Heirs

Today, let’s consider a couple of New Testament ideas that are sometimes familiar to Christians, but which are not often taken too seriously.

  1. The Church is a co-HEIR with Jesus Christ of the New Creation. The New Creation is our INHERITANCE in the Lord (Romans 8; Galatians 4; Ephesians 1; Titus 3).
  2. When God’s Kingdom culminates at Jesus’ return, we’ll be set in place to REIGN over it (2 Timothy 2; Revelation 5 & 22).

Imagine with me for a moment that you have the greatest, most compassionate, most brilliant uncle ever. From the day you were born, he’s been watching over you -– thrilled with every step you’ve taken and with every aspect of your development. Although he’s very modest and humble, this uncle happens to be the owner, president, and CEO of a multibillion-dollar company. And from the day you were born, he’s been grooming you and inviting you into his business that you might share in it with him. You are his heir. You are his apprentice.

How would life be different if it was shaped by such anticipation and knowledge? What hard decisions would you be free to make knowing this was your future? What circumstances would you now be empowered to endure as the heir to your uncle’s kingdom?

What if this scenario were true, except the reality was infinitely bigger? What if the Kingdom encompassed ALL of creation? What if you’d step into this inheritance for ETERNITY?

How would life be different…here? Now?

“…No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [that city], and his servants will worship him.
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).

This is the future of the Church. This is the anticipation of all those who live in faithful service of Jesus Christ. Though this scenario seems surreal, it is much easier to grasp with the whole biblical narrative in mind. God created humanity to govern creation on his behalf. Despite the initial catastrophe, Jesus put creation back on course. God’s plans will not be thwarted. Creation will be renewed and restored and God’s people will reign over the New Creation under Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:11-17.
Following Jesus and submitting to a life of discipleship is not some religious act. It is the only reasonable response once we understand what’s really unfolding around us. If we believe that things are coming to pass as indicated in the scriptures, embracing discipleship wholeheartedly and with great effort only makes sense.

As with everything in life worth doing, however, discipleship comes at a cost. This inheritance comes at a cost. We must lay aside our own ambitions and desires to be adopted into God’s family and to inherit the Kingdom. If we cling to our lives, we’ll lose them; but if we “lay down our lives” to live for Jesus Christ, only then do we truly find them (Mark 8:35). This was the way Jesus modeled and it is the way for his followers.

Jesus’ teaching. With this scenario in mind, many of Jesus’ parables and teachings make more sense. Jesus wasn’t making quaint, moral points. He was conveying a new reality of life because he was becoming King. He used various metaphors to reveal the true context of our lives and the corresponding invitation to take part in what was unfolding in and through him.

Count the cost. Throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) Jesus often reiterated that in order to follow him, people would have to “count the cost.” Christians sometimes interpret these passages as gloomy, depressing demands. They hear the message, “Give up everything you love and hold dear and live a deprived ‘Christian’ life. And when you die you can go to heaven.”

But this is a misinterpretation. To accurately “count the cost”, we must understand both the cost and the reward/benefit. We must know the story. We must know what God is up to. And then we must consider what price we would pay to be part of his eternal kingdom. To be clear, God’s promise is not death and clouds and harps and heavenly choirs. It’s much better than that. It’s far more audacious:

  • God’s promise to you is an inheritance in an eternal Kingdom.
  • God’s promise to you is immortality.
  • God’s promise to you is reigning with Jesus over the New Creation.

This is God’s invitation to you in and through Jesus Christ. So now –-

COUNT THE COST.

What’s this invitation worth to you?

What are you going to live for?

Who will you become in God’s story?

(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)

Messiah

Imagine this scenario in Matthew 3…
A wild and controversial prophet emerges after centuries of divine silence. He’s inviting God’s people out into the wilderness to re-enter God’s promised land through the Jordan river in a prophetic act of baptism for repentance from sin. And as he does so, he’s announcing some good news: The Kingdom of God is within reach! And there was someone among them who would immerse the people in the presence of God!

Imagine the ancient memories and hope that John the Baptist was awakening in the people. John was acting out & proclaiming the imminent fulfillment of the deepest longings and hopes of Israel!

The time has finally come! Our exile is ended!
The Kingdom is at hand!! God is returning!

This explosive anticipation was the context into which Jesus stepped and began his ministry. The mysterious and long prophesied Messiah –- a seemingly irreconcilable vision of Israel’s King, the prophet Isaiah’s “suffering servant” (Isaiah 53), the promised “prophet like Moses” (Deuteronomy 18), the Redeemer, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Son of God –- had come. Beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, this was all to be fulfilled in and through one man –- Jesus…the Christ.

Let’s place all this within the context of God’s story:

Scope and trajectory rough

As the center and apex of God’s story, everything sovereignly pointed toward the coming of Jesus Christ, in whom all things are fulfilled and on whom the story turns. The full wreckage of humanity collapsed onto the cross in all its fury. Evil, rebellion, sin, and death culminated in the crucifixion of perfect love. But in the face of what looked like ultimate disaster, the fullness of sin and death was absorbed at the cross and then epically defeated at Jesus’ resurrection. The renewal which all creation now anticipates became a reality in Jesus’ resurrection (Rom. 8:22). The story turned.

Bigger Jesus.
In light of God’s epic victory in and through Jesus Christ, perhaps it is no wonder that the phrase “personal Savior” never appears in the Bible. In fact, the New Testament puts very little emphasis on individual forgiveness or passage to heaven upon death. You and I were never intended to be the center of the story. God is not concerned with us escaping from creation.

The gospel just isn’t big enough or good enough when individual forgiveness, security, and well being after death are its center. Instead, Jesus is the center. He’s where everything comes together. And he’s MUCH bigger than most people realize:

  • Jesus is the quintessential human.
  • Jesus is the faithful Israelite.
  • Jesus is God incarnate.
  • Jesus is the Messiah.

What was accomplished in and through him is FAR greater than most people ever imagine. And we’re being swept into this same story! We’re invited to share in his victory! We’re invited to take part in something much bigger than ourselves. We’re offered a place in a coming, eternal Kingdom –- Jesus’ reign over the New Creation.

(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)

Resurrection Life

Resurrection was central in Paul’s vision of new life. Nowhere is this more obvious than in two of Paul’s most famous passages: Romans 6-8 and 1 Corinthians 15. These passages contain some of the most foundational and often quoted verses in the Christian faith.

Romans 6-8
Romans 6:1-23. Chapter 6 begins with some thoughts on baptism. Two major ideas emerge. First, at baptism, the believer identifies with the death of Jesus Christ in order to “rise” and walk in newness of life here & now (6:4). This newness of life becomes a present and defining reality. Second, this newness of life is defined by anticipation – not of being dead in heaven – but of a coming resurrection just like Jesus (6:5). This present reality – newness of life in anticipation of resurrection – constitutes Paul’s vision of life in Romans 6-8.

Now let’s take a moment to point out the obvious: Our bodies (in their current states) are in desperate need of a divine overhaul. But nevertheless, we – BODIES AND ALL – are destined for resurrection life in the New Creation. Although there will be transition and transformation…

the new life we have begun in Jesus Christ will never come to an end. And when we step fully into eternity, it will be a natural extension of the lives we’re now living.

So when Paul says we enter “newness of life” at baptism, he wasn’t kidding. And what has begun will never end!

Now is our time to live accordingly. Now is the time to set our bodies (including our daily habits and rhythms of living) apart unto God in worship (6:12-19). Now is the time to establish a trajectory in our lives before Jesus that we want to carry us into eternity.

As Paul continues in 6:15-23, you can almost hear him exhorting his friends, “Don’t be naive. You’re doing SOMETHING with your body. You’re serving SOMETHING. You’re obedient to SOMEONE’s desires.” The only question is what? Whose?

As Christians, this is why we have “new” life. Things are not the same as they used to be. We are learning to live wisely in light of what lies ahead. We are serving God here & now with everything we’ve got. We’re living as a people whose lives before their King will never come to an end.

Romans 8:11-30. After working through some realities of resurrection life through chapter 7, Paul reiterates and expounds on resurrection as the centerpiece of his vision for new life in chapter 8:

  • You’re not going to stay dead. Your BODY is not going to stay dead. You will experience the same resurrection as Jesus (Romans 8:11).
  • Christians do not rightfully yearn for death and heaven. We only endure death as we (along with all of creation) await and anticipate “the redemption of our bodies” – resurrection and renewal (Romans 8:23).
  • Resurrection is the hope in which we are saved in and through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:24).

1 Corinthians 15
After looking at Romans 6-8, perhaps you’re thinking…

Wow. If this resurrection stuff is for real, that’s some pretty good news. People should probably know about this.

Well, you’d be in good company. This is precisely what Paul thought. So let’s turn to and read the most explicit “gospel” passage in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 15:1-57. Here is Paul’s brief summary of the Good News:

  • Christ died for our sins in accordance with God’s story (1 Corinthians 15:3).
  • Jesus was buried (body and all)(v.4).
  • Jesus was resurrected (body and all) in accordance with God’s story (v.4).
  • Jesus spent time with more than 500 people after his resurrection before ascending into heaven (v.5-8).
  • Jesus was the first fruit of resurrection life that will one day be shared with all his people (v.20-23).

Paul understood the entirety of God’s story. He recognized what had taken place in and through Jesus. He knew Jesus wasn’t an aberration. He wasn’t a means for people to escape from this fallen world. He was God’s ultimate victory. Jesus brought redemption. He guaranteed restoration and renewal for all creation. He defeated death in his resurrection. And some day soon, his victory will be shared by all of God’s people! This is the news Paul was announcing. This is Paul’s vision of new life.

Let’s continue on through chapter 15 for a few more takeaways:

  • We’re not going to slowly evolve into resurrection life. This will be no human accomplishment. Our hope does not lie in science or medicine, despite their best attempts to prolong the inevitable breakdown of our present, mortal bodies. After all, mortal “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (v.50). Our hope lies elsewhere…
  • There will come a change. Our perishable bodies will put on the imperishable. Our mortal bodies will take on immortality! (v.51-53)
  • Death (not just sin) will be overcome by Jesus’ victory. (v.54-57)
  • Resurrection life is a present, life-shaping reality for Jesus’ people. Because resurrection lies ahead, we press ahead in service of our King Jesus in the confidence that our labor is never in vain (v.58).

So what now?

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)