As a child that grew up in a Sunday school classroom where I would hear Bible story after Bible story, I was always fascinated by the idea of Heaven. Will the streets be lined with gold? Can I play basketball all day? Do they have crayons? These questions were pertinent to me and my understanding of Heaven at an early age.
As I grew older, not only did my questions about Heaven change, but my perception of the world transformed many times over. Although I was forced to reject interpretation of Scripture that I had heard, I eventually found my way back to the Bible.
This time I began to explore the Scriptures with a new set of eyes. I was eager to see what I could see. What I found has drastically transformed my views of Jesus, God and our relationship with Him. Naturally, I found that my ideas of what His Kingdom would look like shifted drastically as well. But before I elaborate on what those ideas have become, I would like to share with you some of the treasures that my explorations of Scripture revealed to me.
Let’s begin with my top 3 principles of the New Testament:
1) Christ is universal, an ever-present reality underlying all of creation.
2) Christ does not judge or condemn.
3) Christ’s fundamental wish or ‘command’ for us is to ‘Love one another.’
Christ is universal
Although clearly Biblical and widely understood, the omnipresence of Christ is not something I heard preached often in my youth.
The Gospel of John (1:3) puts it this way, “All things were created thru Him and apart from Him not one thing was made that has been made.” Romans (1:20) refers to God’s omnipresence in another way, “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him or show gratitude.” Here, Paul is directly saying here that God/Christ are so present, their signature so strong, that one can know His “invisible attributes… eternal power and nature” by simply looking at creation, no Bible needed.
Jesus himself acknowledges that Christ is much larger than Himself as a man. He states, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40) He also states, “I am in my Father and you are in Me and I in You.” (John 14:20) Paul’s writings echo this as well, “Don’t you know that Jesus Christ is in you?”
(2 Corinthians 13:5)
With these Bible verses in mind it is important to realize the sanctity of ALL people and ALL things which leads us to…
Christ does not judge nor condemn
Christ, and therefore God, does not judge, nor does he keep track of your trespasses.
The words of Jesus himself assure us that His task is to lift up (“save”), not to administer guilt, shame, or judgment. John 12:47 states, “If anyone hears my words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” In 2nd Corinthians 5:19 “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.” In other words, God came through Christ so that Mankind would know who He is. So that we would understand his character and know that God is Love (1st John 4:8). In Colossians, “…put on heartfelt compassion… accepting one another and forgiving one another… Just as the Lord has forgiven you.” With these three passages in mind we can be confident that there is no need to have fear of judgement. Instead, know that God sent His true image in Jesus so that we would know what it looks like to carry the His image in human form. Therefore, as sons (and daughters) adopted through Christ (Ephesians 1:5) we must also adopt this image, putting aside judgements and counting of trespasses.
To take things one step further, we need to acknowledge that God wants us to treat EVERYONE equal. We are NOT to show favoritism. James (2:3) puts it like this “If you look with favor on the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Sit here in a good place.’… and yet you say to the poor man, ‘Stand over there’… haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James is saying that to show favor causes your to become a judge with “evil thoughts.”
Of course, it makes sense that God would not want us to show partiality. He himself is not one to do so. Peter says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” And Romans 2:10 “glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. There is no favoritism with God.” In other words, God doesn’t care how old or young, tall or short, dark or light, loud or quiet. God only cares about your heart.
Love one another
And finally Jesus fundamental teaching, the great command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Jesus sees this as the defining characteristic of His disciples. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) In Matthew and Luke, Jesus raises the bar even higher, advising us to love our enemies. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27, also see Matthew 5:44) Jesus is serious about loving people to the point that he encourages us express love and good will to people who hate us. That’s not light stuff. Imagine doing good, blessing, and praying for killers, terrorists, child predators. If you call them enemies then Christ compels you to find love in your heart, even for them.
Jesus’ teaching surely left an impression on His disciples. The evidence in their writings are clear. James says that if you, “Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.” In 1 Peter (4:8), “Above all keep your love for one another at full strength.”
1 John (4:8) puts it like this, “Let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Its crystal clear that both Jesus and His disciples want us to understand the centrality of sincere love.
Now that we have reviewed these three aspects of Christ, we can think of Christ as an ever-present reality underlying all things which does not judge others, but views all as sacred and is defined by having and encouraging love for all. Therefore, any and all thoughts, moods, behaviors and influences that bring this reality to greater prominence in your life and the lives of those around you is, by definition, pro-Christ.
On the other hand, anything that causes us to
a) Degrade, dehumanize or view ourselves or others as less than,
b) judge or condemn ourselves or others, and
c) abandon an attitude of love towards another
is, by definition, anti-Christ. That is to say it directly opposes the work and will of Jesus Christ.
So then to be pro-Christ, in accordance with Christ, or to be “in Christ” would not just be to understand these truth in our heads, but to live them from our hearts. To know these truths experientially. To fully anchor ourselves to the ever-present, all accepting, forever loving, Christ within, is the transformation that we are all intended to make.
Paul prays for and encourages this in many places. “To know the Messiah’s love that SURPASSES knowledge, so you may be filled with the FULLNESS of God.” (Ephesians 3:19) “Put on the new man, who is being renewed in the knowledge according to the IMAGE of his Creator. Here there is neither Jew nor Greek… but Christ is in all and is all.” (Colossians 3:10) “We all with unveiled faces are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed in the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We all know God only has One Image and that is the Image of His Son, Jesus Christ. God is calling all of us to become renewed in the Image of His Beloved Son
We can find Jesus acknowledging and praying for the same transformation in the Gospel of John “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) and later “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22)
If we are to reach our highest calling as followers of Christ, we must each realize Jesus’ own ambition for us to “be one… brought to complete unity.”
And it was at this point during my exploration of Scripture that it dawned on me; The Kingdom of Heaven has nothing to do with the external. In the same way that God cares not for the specifics of our outward appearance, His Kingdom is not one composed of clothes, and cars and hairstyles. Romans 14:17 puts it like this “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
So what does Heaven look like? Let me ask you: what would the world look like if all adopted the life of Christ as their own? What would the world look like if each of us regarded each other as sacred, holy creations? What would the world look like without judgment, favoritism, and condemnation ruling our hearts, but instead the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ? Can you imagine such a world? Imagine no longer. Follow Him. He is The Way.
So let it be known, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [change the way you think] and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)