We moved around some when I was growing up. We lived in Colorado, New Jersey, and Arkansas, and I went to four different school districts in my kindergarten through high school years.
Each move was quite a change, although each in different ways. But, each time we moved, though I didn’t always like it I always looked forward to one aspect of it: the chance for a new start. I looked forward to the possibilities of making new impressions, of building a new reputation, of living among people who didn’t know my mistakes and my failures. I always felt like I had an opportunity to fix myself.
The problem was that I made more mistakes. In the end, despite my best intentions, I didn’t really fix myself. I didn’t really change. It was only my environment that was different.
I imagine many people have the same expectations and the same let-downs in new jobs, new houses, new churches, new communities. They have hopes about things being different, but things never really change because they never really change.
I am afraid this is how we Christians tend to view “heaven,” and “eternal life.” We are so tired of our mistakes, so tired of the struggle, so tired of pain, disease, and evil that we just long for a change of scenery. Certainly there is some hope in the Bible’s promises of an everlasting life of peace in God’s presence. But, if all we hope to change is the scenery, then we will never change the real problem: our selves.
Ephesians 4:4 says that we have “one hope,” and the Biblical, God-centered hope is not a hope of escape from this world, but a hope of transformation in and of this world [see Romans 8:19-25; Galatians 5:5; Colossians 1:27; 1John 3:3]. The Bible calls it “reconciliation,” “regeneration,” and “resurrection.” Sometimes scripture refers to it as “eternal life,” our “inheritance,” our “calling,” and our “salvation.” Bible scholars call it “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification.” It is the hope that we can and will change completely. This is the confidence Paul speaks of in Philippians 1:6:
being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
We are not called to hope that everything changes around us, like some kid hoping his past doesn’t follow him when he starts his first day at a new school. We are not called to hope for escape. We are called to hope that we will change, despite what the world is like–and even for the sake of the world, that we might be the change the world needs.
The thing is, our hope is not really “heaven,” but the cross, the gospel. It is the hope that one day we can be so conformed to God’s will, so like Jesus in His die-hard faithfulness, so changed from the sinful people we are that God will welcome us with open arms. It is a hope only God can ultimately fulfill by making us new through the resurrection, but that must begin with a radical transformation in us.
The one hope I need to hold onto is the hope that I can change, thanks to God and His work through Jesus Christ. All praise be to Him.