So much church talk has been built around an eternal future with God in heaven. You may have gotten pitched becoming a Christian at some point: “Do you want to spend eternity in heaven or hell?” “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and know for certain that you will spend eternity with him in heaven?”
It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility in some churches for a leader or teacher to tell a bunch of 5 and 6-year-olds what terrible sinners they are, tell them that all sinners are going to hell, and then ask them to accept Jesus so they can go to heaven one day. This is a manipulative way to present the gospel, and it is conducive to a manipulated reaction rather than genuine faith.
How should we think about heaven? I have had several people ask me: if I have accepted Christ as my Savior, and am going to spend eternity with God in heaven, why not just kill myself right now? That’s stunningly logical. But it’s also terrible theology built on a heaven/hell understanding of God. The Bible doesn’t teach us that the material world is unimportant, or that the only things that matter are in the future.
This will shock some people. But if you are a person of faith, heaven is not your eternal home. If you are a believer who dies before the return of Christ, you will go to heaven but you’ll just be passing through. That’s because heaven will go away. To be more precise, the Bible says in Revelation 21 that the first heaven and earth pass away and God makes all things new in “a new heaven and a new earth.”
Although some people might not see this as a big deal, it changes everything. The narrative is not biblical that everything that is really good and really matters to God exists in some alternate non-material future. God became a human being as Jesus because the spiritual and material world are intertwined. God cares how we think and live and move and act in our world right now. God will see to the creation of a new world where heaven and earth are deeply connected once again.
Salvation is not choosing a good destination versus a bad destination. Salvation is accepting by faith that God’s reign extends to all of life, including every corner of my mind and my activity and my attention and my checkbook. Christianity is not an exclusive private club diddling their time away until Jesus comes to take us away from this evil material world to a cloud-filled place with white robes and harps. Christianity is the practice of living on earth in light of what is true right now in heaven, and what will one day be fully true in the new heaven and new earth.