?
If you decide to follow Jesus, I mean truly follow Him–putting Him before everyone and everything else, then you may find it helpful to formalize that decision. Below, is a title deed. A title deed to your life. Read it through. If you agree with it, copy it and sign it. Feel free to add to it or modify it. The point is to make a firm decision.
Title Deed to My Life
Because I believe that:
all things, including me, were created by and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16),
I exist for His pleasure (Ephesians 1:5) and can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5),
God loves me unconditionally and will never stop loving me (John 3:16, Romans 8:35),
God’s desire is for me to live forever in friendship with Him (Revelation 21:3),
I deserved death, but instead received eternal life as a free gift (Romans 6:23),
Jesus died in my place (Romans 5:8), thereby rescuing me from the dominion of darkness and transferring me to His kingdom (Colossians 1:13),
He promised He would never fail me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5),
the Holy Spirit lives in me and gives me power to live (Acts 1:8),
God has promised eternal rewards for my faithful service in this life (Matthew 25:21),
God is going to make heaven and earth new and my real home will forever be with Him in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21),
money and possessions are on loan to me to be used to advance God’s kingdom, not to simply further my comfort and lifestyle (Matthew 25:14),
I, _________________________________________, hereby surrender total control of my life to God (Romans 12:1-2). My surrender is unconditional. I relinquish all rights to:
my heart, hopes, emotions, desires, dreams, goals and plans,
my money, possessions, bank accounts, investments, cars, houses and all other property,
my time, schedule, appointments, priorities, hobbies and recreation,
my physical body, strength, energy, health and diet,
my relationships, including, but not limited to my parents, spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers and strangers,
my career, job, business, ministry, education and ability to produce wealth,
my gifts, abilities, talents, strengths, weaknesses and experiences,
my mind, ideas, thoughts and words,
what I look at and listen to, including all media (internet, movies, music, books, magazines, etc.),
my past, present and future,
anything and everything else.
Finally, I acknowledge that:
God has forgiven me totally by grace, not by any works I’ve done, and that I now live by and under God’s grace. My best works or worst sins will never cause God to love me any more or any less.
I must depend on the Holy Spirit for the power to be a disciple of Christ. I am unable to do it alone.
I actually never had any rights to relinquish since all I am and all I have is from God anyway.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)