I took an informal poll recently which asked people if they wanted to go to heaven when they died. As I expected, the majority answered yes. I am sure the responders had different ideas about what heaven is like or how you get there, but most of them agreed that they wanted to experience it. But I am certain there would have been fewer yes answers if I had asked, “Do you want to love and obey God now so you can live with Him in heaven forever after you die?”
Sometimes what we want — in this example, to live in heaven — and what we are willing to do to get it — in this example, love and obey God — are incompatible. We find the same incompatibility in many areas of life. I want to be at my ideal weight but am not willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Some people want to get out of debt but are unwilling to reduce their spending. Others want better relationships but are not willing to put in the required effort. Regardless of what we say, what we do reflects what we truly want.
The gospels tell the story of a man who also faced this dilemma:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
…Jesus answered, “You know the commandments…”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22, NIV)
This man is just like us! We want to have everything we want…but on our terms. We want treasure, influence, and significance in this life AND we want eternal life. It is tempting to think having the best of earth and the best of heaven is far more life. But it is not.
Jesus was not giving the man in this story a to do list that would lead to salvation. Based on other Scripture passages, we know that selling all we possess is not how we gain eternal life (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8). Instead, Jesus gave this answer to draw out the true desires of this man’s heart, to reveal what he truly loved. Jesus had explained the principle at work in an earlier teaching:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21, NIV)
The man was doing many good things but had given his heart to his wealth. He treasured his possessions and lifestyle. He wanted the benefits God offered but was not willing to give up the benefits his wealth provided.
Throughout human history people have wanted to do their own thing but still receive God’s blessing. God made this statement to the Israelites around 1300 years before Jesus walked the earth:
You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)
Humans want the freedom to make other things, people, or pursuits more important than God, but we also want Him to shower us with good gifts. However, this verse draws a sharp line: we either love God and receive His love or we hate Him and receive His punishment. There is no middle ground in our relationship with Him or His response to us. A similar warning is found in Revelation:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17, NIV)
Do you notice the different “riches” that are referenced in these verses? It is tempting for us to place value on material possessions, status, or physical comfort. But God’s riches are spiritual in nature. In fact, he warns us:
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:36, NIV)
Far more life desires and pursues the spiritual riches that God offers. It seeks to give and receive forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, unity, generosity, and hope. It is grounded in faith. It sees this life — with its struggles, temptations, and successes — in light of eternity. Far more life is centered on God rather than self. It strives to understand and obey Him more rather than cling to comfortable attitudes and actions. Far more life may look poor to the world but it leads to the greatest and best wealth possible!
What do you desire in life? Are your actions compatible with that desire?
How would you describe the best earth has to offer? The best heaven has to offer?
What is your reaction to the statement, “We either love God and receive His love or we hate Him and receive His punishment. There is no middle ground.” What Bible verses support or negate this strong stand?
If you love God, what spiritual riches have you already gained?
Thank God that the riches of far more life start now and last forever!
Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso