Chapter 8: Do We Really Believe in Eternity?
No one can guarantee tomorrow. No, wait. Let’s take this much closer to home. No one can guarantee his or her next breath. The biggest illusion we live under is this: we think we’re immortal. Tragedy, terminal illness-that’s always going to happen to the other guy, not to us.
Reality paints a much different picture. We watch the news and read our newspapers. Story after story tells, well, the same story. People die daily-some predictably and just as many or more unexpectedly. Yet we seem to resolutely refuse to believe it’s possible we could be the next news item, the next fatality in a world where death is an absolute certainty.
I remember an incredible incident from my youth that illustrates how easily death can nip at our heels. One summer evening after my brother, my sister, and I had gulped down our supper, we went outside to play baseball on our front lawn. It was a muggy evening, and there was thunderstorm close by. As we played, a young man from the neighborhood pulled his car up to the curb less than a block away, parked it, and walked toward his house.
Just as he was about to enter his house, something catastrophic happened. I was the only one to observe it, since I was facing that direction. In an instant, this young man’s car exploded. It literally blew to smithereens. Such was the force of the explosion that the car literally left the ground, careened sideways into a tree, and fell back to the pavement.
Windows cracked in homes one to two blocks away. Pieces of that car went everywhere in the neighbourhood. A huge chunk of the car landed on the roof of the house next to ours. My dad, who was chewing on a cob of corn at the time said he almost swallowed it! And at the time, I couldn’t believe so many people could come out of nowhere in less than a minute. People came from blocks away to see what had happened. One guy even showed up with no shirt on and shaving cream over most of his face!
What had happened to cause the explosion? The young man had stored acetylene tanks in the trunk of his car. One of those tanks was leaking the volatile gas. Incredibly, a stroke of lightening hit an overhead power line, snapped it, and it fell on the trunk of that man’s car. The spark it created was more than enough to ignite the leaking gas in the car’s trunk, triggering the powerful explosion.
I have often wondered what went through that guy’s mind immediately after that earth-shattering, improbable incident. He had escaped certain death by only a few seconds. Yet as far as I know, he never seriously considered his eternal destiny. But what about me? What about you? Is anything really different with us? We who claim to be Christians should have a better handle on believing eternal realities than anyone else. But do we? Actually No!
What we claim to believe about the hereafter often does not translate into how we live in the here and now. If the truth were to be told, we live out our lives primarily consumed with horizontal, temporal realities rather than fixing our thoughts on pursuing vertical, eternal pursuits. How can I say this? It frequently shows up in the way that we think, talk, and act and the things we prioritize. We therefore, need to be very honest with ourselves and ponder over this crucial question: “Do we really believe in eternity?”
If the answer is no, what can help us change our perspective? I don’t know of a greater example to turn to than the apostle Paul. Here was a man who truly believed in eternal realities. Going vertical was the secret to his victorious, Christian life. Few Christians have faced as many trials as the apostle Paul. He went through almost every kind of suffering imaginable. Yet his vertical perspective was the one thing that always pulled him through.
Let’s take a closer look at his life and see how what was true of him can also be true of us. The apostle Paul’s entire post-conversion life was consumed with and driven by eternal realities. His New Testament writings constantly project us into the eternal future. And even though Pail struggled with sin and experienced excruciating suffering, he still maintained and tenaciously held onto a vertical perspective of eternity.
So this would be a pertinent time to permit the apostle Paul’s words to speak for themselves. Reading them thoughtfully leaves little doubt as to what he believed regarding eternal realities.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20,21).
"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Now that you have read these verses, I want to note the specific ways in which Paul communicated a vertical perspective. Let’s summarize them as follows:
1. Affliction is only a temporary and short-term reality.
2. Trials actually work for our benefit in light of eternity.
3. Christians must focus first on eternal, not temporal realities.
4. Believers are kingdom citizens first, earthly residents second.
5. Our bodies will someday undergo a permanent, eternal transformation.
6. We are to set our minds on eternal priorities, not earthly aspirations.
7. Our lives are eternally secure in Christ, and as such, we’re as good as in heaven now.
8. Our true spiritual life is hidden in heaven with Christ.
9. Ultimately, every Christian will return with Christ at His second coming.
10. Believers who watch intently for Christ’s return will receive a crown of righteousness.
Yes, Paul believed in eternity! This belief shaped everything he said and did. There was no mistaking the practical outworking of a vertical perspective in his life. Yet, he had every reason to be consumed by horizontal, excruciating earthly realities:
"From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among the false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness-besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?" (2 Cor. 11:24-29).
After reading this, the very first thing that comes to my mind is the fact that Paul called all of these agonizing trials light afflictions that last but for a moment (2 Cor. 4:17). This sure puts my so-called suffering into perspective!
There was only one thing that could enable Paul to keep a vertical outlook while going through such overwhelming earthly trials. He believed in eternity, unequivocally. The certainty of Christ’s resurrection was the bedrock of his unshakeable vertical approach to each and every life circumstance he encountered (Rom. 15:12-19). Because Christ was alive, Paul knew eternal life was, for him, a secure future reality.
What will be true of us as Christians today if we really believe in eternity as Paul did long ago? What will be characteristic of our lives if we live with the same vertical approach to life 24/7? These are questions we must answer. These are questions I’m convinced we have not been seriously asking ourselves in the evangelical Christian community. I repeat, very few Christians really believe in eternity with such resolute certainty as was true of the apostle Paul. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 is yet another clear example of how confident he was of what awaits Christians beyond this life.
Before you read any further, please accept a short, straightforward word of exhortation. Quite possibly you may have actually skipped over the verses near the beginning of this chapter. I must confess that when I’m reading a Christian book and come to a Scripture reading, I often skim over it or sometimes skip it altogether. Gulp! The most probable reason for this is my familiarity with the passage and therefore I just want to move past it and proceed with reading what the author wants to communicate.
What this speaks to is the fact that it’s important to take a vertical approach, even when reading a book such as this one. What God’s eternal Word has to say is always more important than what any earthbound person has to say. Always. So with this in mind, I want to encourage you to read the following Scripture verses with keen, attentive consideration. They are absolutely crucial to our topic at hand:
"For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been found clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him, For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:1-10).
Here is what I want us to grasp from these verses. If we really believe in eternity, this belief will show up in our lives in two basic ways: we will yearn for eternity’s reality, and we will live in accordance with its certainty. Now set this book down and reflect over this question: “How often in the last several days did I truly earnestly desire for and live by eternal realities?” How hard is it for you to come up with practical examples in answering this question?
Here is what I think will be true of us if we are motivated by eternity. Here is how it will show up if we really long to appear before Christ and are convinced we will have to give an account of our lives before Him in eternity future. The truth is, we will go vertical 24/7.
It will show up in the way we talk to and about others. Graciousness, encouragement, forgiveness, and love will characterize our speech. Neither will we be incessant gossips, speak slander from our lips, criticize and put others down, or boast about our earthly talents or accomplishments.
Instead, we will live as those are convinced that God will hold us accountable for every word expressed from our lips (Matt. 12:36,37). I have highlighted speech as the primary example of living out a vertical perspective, because I have come to believe that the way Christians talk reveals more than anything else whether or not we’re truly living by eternal realities. Show me a Christian that regularly permits the Holy Spirit to have control of his tongue, and I will show you a Christian who really believes in eternity.
You see, the bottom line is this: if we believe in eternal realities, we will be concerned about what God thinks about every part of our lives, not only what we say but what we read, what we watch, what we prioritize, what we think, how we spend money, how and when we pray, the scope of our Christian service, how we raise my children, how we worship, how much we witness, our willingness to forgive others, our response to trials, and how much we encourage other Christians to keep growing in their faith and not give up.
What we believe about eternity always dictates how we live in this present life. Here is another powerful and practical example. The vast majority of Christians have an intellectual, biblical belief in the reality of hell. But if we truly believed in its existence, would we not be more motivated to passionately share the gospel with people who do not have a saving relationship with Christ and are therefore headed for this horrific place of eternal punishment?
Please understand. I’m certainly not trying to overwhelm anyone with a guilt complex. Evaluating how much we believe in eternity is not something we should do to arrive only at self-condemnation. Rather, it’s simply because eternity matters more than anything else that we’ve got to be honest with how we’re living our lives now. In fact, this is something we need to do each twenty-four-hour period of our earthly existence.
Psalm 90:12 says: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We must number our days, not our birthdays! If we’re going vertical, it will show up in the most practical areas of our lives. Everything we say and do will be governed by eternal values. There is no escaping this reality.
Okay enough said. Do we really believe or not? Let’s go vertical and embrace eternal realities! This is the only way any of us should live out our time on earth.
What’s the BLT? Eternity Matters! Do I consistently live out my life as if eternity exists?
Things Don’t Remain the Same
Things don’t remain the same.
Seasons come and seasons go.
Life marches on, and this we know,
Though we encounter misfortune or fame,
Things don’t remain the same.
Ancient landmarks embedded in time
Seem invincible to the human mind:
Houses, lands, prized possessions,
Memories etched with forever impressions.
We live with the strong illusion
That the things we treasure have no conclusion.
We lay claim to the here and now.
It’s ours to keep, we believe, somehow.
Tomorrow’s finalities will not come today.
Deception convinces us it will always be this way.
But God’s Word says, “don’t boast about tomorrow,”
Because today’s certainties will be tomorrow’s sorrow.
Life’s a vapour, a fleeting moment.
Eternity advances without opponent.
So put your trust in eternal things,
Not houses, lands, what the present brings.
Only God remains untouched by time and mortality,
Existing immortal, unchanging throughout eternity.
With God things forever remain the same,
So place your hope in Him and praise His name.