When was the last time you thought about heaven? When was the last time that the thought of heaven settled a decision in your life (eg, about your use of money or time)? When was the last time that the thought of heaven counterbalanced your sorrows and made you joyful when otherwise you wouldn’t have been? When was the last time you actually wished you were already there?
I’ve been asked to speak on heaven. And preparing this certainly convicted me that my own thoughts of heaven are too few and far between, too small and don’t shape my daily life to anything like the extent that you see modelled in the New Testament (NT). So I decided I needed something to shake me up. And if you want shaking up in your Christain life, the place to go is to the writings of the Puritans. In this case, I reached for a book by Richard Baxter called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest - and I hope that something of its impact will come through today. I want to start by quoting what he says after several chapters describing heaven:
If there be so certain and glorious a rest for the saints, why is there no more earnest seeking after it? One would think, if a man did but once hear of such unspeakable glory to be obtained, and believed what he heard, he would be transported with the vehemency of his desire after it, and would almost forget to eat and drink, and would care for nothing else, and speak of and inquire after nothing else... And yet people who hear of [this treasure] daily, and profess to believe it as a fundamental article of their faith, as little mind it, or labour [towards] it, as if they had never heard of any such thing, or did not believe one word they hear.
And even the godly themselves are too lazy seekers of their everlasting rest. Alas! what a disproportion there is between our light and heat, our profession and prosecution! Who makes such haste as if it were for heaven? How still we stand! how idly we work! how we talk, and jest, and trifle away our time!... Where is the man that is in earnest a Christian? Methinks men every where make but a trifle of their eternal state. They look after it but a little by the by; they do not make it the business of their lives. [And he adds that he himself is ‘sick... of the same disease’.]
So let’s turn to 1 Peter 1 and before we go on, let us pray:
Father in heaven,
We confess that what Richard Baxter writes is true of us as well. We confess that heaven is not often in our thoughts and that our lives fall short of being clearly shaped by the hope of it. Father, forgive us that our spiritual vision is so easily clouded by the visible and the immediate. And as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, we ask that you would enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the hope to which you have called us. Please work in us so that we believe in heaven more firmly, and set ourselves to keep our eyes on it more consistently beyond today.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
1 Peter 1 is about heaven. And this talk is going to be less like a photograph with all the detail the camera sees, and more like an impressionist painting where detail is sacrificed to the main thing. And the first main thing Peter says is this:
1. THINK OF YOURSELF AS ON A JOURNEY TO HEAVEN (vv1-5)
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (vv1-5)
So notice that we are to think of ourselves, v1, as: ‘strangers in the world’. The original word literally means ‘people who are temporary residents’, just passing through. So, eg, I taught in Kenya for a year and soon after I arrived I had to go to the local police to register. And they issued me with something like a passport and it said on it, ‘This is to certify that Ian Garrett is a temporarily resident alien.’ And I was an alien there. I didn’t belong there, and I knew I was ultimately heading home. So even though I was there for a whole year, my mindset was, ‘I’m just passing through.’ And the thought of home coloured everything - so, eg, I didn’t find the fairly primitive conditions in the village that hard to bear, because I knew it was only temporary. Eg, I knew I’d soon be back in the land of clean drinking water actually coming out of taps in your house; and of flushing loos; and of tarmac roads. Infrastructure heaven awaited me back home. And Peter’s saying we must think of ourselves like that throughout this life - because we’re temporary residents, just passing through. As the old gospel song puts it:
This world is not my home; I am just passing through.
My treasures are laid up away beyond the blue.
The angels beckon to me from heaven’s open door
And I cannot feel at home here in this world anymore.
So skip with me like a good impressionist painter to v3:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you... (vv3-4)
So how do I know that there is a heaven and that I am going there? Peter’s answer is: ‘through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. Now I don’t have time to go over the evidence for the resurrection and the logic of how Jesus’ resurrection guarantees ours’. [See www.church.org.uk sermons on John 20.24-31 (18/4/04), 1 Corinthians 15.1-28 (2/9/03), 1 Corinthians 15.35-58 (22/6/03); read Jesus on Trial, Kel Richards, Matthias Media – from www.thegoodbook.co.uk.] If you feel you lack confidence on that and need to go over it, then you’re right: you do. Because everything Peter says here is anchored in the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. He saw the empty tomb; he saw the bodily resurrected Jesus; everything he says here hangs on those facts. And Peter would say: we know there is a heaven beyond death because he and the other apostles saw Jesus alive beyond death. And he would say we know we are going there because if we’re connected to Jesus by faith, then his resurrection guarantees ours.
One way of illustrating that is to think of a dam being broken. I once saw some footage of a huge dam across a river being blown up – I think it was a hydro-electric scheme that had been a total failure. And to bring it down, they just set off this tiny explosion in the middle of the face of the dam wall. I’d expected this huge blast, but it was little more than a puff. And a drop and then a tiny stream of water started coming through; then it began cracking everything around it; then huge chunks started falling away; and finally the entire thing gave way and this vast mass of water came through. And all that began with a first drop of water that pulled after it every other drop that was connected to it. And it’s like that with the resurrection. Paul calls Jesus ‘the firstborn’ from the dead (Romans 8.29, Colossians 1.18) and the ‘firstfruits of those who have died’ (1 Corinthians 15.20) – ie, the first of many to rise from the dead. And if, by faith, we’re forgiven and connected to him, he will ‘pull us through’ death after him.
So what will it be like? Well, George Bernard Shaw (a fairly cynical unbeliever) wrote this:
Heaven is always [thought of] as a perpetual holiday... [and] as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day [there], though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside; [and he goes on to say with approval:]... the genuine popular verdict on it is expressed in the proverb, "Heaven for holiness and Hell for company."
Ie, ‘It’s not a great place to be.’ Well maybe the Bible doesn’t describe a whole day there, but if Shaw had at least read the last two chapters of Revelation he’d have got a glimpse of it. Richard Baxter in The Saints’ Everlasting Rest writes a chapter trying to describe it, and then tried to imagine a believer’s reaction to it. He writes:
From [heaven] the saint can look behind him and before him. And to compare past with present things must raise in [his] soul an inconceivable esteem and sense of its condition... To stand in heaven and look back on earth, and weigh them together in the balance... how must it transport the soul, and make it cry out,
“Is this the purchase that cost so dear as the blood of Christ? No wonder... Is this the end of believing? Is this the end of the Spirit’s workings? Have the gales of grace blown me into such a harbour? ... O blessed way, and blessed end! Is this the glory which the Scriptures spoke of, and ministers preached of so much? I see [now] the Gospel is indeed good tidings... Is my mourning, my fasting, my sad humblings, my heavy walking, come to this? Is my praying, watching, fearing to offend, come to this? Are all my afflictions, Satan’s temptations, the world’s jeers, come to this? O [my] vile nature, that resisted so much, and so long, such a blessing! Unworthy soul! is this the place you came to so unwillingly? Was duty wearisome? Was the world too good to lose? Could you not leave all, deny all, and suffer anything for this? Were you loathe to die, to come to this? O false heart, you almost betrayed me to eternal flames, and lost me this glory! Are you not now ashamed, my soul, that you ever questioned that love which brought you here... and misinterpreted those providences, and [resented] those ways which have [led to] such an end? Now you are convinced that your blessed Redeemer was saving you as well when he crossed your desires, as when he granted them; when he broke your heart, as when he bound it up. No thanks to you, unworthy self, for this received crown; but to [the Lord] and the Lamb be glory for ever.”
So why does Baxter imagine it’s that good? Well, because of what Peter says in v4: that it’s ‘an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade’ – literally in the original, ‘that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading [as the ESV translation says].’
So let’s ponder our way through those. Imperishable. Ie, as Revelation 21 says, there will be no more death - ie, no more mortality. Because death isn’t just a final event, it’s the condition we’re born under and that’s eating away at us from the word go. And I think I’ve been more acutely aware of it this year than ever, as it’s cast its shadow on friends and family of all ages – from the unborn to the elderly. I’m now seeing my parents and senior brothers and sisters in our church declining more visibly and quickly than ever; and it reminds me that once they’ve gone, I’m next, generationally. Calvin once said, ‘We live in an envelope of death.’ And Peter says: in heaven, we’ll be out of it forever.
Imperishable. Then, undefiled – ie, unspoiled by sin. I trust that you identify with the apostle Paul in Romans 7 when he writes:
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? [ie, who will get me out of this situation of now wanting to please God as a born-again man, and yet still being in a fallen body, full of sinful desires to which I all too readily succumb? Who will get me out of the endless and ashaming cycle of praying, ‘Your will be done,’ and then having to come back with my tail between my legs, praying, ‘Forgive us our sins’? And he goes on:] 25 Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7.15-25)
Ie, it’ll happen through Jesus Christ our Lord. And then he writes Romans 8 about how we’ll be raised from the dead through being connected to Jesus – the first drop pulling through the rest. So heaven will be a place where we’ll experience no more sinful desires within. And where there will be no more sinful people creating a sinful environment to act on us from without. Eg, no more pornography and no more desire or thin-end-of-the-wedge curiosity to look at it. No more hostility to Christ without and no more cowardice concerning him within. And so on.
Imperishable, undefiled, and then, unfading. Ie, the satisfaction will never end. You may know of the writer Julian Barnes. He wrote a book called The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. The last chapter is called The Dream, where the guy narrating the book dreams that he’s died and woken up in heaven. And he discovers it’s a place where you can do anything you want – so, eg, he meets all the famous people he’s ever wanted to, he has amazing gourmet meals, he plays on replicas of all the famous golf courses and, predictably, has plenty of sex. But the problem hits him when he finally goes round the golf course in 18 holes-in-one. And he asks his chaperoning angel what he should do now. ‘It’s as if golf is used up,’ he says. So she suggests other sports and he says, ‘But they’d get used up, too.’ So she suggests trying to go round the 18 holes twice, and do 36 holes-in-one. But he tells her that wouldn’t work – and he slowly realises that the ‘heaven’ he’s in won’t really satisfy. And when he says so one day to his chaperoning angel, she says,
‘Well, everyone has the option to die off if they want to.’
‘I never knew that,’ he said... What percentage of people take the option...?’
She looked at me levelly, her glance telling me to be calm. ‘Oh, a hundred percent, of course... everyone takes the option sooner or later.’
It’s a brilliant description of a heaven without God - and the way it wouldn’t satisfy. And although we’re in danger of trotting this out like a formula, it is the truth that only relationship with God can satisfy us - and only that relationship perfected in heaven will satisfy us perfectly. I think one of the modern writers and speakers who’s most helpful on that is John Piper, whose ministry motto is ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’ And if you feel challenged over whether you’re really seeking your ultimate satisfaction in God, I recommend his material [eg, the books Desiring God and Future Grace; transcripts and mp3 downloads of his talks available from www.desiringgod.org ].
So that’s the first thing: Think of yourself as on a journey to heaven. ‘This world is not my home; I am just passing through.’
2. REJOICE IN HEAVEN IN YOUR SUFFERING (vv6-9)
6 In this [ie, the thought of heaven] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (vv6-9)
A friend in a fairly difficult work situation has some time off coming up and he said to me the other day, ‘The office isn’t great, but to be honest I’m just living for the holiday right now.’ And I guess we can relate to that: work isn’t great but the thought of the holiday keeps our spirits up; exams aren’t great but the thought of the summer beyond keeps our spirits up; having an operation isn’t great, but the thought of the health improvement down the tracks keeps our spirits up. We do it all the time – living in the future to keep our spirits up in the present.
And Peter is saying: live in the future of heaven to keep your joy up in the present. Think of it; think of yourself as there in principle - and very nearly there in practice; and let that thought ‘suck back’, as it were, into the present. And let it counterbalance whatever you’re going through in the present – like Paul writes in Romans 8:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8.18)
Now there are times in our lives when I think we want to say to Paul, ‘Well, that’s because you don’t understand what I’m going through right now.’ To which Paul would gently reply, ‘No, it’s because you haven’t yet grasped what heaven will be like - put the present and heaven on opposite sides of the scales, and the weight of heaven far outweighs the weight of suffering on the way.’
So, eg, we do suffer perishability here and now. We suffer aging and disability and miscarriages and cancer and infertility and pain and all the indignities and losses of actually dying (unless the Lord returns first). But we will one day have resurrection bodies that are beyond all those things - where we won’t be tempted to look at someone else’s health with envy, or mourn the loss of what we once had. It’ll be imperishable.
Again, we do suffer defilement here and now. We live in bodies with sinful desires that we can’t eradicate, and where certain sins have a powerful lever of habit on us from the past. And you sometimes think wistfully to yourself, ‘I’m never going to change. Maybe the lazy or proud or bitter me (or whatever’s your area of particular struggle) is in fact the real me’ It’s like the story of the two caterpillars munching on a leaf and suddenly this stunningly beautiful butterfly lands beside them, sits awhile and then takes off again. And one caterpillar turns to the other and says wistfully, ‘I wish I could go up in one of those things some day.’ And of course he will, thanks to the wonders of metamorphosis. And we will ‘fly’, spiritually, one day thanks to the wonders of resurrection into a body free of sinful desires and a place free of stimulation to sin. And the frustrations of repeated failure will finally be behind us. It’ll be undefiled.
And we do suffer dissatisfaction – or ‘fading’, to use Peter’s word – here and now. Eg, we suffer it in lack of relationships, or in relationships that aren’t what we wished - or in the loss of them. We suffer it in hopes that never came to be – jobs we never got, children we never had, achievements we never pulled off, whatever. But heaven will satisfy. Eg, the Lord Jesus said that, ‘When the dead rise they will neither marry nor be given in marriage’ (Mark 12.34) – such will be the quality of all relationships, supremely with God. So those who’ve been single and wished for more will be fully satisfied. And so will those who’ve been married and wished for more because they’ve learned that even the best marriages are frustrated by sin and fall short of full satisfaction. It’ll be unfading.
That’s how we need to think of heaven, to keep our joy up in the trials of the present. And trials will come, because God sends them with a purpose, according to v7:
7 These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed [ie, in the day he comes again]. (v7)
So whatever we’re finding trying right now, God is allowing to test and refine our faith. Because the worst case scenario is that I profess faith in Christ, but for that faith to be not genuine – the kind of faith by which I can fool myself and you; but not the Lord Jesus. Remember how he once said:
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' [ie, who professes faith] will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven [ie, who shows his faith genuine by trying - albeit imperfectly - to obey God] 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7.21-23)
And to keep me from that worst case scenario, he tests my faith - which makes me ask, ‘Is it worth being a Christian? Shall I carry on?’ And I guess many of us will know people who’ve dropped back from a profession of faith because of some awful thing that’s hit them in life. And it’s hard to know how to react when they say, ‘I just didn’t think a loving God would allow this to happen to us.’ But in those situations, the test to faith is this: will I keep trusting in God’s goodness even when I can’t read it off my circumstances right now, as I’ll be able to in heaven? And will I keep trying to obey God without making my obedience conditional on getting the circumstance I want in return (‘God, I’ll obey you if you...’)? And as faith passes through those tests, it comes out more refined: the self-centredness and self-interest that sees God as mainly there to serve my wishes is burned away. And faith is made more God-centred - which is the whole point: as the Westminster Coinfession puts it, ‘The chief end of man is to know God and glorify him forever.’ (That’s where John Piper gets that motto of his, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’) So, eg, when Job’s trials made it look as if God wasn’t good or worth trusting, he said magnificently ‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’ (Job 13.15). And that’s the kind of profoundly God-centred faith that will bring us unfooled to heaven and, end of v7, that results in praise, glory and honour to Jesus.
So that’s the second thing: rejoice in heaven in suffering. Let the thought of it counterbalance the trials of the present, and make you see that those trials are to wean you off seeking your ultimate good anywhere else than in God.
3. KEEP HEAVEN IN MIND AS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL ALL THE TIME (vv13-21)
Again, as impressionists rather than photographers let’s skip to v13:
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (v13)
The King James Version translates that literally and it goes, ‘Gird up the loins of your mind; be sober.’ The first bit of that is taken from Exodus 12, on Passover night, when God was about to take his people out of Egypt on the journey to the promised land. And he told them to eat that last Passover meal in Egypt with their ‘loins girded’ – ie, their cloaks tucked up into their belts so they could actually move. And the other bit, ‘be sober’, we’re more familiar with. It just means seeing straight where you’re going and therefore being able to walk straight. So Peter is saying: you are on a journey, you are heading to a ‘promised land’, heaven. So mentally, get yourself and keep yourself in a frame of mind that’s consciously moving towards that goal, and don’t let anything distract you from that goal, and don’t let any lesser goals become ultimate goals:
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (v13)
The question is: how? How can we regularly, daily, tell ourselves we are going to heaven, so that we shape our lives accordingly?
Well, somewhere along the line a speaker is almost bound to include the application, ‘Have a Quiet Time’ – ie, a daily time of Bible reading and prayer. But I make no apology for doing that because I don’t know what else to say first. Not every passage of the Bible is on heaven. But as I’ve read the Bible over the past 25 years of my Christian life, it’s become clear to me that the whole Bible is basically one long promise about our future there. And even if the passage I’m reading isn’t explicitly about heaven, one way or another it’ll shape me to be moving in that direction. And what goes for Quiet Times also goes for things like Home Groups or other Bible study groups - which we men are generally not so good at as the women because we’re generally more self-sufficient (ie, proud) and less groupy.
How else can we keep heaven in mind as our ultimate goal all the time? Maybe stick something on the bathroom mirror saying, ‘Remember: you’re going to heaven.’ Or if you keep some kind of spiritual journal or notebook, then like the Puritan Jonathan Edwards you might write some resolutions and regularly (eg, monthly, as he did) measure yourself by them. Eg,. Here are some of his 70 resolutions:
No. 5 Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I can.
No.7 Resolved, never to do anything I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
No.17 Resolved, that I will so live as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
No.22 Resolved, to obtain for myself as much happiness in the next life as I possibly can.
No.50 Resolved, that I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best and most prudent when I come into the future world.
No.55 Resolved, to endeavour to my utmost so to act as I can think I should do if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.
What else? Richard Baxter in The Saints’ Everlasting Rest says: talk to one another about heaven. Eg, sit down with a Christian friend or prayer-partner and say, ‘Let’s talk about heaven and what difference it should be making to our lives right now.’ Baxter says: make the most of corporate praise when we gather as a church. I know for some of us men, singing isn’t our thing - or at least our strength - but Baxter’s point is that praise should be as a foretaste of part of the experience of heaven, where God will finally fill our affections as he should. Baxter says: turn every earthly pleasure into a moment to remember heaven. Next time your heart lifts at an amazing view, or seeing your children happy, or whatever it is, tell yourself, ‘Heaven will be far better than this.’ And Baxter says: turn every earthly sorrow into a moment to remember heaven. Whatever it is, tell yourself, ‘This will never happen in heaven.’
I guess you could say those are all ‘disciplines’ or ‘methods’ for keeping heaven in mind as our ultimate goal. But it’s basically a mindset, that has Bible-convictions about heaven which then ‘suck back’ into the present. So let’s just ponder together: what in this life will ultimately last? And in the light of heaven - and hell - what in this life has ultimate significance? Well, all that ultimately lasts is people - not things. Job also said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall depart’ (Job 2.21). And therefore what has ultimate significance is quite simply how we treat people. You remember in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul talks about how all sorts of things will pass away at the Lord Jesus’ return - eg, the use of gifts like preaching which just won’t be necessary when we know the Lord face to face. And Paul concludes, ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’ (1 Corinthians 13.13).
So what is of ultimate significance is how we love people (and use things to do so). And in the light of heaven and hell, the highest form of love for my neighbour is to try to tell him or her the gospel. So, the love of seriously committed evangelism has to be part of this mindset. Then, there’s the love of seriously committed fellowship. Hebrews (10.24-25) tells us we’re to ‘encourage one another’ and ‘spur one another on’ – ‘and all the more as you see the Day [ie, the day of the Lord Jeus’ return] approaching’. Ie, once you’re on the Christian journey to heaven as my brother or sister, I’m to help you get there –and vice versa. So I’m not to decide my commitment to church or to a group on the question ‘What am I getting out of it?’, but on the question, ‘What am I doing to help my brothers and sisters get to heaven?’ Church can just seem to be about lukewarm instant coffee on a Sunday and endless bits of paper at Home Group. But we need to see that it’s really about helping one another to heaven. And then there’s the love not just of fellow-believers, but of everyone. And I wonder what Puritans like Baxter would think of us in that regard. I point the finger at myself first. But I wonder whether they’d think our use of at least some of our discretionary time was sometimes pretty self-indulgent. Eg, when they saw us going off to see another film, whether they’d wonder why we weren’t visiting the elderly or the sick. Or when they saw us going out for another meal, whether they’d wonder why we weren’t down helping out at the Peoples’ Kitchen (or whatever).
What’s of ultimate significance is people, not things. So, can I remind us that what we do in houses is what ultimately counts, not what we do to them. The fruits of our hospitality and bringing up children in the training of the Lord and all sorts of other ministry will survive the Lord’s return. Our DIY won’t. (Mine won’t even last until the Lord’s return.) Can I remind us that what we do with our money is more important than whether we make it or have it or save it or invest it. What’s it doing – apart from meeting our needs – that will ultimately count? And can I remind us that our children’s spiritual welfare is more important than any other part of their welfare, like their education. Eg, in the light of eternity, it will look far wiser to have moved to an area or stayed in an area to guarantee them a better church, than to guarantee them a better school.
Now Baxter talks about ‘duties’ and ‘necessities’ - like doing our jobs, providing for families, maintaining the house and car and so on. And his message is: don’t resent them – as if a truly heavenly-minded life would somehow cut those things out (as if heaven itself will be work-free or responsibility-free! – remember, the man who earned ten more minas in the parable got put in charge of ten cities at the Lord’s return). But his message is: don’t be engrossed in them either (see 1 Cornithians 7.29-31, 1 John 2.15-17). Eg, as you look after the car, think of it as a future cube of scrap metal, which will be further melted down when the Lord returns. Keep it all in eternal perspective. I also read for this John Calvin’s chapter on ‘Meditating on the Future Life’ and he helpfully adds to ‘duties’ and ‘necessities’ ‘delights’. He says the danger of all this is that we go to the extreme of thinking that God doesn’t mean us to enjoy things here and now, or rest here and now. But that is not the message. The message is: keep your necessities and duties and delights in the perspective of eternity.
I’ve mentioned John Piper. He edited a book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in which he writes a series of challenges first to men then to women on developing this kind of mindset. Let me read some of the ones to men to you (and to myself). He writes:
My earnest challenge and prayer for you is...
[No.7] That you be totally committed to ministry, whatever your specific calling; that you not fritter away your time on excessive sports and recreation or unimportant hobbies or aimless diddling in the garage; but that you redeem the time for Christ and his kingdom.
[No.11] That you not assume advancement and peer approval in your gainful employment are the highest values in life; but that you ponder the eternal significance of faithful fatherhood and time spent with your wife; that you repeatedly consider the new possibilities at each stage of your life for maximising your energies for the glory of God in ministry; that you pose the question often: Is our family moulded by the culture, or do we embody the values of the kingdom of God? That you lead the family in making choices not on the basis of secular trends or upward lifestyle expectations, but on the basis of what will strengthen the faith of the family and advance the cause of Christ.
[No.13] That you develop a wartime mentality and lifestyle; that you never forget that life is short, that billions of people hang in the balance of heaven and hell every day, that the love of money is spiritual suicide, that the goals of upward mobility (nicer clothes, cars, houses, vacations, food, hobbies) are poor and dangerous substitutes for the the goals of living for Christ with all your might and maximising your joy in ministry to peoples’ needs.
But at the end of our Bible passage, Peter himself spells out more of what this mindset will look like. Look at v14:
14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy [quoting Leviticus 11.44-45]." (vv14-16)
Remember, the picture we’re to have in our minds is the journey out of Egypt and to the promised land. (For us, that’s a prefiguring of the journey we’re on, out of this world and to heaven.) And at the start of that journey, God told his Old Testament (OT) people to ‘be holy [ie, ‘be other’] - because he is holy [ie, other] and because they really belonged to, and were going to, another place. And that’s the message for us. We belong to a God who is completely other than this sinful world and who is taking us to be with him in a place that is completely other. So it’s a powerful question to ask, ‘Would I do this in heaven?’ Would I watch this? listen to this? laugh at this? say this? spend time or money on this? And as I once heard a speaker say, this calls for ‘cultural amputation’ for us – ie, there are areas of our culture we just can’t take part in: films we shouldn’t see, books and magazines (not just the obvious out-of-bounds ones) we shouldn’t read, programs we should switch off. There are many areas where we need to be other-worldy, living as if we’re in heaven – areas like truth-telling, being uncomplaining, avoiding malice and gossip, and areas of sexual conduct and conduct with alcohol. We’re not just to be slightly different but completely other.
And lastly look to v17:
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (vv17-19)
Peter’s reminding us that although we’ll pass safely through the day of judgement if we have genuine, saving faith in Jesus, we’ll still be judged in the sense of evaluated. We’ll see with ‘20/20 hindsight’ what our lives and our priorities and our service really looked like to our Father in heaven, what our lives really look like in the light of eternity. And that’s why Jonathan Edwards wrote those resolutions, so that the epitaph written over him would not be, as I’ve heard it put, ‘Saved soul, wasted life.’
So what does 1 Peter 1 say about heaven? It says: 1) Think of yourself as on a journey to heaven (vv1-5), 2) Rejoice in heaven in your suffering (vv6-9), and 3) Keep heaven in mind as your ultimate goal all the time (vv13-21).
Let Richard Baxter, in The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, have the last word:
I require you, reader, as ever you hope for a part in this glory, that you presently take your heart to task, chide it for its wilful strangeness to God, turn your thoughts from the pursuit of vanity, bend your soul to study eternity, busy it about the life to come, habituate yourself to such contemplations, and let not those thoughts be seldom and cursory, but bathe your soul in heaven’s delights; and if your backward soul begin to flag and your thoughts to scatter, call them back, hold them to their work, bear not with their laziness, nor connive at one neglect. And when you have, in obedience to God, tried this work, got acquainted with it, and kept a guard on your thoughts till they are accustomed to obey, you will then find yourself in the suburbs of heaven, and that there is indeed a sweetness in the work and way of God, and that the life of Christianity is a life of joy. You will wilt meet with those abundant consolations which you have prayed, panted, and groaned after, and which so few Christians do ever here obtain, because they know not this way to them, or else make not conscience of walking in it.
13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (v13)
The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter, Regent College Publishing or Christian Focus Publications;
Institutes, Book 3, 9 Of Meditating on the Future Life, John Calvin
(Both available online at www.ccel.org with many other classics!)
Desiring God and Future Grace, John Piper, IVP
www.desiringgod.org is Piper’s website
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, ed Piper and Grudem, Crossway books [a large tome covering the key Biblical passages and much application to contemporary life]