Church Calendar: All Saints Sunday
Scripture: Ephesians 1:9-23
By now, some of you might have caught on that I like to talk about discipleship and putting our faith into action. Concerning putting our faith into action, James 2:17 is quite clear that faith which isn’t accompanied by action – serving others, giving of ourselves, etc. – is a dead faith. And a dead faith is a good-for-nothing faith! So, it’s true that through the years I’ve spent a lot of my Sunday morning’s exhorting us to be persons who actively live out our faith. As your pastor, there’s very little I desire more than for each of you to have a living faith.
Now, what I admittedly haven’t spent a lot of time talking about is the God-part of our faith. Yes, I talk a lot about our part of the equation, but it’s just as important to talk about God’s part. Why? Because that’s where our motivation ultimately lies to do our part.
Some religions boil down to earning favor in the eyes of the Divine through one’s actions. Good bahavior leads to good karma; bad behavior leads to bad karma. Not so with Christianity. Even for all the talk and encouragement there is about putting our faith into action and doing good things, the heart of the Christian faith is not about what we do, but what God did. We gain our right standing with God not when we do something good and noble, but when we simply receive the gift God offers us. That gift is his Son, Jesus, and his saving work on the cross. If anyone gets credit for doing something, it’s Jesus. He’s the one who did the good thing, the righteous thing. And when we humbly acknowledge that we need what he did in order to be right in God’s eyes, only then does God look upon us and declare us to be righteous, or holy. But, again, to be very clear, it’s not because of anything we’ve done to earn it. And so, at the heart of the Christian faith is what God did, and what God in turn gives each one of us.
You and I and every person who receives unto themselves the work Jesus Christ accomplished through the cross and through his resurrection—we are all recipients of the greatest gift God’s ever given. In fact, it’s a gift that God had planned for us since the creation of the universe. It’s a gift he intended to give us from the moment he said, “Let there be light.” The Bible has a term for this gift. It’s called an inheritance.
Here’s an important fact. You who’ve been united with Christ through faith have received an inheritance from God. And did you know that you’ve already been given a portion of that inheritance? Our reading from Ephesians refers to this portion we’ve already received as a “down payment.” The fact is, even now –this very moment in time—God’s given each of us a portion of that inheritance as a promise that we’ll receive the rest of it at a later point in time.
So, what constitutes that portion of our inheritance we’ve already received? Scripture tells us it’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is that down payment of our future inheritance. Remember, if you’ve said yes to Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit lives within you. That’s a fact, a given. And a significant reason he lives in you is to bear witness to your own spirit that a day is coming when you will receive all that’s he’s promised to give you.
So, let’s talk about what our inheritance is. Again, just as a reminder, our inheritance is something God’s given us apart from anything we’ve done to earn it. Here are 3 verses which speak to our inheritance.
- Ephesians 1:11 says, “We have…received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design.”
- Colossians 3:24 says, “You know that you will receive an inheritance as a reward. You serve the Lord Christ.”
- Hebrews 9:15 says that “those who are called will receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
This inheritance is the sum total of all God has promised us in salvation. Our inheritance is, in a word, heaven. Eternal and everlasting life which goes beyond this world, where we will live in God’s magnificent presence for all eternity.
I realize I don’t talk a lot about heaven. Probably because it honestly doesn’t occupy a lot of my own thinking. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I questioned whether or not I would ultimately go to heaven. So, for me it’s always been a given. But until then, my main focus is living for Jesus in this life.
One significant reason for this is because of something my own pastor said during a discussion he was having with our high school youth group when I was a freshman in college. Someone there expressed the believe that the main goal for every person ought to be getting to heaven. My pastor responded that he didn’t quite share that same perspective. His view was that accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior just so I will go to heaven when I die doesn’t really constitute a good reason to profess faith in Christ. He then talked about the difference walking with Jesus should make in someone’s life in the here-and-now. Yes, heaven is the gift God gives us when we’re united with Christ, but that relationship has present-day advantages as well. So, that conversation probably had a huge impact on me, which is probably why I think more about living for Jesus today than about living with Jesus when I die.
Now, having said that, I recall another experience of mine which did open my heart to the reality of the glory of heaven. I was in my third appointment, and to the best of my knowledge, I was doing my first funeral for a long-time Christian who died suddenly. It was massive cardiac arrest, and we were told that he was gone before his body hit the floor. He was the church lay leader and was well-loved and respected. At some point in the funeral, I said something off the cuff which, in the moment, actually hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t recall my exact words, but it was something about Wayne being with Jesus Christ even while we were there, gathered together for his funeral. It hit me quite intensely that in that very moment we were having to live by faith, but that Wayne was now living by sight. While we were singing songs about Jesus, he was actually singing to Jesus face-to-face. And as I was making my point, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that Wayne was in that very moment experiencing the glory and majesty of heaven.
Peter describes our inheritance this way: we “have a priceless inheritance…that is kept in heaven for [us] which will never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). Based on this verse, I’d like to point out four important aspects of our heavenly inheritance.
First, our inheritance in Christ is imperishable. Here’s how one author puts it: What we have in Christ is not subject to corruption or decay. In contrast, everything on earth is in the process of decaying, rusting, or falling apart. The law of entropy affects our houses, our cars, and even our own bodies. Our treasure in heaven, though, is unaffected by entropy. Those who have been born again are born ‘not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23).(Entropy loosely refers to the breakdown or disorganization of any system.”)So, our inheritance is first of all imperishable.
Second, our inheritance in Christ is unspoiled. Again, in the words of the author I just quoted: What we have in Christ is free from anything that would deform, debase, or degrade. Nothing on earth is perfect. Even the most beautiful things of this world are flawed; if we look closely enough, we can always find an imperfection. But Christ is truly perfect. He is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26), and our inheritance in him is also holy, blameless, exalted, and pure. No earthly corruption or weakness can touch what God has bestowed. Revelation 21:27 says that “nothing impure will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.” So, our inheritance is unspoiled.
Third, our inheritance in Christ is unfading. Again, in the words of the author: What we have in Christ is an enduring possession. As creatures of this world, it is hard for us to imagine colors that never fade, excitement that never flags, or value that never depreciates; but our inheritance is not of this world. Its glorious intensity will never diminish. God says, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5). So, our inheritance is unfading in glory.
Fourth, our inheritance in Christ is reserved. The author writes, What we have in Christ is being “kept” in heaven for us. Your crown of glory has your name on it. Although we enjoy many blessings as children of God here on earth, our true inheritance—our true home—is reserved for us in heaven. Like Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The Holy Spirit guarantees that we will receive eternal life in the world to come (2 Corinthians 1:22). In fact, “when you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
So, our inheritance is imperishable, unspoiled, unfading, and reserved for us, just waiting for us to fully receive it one day.
Even though this hasn’t been something I’ve thought a lot about, I certainly can see the benefit of having a good understanding of and valuing the glory that awaits us. One reason is that it can help us endure the struggles and injustices we have to endure in this life. We can give God praise even during trials because we have his guarantee that we’ll receive all that he’s promised. The apostle Paul put it this way: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
John also helps us keep things in perspective. He writes, “God will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). He goes on to say that God and mortals will dwell together. Everything will be made new. The bejeweled city, which he refers to as the New Jerusalem, will be our eternal residence. The river of life will issue from God’s throne. The healing tree of life with twelve kinds of fruit will grow there, too. There’ll be no night there, because the eternal light of the Lamb will fill the new heaven and new earth and shine upon all the heirs of God.
What’s so amazing and wonderful about this inheritance of ours is that we haven’t done anything to earn it. It’s God’s gift to every saint. It’s his ultimate expression of pure and perfect love. And it’s yours, and mine, right now. And when we take our final breath in this life, we will receive our inheritance in full. Can you even imagine an eternity of love and joy and light and life? That’s what it’ll be! Imagine the thing that brings you the greatest joy in this life, then multiply by a million! That’s your coming heritance, friends!