Saturday, November 7, 2015

Being Moments from Eternity, Please Take a Moment To Consider Eternity

A dear friend shared this illustration with me. Her comment? “Why is it that something about this makes me sooooo uncomfortable?”

Some might suggest that the discomfort she feels should be identified as conviction. The intent of the illustration, then, would be to suggest that perhaps she is not so eternally secure as she should be. In that case, her discomfort is a sign that she should…what? Re-accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior today?

Two things lead me to reject that explanation. First, I am as convinced of her relationship with Christ as I am of anyone’s beside my own. Second, there’s “sooooo” much more here to be uncomfortable about. Let me first note one issue in particular, then explain why it’s a far bigger problem than you might initially recognize, and finally offer an alternative.

The Point Being Made
We accept that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” But here, I would suggest that two rights do make a wrong. Of course, as with any bumper-sticker and/or t-shirt theology, I realize that the eight words in the second statement imply a great deal beyond what they say. And I do think it would be a very good thing to “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior today.” (Accepting, of course, that “accept” suggests believing and following Jesus as His disciple.)

The first statement is also true, mostly. I would object that eternity, arguably, encompasses the time-space continuum—so we are already living eternal life here and now. Still, I think the meaning is clear enough. And being who I am (Death Pastor, after all), I heartily recommend that you live with the constant possibility of your imminent death. Further, I believe that part of the advance planning for that inevitability (in addition to communicating your health-care directives, outlining your funerary preferences, and writing your will) should be the consideration of where you spend eternity. (Of course, that’s another problem with this illustration. You are going to live forever. It’s just a matter of where and how. But I want to keep my promise to focus on just one of the many issues raised by this illustration.)

So, in the illustration, the point being made is this: You should accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior today, because today might be the last day you get.

The Problem with That Point
Here is my problem with the logic being presented. Christ’s gospel is too often reduced to a simplistic consumer transaction. “You get what you pay for,” and “you deserve what you earn,” are just two ways of expressing what most North Americans believe about life in general. Thus, we tend to think of the gospel as a contract in which we “accept Jesus” as the price of admission to heaven (as envisioned by the pearly gates in the illustration).

As presented, the logic of this illustration is simple and easy to follow. Since your next breath could be your last, you need to make sure you have that admission ticket in your hand, or have added your name to the guest list, or gotten the code for the push-button remote that opens those unmanned gates in the illustration. The emphasis of all this: “sign your contract with Jesus today.”

If that logic makes sense to you, though, I am deeply concerned for your soul.

All that many know of Jesus is that He did something in the past (sinless life, atoning death, validating resurrection, etc.) in order to provide something for us in the future (heaven, eternal life, kingdom reign, etc.). But far from that limited view of God’s obligation to honor a contract, even if sincerely accepted, there is so much more that Jesus is intending to do in and through your life.

If you accepted Jesus, and are looking forward to heaven, are you engaged in conversation with Him through His word and prayer? Do you recognize the ways in which He is transforming your life to reflect His? Do you experience the deepening compassion for others, and passion for Christ that result from getting to know Him better each day? In short, beyond having “signed a contract,” do you have a living, breathing relationship with God through Christ?

If not, you might still be saved. You might sincerely have obligated God to admit you into heaven on the basis of having once prayed “the sinner’s prayer.” But if that were all you had experienced of Jesus Christ, there would be so much more you would be missing.

The Alternative to Eternal Fire Insurance
The concept of “salvation as fire insurance” is at the heart of many gospel presentations. Even great philosophers can tend to replace the idea of a relationship with God through Christ with something resembling a convenience store purchase, or a brief trip to the casino. What is called “Pascal’s Wager” (after Blaise Pascal, 17th Century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist) is simplified to portray our “bet” that God exists. As our wager, we give up certain aspects of our finite existence (sins, usually) in anticipation of infinite gains. “If we are wrong, then we have lost little. If we are right, we have gained immeasurably.”

But it is not just our sins that Jesus calls us to surrender. And it is not merely heaven that He promises in return.

In short, as human persons we were created to bear the image and likeness of our Creator—one God eternally existing in a community of three persons. The vital experience of that image in us was broken through our decision to sin. We decided to do something other than what God designed us to do, which was to enjoy life in His presence. Through Christ, however, there is the means of restoring and repairing our relationship with God, and thus with other human persons as well. Our relationships with one another can better reflect the relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—relationships of intimate fellowship, harmony, and cooperation.

So, why should you choose to follow Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord today? Because today is the soonest you can begin to cooperate in the process of repairing and restoring (and representing to others) the life you were always intended to have. And today is also the soonest you can begin to cooperate in the process of repairing and restoring the relationships among other human persons that we were all intended to enjoy in His presence.


If you’re waiting for that to begin in heaven, then you’re at least missing out on what Jesus wants you to be, and have, and live today. So, yes—do not wait to “sign the contract.” But instead, enter into the conversation with Him. Today.

3 comments:

godluvdjody said...

I love your word "cooperate"! That is one of those words which for me spells out the essence of relationship with another. Of course there are more words too, but when it comes to moving forward in a true relationship with Jesus, we must simply cooperate with his voice, prompting, calling, convictions and guidance. I do think we get these things mixed up and make things so complicated. I like the simplicity with which you discuss the "abundant life" NOW. We do not have to wait, we are indeed in Christ's kingdom now and one day will be fully whole in his image yet in the future. It is such a gift and yet it seems we miss it don't we. Christ advocated for us through his birth and death so that we might enjoy life with him in his kingdom now and then future. Why don't we? What is it that we do that causes us to stop cooperating and begin blocking Christ advocate voice in our hearts? We gum up the works and we step away from following Christ because we fear. Just as this person reading and seeing this "sign". Our fear keeps us from the one being in the universe willing to advocate on our behalf from now on til eternity. Maybe its time to stop fearing and starting cooperating as you have so rightly stated! I say yes!!

Schaak said...

Bill, I always appreciate your cogent explanations and arguments. I agree that the picture falls so short of the big picture and the best picture of what salvation is all about. It reminds me of how sex and marriage are often also portrayed. Yes, staying faithful to one wife before and after marriage is a good thing. But truly understanding the beauty, depth, and sacredness of marriage turns the focus off of "not doing bad" and "keeping your commitment" to desiring to live out a beautiful relationship with another person. One that will fulfill and nourish one's soul. Thanks for helping the people you minister to see the beauty of eternal life in the here and now!

Pastor Greg said...

Bill,
I agree that as evangelicals we have come to view Salvation as far too transactional, thus discounting the incarnational life of Jesus and its contribution to our redemption. The Church fathers called it Recapitulation. Jesus assumed and therefore healed every stage of human life, “from the womb to the tomb” to borrow a phrase from Hillary.
I especially like the following quote,
“If you accepted Jesus, and are looking forward to heaven, are you engaged in conversation with Him through His word and prayer? Do you recognize the ways in which He is transforming your life to reflect His? Do you experience the deepening compassion for others, and passion for Christ that result from getting to know Him better each day? In short, beyond having “signed a contract,” do you have a living, breathing relationship with God through Christ?”
Yes, begin the journey of a life lived with Christ, but it is a journey, a relationship, not a one-time decision. If there is no “living breathing relationship” then we will not “endure to the end”, or “overcome” as Jesus commands.

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