From: Pete Williamson
At a recent student gathering, I was talking in a group with a non-Christian student about faith and life in the context of a Bible study on Proverbs. This woman does not believe in anything beyond our current material reality, but she is curious to find out why Christians are compelled by Christianity. People in the group were sharing about wisdom, and how sometimes wisdom involves refusing a temporary benefit in order to receive a longer-term benefit. As we talked, this woman began to ask about the nature of this longer-term benefit, but as soon as someone mentioned anything to do with an afterlife, she replied “I’m not interested in any benefits that don’t exist in reality”.
Now, of course, she and I disagree on what does or does not exist in reality. I would not want to downplay the reality of an afterlife nor its importance; the ultimate hope we have in resurrection is irreplaceable in the gospel. However, she was, to some extent, reacting to a faulty presentation of the gospel. We can be tempted to see the Christian calling as an ultimate trade-off. Live a diminished life now so that God rewards your misery with a great afterlife.
Into this conversation, I find Paul’s words striking: 1 Timothy 3:8 – “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Here Paul asserts the value that godliness has not only for the next life, but for this life too. Here Paul bypasses any understanding of salvation as a ‘get out of jail free’ card to be redeemed at a later date, and zeroes in on the gospel as an invitation to walk into the fullness of eternal life from now into eternity.
How differently would we think if we truly believed that our eternal life had already began? The most striking thing to me is how much time we have. With eternal life, immediate results and success matter little compared to the seeds we sow which slowly produce godliness which lasts forever. If we believe that we are living eternal life now, then it is natural to pursue things which change slowly, but which persist into eternity; things like character and integrity.
It’s like the difference between being offered one-year contracts for a job every year until we retire or being offered a permanent position. You might end up working the same length of time with the one-year contracts, but because you think your time is short, each year you might not invest in long-term development. Whereas, if you know you’re doing a job for decades, then the groundwork you lay for long-term change matters most of all!
In the gospel, we have already been given the permanent position, but we tend to be so focused on the short-term that we often live as if we have a series of one-year contracts. But if we know that eternal life starts now, we should follow Paul’s advice and pursue those things which hold promise now and forevermore.
I am a deacon at CotC and the Harvard Team Leader for InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry at Harvard University. I live in Dorchester with my wife, Kelly; my son, Malachi; and my dog, Wicket.