This past Friday, GOC had its annual Freshmen Flashlight Frenzy. (It involves neither flashlights nor frenzies.) As a station leader, I had the tremendous privilege and responsibility to give a devotional to the freshmen, so I taught briefly–OK, maybe not so briefly–on a topic that has been a tremendous help to me. What follows is the text of that devotional, as I delivered it. (It is also available as a PDF or via Google Docs.)
GOC FFF Devotional
“An Eternal Perspective”
2 Timothy 4:7-8
If you spend any amount of time around GOC, you will probably hear the name Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was a puritan and a theologian, and a pastor and the president of Princeton University. When he was our age, 18 or 19, he wrote 70 resolutions about the way he wanted to live the Christian life, collectively titled “Resolved.” The one I want to read to you today is number 22, which reads: “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can.” I know that you guys are college freshmen, finding your way through unfamiliar territory. You may not know what you’re going to do next quarter, much less next year, or when you graduate. But I want to stand on the shoulders of Jonathan Edwards and urge you to consider your life from an eternal perspective.
When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he was old, in a prison cell, and on the verge of death. He had the unique perspective of being able to look back on his life having already lived most of it. With this hindsight, he wrote:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Paul lived his life so that at the end of it he could say that he lived it completely devoted to God. Paul lived his life so that he could look forward to a heavenly reward for his service to Christ and for his suffering. He did so because he knew, as he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” He wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation [of Jesus Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Here is a warning from God. A promise stands before you, that one day, everyone will be judged. Those who have not accepted the truth of the gospel of Christ, that He died to bear the punishment for your sins, will be punished for an eternity in hell. For those who have accepted that truth, they will also be judged, but not for their sins—they will be judged for what they did here on earth. Christ the Judge will judge all your actions, and anything that does not demonstrate your love for him will burn away as worthless, but all that which does will receive reward. Let your life, then, reflect the priority of this perspective. Do all things with the knowledge that they carry eternal consequences. From the example of Paul, we as Christians can learn two ways to live our lives in light of eternity.
The first way we can learn to live our lives in light of eternity is to look forward to the reward. Take, for example, the war against sin. In his book Future Grace, John Piper writes, “Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness. That problem enslaves us until we believe that God is to be more desired than life itself (Psalm 63:3).” Do not be content with the promises and pleasures of sin. Live instead like Moses, of whom it is written in Hebrews, “24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (11:24-26).
Friends, the promise of sin is that it will fulfill you and delight you and give you pleasure. That is a horrific twist of the truth. The pleasures of sin may delight, but only for a season. The pleasures of sin are fleeting—and damning. They will ruin your soul. Instead, look with faith to the future, where God has promised that He will reward those faithful to Him. God has given you these promises to help you fight sin. Live life fighting sins like pride, or lust, or impatience, or bitterness, because you know that the promises of reward for fighting those sins are greater than the temporary pleasures those sins offer. Live studying His Word, even though it is difficult and time-consuming, because you know that the pleasures to be gained in this life and the next are far greater than any fleeting entertainment you can get from Facebook, or Hulu, or YouTube.
One note of clarification: It is possible to take this idea too far. It is possible to look forward to the promise of heaven without looking forward to the promise of God. It is far too easy to appreciate the gifts and not the Giver. So, lest you be drawn unduly to the idea of material reward, let me say two things. First, the reward, whether material or immaterial, follows a Christian’s love for God. Seek to increase this first and foremost, and the reward will follow. God will not reward a heart that looks for future reward but is devoid of passion for His name. Second, the reward will have immaterial components: to the faithful, Jesus will reward in part with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21b). Which leads me to the second way we can learn to live our lives in light of eternity.
The second way we learn to live our lives in light of eternity is to love and worship the Giver of these promises. We as believers know that we once lived in sin. God would have been perfectly just to sentence us to eternal punishment in hell for disobedience and utter disrespect to an infinite God. But God, who is infinite in justice, is also infinite in love, and so He sent His perfect Son to earth to die on the cross, where He bore the punishment for our sins. Those who accept the work of Jesus Christ and believe that His death grants us forgiveness for our sins are rescued from hell and reconciled to God. This is the price of those promises. The promises of reward are bought at the price of the blood of the Son of God. Never, ever, ever take this lightly. Never let the promise of reward be the goal, but remember the God who loved us enough to crush His Son so that we could have those promises.
I urge you to live like Jonathan Edwards and Paul and Moses, who lived their life with eternal perspective. Fight sin with the promises of God. Believe that His promises are sure and so much greater than the promises of sin. Live life in such a way that you can look back at your life, as Paul did, and say that you fought the good fight and finished the race and kept the faith. Live so that with your last breaths on this earth you can look back at your life and then forward to reward in the next one. And live ever worshipful of the One who crushed His Son to provide us with the promises of salvation, reward, and perfect fellowship with Him in heaven.