Friday, March 18, 2011

Too Focused on the Next Life? I Don't Think So

Traditional Christianity is sometimes criticized, by the Emergent Church and others, of being so focused on the next life that they ignore and neglect what they could be doing in this life.

"They're so consumed with heaven when they could be helping to bring a piece of heaven here on earth. They're so concerned about escaping hell when they could be helping to relieve the hell here on earth."

It's the old "you're so heavenly-minded you're of no earthly good" charge, and I don't buy it.

Four reasons:

1) The Bible tells us to be heavenly-minded.

It counsels us to look to the future, and the writers of Scripture talk about looking forward to our future hope, to the coming of the Lord, and the final consummation. (See end of post for a sampling.) The Lord wants us to be heavenly-minded.

2) This life is temporary.

When Sara and I moved into our first apartment, the second floor of a house, we knew we wouldn't be there more than a year or two. Guess what? We didn't do any remodeling. We didn't do any painting. Nothing like that. We knew we would be moving on.

When you go to a hotel, do you rearrange the furniture, go out and buy new artwork to put on the walls, put pictures of your family up on the night stands? Neither do I.

3) The future is coming.

Imagine an athlete with tryouts coming up. Would it be good counsel for him to focus on the now and not on the future? Would anyone consider him wise if he sat on the couch each day, watching 6 hours of TV, playing 6 hours of video games, and eating ribs and chips and washing it down with can after can of Michelob?

Or how about the college student with an approaching senior recital? Is it a good idea for her to spend her days shopping, sipping cappuccinos at Starbucks, and watching late night movies with her boyfriend?

The athlete needs to prepare for the future. So does the musician. So do all of us.

4) The biblical heavenly-minded Christian doesn't neglect earthly concerns.

The Bible commands Christians to care for their children, to pray for their governments, to aid the poor, and to actively love the needy and even their enemies. The Bible commands Christians to give generously to the needs of others.

We are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, yes, but how do we do that? By living out a life of love and kindness and generosity here on earth. Monasticism is not what Jesus calls us to. He calls us to a life "in the world." We are the salt of the earth. As Adrian Rogers once put it, you don't put the fish in one barrel and the salt in the other.

The Christian who lives in a dream world, wears a white robe, sits on a hill looking at the sky, and has no conception of what "the real world" is like is a caricature. The biblical Christian knows better than most the sinfulness, filthiness, and hellishness of this world, and she has her sleeves rolled up and is working to do something about it. And she does all this because her eyes are set on the future when the Lord will return and bring about the final establishment of his kingdom.

  • They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess 1:9-10 NIV)

  • 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4 NIV)

  • while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:13 NIV)

  • 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12 NIV)

  • 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Php 3:18-21 NIV)

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