It’s been a couple of weeks since writing anything extensive for this blog but I hope to get back in the rhythm of regular blogging soon. In the mean time, here is a piece I wrote for the Connecting Newsletter published by the Columbia Church of Christ. As the title suggests, it’s about heaven but read it because it’s also about the life we are living right now as the church.*
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With all the books that focus on people going to heaven for a brief time, there’s obviously a curiosity about what heaven will be like. There’s nothing wrong with such curiosity if that leads us to seek after God.
Having said that, what is generally spoken of as the after life in heaven is what the Bible refers to as a “new heaven and new earth” (Isa 65:17; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1). But instead of turning to stories about the alleged near-death or momentary after-life experiences of a few people, we have a preview of this heavenly life that’s much closer than we may realize.
A Little Bible and Theology First
The book of Ephesians has a lot to say about what it means to be the church, the body of Christ. The church is described as one body in whom both Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God and each other through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Having raised his Son from death, God has made the church alive in Christ. The apostle Paul describes this redemptive act as God’s “eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:11, NIV). In other words, the life we anticipate in the appearing of the new heaven and new earth is already taking shape in the church. Therefore, if we want to know what life will be like “in heaven” then we should look at the life God has made us to live as the church.
Of course, as the church, we don’t always live as an accurate portrait of what the heavenly life will be like. This is why we must speak of the heavenly life as “taking shape” in the church. In a way, we are like soldiers in basic-training. Over the course of the training, the soldiers look more and more like they belong to the military but all along the way there are setbacks when the soldiers fail to live by the standards expected of them.
So given the fact that sometimes the we fail to live as a heavenly portrait, we can’t rely exclusively on what we see and experience in the church. Therefore, if we want to know something of what life will be like “in heaven” then we must also read what scripture has to say about who and what we are called to be as the church.
A Witness of God’s Redemptive Salvation
That as the church we are a preview of heaven has some important implications that matter now. As the church, we are the reconciled body of Christ which is a body of one where all are equals living under the Lordship of Christ. The values that divide people from one another in the old life that is passing do not have any place in the church. In the church it matters not what color of skin we are, what sort of economic status we have, what sort of education we possess, or what our gender is. Such social statures remain in this old passing life but because of the gospel and by the power of the Spirit, we as the church must overcome such distinctions and live as one.
We must remind ourselves this because we are a portrait of what the heavenly life will be like and because values such as elitism and racism remain alive in the world. Whether obtained ethically or not, the recent racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling remind us that prejudices remain a part of the larger culture. That racial discrimination in America was defended by Christians reminds us that we’re not exempt from failing to inhabit the gospel as the way of life and live as the reconciled body of Christ. Our calling to live as a portrait of what the heavenly life will be like is our witness to the redemptive salvation God has accomplished in Christ.
As it is when the new heaven and new earth appears with God dwelling in the midst of it, so should it be in the church today. If we enjoy worshiping and serving the Lord today then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy the hospitality of our neighbors then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy sharing with others of what we possess then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy the company of people from different races, ethnicities, and nationalities then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come. If we enjoy learning from and working as partners with both men and women as equals then we will enjoy the heavenly life to come.
And as we do… Then we have a portrait, a foretaste, a preview of heaven!
* This same article was originally published in Connecting 29 (May 7, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ, and has been reformatted for this blog.