People will sometimes talk about various windfalls or events as being “life-changing.” Concerning windfalls, they mean that the financial possibilities after the windfall were far greater than the possibilities before. Concerning events, they frequently mean that their understanding of life, and its priorities, was completely altered by the lessons of that which they lived through.
The message of the Gospel of Christ, accepted in faith, should be life-changing in every sense of the word.
Jesus taught His listeners there were ultimately only two directions in life one could go. He said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).” Elsewhere, speaking of the judgment, and those same two destinations available to men, “And [the lost] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46; ESV).”
The enormity of the implications of Jesus’ doctrine are nothing short of staggering.
Consider first, the sheer magnitude of the promise of eternal life. This life, spent in the joyful presence of God, in a body incorruptible, is promised to be without end, thus eternal. This reward is described by the apostle Peter as an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven (1 Peter 1:4; ESV).” Jesus Himself spoke of its unchanging nature when He advised His disciples, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:20; ESV).”
There is literally nothing in this life that can compare nor be valued in any equivalent way to an eternity of joy. The most joyful moments of life come to an end. The most valuable things in this world are perishable and the there is nothing of this world that can be taken with us when we die. When balancing the two, the eternal, infinite nature of the reward so eclipses the momentary, fleeting nature of this world as to make any comparison laughable.
Likewise, the alternative is completely overwhelming in the scope of the threat. Eternal punishment cannot be reasoned away as a non-trivial consequence so as to make any sort of momentary pleasure in this world worth it.
Jesus well understood the consequences of what He was teaching. Thus, He reasoned, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:25-27; ESV)” Likewise, Jesus taught, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:30; ESV).”
Any momentary sacrifice necessary in order to gain an eternity of reward is logically and reasonably a fair trade. The apostle Paul wrote of this to the Philippian church when he noted the various things he had given up for Christ, but happily concludes, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:7-8; ESV).” Likewise, to the Roman church
he concluded, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18; ESV).”
Happily, the demands of Jesus are quite reasonable. As John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).” This is not to trivialize what Jesus tells us to do, but rather than being a burden, the commands of God, followed properly, make life better, and then, in the life to come, they offer an even greater reward (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8). When we realize all this, the promise of Christ, the promise of eternal life, is, as we said at the beginning, in every sense of the word life-changing and we are foolish if we do not change because of it.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.