Don’t miss the point

Sometimes, our presentation of the "gospel" can be just as off target.

Sometimes, our presentation of the “gospel” can be just as off target.

So…I have this friend.

When he was younger, a pastor told him that if he prayed a prayer to receive Jesus into his heart, he’d go to heaven. After praying, he said to himself, “What now?”

I wonder if there are others out there like my unnamed friend, who is now not following the Lord. Furthermore, can we really place blame on them? Is it that these people are receiving an incomplete message? A wrong message?

To say, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven,” denotes a very reductionist view of Christianity. It communicates that the faith is merely an escape from this world and its troubles; a ticket into paradise. Quite the contrary, Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

If Christianity was just about “going to heaven,” why wouldn’t Jesus just take us as soon as we profess belief in him? Furthermore, why would he pray for us not to be taken out of the world?

Well, we know that Jesus gave his followers a task to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:20) so that others can reap the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Make no mistake, heaven has a place of preeminence in Scripture and should also invade the hearts and minds of every believer. Colossians 3:1-2 exhorts, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

The reason, however, our consciences should meditate on heaven is because that is Christ’s abode. Pastor John Piper posed a very pointed question on this topic:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?

While there are many benefits to believing in Jesus, including the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), being declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21) and eternal life (John 3:16), these things are secondary to the purpose of this entire exercise—being reconciled to God.

When you look at the Bible as a whole, you see God walking among man in the Garden of Eden in the beginning (Genesis 3:8) and dwelling with his people in the end (Revelation 21:3). In between the two, there is a laundry list of reasons why this gap should not be able to be bridged. These can be summed into humanity’s original sin and rejection of God in the Garden, and continual practice of sin and rejection thereafter.

Man had become fatally estranged from God, and though God made several attempts at restoration, none of them proved to be a lasting solution. Jesus, then, enters God’s story in order to provide the only means of effectively bringing man back to him.

Second Corinthians 5:18-20 says as much, stating:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Through the gospel, we make known that Christ has made this reconciliation possible, by the shedding of his blood for the remission of sins. Our appeal should not be, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven,” but “Be reconciled to God!”

People spend their whole lives trying to create “heaven” for themselves. If you present Jesus as simply a means of attaining it, you’ll create a group of “Christians” who don’t really care much about God at all, but are simply concerned about God delivering on his promise.

When God was sending Moses to deliver Israel from under the thumb of Pharaoh and into the Promised Land, he said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).

Of all the signs God could give, and of all the things he predicted would happen, God chose returning to Mount Horeb to worship as his means of assurance. This is above the fact that they would actually leave Egypt (v. 12) and plunder the Egyptians (v. 22). He doesn’t even mention entering Canaan as a sign.

Additionally, Exodus 4:22-23 declares, “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”

The purpose of God’s salvation is so that God’s people will be free to worship him, with worship being “the ideally normal attitude of a rational creature properly related to the Creator,” according to writer Bob Sorge (Exploring Worship, p. 66).

Psalm 106 chronicles how Israel strayed from this truth, however, as they “forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt” (v. 21). They became a people who were fixated on Canaan, but were extremely subject to idolatry because of their lack of intimacy with God.

What a tragedy for God to go through all the trouble of delivering us in order for us to not spend time with him. Why would God send his Son to die on a cross to restore a non-existent relationship?

In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts when we enter into the only relationship that will last forever, our relationship with our Savior.

So, about those who may have asked the question, “What now?” To that I say, “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Learn to love Christ on a deeper, more intimate level with each passing day. Talk to him, walk with him and witness for him.

After all, the best advertisement for Jesus is a Christian who spends time in the presence of God.

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~ by christianballenger on October 28, 2014.

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