There are a lot of things from the traditional, generally-evangelical, low-grade fundamentalist church upbringing of my youth that I have left behind. Teachings, traditions, and practices that no longer make sense…or that I simply no longer believe to be true.
Some of them were difficult to say “goodbye” to, and have taken years for their grip on me to be relinquished. Others were not nearly as difficult to part company with. We were never really close friends, anyway.
But there is clearly one change that is greater than all the others…one that affects every area and discipline of my life.
I was taught at home…in my Sunday school classes…from the pulpit…in Bible studies…that the ultimate goal and purpose of being a Christian was to make it to heaven when I died. Secondarily, it was my responsibility to make sure I did whatever I could to make sure others followed me there.
And the default partner to those goals was to dramatically and passionately put the fear of hell..that place of eternal suffering and endless torment for everybody who didn’t believe the way I did…into all that crossed my path.
Talk about a heavy burden to bear. Yeesh. The good news is that over time, I have come to see things from a different perspective.
It all began to change in my mid-twenties when I did my first serious study through the Sermon on the Mount…and the Lord’s Prayer, in particular. When I first comprehended that Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, it turned my theological world on its side.
He was telling them (us) the Kingdom was about here and now and not about there and then. Jesus said that he came that we might have full and abundant lives…right now. His death and resurrection can bring deliverance from sin and justification before a holy and righteous God…a liberation and freedom to become everything He created us to be…now. The teachings of the NT letters are not so that we can make it to heaven when we die, but so we can live faithful and purposeful lives in the present tense…and be partners in showing the world what true Kingdom “come” really looks like.
John Wesley said it this way:
My life is no longer shaped and dictated by what is going to happen after death. Not for me or others. Fear of hell motivates no one for the long term. Maybe it has in the past, but I’m convinced fear ultimately pushes people away. However, “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18
I fully intend to live in the presence of God forever. And forever means now.
And that’s the message I want people to hear.