Emphasis on the afterlife
Borg illustrates from his experience as a conservative Lutheran in the US that the emphasis on the afterlife and living to ensure we get to heaven was basic to him, his family and, it would seem, a majority of other Christians. This emphasis means that how we live now, what we believe and how we behave matters because where we will spend eternity is at stake.
For me, however, this thinking is not significant. Where I will spend eternity is simply not at stake at all. What is important is that I have entered into a relationship with God the Father through his son, Jesus. Having thus become part of the Kingdom of Heaven my life is lived seeking to share the good news that the Kingdom of God is here until either my life ends or Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead at which time I am assured of my place in heaven for eternity.
There is in this emphasis on the afterlife the underlying and common human thinking that somehow how we live will determine our eternal future. In other words, if we get it right in this life we will go to heaven, be good enough to get to heaven, do what’s necessary to earn a place in the afterlife. With a good bit of effort and a dose of luck our life and deeds will win God’s approval: it’s called “salvation by works”.
At the time I became a Christian at the age of 21 it became clear to me that my new-found relationship with Jesus and the eternal life I now possessed was mine solely on the basis that Jesus had won it for me.
In the plainest of terms it works like this (Ephesians 2:8-10)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Out of his mercy God showed me grace and favoured me with the gift of faith in Jesus and it is this faith that saves me. There is no credit for me in this – it is a salvation I did not and could not earn. Once given this gift I then find God has things for me to do, a life to live, a way to go. This I do, not to earn heaven but to take part in fulfilling God’s purpose in giving Jesus to die on the cross for me. He gave me this new life; now it’s up to me to live it.
This gift of eternal life, of my place in heaven, was given and sealed at the time I became a Christian. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The change comes out of the mercy and grace of God and it is utterly transformational and of eternal significance. It makes sense that any and all my offenses against God, my sins, meant that I was too imperfect to be with or near the perfect and living God. The alternative to being with God, the source of life, is death so I was “dead in my trespasses”. God has made me “alive together with Christ”.
God has taken me from death to life – and surely there cannot be a more significant change than that! I was raised from eternal separation from God, a separation caused by my rebellion, my shortcomings, my sin towards him, a separation with eternal duration and consequences. I was raised from death to eternal life and now am seen by God to be in my place seated in the heavenly places along with and in Christ Jesus.
How sad it is when a Christian does not know or cannot grasp this breathtaking and wonderful truth, that eternal life is something yet to come but also is to be lived and enjoyed at every moment of our present life. We do not need an “emphasis on an afterlife” for which we are assured.
I know, because the Bible teaches it here and am assured by the Holy Spirit, that the reality is that I now, already and continuously have eternal life; my place in heaven has already been won for me by Jesus.
My ongoing experience in this life often makes this truth hard to see in the blur and fog of the life I live but that does not make it in any less true. There will be a time when it will be clearly seen by all and, in addition, it will be seen that this is no credit to me but the result of the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus. To God be the glory!