Let’s see. Where to begin? Well, I’ve been in the hospital since Thursday, dealing with kidney stones. And what with the lasers, drugs, surgery, and all, I’ve not had many opportunities to post. The posts you’ve seen were written before the kidney problems manifested.
I’ll catch y’all up to date on the state of my kidneys later. For now, I’d rather think of other things.
In reflecting on Keith’s questions about who might be saved, I realized that we all struggle with some false assumptions in how we approach God and our salvation. By excellent good fortune, I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Jesus during my convalescence. Near the end of the book, he explains why it is that God doesn’t just sweep us all into heaven. After all, if it’s God’s purpose to save us, and if “save” means “go to heaven when we die,” wouldn’t that be the obvious solution? And wouldn’t we quite understandably feel disappointed in anything less? After all, God, being God, can do whatever suits him!
As usual, when a discussion reaches deadlock, it’s probably because one or more key factors have been left out of consideration. And in this case we don’t have to look far to see what’s missing. The crucial factor in Jesus’ kingdom project picks up the crucial factor in God’s creation project. God intended to rule the world through human beings. Jesus picks up this principle, rescues it, and transforms it.
… When we ask about the way in which God wants to run the world and then focus this on the sharper question of how Jesus now runs the world, we should expect, from the whole of scripture, that the answer will have something to do with the delegation of God’s authority, of Jesus’s authority, to human beings.
… Jesus rescues human beings in order that through them he may rule his world in the new way he always intended.
Wright quotes from Rev 5 —
9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
That kind of says exactly what Wright just said. God actually intends for his people — those whom he has ransomed — to act as his agents on earth to complete his work. We “reign” in the sense that we do what God as king does — we participate in his redemptive work. That makes us priests before God as well as kings of the earth!
Nor was this simply pragmatic, as though God (or Jesus) wanted a bit of help, needed someone to whom certain tasks could be delegated. It has to do with something very deep within the very being of God, the same thing that led him to create a world that was other than himself. …
When God goes to work — when Jesus becomes king — human beings are not downgraded, reduced to being pawns or ciphers. In God’s kingdom, humans get to reflect God at last into the world, in the way they were meant to be.
We are astonished that God would entrust to vessels as unworthy as ourselves the message of the gospel. But we’re supposed to be kings and priests. We’re playing in the big leagues — with the Holy Trinity! And we’re playing for keeps.
We want God to do it all for us. We want the gifts and not the responsibilities. We want to know that if we mess up, Abba will fix it for us! But that’s not what it’s like to be a king. And God wants a family made up of kings.
Or to borrow an image from Paul, since we’re the body of Christ, we do what Christ does — with the attendant consequences. If we don’t do it, it doesn’t happen. If we don’t share the gospel, it doesn’t get shared. There is no one else to do it.
But we share not merely by passing out tracts. We share by living as Jesus would have us live — with lives of service, sacrifice, and submission. We live for others. And by our so doing, God redeems the world. If we refuse, there is no plan B.
Remember: the goal isn’t heaven for everyone. The goal is restoration to God’s image. And to be in God’s image — and reign over the earth — we must carry the overwhelming weight of the gospel. We don’t carry it alone, because God walks alongside us, in the camp, dwelling among us, to help us. But he doesn’t lift the burden entirely. After all, we’re kings. And kings don’t expect others to do their work for them.
Or let’s try it this way. What is heaven? I think most of us envision heaven as like a vacation — weeks sitting on the beach with nothing to do. I don’t think that’s God’s plan. Rev 22 says —
3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
“Worship” in verse 3 is translated “serve” in the NIV. The Greek is ambiguous. In v. 5, “reign” is not ambiguous at all. It’s a reference back to Gen 1 and God’s created order. Mankind was created to reign over creation, a task that includes both guarding and working the creation.
If mankind is to reign in the new heavens and new earth, it will surely be an active sort of reign — as a service to or worship of God. God is not a narcissist. It only makes sense that he’ll have us being productive in some way.
To prepare for heaven, therefore, is not like packing for a vacation. Rather, it’s like training for kingship — it’s being in charge of smaller things so that one day we can be in charge of the universe.
Therefore, we should not be surprised to find ourselves already responsible for something as weighty as the souls of the lost.
Eph 2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And isn’t this is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians 2? We are already enthroned because we are already doing the work of kings. As kings, we do the work God planned for us since the creation, which includes participating in God’s work to redeem mankind by sharing the gospel and sending missionaries.
God didn’t mess up when he created this world and put us in it. He wants it this way, for his purposes. It’s not all just about getting us into heaven.
I sincerely hope the worse is over with your kidney stones.
God has called us and redeemed us for such great purposes – and so often we get bogged down over whether He really meant we have to be baptized. Sigh. (And no, I’m NOT suggesting we forget about teaching about baptism – though I would like to see us teaching it more for what it is than just to teach that its something we have to do if we want to be saved.)
I’ve often heard it said that heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people – but all some of us are prepared to do is to argue over minutia of doctrine – and over just how many songs we can sing and how loudly before we are no longer “decent and in order.”