Life is precious. Every breath is significant as any one of those breaths could be our last. That is an exhilarating truth; both an invitation to truly live, and a heeding not to do anything less.
Would you miss the sound of wind rustling through the trees if it stopped? What about the cool, slow ripples through the water of a pond? Feeling the tender, fragile petals of a beautiful flower on the pores of your skin? These preponderances of life are the delicate and ubiquitous complements to existence, and reminders that we are still alive; yet so few of us pause in appreciation of these details, as if they have little or no value.
These examples aren’t all there is of course, God also provided human relationships—the closest relational bond we can have to that of experiencing relationship with God Himself (because we are made in His image).
There are people in this world who are gifted (through time and practice, intention, and humility/surrender of the self to God) at making the best of every situation; pleasant or unpleasant; ideal or less preferred. Oppositely, there are others who dwell in the negative aspects of the same situations, adhering to hedonistic downtime as a means of an escape from the Hell that is life at times of adversity.
For the unbeliever, life on Earth is Heaven since this is as close to an idyllic life as one gets when they deny the existence of Heaven—the promised eternal home for believers of Christ who live changed lives; loving on those who hate them, forgiving those who hurt them, putting God before themselves, and living selflessly in the name of Jesus—denying the world its offer of transient hedonism in exchange for our eternal soul. Under the closed eyelids of the unbeliever, Jesus and the Bible are the most conflicting, confusing message of love, miracle, testimony, and intimacy in the history of humankind.
Furthermore, for many the unbeliever, to believe in Jesus as Lord and to follow Him as such is to relinquish the freedom to live autonomously, and, therefore, to lose the ability to enjoy life. The implementation following this deliberation of disbelief is distorted in two ways that I want to mention. The first, as Timothy Keller intuitively writes in his book, The Reason For God:
“This oversimplifies, however. Freedom cannot be defined in strictly negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.
If you have a musical aptitude, you may give yourself to practice, practice, practice the piano for years. This is a restriction, a limit on your freedom. There are many other things you won’t be able to do with the time you invest in practicing. If you have the talent, however, the discipline and imitation will unleash your ability that would otherwise go untapped. What have you done? You’ve deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things.”
We may choose to allocate our time practicing disbelief, but the freedom that we lose in that is the assurance of eternity; sacrificing the peace in knowing every moment is purposefully spent preparing for the promise of Heaven. Without deliberation aimed in the direction of an eternity permeated with unconditional love and infinite peace and joy, one’s life culminates in deprecation; disappointed that all our Earthly endeavors lead to the dilapidation of time, the ultimate degradation of egocentrism in a world indulging itself with fanatics commercializing humanity’s greatest weaknesses for the admission of our humility, and the downfall of pride in a world seeking purpose while castigating the desire for meaning in life beyond emotionless copulation, soulless entertainment, and the disparaging lies of media and politics.
Yes, believers choose to give up their freedom—in exchange for not living a life full of constant disappointments and without reassurances for any kind of turnaround or comeback. When we believe the comeback to this life is the promise of an eternal home where there is no pain, death, suffering, wickedness, sin, tears, or disappointments—there isn’t much to consider or think about—it’s pretty black and white: Why choose a life of disbelief when following Jesus not only changes our eternal home, but also encourages us to live more fully here and now? Belief in Jesus is entirely incomplete if one believes that faith in Jesus only means “You get eternity in Heaven” without rebirthing their soul in this very moment. Believing in an eternity in Heaven is spiritually lustful when we take the gold without thanking the Miner; living our lives fully believing we are going to Heaven should change more than just where we believe we’ll go when we die: It relieves us of the disappointment of believing everything that happens between now and then is purposelessness in that everything we experience while on Earth is only for here and now. The eternal promise of the Bible is the exact opposite: Everything we do here and now matters in that it leads us directly to where we go next. In other words, if every word we speak, every action we take and decision we make leads us towards Heaven, would we not want those words, actions, and choices to be the very best in the name of the King who provided their route? If not, can we authentically admit that we have faith in what’s to come, or just lust in the idea of receiving what we do not deserve? This question leads me to the second distortion of implementing disbelief: We sometimes think that believing we’ll go to Heaven is the end of the story of belief; but entering Heaven isn’t even the beginning.
Make no mistake, Heaven is not anything we earned, nor anything we deserve, rather—it is what we are given freely through the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ sacrificing His life for ours on the cross. Heaven isn’t about what we do on Earth, it’s about what Jesus did on the cross. Let me repeat that for emphasis: Going to Heaven has literally nothing to do with anything we could ever do on Earth (as if to prove our worth to God), it has everything to do with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. This isn’t about shaming us for His death—He chose to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to pay the eternal price for ourselves. That is the relief and hope of believing in Christ; not that we get a free life living in sin and then expect Heaven—NO—the hope of Christ is that as a byproduct of having faith in Jesus as Lord, we have hope in what’s to come because of what Jesus did in our place. This isn’t some kind of eternal freebie, it’s a life-changing grace and alteration of our soul substance. Before we have Christ, we are lost in our sin; selfishness, greed, lust, gluttony, pride, etc. When we accept Christ, we become aware of our sin (like Adam and Eve after they ate fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became aware of their nakedness with shame (Genesis 3:7).), we realize that sin is wrong, we pause in reflection of how we can better ourselves by surrendering to the will of our loving God—who, by the way, literally clothed Adam and Eve Himself right after they had sinned (Genesis 3:21). What kind of God rebukes the sin but loves the sinner all the same? This one does; the God of the Bible.
Do we live our lives in thankfulness that a God like this loves us so much that He came and died for us in the flesh so that we wouldn’t have to pay for desiring lust, gluttony, idols, obsessions, blasphemy, stealing, and killing (among the others)? Not that we live perfect lives, no, but do we live transformed lives? Different than before? Refined by gratefulness, thanksgiving, submissiveness to God, surrender of our will and our desires? That is Christianity; that is rebirth.
When we awake one more time, are we aware of how much godly beauty is in this world, or do we take it for granted? Are we aware that every breath is given to us? When we aren’t suffocating for air, that is a blessing. That is a gift from God. Every time. Do we spend our lives thanking Him for these gifts, or do we spend time taking them for granted and splurging ourselves? This kind of lifestyle is like (in the most rudimentary, basic sense) a parent, after carefully and lovingly baking a batch of delicious, savory chocolate chip cookies, and watching their child stuff the cookies in their mouth and leave without so much as a smile or “thank you”. The parent still loves their child, and I imagine the parent would still want to make more cookies for their child just because they want to see their child take pleasure from what they know their child enjoys, but—where does that leave the state of the heart of the child? Will they go into life expecting everyone to treat them with such consideration and love without thanking them for their generosity and selflessness? If they don’t, and they die one day in that state of their soul, should they be judged as “normal” (“like everyone else”), or as selfish and hedonistic? Does that kind of soul know God? Are they transformed and living a life in thanks for the gifts they are given, in effect leading others towards the same God of love?
How would the parent feel, ultimately, every time they make cookies and the child just walks away after taking everything? Hurt, maybe? How do we expect God to feel when we ignore Him, reject Him, and live carelessly when we get what we want? And yet, a life of closed-minded disbelief does not lead us to a selfless life of purpose, but to a life of meaningless gain and purposeless suffering. Even those who give in the “name of love” do so without giving credit to anyone but themselves; even their “selflessness” is rooted in narcissism. Without giving credit to God, how do we thank the Giver of life?
I urge you to consider these thoughts and, if you’re truly living a selfless life in the name of Jesus, I commend you and urge you to continue shining your light towards Jesus so others will continue to notice that you’re different from anyone else they know for a specific reason. You aren’t the way you are “just because”. The love we give comes from Jesus, or it is meaninglessly selfish. Which kind of love do we want to share; selfish or selfless? How do you define what is selfish and what is selfless? Perhaps this will change your definition of what living in faith means when compared to “living in peace but without God”.
My hope and prayer is that this article opens your eyes to the way God loves us all, and how the way we live our lives impacts not only God’s reception of our thankfulness, but others’ witnessing of His love through our lifestyle and decision-making. The way we treat others matters for this exact reason, and the way we respond to this truth ultimately defines our view of faith, the authentic transformation that comes with that faith (or lack thereof), and finally, the way we lead ourselves to our eternal future— in hope or in fear/ignorance. Where are you today? I pray you find Jesus today, and that you come to accept His grace, mercy, love, and promise of hope in His resurrection from the dead. He did not stay dead—He came back to life, and that is why we all must live a life of worship, thanksgiving and praise; implementing a life of gratitude in the name above all names: JESUS.