Who wouldn’t want to live in eternal bliss? If given the choice between some kind of punishment or nothingness and guaranteed, never-ending happiness, I can’t think of anyone who would choose the latter. But, to use Neo’s words from A New Kind of Christian, “If we pitch the whole story as, ‘Do you want to go to heaven or hell?’ we run the risk of attracting people who want salvation from hell without necessarily wanting salvation from sin.”
In Luke 10, a lawyer stood up and asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” As Amy-Jill Levine points out in Short Stories By Jesus, “The verb ‘do’…suggests a single, limited action. The lawyer is thinking of something to check off his to-do list…to inherit eternal life before lunch.” The lawyer is basically asking if there is a prayer he can recite, offering he can make, or some kind of action he can perform to earn eternal life, as if eternal life is a commodity to be earned or purchased and not a gift to be given.
When we say that the goal of the gospel is simply to get people into Heaven, it doesn’t encourage people to be transformed here and now.
People often ask me what I believe about the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. To be honest, I’m at the point where I am far more concerned with the heavens and hells we create here on earth for those around us through our actions and inactions. I pray that people believe the gospel, but, more importantly, I pray that they live it. Faith without action is selfish, but a living faith benefits everyone we meet.
Paul asked, “May we continue in sin that grace may abound?” His answer was simple: “God forbid! How can those of us who are dead to sin continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Anyone can simply believe something, but when our faith is defined by doctrines and not by love, then we can no longer call it true Christian faith.
Anyone can say a prayer, be baptized, or pledge their life to Jesus. That’s the kind of solution the lawyer was looking for. But if we believe that Jesus saves us from our sins, then we realize that eternal life is something that starts here. That radical change begins today, not at our death. That our actions and inactions matter.
The gospel isn’t about a punch card to get into Heaven. It isn’t about a special incantation one says to secure their eternal salvation. It isn’t even about being baptized.
It is about a radical new way of living that should never end. It is something that transforms us, but it also transforms the world around us. We are blessed by the gospel, but, like Abraham, we are also to be a blessing (Genesis 12).
We obviously should desire to be in Heaven with God and want to avoid the opposite of that, whatever that might look like, but that desire should begin to be realized through real change today. It should cause us to take risks in helping others, to get out of our comfort zones in sharing this message with others, and in helping our faith community thrive.
The good news is good news for the future, but it is also good news for today.