Thursday, May 7, 2009

An Eternal Vantage Point

Picture yourself for a moment, having passed from time into eternity, looking back on your life from that vantage point. What were the high points? The lows? Most of us will probably be surprised.

Why? Because the values of this world, including the modern Christian subculture, are dramatically different from those that govern in God's kingdom. Highly successful people will see their lives weighed on God's scale and declared worthless--nothing more than a fading dream of accolades from people whose opinions no longer matter. Others will rise out of obscurity and receive the only words that matter in that day: "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

How can we know the difference between God's values and those of the world, especially if the world's values infiltrate churches and Christian organizations? 1 John 2:15-17 tells us: "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

In this world, three things motivate us: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. The word "lust," here broadly means a strong desire for anything. Without the miracle of regeneration, we spend every moment of every day, from the cradle to the grave, pursuing some combination of those "lusts." For example, a typical life without the love of the Father would consist of working hard for recognition, pleasure, and material comfort for ourselves and those close to us. Nothing necessarily wrong with that--except that those things have an expiration date, and the Bible tells us we will live forever.

When we think of the lust of the flesh, of course we think of sex first. It's everywhere in our society. No wonder the subject of pornography comes up so often in sermons. But even if we don't belong to the (ahem) gender that struggles most with that temptation, we can worship the flesh through food and other indulgences as well. (Starbucks, anyone?) If our primary goal in life is to feel good, we are gratifying the lust of the flesh, whether or not our means are socially acceptable.

Gratification of the lust of the eyes is the American way. I have to confess that I lusted after a red patent leather handbag this morning, but I resisted. Cars, homes, computers, clothes--we can never have enough. If there's an upgrade, we need it. God wants us rich, right?

The boastful pride of life is what keeps us working sixty-hour weeks to validate ourselves. It can creep so subtly into even the work we do for God that we have no idea it's happening. Are we doing something to further God's kingdom or because we want people to respect us? This is a very important question, because Matthew 6:1 tells us that if we practice our righteousness before other people to be noticed by them, we have no reward from God. 1 Corinthians 13 gets even more extreme and says that if we give everything we own to feed the poor and deliver our bodies to be burned, but we do it with the wrong motives, it profits us nothing. Wow!

That may seem harsh to us, because we're used to thinking that good deeds deserve rewards. And they do--the Bible doesn't deny that. It simply says that the eternal reward depends on whether the love of God--or the Holy Spirit within us--motivated the deed. If we do something to please others, we may get recognition from them. And if we do the will of God, especially if other people criticize us for it, we earn treasure in heaven. 

So a deed, no matter how small, that originates from the love of God in our hearts will have more eternal value than a major sacrifice aimed at self-promotion. Why? Because the world is passing away, and also its lusts. Only the eternal (the work God does through us) remains. Many things that seem important now are only temporary. 

We will most likely be surprised in that day, when the inflated balloon of this world has popped and reality lays bare. But we shouldn't be. The Bible tells us everything we need to know about the kingdom of God and its values. The problem is that we sentimentalize the words of our Lord. Yes, Jesus was eloquent, but most of the time he was simply stating facts about his kingdom. It's easy to respond by saying, "Ooh, that's beautiful. I like that," and go on living exactly the way we did before. But that is a major mistake. None of us want to spend eternity agonizing over what could have been.

What does your life look like stripped of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life? That is the measure of its eternal significance.


Cindy said...

This business of motive bothers me. I love to sing, and so I sing in the choir. That serves God, but it also makes me happy. Do we get any reward in heaven for doing things that serve God if doing them also makes us happy? Or do we need to choose service that we'd rather not be doing?

Anette Acker said...

Thanks for reading carefully, Cindy! No, I'm not saying that we can't do things we enjoy. In fact, most likely we'll enjoy the work God has called us to do because it will fit our gifts and interests. However, God doesn't want us to do it to receive praise from others. If you lose yourself in the "flow" of singing, that glorifies God, but if you focus on yourself and try to impress others, you're glorifying yourself. Studies also show that "flow" leads to happiness, and we all know that preoccupation with the opinions others hold of us is unhealthy. Obeying God leads to joy because he understands our psychology. I find it interesting to see how psychological studies almost always confirm what the Bible teaches.