Nowadays popular teachings in the Church focus mostly on obtaining God’s blessings in this life:
- How to appropriate God’s spiritual blessings in this life, often in terms of enjoying a closer relationship with Him in some way, or
- How to appropriate God’s material blessings in this life in terms of excellence in career, family, relationships, and one’s personal health
Well-written books which focus on these topics are in demand, and can sell very well indeed.
The songs we listen to often involve the worship and exaltation of God as they should, or focus on God’s grace and faithfulness in the face of our failures and weaknesses.
Of course believers should want to know God better and to enjoy Him while on earth. And of course most believers will want to do that which will maximize God’s blessings on their personal lives while on earth. Of course God forgives us when we fall short and we confess it to Him.
But there is something missing here. While we seek to maximize our enjoyment of God and His varied blessings in this life, we are leaving in the background something far more important: our place and standing in the next age.
Our time on earth is like new grass in the morning which withers by evening.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death– they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:5-6)
Planning ahead for the next age
While it’s understandable that we want to optimize and enjoy our time on earth, is it not wisdom for believers to plan ahead for our time in the next age which will last forever and ever? Although we all have eternal life, we will not all have the same standing in the kingdom of God. Should we not want to maximize our eternal standing?
Few teachings address this matter directly. While some teachings may indeed have a positive effect on our standing in the next age, it is an indirect, perhaps even unintentional effect. Perhaps part of the reason is that it does not somehow feel quite “spiritual.” God loves us all the same. In Revelation 4 the twenty-four elders all lay their hard-earned crowns (symbolizing authority) before the throne and instead give glory, honor, and power to God. It does not seem very spiritual that like the two sons of Zebedee we should be jockeying for position in the Lord’s kingdom.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28)
Notice what Jesus taught them through this incident. Although the other ten disciples were indignant with the two brothers, Jesus did not rebuke them for their “selfish” desire to sit at his right and left in his kingdom. Indeed those places are set aside for those believers for whom the Father has prepared these places and who have earned these places. Jesus taught them the heavy price that must be paid if they wanted to be great or first in his kingdom: servanthood. Indeed, servanthood is taught and emphasized in some quarters within the body of Christ. What is rarely mentioned is that it can result in actual greatness in the Lord’s eternal kingdom. Perhaps because of a certain spirituality we picked up in our Christian walk, we hardly mention or teach about greatness in the next age. But is it wrong to want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”? And because he was obedient unto death on a cross, he was given the name that is above every name. Was that not a reward from his Father for his sacrificial obedience?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Is it wrong to aspire to greatness in the kingdom of God?
No, it is not wrong as long as we carry the attitude that we are unworthy servants and only doing our duty (Luke 17:10). There should be no selfish pride, but only a desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to bring glory to God the Father. Unfortunately, there may be a false humility or pseudo-spirituality in the Church which discourages believers from doing this.
There is also a bias in the Church against “earning” anything from God by doing good works. This is a centuries-long backlash and reaction against the Roman Catholic doctrine of works which has resulted in an extreme emphasis on grace in some quarters of the Church. There are moreover believers who grew up with a Catholic background and who have been set free from trying to please God by legalistic human efforts. Therefore they can be very sensitive to any mention of pleasing God even by doing good works in obedience to Him. Often they need to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit who leads them and empowers them to please God by doing those good works.
The author of this article never had a religious background while growing up. I received Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade at the age of twenty-six. When I was filled with the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus Christ was so intimately revealed to me that I literally gave up everything to follow Him. I gave up my university degrees and “the American Dream” to serve Him by faith without the financial support of any church. By the time I was twenty-eight years old, my wife and I were missionaries in unreached primitive areas of Indonesian Borneo. I did this not in an effort to please God, but because there was absolutely nothing else I wanted to do with my life. And so we obeyed the command of the Lord to “go.” This was the grace of God.
But it appears that “grace” has been overemphasized in an unscriptural way, resulting in yet another problem. Since we are saved by grace through faith and cannot earn our salvation by good works, we perhaps unconsciously and incorrectly assume that it is not necessary to be good or to do good. This may be one reason why many Christians fail to overcome sin in some areas of their personal lives even after following the Lord for many years. Many Christians struggle in areas like unforgiveness and sexual sin. Fantasy lust involving pornography are reportedly rampant in the Church, especially among men. Since God will always forgive them as long as they confess the sin to Him, it’s not a high priority for them to overcome the sin by the power of the Spirit. This is, of course, not the primary purpose of the grace of God. It is not a license for immorality. Rather, the grace of God enables us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this age.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:11-12)
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
“God knows that we are prone to wander”
There are Christian songs featuring lyrics reminding us of God’s faithfulness to save us despite our failures and our proneness to wander from His commands. He is “able to keep us from falling.” Indeed there will be times in our lives when we find ourselves in a spiritual desert yet God is so gracious to pick us up and lead us to the Promised Land of milk and honey. Nevertheless, it is not God’s perfect will for us to struggle constantly with confusion and failure in our life on earth until somehow we appear in the kingdom of God.
Should we not rather seek to receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Should we not rather do what we need to do in order to hear the words “well done, my good servant. Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” (Luke 19:17)
The answer would appear to be obvious. So why is it that teaching in this area is so lacking in the Church?
Eternal reward in the kingdom of God
Eternal reward, apart from and in addition to salvation, should be the second most important consideration for a believer. Yet it is a topic barely mentioned in popular books and songs. One reason is because a believer’s eternal reward is most definitely related to his or her good works and performance in this life, making it appear at first to be contrary to the emphasis on God’s grace. However, this enabling grace is definitely involved when believers do good works in obedience to God’s holy commands, and which can result in eternal reward. Paul reminds us:
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
However, it is nevertheless the believer who actually steps forward and performs the work in obedience to God’s command. When Jesus told Peter to “come” in Matthew 14, Peter actually had to obey the command and step out of the boat. It was not enough for Peter to remain in the boat and just “trust the Lord.” We are partners with God, and as such we must do our part. Let us discuss exactly what believers are responsible for if they want to receive a rich welcome in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Therefore if we want to be welcomed richly into the Lord’s kingdom, it will not be enough simply to “believe” without that faith being followed up by our developing the godly qualities of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. These qualities must increase in us so that we may be effective and productive for the Lord. We are to confirm our calling and election. If we do these things, we will never stumble, and we will be richly welcomed into the Lord’s eternal kingdom.
If we are indeed disciples of the Lord, we should not be satisfied with anything less than a rich welcome into the kingdom of God. But popular themes in the Church today would have us think that most believers are struggling and would be content just to make it into the kingdom, let alone richly welcomed. They are encouraged just to hold on no matter what and cling to our faithful Lord who will save us. But that was obviously not Peter’s primary intention when he penned the challenging words above.
By the grace of God we have received by knowing Jesus, we have everything we need for a godly life. We are able to participate in the divine nature of Jesus and become like him. Because of this grace, we can make every effort to grow in those seven godly qualities and produce good fruit for the Lord. We will never stumble. But if we lack those qualities, we are nearsighted and blind, and have forgotten that our sins have been cleansed. We see therefore that there is a range in which believers can be classified—from receiving a rich welcome into the kingdom to “stumbling”, whatever that may mean to you according to your doctrinal background.
Where do WE want to be?
Of course no sincere believer wants to be in danger of stumbling. Whatever it mean may, it is to be avoided. We would rather be richly welcomed to the Lord’s kingdom in the next age. Why then is there such an emphasis only on getting saved, and after that not stumbling? And what is the reason for the focus on receiving God’s blessings in this life—whether spiritual or material? Why is there not much more teaching on eternal reward in the next age—the second most important matter after salvation itself? These very relevant questions demand answers.
Teachings which focus on salvation through faith in God only are considered by the writer of Hebrews to be “elementary.”
Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
We are encouraged to “move beyond” such elementary teachings.
Why so much focus on blessings in this life?
Human beings naturally want to be comfortable now. The Old Testament contains accounts and abundant Scriptures promising God’s material blessings for His faithful servants among the Israelites. King Solomon was perhaps the richest man who ever lived. (One calculation even has his son David contributing the equivalent of six billion US dollars for the construction of the Temple.) “Prosperity teachers” therefore concentrate on Old Testament Scriptures. However, teaching which is concentrated primarily on the Old Testament can become imbalanced, for the Old Testament consists of shadows which have been fulfilled by the reality to be found New Testament.
Colossians 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The Old Testament can be considered the “shadow” and the New Testament the fulfillment and the reality of that shadow. Material blessings in the Old Testament are the shadow, while the fulfillment of these in the New Testament are spiritual and heavenly blessings through Christ. We are not at all saying that New Testament believers cannot or should not be wealthy. Rather we are saying that the emphasis in the Church today should be teaching believers to be spiritually rich in Christ through faith, obedience to God’s commands, and living holy lives. God will make some of these believers materially wealthy so that they can “do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1Timothy 6:19)
When we read through the New Testament, nowhere do we find an emphasis on material blessing as taught by prosperity preachers. The emphasis is rather on what kind of lives we ought to live now in light of what Christ has done for us and in light of the next age to be ushered in with His Second Coming. But such teaching does not sell well in the world.
The prosperity message is good marketing and brings the crowds
The message that God wants to bless us materially can tickle people’s ears and flesh, and bring the crowds to church on Sundays with their seed offerings. It can result in impressive church growth and healthy self-esteem for pastors. However, Paul said that people who think that godliness is a means to financial gain have been robbed of the truth (1Timothy 6:5).
1Timothy 6:9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
Earthly success or heavenly reward?
While we are not saying that believers must choose between the two, Hebrews nevertheless offers a tantalizing comparison between them.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. (Hebrews 11:32-35a)
These verses describe earthly victories won by certain heroes of the faith. However, Hebrews describes another class of heroes who did not receive the things promised on earth.
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35b). Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, (Hebrews 11:36-39)
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Should not these heroes of the faith, like Paul, be the primary focus of emulation for sincere followers of Jesus Christ?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Should not our primary emphasis be on the next age when we will appear with him in glory? Is it wrong for a believer to want to maximize that eternal glory?
Is it “spiritual” to want to maximize our reward in the next age?
Paul teaches us about such reward in his epistles to the Corinthians. The eternal reward of the individual believer in the next age is related to good and fruitful works.
1 Corinthians 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved–even though only as one escaping through the flames.
If we choose to use “cheap materials” in our work for the Lord, we may suffer loss of reward. But if we choose to use “expensive materials”, we will receive our reward. It is up to us. The wise disciple will use expensive materials in order to receive his reward. There is nothing unspiritual about that.
Not that grace is absent in the determination of our eternal reward (or in the ability to do good works), but according to Jesus’ parables both the quality and quantity of our work are involved. Obedience to the command to overcome sin and live a holy life is now a factor as well (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Although we all receive the same salvation, we will not all receive the same reward.
For further teaching on the believer’s eternal reward, please click on The Second Most Important Things in Life and Our Eternal Reward: Use the Right Building Materials.
Scripture teaches us how eternal rewards are determined, which means it is up to us to decide what action should be taken in response. Those who seek to “maximize” their reward should not be considered less spiritual than those who do not care what reward they will receive, as long as they receive eternal life. Indeed, perhaps the very opposite is true.
As an example, believers are not at all considered unspiritual to want to maximize their retirement benefits while still working so that they will be able to enjoy their twilight years on earth and not suffer from lack. They may want to support the work of the gospel even after retirement. Now, how long does retirement last? Most people will live twenty or thirty years at the most after retirement. After that they leave this life and their children get whatever is left behind.
Now how long does our reward in the next age last? In this light it makes sense for us to want to maximize our eternal reward. Scripture helps us with this by teaching us how such rewards are determined. God made us in such a way that we respond to both reward and punishment. Some of us may come to Jesus Christ because we fear God’s wrath due to our sins. Similarly, it is not at all improper to want to obey God’s commands because of the promise of reward. Could it be that this is how the Lord encourages us to bear much good fruit for Him?
Yes, we serve God because He loved us first through Jesus who suffered in the cross for us. And as part of that love and grace He promises us eternal rewards—unimaginable authority to reign with Christ in the next age—in return for our efforts in this life. This reward, it should be mentioned, is far out of proportional to what we produce for Him on earth. In the Parable of the Minas mentioned earlier in this article, the servant who was trustworthy in a very small matter was given authority over ten cities (Luke 19:17). Therefore grace is also involved even in the determination of eternal reward for believers.
1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”– the things God has prepared for those who love him–
“I am coming soon! My reward is with me…”
In the very last chapter of Revelation with reference to His coming, Jesus said:
Revelation 22:12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.
After Christ appears, believers will appear before His judgment seat to receive their respective rewards. For some believers this may in fact involve loss of reward because they did “bad” works while on earth (1 Corinthians 3:15).
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
In order to prepare believers for this judgment seat following the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, we should now teach eternal rewards for believers, the determination of which definitely includes obedience and good works—done by God’s grace of course.
It’s been well over half a millennium since the Reformation. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back to the middle where we find the healthy balance taught in Holy Scripture.
Why not inform believers of this opportunity to “invest” their talents?
As good stewards, business-savvy believers especially welcome investment opportunities to grow the earthly wealth which God has entrusted to them. In the same way we have each been given talents by the Lord which are to be invested to produce fruit for Him while He is away. The reward to be given to each believer at the judgement seat of Christ will in part be related to our production for Him (Matthew 25:14ff; Luke 19:11ff). Bear in mind that Christ has commanded us to fulfill the Great Commission before His return.
Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. (John 4:35-36)
Why should the Church not inform believers of such great “opportunities” in the harvest during these last days to earn eternal reward? Why are the opportunities limited to only a relatively few “select” servants of God like missionaries and evangelists?
Follow Paul as Paul followed Christ
1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Instead of dwelling on the poor example of believers who stumble, fall, and barely make it, let us instead follow Paul’s robust example.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Paul was the true champion. We should all want to be like him as he followed the example of Christ.
What about “my power is made perfect in weakness”?
…Or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Paul’s weakness was not in the area of lacking faith or obedience or personal holiness. Rather the thorn was “in his flesh”—in his body. It was some type of physical weakness or external opposition: insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. Paul was not weak in the way that some think he was. On the contrary, by the power of the Spirit Paul was strong in faith, in obedience, and in personal holiness. Believers today should be taught and expected to do the same to prepare for the great and terrible Day of the Lord. If we love His coming, we will certainly take the right steps to prepare for it.
The rewards of obedience even in this life
Jesus taught his disciples about certain rewards even in this life for keeping his commands and bearing fruit for him.
John 15:10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” …Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:21-23)
We will remain in his love, and the Father will love us. Jesus and the Father will come to us and make their home with us. There is great comfort and confidence in knowing these things.
There is also a reward for following Jesus by doing the works that he did and bearing much fruit for him.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. …If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5, 7-8)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)
Disciples who bear much good fruit can ask whatever they wish, and it will be done for them. Of course we will be careful to ask only for that which pleases the Lord and produces more good fruit for Him.
It is said that whatever you teach is what you will get. It’s time we start teaching God’s people that it’s very possible for them to soar like eagles doing the works that Jesus did instead of barely making it into the kingdom of God “only as one escaping through the flames”.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
Of course we will continue to encourage and strengthen the weak; like the poor, they will always be with us. But during these last days it is time to train and equip vast armies of believers to serve as soldiers for the kingdom of God and to send them out to the Lord’s harvest field.
It’s time to train up a generation of disciples like Caleb who in a time of great opposition from the Israelites in the desert declared: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30) Caleb refused to shrink back from the Lord’s command to invade and take the Promised Land of Canaan. Out of the thousands of Israelite men of military age who came out of Egypt forty years earlier, only Caleb and Joshua and their families entered the Promised Land. The others died in the desert during the forty years of desert wanderings. It would be an interesting study to discover how “dying in the desert” applies to New Testament believers. Do all believers who have been delivered from slavery to sin (Egypt) by faith in Christ automatically enter the Promised Land?
It is true that believers must “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) But our lives on earth should be more than simply taking defensive measures against the wiles of the enemy and trusting the Lord to keep us from falling. We should also be engaged in offensive measures against the kingdom of darkness by proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick, casting out demons, and making disciples to fulfill the Great Commission. Eternal reward can be a result of such fruitful obedience. Could this be equivalent to “entering the Promised Land” for a New Testament believer?
The Christian song in which the lyrics “…and He will not let you fall” are repeated over and over, while comforting, falls short of God’s perfect will for us. He has so much more in store for us if we obey His commands.
How can we start?
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The kind of faith which pleases God should result in action—sometimes radical action—in obedience to God. That pleases Him.
…8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. …17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
Abraham demonstrated such radical faith and obedience to God by his actions of leaving his home and country, even though he did not know where he was going. He demonstrated this radical faith and obedience a second time when he offered his only son Isaac as a sacrifice. Because of his obedience, the Lord swore that He would bless Abraham and his descendants. Radical faith and obedience should be considered “normal” for disciples who have their sights set on the next age, on “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
As shared earlier, my wife and I followed in Abraham’s footsteps when in 1978 we gave up our university degrees and our “American Dream” and by faith left the United States for the primitive regions of Indonesia as missionaries. At that time we had no support from churches, no mission agency, no invitation from Indonesia, no training for missions, and no ministry experience aside from preaching on the streets. I had not yet even finished reading the Bible. But like Abraham we obeyed God’s call in a radical fashion. And He was and continues to bless us abundantly in our labors for His kingdom. This is the wonderful grace of God.
If you would like to read or download the book which relates our adventures of faith as missionaries in the primitive regions of Indonesia from 1978 to 1987, click on Dancing on the Edge of the Earth.
Without faith it is impossible to please God. And faith will result in obedience to God’s call—sometimes radically so. If you are truly setting your hope on “the city with foundations” after this present age, then you will obey God’s call—even radically.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
Instead of first seeking after our comfort and well-being in this life, let us consider Jesus’ words to his disciples:
Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
If we are indeed disciples of Jesus Christ, we should not behave like pagans who worry about and run after the physical necessities of this life. Rather let us first seek to realize the rule of God in our lives—meaning that we obey His call and His commands. Let us first seek after the personal righteousness and holiness which is achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit as we walk daily with the Lord. And God Himself will provide all our earthly necessities.
For further study: Eternal Rewards: Choosing the Right Building Materials