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Living With God Forever
By David A. DePra
Probably the single most important question any of us could ask is, "Why was I born?" If we could get the answer to that question, it would give us our purpose for living. It would define the obstacles we have to overcome, and how to overcome them.
God, of course, has told us the answer to this question. It is stated in a number of ways throughout the Word of God. One place is found in Psalm 23. David talks about the Lord being his Shepherd. He tells about all of Godís provision and protection. He likens his walk with the Lord as God leading him "on the paths of righteousness." These "paths of righteousness," according to David, often take us "through the valley of the shadow of death." Yet even in that valley, the Lord provides and protects Ė often in ways that are impossible otherwise. But David ends the Psalm with the destination and outcome of all that the Psalm contains. He tells us where the paths of righteousness in Jesus Christ finally lead us: The house of the Lord. David says, "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
We were born to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Most of us limit this to "going to heaven." But it really means to LIVE with God forever. It means to fellowship and commune with Him throughout eternity. Indeed, "the house of the Lord" is Godís the eternal inheritance which God has for each one of us.
Jesus echoed this Truth using much the same metaphor in the gospel of John. He said,
In My Fatherís house there are many dwelling places. if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas said unto him, Lord, we know not where you go; and how can we know the way? Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:2-6)
Here we see a number of fundamental Truths. First, that Jesus is THE WAY into the Fatherís house. The ONLY Way. If there was ever a saying of Jesus which makes it impossible to put Jesus on a list of "many ways" to God, this one is it. Once Jesus says that He is the only way, He canít be on a list of "many ways," because to put Him on that kind of a list, you have to say He was lying, or crazy, to say that, "no one comes to the Father except by Me." Jesus said He alone is the Way into the Fatherís house, indeed, to the Father Himself.
Secondly, we see that Godís desire is to invite many to come into His Fatherís house. Thus, even though there is only ONE WAY to God Ė Jesus Christ Ė that way is offered to all. And of course, it is free. It is "by grace through faith" that we enter into the Fatherís house. You canít get in except by placing your faith Ė our whole life Ė in Jesus.
Thirdly, we see that Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." Now, this is getting at the purpose for which we are born. Jesus said, "I am preparing a place for you in My Fatherís house, and when Iím done, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am Ė and I am in my Fatherís house Ė you may also be."
The purpose for which we are born is not even started until we are saved Ė that is Ė born AGAIN. That gets us into the Fatherís house. But once we are saved, Jesus begins to prepare a place Ė a dwelling place for us Ė in His Fatherís house. He prepares that place by preparing US. The purpose for the Christian life is therefore to be prepared and adjusted so that we can live with God, and experience Him forever.
Conforming Us to Christ
Most people grow up with the idea that our eternal destination is based on how we live our lives. If we are nice people, and really donít do anything too bad, we will go to heaven. If we arenít very nice, and indulge ourselves in some of the worst vices, well, then we will go to hell when we die.
This error is predicated on another: That we are born into this world on neutral ground. In other words, it is blind to the fact that we are all born in Adam, and before we do a thing in this world, we are spiritually dead. Separation from God is the human condition. The only question is whether we will choose to remain in that separation eternally, or be delivered through Jesus Christ.
If we are fortunate enough to belong to a well-balanced church that accents Biblical teaching, we usually see that the above notion isnít scriptural. We will see that we are born with an inherited nature Ė one which has no affinity for God. We will see that nothing we do can change this. Good works canít deliver us, and bad works canít really make our nature any worse. Temporal consequences for our actions aside, there is nothing works can do to change or alter our nature. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit. And good works cannot make a bad tree good.
As Jesus so often stated, the only solution is to make the bad tree good Ė not through works Ė but through faith in HIM. We must see we are sinners without hope, and place our faith in the ONE way to God. It is by faith in Jesus Christ that we are delivered from what we are in Adam, and birthed as new creations.
But, as mentioned, this only gets us INTO the house of the Lord. It only births us as a newborn babe in Christ. We havenít done any living yet. We havenít grown. It is THAT for which God has called us to Himself. He wants to begin a work IN US which will use THIS LIFE to prepare us for the NEXT Ė eternal Ė life. We call that the Christian walk. It is what it means to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The passage of scripture which best captures this purpose is found in Romans 8:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
The "good" towards which "all things work together" is the "purpose" stated in this passage: To be conformed to the image of His Son. Of course. To be able to function and move in the house of the Lord Ė in an eternal realm Ė you have to bear a family resemblance to Jesus Christ. Having been born again, we need to "grow up into all things which is the Head, Jesus Christ." (Eph. 4:15)
I am not talking about earning a bigger reward. God isnít going to reward us according to our spiritual growth. Growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus doesnít entitle us to a greater reward, anymore than someone who is six foot six is a better person than someone who is 6 foot even. No. Rather than earn a greater reward, what all of this speaks of is our ability or capacity to experience God Himself Ė who IS our reward.
Get that. It isnít the reward that grows. No. The reward is the same for all. It is WE that grow. And that enables us to experience the reward.
And what is that reward? Again, God Himself. When everything is said and done, that is what this life is all about Ė being prepared, as a new creation in Christ, to live with God forever.
When Christians discover that life here involves more than just "getting saved," there is a danger. Some of us think that this means we must "maintain" our salvation. Others turn our need to grow into a kind of "legalism," where growth is the focus. Consequently, the process of spiritual growth gets turned into a legal bondage with itís own system of rewards and punishments.
There are Christian people, right now, who are so bound up in this kind of a system, that all they think about is what they will lose if they donít grow. "I must do this so that I will grow, so that I will be able to fully experience the Lord." They seek to qualify through their growth, and the fear of losing this consumes their lives.
What makes matters worse is that there are always false teachers out there who use these kinds of basic errors to control people and bring them into worse bondage. Once my walk with Christ is governed by fear Ė fear of losing my reward, or fear of getting punished Ė it is only a matter of time before someone provides me with a convenient religious system which will appease my fears. Get people to believe that God is behind something, and that the stakes are eternal, and you can get them to do almost anything through fear alone.
God has not given us the spirit of fear. There is no fear in love. These are basic Truths. Thus, spiritual of growth must be governed, not by fear of loss, but by the love of God. It could not work any other way.
Once you realize that Christianity is more than a list of doctrines, and more than a list of doís and doníts, and more than a religious system, things begin to fall into place. Christianity is, in fact, a NEW BIRTH. It is a new birth, back into a relationship with a Person Ė namely God Himself through Jesus Christ. Growth is not something we do to GET that. Growth is something we do as the OUTCOME of that.
This must be restated. We must not miss it. Growth is not something we do to GET a relationship with God. Rather, growth is something we do as the OUTCOME of a relationship with God. We grow IN the relationship we already have through the new birth.
Imagine a new born baby. Does this baby spend itís young life afraid he or she wonít grow? Does a two-year old, or a five-year old say, "Iíd better learn this lesson today, because if I donít, my growth as a human being will be characterized by immaturity."? Does a little child look in the mirror and fret over these things? No. This stuff isnít even in their thinking. All of that self-consciousness comes years later Ė when they start becoming an adult. Little children do not give any thought to whether they are growing. But they DO grow. And they will grow in a healthy way, if they are given the right food and right spiritual environment.
Looking at how children, in this natural life, approach such issues is not inappropriate. Indeed, it is exactly what Jesus told us to do. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus also said,
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. 6:27-33)
This passage is one with which we are so familiar we often just pass it over, and never really see what is being taught. Jesus is here telling us HOW to grow. He is telling us HOW to live. He is telling us what a life of faith will be like. He says, "Do you want to grow? Get your eyes OFF of yourself and onto God."
This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what we usually do. We think that if we focus on growing, we will grow. But the Truth is, a focus on growing is a detriment to growth. I need to focus on Jesus Christ and leave the results Ė the growing Ė to Him.
Do you know why constantly trying to measure our own growth is a detriment to growth? It is because our motives for wanting to grow are usually self-centered. We want to impress others. We want to feed our pride. We want to impress God Himself. Or maybe, we just want to feel good about ourselves. We put our trust in ourselves and our spiritual growth. But all of these motives are what hinder our growth. Growth only occurs when we put them all away and fall into the hands of God.
Jesus once said, "Whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." (Matt. 16:25) We might paraphrase, "Who ever tries to grow, wonít. But who ever lets himself fall into the hands of God, will." Or, to put it another way, "Who ever tries to earn a reward from God will lose it, but who ever surrenders his reward to God will find it."
The bottom line is this: We must unconditionally surrender ourselves to God. We must surrender our reward, our growth, our fears, our expectations, our motives Ė and just walk with Christ in faith and obedience. And then leave the results of walking to HIM. THEN -- we will grow in Christ.
Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4-5) If you want to grow, stop trying to grow, and abide Ė live in Ė Christ. Focus on the Person. The results of focusing on that Person, rather than on the growth, will BE growth.
We must rid ourselves of the notion that what God wants in His kingdom are spiritual giants. He does not. He wants little children. In Godís purpose, the mature are those who are as little children. Life comes through death. Growth comes when I decrease, that He might increase. Humility is possessed by those who donít know it. And I can only find my life if I abandon it completely into the hands of the One who died for me.
Those who have seen these Truths will tell you that the more you walk in Christ, and the more you grow in Him, the more reduced and depleted you will become in yourself. You will, at times, feel as it you are coming apart at the seams. But what is really happening is that you are losing your confidence in your own righteousness, and losing your faith in yourself. You are being set free from everything that is wrong with human beings who are born in Adam.
Losing confidence in your own righteousness is not easy. For self-ownership and self-confidence is what makes us tick as human beings. But we have to see that it isnít that God merely want to strip us of our self-confidence. No. His goal is not to make us unable to function, or to confine us in a pool of depression. Rather, He wants to replace our confidence in ourselves with something better: Eternal faith and wholeness in Him. We are not never left naked if we surrender to God. Indeed, we find ourselves in HIM.
What we are talking about here is a process which is so revolutionary, and which cuts across everything we are by natural birth. Natural man cannot receive the things of God. They are folly to him. (I Cor. 2:14) He is not geared to God. That is why this process is difficult. But God nevertheless wants to adjust us back to the place where we can live with Him forever. This process starts when we are born again in Christ. And it continues as we grow in His grace and knowledge.
Thus, when God begins to work with us, and to adjust us to Himself, it will seem as if everything is wrong. This canít be happening, we might reason, if God is faithful. But we forget that what seems NORMAL to the natural man, is ABNORMAL to God. And what is ABNORMAL to Adam is NORMAL to Christ. What we initially think is wrong, is actually a process intended to set us free by the Truth.
Godís Tools for Growth
As new born babes in Christ, we acquire all that God has for us through the new birth. But then we have to grow in it Ė become adjusted AS new creations so that we can live with God forever. The issue here isnít whether we will keep or lose our salvation. The issue here is what we will do with the salvation we have received.
Now once we see that God is preparing us for the next age Ė to live with Him forever Ėthere is the risk that we will fret about it. We may start Ė as mentioned before Ė to wonder if we are growing fast enough. But we have also seen that this is folly. We donít need to worry. We need only abide in Christ. In other words, keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than on our personal growth.
Allow, for a moment, Godís will for us to be represented by a cup of water. Perhaps my cup of water holds a quart. Yours hold a pint. God wants me to drink the quart of water in the cup Ė indeed, I am accountable for doing so. It is His will for me. Likewise, He wants you to drink the pint. THAT is His will for you. If both of us drink fully, we have done the will of God.
Now note: There is no comparison between the cups. He does not say, "I have given you more than this other person." No. He does say, "I have made you responsible for THIS CUP." Not only that, but the shape of the cups are different from each other as well. In other words, for some people, it is Godís will to be a teacher in the Body of Christ. For others, they serve in another capacity. But it is still the will of God for them. Likewise, some people seem to be called to suffer greatly, while others donít seem to have that calling. It is not because God has a better purpose for one than the other. It is because He has a different method until the same purpose: To prepare us to live with God forever.
Godís is putting together His Body Ė His bride. All are members, but not all have the same function. All are members, but not all have the same size or shape of cup. God says to look to the Head. You will end up where you are supposed to be.
Holiness means to belong to God. Not just in theory, or "on paper." It means to belong to God and then to function and act like it. It speaks not only of what we do, but of what we ARE.
God is holy. Godís house is holy. And if we want to live with God forever, we are going to have to be holy. Of course, this is made possible only through the grace of God. We are freely bestowed upon with a life that is holy and righteous by the HOLY Spirit. But then as we grow, Godís holiness will seek to invade and infiltrate each and every part of us.
What this is is nothing more than REDEMPTION. We are "bought back" to God through Jesus Christ. And then once we are in Him, that same Redemption, through the new birth, is something we must grow to live.
God wants to restore us all back to the original relationship He had with Adam. Indeed, to an even better one. That is the purpose for which we are born Ė and born again. To live with God forever. As David writes:
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
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