“If God is so good, and you so desire to be with Him always and forever, then why not die and join Him in heaven now?” This is a question I have been asked multiple times, by different people, in the last couple of months. Some people are very direct; I’m currently on a psychiatric rotation at the hospital, and the link between religious beliefs and psychiatry is an interesting topic. Others speak in a philosophical manner, and for others, it’s just like a friend-to-friend question. However, the underlying query is the same – What are we doing, on earth, as believers of Christ?
This is an important question. Statistics suggest that suicide is as prevalent amongst those who identify as Christian, as in the non-Christian population. I can think of multiple not-so-far-removed cases in my own life experience – people who have declared Christ as their Saviour, and later taken their own lives. Then, there was the suicide of Rick Warren (author of “The Purpose Driven Life”)’s son earlier this year. Is life worth physically living on earth? My answer is “YES”, definitely yes. Would I physically die for Christ? Well, I believe and trust God that if I am one day found in that situation, He will give me the strength and faith to hold fast to His Name. It’s something I can ponder about, and play through in my head but I have not yet experienced it. I know, if that day comes, my only hope of remaining in Christ is for me to have cultivated an intimate relationship with Him, and have His Spirit alive in me. No amount of willpower can force me to remain strong in Christ in the midst of suffering, but His love and His power is what allows me to ‘not love [my] life to the death’ [Revelation 12:11]. God is good, and I do desire to be with Him always and forever, but this DOES NOT mean I should die now so I can immediately be with Him in heaven. God’s presence and promises are available to us NOW, in the present, on earth. This life is a gift from God and I do not want to despise it. Instead, I want to understand His purposes and grow in the knowledge of Him daily. Jesus came to give us life to the fullest, not just in eternity but also right at this present time [John 10:10].
If we claim to know Christ, and think the best way to be with Him is to physically die now, I think we have missed the point. Sure, in our human capacity, we cannot contain the full knowledge of Christ. Yet, remember that God created this earth, and created each being uniquely. We have been created by Him, in His image, and have our purpose in Him. At the same time, here we are on earth. The disciples did not kill themselves when Jesus ascended to heaven. They received the Holy Spirit and continued living in faith, looking forward to the day of His return, but also partnering with Him in the present for the building of His kingdom. There IS a purpose for our being on earth at this time, and we ARE given means to know Christ more on earth.
As believers of Christ, we live on this earth to:
- Grow in the knowledge of Christ ( IDENTITY)
- Walk a life worthy of our calling, giving glory to God (FAITH & WORSHIP)
- Call for His kingdom – justice, peace, partnership with Him (MISSION)
- Enjoy His gift of life, and attain to the fullness of it (LOVE)
I believe there is much to gain from persevering in this life on earth, even as we eagerly anticipate Jesus’ return and reign. I believe the Bible, God’s word, encourages us to persevere in life for the maturing of our love and of our faith, the outworking of which results in the fruit of mission, and evidences in love for one another. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” This is life that begins from the moment we choose to give our lives to Jesus, life that cannot be taken away, and life demonstrated and given freely by a God who loves us.
1. IDENTITY – growing in the knowledge of Christ
Growing in the knowledge of Christ is a primary part of our walk here on earth, and also in eternity. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ, we also grow in our identity since we are found in Christ [Ephesians 2:15, John 15:1-2]. As Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The visible result of this explained in Colossians 3:9-10 – “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” Consider the following verses (I have only briefly expanded on each one here, but I would encourage you to meditate further on them!)
[Colossians 1:10-11] – “…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and long-suffering with joy.”
- As we grow in knowledge of Christ, we grow in His image, and are strengthened to persevere on this earth with all patience and long-suffering so that in all things, and in all situations, we have the joy of the Lord.
- In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul shares testimony of this – “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned that in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
[2 Peter 3:17-18] – “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…”
- The knowledge of Christ keeps us focussed on Him for as we sincerely pursue Him, our feet cannot be distracted off the path of His way. This is the peace of God, found in Christ, that reveals His way to us so that we can walk in it. [Philippians 4:7] – “…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
[Ephesians 4:11-13] – “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
- The knowledge of Christ leads us into the abundance of life found in Jesus, just as He has promised. Because of Jesus, the way has been paved for our union with God so that we will be One with Him, just as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One. In this relationship, we experience the fullness of God, we grow to understand His glory, His wisdom and the abundant riches of His grace, mercy and love, demonstrated in Christ.
2. FAITH & WORSHIP – walking a life worthy of our calling, giving glory to God
We have faith as we trust in God’s promises, and walk accordingly. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Worship is an inevitable consequence of knowing God – it overflows from our hearts and from our relationship with God to be visible in our lives on earth. When we live lives on earth overflowing with faith and worship, we stand as the evidence and witnesses of God’s glory on earth. This is a privilege for us and an opportunity God gives us to be refined in our faith. It is an opportunity unique to earth as here, though we do not see Christ “face-to-face” (we cannot contain His full glory with our earthly bodies), we love Him. 1 Peter 1:8-9 says, “…Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” Here is a taste of what is to come, eternal life and the promises of Christ available to us now, in the present day.
[1 Peter 1:6-7] – “In this (our incorruptible heavenly inheritance – see previous verses) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul shares his hope for how he would have lived his life on earth:
“For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.”
Paul desires that his life will be characterised by simplicity and godly sincerity (a genuine love for God), the grace of God, and the abundance (or overflow) of this towards others. This is the water of life offered, completely free, to any who thirst for it. This is the water of life that springs up like a fountain. Jesus explains how His living water fully satisfies, and overflows in our hearts –
[John 4:14] – “…but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
3. MISSION – calling for His kingdom
As we live on earth, growing in the knowledge of Christ, and walking in His way, we partner with Him to call for His kingdom. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 gives us a clear picture of this:
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.”
Does God need us to fulfil His purposes? I don’t think He needs us as much as He WANTS us to partner with Him. In Luke 19, the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke His disciples who are proclaiming the praises of God and His coming kingdom. Instead Jesus tells them (verse 40), “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” God’s plans will be fulfilled regardless, but He loves us and wants us to be with Him and work beside Him in this. I know I can cook a dinner, or bake some muffins by myself. However, I really enjoy doing these things with others – I get to talk to them, to know them better, to laugh with them and to enjoy the time we spend together. Perhaps, if I am joining a friend to cook or bake, they may show me kitchen tips, or teach me a recipe, so that this time is not only enjoyable, but I get to learn and share in the process. When we partner with God in His work, we learn from Him, enjoy His presence and get to know Him more. He enjoys us, even when, in our immature but sincere love, we might make a mess of His kitchen. God is patient and loving. He desires to give us His treasures. Ephesians 1:3 describes how God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” And this is Christ who lives today and is continuously at work with the Father now and forever. Let the Spirit and the Bride say come!
4. LOVE – enjoying His gift of life, and attaining to the fullness of it
Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him (Jesus) all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” God wants us to be with Him, living with Him for eternity. He loves each and every one. This is a constant message throughout the whole Bible – it’s why God created man, why Jesus specifically asked the Father for us as an inheritance, and why Revelation described the dwelling of God being eternally with man. God didn’t make a mistake when He created us, He wanted us to know His abundant life and to experience the fullness of who He is.
Life isn’t easy. We all face challenges, we all experience loss, sickness, grief at some point. What happens when we ‘despair of life itself’? In my own life, I have faced times when I have despaired. I remember speaking to the Lord during a sullen stroll one day. He lovingly reminded me of the gift He had given me in life on earth. He reminded me of who He was, what He was doing, and of what my role was in all this. I decided that day, that I would never despise God’s gift of life and that I would persevere and praise Him in every aspect and day of my living on this earth. I’ve never looked back since then, or had to question this. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, Paul describes his own testimony of trusting the Lord in suffering:
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.”
As I live my life on this earth, I do not want to just exist, to simply achieve the milestones of education, work, family and financial security. People strive towards all sorts of goals and purposes on earth, but I have one single desire – I want to gaze upon the Lord all the days of my life and seek Him in His temple place (Psalm 27:4). I don’t believe this is something I will only do after Jesus returns, or after I die. I believe this is available to me, and to you, and to every person right now. When I live with this purpose, it is more exhilarating, more fulfilling and more saturated with joy than my life could ever be without God. That’s how I live life on earth – with joy because my life is hidden with Christ and He has satisfied me completely with His love. We face a choice of life and death every day – a decision to make, and a gift to receive. Daily, I choose life in Christ, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.