Posted in Christianity, Love

More than a Fish Story: An Old Testament Lesson in Grace

not just another fish story

On Memorial Day, we remember with a measure of sadness and a whole lot of pride those brave men and women who have given their very greatest gift for the sake of defending our freedom and way of life.

It seems like an appropriate time to remember the person who paved the way for such magnificent sacrifice, our Lord Jesus, who, having lived a human life and managed what none of us will ever do, that is to be without sin, sacrificed Himself so that we might have eternal life through His grace.

Most people want to place grace solidly in the New Testament. Some like to see God as a sort of split personality—the wrathful, war-like Judge of the Old Testament versus the loving, saving Lamb of the New. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so it isn’t really any surprise to find examples of His grace throughout the story of our relationship with the Eternal.

Take the narrative of the reluctant prophet Jonah. If you haven’t read his story since you were a child and more prone to concentrate on the concept of a man inside a fish, take a bit of time today with me to look at this Biblical episode, which is so about grace.

As I read Jonah’s story during my Bible study this week, I was impressed anew by its parallels to some of the events in Jesus’ life, and I was struck by its overpowering message of God’s grace. In fact, I found that some of Jonah’s goofiest reactions to God’s calling for him only go to underscore the truth of God’s mercy.

Jonah arrives on the Biblical scene at a time when the Jews could be doing better. They are a divided kingdom, running through a succession of kings who take turns being for God, ambivalent, or outright disobedient. Sometimes they worship as they ought. Other times, they cling to pagan idols.

But Jonah isn’t sent to prophesy to the Jews! Instead, God wants Jonah to warn the Assyrians in the metropolitan city of Nineveh to repent before He executes a mighty punishment on them. There may be more immediate reasons that God places Jonah on this path, but there is also an inkling here of God’s future message of grace. He wants all to be saved: Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles, even enemies of His chosen people like the Assyrians. And, as we shall see, this story also shows how often the Gentiles turn more quickly to God’s message of grace than His chosen people.

When called, like so many of us, Jonah doesn’t want to go. So, forgetting that God is everywhere, Jonah hops a ship and tries the impossible feat of outrunning Him. Jonah doesn’t get far. A storm begins to rage on the open waters. The sailors of the vessel, terrified, are surprised to find Jonah fast asleep as the storm rages.

Even though Jesus was not running from God, you might recall He, too, was found fast asleep during a stormy voyage on the open water. When His disciples wake Him, He calmly abates the storm. Jonah’s path to bringing about calm waters is clumsy by comparison.

The sailors cast lots to figure out who is responsible and then start questioning Jonah. He admits it is his fault that the storm has come and offers to sacrifice himself for their safety by being thrown overboard into the sea. (Jonah doesn’t know that God will save him, so he really is offering to die to save the men in the boat.) The sailors, reluctant to kill a man, even though he has brought this calamity on them in the first place, attempt to ride out the storm. Eventually, even they have to admit defeat and throw Jonah overboard.

Jonah stays inside the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (another parallel to Christ, who was three days and three nights in the tomb before rising again). While sitting in the gooey, smelly darkness, Jonah prays, and what he prays about is grace and the salvation that comes because of it:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.

God uses the vine to teach Jonah grace

If Jonah’s story isn’t already weird enough, it takes another strange twist once he has successfully fulfilled his mission. For, having prophesied doom so that the Assyrians actually repent of their evil ways, Jonah gets angry that God chooses to show compassion instead of reigning destruction on the great city:

That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish, Jonah complains. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Showing how challenging the concept of grace can be for humans to grasp, Jonah accepts God’s compassion on an intellectual level but is so irritated that his prophesying was unnecessary since God did not condemn Nineveh that Jonah proclaims he is angry enough to die.

Jonah finds a place east of the city (won’t Christ come from the east upon His return?) and plops down to do just that. But, God isn’t finished teaching him lessons, or us, just yet. God makes a vine grow over Jonah that protects him from the elements. The next day, God allows the vine to be gnawed away by a worm, exposing Jonah to a scorching wind and blazing sun.

Now Jonah is really angry, but God gives Jonah a more merciful perspective to consider, one that takes into account the true meaning of the vine that Jesus later proclaims:

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Our God loves us. Even when we are most despicable, He longs for us to turn towards Him. He forgives yesterday, today and forever. He saves yesterday, today and forever.

During this Memorial Day holiday, as we pay honor to those who have given their lives in fighting for our country, we should begin by honoring the One whose sacrifice gave tangible proof of God’s saving grace. Because of Jesus, we creations of the mighty God know every moment of every day through all circumstances that God’s grace never fails.

Only God could tell us so much from the story of a reluctant prophet in the belly of a whale.

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

love-story

In a burial scene during the latest X-Men movies, one of the characters picks up the cross at the head of a newly dug grave and turns it before placing the two sticks back into the ground so that an X now stands at the head of the grave.

It’s supposed to be a simple statement about the person buried in the ground,  but I couldn’t help myself from seeing something deeper behind the symbolic gesture. It seemed to me that by taking down the cross in this way, the movie had literally “X-ed” out God.

But, should I really give in to the righteous outrage this degradation of my God stirred in my chest? If I look really hard at the way we Christians try, and mostly fail, to reflect why Christ’s message is good news, how can I really blame the secular world for its obsession in breaking down the things they perceive that I stand for?

I recently listened to one of N.T. Wright’s speeches at a Pepperdine Bible Lecture series. In it, he claimed that the story the world at large has learned from us when it comes to Christ is one in which God’s hatred of us led to the need for the sacrifice of His Son to save mankind instead of the truth of the absolute love story the gospel really is.

For God so loved the world. Growing up listening to too many sermons where I was reminded, like Jonathon Edwards’ congregation of the 18th century, that I might be likened to a spider dangling above the open flame of God’s wrath, I easily supplanted His overwhelming love in my fear of His inevitable judgment.

In a world where you are reminded of your failings, the love you feel from God too easily becomes understood as conditional. You have to earn His love for you, just as you earn the respect of your peers. Considering how often we stumble, I can only imagine how much He rightfully hates me. Looking at life through these conditional lenses, I can’t help but hate myself.

It’s easy enough to fall into this trap of doing to earn God’s love and salvation. We live in a world where we delineate winners and losers. We judge others according to their accomplishments. We study a Bible in which we struggle to match the Old Testament God of Wrath with the New Testament God on a Cross.

We Christians are not immune from failing to fully accept that our belief alone in Christ and His teaching is what saves us, even though nothing else we do adds anything to our actual salvation. Too often, we make these unconscious checklists of the things we should be doing to ensure what is already ours through faith, things like never missing church on Sunday or never passing a person wanting a handout without giving him something. These to-do lists are commendable goals for a grateful heart that wants to live for God, but making them a requirement for salvation proves we have fallen victim to rendering conditional a relationship that is actually unlimited.

If Christians are unclear on the absolutely unconditional love of God for humanity, how much more so will those who do not believe fall victim to our seemingly confused theology? We make it so much easier for a secular world to X out the one good thing it has going for it because the light we shine is shrouded in this confusion over the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

The good news is that the story of Christ is not a story of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a true love story, the truest love story, about a God who made us in love, in His own image, and has never stopped loving us unconditionally, even when we turn our backs on Him.

If you need examples of man’s inability to break the bonds of God’s love for us, the Bible is replete with them. How many times did the Jews turn from the ways of a God Who only wanted them to love Him first and foremost? And, every time, He waited patiently for the stiff necks to turn in true worship to Him once more.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is another example of God’s capacity to feel love, only love, even when we deserve His disgust.  When the prodigal wastes his inheritance, returning to his home only after he has led the most ignoble of lifestyles, the father doesn’t tell him that he got exactly what he deserved. The father greets him in love, with mighty hugs, tears of joy, and a grand feast. When one lost lamb returns to the herd, the Shepherd who loves beyond human understanding rejoices.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the love story that is Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation is the assurance that we who believe are no longer condemned. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans (8:1), one of the New Testament’s most powerful treatises on the gift of Grace.

We’re human. We’re still going to stumble and fall. But, no matter how hard we hit the pavement, God refuses to condemn a saved soul. That doesn’t mean He won’t want better from us next time. It doesn’t mean we should go through life without thinking about our actions or trying to be a better person. It just means we can free ourselves from the burden of judgment that has been lifted. The yoke of our Mighty God is truly light. It is a yoke held up by the truest love there is.

You want to argue politics or stand on your moral high ground about hot-topic issues? Maybe there is a time and place for all of those things. But today, in this divided country we live in, I think it is much more important to make the Christian job description conducive to spreading the love story of our Awesome God.

If you want to change the world, start by making sure the world knows just how much God loves it. He put a piece of Himself on that rough wood and gave up all the power of the universe so that His children, which includes all of us, could be in relationship with Him again in a heavenly home where love conquers all.

That’s a love story of the ages, for the ages. And it always has a happily ever after.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

For Such A Time As This: Lessons From The Queen

esther

Hadassah, an orphan, loves her cousin Mordecai, who has raised her. He has never steered her wrong, so when Cousin Mordecai tells Hadassah to present herself as a candidate for the next queen to King Xerxes, Hadassah goes along with it. She even goes along with it when Cousin Mordecai tells her not to let anyone know she is a Jew.

So, as Esther, Hadassah presents herself at the palace, knowing that at worst she will spend the rest of her life as a slave in the king’s harem and at best, she will be named queen.

She may not relish being named the queen. The woman she will be replacing was put aside when she refused to present herself before the king and his nobles and military officials, even though they had all been partying for seven days, drinking freely because the king had put no limit to the amount of liquor he was offering to those attending.

One can only imagine that queen’s position. Vashti has been hosting 180-days’ worth of pomp and circumstance. In the last seven days, while the king is eating and drinking to excess, she has been hosting her own banquet for the women.

King Xerxes expects Vashti to come when he snaps and to look as beautiful as possible when she shows up. Vashti is one of the original trophy wives. So, when she doesn’t jump at the chance to parade in front of a very large banquet full of very, very drunk men, King Xerxes summons a band of “wise men” to determine the action he should take.

In order to ensure that no other women get any ideas of independence from Vashti’s actions, the men decide that the queen should be banished. Xerxes takes this action with a rapidity that is matched only by the leisure he takes in deciding he misses having a beautiful woman around. That’s when the advisors determine to find the king a new queen.

Esther enters the palace for twelve months’ worth of beauty treatments in preparation of her presentation to the king. It sounds like pampering, but the pressure is on. She has to be pleasing to the eunuchs in charge of her, to the slaves attending her, all in practice for being brought before the king. If she is not chosen, Esther will still spend the rest of her life in the palace, but as a mere slave. Either way, the one place Esther will never live again is among her own people.

Perhaps, she was surprised to be the woman King Xerxes chose. Imagine her awe as a royal crown was placed upon her head, a banquet thrown in her honor. And still she stayed silent about her heritage because Cousin Mordecai told her to. When Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill Xerxes, Queen Esther is able to save the king, proudly giving her cousin the credit.

So, when Mordecai urges Esther to go before the king to plead the Jewish cause, perhaps Esther wonders if he has lost his marbles. After all, she hasn’t told Xerxes she’s a Jew. The king hasn’t even felt the need to see her for a month. Maybe his desire for her has waned. He has a full harem of women, after all. And, if she walks in uninvited without the king acknowledging her, she can be hung!

Cousin Mordecai’s response to Esther’s hesitance is a classic source of comfort for all who face tough decisions. “What if you were made queen,” Mordecai asks, “for such a time as this?”

Esther is no dummy. She knows the risk she is about to take, and she knows the honor God commands. She asks Mordecai and all her people to fast and pray for her for three days before she undertakes this dangerous mission.  She and her servants do the same.

Esther enters the king’s presence, and he is pleased by her. She knows how much the king enjoys a good feast and throws a banquet for the king and her cousin’s greatest enemy, Haman. When the king is indeed pleased and asks what Esther would like in return, she doesn’t press her luck, but merely asks for the king to come again the next day for another banquet. Only if she pleases the king, she assures him, will she even make a request.

Who can resist a beautiful woman who is also humble? Not King Xerxes, who hurries to fulfill Esther’s request the next day to save her people, allowing them to take vengeance on their enemies. She underscores the humility of her request by assuring Xerxes that she would not even bother him with the fate of the Jews if they had been destined to become slaves. That fate would not have been important enough for King Xerxes’ consideration, Esther reasons.

In the end, it seems Esther was indeed made queen for such a time as this. Thinking about Esther’s fate somehow makes facing our own challenges just a little bit easier. Perhaps rough times now are giving us the skills we need for even more difficult times in the future. Maybe a challenging life change at this moment will turn out to be a tenfold blessing further along in our lives. Maybe we are persecuted for what we believe in in order to inspire others to faith.

Besides teaching us to look for God’s lessons in the events of our lives, Esther teaches us the importance of humility in our relationship with God. If we approach each day knowing the gratitude we should feel for not getting what we deserve (which is death), but instead getting the free gift of grace, imagine how powerful God will make our days.

With God, no one who enters into His throne room need fear rejection. He extends His golden scepter to all comers.

And that is the greatest lesson of all.

Posted in Christian Living

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt, Unfortunately

Nile_006
                            The Nile River

Our country was founded on the principle of being “one nation under God.” For some, the experiment of government which began in 1776 represented the supreme achievement of humanity, a project that surely had the approval and even power of God behind it.

I wonder what those founders would say about the country we have today. Do we still reflect a nation under God?

As I watched an episode of “Family Feud” recently, I was struck by the number one answer to the prompt that cuts to the heart of this question of our nation’s “godliness.” When asked how many of the Ten Commandments they had broken in the past week, the majority of people said once.

One time, really? As comedian John Pinette might put it, “I say, nay, nay.”

What this response revealed to me was the depth of our self-delusion in a world marked by a strong reliance on a belief system that is really humanism cloaked in religion. Humanism places mankind above all things, going so far as to make man a god. The end goal of humanism is happiness, often achieved by convincing the self that it is the best possible self it can be.

Humanists have a relative moral compass. As long as they don’t hurt somebody else, then they are living good lives. In fact, if their ultimate happiness is achieved by their actions, then even if they hurt somebody, their actions are justified.

Television, movies, the internet, and the unyielding consumerism machine all support the humanistic approach to life. They are pervasive, persuasive and corrosive. They do a great job of lulling us into a sense of security so that we don’t even realize when the lines between religion and humanism are blurred.

Consumerism leads us away from God.
Consumerism leads us away from God.

But when we get specific, the walls of humanism crumble. Consider the Ten Commandments question. Because we are conditioned to see the best side of ourselves, we really don’t see our own failings. We fall victim to the pride that most severely separates us from the one, true God.

On any given day, we must fight the temptations that would have us breaking the commandments. How often do you allow the cares of this world to get in the way of your relationship with God, whether it be watching television when you could be studying the Bible or trying to juggle your funds because of purchases you should not have made? Are you ruled more by God or by the bills in your mailbox?

Do you really make it through a day without wanting the handbag some woman is carrying in the mall or, even more likely, the kind of life you see blaring from your television screen? You may not follow through on the desire, but you are still coveting.

Were you short with your father or mother this past week? Did they make a simple request you scoffed? Can you not remember the last time you even spoke to them? Honoring your father and mother involves more than just doing what you are told when you are under their roof.

Did you know that God hates a loose, lying tongue? Look for verses on the words we speak, and you will find countless references in the Word warning us to bide our tongues. In Revelation, God equates perpetual liars with those who practice sexual perversions on the sin list. Did you tell the whole truth in the last week? Were your words kind, uplifting and of the Spirit? Did you manage to refrain from gossip, which is usually a half-truth that is still a form of lying?

Do you think my take on the commandments is too strict, too overreaching? Read the Sermon on the Mount. Christ did not come to the world to negate the Law, but to fulfill it. His sacrifice saves us from our own sinfulness, but it does not give us carte blanche to sin. In fact, Christ’s approach to living takes the Ten Commandments to the next level.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ implores us to not only not commit adultery, but to not even think about it. If one part of our body leads us into sin, He tells us, then we would be better served to rid ourselves of the offending body part then risk not making it to heaven.

Choose to be humble.
                     Choose to be humble.

God loves humility, which the Bible defines as the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 22:4a). A humble heart embraces its own failings. A humble heart sees truth through the eyes of its Maker and not according to its own desires. “Pride brings a person low,” the Proverbs tell us, “but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (29:23).  As opposed to humanism, which encourages people to consider the self as godly, Christianity implores us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

A truly humble heart would answer the Ten Commandments question quite differently. It would know that in a world that is cloaked in the grace of Christ, we still stumble. We continue to strive because of Christ’s example of love, even as we know that we will ultimately fall short. The very definition of grace, the gift of salvation from a loving God that cannot be earned but must be accepted, proves that no person is without sin.

My prayer is that we all can live in the eye-opening state of humbleness rather than the veiled existence of humanism. Only by putting God first in all things instead of ourselves will we truly see ourselves most clearly. Then, we will know that the Ten Commandments are about our everyday lives and not some archaic law to be considered once a week. Then, we will truly understand what it means to live “under God.”

 

Posted in Faith

Know God Rejoices Over You

bible study

We should begin each day with a grateful prayer that God is patient.

How patient are you? Think about whatever annoys you most. Perhaps it is a yapping dog next door or a fussy baby at the next table in a restaurant. Maybe your nerves can’t stand the sound of loud music or large crowds.

Whenever one of these annoyances happens in your life, how long does it take for you to lose your cool? Do you move to another table, wear earplugs, stay home alone?

What if God were just as quick to let his righteous anger show? We deserve it. He says go right, and we zag left. He whispers for allegiance and offers a light hand. We turn stiff necks and deaf ears on Him.

We deserve to be thrown in the pit along with our Old Testament fellows, who defied God even when He gave them chance after chance to do what was right.

As Dr. Rubel Shelly explains in his upcoming book, More than a Fig Leaf, grace is not a concept that only comes along in the time of Christ.  When you compare how God treats the people of the Old Testament to how they actually deserved to be treated, you see a God of infinite patience who always acts under a plan of grace.

What more blessing could we ask for than that our God rejoices over us? The Bible tells us:

The Lord your God is with you;
    the mighty One will save you.
He will rejoice over you.
    You will rest in his love;
    he will sing and be joyful about you.
–Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)

Bad things happen. In this world where the devil gets to play, the bad things happen more often than any of us would want. And, being a Christian doesn’t save us from any of the downs that dominate certain seasons of every life. In fact, Jesus reminds us, “He causes the sun to rise on good people and on evil people, and he sends rain to those who do right and to those who do wrong” (Matt. 5:45).

But, how comforting it is to realize that the bad things that happen when we are in Christ are not because of God’s impatience. Instead, we are able to survive the bad things because of God’s love for us.

If you are in the valley, remember the One who has promised to trek with you is there. Know His peace, and you will live in peace.

Posted in Faith

This Walk By Faith

Footsteps_in_the_south_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1655352

Watching a video on early church history with my life group, I was struck by one of the biographies of early church leaders.  I believe it was John Wesley who was so zealous for God that he had even been to America to mission there.  On the return trip home, Wesley was caught in a great storm at sea and found himself falling way short in the faith department as he faced possible death.

I wondered why someone who had enough belief to go out and share God’s word would be so quick to fall from faith (or at least blame himself for falling).  Then, the documentary continued to explain the most important next step of Wesley’s faith story.  The man who would go on to lay the foundations for the Methodist movement learned the difference between a salvation that is earned and one that is freely given.  Wesley learned to embrace grace. 

As Paul teaches in many of his letters, our salvation is not earned.  We are saved from the damnation we deserve only because Jesus chose to die on the cross for our sins, make us right with God once and for all, and send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and pull us toward the kind of living that reflects the kind of loving life Jesus lived.

When we have asked Jesus to be our Saviour and admitted our need for His offer of salvation, we are saved.  Even in the face of our most immediate, physical dangers, we can take comfort in knowing that our souls are safe.  We will join Jesus in heaven.  We will see God.  We will know that eternal place where there is no fear, no pain, no doubt.

When you release the need to earn salvation, you are free to embrace the humanness we all share.  You are free to love the way that God intended us to love.  You know that you cannot be proud since none of us are good enough because of anything we’ve done.  We are only good enough because God made us all equally “good enough” by dying on the cross for us.

What a different experience John Wesley would have had on that scary boat ride if he already understood that his faith was enough to ensure his salvation through grace!  He would not have feared his future thinking he had not yet sown enough fruit for God to be saved.  Instead, he might have felt that “peace which surpasses understanding,” knowing that whatever happened, it would be God’s will.

None of us know for sure how we will react to life-and-death moments until we have actually experienced them.  But all of us can practice living out our faith by doing what Jesus commanded:  “‘AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”… (Mark 12:30-31).

When we truly have faith, we act out our faith through our deeds.  We actively seek to shine the Light of God.  We study His word.  We seek relationship with Him in prayer.  We seek fellowship with other believers.  We do things for even strangers that we would appreciate being done to us.

I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by sight
‘Cause I can’t see straight in the broad daylight
I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by fear
‘Cause I believe in the one who brought me here

“Walk by Faith,” by Out of the Grey–Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/out-of-the-grey/walk-by-faith-lyrics/#kPBrrx4vIIO2CioE.99

 

Posted in Christian Living

One “Greedy” Reason to Bear Fruit

We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.
We inherit salvation by grace, but how we bear fruit is another reward altogether.

In a final day so secret that no being save ONE knows its exact date, a great scroll will unfurl, and all souls gathered will join in a celebration like no other, for their journey as mutual heirs to the most mighty kingdom of all will be complete.  On that day, what every soul yearns for, to be re-united with its eternal Creator, will wonderfully come to pass.  From those who committed a lifetime of fruitful living, like Paul, to the criminal who died on the cross beside Christ believing only moments before he died, every person who confessed the deity of the Son of God and accepted the gift of Grace will realize their kinship as heirs to the kingdom of heaven on that day.

This Grace provides us with an inheritance like no other.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

So that in ages to come He (God) might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (2:7-10).

In the final lesson of “Amazing Place,” pastor Rick Atchley’s series on what heaven will be like, he makes a distinction between our inheritance as heirs to the kingdom of God, which is equal to all Christians, and the kind of judgment (actually a rewards system) that will be taking place in heaven.  Of course, we believers who have accepted Christ want to fulfill the promise of good works God put us on this earth to complete for Him, but Atchley’s comparison of inheritance versus judgment in heaven also gives us a very “human” incentive to do our best while we are here on earth.

First, let’s make it clear that those who have asked for the redemption bought for us with the very blood of Christ, are no longer under the yoke of judgment that cloaks a fallen world:

“He who believes in Him is not judged,” John writes; “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3: 18).  Jesus tells us, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).  Paul assures us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

True, the book of Revelations is full of examples of the kind of ultimate defeat that will happen when God once and for all finishes the destruction of evil that was begun when Jesus died and rose again.  However, the judgment that takes place for Christians at this time will be more like a reward system tallying how well we did at bearing the fruit of the Spirit.  My Ryrie Study Bible explains in the footnote to the famous verse of John 3:16 that the “eternal life” promised is “a new quality of life, not an everlasting ‘this-life.'”

Part of that new quality of life is casting off the sinful nature and becoming a “new creation,” as Paul puts it.  Christ admonishes us to “store up treasures in heaven” where nothing can rust or corrode what we have collected.  We all inherit equal amounts of Grace, but we do not all tally equal amounts of heavenly treasure.

As one of my life group members pointed out, this way of looking at inheritance versus judgment/reward puts a different spin on some of the more perplexing parables in the Bible.  When you read about the workers of the vineyard who come to work only in the last hour and yet get paid the same amount as the workers who have put in a full day, doesn’t the human nature in you think, how exactly is that fair?  Well, if you consider the wages of the story the inheritance of salvation, the parable makes a different kind of sense.  Surely, when it comes time to hand out the rewards for the work of that day, those who bore the most fruit will receive more of a reward than those who came in the final hour.  In the same way, some who worked unfruitfully for the entire day may actually receive fewer rewards than some who made the most of the less time in the vineyard they had to sow seeds.

So, if we really will see a reward system in heaven according to how well we have used God’s gifts to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth, doesn’t it give us something to look forward to about the Day of Judgment?  Instead of picturing myself cringing at every stupid and willful thing I have done in this life being shown to me on some huge type of movie-screen while everyone watches, I can look forward to seeing, hopefully, that I have managed to do some good things for God!

As a perfectionist who is pathetically seeking “A’s” in a reality that has been outside the classroom for almost two decades, the concept of getting a “well done” from the only Judge who really matters frankly gives me goose bumps.  I used to imagine Christ’s second coming as a moment of awe and love so wonderful, followed by a period of having to be shown all my mistakes during life so I can “start clean” in heaven.  There probably isn’t any theological reason for me to have been imagining the second coming that way.  It’s just the impression I had of the way things might go, even with the grace of God that is my salvation through Christ.

Now, instead of dreading Judgment Day, I actually have something to look forward to.  I also have even more reasons to strive to use my God-given talents to love, love, love while I am on this planet.

As heirs in Christ, we may get in by the skin of our belief, but let’s not spend eternity wishing we had done just a little bit more for Him while we were still here on earth.  Let’s build up as much treasure in heaven as we possibly can by doing as God commanded:  loving Him first and foremost and loving all others as we ourselves wish to be loved (Matthew 22: 36-40).

The Last Will and Testament of our LORD Jesus Christ is the most generous will of all time.  And, if you want to become one of His heirs, all you have to do is ask Him.