I have a pondering that I will continue to ruminate for weeks to come. One of the dangers that Christians always face in our lives is the temptation of legalism. One of the lasting statements that impacted me in my seminary courses was this: “there are two manifestations of the flesh. First, and more obvious, is the natural inclination to sin and follow after worldly desires and impulses. The second one, however, is less obvious, yet all the more prevalent. The second manifestation of the flesh is the natural tendency towards self-righteousness and the belief that we can gain righteousness and God’s blessing on our own merits.” This, of course, is legalism, pure and simple.
One of the aspects of the Christian life that has been bugging me lately is the question concerning how our works and personal righteousness will be rewarded in heaven. How are we rewarded in heaven? Is there a correlation between binding and loosing in heaven? In other words, is there an eternal significance tied to our works on earth? Will our eternal authority, pleasures, privileges, and STAKE (so to speak) be contingent upon our holiness in this life? If this is the case, does this jive with the gospel? What is the Scriptures teaching concerning our reward in heaven?
One of the old-time Southern Gospel hymns that I sang growing up was entitled, “Mansions Over the Hilltop”. Here is an example of the power of translation. For, the King James Version states in John 14:2 that Jesus says, “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.” Hence this consideration, “How big is my mansion going to be?” Is that contingent upon my walk with Christ? Is that contingent upon my personal holiness and devotion? The HCSB translates the verse this way, “In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places.” The NIV translates it, “In my father’s house, there are many rooms”. It seems in the context of this passage, that Jesus is referring to the house of God. Using this imagery, we can see that God’s house is BIG. It does not follow then, that Jesus would be saying that there are mansions within a house, for usually a mansion is not a part of the house, it is the house. In our sense of the term, the mansion would be the whole (whereas a room would be the part), just as a house would be considered the whole. Therefore, it makes sense to see that the mansion in view here is the MANSION of God; and it has a BUNCH of rooms! This passage indicates that Jesus is going to prepare a place for YOU, believer, in the house of God. It seems in evangelical Christianity, there is a lot of emphasis on Christian reward – streets of gold, mansions in glory, jewels in the crown, bliss, and happiness.
However, I would contend that this fascination on PERSONAL reward and glory in heaven misses the point of the gospel. For, what is the true reward of the Christian? Should it not be considered that the GREATEST reward that can be given to us by God is ETERNAL LIFE? The gospel of Jesus Christ is this: we were created to have a relationship with God that was pure and holy, where we completely do his will for his glory in perfect harmony and relationship and live forever. However, we rebelled against God and suffered the consequences of sin and death. Christ Jesus, the God man, came to this earth to be our substitutionary death and punishment for sin so that we can have a restored relationship with God and to have eternal life. We have received our adoption as sons of God through our faith in Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we await the consummation of Christ’s return to be fully glorified in our relationship with God and in our inheritance of eternal life. The gospel points to us that the KEY reward that we have in heaven is perfect relationship with our Creator and ETERNAL LIFE! Think about this: does it not make sense that the GREATEST fulfillment in life is to have life eternal and a relationship that fully and perfectly glorifies and honors God in all that we do, in which we are fully and perfectly satisfied in our selves, our work, and our relationships?
The Christian’s reward of Eternal Life and Perfect Relationship with Yahweh God is what will make heaven, heaven. Everything else will pale in comparison. Jesus was telling his disciples that he was about to leave, and Thomas wanted to know where he was going. Jesus responded that he was going to prepare a place for us. This place is a place where we will never see death again and we will live forever in perfect peace and harmony with the God who created us and loves us.