Several years ago as a youth pastor, I was working with a group of middle school boys. During our lesson one Sunday, I asked them, “Other than not having to go to hell when you die, what are some reasons why you believe it's a good thing to follow Jesus and be a Christian?”
This was a group of boys who had grown up in the church. Most of their parents were very involved in the church, and had worked hard to bring these children up in Christian homes. To me, the boys’ answer to my question was very informative about what many of us in the church today have come to believe about the life to which Jesus invites us. What was their answer?
They didn’t have one!
This group of boys couldn't state one reason to follow Jesus, other than that they would get to go to heaven rather than going to hell when they die.
How do you and I answer that question? Is "getting in to heaven" really all that matters?
Are we really to believe that the life, message, and mission of Jesus Christ on earth is reduced to that?
That experience with my group of boys underscored the importance for me of coming to a better understanding of what it was that Jesus taught and how it is that he invites us to live. When we look at his message in the gospels, it is striking how rarely “getting into heaven” is even mentioned. It is there, but as the great Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones pointed out, “In the New Testament, apart from the book of Revelation, heaven is spoken of twelve times as a place to which [people] go hereafter. But not once is it spoken of as the goal of life.” He then goes on to say,
“The business of redemption is not to get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us; not to get us out of hell, but to get hell out of us.”(1)
If we understand the point of Christianity as getting into heaven when we die, it creates an interesting and incredibly costly problem: focusing only on where we go after this life may be a strategy for getting people ready to die, but it does very little for teaching us how to live. Yet modeling and teaching us how to live our lives in God’s kingdom was something to which Jesus gave a great deal of attention. It is only along his way that the symptoms of our sin-sickness like anger, lust, and pride can meet the cure of God’s grace and be replaced with love, joy, and peace. There are certainly innumerable benefits of following Jesus that have to do with our lives right here and now. Millions of Jesus’ followers attest to this, both today and through the centuries, around the world and people whom you have likely known.
Dallas Willard writes,
“The way to get as many people into heaven as you can is to get heaven into as many people as you can- that is, to follow the path of genuine spiritual transformation or full-throttle discipleship to Jesus Christ. When we are counting up results we also need to keep in mind the multitudes of people (surrounded by churches) who will not be in heaven because they have never, to their knowledge, seen the reality of Christ in a living human being." (2)
So, one of the many reasons that discipleship to Jesus matters for this life is simply that the world (including our country, our neighbors, and especially our own friends and family) desperately needs to see “the life that really is life” lived out in you and in me.
(1) E. Stanley Jones,
(2) Dallas Willard,