“Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.” The first time I heard this N.T. Wright statement was 5 years ago, and it was quoted to me by a friend. It gave me pause, and I kept turning it over in my head. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why? Because it ran counter to what I had been taught about the aim of my Salvation.
There were basic questions that I had been taught the answer to:
- Why did Jesus save me? To go to heaven and be with Him forever.
- Where does Jesus want every man, woman, and child? In heaven, to be with Him forever.
- Why was I created? To live in heaven with Jesus forever.
- What the right answer to the most important question ever “Where will you spend eternity when you die?” In heaven, with Jesus forever.
Here I was, going through my Christian life happy to know I had the answers right, and rehearsing them with my friend in conversation when he dropped that quote on me – “Why did Jesus save me?” “To go to he…. What? There’s More!”
I had been taught to focus on my salvation as the end of Jesus’ task. He died and rose to save me to go to heaven. In the end, the earth will be destroyed, but mankind will be in heaven with Jesus. Scripture, however, gives a much bigger picture than just the salvation of the individual so he/she knows their final destination when they die. Here is a bird’s eye view of what I’m saying…
Scripture begins with a summarized account of the creation of the world. Upon completion, God said it was all good. God then gave a job to His representatives on earth – man/woman. At no point was sin a part of this picture. If sin had never entered, which was possible as we see the opportunity for man’s trusting God instead of doubting in Genesis chapter 3, then there would still be man imaging God to the rest of the created order just as he was commanded to do. But because sin came into the world, that original command God gave has been halted. See, God didn’t create man just to temporarily reside in a body until he died and went to heaven. Man is not human, as he was created to be and declared to be very good, if he doesn’t have a body. We see the body is important as Jesus was not merely spiritually raised from the dead, but bodily raised (another topic for another post, but this was vital as it was the declaration of His victory over death). When man fell, all of creation bore the weight of the fall. Romans 8 tells us that creation is groaning, longing for the day when those in Christ are glorified. It’s not the end of creation when this happens; rather in a very real sense, it’s the beginning. It’s when all of creation can and will exist as God intended it to.
God is in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself; the world that needs reconciliation because it was fortified under the banner of the enemy – Evil, Sin, Death. Jesus came to redeem humanity, by defeating humanity’s oppressor. As citizens of His Kingdom we are to carry on the work He began, continuing to further the Kingdom. Sickness, poverty, injustice, etc. are very real manifestations of sin in the world. Growing up, I was told it was an either or. I was told that we fed hungry people so they would listen to us give the gospel (what really mattered). But Jesus didn’t separate the gospel to only that which let them know where their spirit would go when their body quit working. Read Matthew 5-7 for an idea of what Jesus deemed important and affected by gospel truth. Jesus exhibited genuine concern for the entire man. The gospel is good news for every part of us! It is good news for society as a whole! It is good news for all of creation! For the gospel is the proclamation that God, in Jesus the Messiah is putting all things to rights- to the way they should be! It’s bigger than just snatching believing humans out of a “hell-in-a-handbasket” world. Sin will not win! Sin will not rob God of the His creation. It gets nothing! God is redeeming it all through Jesus. As redeemed people, we should live redeemed lives. We no longer operate under the old system. We have a different value system (a difference much deeper than the shallow rules of legalism). We see that there is a way for humanity to live NOW, as well as in the future, that has been shown to us in Jesus and we strive to imitate that lifestyle, a lifestyle of LOVE, to the world. Christianity is The Way to live, not merely 5 truths we read off a tract to convince people to accept. And this way to live is lived among others. It touches others. It affects others. It is lived in community, with a much bigger picture in mind than just “So I can go to heaven when I die.”
“Don’t so stress the doctrine of your own salvation that you fail to see what we are saved for. ” N.T. Wright.