Earthly Benefits in Being a Christian
Often in the past I have heard a Christian declare, "I would want to be a Christian even if Christianity were not true." In other words, the temporal benefits of Christianity are so great that they make it worthwhile even if there is no such thing as eternal life in heaven. But Paul says, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). How do we account for the difference in perspective? Paul lived under severe persecution. A Christian in modern America does not. He need not endure continual danger of torture and martyrdom, although hostility toward his faith is steadily increasing.
But does Paul mean that there are no earthly benefits in being a Christian? Certainly not.
- A Christian can participate in a loving community of believers (John 13:35).
- A Christian can rear children according to principles and under influences that will protect them from vice and its destructive consequences (Prov. 4:10-13). We need not tell you here how vice withholds happiness, ruins health and character, and shortens life.
- A Christian can enjoy the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
- He teaches us (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).
- He guides us (Rom. 8:14).
- He gives us inward happiness (Gal. 5:22-3).
- A Christian can have daily fellowship with God (1 John 1:3).
Yet notice that all these benefits (and many more we could list) depend on Christianity being true. Without the power of God there can be no loving fellowship and no success in childrearing beyond what is available outside of Christianity, and without the Holy Spirit there can be no supernatural instruction, guidance, or happiness. Thus, Paul says that if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:17).
But great as the temporal benefits of Christianity may be, they pale next to the eternal benefits.
Eternal Benefits in Being a Christian
A Glorified Body
The Bible teaches that when Christ returns to gather the church, all dead believers will, at His spoken command, rise from the grave (John 5:25-29). Then all believers who are alive will be caught up into the air together with the raised dead and the whole church will meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:16-17). At the moment of resurrection or rapture, each believer will receive a new body (1 Cor. 15:52-3). The promise of a new body capable of life in heaven naturally stirs in our minds a number of questions—questions that the Bible is willing to answer.
Whom will we resemble?
- We will resemble the angels (Matt. 22:30). The angels are glorified beings (in other words, beings invested with brilliant radiance). Hence, the Bible compares them to stars (Rev. 1:20; compare Rev. 9:1 and 10:1). Moreover, the angels are powerful beings. A single angel smote dead the whole Assyrian army, numbering 185,000 men, while they were sleeping at night (2 Kings 19:35).
- We will resemble Christ Himself. Our body will "be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21; see also 1 John 3:2). In His glorified state, He is magnificent beyond description (Rev. 1:13-16).
What kind of body will we have?
When Paul deals with this question, he conceives of the questioner as someone who cannot imagine what a resurrected body will be like and who, as a result, has decided that bodily resurrection is impossible (1 Cor. 15:35-36). Paul calls that person a fool and relieves his ignorance by describing the body we will acquire before we go to meet Christ. It will have the following four characteristics (1 Cor. 15:42-4):
- It will be incorruptible. That is, it will be immortal. After we have obtained it, we will never die.
- It will be glorified. The meaning is that it will exude a radiance of light (Matt. 13:43; Dan. 12:3).
- It will be powerful. We will be able to do things we cannot now imagine. Some of the remarkable abilities exhibited by Jesus in His risen body give us an inkling of what lies in store for us.
- He could disappear (Luke 24:31). As He was eating with the disciples He had met on the road to Emmaus, He suddenly vanished.
- He could appear out of nothing (Luke 24:36-37). As the disciples sat in the Upper Room, He suddenly became visible in their midst.
- He could pass into a closed room (John 20:19). The Upper Room was shut tight when He entered and appeared to the people inside. It has been conjectured that barriers in three dimensions could not hinder Him because He existed in four dimensions.
- He could rise in the air (Acts 1:9). At the Ascension, He went up into a cloud as the disciples watched, gravity having no limiting effect on Him. At the rapture or resurrection of our bodies, we will also be able to fly, as it were. It will probably be in our own power that we will rise to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). For this reason, when Jesus spoke of gathering the saints at His descent, He compared them to eagles (Luke 17:37). The context establishes that He was speaking of the rapture. "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" (v. 34). The rapture will be the moment when the night of Satan’s grip on the earth is interrupted by the swift and silent intrusion of a divine thief. The disciples hardly comprehended what Jesus was talking about. "And they answered and said unto him, Where Lord?" (v. 37). In other words, where will the stolen ones be taken? He replied, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together" (v. 37). "Body" is soma, which means a living body. Jesus is saying that the stolen ones, called eagles, will be gathered to the body of Christ. In vivid but cryptic symbols He was painting a scene of raptured saints rising to meet Him high in the earth's sky.
- He could traverse distances in a brief time (compare John 20:11-17 with Matt. 28:8-10). He went directly from Mary in the garden to the women who were running away from the garden.
- He could even change His appearance (Mark 16:12). Angels also have this ability. Several texts report them having the form of a man (Dan. 9:21; Mark 16:5), but we should not suppose that these beings, created before man, look human when they take their places in the court of heaven. After all, the design of our bodies represents an ingenious fit to the special conditions of life on the earth. But not only can angels make themselves look like men, they can assume an appearance so strongly human that people on occasion have mistaken them for men (Heb. 13:2). When in human form, they can perform acts possible only for a material being, such as eating (compare Gen. 18:1-8 with 19:10) and touching (Gen. 19:16).
- It will be spiritual. What this signifies has been much debated. My interpretation of Paul's promise is that we will inhabit not only the currently visible realm of the universe, but also the currently invisible realm of spiritual beings; namely, angels and demons. We will have spiritual bodies, but we will not be spirits. All the dead, both righteous (Heb. 12:22-23) and unrighteous, are spirits while they await resurrection. What exactly is a spirit? It is not the same as a disembodied ghost. The rich man in hell had eyes, and he felt the whole gamut of bodily sensations. He could hear, see, thirst, feel the pain of fire, and probably also smell the fire's smoke (Luke 16:24-27). When Samuel and other righteous spirits rose from Hades to confront Saul, Samuel had a visible presence in bodily form clothed with a mantle, and he had a voice (1 Sam. 28:8-14). He was even recognizable as an old man. The witch who was looking on was terrified at the sight, unlike anything she had ever seen before, despite her claim to be a medium for communication with the dead. She called the ascending spirits "gods." Evidently they were majestic and shining. Yet the risen Jesus, when denying that He was only a spirit, said that a spirit lacks flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). In other words, it is not composed of matter. Although it looks like a body and has sensations parallel to bodily experience, it is not made of actual atoms and molecules. But Jesus' body was different. His disciples could touch Him and feel both His flesh and His bones underneath. When we are raised from the dead, we will assume bodies like the risen Christ's. Therefore, we also will have real material bodies, although they will be spiritual as well, in the sense that they will have the capacity to enter the dimension where angels and other invisible beings dwell. How will God revive our physical bodies from death and decay? Just as He created Adam out of dust, so He will recreate us from our scattered remains.
Will we be able to recognize each other?
In the four respects just listed our bodies will resemble Christ's. Yet it does not follow that we will look alike. According to Paul, we will all have a different glory (1 Cor. 15:41-42)—a distinctive and individual appearance—and for this reason we will be able to recognize each other instantly.
Why do many question whether we will recognize each other in heaven? They must imagine that in heaven we will float forever in a state of rest and peace, close to God, perhaps singing His praises along with the choir of angels, perhaps strumming a heavenly harp when we feel like it, but with nothing else to do. In fact, heaven will give us a busy life of richly rewarding fellowship with other saints. We will certainly know who they are. The disciples had no trouble recognizing the risen Christ when He wanted to be recognized.
Will there be marriage in heaven?
No, there will be neither the continuation of old marriages nor the formation of new marriages (Matt. 22:30). Presumably, then, there will also be no sexual love.
Why did God create human beings as male and female? So that they might be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:27-28). The chief purpose of marriage is procreation (Mal. 2:15). But in heaven there will be no bearing of children. Since marriage and sexual love will serve no purpose, God will abolish both, although we may retain our sexual identities. In His resurrected body, Jesus still looked like a man—a male human being. So it may be that men will still be men, at least in spirit and personality, and women will still be women. Yet on such a question, we can only speculate.
Although God will do away with marriage, we will feel no disappointment, for three reasons:
- We will no longer have an instinctive desire for sexual love, so we will have no sense of being deprived.
- Although there will be no marriage, there will be special friendships. An important basis for friendship will be the indebtedness we feel toward those who nurtured us spiritually during our life on earth (Luke 16:9). Jesus advised us to use our money and other earthly resources to make friends forever. Whoever we help in this world will be grateful in the next world and will show appreciation by inviting us to their mansions. Among the most popular saints will be those who in their earthly days were most devoted to meeting the needs of others. Yet there will be every other conceivable basis for friendship as well, including common interests and shared responsibilities. Another will be continuation of family relationships. The love we have for people on earth will not diminish but grow. Love is good, and nothing truly good can perish. So I am confident that my very special friend on earth—my wife—will also be my very special friend in heaven. I have often imagined that her mansion will be next door to mine.
- Who created marriage? If God can create something so precious and satisfying as marriage to enrich our lives in a sinful world, what else might He give us in heaven that we will enjoy even more (1 Cor. 2:9; Ps. 16:11)?
Escape from Evil
Every manner of evil experience will cease forever.
- Every cause of physical discomfort will be removed (Rev. 7:16). We will never again suffer from hunger, thirst, blinding light, or heat.
- Every cause of mental anguish will be removed (Rev. 21:4). There will be no more "death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."
- We will escape from every chronic disability. As Isaiah promised, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa. 35:5-6).
- The world we will inhabit in eternity will no longer be under the judgment of God (Rev. 22:3). The penalties imposed on nature and society in consequence of the Fall will be lifted (Gen. 3:15-19).
- There will be no more difficulty in childbirth because there will be no more childbirth.
- There will be no more male dominance. In this world, God has put every woman under a man's authority, because in the Garden, the woman proved more vulnerable to temptation. But in eternity, every woman will serve God only.
- There will be no more back-breaking difficulty and physical exhaustion in a man's labor and no more struggle to obtain the necessities of life. We will have challenging work to do, but it will also be fulfilling, and it will never reduce us to fatigue or boredom.
- Best of all, there will be no more sin. It is hard to look long ages into the future and imagine what kind of beings we will become. Might we grow so powerful and proud that we will reintroduce sin into the universe? No, we can be sure that we will never fall into the trap that ensnared the devil and his angels. Why? Because if we did, even though we were heavenly beings, we would receive the wages of sin, which is death, but God’s Word promises that all who believe on Jesus receive life eternal (John 3:15-16). They "have [present tense] everlasting life" as the direct result of believing. Anyone who has it now cannot lose it later, because if he could, he would not have it now. One reason we will never sin in our eternal home is that we will be free of all the influences that provoke sin. There will be no world, flesh, or devil to undermine our holiness of life. The devil will be confined to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). A world hostile to Christ will press upon us no longer because our only companions will be the Lord, His saints, and His angels (1 Thess. 4:16-17). And our sinful flesh will have been transformed into a spiritual body, pure like the body of Christ (1 John 3:2-3).