Ever wonder about Eternity?
Have you ever stopped to consider that the sum total of our existence on earth boils down to just one question:
Where will I spend eternity?
The question is simple enough, and if you believe in God, there is only one of two answers.
However, my heart is heavy, and it grieves greatly. It mourns tears because of the fact that most of you who have answered this question for yourselves, have probably answered it wrongly.
Presuming that you believe there is a God, of course, and presuming that you believe the Holy Bible to be His spoken word, then you probably answered wrongly, even if you’ve been baptized and made a confession of faith and you call yourself a Christian!
Let me explain why: First let’s talk about the average guy who says to himself, “yes, I do believe there is a God, and I believe He is good and kind and very forgiving. I also believe that if I go through this life doing more good than bad, that same God will let me spend eternity in heaven. And basically, that’s the sum total of my belief system on the matter. I pray to Him now and then for myself, and others occasionally. But for the most part, I have no deep interpersonal relationship with Him. I just live my life trying to be good, and that should do it.”
To have such a belief system — and don’t kid yourself, many, many, many people do– has one huge flaw. It completely ignores the fact that deep inside of themselves they also believe that the Holy Bible is His spoken word and that no where in it is this prescription for eternal life in heaven found!
Now, let’s turn our attention to the so called Christian. This is the person who has been baptized and has made a confession of faith. This person may even attend church now and then and probably even prays up to several times a week (usually about how difficult his/her life is and occasionally for others.) He too, however, is under the general misconception that if he’s a generally good person and does more good than bad in his life, he is assured a place in God’s kingdom. Here again, however, there is no interpersonal relationship with the creator.
But wait, what happens so very often is that once this pinnacle of faith (baptism and a confession of faith) is accomplished, many simply drift back into their old life styles with a false sense of security that they are saved. Sadly, it’s never explained to them that it is now that the real work of being a Christian begins.
You see, the spoken word (the Holy Bible) is full of instructions on how we are to live our lives. And no, those instructions can not be summed up by saying I’ll be a good person.
Many, many times in the Bible, God indicated that He wants His people to be different from those in the secular world. This is exactly the opposite of the way most humans try to live their lives, by fitting in, by being liked, by striving for a life of instant gratification, more pleasure and more and more stuff.
Being saved is designed to be the beginning of our journey, not some achievement to be reached and then move on to other adventures.
Once you’ve made that confession of faith from your heart, it’s now time to jump into the Bible to see how God wants us to live as Christians. Basically, that’s exactly what the Bible is: an instruction book for how to live our lives. Much like our old school days, it’s complete with a dynamic history lesson, lessons on how we got to where we are today, and how to live our lives from this day forward.
Now, let me take a quick moment to add my own disclaimer. I never want it to be said that I am contradicting the word of God. Jesus did, in fact, say that if you believe in Him as the son of God and confess such, salvation will by yours. So I suppose that it is possible, on some level, that you could offer up a confession of faith and then return to your old way of living “in the world” with all its pleasures, instant gratifications and stuff…basically, treating God as an afterthought…and still be saved from the agonies of hell. In fact, I believe that it is exactly these people that Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 3:15 when he says: “But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”
If the above description is the way God had intended it, why would Jesus have expounded all that effort in creating a church. Why would God have expounded all that effort in bringing us this large elaborate book we call the Bible? If a confession of faith is the end all for salvation it could have probably been done with a pamphlet.
What about God’s desire for His people to be different and distinct from the secular world, what about the 10 commandments, what about our total self-surrender to God? What about keeping Holy the Sabbath, what about tithing, what about my Christian priorities vs. my worldly priorities, what about God’s truth through study? What is discipleship, what is evangelism, what’s a life of Christian action look like, what is grace, how does the Holy Spirit fit into all this?
I started this writing by saying that there were only two choices. But, I don’t believe that that is entirely true. Let’s learn from scripture what I mean. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 you will find Paul saying, “I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago…”
I have always believed that this scripture indicated that there were several levels of heaven. Combine this with many of Jesus’ own words like “…the first will be last and the last will be first”, and I get the distinct impression that in heaven, all inhabitants will not be on the same level. Much like I imagine it’s like here on earth with all of our social levels and orders. Perhaps there will be money of some sort that divides the social levels (much like here on earth). Perhaps there will be work that divides the social levels. Perhaps our accommodations will divide the social levels in heaven or perhaps our authority will divide the social levels.
Regardless of how it’s done in heaven, it will be much like this life with all its social disparity. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 that in the final judgment, Jesus will use fire to basically determine our place in our eternal society.
In 1 Corinthians 3:12, Paul uses the analogy of building materials such as gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw. Basically, every single word we’ve ever spoken, every thought we have ever had, every prayer we’ve ever said, every action we’ve ever taken, will (or is currently) being assigned a value in terms of one of these materials and how much. At the time of judgment all our pile will be subjected to fire. The amount that survives the fire will then determine our reward, or in other words, our placement in heaven.
Remember too, that all Christians compose the church. So, the ‘good works’ that Paul refers to, also applies to the good works you did as part of God’s church.
If you are a Christian reading or listening to this message, I want you to stop right now and consider the social disparity that exists in the world today. Not just in your neighborhood or even this country (for we live in one of the richest countries in the world). Consider the slums of India or Africa. Consider how the richest of the rich live.
Now I ask you to consider in all honesty:
Your relationship with the three persons of God.
Your daily activities of serving Him vs. serving yourself with the pleasures of the world.
Your daily activities of serving God’s people vs. serving yourself with the pleasures of the world.
Your daily activities of serving God’s church vs. your serving yourself with the pleasures of the world.
Now, you place yourself at the social level that you think you deserve in God’s kingdom. But remember in your analysis, this is a self-analysis, and you cannot compare yourself to any other human being. You can only compare yourself to what you truly believe God wants from your life.
Well probably, if you’re like me, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you’re not dead yet! The Bible relates over and over again that it’s never too late to return to Him. Never too late.
It’s never too late to be different and distinct from the secular world by being His alone. It’s not too late for your self-surrender. It’s not too late to keep Holy the Sabbath – attend church regularly and be involved with it. It’s not too late to tithe by giving back a portion of God’s blessings the way He asks us to do. It not too late to put your Christian priorities above your worldly priorities. It’s not too late to study God’s word. It’s not too late to begin acting like His disciple. It’s not too late to start evangelizing. It’s not too late for others to recognize you as a Christian by your love. It’s not too late to cry out to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to help you be the person God wants you to be! It’s not too late to start using gold, silver and precious metals to shape the activities in this life. Only those are the materials that will survive the judgment fire.
What building material do you suppose He will assign to your activities?
It’s only by spiritual growth that our lives change in the way we act, the things we say, the way we treat people and the way we think. You see, the sum total of this growth in our lives will result in our using the gold, silver and precious stones more and more often in everything we do on a daily basis. These are the people I believe who will ultimately receive the reward from God of spending eternity in the upper echelon of heavens society.
This spiritual growth has an even greater effect than in just our ultimate reward. We find ourselves slowly and over time developing a deeper and deeper interpersonal relationship, individually with the three persons of the Holy Trinity. This is certainly another sermon, but suffice to say that it means you’ll find yourself falling head over heals in love with God, and there is no limit to how much that love will grow.
As it grows, you’ll find yourself more and more caring less for the worldly ambitions that once consumed all of your time. Less and less for the worldly pleasures that you sought after so relentlessly. Less and less effort will be made for the worldly instant gratifications. This is because as your love for God grows, you find more and more peace entering your life. This peace becomes all endearing and replaces worldly notions because this peace is not of this world. Imagine a life where nothing that happens around you– be it in your home, at work, in your friendships, anywhere — will upset you on any level. That’s the type of peace I’m talking about.
Believe it or not, all of this starts with one simple choice. The choice to start going to church on a regular basis. Is there more to it than that…of course there is. But, the good news is that you don’t have to know or understand any of it. Simply go to church, tell God that you are a sinner (as we all are) and ask Him to take you back. Then simply sit back. Look, listen, and accept the loving fellowship of others that you will find there, and I guarantee you, I guarantee you that God will take care of all the rest.
If you’re living your ever so short temporal life here on earth, trying to get the most you can out of this world while you’re here, I cry for you this very day. Because this life is exactly as I’ve described it, ever so short and temporal. We should be spending every day of this life preparing for the place where we will be spending our next life. Because that life will never end. There will be no moving up or down the social ladder in heaven. Where your reward puts you is where you will spend eternity. Eternity…now that’s a long time. …Amen