I’m not a mountain climber, but I’m sure those who are find that this sport gives a deep joy to their lives. In the morning, you set off on a journey to the top of a mountain. Let’s imagine that it’s Mount Everest. The journey will take quite a while. But you are well prepared. You have the basic necessities for the journey, including a map that will lead you to the top. With every passing day, you know you are getting closer to the top. Consequently, your heart begins to pound a bit faster because of the exhilarating prospect of soon being able to stand on the top. Then the big moment arrives. Your journey to the top is almost over. You scale the last section and you arrive at the top. The view is incredibly breathtaking. And you experience a deep joy that you find hard to put into words.
The Christian life can be compared to a journey too. Christians are on their way to a new heaven and new earth. They know that the form of this world is busy passing away. Thus, they consider themselves to be strangers and sojourners in this world. Yet, they are well prepared for the journey. As mountain climbers have a map that outlines the route they need to take to get to the top, so Christians have a map as well that guides them on their journey to the new heaven and new earth.
This map is the Scriptures. These Scriptures tell them that through faith they are children of God. Moreover, they tell them that as children of God they are to love righteousness and holiness, i.e. living in a way that is right-related to God, others, this world and themselves. This is because God is righteous and holy. Thus, if we want to complete our journey and live with a holy and righteous God in a new heaven and new earth, then we need to be made righteous and holy too. These Scriptures point them to Jesus Christ, the ultimate child of God, who traveled the journey to the new heaven and earth in holiness and righteousness before them and for them. As such, He left them an example of how to travel this journey. Moreover, because He traveled the journey for them, He also wants to work out his own holiness and righteousness in them through his Holy Spirit as they increasingly become more united to Him through faith. Thus, since Christians are destined for a life of holiness and righteousness with God on a new heaven and new earth, they live their lives in the light of this goal.
This does not mean that Christians can become perfect in this life. On the contrary, they never can and never will because they will always have to fight a bent towards unholiness and unrighteousness in their lives. But they should desire to be perfectly righteous and holy and they can make progress in this regard, even if this progress is at times slight
Moreover, this holiness and righteousness is not just something external, but also internal. In fact, it lives in the heart first. And because it does, it manifests itself in outward behavior and actions.
What does this journey to the new heaven and new earth on which we are made holy and righteousness look like according to the Scriptures? What does it look like according to Jesus? I would like to give your four characteristics of this life. First, it’s a life of self-denial. Second, it’s a life of cross bearing. Third, it’s a life of meditation on the future life. Fourth, it’s a life that makes a good use of this present life and its helps.
A life of self-denial
First, the journey of the Christian on which he is made holy and righteous is a journey of self-denial. This means Christians are first to deny themselves in relation to God. They are to daily realize they are not their own, but belong to God. Consequently, they are to give up all quest for a life of independence from God and yield their whole lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit so that they no longer live, but Christ Jesus lives in them (Galatians 2:20). Concretely, this means that they will not be concerned about themselves, the desire for power, the favor of other people and “other secret plagues” as someone once said. Instead they will be concerned for God because they realize that it is with Him they have to deal throughout their whole lives.
Yet, Christians not only live lives of self-denial towards God. They also live this kind of a life of self-denial in relation to other people. This means they need to get out of themselves, so to speak, and put the interests of other people before their own. Consequently, they are to put to death all pride in their lives and cultivate a deep sense of humility, realizing that whatever God has given them, for instance, in terms of possessions, abilities and time has been given for the sake of serving others. One way Christians can do this is by daily reminding themselves that they are stewards or managers who will one day have to give an account of how they have used what God has given them for the wellbeing of others. Another way they can do this is by remembering that every time they see another person, they are seeing someone not as he is in himself, but as he is in God because every human being is an image of God. As someone once said, when we look at others as they are in God and not in themselves, this “cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
Second, the journey of the Christian on which he is made holy and righteous is a journey of cross bearing. Christians live in union with Christ through faith. This means that because Jesus Christ suffered a lot on his journey through this life on his way to the new heaven and new earth, all those who are joined to Him in faith will suffer too. Because this was God’s will for his unique Son, He follows this pattern in the lives of all those He adopts in his family as his children through faith.
Undergoing sufferings and difficulties—perhaps even persecution and death—is difficult. It was difficult for Jesus too. And yet, it was God’s way to teach Jesus obedience. It was God’s way to remind Jesus that He was not his own, but belonged to Him. It was God’s way to remind Jesus not to live his life for Himself in independence of Him, but to live his life for Him and others in complete dependence upon Him by daily yielding his life to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
And so, Jesus had to daily say no to serving Himself and looking after his own comforts. He had do daily say no to doing his own will and yes to doing his Father’s will even if this will meant a lot of suffering, hardship, opposition and difficulties for Him—even if this meant dying on the cross for Him.
Christians on a journey to the new heaven and new earth need to do the same. They too have to consciously and intentionally accept in faith suffering, hardships, difficulties, opposition and even persecution or death that God may send their way in faith by crucifying or putting to death any inclination to live for themselves. When they do, they too will learn that they are not their own, but belong to God. They too will learn to live not for themselves, but for God and others. They too will learn humility, patience and dependence upon God. Their suffering functions like medicine that heals them of their unrighteousness and unholiness and make them increasingly more holy and righteous like Jesus. And as Jesus’ journey through this life went from suffering to glory, theirs will go from suffering to glory too.
Meditating on the future life
Third, the journey of the Christian on which he is made holy and righteous is a journey of meditating on the future life. As I mentioned, the form of this world is busy passing away. There is a new heaven and a new earth coming. Yet, one of the dangers for all people, also Christians, is that they become too attached to this life. In order to combat this danger, the life of a Christian is a journey of meditating on the future life.
This is also one of the reasons God sends sufferings in our lives. The form of this world the way it is right now will always lead to a lot of suffering and affliction. By meditation on the life to come where there will be no more suffering, affliction and death, Christians learn to desire and hope for a new and better life.
This does not mean that Christians have a disdain for this present life. On the contrary, they are thankful for the blessings that come their way in this life. Yet, even these blessings received in thankfulness makes them yearn for the future life for they realize that all the joys they experience in this life are really only appetizers for a fullness of joy in the life to come.
Making a good use of this present life and its helps
Fourth, the journey of the Christian on which he is made holy and righteous is a journey that makes good use of this present life and its helps. Also here Christians are exposed to dangers. On the one hand, they can become too strict on themselves and consider this present life and its helps only in terms of necessity. But that would be a denial of the fact that God in addition to necessity also created many things for our delight and enjoyment. On the other hand, Christians can also become too loose with themselves become enslaved to the lusts of the flesh when it concerns this world and its helps. Three guidelines are helpful in this regard. Christians are to live a life of moderation and not overindulge in the use of this present life and its helps (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Moreover, if God calls certain Christians to a life of few resources, they are to accept this with patience so that they are not troubled with an immoderate desire for more (Philippians 4:12). Furthermore, Christians are to remember that they are stewards or managers who have to give an account of what God has entrusted to their care in this life (Luke 16:2).
Remember those mountain climbers of a journey to the top of Mount Everest. Remember the increased joy they experience as they get closer to the top. The Christian life is like that too. Christians experience increased joy in this life as they get closer to the end of their journey for then they will have been made holy as their God is holy and be able to dwell with Him forever on a new heaven and new earth. How are you traveling this journey? Thanks for reading.