Posted by: Philip Rushton | March 21, 2011

Do Christians Really Want To Go To Heaven?

For the last few of weeks I have been talking about the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. I’ve been drawing heavily on Dallas Willard’s book The Great Omission, where he argues that discipleship has become an optional thing in the contemporary church. We have taken Jesus mandate to, “go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded,” and interpreted it to mean, “go and make converts that show up in church on Sundays.”

One of the reasons why the church has avoided the hard work of discipleship is because we fail to see its purpose in salvation. Though it is rarely articulated, I think a lot of us wonder why we should bother with the hard work of discipleship if we are already ‘saved.’ The philosophy that many people live by in the contemporary church is that we are saved by grace, therefore spiritual discipline has no purpose. The hard work of discipleship does not get us into heaven so why bother with it?

Dallas Willard has a powerful response to this type of reasoning. He writes:

“But, someone will say, can I not be “saved” – that is, get into heaven when I die – without any of this? Perhaps you can. God’s goodness is so great . . . But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and about whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of One whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of your earthly existence. And He is, after all, One who says to you now, ‘Follow me!'”

I was particularly struck by his comment about us being uncomfortable spending an eternity with One whose company we do not desire in the present. The good news we see in scripture is that heaven is starting to break into this world already. Jesus teaches us to pray for his kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” The values of heaven, which include reconciliation, justice, peace, and righteousness, are at work in our world and we have an opportunity to experience them. Yet, by saying ‘no’ to giving our life fully to Christ, we are essentially saying ‘no’ to the opportunity of experiencing the values of heaven right now. Therefore, Willard points out that it is contradictory for us to long for heaven and yet reject the gift of God’s presence in our life right now.

Now I am aware of the fact that there are forces at work that trip us up in our attempt to give ourselves fully to God. We wrestle with the works of the flesh and so on. However, the general apathy towards Christian discipleship should raise some serious flags for us.

If I say, “I have a ticket for heaven, so I can avoid giving my life fully to Christ,” perhaps I am suggesting that I don’t really want heaven after all.


  1. Hi Philip,

    I think this is true for those of us who live relatively wealthy, comfortable lives here in the United States and in other developed countries. In places where Christians have little hope for their earthly future because of limited economic opportunity, corruption, dictatorship, etc., they can more easily appreciate the heaven that they can experience now–a close, living relationship with the sovereign King of the universe who calls them His child and who “fills the hungry with good things.”

    Anyways, good thoughts. I appreciate your sharing them.

  2. Thanks for this, Philip. How we live provides evidence for what we want—I like that.

  3. Tyson, you raise a good point. Idolatry is probably the biggest stumbling block in giving ourselves fully to God. It is much easier for us to turn to false God’s in a land of plenty, and thereby miss out on the true hope we can have in Christ.

  4. Perhaps we in the western culture have equated discipleship with involvement in church activities and therefore the more we are involved with good activities, the more “work” we do for Jesus, is all a measure of our “discipleship”.
    Thanks Phil, for keeping a clearer vision of authentic discipleship before us and encouraging and challenging us to go further and deeper with Christ.

  5. Hey Randy,

    You raise a good point. In Willow Creek’s publication “Reveal: Where Are You?” they surveyed the spiritual health of the members of the church and realized that participating in church activities did not guarantee spiritual development. There was not a very clear correlation.

    I do think that participation in the local church is part of discipleship. Discipleship does happen through the pulpit / small groups etc. I think it partly depends on what type of activities we are involved in. If we are just doing social events all the time then it is not going to be very formative for us spiritually. There is also a major difference between serving at the church and simply showing up to things and ‘consuming’ what the church has to offer. Service in the community can be very formative and is clearly part of what it means to be a disciple.

    What Willow discovered,though, was that a huge part of spiritual growth happened outside of the church as well. It has a lot to do with how we live during the other six days of the week.

  6. Phil,

    I would completely agree that participation in the local church is part of discipleship and discipleship can’t fully occur on a completely individual basis. We can be doing great works of service, but if that service is our way of “earning” points with God or badges for our discipleship banner, then we’ve missed the point.

    We’ve been looking at that in Journey as Timothy Keller points out the difference between Religion and the Gospel. Religion is basically earning God’s acceptance by our works and the Gospel is a change of heart from realizing that God accepts us by grace, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

    Keep nudging us out of our comfort zones!

  7. Thanks Randy,

    I appreciate Keller’s emphasis on the place of discipleship. We do not engage in discipleship to earn God’s favor; rather, as we experience grace we are motivated to want to get closer to God and make him a priority.

    I think that is what Willard is getting at too. Discipleship is not supposed to be a work to be dreaded, but an opportunity to be embraced.

  8. Willard’s comment that Grace has nothing to do with “earned”, but it has no problem with “effort” is helpful. Sorry, that is not a direct quote.

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