Our world today is experiencing a crisis of hope. I don’t think anybody could argue that. What might be arguable, or, rather, shocking, is that the crisis of hope is not unique to those outside the church. In fact, it might be worse, because we know we “should” have hope, but we don’t feel it, and then we feel worse because we aren’t “doing it right.”
There’s a popular song that I enjoy, and it’s a popular phrase in Christendom – all my hope is in Jesus. But what does that actually mean? Here’s what it means for me:
I get to be with Jesus for eternity.
That’s probably not a surprise, right? That’s the great message of Christianity – you get to go to heaven when you die. Phew!
Well…okay, yes, that is true. Faith in Christ does translate to going to heaven. But that is only half the message. That is not the goal. That is a by-product…a bonus, if you will.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not go to hell but will go to heaven when he dies.
Oh wait, that’s not what it says! In comparing five popular translations, they all say…
… that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. And to my knowledge, there is only one place in the Bible where Jesus defines eternal life.
Eternal life means to know and experience you as the only true God, and to know and experience Jesus Christ, as the Son whom you have sent. - John 17:3
1 John 5:11-12 stands with this…God has given us eternal life, and this life has its source in his Son. Whoever has the Son has eternal life; whoever does not have the Son does not possess eternal life.
It’s not about going to heaven when we die. Eternal life starts NOW. In knowing God, now.
I really appreciate how Dallas Willard explained what it means to “know” God. Knowing God is not head knowledge. It isn’t just knowing about God or even believing in him. It’s an interactive, intimate relationship with Him. When you really stop to think about it, it’s quite obvious. The word “know” has become overused, or incorrectly used, in our culture today. I “know” lots of people. The superintendant of the kids’ school. The owner of their taekwondo studio. But I don’t actually know them personally. I don’t know their likes and dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, challenges, victories, etc. It’s the same with God. Knowing of him, even believing and trusting in him, are good things. But that’s not the point and that doesn’t bring you to eternal life. Knowing him intimately, talking with him continually, walking with him daily, doing your everyday life with him…that is knowing him.
And as we interact with God daily, we get to discover what kind of life Jesus has in mind for us.
”I am the Gateway. To enter through me is to experience life, freedom, and satisfaction…I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect, life in its fullness until you overflow.” ~ Jesus, John 10:9-10
Other translations present it as “…that they may have life and have it abundantly….have it to the full….have a rich and satisfying life.” Notice this doesn’t come with the caveat, “…after you die.” Those promises are intended for now. But also, this isn’t a prosperity gospel. It’s the state of your soul. It’s what Paul talks about in, I think all, of his letters.
It’s being content in any circumstance, because Jesus is with you; the life of Christ is in you and empowers you.
Read the last half of 2 Corinthians 11, where Paul explains the difficulties he’s endured. And then read Romans 5:3-5, Romans 12:12, and Philippians 4:11-13, just to start. The man has seen it all and still he can say to be “cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life…let joy overflow…” (Phil. 4:4-5)
You might say… yes, but what about…(all the things – money, relationships, brokenness, illness, evil, etc.) Yes, I know. Although I can’t say I’ve experienced the degree of traumas that Paul writes about (shipwrecks, prison and beatings sound terrifying) we’ve had some pretty significant challenges especially in the last five years...significant financial loss, debilitating chronic pain, relational uncertainty. I’ll detail those more another time, if you haven’t heard the story already. But in short, I can say that through it all, I am learning to walk with God in a whole new way and I’m learning to look at things from his perspective. And it changes everything.
Dr. Willard describes the abundant life or the Psalm 23 life as being completely satisfied and sustained whatever the circumstances.
I really can say that it is truly available! Key to making this a reality is taking the following verses to heart. Understanding what is eternal, and valuing that above all…and flat out not worrying about the rest.
Colossians 3:2…Yes, feast on the treasures of the heavenly realm and fill your thoughts with heavenly realities and not with the distractions of the natural realm.
Romans 12:2…stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you and instead be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a transformation of how you think.
Matthew 6:33…Above all, constantly chase after the realm of of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly.
For the longest time, I wondered, what does “the kingdom of God” actually mean? It felt like something that would come about after Jesus returns. But actually, I have learned that it is here, and accessible to all, now. A “kingdom” is defined as a country, state or territory ruled by a king or queen. Thus, the kingdom of God is where God is the ruler, and where what God wants done, is done. That isn’t limited to a future time after Jesus returns. That starts now. Yes, there are currently other kingdoms on the earth in conflict with God’s kingdom. But we get to choose to live in his kingdom now and forever.
Paul defines it this way in Romans 14:17…The kingdom of God is not a matter of rules about food and drink, but is in the realm of the Holy Spirit, filled with righteousness, peace and joy.
Sharing my daily life with Jesus (knowing God) and intentionally living in the Kingdom of God, (yielding to the Holy Spirit who lives in me, being in tune with and partnering with what God is doing), focusing on the things that are good and eternal (Phil. 4:8 and Colossians 3:2)… in doing this, I’ve discovered that stress, worry, anxiety, simply cease to exist. Instead, I get to live filled with goodness, peace and joy.
Abundant, eternal life in the kingdom of God is here, and available, now…and forever. That’s why my hope is in Jesus.
And yes, of course there is the hope of Jesus return and the brilliance of what will come then…but we’ll talk about that another time. Walking with Jesus now is enough on its own.