When discussing the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ with many Christians there is often a question on the minds of those in the discussion. They want to know if what you’re discussing is a requirement to go to heaven.
For example, I was in the middle of a discussion a while back about forgiveness and someone who has been a Christian for probably 30+ years said towards the end, “Ok, but do you think not forgiving is a hurdle to getting to heaven?”
Just to be honest, I hate that question and that line of thinking.
What I hear in that questions is, “Ok, I get the concept, but is it something I really have to do to get to heaven.” Or “Thats great, but do I get what I want out of it?”
I don’t like it because it’s made the whole thing a “If I do ____ I’d better get _____ out of it.” It’s a transaction. It’s work for pay. It’s a hope that the gratification I get is bigger than the sacrifice that concept requires.
I liken it to getting married just to have sex; only participating in something because in the end you’ll get something you really want. A good marriage will have sex, but if that’s all it is, then it will usually fade and fall apart. And if that is the motivation, then the relationship is a throwaway.
The same is true for a Christian. If we’re only a Christian to protect us from some super scary image of a fiery hell that comes to mind, then you’re in it primarily for the afterlife. Everything you do or don’t do is viewed through the context of “Does this put me in the queue for heaven or in the pit of hell?”
Getting back to the question from the gentlemen about forgiveness, you see how he’s primarily concerned about forgiveness as it relates to his status as the “in” crowd when he dies. That doesn’t mean he’s not concerned with other facets of it, but he’s revealed his primary facet and that’s going to heaven. That’s what motivates him, consciously or subconsciously.
My response was simply that unforgiveness is a hurdle to relationship, which is the primary issue. It not only keeps us out of relationship with others, but in doing so, keeps us from a whole relationship with God. Isn’t that what we always been told, it’s about relationship? If Jesus says we must forgive to be forgiven (Matthew 6:14), then that makes it clear. Not because it will keep you from heaven, which it will, but because it keeps you from relationship with God, which is the whole point of life now and the afterlife.
It’s simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. In fact, the truth is that you cannot properly and wholly forgive everyone without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But when you start to live out of the fact that you can forgive because you have been forgiven by God (despite being set against him in your will versus his will, making your king instead of him in your life, before surrendering to him in your repentance) and that it’s not about your rights and what you deserve, but about His glory then the door is opened to forgiveness for the “unforgivable.”
Jesus said eternal life is to know the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (John 17:3).
I emphasized that word because it means an intimate knowledge born out of an intimate relationship, like what you see in a marriage. A relationship that grows and deepens over time. A relationship that you treasure and would give anything to keep healthy and whole. A relationship that requires you to take your eyes off yourself, to put them on what the other party needs and wants, and joins you to one another – two becoming one.
If the relationship is the point, you don’t have to wait to “get into heaven” for that to begin. You can have that now. You can have that today. If you are a Christian, you have been grafted into the family of God as co-heirs with Christ. Now. Today. You don’t have to wait until you die to begin celebrating and have your actions demonstrate that truth.
In John 10:10 we read Jesus saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Life abundantly starts the moment you enter into the relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, not just when you die. He didn’t say so you could have abundant afterlife!
Sure, heaven will be fantastic, but if that’s the point to you, then I think you’ve missed the point. You’ve missed years to celebrate what has already been done, hoping for what is to still come, and live out of the identity and abundant life Christ gives.
Don’t ask if this or that is a hurdle to heaven. Instead, ask if it is keeping you from relationship – whole, deep, intimate relationship – right now. Then ask God to source you to forgive, to bring reconciliation, and redemption to this life. Ask God for His Kingdom to be seen here on earth, in your relationships, as it is in heaven.