I have a sign on the back wall of my office that I look at first thing every morning when I sit down at my desk. In large block letters, it echoes something my good friend Dallas Willard used to say: “Eternity Is Now in Session.”
God is not waiting for eternity to begin. God lives in it right now. It is the interactive fellowship and joy that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Eternity is rolling right along, and we are invited to be part of it—now.
Certainly, as long as we’re in this world, we have much to wait for. Are we there yet? Of course not. Death still robs us of those we love, children still go hungry, refugees have no place to live. We lose our jobs or our dreams or our loved ones. Our bodies age and decay. Every day when I look at the mirror, I’m reminded I’m not there yet. Paul wrote that creation itself is groaning for the day when it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). Amazingly, even the Spirit of God groans for this (verse 26). To anyone who wonders, along with an old neurotic Jack Nicholson movie character, “What if this is as good as it gets?” Paul says that not only we but all creation will one day taste the freedom and glory of the children of God. “What would become of us,” asked John Calvin, “if we did not take our stand on hope?”
And yet, in another way, we are there. Or rather, there has come here. In the midst of our groaning, eternal life has slipped into our temporal world now through the carpenter of Nazareth. In the midst of disappointment and decay, the Sustainer comes alongside me. In the midst of loneliness, a Friend comes who will not let me go. In the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for he is with me. Eternity has invaded time. “There”—life in God’s presence and power—has come here. No one yet knows how deeply humanity in this world can enter into the peace and love of eternity. You can make your life a Great Experiment in this adventure.
Dallas once wrote, “We must . . . do nothing less than engage in a radical rethinking of the Christian conception of salvation.” I think he’s right. Somewhere along the way, the power and the promise of the gospel has been lost. We’ve shrunk it down by making it solely about going to heaven when we die, and in doing so, we’ve shrunk God down too. We have often preached a gospel that does not naturally call for “knowing God,” a gospel that does not naturally call for disciples.
But what if we stopped thinking about the gospel as simply the minimum entrance requirements to get into heaven?
What if we stopped thinking about eternal life as something we can only experience after we die?
What if we stopped thinking of Christians as people who know about God and instead focused on becoming disciples who are learning to know God?
What if salvation isn’t mostly about getting us into heaven but about getting heaven into us?
Much of the way we’re taught to view eternal life is as a destination we reach, and until we get there, we’re like anxious kids on a long car trip asking, “Are we there yet?” We think we’re just biding time until we get there, when the real enjoyment will begin. But what if we’re missing out along the way?
This book contrasts two ways of thinking about Jesus’ gospel. The more common version is thought to involve how people ensure they will go to heaven when they die. It’s about how to go from “down here” to “up there.” It usually involves affirming certain beliefs or praying a particular prayer that is thought to make a person a “Christian.”
The other understanding is that the gospel announces the availability of life under God’s reign and power now. It’s about “up there” coming “down here.” By grace. Through Jesus. Transcending death. To all who will. For the sake of the world.
The first version tends to produce consumers of Jesus’ merit. The second tends to produce disciples of Jesus’ Way.
I believe the latter version is the correct one, the one that Jesus taught, the one that “snapped history into B.C. and A.D. as if it were a dry twig.” He is still recruiting people for this, the great journey of inner change and outer purpose.
Maybe he’s recruiting you.
John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Eternity Is Now In Session. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.