By Jonathan C. Brentner
Do you remember when Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, came out? I remember that many pastors criticized its emphasis on this life over eternity.
And yet, despite their harsh criticism of Joel Osteen, many of them preach a limited Gospel that stresses its benefits for the here and now. It’s all about the joy and hope for this life with only vague and passing references, at best, to the amazing glory that awaits us in forever.
Is it not our unmerited assurance of eternal life that makes the Gospel truly scandalous? In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Paul said this, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I would guess that all Bible-believing pastors would wholeheartedly agree with Paul in this regard about our future resurrected life, but their sermons often sound like sanctified versions of Your Best Life Now.
Blessings for Now
I am not at all saying we should overlook our current blessings; they are significant. Ephesians 1:3 says that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The verses that follow describe some of the many blessing we now possess highlighted by our “redemption though his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (v. 7).
Our salvation and all its accompanying blessings come by grace apart from any contribution on our part (Eph. 2:8-9). This is fantastic news and cause for much celebration and praise.
However, if the benefits of salvation by grace alone do not extend beyond this life, is such a message truly scandalous? If the purpose of the Gospel is only for us to have better mental health, improved family relationships, victory over addictions, happier marriages, and better management of finances, are we really better off than the rest of the world? The apostle Paul would say no!
God’s Kindness for all Eternity
I believe that Ephesians 2:7 is one of more overlooked verses in all of Paul’s epistles. It says this, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is the future tense of the Gospel.
The truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is that God takes sinners like us, saves us from an eternity in hell solely on the basis of His love, mercy, and grace, and then promises us an eternity where He will continually show His kindness toward us forever and ever.
On the surface, we might think this applies to the Old Testament heroes of faith. We would expect such wonderful news for Abraham, Daniel, and the apostles. But no, this applies to all of us who know Jesus as our Savior. God takes us, who were once alienated from Him and enemies by nature, and forgives all our sins, applies the very righteousness of Jesus to our account, makes us His own dear children, and then promises us an amazing eternity where He will continually lavish His grace and kindness upon us.
Now that is scandalous. Who would die for ones enemies, make them heirs of a glorious kingdom, and show them with kindness forever?
This is why preaching that ignores the specifics of our eternal hope irks me, to say the least. I am not asking that pastors and teachers always agree with me on the timing of the Lord’s return, but that they realize the truly scandalous aspect of the Gospel is what God promises us for all eternity. Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.
Ignoring our hope of possessing immortal and imperishable bodies focuses believers on earthbound hopes rather than the wonders ahead for them at Jesus’ return.
Gospel-centered living in this life does not mean that we will never struggle financially, or that we will never see difficult times, or that our spouses will never leave us. A semi-truck may run over us tomorrow. The amazing aspect of the Gospel is that we have an amazing and glorious eternity ahead of us regardless of anything that could possibly happen to us in this life.
Life does not end with our death. Jesus’ saving work on our behalf saves us from hell and gives us an eternity of joy with resurrected bodies that will never grow old or get sick. And all this comes solely as the result of grace, God’s unmerited favor toward us.
Yes, the Lord does richly bless His children in this life. There is no doubt about that. But eventually our temporal blessings will fade away. Our eternal inheritance, however, will last forever. He will show us his kindness throughout eternity.
Yes, verses 8-9 of Ephesians 2 are important and wonderful verses. But do not forget about verse 7; without the blessings of eternity our salvation is incomplete and as Paul said, makes us “of all people most to be pitied.” There is a future tense to the Gospel.