If our brief time on earth is only the “cover and title page” of our eternal existence, it only makes sense that we would want to know what comes after the title page. Beyond satisfying our natural curiosity about what awaits us beyond the grave, contemplating the next life can result in four tangible benefits in this life.
1. Focusing on Heaven Reminds Us of the Brevity of Our Earthly Life
Life is short. Eternity is long. To illustrate this reality, Randy Alcorn asks people to take a piece of white paper and place a dot in the center, then draw a line from the dot to the edge of the page. It would look something like this:
The dot represents our years on earth, while the line represents eternity. Right now all of us are living inside the dot. Yet very few Christians think beyond the dot to the line—to the eternity that awaits us. How foolish it is to live for the dot that is only a blip on the screen of our eternal existence.15
Yet the dot and the line are connected to one another. As brief as our existence in this life is, it’s very much connected to our eternal existence. There is no break between the dot and the line. My friend Bruce Wilkinson says it brilliantly: “Everything you do today matters forever.”16
The New Testament writer James said it this way: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). And the apostle Peter observed:
All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall. (1 Pet. 1:24 NIV)
2. Focusing on Heaven Prepares Us for the Certainty of Judgment
“Everybody Is Going to Heaven” may be a popular song but it’s also a horrendous lie. God’s Word reveals that everybody is not going to heaven. In fact, very few people are going to heaven if Jesus can be trusted on this subject. The Lord urged people to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
Tragically, the majority of humanity is on the wrong road that ultimately leads to the wrong destination. From the moment we’re born into this world we are on that road (or “way”) that is heading away from God. It’s the “way” of rebellion against God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote,
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way. (Isa. 53:6)
No one has to do anything to end up in hell when he or she dies. All a person needs to do is continue traveling in the same direction he or she has been traveling since birth.
By contrast, relatively few people find the road that leads to heaven. In fact, to find that “way” a person must do a spiritual U-turn—which is the meaning of the biblical term repent. Repent (metanoea) means “to change one’s mind.” A simple definition of repentance is “a change of mind that leads to a change of direction.” Only when a person admits that he or she is on the wrong road can he or she discover the right road. Jesus was clear that He is the only “Way” that leads to eternal life: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
3. Focusing on Heaven Motivates Us to Live Pure Lives
Most of the television interviews I do for cable news are taped in the late afternoon or are live in the evening. That means I must concentrate on keeping my clothes clean throughout the day. I tuck a napkin into my shirt collar at lunch to prevent stains on my tie. I immediately use a wet towel to wipe off any dirt on my suit jacket. And right before the camera rolls, someone runs a lint remover over my garment. All of this attention is necessary because the bright lights and high-definition television equipment are unforgiving and will reveal to millions of people any imperfections in my attire.
Similarly, there’s a day coming when every Christian’s “clothing” or actions will be placed under the glare of God’s judgment and will reveal any imperfections. That “day” is the day of Christ’s return in which “each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it” (1 Cor. 3:13). As we’ll see in chapter 8, the purpose of this judgment is to determine not the believer’s eternal destiny but his or her eternal rewards.
The Bible often uses clothing as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. It’s helpful to understand that in biblical times people often wore two different types of tunics: an inner tunic (comparable to today’s undergarments) that no one saw and an outer tunic that was visible to everyone.
Every Christian also wears two kinds of spiritual garments. Our “inner tunic” is our judicial righteousness—meaning our “right standing” with God—that God places on us when we trust in Christ as our Savior. Paul referred to our judicial righteousness when he prayed that on the day he finally met God he might “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of [his] own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9). Our “inner garment” of God’s forgiveness is something we receive from Him. There is nothing we can do to improve it, soil it, or remove it.
But no one wants to walk around wearing only undergarments! That’s why, to be properly dressed, we must put on our “outer tunic.” This “outer tunic” represents a Christian’s ethical righteousness, which is how we live after we become a Christian. While judicial righteousness refers to our “right standing” before God, ethical righteousness represents our “right acting” before God after we are saved.
4. Focusing on Heaven Places Suffering in Perspective
One of the questions I’m asked most frequently as a pastor is “Why did God allow ____________ (some horrific experience in their life) to happen?” God never completely answers the “why” question when it comes to suffering. However, He has given us the promise of heaven to put suffering in perspective. The apostle Paul—who was well acquainted with suffering—wrote confidently:
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)
Even though Paul had been shipwrecked, imprisoned, and beaten within an inch of his life on five different occasions, he described those horrific experiences as “momentary” and “light.” How could Paul say such a thing? Was the apostle suffering from amnesia? No; his suffering could only be considered “momentary” and “light” when compared to the “eternal weight” of the future God had planned for him.
Heaven is the promise that God will eventually make all things right and that He will one day fulfill our deepest longings. Although God’s promise is yet future, it should make a tremendous difference in our lives today. As Alcorn explained, “If we grasp it, [heaven] will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective on life.”19 This is the hope of heaven—that all of creation will receive what it has long desired: freedom from the crushing oppression of sin.
Dr. Robert Jeffress is senior pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, a Fox News contributor, and a member of the executive committee of the White House Faith Initiative. His daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, is heard on more than 930 stations nationwide, and his weekly television program is seen on thousands of cable systems and stations in the US and in nearly 200 countries around the world. His new book, A Place Called Heaven, is available now.
15. See Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 436.
16. Bruce Wilkinson and David Kopp, A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2002), 16.
19. Alcorn, Heaven, 460.
Image courtesy: ©Unplash/Photo by Frank Mckenna
Publication date: September 12, 2017