This past Sunday our youth took over the morning worship services. They did an excellent job of sharing their experiences on a recent mission trip. There was genuineness in their presentation that was compelling. A comment that several of the youth made grabbed my attention. It was an innocent comment and meant to be encouraging, but it caught me off guard. The comment was that they shared the gospel with the children so that one day they could be with Jesus in heaven. Their desire to share the Gospel is exciting. The eventual goal of being with Christ for eternity is right and appealing. But, I found myself wondering if we put too much emphasis on being with Jesus some day in heaven to the detriment of our being with Christ in the present.
Often our evangelism is focused on getting a person to make a decision for Christ, by offering them the hope of eternity. We put great emphasis on the point in time when a person steps over the line of faith. I fully agree that calling people to make a definite commitment to Christ is essential. It is also essential that we teach people how to walk with Christ in the present.
The danger that is inherent in putting all of our emphasis on making a decision so that we can go to Heaven is that we make salvation fire insurance from Hell. Salvation becomes a future reality without a present impact. Many people have “prayed the prayer” and then gone on to live less than Christ-centered lives, because they believe that they are going to Heaven some day. Salvation is definitely about Heaven and eternity, but our encounter with eternity needs to begin now.
When Jesus issued the Great Commission, he established the pattern for true discipleship. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations. He defined what that would look like in the second clause; baptize them and teach them. Baptism relates to that initial commitment to follow Christ. We could say that, in this context, it equates with making a decision for Christ. Baptism is a profound act of publically indentifying with Jesus. In some cultures, even today, baptism becomes the defining moment in a person’s life. It signifies a break with the old and a conscious choice to embrace a new life in Christ. This is often accompanied with dramatic and drastic changes in the person’s life, which may include separation from family and friends.
Baptism is to be followed with active discipleship. Jesus defined this as “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” This is to be the outcome of making a decision for Christ. There is no place for passive discipleship; just marking time until we get to go to Heaven. The true follower of Christ has the responsibility to learn and act. We are to learn as much as we can about Christ and what He teaches. Then we are to act on Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says to obey what he commands.
Throughout the New Testament, the emphasis is placed on living out our faith in the present. Living with Christ in Heaven is the culmination of living for Christ on earth. The Apostle Paul was constantly calling us to demonstrate an active faith.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (NIV)
As we share the Gospel, it is important to emphasize that eternity does hang in the balance. We can, and should, look forward to living in Christ’s presence in Heaven. But we should also emphasize that life with Christ begins now. Jesus’ invitation is still the same, “Come follow me.”