How Can We Live ‘On Earth as it Is in Heaven?’
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 31 Mar
Have you ever heard someone pray “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? The phrase sounds holy and optimistic. And impossible. Just look at everything that’s happening today. Our world does not look much like heaven, does it?
We’ve all read about cults and religious sects that sequester themselves from society in an attempt to live in a perfect, heaven-like state during their human existence. They don’t succeed.
Invariably, reports of physical or sexual abuse emerge. Idolatrous leaders establish zombie-like followers. Often violence ensues. Humans are not capable of recreating heaven here. We don’t even know where to begin.
But maybe that’s not what “heaven on earth” means. Maybe we aren’t supposed to build heaven. Maybe we’re supposed to live it. But how do we live like we’re in heaven when we so clearly are not?
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What Is the Biblical Context of 'On Earth as it Is in Heaven'?
Although the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” pops up in pastors’ prayers and church mission statements, this phrase actually originates from the second verse of “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). The context doesn’t directly speak about existence in heaven or earth. It’s connected to Jesus’ example of how to pray.
“The Lord’s Prayer” is just one of many instructions within a long teaching by Jesus now called “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). In Matthew 6, Jesus has already been speaking on a mountainside to a large crowd of curious followers. His discourse began with the “Beatitudes,” an inspiring yet confusing call to living counter-cultural lives of kindness and self-sacrifice.
After delivering the Beatitudes, Jesus continues a lengthy lesson about relational laws that are obvious addendums to the Law of Moses that his audience would have known. He shares new perspectives about murder, marriage, adultery, divorce, oaths, love, and giving.
For instance, instead of softening the rules for adultery, Jesus explains that even thinking lustful thoughts about someone is adultery within the framework of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus calls his followers to a new, personal perspective: to live holy lives means following the Son of God rather than a priest or a set of rules.
Then Jesus inserts this special phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” into his sample prayer, which has been memorized and repeated for thousands of years under the title “The Lord’s Prayer.” By giving his audience a template for prayer, he calls them to personal communication with God. He eliminates the need for a priest to communicate with God.
The Lord’s Prayer
This is how most people have learned “The Lord’s Prayer” (KJV) over the past few centuries:
“Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
What Is 'The Kingdom of Heaven?'
To understand the imagery of “on earth as it is in heaven,” we might need to brush up on the metaphor “kingdom of heaven.” What “kingdom” does Jesus pray to “come”? What kingdom belongs to God? And how does that pertain to the struggle each of us have on earth?
“The Lord’s Prayer” isn’t the only place Jesus talks about the kingdom. Jesus spends a good portion of his teaching explaining the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which appears in the gospels 34 times and 31 times in Matthew alone. Understanding this phrase is key to understanding how we’re supposed to bring heaven down to earth.
Throughout the Beatitudes, Jesus uses the phrase the “kingdom of heaven” to describe a lifestyle of perspectives and priorities that are grounded in eternal purpose. “The kingdom of heaven” is a metaphor for the concept of living under grace rather than law—of doing good because someone has experienced freedom in Christ, not because he/she will be punished for doing evil.
Jesus most often illustrates this concept by using parables. Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as a priceless pearl, a buried treasure, a fishing net, a homeowner, a mustard seed, a sower, and other tactile objects. In every story, the kingdom of heaven represents something valuable and good that must be bought and cherished. Sometimes, it seems that the kingdom of heaven is the gospel; sometimes it seems to represent God.
Simply defined, the kingdom of heaven is God’s way of thinking, living, and being. His very essence. God’s love and grace are intricately entwined with the gospel because God’s character is salvation, just as it is mercy, righteousness, and judgment.
Consequently, the kingdom of heaven is God’s intended purpose for us: a restored relationship with him. It’s being one with the Father (John 10:29-30). When Jesus declared that he and God the Father were the same person, the Pharisees tried to stone him. Yet Jesus invites us into this powerful trinity-relationship through the kingdom of heaven. He tells us to pray for it.
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What Does it Mean to Bring Heaven to Earth?
Bringing heaven to earth literally begins with the gospel. God’s will is to give us his Spirit and transform us into His likeness, to become like Him and live with Him eternally. He desires to complete what He began in the Garden. He proved His passion for us through the incarnation of Jesus—God literally sent heaven to earth in the form of a baby.
This is the mystery of the incarnation. John writes, “The Word became made flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Since it is impossible for us to personally bring perfection into this world, the gospel of Christ gives mankind a chance to receive perfect forgiveness in a world that does not forgive. Our relationship with Jesus provides a framework for us to experience redemption over and over, because the love and mercy of God are unfailing and constant. By living the kingdom of heaven here, we experience a continual renewal of God’s forgiveness and acceptance.
In contrast, organized religion (during Jesus’ day and today) franchises faith and practice so consumers can easily accept and follow religious guidelines in order to live nice lives and feel good about themselves. Religion gives sinners a faulty path to holiness—if we just try hard enough, we can be good enough (at least by our own standards). Religion is not the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of heaven promotes counter-cultural thinking. It employs an understanding and acceptance of our own sinful natures and our own mortality. The kingdom of heaven requires repentance, forgiveness, humility, reconciliation, equality, and grace—all traits that are decidedly against human nature.
When we hide or excuse our sins, we hide Christ’s power from the world. We squelch the gospel. But when we confess our sins and accept Jesus Christ as our gateway to heaven, we receive God’s salvation, blessing, and power for living, even while we’re here on the earth.
As followers of Jesus, we have the opportunity to deliver the gospel—not through continual births of Jesus—but through the rebirths of human beings when they accept salvation through Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus becomes a “little Christ,” the true meaning of the word “Christian.”
If we are followers of Christ, we carry the glory of God in our spirits. Christians have the potential and the power to be “little Christs” to everyone around them—to radiate Jesus’ love and power over the things of this world. To live for another world (heaven), the one for which we were designed.
If our goal is to become increasingly more like Jesus, then we will adopt the process of bringing heaven down to earth. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though he were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We will be like Christ in a world that does not recognize him, except through us.
How Can Christians Live 'On Earth as it Is in Heaven?'
Living heaven out on this earth presents some serious difficulties. We’re not perfect. In fact, we sin a lot, which makes being like Jesus quite difficult. Here are a few suggestions for how to bring heaven to earth:
1. Remember your forgiveness. You have been bought with a price. Our response to the cross is to glorify God with our lives (1 Corinthians 6:20). If you live in grace, you will share God’s grace with others.
2. Remember your identity. You belong to Christ, not the world. You will make spiritual enemies here. But do not be afraid because the power of God surpasses anything the enemy can do to you (John 15:18-21). If you live in humility and thankfulness, your spirit will ooze freedom and gratefulness.
3. Remember your priorities. Love God and love people. Do good to all people (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 6:10). If you are continually accepting and welcoming God’s love and grace, you will naturally love other people, no matter how terrible they are.
4. Remember your calling. You have been redeemed to bring people to faith in Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). If you live with heaven in mind, you will naturally ask people to choose heaven, too.
5. Remember your enemy (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t be discouraged or side-tracked by the lusts of this world. Satan intends to derail and destroy you (1 John 3:15-17). If you remain alert to the enemy’s tactics, you will not be distracted by the noise and pressure of this world’s systems.
Paul summed up bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth like this: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). However long my earthly life lasts, its purpose should glorify God and direct people into Jesus’ arms. When my life ends, I will enter his presence myself. Both options have a distinct, singular focus of living out our intended purpose to glorify God.
If I conduct my daily activities with that central focus, I will usher the essence of heaven into the earth. I will live a contagious life. I will stand out from the crowd. And yes, as Jesus stated in the Beatitudes, I will attract interest.
Some people will reject or mock my faith. But others will believe in Jesus. Heaven will open up, again and again.
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