Heaven—a place of eternal life and unspeakable joy in the presence of God. Salvation—assurance of entrance to heaven upon death. Unfortunately, these popular, though oversimplified, definitions have given rise to a theology of heaven that is little more than eternal-life insurance. Truly the doctrine of heaven can be a source of hope and assurance, especially when motivation for Christian perseverance is lacking. Yet, for me, such hope has always been as elusive as helpful when I have struggled to find a hope for today… right now in my present earthly reality.
It’s easy to forget that this promise was given by our Lord not when he was in heaven but walking the dusty dirty roads of early first century Israel (John 11:25). The life he promised us then was the same life that so powerfully persevered to the cross and three days later raised his dead corpse. This is the same life our Lord still offers today. This salvation involves real bodies, real flesh and blood, real tempers, real physical brokenness, and real wounds. If salvation does not function in the midst of the nitty gritty details of now then our confession of faith is empty and hope is only a symbol of something wonderful beyond the grave.
So what exactly is salvation? Salvation is hope in the face of dismal hopelessness, impossible peace in the heart of horrific storms, transforming love in spite of abject hatred, and sometimes miraculous healing in the center of crippling sickness. However, such hope, such life, such salvation must be chosen by faith… right here, right now. It was the same for our Lord and it is the same for us.
This good news though gets even better. When Jesus promised us life he also promised us help to receive it. He said that even though he was going away (dying and ascending to heaven) he wasn’t leaving us as orphans. He promised us the Holy Spirit whose primary role is to mediate this life to us and through us (John 14:18).
So, salvation, above all, is hope… but not hope as symbolic or hope as an idea. Salvation is a living hope that meets us on our dusty roads, in our Garden of Gethsemane, on our crosses of sacrifice and yes… even in our very own graves. Whatever our need, the salvation we have today is sufficient to deliver when we need it… for the Spirit of our Lord richly dwells within us. We do not have to wait for heaven to have the abundant life of Christ today. Next week, we talk about how, in times of trouble, God often reveals hope in ways that transcend rational thinking.
What Do You Think?
Do you believe in heaven? Have you struggled to understand the purpose of salvation beyond assurance of heaven? How would your life be different if the abundant-eternal life of Jesus was your daily reality?