Redeeming Words: Heaven

Adam Barr

September, 2018

As we seek to share the Good News in our post-Christian context, we need to come to grips with something critical: While we might be using the same vocabulary as the world around us, they are probably using a radically different dictionary. In other words, the words we are using might not mean the same thing to us as they do to the people we are seeking to reach.

This is nowhere clearer than when we contrast our cultural view of heaven with that of the Bible. Our society embraces the idea of heaven. Even ardent non-Christians have a perspective on the afterlife, most of them believing and hoping that some part of us lives on forever. This hope for eternity both opens the door to dialogue and potentially presents a roadblock to understanding. Let’s look at three points of contrast.

#1 – Culture says: “Heaven is a vacation spot.” Christianity says: “Heaven is a vocation spot.”

In the popular imagination, heaven is a place where we will never have to work again—like an eternal retirement community in a tropical resort. Each person will have a mansion, swimming pool, and wish-fulfillment button waiting for them on the other side of the pearly gates. The only barrier between desire and satisfaction will be the limits of our imagination. In the minds of many, heaven might even be a place to enjoy illicit pleasures that were denied to us here on earth. But the key concept is life without labor.

Against this cultural view, Christianity teaches that heaven will be a place of fulfilling productivity where we are given a calling, a vocation. Worship will be the central joy of our work, and all our work will be an act of worship. Scripture depicts eternity as a new earth. Like Adam and Even in the Garden, our role will be to cultivate a redeemed and perfect world. Scripture also describes responsibility and acts of authority for believers. In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn responds to the question, “Will we work in heaven?” with the following

“Absolutely.” On the New Earth, we’re told “His servants will serve Him,” (Rev. 22:3). Then we’re told “They will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). Servants work and rulers work. But it will be work that is restful, work without the curse…work more like that done by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

#2 – Culture says: “The path is wide on the way to heaven.” Christianity says: “The path is narrow.”

One of the most closely guarded convictions of our post-Christian culture is the idea that, if there is a heaven, then it is for everyone. Perhaps the only people who would be denied entrance into eternal life are people who believe that some people are denied entrance into eternal life. According to this view, a loving God would never sentence someone to eternal separation.

Interestingly, the people who argue for this point will often point to Jesus as an example of love and tolerance. However, Jesus is the one figure in Scripture who most clearly teaches that our short lives here and now will impact our eternal lives in the hereafter. His words are sobering and stark:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)


"When we come to embrace a Biblical perspective on eternity, we realize that it really is impossible to be too focused on eternal life."


Michael Allen Rodgers comments on Jesus’ message about hell:

“It may seem remarkable, but no Bible spokesman places more stress on hell as the final consequence of God’s judgment of condemnation than Jesus. God’s Son was the great theologian of hell… Jesus was the one who compared hell to the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem (also called “Gehenna”), a huge public rubbish dump where dead bodies and trash burned in continually smoldering fires; thus “Gehenna” took hold as a name for hell. Jesus also compared hell to a prison and outer darkness. It was he who likened hell to “a fire” at least twenty different times.”

The call to reach out with the message of salvation takes on greater urgency when we really embrace what Jesus told us about eternity. The Gospel is the only sure hope any person has for salvation now and in the afterlife. It alone presents God’s revealed pathway to heaven.

#3 – Culture says: “Don’t think about heaven too much.” Christianity says: “That’s impossible!”

Have you ever heard of someone “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good”? Have you ever seen a social media post with the hashtag YOLO? Have you ever noticed that for many people, the chief takeaway after a funeral is a determination to enjoy life here and now? In many ways, our culture wants to avoid the idea of eternity and try to make this life like heaven.

But Scripture encourages us to live for the eternal. When we come to embrace a Biblical perspective on eternity, we realize that it really is impossible to be too focused on eternal life. Christians believe that there is an unbreakable link between our life here and our life one thousand years from now. One author describes our culture’s perspective as “living for the dot rather than living for the line.” I agree with him!

  • When we focus on accumulating possessions destined for a landfill, we are living for the dot.
  • When we worry that people will scoff at our faith, we are living for the dot.
  • When we remain silent rather than sharing the Good News, we are living for the dot.

On the other hand,

  • When we risk rejection by sharing the Good News, we are living for the line.
  • When we sacrifice convenience to extend care, we are living for the line.
  • When we re-allocate our financial priorities to support God’s mission, we are living for the line.

As you seek to share your faith naturally, do not underestimate the power of the Christian message on eternity. We do not just offer Good News about what happens when we die. We give people a whole new perspective on life here and now. We offer a message that affirms eternal life begins here and now! The question every person must ask is: Where is the life I’m living leading me?

Adam T. Barr (MDiv, ThM) serves as senior pastor at Peace Church near Grand Rapids Michigan. In addition to his work in the local church, Adam speaks and writes on Christianity and culture, helping followers of Jesus understand and apply God’s Word in an increasingly post-Christian society. His most recent book, Compassion Without Compromise, is available through Bethany House.

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