What is the best part of being Christian?
Our most recent 4th Sunday gathering focused on our eschatology – the things we believe about Jesus’ return and the restoration of all things.
It seems like there has been a concerted effort on the part of evangelical Christians to emphasize the blessings of following Jesus in this life more than the blessings promised in the age to come. This was well-intentioned. An unhealthy obsession about the mysteries of eternity, and an apathetic approach to formation here-and-now were critiques of American evangelicalism a few generations ago.
But make no mistake – heaven is the best part of being Christian. It’s why we pray, “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The promise of experiencing heaven unhindered by the curse is infinitely greater than any experiences of it in this life.
Eternity never ends. It’s unhurried. It’s free from the tyranny of time. We will never feel rushed, never feel limited, never feel finite. Time is a created thing and Revelation 21-22 reveals a complete reorientation of time in the age to come. There is neither sun nor moon giving the City its light because the Lamb himself illuminates this new reality. The created order from Genesis 1-2 is re-created in Christ, and our experience of time is utterly transformed.
In eternity, there are no aches and pains, no bumps and bruises, no injuries or viruses, no aging. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that what was sown perishable becomes imperishable. What was weak and natural becomes strong in the Spirit when mortality is swallowed up in immortality (1 Corinthians 15). Death, and the daily process of atrophy leading up to it, is completely reversed. We will experience life, and life to the full (John 10.10) as Jesus promised.
The structuring of society will be the inverse of the curse, and an eternal family of nations will gather in God’s glorious presence. The gates of the City are perpetually open and nothing evil ever enters. The glory of the nations is represented as God always envisioned and has continually worked to bring to pass (Genesis 1-2; Revelation 21-22). All the discord of humanity is eliminated and peaceful justice is the norm.
Heaven is humiliating in the best of ways. It is the ultimate unveiling of our belovedness. Its perpetual posture is worship. The presence of God drives away all shame, fear, sadness and anger. The chief end of man is finally realized as humanity enjoys and glorifies God.
There is a prominent metaphor employed by evangelical preachers when making an altar call. Many have used the illustration of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis as a parallel for Christian conversion. It’s an accurate picture of the transformation that happens when one comes to Christ, but many who have heard that illustration struggle with their post-conversion identity. Caterpillar-like behaviors seem to follow them through baptism and into their supposed “butterfly” reality.
I [Charlie] wonder if we’ve sold people too-small, too-short, and too-present a promise. Jesus didn’t live, die, and live again so that we could just have our “best life now.” As far as I can tell, heaven is the ultimate promise and goal. I think there is a point when we caterpillars come into conscious recognition that our true identity and endpoint (teleos) is as a butterfly. We start living and acting like butterflies in caterpillar skin. Every once in a while the glory of the butterfly shines through our caterpillar life. But death, not baptism, is the cocoon. We don’t fully experience our true identity until we’ve crossed death’s threshold (or Jesus returns).
Maybe part of the reason evangelicalism is losing ground is because we’ve simply slipped into the category of self-help and general life improvement. We don’t contemplate our eternal destination, and so very little of heaven manifests on earth. Our souls and cities are hungry for heaven. It’s the best part of being Christian, and the most appealing aspect of our evangelism.